Into the Ear of Madness, Week 33 — Procrastinating

Written by Into the Ear of Madness, Music

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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.

Have I used that header before? I probably have. Well, it’s true. Before we delve into the specifics of the three songs I lined out in my entry two weeks ago (heh…), I’m presenting my Quite Comprehensive Guide of David Foster Productions, previously published, but never actually read by anyone, on my very own website a couple of years ago. It’s too bad to let all this work go to waste, so, my dear hordes, here it is in all its glory. Enjoy it if you can:

David Foster has been my musical hero for 25 years. It’s been a turbulent relationship, I’ll admit that much, but in one way or another he’s always been an important influence on my musical taste and on my own development as a musician. I’m self-taught on the piano, and for all practical reasons I’m like a Casio-Foster-preset on the keys.

My relationship with Foster has waggered to and fro, from blind worship and pure fandom through frustrations and disappointments to rediscoveries of pure delight and restored faith, only to be disappointed all over again.

Today I’ve come to terms with the fact that me and Foster have gone separate ways musically, and that we’ll probably never meet on the same note again.

But there was a time when David Foster was a different man; a young, hungry and immensely talented musician who turned to producing other artists by the time he was 25. He had the chops and he used them. He was energetic, had great rhythm and last but not least, he showed an early talent for those romantic ballads. And that’s the kind of Foster I still love.

David Foster has produced hundreds, if not thousands of songs. Here’s a chronological selection from that body of work with a few comments, mainly focused on those projects where he produced an entire album, or at least vital parts of it. Hope you enjoy the overview.

Bruce Miller – Rude Awakening (1975)
Was this the first album he ever produced? According to my sources, it is, but I don’t really know that much about it. Among the players are Lee Sklar, Rusty Young, Keith Olsen, Jim Keltner, Tom Scott and Airto. Produced by Gaye DeLorme and David Foster. Recorded at Sound City Studios, California. It was released on A&M (SP 9018).

Attitudes – Attitudes (1976)
He produced this one as a band member. Attitudes released a couple of albums in 1976-77, and had a minor hit with a song called “Sweet Summer Music.”

Jaye P. Morgan – Jaye P. Morgan (1976)
A couple of very groovy tracks on this one, actually, among them “Can’t Hide Love,” originally by Earth, Wind & Fire. It was produced by Foster and Jay Graydon – good buddies at the time it seems. I’ve read somewhere that Morgan is more famous (or is it infamous?) in the US for her part as judge on The Gong Show in the ’70s. She also had a long musical career preceding this album – and this was clearly an attempt for her to break into the contemporary market. The album was released on CD in Japan a few years ago and if you’re lucky, you can still come across it on Amazon. The original didn’t have much impact when it was released back in ‘76.

Danny Peck – Heart and Soul (1977)
Keane Brothers – Keane Brothers (1977)

Lisa DalBello – Lisa DalBello (1977)
Pretty much standard ’70s R&B here without much distinction. There are a few Fosterisms, but overall this is one of the rare anonymous Foster productions.

Alice Cooper – From the Inside (1978)
Hall and Oates – Along the Red Ledge (1978)

Bill Champlin – Single (1978)
This is one of my favorite David Foster productions, and the first real standout. It’s so crisp and inspired, and although it’s a big, rich production it never goes over the top, like the follow-up, Runaway, did to some extent. It’s also more R&B inspired than anything else that the two ever did together.

Airplay – Airplay (1980)
David Foster and Jay Graydon’s one-off band-project from 1980. They brought along vocalist Tommy Funderburk for the ride. I don’t know what inspired this band project – maybe it was the tremendous success of other bands consisting of session musicians, like Toto?

Anyhow, it seems neither the record company or the musicians put much effort into the marketing of this album, so nothing much happened until years later. This album has become a “classic” in the Westcoast-genre, and is currently quite popular in Japan and Europe.

The album is a very intense listening experience. A lot of things are happening at the same time – and I guess it’s as overproduced as overproducing gets. Plenty of keyboards, lots of overdubbing on guitars and rich high-pitched vocal harmonies all over the place. It’s fun to listen to, has a lot of energy and it’s really just a big old playground for the musicians.

It features a version of “After the Love Has Gone,” which of course was a huge hit for Earth Wind & Fire and a Grammy winner for best song in 1979, and also another version of “Nothin’ You Can Do About It,” which The Manhattan Transfer did gloriously for their 1979 album Extensions. I’m particularly soft for the ballad “Should We Carry On” and “Cryin’ All Night” – oh, and the groovy “Bix.”

