Happy New Year, everybody! And what a special year 2007’s going to be. I can feel it in my heart, my bones, the place where my cojones used to be – 2007 will be, indeed, the Year Of The Wuss. I hope you had a happy holiday with at least a touch of relaxation. Me? After stuffing myself on Coley, Dupree, Fogelberg, Bishop and all four members of Starland Vocal Band (they were delicious), I needed a chance to digest. I swore off Mellow Gold for at least a week – enough time for my wife to forget I ever started listening to it in the first place. But sucks for her, ’cause we’re back with another week of Adventures Through The Mines Of Mellow Gold!
Ambrosia – Biggest Part Of Me (download)
Snarking this one’s going to be hard, because I think “Biggest Part Of Me” is a perfect song. Seriously. I’m hard-pressed to find a damn thing wrong with it. Actually, that’s not completely true; I can find one thing wrong with it, which I’ll get to eventually, but I maintain that the song is just awesome. I’m in pretty good company on this one, too – Quincy Jones has declared it to be one of his favorite songs.
Ambrosia was formed in 1971 in Hermosa Beach, California, and although it took a number of years, wound up with a record contract through a number of fortunate circumstances. Y’see, the band had a friend who was a sound engineer, and needed a music group to help test the sound system at the Hollywood Bowl. Ambrosia showed up, played a blistering set, and caught the attention of famous classical engineer Gordon Perry. Perry invited Los Angeles Philharmonic director Zubin Mehta to see the band, who agreed with Perry’s assessment of the band. Mehta took the band under his wing, hired them to perform at the Bowl as part of a “Great American Songbook” concert, and helped them record their first full demo. Surprisingly, Herb Alpert wasn’t interested over at A&M (a sure sign that this band knew how to rock), but newly-formed label 20th Century Fox finally signed the group, giving Ambrosia their first record deal four years after their formation.
Ambrosia has a few Mellow Gold classics, including “You’re The Only Woman” and “How Much I Feel,” which we’ll cover in time. However, this band wasn’t always a fount of wuss music. As I’m sure many of you know, their roots were in progressive rock, reflected in their first two albums. Their eponymous debut – engineered and mixed by Alan Parsons – featured two charting singles, including the awesomely-titled “Nice, Nice, Very Nice,” sung as a duet between members David Pack and Joe Puerta. (I’ve never heard this song, yet I already know I want to play it during sex.) However, their biggest hit arrived with their third album, Life Beyond L.A. “How Much I Feel” was a departure for the band: instead of prog-rock, it was a gentle pop ballad with smooth backing vocals. It was almost left off the album for this very reason, as the band didn’t want to alienate their rock fans. (Think of it as their version of Styx’s “Babe.”)
The success of “How Much I Feel” caused Pack and Ambrosia to re-think their artistic direction, and their pop sensibilities were thus reflected in their next album, One Eighty. This brings us to “Biggest Part Of Me,” which matched their previous wussy hit by reaching #3.
Do you want to know why “Biggest Part Of Me” is such a Mellow Gold classic? Firstly, instrumentation. The keyboard is the primary instrument. There’s a little bit of guitar, but not much. In fact, the guitar gets completely pimp-slapped by both the keyboard and the saxophone. We already know that no Mellow Gold song is truly complete without a sax solo. There are two in “Biggest Part Of Me.” In fact, the guitar gets just a teeny chance to solo (and even then, the keyboard’s wailing in the background), and then the sax comes back with a big ol’ “I don’t think so, bitch!” Two sax solos in one song: that’s Mellow Gold.
Let’s talk about vocals. This song wouldn’t be memorable at all if not for the soaring vocal by David Pack. A strong, soulful voice with an unbelievable range and a clear-as-day falsetto, his performance makes the song what it is. And you’ve got some unbelievable backing vocals. I mean, seriously: unbelievable. I’m clearly not motivated enough to analyze the structure, but we’re not talking your usual third-and-fifth-above harmonies here. These are jazzy, open harmonies. And listen to the backing vocal in the chorus: “Wishing it will cooooome…true!” Right there is everything you could ever want from a backing vocal.
Wait a minute, I take it back. It’s missing one thing:
Think about it: “Biggest Part Of Me” sounds like a McD song that’s missing the McD, and this is partially what gives it the MG quality. I don’t think a McD vocal would have the same effect as Pack’s, but I could definitely hear him singing lead. (I could listen to McD singing anything from “Biggest Part Of Me” to “Hello Muddah, Hello Fadduh.”) And can’t you just hear him in the backing vocal? It hurts me to know that he eventually became a close friend of Pack’s, but obviously not in time to contribute to this song. In fact, here’s a fucking awesome picture of McD, Amy Holland, Pack and James Ingram. They should have created their own SuperWussyGroup.
Choose your own caption:
David Pack during his “lost Miami Vice weekend”
Michael McDonald during his “failed hair bleach experiment”
James Ingram during his “dressing like a cracker” phase
Amy Holland thinking “I hope this leads to me getting a song on the St. Elmo’s Fire soundtrack”
I mean, yeah, it sounds like McD’s singing anyway, but I’d just feel better knowing he was actually there, y’know? Oh well.
I did mention that there is just one small thing wrong with “Biggest Part Of Me.” Nobody – including David Pack himself – knows how to leave well enough alone. This song has been covered numerous times, and suffice to say that nothing even comes close to the original. Artists like Take 6 and John Tesh have watered it down until it becomes a mushy mess of smooth jazz (and you and I both know that there is nothing that comes close to the hell reserved for creators and lovers of smooth fucking jazz). Pack pulled a Mardones and re-recorded it for his 2005 album The Secret Of Movin’ On, and even his result is smooth jazz dreck. I don’t even want to talk about what Livingston Taylor (an artist I genuinely like) did to “Biggest Part Of Me.” Listen to a 30-second sample yourself, if you dare. I won’t dignify his cover with a comment. Okay, just one: it makes me want to jump off a bridge. (“bay-beeeee?” WTF?)
