Into the Ear of Madness: Week 9 — Bill, Dolly & Alice

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.

Are you bored? What can I say? My David Foster experience is a breeze. It’s fun. It’s educational. My posts so far are almost snark-free, I’m turning into a blind-eyed David Foster apologist a la the loyal hordes of Trent Reznor. Is this real, or is it a subliminal reaction to my unsound David Foster exposure? It’s too early to tell for sure, but you can rest assured I’ll be keeping a close eye on my condition, and keep you updated on any sign of mental decay.

Dolly Parton – “Here You Come Again,” from Here You Come Again (1977)

David Foster collaborated with Dolly Parton on several occasions, but this was probably their most important encounter. You may even say that a little bit of pop music history was made during the recording of this Barry Mann/Cynthia Weil song. Then again, you may not. Anyway, here’s David Foster in 1986:

I love that sound of the Rhodes and the piano together. We stumbled across that when we were doing “Here You Come Again” for Dolly Parton. Gary Klein was the producer, and I was playing keyboards. I don’t remember whether I started on the Rhodes or the acoustic, but after we got the track, I said, “Hey, why don’t try the exact same part again on the other piano?” I did it, and it was this very cool sound. That sound stuck with a lot of people for a few years.

I loved that sound, too. I still do, actually, but I’m embarrassed to admit it, so therefore I speak in the past tense.

Bill Champlin – “Yo’ Mama,” from Single (1978)

I’ve mentioned Bill Champlin many times in this series already. He was a well-established session vocalist in L.A. by 1978, and shortly after Sons of Champlin disbanded, he released his first solo album, produced by David Foster. Toto’s bassist David Hungate, who plays on the album, once said about Single that it’s the best album nobody’s ever heard, which I think is an excellent quote, and there’s some truth to it as well. There’s a pretty strong R&B vibe on much of the material, and the production is super-tight and incredibly dry and sparse on the reverb — nothing like the swooshy arrangements Foster preferred from the mid-’80s onwards. This is prime 450 SL stuff, and one of David Foster’s best productions. Also, it’s far superior to Champlin’s 1981 follow-up album, Runaway.

David Foster really stretched out in all directions in 1978. He did country, rock and pop with Dolly Parton and Country Joe McDonald; he danced to disco with Paul Jabara, the Miracles and Cheryl Lynn. He actually co-wrote “Got to Be Real” along with the Toto guys, which is kinda hard to believe listening to Lynn’s explosive performance. He played jazz fusion with Flora Purim and funk with the Brothers Johnson. He tried to merge his production sound with Hall & Oates’ yet-to-be-defined blue-eyed soul on Along the Red Ledge. He didn’t succeed; Hall & Oates got their major breakthrough shortly after they broke up with David Foster in 1980.

Alice Cooper – From the Inside (1978)

“From the Inside”: Foster even had a go at hard rock, with Alice Cooper — he produced From the Inside and, although the end result isn’t as hard-rocking as anything else Cooper ever did, it paved the way for the slick rock sound Foster created with the Tubes in the ’80s. Bill Champlin, the old chum, is prominently featured on the title track. Wherever David is, Bill is, it seems.

“How You Gonna See Me Now” may be credited to Alice Cooper, but it’s an England Dan and John Ford Coley track, nothing more, nothing less. It’s a lovely soft rock ballad with beautiful harmonies, soft piano, strings and sensitive vocals. A lovely soft rock ballad about coming home from rehab, that is. I wonder what would happen if Foster produced Burzum?