Hall and Oates – X-Static (1980)
Average White Band – Shine (1980)
Peter Allen – Bi-Coastal (1980)
Ray Kennedy – Ray Kennedy (1980)
Bill Champlin – Runaway (1981)

The Tubes – The Completion Backwards Principle (1981)
According to one source, Bill Spooner, guitarist of flamboyant art-rock band the Tubes, sat down and listened to a lot of stuff on the charts at the time, and based on his impressions from that experience he wrote many of these songs. True or false, TCBP was easily the band’s most accessible and poppy record when it was released in 1981, and it also contained their first hit record, the very un-Tubes-like (but very Fosteresque) ballad “Don’t Want to Wait Anymore,” which more than anything sounds like the blueprint for almost every ballad Foster ever did with Chicago in the 1980s.

Chicago – Chicago 16 (1982)
Chicago 16 was Foster’s major breakthrough as a record producer. Robert Lamm says that he “firmly believe that without David Foster at that time the band probably would have ceased to exist, at least as a mainstream band.” There’s a lot of information about Foster and Chicago on the internet. Take the tour.

Dreamgirls (Broadway Cast Album) (1982)
Dara Sedaka – I’m Your Girlfriend (1982)

David Foster – The Best of Me (1983)
The rumor says that when The Tubes heard this solo album debut from Foster, they let him go as their producer based on the merits of this album alone and moved on to Todd Rundgren. I wonder if it wasn’t actually Foster himself who told that story. There’s certainly a Clayderman quality to it – it’s easy listening for sure. But it has a lot of good tunes that Foster used for other projects, notably “Whatever We Imagine” (James Ingram), “Chaka” (Chaka Khan’s “Through the Fire”), “Love, Look What You’ve Done to Me” (Boz Scaggs), “Love at Second Sight” (Dionne Warwick) and the first recording of “The Best of Me,” which has been covered by numerous artists.

The Tubes – Outside/Inside (1983)
Contains The Tubes’ biggest hit, “She’s A Beauty.” It’s a classic, big ’80s Foster production but with a lot more zaniness and humor to it. It’s certainly a mixed bag, but a fun record.

Chicago – Chicago 17 (1984)
Fee Waybill – Read My Lips (1984)
Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton – Once Upon a Christmas (1984)

St. Elmo’s Fire Original Motion Picture Soundtrack (1985)
Aside from The Bodyguard, this is Foster’s most well-known soundtrack. It contains the 1980s anthem “Man in Motion” with very-few-and-minor-hits-wonder John Parr, and if memory serves correctly, Foster’s “Love Theme” also hit the charts at some point in 1985 – one of very few instrumental songs in pop history to do so. To me it’s a classic, to most others it’s an obscure synthesized artifact from the 1980s, I’m sure. I’m completely biased on this one and on his solo album from ’86, so I rest my case.

Paul Hyde and the Payolas – Here’s the World for Ya (1985)
Chicago – Chicago 18 (1986)

David Foster – David Foster (1986)
David Foster was apparently not too excited about the way this solo record turned out in the end. It’s a bit funny, because this production embodies just about everything that was particular to his production work at that time: orchestral keyboard arrangements, Moogsynth bass lines, French horn emulation, arpeggio synth cellos and the MIDI Grand Piano at the center. And it’s almost all him.

I’ve listened to this album so many times since 1986 that it’s impossible for me to judge it objectively, but I guess I could see the point if somebody labeled this a mid-’80s synthfest with its heavy reverb and dated synth sounds. To me, the album’s like an instrumental extension of the St. Elmo’s Fire soundtrack. It has exactly the same sound. Closes with a beautiful 3-minute piano solo, Sajé, written for his daughters.

The Secret of My Success Original Motion Picture Soundtrack (1987)
Stealing Home Original Motion Picture Soundtrack (1988)
Neil Diamond – The Best Years of Our Lives (1988)
Seiko Matsuda – Citron (1988)

David Foster – The Symphony Sessions (1988)
A bold move, indeed. Foster said at the time that he was tired of always having to write music with radio formatting and hit potential in mind, so for this project he decided to let his mind flow freely, and to create an album of songs free from convention or pre-formatting. He was slain by the critics, naturally. In a sense it’s an album full of clichés and pastiches, but then again I’ve never heard anything quite like it – so I can’t really pigeonhole this album. I have no desire to do so either, ’cause I like it just fine as it is. It has some beautiful themes and lovely arrangements, and I quite like to listen to it. It’s kind of like a soundtrack album, but not really… There are pop elements, classical elements, some new age elements… you should just listen to it, and make up your own mind, really.

Celine Dion – Unison (1990)
Looking back, the last couple of years up until this point hadn’t been that great for Foster. No major hits, and work seemed to slow down a bit, for whatever reason. All that would change in the 1990s, and Celine Dion had much to do with it. It was the decade of the divas, and Foster produced ‘em all.

