Into the Ear of Madness: Week 5 — Soft Men, Hard Chicks

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.

When I started writing for this series I asked my wife to read the first draft, just to get an idea of how people would react to the concept.

MY WIFE (sighing, after being asked the same question five times in an hour): OK, OK, Terje, I’ll read it soon. What’s it about anyway?

ME: It’s about David Foster, my childhood hero!

(She rolls her eyes.)

So, after reading through my article in a less than enthusiastic fashion, she looked at me. Was it any good? Did she like it? I couldn’t wait to hear her verdict. “You know, Terje, it’s well written, but … it’s so specific. I mean, I don’t know that much about David Foster, but 52 posts on the same guy? I just don’t know. It’s too much. It’s just too specific!”

Too specific? Too specific? Sometimes I don’t get my wife at all. Oh well, on with the music. Here are a couple of session dates from 1976.

Randy Sharp – “First in Line,” from First in Line, 1976
Randy? Well, I don’t know anything about that. Sharp? Not so much. You know, I’m a mild-mannered, polite person, and though I’m not a soft-rock nazi or anything, I probably love the stuff a lot more than the next man (soft rock, not Nazism). So it’s safe to say I’ve had my fair share of soft rock over the years, but never have I heard a softer, smoother, or mellower tune than Randy Sharp’s “First in Line.” Everything from Sharp’s look and his sensitive voice to the wimpy lyrics, the gentle guitar, and the subtle strings arrangement — it oozes mid-’70s Mellow Gold. If this song doesn’t make you feel a little bit like less of a man it’s probably because you’re a woman. Although one would presume it was the perfect candidate, I don’t think it ever hit the charts. Altogether too subtle, maybe?

But Sharp did go on to become a successful country songwriter, writing hits for Clay Walker, Patty Loveless, Reba McEntire, and the Dixie Chicks. Hmm … they all go on to become successful country songwriters, don’t they?

The lineup on “First in Line” is quite impressive (at least if you’re anything like me): Jeff Porcaro on drums, Lee Ritenour and Fred Tackett on guitars, David Paich on piano, David Foster on electric piano, and Dave Hungate on bass. (Yep, it’s Toto sans Steve Lukather.) Doug Gilmore produced it. It was recorded “direct-to-disc,” and most of the liner notes are detailed descriptions of the high-definition technical aspects of the recording process. So GRP Records ca. 1985, though First in Line was released a decade earlier on Nautilus Recordings. (Nautilus — it’s yacht rock! Or at least marina rock.)

Nickey Barclay – “Diamonds in a Junkyard,” from Diamonds in a Junkyard, 1976
Barclay was a member of the hard-rocking chick band Fanny from 1970 to 1974, under the wings of ’70s and ’80s superproducer Richard Perry. The band has an interesting history, involving George Harrison, Joe Cocker, and David Bowie among others. Rumors say that Harrison, possibly in a moment of devilish wit, came up with the band name — which, unbeknownst to the girls, actually spells “vagina” in British English. Look them up on fannyrocks.com; they produced some excellent stuff.

This track is from Barclay’s only solo album, produced by Keith Olsen, a frequent David Foster collaborator in the ’70s. Barclay never really did anything after Diamond in a Junkyard; apparently she was observed playing gigs in local pubs in the UK years ago, and I think she lives in Ireland or Australia now. Fanny had a reunion at one point, but Barclay didn’t participate. Sources inform us that she speaks with a funny Irish accent and denies ever having anything to do with her former group.

Her solo album is quite good as far as 1976 AM rock goes, but I don’t think it’s ever been released on CD.