Music You Missed: Foghat's 'New Wave' Period.

Let's face it, we Americans cannot handle change. We elect a guy to President for the sole purpose of creating change and then we spend the next years electing other guys to do nothing, absolutely nothing, except stand in his way.

So when a beloved band decides to make a change to their look, their sound or - GASP! - both, well, look out below! Just ask the Village People.

You could also ask Foghat, who you already know as the band behind that empirical slice of refried boogie known as "Slow Ride". Sure, they also scored hits with "Fool For The City" "I Just Wanna Make Love To You", "Third Time Lucky", but, out of the millions and millions of rock songs written, recorded and radio'ed to the occupants of Earth, few stand quite so majestic as "Slow Ride".

With its slyly funky groove and a tempo that's just right for knocking boots in the back of an Econoline van with wall-to-wall shag carpeting, this "Freedom Rock" ear worm has the magic power of uniting a barroom once on the verge of an all-out pool-hall brawl.  

Even so, this writer wonders if we've advanced far enough as a people to come out of our collective closets and admit to loving "Slow Ride" for the future fucking National Anthem that it is or do we continue to roll our eyes whilst dunking our anger in hockey rink nacho sauce listening to some flat-chested stripper give the Star-Spangled Bummer a tongue bath?

Ah, but like every great rock song, we incorrigible van-bangers eventually want something more. 

The pressure from trying to please us has killed many a band over the years, too. Just ask Thin Lizzy, who ultimately couldn't top "The Boys Are Back In Town", or Deep Purple, who never got within a continent of recreating the awesomeness of "Smoke On The Water".

The Scorpions, tired of trying to top "Rock You Like A Hurricane", eventually went industrial on their Eye II Eye album. They forgot one thing - a shit album is a shit album, no matter what genre. Plus, they didn't move far enough away from their original style as to not be dragged down by people's preconceived notions.

Back in 1980, Foghat, who were five years removed from the rocket ride that had been "Slow Ride" were smart enough to notice the changing times. Even though 1979's Boogie Motel had been certified gold and spawned their second-highest charting single in "Third Time Lucky", the band knew that they were now competing against the likes of Elvis Costello, the Pretenders, and the B-52's instead of Led Zep and ZZ Top (who would follow Foghat into the "new wave" arena years later and with greater success), 

From the moment Tight Shoes hit the record racks in March 1980, the first thing most people noticed was the decidedly punkish artwork, not to mention the complete absence of biker mustaches. heck, they even dispensed with the iconic Foghat logo!

If we've learned anything from such futile attempts to re-brand a band - like the time Cheap Trick decided to not only put a clown on their album cover that wasn't Rick Nielsen, but also chose not to use their widely beloved logo on the cover for Woke Up With A Monster - NEVER CHANGE THE LOGO!

Those expecting some crazy new wave nirvana from the Fabulous Poodles, Human Switchboard, or Our Daughter's Wedding were immediately taken aback by the name they saw instead.

As a result, many a "Foghat?!" was heard in record stores over the coming months, but very few of those exclamations led to the ringing of cash registers. It was Foghat's first major dud, failing to even hit the Top 100. Undaunted, they axed their guitarist and brought in a younger guy who looked like he could be the guitarist in the Pretenders or The Cars and cut 1981's Girls To Chat And Boys To Bounce.

The results were actually pretty great considering that you could have not found a person more repulsed by the butt-rock legends than I back in those days. Like many others whose worlds were being reshaped by MTV and day-glo parachute pants, I wanted my rock edgy, but also bright and colorful, preferably with Nagel or Vargas babes on the cover.

But when I heard "Wide Boy" on some syndicated AOR radio Top 40 countdown show, I would have most definitely pulled the car over to the side of the road if I'd been old enough to drive at the time.

Instead, I stopped my math homework (ah, who are we kidding, I was scouring year-old copies of Trouser Press for any details on the latest NYC No Wave bands I may have missed) and immediately looked at my radio as if it had called my name.

What I was hearing on this otherwise "stuck in the '70s" AOR radio station  had the same four-on the floor stomp and furiously down-stroked guitars as my new Joan Jett or Ramones records. For the next 2:44 I racked my brain trying to figure out who in the world this might be. Granted, back then my musical encyclopedic knowledge was nothing compared to what it is now (sigh...) but there is no way the old me or the young me would have ever guessed the name that the DJ mentioned at the song's completion.


Two weeks later, the same Sunday night radio show would play "Live Now Pay Later" and this new wave kid would wind up buying Girls To Chat And Boys To Bounce

I wish I could say that everybody else did too, but, to this day, I am the only known purchaser of this sorely overlooked album who wasn't related to, friends with, or dating a member of Foghat at the time.

My own theory about why this period in Foghat's histiory was met with such a universal "Meh" comes as the result of what should have been an otherwise great opportunity to showcase their new look and sound to a national television audience. 

Unfortunately, somebody took their eye off of Lonesome Dave backstage and let him hit the stage in easily the cheesiest shirt in all of rock history and, sadly, there would be no platinum records for New Wave Foghat.  

Now, am I crazy enough to say that a poorly-chosen shirt is solely responsible for the failure of Foghat's New Wave phase? Well, considering that their label was still a few years away from screwing them royally and had been successful in stocking every record store on the planet with stacks and stacks of the album while also getting "Wide Boy" played on radio. my answer would have to be yes and whether I'm serious or not would probably depend on the day.

Superior St. Rehearsal Facility

No comments:

Post a Comment