I’m listing 10 must-own albums in an attempt to define the musical genre of the music scene this book project is all about. Read part 1 of this article here.
The final five albums you need to track down and listen to ASAP are as follows:
Christopher Cross: Christopher Cross (1979)
Christopher Cross’ rapid slide from omnipresence into obscurity is one of the great mysteries of pop music history. A fresh face on the scene at 29, he swept away the four major Grammys at the 1980 award ceremony – an unmatched feat to this day. His self-designated “pop ‘n’ roll” immediately hit a major chord with the American public, and his self-titled debut album, propelled by three hit singles, found its way into many a record shelf across the country. Cross’ pleasant melodies, coupled with Michael Omartian’s crisp production and stellar cameos by some of SoCal’s finest singers, provided the perfect musical companion to carefree days along the California coast.
Standout Tracks: Ride Like The Wind, Sailing
Boz Scaggs: Middle Man (1980)
With “Middle Man”, producer Bill Schnee and arranger/keyboardist David Foster brought the absolute best out of erstwhile bluesman Boz Scaggs and created one of the coolest albums in LA history. Everything from the effortless, playful swing of the drum tracks to Scaggs’ trademark detached yet soulful delivery is almost uncannily impeccable. Gone is the grittiness of the artist’s previous offerings, in favor of Schnee’s sparkling hi-fi approach. The songwriting is outstanding, treading a fine line between dance numbers and controlled yet energetic rockers. If Christopher Cross is the sound of a long, sunny day out in the yacht, Scaggs takes us to his penthouse pad for the afterparty.
Standout tracks: Jojo, You Got Some Imagination
Kenny Loggins: Keep The Fire (1979)
After striking up a writing partnership with then Doobie Brothers frontman Michael McDonald, Loggins was setting himself up for several Grammy awards at the turn of the decade. His vocal performance on “This Is It” earned him well-deserved accolades the same year that the Doobies took “What a Fool Believes” to the top of the charts. Though not the most polished-sounding album, “Keep The Fire” showcases Kenny Loggins and his backing band at the top of their game. Multi-track recording pioneer Tow Dowd helped Loggins couple his penchant for old-school rock ‘n’ roll with his flower power aesthetics to create a true west coast classic.
Standout tracks: This Is It, Love Has Come of Age
Gino Vannelli: Nightwalker (1981)
Canadian drummer/vocalist/songwriter Gino Vannelli moved to Los Angeles in the mid-seventies after landing a record deal with Herb Alpert’s A&M Records. Over the next few years, Vannelli, aided by his brothers Joe and Ross, made dramatic vocals over meticulously constructed backing tracks his trademark sound, and eventually found mainstream success with his 1978 ballad “I Just Wanna Stop.” On “Nightwalker”, his label debut on Arista, he perfected his progressive fusion approach to the California sound with a set that was destined to give burgeoning musicians worldwide sore fingers for decades.
Standout tracks: Santa Rosa, Stay With Me
Bill Champlin: Runaway (1981)
Despite initial doubts and a concerned phone call from Kenny Loggins, Bill Champlin joined then-struggling horn outfit Chicago in 1981. Bringing with him his friend and longtime collaborator David Foster, the former Sons of Champlin singer played a key role in the band’s sudden turn of fortune. The one downside to the union was that it didn’t give Elektra much incentive to market the album Champlin had just recorded with Foster at the helm. Champlin’s second solo album, “Runaway” came and went largely without notice. Still, it remains a cult favorite to this day, striking the critical balance between commercial appeal and musical sophistication with pinpoint precision.
Standout tracks: Satisfaction, Without You
Whew, that’s a lot of quality stuff right there. There are a few glaring omissions from the list, like Marc Jordan’s seminal “Blue Desert” and Maxus’ self-titled album, but they’re nigh on impossible to find on CD or even iTunes these days. I’ll do a write-up of the hard-to-find classics in a week or two.
Disclaimer: One of the criteria for selection is availability. That means that some of my favorite genre milestones will have to wait for the collector’s guide list. Also, a lot of albums have one or two fantastic songs without being a great album as a whole. I have a feeling these albums will be discussed at length later.