❉ Cherry Red shines a light onto the LA hitmaker’s early solo career.
Funny isn’t it, the music business? You know the name of an artist, and yet all you know of them are the two songs that get played on BBC Radio 2.
Before he wrote for 10CC and joined Graham Gouldman in Wax, Andrew (who sadly died in 2011) was a renowned singer songwriter, hitting the charts with Lonely Boy and Thank You For Being A Friend; as well as successful collaborations with artists like Art Garfunkel, Linda Ronstadt and many other famous names on the West Coast music scene where his skills as a producer, performer and composer were highly rated.
Lonely Boy, Andrew’s biggest solo hit is one I’m sure we are all familiar with, its mid-‘70s MOR vibe telling a story as old as time of sibling rivalry and perceived parental betrayal, all mixed in with Andrew’s superb vocals, and of course it christens this seven-disc set from Esoteric Recordings.
Containing his four Asylum albums, a disc of unreleased studio material (including demos for Lonely Boy, Thank You For Being A Friend and Gambler amongst others), a disc of previously unreleased live recordings and a DVD of his TV appearances and music videos, this comprehensively curated anthology shines a light into his early solo career.
Covering the years 1975 – 1980, these four albums show Andrew’s progression from a well-known performer on the LA music scene to becoming an internationally applauded singer/songwriter and master of his craft.
Released in 1975, his debut album Andrew Gold is a damn fine way to announce yourself to the music world – if you weren’t on the LA music scene, you’d be surprised when this ‘unknown’ appeared fully formed with a taut debut full of self-penned songs.
However, music ran through Andrews vein’s, his mother was singer Marni Nixon (“The ‘ghost’ who sang for Audrey Hepburn in My Fair Lady, for Deborah Kerr in The King and I and for Natalie Wood in West Side Story.”) and his father was Academy Award-winning composer Ernest Gold. After releasing a single in 1967 with friend and collaborator Charlie Villiers, Andrew was part of the LA band Bryndle before working as an arranger and performer for Linda Ronstadt, and Linda repays the favour by providing backing vocals on a number of songs across this collection.
One of the main vibes I get from the debut album is the versatility and sheer confidence of Gold, that and his way with a melody. There’s a real mix of songs and styles on this album and rather than sounding like an artist trying to find his feet, it sounds more like an artist showing what he can do, (and of course with it being a debut album there’s always the risk that you’ll never get this chance again) and Gold is fine form and voice on this record.
From ballads like Heartaches in Heartaches and Love Hurts to the country feel of songs like I’m a Gambler and Hang My Picture On The Wall, not only did Gold have a way with a tune, but he also had a knack with the lyrics as well. No line is forced and each performance is natural and accomplished, and, as the in-depth sleeve notes allude, Gold was an anglophile and Beatles fan; and he has elements of the song writing melodical nous of McCartney mixed with the fluid harmonic guitar sound of Harrison.
The real stand out track on here is the song Endless Flight (covered and released as a single in the UK by Leo Sayer) which manages to build the claustrophobia and sheer inertia of long distance flying into a well-honed rock song, with elements of musique concrete filtering through with the air stewardess voices, and a really great atmospheric musical accompaniment.
Finishing this disc off with a contemporary performance of the raucous Hang My Picture On The Wall, this is a real statement that Andrew Gold had arrived as a solo performer, with an assured and polished debut set.
1976 saw Gold hone his sound with second album What’s Wrong With This Picture? With its teasing album cover that was full of paradoxes, produced by former Beatles protégé Peter Asher, it is home to his biggest song Lonely Boy, with backing vocals by long term collaborator Linda Ronstadt.
I must admit for a long time, I didn’t get this song at all. I thought it was a bit bland and a bit of a non-event; however diving deeper into this album and listening to Andrew’s other tracks, there’s a penny-dropping moment, I get this song now, and listening back it is a sheer piece of pop perfection.
From the accompaniment and the performance, to the vocals and lyrics it is note-perfect (interestingly in later interviews Andrew Gold mentioned that he shouldn’t have used his real date of birth in the song, as it made people think it was autobiographical, when he’d had a happy childhood) and there’s a good reason why it hit the UK’s top ten when released as a single.
However it does seem a bit of a backwards step to include three cover versions, no matter how well intentioned, and we do get a spirited romp through Do Wah Diddy Diddy, a great stab at Buddy Holly’s Learning the Game and a cover of the Zodiacs’ doo-wop classic Stay, all showcasing the diverse musical influences on Gold’s writing.
It is on his own music though where this album comes alive, from the aforementioned Lonely Boy, to the beautiful Firefly and Passing Thing. Gold’s song writing skills were getting sharper and sharper, and consolidated the success of the debut.
By 1978’s All This And Heaven Too, Gold was on a roll, this album containing two evergreen classics, the sublime Never Let Her Slip Away (which hit the Top 5 in the UK singles chart) and the perennial favourite Thank You For Being A Friend (later memorably covered for the theme tune of The Golden Girls, currently enjoying a complete re-run on Channel 5). Containing two big numbers, this was Andrew’s highest placed UK solo chart album.
Always a confident and consummate professional, this is the strongest of his solo albums, and this returns to the template of his debut with the majority of songs being self-penned, bar the strong opening gambit of How Can This Be Love.
