1970 was a momentous year. The Vietnam War raged on, and in May, four students at Kent State University were shot down in cold blood by members of the Ohio National Guard. Neil Young was so shocked by what he saw that day that he wrote the song “Ohio” in response, recorded it with his colleagues Crosby, Stills, and Nash, and had the single on the streets within days of the massacre. The big song and album of 1970 was, however, Simon & Garfunkel’s Bridge Over Troubled Water.
The Beatles broke up in 1970, and in April, Paul McCartney released his self-titled first solo album. It was very much a homegrown affair. Out in California, a young musician named Emitt Rhodes, unquestionably influenced by the Beatles, specifically Paul McCartney, had pop dreams of his own. After seeing a little bit of success in bands like the Palace Guard, and the Merry-Go-Round (see the first video below), Rhodes decided to go the solo route. Taking advantage of a $5,000 advance he got from ABC/Dunhill, he bought studio equipment, and installed it in his parents’ garage in Hawthorne, California, a town which was also the childhood home of Brian Wilson and his brothers. There must have been something in the water in Hawthorne. It was there that the 20-year-old musician recorded his first album, which over the years has become widely recognized as a pop masterpiece, and a highly sought prize for collectors.
Rhodes, following McCartney’s lead (Or was he? I’m not exactly sure of the timing, and the albums were both released in the same year) did it all by himself. He wrote and sang the songs, and played all the instruments on the album. Aside from McCartney, Todd Rundgren was one of the few artists working that way at the time. Later of course, Prince and others took up the one-man-band cause.
The album itself is collection of pop gems characterized by unforgettable melodies, undeniable hooks, and Rhodes’ angelic tenor. The album, which Billboard named one of the best albums of the decade, reached #29 on their album chart, and the single “Fresh As a Daisy” made it to #54. The second video below is a compilation of three songs from the album.
In 1971, ABC/Dunhill released the second Emitt Rhodes album, Mirror. Sadly, Rhodes’ old label, A&M, chose that time to release a Rhodes album called The American Dream that they had declined to release while Rhodes was at the label, resulting in confusion among his fans. The third (and thus far final) Emitt Rhodes album, Farewell to Paradise, was released in 1973. Though Rhodes continued to record, nothing has been released since that last album. He did return to the studio in 2009 with a new band and new material, but nothing has been released from those sessions so far. Also in 2009, Hip-O Select released a compilation that pulls together all four (including The American Dream) of the Rhodes solo albums.