Great news, everybody! Adventures Through the Mines of Mellow Gold is back!

McD-tastic!

Or, alternately:

Awful news, everybody! Adventures Through the Mines of Mellow Gold is back!

McD-tastic!

The point is: like it or not, we’re back and planning on bringing you more of the lamest, pansy-assiest music from that magical period in the ’70s and ’80s when everybody seemed to misplace their nutsacks.  My hope is to do this once a month (after doing weekly MG postings in ’07, I found I could no longer sustain an erection), and now that I’ve written it on the Internet, it must be true, right?

Anyway, so away we go!  Let’s see.  I have a nice big Mellow Gold playlist here on iTunes.  I’ll just close my eye and point my mouse at a track, and…

Aw, shit.  Nigel Olsson? What the hell is he doing on here?  Isn’t he just the guy who plays drums in Elton John’s band with the headphones and white gloves and looks like the spawn of David Cassidy and the Cryptkeeper?

Okay, I looked back, and it seems like we can blame a reader named John Anselmo for today’s post, as he suggested Olsson’s one song that cracked the Top 20.  Let me see if I can find his address and we can torch his house.  Kidding, kidding.  Actually, I will defend John’s suggestion, because the song in question fits quite well into the Mellow Gold genre (did we decide if Mellow Gold was a genre?).  It fits so well, actually, that I often hear it, think “this is perfect for Mellow Gold,” promptly forget about it, and then repeat the process.  Wussy, yet utterly forgettable?  I don’t think it could be any more appropriate for this series.

Before we start, though, how about a bit of background on Mr. Olsson?  No?  Too bad. I promise to make it short, though.  Olsson is best known for his drum work with Elton John, having made his first appearance on “Lady, What’s Tomorrow” from Elton’s debut Empty Sky in 1969.  He hasn’t been Elton’s consistent drummer, though; Elton used different drummers from 1975 to 1980 and again throughout the mid-’80s and ’90s.  Since 2000, though, Olsson has been a consistent member of the band both on stage and in the studio, playing drums as well as handling occasional backing vocals.

Still, there were quite a few periods there where Nigel’s services weren’t required by Elton.  (I leave it to you to determine what kind of “services” Elton “requires.”)  So what did he do during those periods?  Well, he played with a few other bands, for starters, including the Spencer Davis Group, Uriah Heep and Hookfoot.  I don’t know who or what Hookfoot is, but it sounds painful.  He also played drums for a few Mellow Gold artists, including as Neil Sedaka (havin’ my babeh!), Leo Sayer and Barbie Benton, who may not be an actual MG artist but gets a mention here because I could have sworn she was a pornstar.  (I just looked it up — she was Hefner’s girlfriend in the ’70s.  I was close.)  And, as I’m sure a certain Popdose staff member might chime in, he was part of the backing band for Michael Dinner’s (who?) album Tom Thumb the Dreamer, which included Bill Champlin and, yes, David Foster.  (David Foster has replaced Michael McDonald as the patron saint of Popdose. I hate you, Terje.)

Olsson also recorded a number of solo albums.  His 1971 debut solo effort was titled Nigel Olsson’s Drum Orchestra and Chorus, which is a slightly fancier way of titling the album Don’t Buy Me.  I guess we should give the man credit, though; it’s not like you could buy the album and be like, “Drum orchestra and chorus?  What the shit?”  I actually have no idea what a “drum orchestra and chorus” sounds like, but I’ve thought about it and I’m okay with it remaining a complete mystery.

His 1975 follow-up album, Nigel Olsson, fared about as well as the one with the drum orchestra and chorus: no success at all.  At this point, Olsson should have realized that maybe he’d be better off removing his name from the albums, because clearly it wasn’t helping his cause.  So in 1978, he released — wait for it — Nigel Olsson.  I’m not kidding.  Two consecutive unsuccessful albums with the same name.

A year later, Olsson finally decided to change his formula.  1979’s release was called — wanna guess? — Nigel.  I’m slamming my head on the desk here.

Even Elton looked at this cover and said, “That’s gay.”

But I guess persistence pays off: Nigel actually yielded a hit or two.  This may be due to the fact that it features production by none other than the late, mellow Paul Davis.  Or maybe radio agreed to play a couple of tracks as long as Olsson stopped using his name in the album titles.  Either way, “Dancin’ Shoes,” the track we’re discussing today (took me long enough, right?), reached #18 on the Billboard Top 40 in late January of 1979.

Let’s listen, shall we?

Nigel Olsson — Dancin’ Shoes (download)

Oooh, listen to that soft opening!  So soft!  So smooth! So Fogelbergy! (New adjective.)  But then, just like that, we’re whisked into a gentle rhythm that is making me think less about “Dancin’ Shoes” and more about Walter Egan’s “Magnet and Steel” or, even worse, the Eagles’ cover of Tom Waits’ “Ol’ 55.”  As is typical with most Mellow Gold songs, the guitar is given short shrift over drums and bass (especially drums — I wonder why?), light strings and, of course, those sweet backing vocals.  This song could be completely a capella and would still be a MG classic with those backing vocals.

