I firmly believe that had he been an acting singer — rather than the other way around — Jack Wagner could have been one of the biggest pop stars of the ’80s. He had the material, the mullet, and the looks, not to mention an elastic, tremendously underrated voice. Sure, his music tended toward the less substantial end of the spectrum, but hey, I said pop star.
In 1987, he was three years removed from his greatest success, the Number Two hit “All I Need,” and the light was dimming on his major-label recording career. All the ballsier of him, then, to title his third album Don’t Give Up Your Day Job, even as he was preparing to bid adieu his role as singer-turned-cop-turned-spy Frisco Jones on General Hospital.
Self-awareness may not have ever truly extended a performing career, but it’s still a nice quality to have.
And actually, Day Job spun off a Top 40 hit; the first single, “Weatherman Says” (download) was absolutely perfect in sound and subject for the summer of ‘87, and had Wagner been on a label other than Qwest, it probably would have performed better. Likewise the second single, the duet with labelmate Siedah Garrett, “It’s What We Don’t Say” (download); it’s horrible and obvious and cheesy, but no more so than any of the other goopy duets riding high on the pop charts in the late ’80s (”After All” to the white courtesy phone).
Day Job is the kind of album revered in certain circles as a West Coast pop classic (hence the obscene amounts of money that copies command at Amazon and eBay), and though the songwriting doesn’t really bear that lofty status out, the record is so impeccably assembled that it’s easy to understand its cachet. Wagner used a small army of producers (among them Eliot Scheiner and Glen Ballard) and many of the biggest session cats of the era (including Dann Huff, Nathan East, Joe Chemay, Mike Landau, and Paul Leim) to get what he wanted, which was a smooth ‘n shiny love letter to CHR radio.
I’m telling you, if it had been recorded by Glenn Medeiros, Day Job would have gone platinum. You’ve got the Aqua Net rock of “Easy Way Out” (download) and “It’s Been A Long Time” (download), the soothing balladry of “Back Home Again” (download), plus all of the above.
Eh. As it happened, the record tanked, and Wagner has released music only sporadically since. Bigger pop idols have fallen, and bigger still will continue to fall, but still, it’s a bit of a shame, no? Break out the hairspray!