Gold’s Anglophilia shows its face again throughout this album, with both Never Let Her Slip Away and Thank You For Being A Friend both having a very English sound to the songwriting (and uncredited backing vocals on Never Let Her Slip Away by Gold’s good friend Freddie Mercury). The sound here is the cross between that smooth Laurel Canyon LA sound and the stripped back English pastoral sound of the early 1970s, and whilst it sounds like it shouldn’t work, it’s put to incredible use here.
One of Gold’s strengths as a songwriter is making songs sound deceptively simple and straightforward, when in fact they are complex and multi-layered(the harmonies on Never Let Her Slip Away for instance are a thing of beauty), and it’s this knack of getting a hook and then pulling you in that makes this album incredibly enjoyable.
The sophistication behind these songs and the production is brilliant, and the new remastering helps tease this out more, with songs like Still You Linger On and You’re Free being highlights. Also of interest is a version of Mark Safan’s I’m On My Way, later a single for Captain and Tennille.
Whirlwind, Andrew’s last solo album on a major label, and last solo album until the 1990s, sees a definite attempt to beef up his sound. There’s a harder edge to these songs, from the riff-driven opener Kiss This One Goodbye, which has some lovely Beatlesque harmonies, and a more jagged, taut, production.
The title track has a smoother, languid feel to it, channelling his earlier song-writing craft and beefed up with some nice guitar riffs. The country style feel makes this sound far more natural to Gold’s voice than some of the other tracks on here. Elsewhere, Leave Her Alone is quite a sleazy blues tune, bringing his inner Phil Lynott to the fore and sounding more like late ‘70s Wishbone Ash than anything from his previous records!
Whilst he was clearly stretching his style, and pushing his writing, I wonder if the change of direction had an impact on his fledgling fan base, as this is as different from its predecessor as it could possibly be. Where it works best is on tracks like Little Company or Make up Your Mind which blend his previous style with the slightly harder-edged sound and works better as an evolution rather than a revolution.
Even though Whirlwind bears little resemblance to what came before, I do find it a great listen, and these are all meticulously crafted songs, with Gold able to pull out all the stops.
Having listened to these four albums, it seems a shame that Andrew Gold was trying to make his mark as a classic West Coast singer/songwriter in the strange hinterland of the mid-to-late ‘70s where genres like disco, punk, soul and new wave all jostled for attention… If artists like Paul McCartney, Bob Dylan, et al struggled in that environment, particularly as the decade inexorably inched towards the 1980s, someone like Gold trying to build a strong solo career really does sound out of his time.
This, with the benefit of hindsight means that because the songs on here aren’t of their time, they are timeless, and have aged a lot better than other contemporaneous material.
Moving onto the bonus material, the demos and unreleased songs is one of those discs that’s great to pop on occasionally but won’t replicate the originals. The demos of tracks like Lonely Boy, Firefly, Ten Years Behind Me etc. all cast insight into the song-writing process, and the unreleased material like bar room blues Broken Pinball Machine, or the spirited cover of The In Crowd (from the Whirlwind sessions) are always worth a dip into, although some of these were released previously on the Edsel remasters of Gold’s albums a few years previously.
The treasure trove however is when you dip into Disc 6, the live recordings, where you find eighteen live tracks covering 1976/1977, with all but one track being previously unreleased.
The first eight tracks capture Gold and his band live at The Universal Amphitheatre, LA, and is a rollicking run-through of the best tracks from his first two albums, with songs like Stay, Hang My Picture On The Wall, a sublime rendition of Endless Flight and a superb finale of Lonely Boy that captures Andrew and band in absolutely fine form.
The songs come alive here and the show is a fantastic performance, showing that Andrew didn’t just have the mastery of the studio, but he also had stagecraft amongst his musical arsenal. That’s what happens when like Andrew Gold did, you pay your dues on any musical scene – by the time you hit the big time, you’re a master of the stage and can pull off sublime interpretations of your songs on stage.
The second part of this epic live collection is a complete BBC In Concert recorded in November 1976 and broadcast in March 1977. The equivalent Old Grey Whistle Test broadcast is on the DVD, and this concert recording is probably the first time it has been aired officially in over 40 years. He and the band sound comfortable and confident on stage, and this is a great live performance which thanks to the BBC archive and Esoteric’s meticulous research means we get to hear what Andrew and band sound like in full flight.
Lonely Boy gets its obligatory airing and is a fantastic live version with a searing guitar solo, and there’s a brilliant version of Heartaches in Heartaches and the set rounds off on an encore of Go Back Home Again, which with the applause that the songs get throughout the set, show just how well-received this set was.
For anyone who already owns the old Edsel remasters of the four Asylum albums and is wondering whether to purchase this set, the answer is emphatically Yes!
This is a fascinating collection and shows that there is so much more to Andrew Gold than the odd track played on BBC Radio 2, and if you like anglophile American singer/songwriters who mix up the West Coast sound with great lyrics and sublime musical moments then you need to buy this.
You must excuse me, I’m off to listen to What’s Wrong With This Picture? again…
❉ Andrew Gold: ‘Lonely Boy – The Asylum Years Anthology’ (QECLEC72722) is released July 24, 2020, by Esoteric Records, RRP £39.99. Click here to order directly from Cherry Red Records.
❉ James R. Turner is a music and media journalist. Over the last 25 years he has contributed to the Classic Rock Society magazine, BBC online, Albion Online, The Digital Fix, DPRP, Progarchy, ProgRadar and more. James’ debut book is out in September and he is head of PR for Bad Elephant Music. He lives in North Somerset with his fiancee Charlotte, their Westie Dilys & Ridgeback Freja, three cats and too many CDs, records & Blu-Rays.