Billy Thermal: Billy Thermal

BillyThermal_BillyThermalA hit songwriter’s long-lost New Wave beginnings

If you read album credits, you might recognize this little-known band’s main man, Billy Steinberg, from the hit singles he’s written for everyone from Linda Ronstadt to Demi Lovato. But before penning “How Do I Make You,” “Eternal Flame,” “True Colors,” “I’ll Stand By You,” “I Touch Myself,” and “Like a Virgin,” Steinberg started a band, and named it after himself and the town in which his father owned a vineyard. Signed by producer Richard Perry to his new Planet Records label, Steinberg and his guitarist, Craig Hull, produced an album of original material that, save for “I’m Gonna Follow You” (which turned up on the Sharp Cuts compilation) failed to gain Perry’s attention. Released from their contract, an EP‘s worth of tracks (1, 2, 6, 8 and 10) gained indie release in 1982, but the rest was left in the vault.

But even stuck in a vault, the material yielded results, as three of the album’s songs and one unreleased demo were picked up by other artists. Ronstadt took “How Do I Make You” to #10 in 1980, Pat Benetar recorded “I’m Gonna Follow You” and “Precious Time,” and Rick Nelson waxed a version of “Don’t Look at Me” for his last album. The seeds of Steinberg’s songwriting success were sewn, but like a lot of songwriters, his dream of making it as a performer was not realized. The album was sharply written, played and produced and today offers itself as a bridge between the power-pop of the Raspberries and Rubinoos and the punchy new wave of the Cars. It’s an album you might have found in a cut-out bin and proselytized relentlessly to your friends – Robin Lane & The Chartbusters, anyone? – and it’s an album you’d have wished was on CD. And now, finally, it is, and spiced with bonus demos.

This is also an album that should have launched “How Do I Make You” and “I’ll Tell You My Dreams” on MTV. Perhaps Planet was too busy with Sue Saad and the Next to push another rock band, or maybe the combination of angular new wave, pop harmonies, punk rock attitude and a few progressive changes wasn’t simple enough to market. It’s hard to imagine this barrel full of hooks, terrific guitar sounds, punchy drumming and adenoidal vocals wouldn’t have found a place alongside the Vapors, Oingo Boingo and XTC. Omnivore’s reissue includes a 16-page booklet that features liner notes by Billy Steinberg, lyrics and a few period photos. After a few spins you’ll swear Billy Thermal was one of the bands that hooked you into saying “let’s just wait for one more video.” [©2014 Hyperbolium]

Billy Steinberg’s Home Page

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