But what is Nigel talking about, anyway?

Too many long conversations
And no one is hearing a word

Which, by the way, is what happens when you release four albums with your name in the title, but whatever.

Just trying to escape the frustrations
Till a song in the night can be heard

Okay, I think I’m getting it.  So basically, when life is getting tedious and annoying, the best way to escape is to hear a song and … huh, the chorus is here already.  That was quick.

Put on your dancin’ shoes
Throw out those one night blues
Here’s one to love and to chance
For a spin on that wheel of romance

Here’s one what?  One night? One song? One woman? One man?  I guess we’re talking about the song, and this is the song in question.  But here’s where I start to have a problem.  Imagine you were looking at these lyrics all alone, without any accompanying music.  You’d think, okay, this song is clearly about cheering oneself up through the joy of dancing.  You’re not just forgetting the blues, you’re throwing ’em out, right?  It’s party time!  Oooh yeah! Put on your dancin’ shoes!  Take a spin on that wheel of romance!  (Sorry, I meant to warn you: shitty lyric alert.  Too late!)

Now, when I listen to the music … well, I don’t know about you, but this song does not make me want to put on my dancin’ shoes.  This song makes me want to do the exact opposite of putting on my dancin’ shoes. This song makes me want to find my dancin’ shoes and throw them at my 8-track player.  This song makes me want to curl up into the fetal position in the corner of my house and cry myself to sleep.  Holy crap, this is Mellow Gold!

But what the hell.  Let’s continue.

Too slow to unriddle all your problems

Did Nigel just call the guy retarded?

Too lonely for someone to care

Now this line, I’m totally feeling.  This song sounds like the kind of song someone really lonely sings over and over again, to the point where you’re like, “You know what? Be lonely. I’m going out to get laid.”

Long, lonely silence keeps haunting
Till the song in the night finds you there

That last line is just not redeeming enough for me to feel the happiness I want to feel when talking about putting on my dancin’ shoes.  I don’t think a line exists that could make me feel better after the lyrical death rattle of “long, lonely silence keeps haunting.”

But I digress. We get another chorus, the guitarist gets to do a bit of noodling, then we have a bridge of sorts that offers a shot at redemption.

A face like an angel, she’s waiting
She smiles and looks over at you
You yearn for this situation
Now finally your dreams have come true

Again, if you were to just read these lyrics and not actually listen to the song, you might think that this scenario is somewhat realistic: after two choruses of “put on your dancin’ shoes,” you would imagine that the shoes are on, they’ve been danced in, and now a lady is suddenly interested in this situation you’ve, uh, yearned for.  (Man, is that line awkward.)  However, in listening to the overall rhythm and feel of this song, the only condition I’m feeling is “pathetic.”  But I’m not supposed to feel anything else, really, am I?  Success is not a Mellow Gold theme.  Loneliness, desperation and maybe a slight twinge of begging thrown in for good measure: now those are Mellow Gold themes.

Nigel’s not really to blame, though.  He didn’t write the song.  The song was written by Carl Storie, who recorded the song with Faith Band in 1978.  I don’t know much about Faith Band.  I do know two things: one, they released a record entitled Excuse Me…I Just Cut An Album, which I think is awesome, and two, they released their version of “Dancin’ Shoes” on the exact same date as Olsson — December 16, 1978 — but their version only peaked at #54. You can hear the original version here as introduced by Music Mike. I take no responsibility for the still images displayed throughout the song.

Music Mike, uncomfortable on screen as he may be, is correct: both versions are pretty good, and actually, they’re not much different from one another. Olsson’s version is slightly more polished.  However, I’m giving the upper hand to Faith Band.  You know why?  Because Olsson’s version has a completely unnecessary truck driver’s gear change.  I think I know why he put it there, too: he wanted an opportunity to gift us with a completely useless drum fill, and the only way to justify it was with a key change at the end. And the minute I heard that fill, I just knew the key change was coming, which somehow makes it worse.  Like, I knew it was coming and I couldn’t do anything to stop it.  And it happens with barely 45 seconds left, of which 15 seconds are occupied by a fade-out; again, I’m convinced it was all for the drum fill.  I can’t imagine such a stroke of ego by someone who included his name in five out of six album releases.

Olsson did have one more hit reach the Top 40, and it was from the same album: “Little Bit of Soap” made it to #34.  I’m sure there are readers who remember “Little Bit of Soap.”  We thank you to keep it to yourselves.  I’ve had quite enough of Nigel and his so-called dancin’ shoes, thank you very much.

Ugh, this is what I brought this series back for?  Hopefully we’ll find a better song in the weeks to come.  Keep your fingers crossed, and until then, stay neutered!