Paul Shaffer – Coast to Coast (1989)
purchase this album (Amazon)

The following was reproduced, unaltered, from this album’s booklet:

Here was the idea: that for one year, every time I had a weekend off, I would fly to one of the musical centers of the U.S.A., to one of the towns from which had emanated the music that shaped my life; and in each town I would get with my favorite friends (my favorite mentors, actually), and we would hang, party out, and make a song together … this can’t be a bad time!

So where’s the party? I started in MIAMI, looked up K.C. (he still “gets down” each night), and he started me on the coast to coast groove. NEW ORLEANS never closes, especially if you know Toussaint: when we got together, fun was number one. I met with Brian Wilson in his hot tub (no kidding), and we decided to write a song. Then when Dick Dale, Walsh and Satriani showed up, the L.A. surfin’ guitar hootenanny really kicked in.

I approached the emperor of soul, Covay, to do MEMPHIS justice. He pulled in Cropper, and we set about reassembling the legendary Soul Clan … Pickett, Womack, Ben E. … talk about a function!

DETROIT … what if I gave a party for George Clinton and the P-Funk kids and invited Valerie Simpson … wouldn’t that be Motortown meets Sci-Fi … the party event of the year.

MINNEAPOLIS, the veritable center of garage rock of the ’60s, sure became the purple party center now. Maybe Z and I could give an old song the new funk.

In the NEW YORK street, doo-wop then, hip-hop now, ain’t nothin’ but a party … Dion, Carole, the Fresh Prince, Ecstasy … they can tell you that. And don’t forget the World’s Most Dangerous Band and that Late Night groove those boys throw down, then hit CHICAGO for a live jam session with some blues greats and a cat from Newcastle … there’s the sad blues and the party blues.

Anyway, eight cities, ten songs … join the party … already in progress.

Translation: Capitol gave Paul Shaffer enough money to pay a bunch of his buddies triple scale, so he invited everyone he could think of and made a record stuffed to the gills with special guests. An old-fashioned party album, in other words … pretty much what you’d expect from a guy who had been hobnobbing with the world’s best-known musicians for over a decade.

And it flopped. It flopped hard. Didn’t even register on Billboard’s Top 200. It wasn’t just consumers who weren’t interested in Coast to Coast … critics peed all over it too. Shaffer (or, as I like to call him, “The Shafe”) didn’t take it sitting down; I remember him saying that the people who didn’t like the record thought they were “too cool for the room.”

Looking back, I sort of agree with Shaffer. This album isn’t perfect, or even a work of art, but it’s fun, in a glossy late ’80s way … and in spots, it’s even sort of incredible. Take, for instance, the leadoff track and first single, “When the Radio Is On” (download), which features lead vocals from The Shafe, rapping from the Fresh Prince, and background vocals from Dion and Carole King. What. The. Fuck.

How was this not a hit? Capitol was awash with the proceeds from two years of Richard Marx hits, and yet they couldn’t paper this song onto the charts?

The record only gets stranger from there. I bitched last year about Elvis Costello hogging the lead vocals on his album of “duets” with Allen Toussaint, but now that I’ve heard “One Cup of Coffee,” with Shaffer singing lead and Toussaint relegated to piano and backgrounds, I’m forced to amend my complaint. Again: What. The. Fuck.

And then there’s “What Is Soul” (download), which features the following credit:

Vocals (in order of appearance): Paul Shaffer, Ben E. King, Bobby Womack, Wilson Pickett, Don Covay

Shafe. Look. I know it’s your name on top of the booklet, and I know you wrote the song with Covay and Steve Cropper, but if Womack, Pickett, and King are singing about what soul is, it’s time for you to step away from the microphone. Quickly.

The title track (download), as promised, is a duet between Shaffer and Harry Wayne “KC” Casey, of the Sunshine Band. It features appearances by ClivillÁ©s and Cole, not to mention a rap from Freedom Williams, making this the album that introduced the world to C+C Music Factory.


Deeper into the rabbit hole we go on the next song. “Metal Beach” (download), the Brian Wilson cowrite, is a mentally ill blend of seemingly every A-list musician who happened to be in the 213 area code when it was recorded. Swear to God. Check it out:

Guitars: Dick Dale, Joe Satriani, Joe Walsh
Saxophone: “Teenage” Steve Douglas
Hi-hat cymbal: Mick Fleetwood
Percussion: Brian Wilson

Not to mention the spoken intro from Eugene Landy. Whaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaathefuck.

This is unfortunately where the album runs out of guest-star mojo. The next few cuts feature appearances from Eric Burdon, Koko Taylor, Buddy Guy, Valerie Simpson, and George Clinton, but none of them are as delightfully insane as what’s come before. If you don’t count a terrible version of “Louie Louie,” the rest of Coast to Coast is fairly normal. Even the Shafe only has so many names on his Rolodex, I guess.

Long story short: This album is available for less than five dollars, with shipping, from various Amazon sellers. It’s worth picking up, for no other reason than having it around to play at parties, or perhaps having the cover art framed. They don’t make ’em like this anymore.

About the Author

Jeff Giles

Jeff Giles is the founder and editor-in-chief of Popdose and Dadnabbit, as well as an entertainment writer whose work can be seen at Rotten Tomatoes and a number of other sites. Hey, why not follow him at Twitter while you're at it?

View All Articles