Brace yourselves, Mellow Miners: it’s gonna get a little gloomy here today. Here are the rules: you’re allowed to stick your lower lip out, you’re allowed to find a teddy bear to hold on to, you’re even allowed to weep if you feel it’s absolutely necessary. But that’s as far as I’m going to let it go. I don’t want to open the paper tomorrow and hear about some wuss jumping off a bridge because the most recent Adventure Through The Mines Of Mellow Gold was just too much for their poor heart to take. Agreed? Okay, let’s go.
Robert John – Sad Eyes (download)
“Sad Eyes” has been on “the list” to cover for a while now, but I was reminded of it last week when Mike mentioned a compilation called Easy Rock. There it is, right at the end of Disc 2, sandwiched in between “Couldn’t Get It Right” and “Bluer Than Blue.” There’s Mellow Gold for you: ending your compilation on the most depressing note possible. The theory might have been that if you made it all the way through the second disc, there was probably little hope for you, anyway. (I suppose that this could theoretically be applied to anybody who’s made it to MG #31, but let’s not think about that – just remember today’s rules, please.)
Anyway, Robert John. His morose but oh-so-mellow gem made it all the way to #1 in October of 1979. But as you’ll see, the trip to #1 was one long journey for this guy, leaving us to wonder what’s sadder: the singer or the song.
Dave Mason called, he wants his collar back.
Robert John was actually born Robert John Pedwick, Jr. in 1946. As a youngster, he honed his vocal chops in doo-wop groups on Brooklyn street corners. In 1958, at the ripe old age of 12, he experienced his first taste of fame: he was signed to Big Top Records, a burgeoning new label that focused primarily on singles. His song, “White Bucks And Saddle Shoes,” was only the fourth release for Big Top, which eventually went on to sign Del Shannon (their biggest success) and Johnny & The Hurricanes. “White Bucks And Saddle Shoes” reached #74 in Fall of 1958. Not a huge hit, but not bad for a kid, right? Surely Robert John thought that fortune and fame were just around the corner.
Robert John was wrong. Really, really wrong.
Really, really, really, wrong.
While he did have some minor success – his ’59 follow-up, “Pajama Party” didn’t break the Hot 100, but sold well, and he sang lead on “My Jelly Bean” by Bobby & The Consoles in 1963, a New York hit – none of it even matched his debut, and certainly wasn’t enough to pay the bills. He changed his name to Robert John, and began working as both a producer and a songwriter. His demos attracted execs at Columbia Records, who released John’s song “If You Don’t Want My Love” in 1968. The single peaked at #49, John’s biggest hit to date. In 1972, on Atlantic, John re-recorded the Tokens’ hit “The Lion Sleeps Tonight,” produced by Hank Medress, one of the original Tokens. “Lion” spent seven weeks in the Top 10, and reached #3. However, Atlantic wouldn’t let him record a full album, and John quit the business.
Producer George Tobin (who, as we know, went on to work with Kim Carnes and Tiffany, among others) had been a fan of “If You Don’t Want My Love,” and convinced John to collaborate with him on a few songs. To make an already long story short, John wrote and recorded “Sad Eyes,” got picked up by EMI, and finally topped the charts.
New for 1979: a hit single from your accountant!
“Sad Eyes” clearly reflected John’s penchant for doo-wop music. In fact, he blended the smooth ’70s soft rock sound with doo-wop quite well. There weren’t any typical doo-wop vocals, but the beat and rhythm guitar part were straight outta the ’50s, as was John’s ever-strong falsetto. At the same time, you’ve got synths all around, gentle strings, some really pretty backing vocals, and – of course – a key change. Would it have killed John to throw in a sax, or maybe some Michael McDonald on the chorus? I’m just saying.
He does have one guest on the song: this chick that comes out of friggin’ nowhere at the end and starts wailing over the last chorus. I don’t know who this is, but I imagine she also auditioned for Merry Clayton’s part on “Gimme Shelter.” I like to think of her as a crazy woman who snuck her way into various recording studios, hid behind an amplifier until an artist was recording their last chorus, and then just went to town with ad-libs. Maybe that’s what really happened, and John happened to run out of studio time or something and couldn’t record another take. Okay, I’m pretty sure this didn’t happen, but at this point I’m just entertaining myself with these thoughts so I’m sticking with ’em.
And how sad are these lyrics?
Try to remember the magic that we shared
In time your broken heart will mend
I never used you, you knew I really cared
I hate to see it have to end
But it’s over.
Yeah, that’s pretty sad. But here’s what I can’t figure out. The song is sung to the woman, right? Check out the first verse.
Looks like it’s over, you knew I couldn’t stay
She’s comin’ home today
We had a good thing, I’ll miss your sweet love
Why must you look at me that way?
“She’s comin’ home today.” Now, I’ve thought about this every which way I can. The only thing I can come up with is that John is a married man, cheating on his wife who’s out of town. That’s not very mellow of you, Robert John. And, might I add, such behavior does not befit a man who routinely squeezes his nuts like two grapefruits in order to hit those high notes. (Okay, small grapefruits.)
“Sad Eyes” was accompanied by a promotional video that cost the label approximately thirty-seven dollars. It’s John, in a really fashionable sweater (I’m lying), sitting on a chair, surrounded in smoke. As if that’s going to stop us from focusing on his abnormally large forehead.
Thanks to “SeÃ±or Gasmo” for uploading the clip. I am envious of your name, sir.
When “Sad Eyes” hit #1, Robert John made music history in the kind of way appropriate for a Mellow Gold artist. Remember “White Bucks And Saddle Shoes”? (You should, I only wrote about it two minutes ago. Jeez.) That song first charted in November of 1958. When John had his #1 hit, he set the record for the longest span between chart debut and #1: 20 years, 11 months. John kept this record until 1984, when Tina Turner’s “What’s Love Got To Do With It” extended the gap to a full 24 years.
Additionally, “Sad Eyes” entered the charts on May 19, 1979, but didn’t hit #1 until October 6th, 1979, 21 weeks later – tying the record for “Slowest Mover To #1” with Nick Gilder’s “Hot Child In The City.” (Both were defeated by “Chariots Of Fire” in 1981, and as far as I know, “Macarena” now holds the record – 49 weeks – although it fell off the charts for 16 weeks in the middle somewhere.) Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure it’s nice to be noticed for any sort of record-setting, but if you had a choice, you probably wouldn’t choose records like “Longest Span Between Debut And #1” and “The Little Mellow Single That Could.”
So…poor Robert John. He didn’t give up in 1959. He didn’t give up in 1968. Oddly enough, he gave up after finally having chart success in 1972, and then inexplicably wound up with a #1 in 1979. That’s dedication! That’s pathetic perseverance! That’s Mellow Gold!
John had a few other minor hits (go ahead, tell me about ’em in the comments), but his last chart appearance was with “Bread And Butter” on Motown in 1983. I don’t know where he is or what he’s doing anymore; he’s probably living in Norway or something. Regardless, we’ll always have this mellow gem to remind of the man who waited 20 years, 11 months for his chart-topper. And he couldn’t even hold on to that record. Sad eyes, indeed.
Thanks for reading, and check you back here next week for another Adventure Through The Mines Of Mellow Gold!