Revisiting my extensive music collection, one artist at a time
Album: LOVE ON THE WIRE
[Welcome to Forty Year Friday, the weekly series on my favorite albums of 1977]
Last week I wrote about My Aim Is True, the debut album by Elvis Costello, which featured four members of Clover as his backing band: guitarist John McFee (soon to join The Doobie Brothers), keyboardist Sean Hopper (a founding member of Huey Lewis & The News), bassist Johnny Ciambotti and drummer Mickey Shine (replaced on their final LP by Tony Braunagel). This Northern California group had begun in the early ‘70s as a country-rock band and, after a pair of albums, several lineup changes and a new record deal in the UK, released two more excellent albums, Untitled (1976) and Love On The Wire (1977), before disbanding. They are now best remembered (if at all) for their two lead vocalists, Alex Call (who also played guitar and later co-wrote the Tommy Tutone smash hit “867-5309/Jenny” and penned “Little Too Little” for Pat Benatar & “Perfect World” for Huey Lewis & The News) and Huey Lewis (billed as Huey Louis, he also wailed on harmonica). Both of these albums eschewed their country-rock beginnings for a more polished melodic pop/rock sound with strong vocal harmonies, and it might surprise hard rock fans to know that they were produced by Robert John “Mutt” Lange, who’s best known for his subsequent work with AC/DC and Def Leppard (among many others, including his longtime wife Shania Twain). In addition to their connection with Mr. Costello, Clover also toured with Thin Lizzy, forging a friendship between Huey and Lizzy’s frontman, Phil Lynott.
I’ve made no secret about how much I love Huey Lewis & The News, previously highlighting them in my No Guilt, Just Pleasure post, my Great Out Of The Gate series and last year’s Thirty Year Thursday feature on their fourth album, Fore. Needless to say, it was my connection to Huey & the boys that had me clamoring to hear what he did before forming The News, and I wasn’t disappointed when I finally found these records sometime in the early ‘90s. Alex Call handles most of the lead vocals, and he has a strong voice (occasionally reminding me of Jackson Browne), but Huey’s “rough-as-sandpaper and smooth-as-honey” vocals (as I once described them) are instantly recognizable whether he’s out front or just handling backing vocals. Love On The Wire includes a number of catchy tunes with earworm choruses, including album opener “Hearts Under Fire.” At 5:45 it might be a little too long for a bouncy, slightly jazzy pop tune, but it’s an excellent showcase for both singers and establishes McFee’s impressive six-string chops. Huey’s only solo vocal showcase is the slow, bluesy “Ain’t Nobody Own Nobody’s Soul.” Otherwise, Call’s is the main voice throughout. “Southern Belles” is a fun, upbeat shuffle with swirling organ, “Still Alive” verges on southern rock with guitar & harmonica handling what would typically be a dual-guitar attack and the propulsive “From Now On” is one of the most upbeat tracks, with a drum pattern bordering on disco. Their a capella performance of The Coasters classic “Keep On Rollin’,” written by the legendary songwriting team of Lieber & Stoller, begins with 45 seconds of silly studio banter, and is broken up in the middle by laughter (making me wonder what they were rollin’ during that recording session), but it doesn’t take away from an impressive doo-wop inspired vocal performance. A few other songs are pleasant yet mostly forgettable, but the album ends on a high note with their rendition of Ricky Nelson’s 1961 #1 single “Travelin’ Man.” It’s a nice homage to the ’50s/’60s TV idol/pop star who didn’t receive critical acclaim until years after his death in 1985, with an uptempo shuffle rhythm and a slightly rocked-up arrangement. I won’t argue that Clover is one of the all-time great bands, or that Love On The Wire is an undiscovered classic, but the musicianship was superb, they wrote some great songs, their music makes me smile and I’m always happy when I get to hear Huey Lewis sing. There are plenty of more heralded albums from 1977, but since it’s among my favorites and they were featured in my previous post, this seemed like the perfect opportunity to shine a light on this under-appreciated band.