I’ll give Pack credit for one thing, however: he still sings “Biggest Part Of Me” in the original key, and his vocal still packs a mighty wallop. He doesn’t tour much with Ambrosia anymore; in fact, he seems to be quite chummy with Steve Perry. (Maybe the two of them get together with Dennis DeYoung and collectively curse their former bands.) If you do hear of Pack touring with Ambrosia again, though, it might be worth checking out. Take advantage of a wussy opportunity and see if they live up to their performance on Merv Griffin:
And hey, is it just me, or does Pack look just a little like Will Ferrell?
Man, now I have a hankering for some McD.
Christopher Cross – All Right (download)
Our second pilgrimage to The Cross, “All Right” was the first single released from his second album, Another Page. As you’ll know if you’ve read Jefito’s definitive Idiot’s Guide To Christopher Cross, the album wasn’t very good. Sure, it had a hit one year after its release – “Think Of Laura,” which was undoubtedly helped by exposure on General Hospital – but the album, as a whole, was a disappointment to those who were expecting greatness from the man who won five Grammy Awards 2 years’ prior. “All Right” never made it past #12.
If you want more information as to where Cross went wrong with his career, Jeff’s guide is for you. I’m just here to talk about the anthem of flaccid men everywhere.
Firstly, the music. I can’t say for sure, but I’d bet that Cross was a bit jealous of Joey Scarbury’s hit theme from Greatest American Hero. That, and clearly he was having sex with a synthesizer at the time. There’s your standard synthesized piano sound, but then you’ve got this arpeggiated, swirling keyboard sound that I would swear was lifted straight out of “Flashdance…What A Feeling.” It’s WIMPY, people! It doesn’t lend itself to the triumphant feeling this song is trying to put forth. For a few fleeting moments, Cross does rise (musically) above these deficits to give the song at least a little bit of a kick in the ‘nads, thanks to a pretty strong electric guitar and an impressive guitar solo – one that, Jefito assures me, is courtesy of Cross himself. However, just when you think it’s all right, you think we’re gonna make it, he wusses out again! Skip to around 2:05, when he’s coming out of the chorus with a building guitar stab – and then a pause – and then that awful piano riff. Oh, Christopher. You thought we were going to make it. We didn’t.
Speaking of, there are some classic Mellow Gold lines in here. Take the chorus: “All right, think we’re gonna make it.” Uh, you sure about that, Chris? ‘Cause you don’t sound sure. I don’t know how much more tentative this hook could be. “All right, think it’s possible we could come maybe a little close to actually making it…possibly” is a bit better, but it just doesn’t scan. And how about “think it might just work out this time.” You THINK it MIGHT JUST work out THIS TIME? Dude! She’s not going to stick around if you don’t act like you’re sure! Be a man! If I were the girl, I’d slap you in the face with a flamingo and start searching for a real man, like Andrew Gold.
The biggest problem of “All Right,” however, isn’t the music or the lyrics. The problem is that Christopher Cross’s voice just doesn’t lend itself to this kind of song. I have no problems with the others in terms of vocal quality: “Sailing?” Take me away! “Arthur’s Theme?” I’m caught between the moon and blah blah blah! “Think of Laura?” Dude, I’m thinking – and I’m in tears! (I know, she wouldn’t want me to, shut up.) And I know the man can spit out an edgy vocal, evidenced by “Ride Like The Wind.” (And by “edgy,” I mean “edgy if you consider Emo Phillips edgy.”) He makes the absolute wrong decision here. He toes the line between whining and wailing, and it’s his fault the song – intended to be one of those kick-ass, we did it, you guys! songs – completely misses the mark. And because it misses the mark…it’s Mellow Gold. Q.E.D.
But you know what? Somehow, this song works. Example: yesterday, as I finished a really good workout and was stretching, guess what chorus entered into my head? That’s right. I smiled before I even realized what I was singing. Clearly, it’s the anthem for pussies. Oh, and whenever I’m around Mike and he sings the chorus (the only part any of us know), he pumps his fist in the air. You don’t just go pumping your fist in the air for no reason at all, unless you’re clinically insane or Benny Mardones. And I’d argue Mike doesn’t even realize he’s doing it. The Cross just takes over. And you know damn well this fucking chorus is going to be in your head all day. (You’re welcome.) So the song has redeeming qualities. And I can only come up with one good reason why:
He rocked the shit out of “Ride Like The Wind,” so thankfully Cross was smart enough to call McD back for the sophomore album and this song. Granted, his presence isn’t as obvious as “Ride.” In fact, I’ll be honest: until I really started listening to “All Right” for this entry, I didn’t know he was on the track. You think I’d be ashamed of such a thing, loving McD the way that I do. I’m not ashamed. Know why? Because I’m convinced that his presence subconsciously entered my brain, and that’s why I wound up feeling good about the song. Thank you again, McD, for being you. You are my hero.
Jefito, clearly being the only person ambitious enough to write an Idiot’s Guide to Christopher Cross, sent me a remix of “All Right” that I must share with you. It’s from an import version of The Definitive Collection. Is it good? No, not necessarily. But when has that stopped me from passing it on?
Christopher Cross – All Right (Remix) (download)
Download, and get your wussy groove on! And don’t forget to stop by next week for more Adventures Through The Mines Of Mellow Gold!