Friday, March 15, 2019

When Good Bands Go Bad: Red Rider Edition!

There's something to be said for hearing a song with no bias or preconceptions, as we did back in the very early '80s when radio was our #1 source for new music. Many a time we'd find ourselves tapping along to some cool "new wave-adjacent" song only to find that it was Little River Band or Kansas.

On this particular occasion, however, the song that we were hearing proved so tasty to these ears that we promised ourselves we'd buy the album no matter who it was. Unless, of course, it was Little River Band or Kansas.

Had we been old enough to drive the first time we heard Red Rider's evocative sci-fi stunner "Lunatic Fringe" on the radio, we'd have pulled over in stone cold amazement.

Thankfully, our bus driver felt the same way we did (or maybe that was a regular stop) as we sat in absolute silence waiting for the DJ to tell us who it was.

"The phone lines light up every time we play this song, which is by a band called Red Rider.

Breathing a sigh of relief to hear that it wasn't Little River Band or Kansas, we were right in the middle of making a mental note to grab some Red Rider next time we were at the record store when the commercial for the upcoming Kinks concert at the Rosemont Horizon (now Allstate Arena).

This time, when the announcer said "with special guests Red Rider", it caught our ear because NOW WE KNEW WHO RED RIDER WAS.

By then, we had procured a copy of the band's second album As Far As Siam and were still trying to get a bead on Red Rider. To our ears, it seemed as if "Lunatic Fringe" had been a turning point for the band, but it had been written late in the game, leaving the band with an album that wasn't fully representative of who they were since penning "Fringe".

In the spring of 1983, we heard "Power (Strength In Numbers)" on the radio and knew immediately that Red Rider was back and that they'd picked up where "Lunatic Fringe" left off. The band's third album, Neruda, was chock-full of hooky tunes that also wanted to be liked for their evocative sophistication.

"Crack The Sky (Breakaway)" penetrated U.S. rock radio playlists with an icy cold synth riff that wouldn't have sounded out of place on an OMD record, but the truth of the matter was that the band's label, Capitol Records, could have released any song as the next single. Instead, they inexplicably left numerous should-be hits such as "Winner Takes All", "Walking The Fine Line", and "Sights on You" to die on the vine.

A year later, the band released Breaking Curfew, an embarrassingly transparent attempt to connect with the Glass Tiger/Bryan Adams audience. The change was akin to the kid who'd been so punk rock in ninth grade showed up for tenth grade with a pink polo shirt with a popped collar and a Swatch watch on each wrist.

Ticket stub for Red Rider's first Chicagoland appearance opening for the Kinks.
Musically, the band was trying way too hard to replicate the sound of Reach The Beach-era Fixx at a time when even the new Fixx record (Phantoms) wasn't selling.

Sadly, the band was soon ravaged by personnel changes as the rhythm section of drummer Rob Baker and bassist Jeff Jones departed. The next album was titled, simply, Tom Cochrane and Red Rider, and, though his face was on the cover, Red Rider remained too faceless for their own good.

1988's Victory Day and 1989's The Symphony Sessions didn't even warrant U.S. release, but then Cochrane dug out an old demo of a song written years earlier as "Love Is A Highway" and wound up giving his solo career the kick in the pants it sorely needed.

"Life Is A Highway" wound up becoming an inescapable Top 10 U.S. hit in 1991. The song went on to be a hit for country artists Chris LeDoux and Rascal Flatts.

Sadly, the music of Red Rider has largely taken a backseat to Cochrane's more successful solo career.

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