Into the Ear of Madness: Week 3

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Over the next year Terje Fjelde has agreed to listen to nothing but David Foster on his iPod. He’s loaded the thing with over 1,200 songs produced, arranged, composed, and/or played by David Foster. A deal with the devil? He keeps wondering.

Are you ready for some Barbra Streisand and Gary Wright? Of course you are.

I think Jeff is waiting for me to crack any moment now. You know, that’s why he wanted me to do this series in the first place. A year with nothing but David Foster? You won’t last three weeks!

Guess what? I’m enjoying myself. I’m digging up information on all these old 1970s acts I never knew the first thing about, and at the same time I’m revisiting my youth listening to his mid-1980s stuff. Good or bad, those songs from the 1980s were such an important part of my life when I was about 15 — and I remember exactly why I thought they were great.

That’s not to say I still think it’s all great music — it isn’t. On the other hand, I don’t think it sucks, either, even though I kinda oughta. But hey, I’m not a professional music critic — I don’t have to conclude either way. As long as the music still matters to me one way or another, it’s good in my book.

Barbra Streisand – “Lazy Afternoon,” from Lazy Afternoon, 1975

Looking at his discography, 1975 seems to be a watershed year for David Foster in terms of session work, and among other things, he played on Barbra Streisand’s “Lazy Afternoon.” It’s the first of a number of collaborations between Foster and Streisand — and after three weeks, we’re finally (?) moving into familiar David Foster territory.

He played on many of her records in the 1970s, and in the 1980s he turned to the producer’s chair and oversaw such dubious moments in AC history as Streisand’s 1985 synthfest version of “Somewhere” and the Celine Dion-Barbra Streisand duet smash “Tell Him” in 1996.

“Somewhere” won him a Grammy for Best Instrumental Arrangement Accompanying Vocal in 1986. I remember reading an interview with Foster in the 1980s where he claimed that a lot of people couldn’t tell whether or not he used an actual orchestra on “Somewhere.” In 2008, that’s just plain incomprehensible — even though I do like the sound.

It’s like Sondheim in Space — there’s a kind of cold otherworldliness to it. I see Streisand sporting a 1960s futuristic spacesuit, standing in a smoky, Mars-like landscape layered in different shades of pink, belting out into the great unknown.

But let’s step out of these disturbing daydreams and go back to 1975: Funny, “Lazy Afternoon” was produced and largely co-written by Rupert Holmes, the mellow fellow who had a couple of hits in 1979 with “Escape (The Pina Colada Song)” and “Him.” Imagine that: Foster, the little Canadian piano guy at the bottom of the food chain masterminded by the mighty Holmes.

My fellow Popdoser Jason did a piece on Rupert Holmes in his Mellow Gold series, and I have nothing to add to that.

Gary Wright – “My Love Is Alive,” from The Dream Weaver, 1975

Another important recording for Foster in 1975 was Gary Wright’s “The Dream Weaver.” According to the liner notes, “this is an album of keyboard music. With the exception of drums and vocals (and Ronnie Montrose’s guitar on “Power of Love”), all the music heard was produced by keyboard instruments.”

Ah, aren’t those words just like beautiful music to any true rock fan’s ear?

One of the most prominent features on the album is the Moog bass, as played by Wright. I think it must’ve been a major influence on Foster — he continued to use the Moog bass sound in a lot of his productions — and he often utilizes it the same way Wright does here, not necessarily following the chords in an obvious fashion, but rather moving all over the scale, creating fairly interesting chord/bass combinations.

This has always been my conception of a typical rhythm track in a Foster production: Mildly unconventional synth bass lines over pedestrian drum tracks. I think he’s elaborate when it comes to the drum sound, but not very bothered with the rhythm loops.

And yes, I have spent a considerable amount of time pondering on these things over the years.

Next week we’ll take a look at Foster’s first production, a co-production with the Canadian guitarist Gaye Delorme for a guy called Bruce Miller. Aren’t you excited? See you then.