by Jeff Fiedler
Albums from the Lost & Found is a regular feature on thegreatalbums.com in which contributor Jeff Fiedler reviews and helps us rediscover great pop albums that seem to have been lost to time.
As a performer, he never quite became a household name – in fact, he never had a single enter the Top Fifty in the U.S., although his 1985 single “Yes” would prove to be a mammoth-sized hit in Brazil, topping the charts there for ten weeks after being featured in a Spanish soap opera – but singer-songwriter Tim Moore has sure played with plenty of them – even once jamming with the legendary Keith Richards, his most famous admirer of all – and had his compositions covered by just as many. While you may not have heard his name before, Moore arguably has one of the more fascinating resumes in all of ‘70s pop music, and why he never became a superstar in his own right is something of a head-scratcher, certainly one owing more to a lack of adequate promotional support than any lack of talent, of which Moore has plenty indeed.
Long before he would ever score a record contract, Moore would serve as one of many short-lived drummers for one of the most beloved local bands in the greater Philadelphia area during the late ‘60s, Woody’s Truck Stop, a band that also included among its ranks two future members of Nazz, Carson Van Osten and the legendary Todd Rundgren. [Fittingly, Moore would later record his first two solo albums partly at the Woodstock-based Bearsville Studios, where Rundgren had not only recorded his own earliest solo albums but had also worked as a house producer and engineer for much of the early ‘70s.] But Woody’s Truck Stop’s repertoire consisted almost exclusively of covers, and Moore left the band to form The Muffins as a means of getting his own songs heard. The band would land a deal with RCA but only issued one single (“Subway Traveler” backed with “You Better Find It Now”) before disbanding. Moore – who, by then, was already attracting the admiration of such luminaries as Frank Zappa – then very nearly signed a solo deal with the Mothers of Invention leader’s vanity imprint Bizarre Records before instead opting to take up session work on the Philly-soul circuit for such legendary producers as Kenny Gamble, Leon Huff, and Thom Bell. But bigger things were still to come: he’d soon land on Elektra Records as one of the primary leaders of Gulliver, a band that also featured an up-and-coming keyboardist/vocalist by the name of Daryl Hall. [Their lone album is notoriously difficult to find on vinyl these days – though Collector’s Choice would bring it to CD in 2002 – but you can find an additional pair of Gulliver tracks on the Daryl Hall and John Oates archival album Past Times Behind, which also includes a Daryl Hall solo cover of Moore’s song “Angelina,” previously sung by Moore himself on Gulliver’s sole album.] The band didn’t last, but Moore would shortly after sign a deal with ABC/Dunhill, cutting the single “A Fool Like You” (which would reach #93) and singing backing vocals on labelmates Steely Dan’s now-highly-collectible non-LP single “Dallas” (released just prior to their full-length debut Can’t Buy a Thrill.)
It wasn’t until 1974 that Moore would finally record and release his full-length solo debut, a self-titled affair – one on which Moore handles all the guitar and keyboard duties and most of the bass work as well – produced by Foghat’s Nick Jameson and issued by the Paramount-distributed A Small Record Company. Over half of the tracks here would go on to be covered by major artists, and that includes the opening cut, a newly-recorded version of the highly infectious soft-rock of “A Fool Like You” (featuring session great Russ Kunkel on drums and Moore’s former Gulliver bandmate Tom Sellers on bass), later covered by former Fairport Convention member Ian Matthews (“Woodstock,” “Shake It”). The song Moore is most famous for in North America, the lushly-orchestrated piano balladry of “Second Avenue,” follows next and impresses with its subtly complex chord changes; the song would only climb as high as #58, but Art Garfunkel – whose soaring tenor and emotive performances made him a natural to cover the song – would fare even better with the composition, taking it all the way to #34. (Sadly, Garfunkel’s own version would be released solely as a non-LP single and remains a bit of a challenge to find either on vinyl or CD.) The soulful “Charmer” picks up the tempo considerably and contains an irresistibly sunny, handclap-laden chorus that made it an obvious contender for a single; the song sadly peaked at only #91, but it’d have the distinction of later being covered by the legendary R&B singer Etta James of “At Last” fame. The folky “Sister Lilac” boasts the album’s most poetic lyric and neatly manages to steer clear of any pretension, thanks to its immediate melody, while the piano pounce of the toe-tapping “High Feeling” closes out the first side on a jubilant note.
The disc’s second half gets off to a rousing start with “I Can Almost See the Light,” easily the album’s punchiest and hardest-rocking cut, which may make it all the more surprising to some that the drumming on the track is handled by R&B session great Bernard Purdie, best known for his work with Aretha Franklin. The ballad “Love Enough” is the most frequently-covered song here, having been cut by everyone from Cher to Cliff Richard, but it’s easy to see why – it’s got a winning hook, and the lyric cleverly eschews enough obvious rhymes to make the melodrama of the tune seem much less sappy and more heartfelt than it otherwise might.
The Neil-Young-in-space sound of “Aviation Man” is the album’s undeniable highlight, a haunting minor-key folk tune adorned with synthesizer, bluesy rock-guitar fills, and a tight, brilliantly-mixed drum track (played by Jameson) that makes the cut seem years ahead of its time. The piano-driven stomp of “When You Close Your Eyes” borders on power-pop territory and could have fit nicely onto any of Eric Carmen’s earliest solo albums; both The Zombies’ lead singer Colin Blunstone and Elton John drummer Nigel Olsson would later cover the song to equally winning results, the former on a non-LP single and the latter on his 1975 self-titled platter. “I’ll Be Your Time” makes a fitting bookend to the album, bringing the disc full-circle back to the soft-rock sound of “A Fool Like You.”
So how could this album fail? Easy. Paramount’s record division closed its doors just as the disc was starting to rise up the charts. By this point, Moore had so many fans within the industry that he could have his pick of imprints and subsequently signed to Asylum, who hastily re-issued the album on their own label, but it was too late to fully capitalize on the momentum that had been building. Moore would go on to issue three more albums for Asylum – and another for its sister label, Elektra – but none made much of an impact on the charts. Fortunately for Moore, that didn’t deter other artists from wanting to mine his records for material, and the follow-up album, Behind the Eyes, would yield a sizable hit for Scottish rockers the Bay City Rollers in the wildly infectious “Rock and Roll Love Letter” (also later covered by power-pop greats The Records), which reached #28 in the U.S. and hit the Top Ten in both Canada and Australia.