Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Andrew Gold: 1951 - 2011

I was very saddened to hear of Andrew Gold's sudden death in his sleep yesterday at the age of 59. Gold was truly a musical phenomenon of the 70s and 80s, and even if his name does not sound familiar, you know his songs.

His two biggest hits were the out-of-left-field 1977 psychodrama "Lonely Boy" and "Thank You For Being A Friend," the latter which went on to be the long-running theme song for the TV show "Golden Girls." While these two songs brought Gold his biggest success, they were far from his best work and don't even hint at the amazing jack-of-all-trades talent he was.

Gold's initial impact came as part of Linda Ronstadt's band in the first half of the 70s, when the singer was in her heyday. He helped pioneer the Ronstadt "Southern California" sound blending rock and country by arranging many of her hits and playing a very distinct twangy guitar. Think about the solo in the middle of Ronstadt's cover of the Everly Brothers' "When Will I Be Loved" and you'll know what I mean. Here's Ronstadt performing it on "The Midnight Special" with Gold on the left behind her.

His background vocals were very distinct on her recordings, and if you go through them, you'll definitely hear all those arranging, musical and vocal trademarks.

When Gold stepped out on his own, it was in the era of multi-instrumentalists, where people like Todd Rundgren, Stevie Wonder and Dan Fogelberg played nearly every instrument on their albums through the process of overdubbing. Gold mastered the guitar, bass and piano for many of his solo recordings.

While "Lonely Boy" (from his second album) and "Thank You For Being A Friend" (from his third album) brought him the biggest commercial success, it was his 1975 debut album that was by far his best. Loved by the critics and not selling many copies, Andrew Gold (cover seen above) was Southern California rock at its best, with touches of country and pop, but really the first look at his songwriting. We knew about his singing and playing, but man, this guy could write hooks the size of a skyscraper. Expert musicianship, sounding much like those distinct Ronstadt records, and lots of harmonies. Just a great album with 10 absolutely unforgettable songs.

It's also the first time the public got a taste of Gold's twisted sense of humor and storytelling: the ballad "Endless Flight," with some poor guy on a bumpy flight pondering the future of a relationship at the same time... another guy on the lam from a crime warns his girlfriend to "Hang My Picture Straight"....

Even if the record didn't sell, at least Gold got royalties from Leo Sayer's cover of "Endless Flight."

Beyond those two megahits (and writing the theme song for 90's sitcom "Mad About You"), Gold's song were not destined to last, as country/rock fell out of favor and even Ronstadt had to figure out what her next phase was going to be. Gold periodically released albums, including a mesmerizing tongue-in-cheek tribute to 60s psychedelia under pseudonym Fraternal Order of The All called Greetings From Planet Love. That album had a carbon copy Byrds song called "Somewhere In Space And Time," and nods to "Magical Mystery Tour"-era Beatles, and a John Lennon/Bob Dylan combo called "Mr. Plastic Business Man."

Another side project was really something out of a pop lover's dream -- teaming with 10cc's Graham Gouldman in 1988 to form Wax UK, which had a US cult following and something more than that in Europe. They had one fantastic single, "Bridge To Your Heart," which was accompanied by a crazy Peter Gabriel-ish video.

While many people will remember Gold for those two 70s hits, I will remember him for forging a unique rock sound in that era, writing many memorable songs that nobody would exactly call "easy," superb musicianship and frankly, I can't help but admire a guy who was as talented as he was.

He will definitely be missed.