That’s right, cutout lovers! It’s Jimmy Harnen!
Why do you all have that look on your faces? What, you don’t remember Jimmy Harnen, lead singer of the late ’80s Wilkes-Barre sensation Synch?
Okay, fair enough. But here’s the thing, you guys: You totally do remember Jimmy. If you’ve shopped for frozen foods or had your teeth cleaned at any point in the last 19 years, you’ve heard his big fat adult contemporary hit, “Where Are You Now.” You probably thought it was Air Supply or Deon Estus singing it, but no. Jimmy Harnen had you fooled.
He had a lot of people fooled, actually — unfortunately, most of them were the ones buying his album, Can’t Fight the Midnight, based on the simpering stylings of his hit single. You wouldn’t think it, listening to “Where Are You Now” — I didn’t believe it until I heard it for myself — but Harnen was no AC crooner. No, he was a good old-fashioned mullet rocker.
The reason for the discrepancy, as was the case strangely often in the ’80s, was that Harnen had recorded “Where Are You Now” years previous, as the drummer for Synch, a Pennsylvania band that pulled a Hooters and turned local success into a contract with Columbia. Harnen wasn’t Synch’s singer — in fact, the single was the only track he took the lead on — but Columbia execs knew an MOR hit when they heard one.
Except it wasn’t a hit — not at first, anyway. Synch lost its record deal and broke up; following the split, according to Harnen’s Wikipedia entry, “Jimmy finally got his hair cut.”
Fast forward to 1989, when, a la Benny Mardones and Sheriff, our boy Jimmy finds himself with a belated hit on his hands. The folks at Columbia promptly sent him back into the studio to record a new album, surrounding him with ringers like Randy Jackson, Steve Lukather, and (again, quoting from Wikipedia) “one of Harnen’s idols, REO Speedwagon’s Kevin Cronin.”
The result was Can’t Fight the Midnight, an album I totally slept on when it was released, but I can say now, with complete confidence, that I would have played the shit out of if I’d owned it in 1989. It’s got the intelligence of an amoeba, but it’s also chock full of that nougaty ’80s fake heartland rock goodness that made the last few years of the decade so much fun, and I don’t know what else you can ask for. The Cronin duet, “I Don’t Mind,” is particularly wonderful, and by “wonderful” I mean “borderline offensive in the way it tries to pander to truck-driving Natty Light drinkers who would probably break Kevin Cronin in half if they bumped into him in a bar.”
Did it sell worth a damn? Of course not — this is Cutouts Gone Wild! we’re talking about here. But for once, we aren’t dealing with an album that flopped because of terrible songs, or unfashionable music, or dunderheaded record execs. It just…flopped. Harnen had the look and the sound, but nobody cared. It was the musical equivalent of a 11-foot-tall basketball player whiffing on a dunk — utterly fascinating for all the wrong reasons.
Harnen knew when he was licked, and quit the biz, heading into A&R, where he’s apparently made quite a name for himself — from what I’ve read, he’s currently a senior VP at Capitol. Way to ward off the “Where Are You Now” jokes, Jimmy! Sure, Capitol sucks, but what label doesn’t these days?
And with that, we’ve said much more than anybody ever needed to say about Jimmy Harnen, Synch, and Can’t Fight the Midnight, so I’m just going to leave you with every track from the album, which was fetching ungodly sums on Amazon last time I checked. You do not need to pay more than $20 for this. (Special thanks to our pal Kurt for the files!)