High-pitched rock vocalists, yuppie cowboys and Yamaha synths from the 1980s went down the drain as grunge and hip-hop came along, and Foster needed a new arena. Celine Dion, Whitney Houston, Barbra Streisand and Natalie Cole became Foster’s new trademark. The diva producer, the singer’s producer. But Unison was not a particularly auspicious start. It’s boring pop-rock lacking the star quality apparent in Dion’s later releases.

David Foster – River of Love (1990)
I never knew quite what to make of this album. It’s a solo album, but Foster seems to have very little to do with it, really. I was disappointed when it was released in 1990. “River of Love” is a dreary sing-a-longy thing, a charity song in search of a cause. There’s a pointless cover of John Farnham’s “You’re the Voice,” a Christmas song by Natalie Cole… It’s not a very consistent album. A few good performances by Warren Wiebe, and I quite like the Brian Wilson-collaboration “Is There A Chance.” I like his easy listening albums better, I think.

David Foster – Rechordings / Play It Again (1991)
Boring stuff, Foster! Instrumental renditions of some of his best-selling songs. Uninspired and unnecessary, Foster at his most Claydermanesque.

Natalie Cole – Unforgettable (With Love) (1991)
This marks a new phase for David Foster. He produced 8 of 22 songs here, among them the technically innovative (at the time) duet between Natalie and her long-deceased dad Nat King Cole, Unforgettable. Cole and Foster were awarded Grammys for Record of the Year and Album of the Year and Foster was voted Producer of the Year. It was the first time he produced standards, and he has returned to this genre quite frequently, most notably with his recent discovery, Michael Bublé.

The Bodyguard Original Motion Picture Soundtrack (1992)
Another major success for Foster. He produced only four songs on the soundtrack, but he needed just one to assure another Grammy for Record of the Year: “I Will Always Love You” by Whitney Houston, arguably Houston’s finest vocal hour (even though no one would recognize that fact anymore, this song has been played to death 1,000 times over). Foster was still in the game. The early ’90s were amazingly successful for Foster, the Grammys and the no. 1 spots just kept on coming. But his productions grew increasingly boring. He used the same personnel for all his recording dates, and seldom left his Chartmaker studio. The songs he wrote started to sound more and more alike, and quite frankly, I think he became more and more indifferent to the whole production process.

In the old days, even though he was all the things that his critics like to hate about him (slick, dominating sound, synthetic, overly sentimental, schlocky, whatever), he was also a very inventive and creative musician and producer. He went out and interacted with all kinds of artists and musicians, from Deniece Williams to Alice Cooper, Manhattan Transfer to George Harrison, Roger Daltrey and Peter Allen… whereas by now he seemed content to be sitting at home spitting out preset-LA-pop in quick succession. Thus followed:

Michael Bolton – Timeless (The Classics) (1992)
Barbra Streisand – Back to Broadway (1993)
David Foster – The Christmas Album (1993)
David Foster – Love Lights the World (1994)
Kenny Rogers – Timepiece (1994)
Celine Dion – The Color of My Love (1995)

The Corrs – Forgiven, Not Forgotten (1995)
This is the last exciting thing David Foster did, as far as I’m concerned. It may not seem like much to you, but I was incredibly delighted when I first heard this album (and still am, for that matter). Four young and real talented Irish siblings coupled with a crisp and delicate L.A. pop sound. It had punch and beauty, it sounded fresh and modern, and David Foster produced the whole thing. Foster hadn’t rocked this much since since 1987. Maybe there was hope, after all. But then:

Celine Dion – Falling Into You (1996)
Jordan Hill – Jordan Hill (1996)
Natalie Cole – Stardust (1996)
Celine Dion – Let’s Talk About Love (1997)
Celine Dion – These Are Special Times (1998)
Lace – Lace (1999)
Plus One – The Promise (2000)
Josh Groban – Josh Groban (2001)
Barbra Streisand – Duets (2001)
Josh Groban – Josh Groban in Concert (2002)
Josh Groban – Closer (2003)
Michael Bubl̩ РMichael Bubl̩ (2003)
Renee Olstead – Renee Olstead (2004)

The last phase of David Foster’s producer career concentrates on his ability to discover new talent. He’s found some young, gifted people within well-established genres, like Josh Groban (popera), Michael Bublé (Sinatra-light) and Renee Olstead (teen-sensation, jazzy and mature-sounding vocalist), and boosted them to megafame and fortune. He’s been involved in various kinds of Idol/Popstar contests and every now and then he has a production date. He expanded his popera range last year when he produced Andrea Bocelli’s “Amore.” All in all, he continues to make money, lots of money, producing artists well into his late 50s, but sadly, he’s on autopilot by now.

But there have been some glorious moments, Foster, and I thank you for every one of them. Now, if you could only loosen up a bit and start having some fun in the studio again, that would really make my day. But I’m not counting on it.