Rick Springfield: Beginnings

The early ‘70s singer-songwriter roots of Rick Springfield

By the time that Rick Springfield hit it big as a pop star, with 1981’s “Jessie’s Girl,” his fame as an actor all but obscured his very real roots as a musician. But a decade before topping the U.S. charts, Springfield was a working musician in the rock band Zoot (on whose heavy cover of “Eleanor Rigby” a young Springfield can be seen playing guitar) and a solo artist with a Top 10 hit in Australia. A reworked version of that hit single, “Speak to the Sky,” reached the Billboard Top 20, and took this debut album into the Top 40. The 1981 view of a dilettante actor dabbling in music is wiped away by this record of his earlier work, for which Springfield wrote ten original tunes, sang and played guitar, keyboards and banjo.

Springfield’s songs and the production sound are heavily indebted to late ‘60s and early ‘70s rock, particularly the bass, drums and piano sounds of the Beatles, Badfinger and Big Star. The album mixes deeper numbers with bubblegum, showing Springfield’s voice to work well in both heavy and light arrangements. “The Unhappy Ending” anticipates the histrionics of Queen (and presages the opening of “Killer Queen”), while the happy-go-lucky (but war-tinged) “Hooky Jo” sports hooks worthy of Kasnetz-Katz and Graham Gouldman. Springfield’s infatuation with Paul McCartney is evidenced by the album’s chugging beats, but there are notes of soul, country-rock and pop.

The publicity build-up Springfield received with the album’s success leaned to teen idoldom, and though a few of his songs offered the romance expected by readers of Tiger Beat, he also wrote of faith, regret, marital traps and suicide. The disconnect between his publicity and music, coupled with a disastrous rumor that Capitol was inflating sales numbers, doomed Springfield’s initial into the U.S. market. Three more albums failed to right those wrongs until 1981’s Working Class Dog, bolstered by his role on General Hospital, earned him pop stardom. In addition to being a lost gem of early ‘70s pop, this debut shows Springfield’s success as a musician was honest, hard-won, and only by lucky timing the by-product of his acting fame. [©2012 hyperbolium dot com]

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