Shop our Big Takeover store for back issues, t-shirts & CDs
Follow The Big Takeover
A cult figure’s cult figure, EMITT RHODES headlined a quartet of solo records in the early 70s, following his brief but memorable career leading the MERRY-GO-ROUND. The young popsmith’s prodigious talents (singer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, producer, engineer) garnered him a modest but devoted cult following, made even more fierce by his reclusive nature (no new songs since 1973, though he continues to work with other acts in his home studio) and the unavailability of his records (1970’s Emitt Rhodes, 1971’s The American Dream and Mirror, 1973’s Farewell to Paradise). With the release of The Emitt Rhodes Recordings (1969-1973), which collects all his solo work into one two-disk package, hopefully his cult will finally grow.
It’s easy to be skeptical about the quality of an artist whose advocates tend to run toward the breathless. But Rhodes lives up to the hype, with a take on lush pop rock that’s as reminiscent of PAUL MCCARTNEY (his Beatles work more than his solo stuff), HARRY NILSSON and TODD RUNDGREN as it is deeply personal and distinctive. Rhodes’ melodies are meticulously crafted and precisely played, arranged as much for appreciation of the interplay of textures (acoustic and electric pianos and guitar, Rhodes’ melted caramel voice) as they are for the undeniable hooks. His lyrics, by contrast, reflect a growing unease. He moves from the somewhat guarded optimism of “Come Ride, Come Ride” and “Let’s All Sing” (from The American Dream, a mix of solo and leftover Merry-Go-Round tracks recorded in 1969 and released to capitalize on his solo career) to the anxiety of “With My Face On the Floor,” “Ever Find Yourself Running,” “In Desperate Need” and “Farewell to Paradise” (the title track of what became his final album). He looks for succor in relationships (“Pardon Me,” “Fresh As a Daisy,” the gorgeous “Somebody Made For Me”) but doesn’t seem to have much luck (“Really Wanted You,” “Nights Are Lonely,” lines like “You don’t have to be alone to feel alone” in “Better Side of Life”). At the time he made this music, Rhodes was still young (only 20 when his self-titled debut arrived in 1970) and burdened by a ridiculously unfair contract that required him to deliver albums on deadlines that he, as a one-man-band that engineered, produced and mixed his own recordings, was incapable of meeting, resulting in his company suing him. While it’s always a mistake to read too much of an artist’s personal circumstances into his work, it’s easy to think that the emotional strain of Rhodes’ difficult professional obligations bled into his work. It certainly explains his reluctance to get back in the game.
As does the surprising commercial failure of these records. There are so many songs on these disks that could have been hits. I mentioned McCartney, Rundgren and Nilsson earlier for a reason; the same folks who found “Maybe I’m Amazed,” “Hello, It’s Me” and “Me and My Arrow” appealing enough to make them chart singles would surely find the same rewards in “Pardon Me,” “Fresh As a Daisy,” “See No Evil,” “Those That Die” (which borrows its chord progression from Tchaikovsky’s First Piano Concerto) and “Love Will Stone You,” just to name far too few. Rhodes didn’t tour (how could he – he was too busy trying to meet his deadlines), which undoubtedly hurt, but that doesn’t explain the complete indifference with which most of this music was greeted in the 70s. His work hasn’t even generated many covers, other than “Live,” which was his lone hit with the Merry-Go-Round. Hopefully this release, even in a limited edition, will spark a new appreciation of Rhodes’ remarkable music outside of the cult of power pop fans who’ve carried the torch until now.
More in recordings