I don’t really want to talk about Michael Been right now, not under these circumstances. It occurs to me that we should have been talking about him a long time ago, him and his band the Call. They had a string of albums on the Mercury label in the early 1980s, filled with tough, no nonsense rock tunes. The music scene was in the throes of the new wave, and perhaps you could lump them in with that affiliation, but it never seemed to fit right. The band’s fans know of the self-titled debut, Modern Romans and Scene Beyond Dreams, but readers of our site are probably more familiar with the band’s Elektra debut, Reconciled (1985), and the song “I Still Believe.” You might even know the other modern radio track “Everywhere I Go.”
It’s troubling to think that was their career peak as far as popularity goes. In terms of quality I’d rank their next album Into the Woods (1987) equal or even higher on some days. It wouldn’t be long before the band moved on to MCA which, at that time, was gobbling up established bands to try to prop up their roster. MCA hadn’t broken a new act in a long time, so they weren’t even going to play the game of trying. The problem is that they weren’t particularly interested in supporting their new acquisitions either and their albums for the label made a sad, silent slide into the cutout bins. That’s where I bought the cassette of Red Moon (1990).
Been was always very open about his faith, and about his struggles with it. He sang songs of triumph and of dismay, and he did it with the passionate bellow of a preacher. He was always intelligent about his message, and it was never a case of proselytizing or of rolling a message up and shoving it down your throat. He sang “I Still Believe” with the same conviction as he did when he covered the Yardbirds’ “For Your Love” on his solo album On the Verge of a Nervous Breakthrough (1994). And when he felt like breaking your heart, he could do that too. Breakthrough featured his song “To Feel This Way” and it was subsequently revived by the Call on their Warner Bros. debut, The Best of the Call. Breakthrough also had the track “Worried” and even in the early ’90s, in the age of rock and roll pity parties, he imbued the song with a palpable sense of despair.
You know time don’t mean nothing but a burden to me, so I’m free to be lifted on a wing, and I’m open to try if you think it’ll work, but a can’t guarantee anything. It’s getting too quick for me to keep up, so you better keep holding me fast, ’cause I may fly off into a million pieces, and you won’t know the first from the last.
Here’s the kicker — if you look at the song from a different angle, it’s not about a downward spiral at all, but the gravitational pull of falling in love.
So if you ever worried about me darling, better worry about me now, and if you ever cared anything about me, better care about me now, I’m on a one-way dive to the bottom of the world, this could be my final bow, so if you ever worried about me, better worry about me now.
Few writers or musicians could pull off a song with such drastic perspective shifts, all dependent on the processing of the listener. If there was justice, and it’s hard to claim there is, the Call would have been recalled as readily as U2, another group frequently accused of fusing themes of faith and spirituality to a hard-kick rock beat. Perhaps we would have seen a reunion, and while that might not have been a cash cow proposition, it would have made the fans happy. It would definitely have made me happy, but now it all gets filed under “What might have been”, no pun intended. With respect to Tom Ferrier, Scott Musick and Jim Goodwin, the Call does not exist without Been, and the music world is diminished because of it.
I like the opening statement on their Wikipedia entry: “The Call was an American rock band …” That’s just fine.
One final note: A lot will be said about Been’s relationship with Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, as his son Robert is the lead singer for the group, but this is all that needs to be said right at this moment.