Album of the Week, November 8: First Under the Wire by Little River Band

LRBFirstUnderLittle River Band formed from frustrated ashes of other Australian bands. Two groups — Axiom and Mississippi — had moved to London, determined to replicate their home success in the tough British market. When those efforts failed, four men from the two groups –Beeb Birtles (guitars, vocals), Graeham Goble (rhythm guitar, harmonies), Derek Pellicci (drums, percussion), and Glenn Shorrock (vocals) — met with fellow ex-pat Glenn Wheatley, who was impressed with the assembled talent and agreed to manage them. The group returned to Australia to work on their new group, borrowing the name Mississippi until Shorrock suggested a new name based on a small town they passed on their way to their first live gig. The bassist and third guitarist slots changed hands a couple of times as the band found their footing. With decades of combined experience in a half-dozen successful groups they had the polished talent and just needed to find their own sound.

After a promising eponymous debut, David Briggs (guitar) came on board as the fifth regular member, although the bass chair continued to rotate. Little River Band proved a success at home, with a polished AOR sound somewhere between the Doobie Brothers and Little Feat. Burned by the British market, they focused on the U.S., and by their third album they had cracked the Top 40 on both sides of the Pacific. Despite tensions behind the scenes, LRB knocked out an album a year, becoming a tight, reliable unit with a distinctive sound and a signficant following. In 1979, just before the cracks began to show, they released their fifth and finest album.

Title First Under  the Wire
Act Little River Band
Label Capitol Release Date July 1979
Producer John Boylan and Little River Band
U.S. Chart  #10 U.K. Chart  n/c
Tracks
[U.S. Hot 100]
  1. Lonesome Loser [#6]
  2. The Rumour
  3. By My Side
  4. Cool Change [#10]
  5. It’s Not A Wonder [#51 (live version)]
  6. Hard Life (Prelude)
  7. Hard Life
  8. Middle Man
  9. Man On the Run
  10. Mistress of Mine

Side one is filled with radio-friendly pop gems, and things kick off with one of the band’s biggest hits. A rare Briggs contribution, it’s also one of their finest moments on record. A song of determination and optimism against the odds, the track is a fine example of a tight band at their finest, featuring powerful harmonies and flawless playing. Shorrock’s The Rumour is a smart follow-up, sharp analysis of gossip and its fallout. Birtles and Goble penned By My Side, a bittersweet ode to love only partially requited. Cool Change is one of Shorrock’s finest moments, an ode to the healing power of nature. Gorgeous, shimmering pop, it was another U.S. Top 10 and was named one of the 30 greatest Australian songs in 2001. Goble brings his rock inclinations to the fore with It’s Not A Wonder, a charming, energetic track that celebrates love gone right. These five songs show off LRB at their well-known best, mixing pop styles with solid chops and charming delivery.

Side two features the AOR tracks, opening with an instrumental prelude that sets the tone nicely. Goble’s Hard Life is a well-crafted struggle-against-the-odds track, redeeming somewhat pedestrian lyrics with the band’s stirring delivery. Birtles and Goble contributed the next two tracks, continuing a set of songs about coping with modern life. Middle Man is the best of the batch, delivering just the right ache; Man On the Run shows off more smart delivery and continues the energy well. The proceedings wrap up with Goble’s Mistress of Mine, a shimmering love song with a faintly Eastern feel. The song is a nice blend of the approaches on both sides of the album and provides effective, emotive closure.

LRB at their best are a finely tuned unit of talented craftsmen. They never really pushed the boundaries of rock or pop, but they celebrate it in smart, well-played songs that are enjoyable and enduring. First Under the Wire finds them at their creative and musical best and serves as one of the finer moments of 70s pop.

FURTHER LISTENING: The band’s sixth disc, 1981’s Time Exposure, was a hit-packed turning point. Full-time bassist Wayne Nelson (who would become the longest-serving LRB member) joined; his presence on vocals, combined with increasing tensions, forced Shorrock out after the supporting tour. Australian superstar John Farnham, fresh off an album produced by Goble, stepped in and provided serviceable vocals. The changes took some of the sheen off the sound, however, and coupled with changing tastes spelled the end of LRB’s chart presence.  They have continued with an ever-changing lineup, having moments of brilliance that serve as wistful windows into their glorious past.

The group’s original albums are a mixed bag, usually consisting of a couple of pop gems, a couple of solid rockers, and a bunch of well-played AOR filler. The best single disc other than First Under the Wire is its predecessor, Sleeper Catcher, a solid rock collection. At heart, LRB is a singles band, and their finest moments are nicely captured on a couple of compilation discs. The best sampler is Definitive Collection from 2002, which has most of the U.S. hits plus some strong Australian singles and a couple of well-chosen album tracks.

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About Robert Hulshof-Schmidt
Freelance writer, researcher, online comic vendor, and project manager. Fan of a wide range of music -- especially folk and 80s pop -- vintage comics, British TV, and LGBT fiction.

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