Song of the Day, May 5: The Innocent Age by Dan Fogelberg

FogelbergInnocentSongToday’s song is the title track of Dan Fogelberg’s finest album. For his seventh release, Fogelberg crafted a rich cycle of songs reflecting the journey of life. The Innocent Age is a perfect mission statement for its home disc. The singer captures the open wonder of youth. Cast as a reflection from later years, it’s a clear-eyed presentation, yearning and heartfelt. Rich instrumentation supports a fine, high-register vocal, giving the track an elegiac feel  that is curiously appropriate.

Enjoy this wonderful song today.

Album of the Week, March 27: Robert’s Desert Island Discs

RBHSJDIDBadgeToday’s entry is something a little different. As I was looking over the almost 200 albums I have featured over the years, I asked myself the question that drives the famous BBC Radio 4 show Desert Island Discs: If I were stranded on an island, which discs would I be sure to have with me?

The task proved more daunting than I imagined, so I established a few guidelines and started over. These parameters made the selection a little bit easier.

  1. Original, legitimate releases only: no bootlegs, re-issues with bonus tracks, or any other chicanery to pad the offerings.
  2. Enjoy every track: If this is all I ever get to listen to, it had better be great. A perfect test case is Rubber Soul: it’s an unquestionably brilliant album, but if I had to listen to Michelle or Girl more than once a month, I’d throw myself into the shark-infested waters.
  3. Balance, balance, balance: I tried to embrace the breadth of my tastes and represent a good cross-section of the artists I love.
  4. When in doubt, favorite artists win: My collection includes several acts represented by one great album. In order to represent the artists whose whole catalogs I appreciate, I dropped the one-only artists. That included the hard decisions to eliminate Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, London Calling, Rumours, Blood On the Tracks, and I Am A Bird Now.
  5. Greatest hits: I pondered banning these as a corallary to rule 1, but decided to take them on their own merits. As it turns out, I didn’t wind up with any of these on the list, although I looked closely at a couple. In the end, rule 2 trumped them.

I set my album allowance at 13. Why that number? I could say that it represents the bad luck of being stranded on a desert island, but honestly trying to get to eight — the BBC number — was maddening. My list, my rules, so if this Gilligan-adjacent experience includes a weatherproof sound system, it has room for 13 discs.

Without further ado, here they are, in the order in which I finalized their placement on the list.

Richard & Linda ThompsonShoot out the LightsHIGH RESOLUTION COVER ARTShoot Out the Lights (1982, Hannibal) Richard & Linda Thompson
Surprising no-one, I’m sure, this was my first choice — brilliant lyrics, stellar playing, solid band, two of my favorite artists on one disc. Harrowing but hopeful, it captures the human spirit better than anything else for me. Linda delivers some of her best vocals and Richard some of his finest solos. If I had to pick 25 songs to take to the island (please, no!), at least four of them would be from this album.

DifferentKindofLoveSongA Different Kind of Love Song (1983, Appleseed) Dick Gaughan
Another easy choice for me, with some of the best protest music ever written. Gaughan is in fine voice and his guitar work is impeccable. It’s a collection of often dark songs with a shining heart beating at its core. The title track sums things up brilliantly, and inspired me to write an essay for Michael’s blog on the importance of looking at the darkness if we want to get to the light.

AbyssiniansAbyssinians (1983, Topic) June Tabor
June Tabor had to be on the list, but picking the album was tricky. This is my favorite by a narrow margin, and includes a stunning cover of a Waterson song, so it won the day. As Elvis Costello has famously observed, if listening to June Tabor’s voice doesn’t move you, give up music. (Bonus fact: She has worked as a librarian and restaurateur, so she covers the bases of my passions nicely…)

Robyn_Hitchcock_-_I_Often_Dream_Of_TrainsI Often Dream of Trains (1984, Hannibal) Robyn Hitchcock
Another artist I had to have on the island, but a tougher choice. The Soft Boys’ Underwater Moonlight and the Egyptians’ Element of Light are co-equal with this disc for me. It came down to the essence of the album. The spare setting of Trains lets Robyn shine through in all his eccentric glory.

LastWordThe Last Word (1992, RNA) Gregson & Collister
Another nice package, with two of my favorites on one album, both at the height of their powers. Clive Gregson’s observations about life and love are timeless, and this set includes a couple of tracks written with Boo Hewerdine, another favorite. Christine Collister has a wonderful voice that sometimes gets over-emphasized on her solo discs. Here, the production is flawless.

MitchellC&SCourt and Spark (1974, Asylum) Joni Mitchell
One of the few commercial successes on my list, it’s a little jazz, a little pop, a little folk, all tied together by the singular talents of Joni Mitchell. It also features her finest vocals, not as airy and bright as her earlier work and not as Cohen-adjacent as her later. All of that, and songs about David Geffen and James Taylor! What could be finer?

Til_Tuesday-Everythings_Different_NowEverything’s Different Now (1988, Epic) ’til tuesday
A sentimental favorite, this is an album I play when I’m feeling lost. It’s a powerful look at relationships and how they go wrong — and right. It landed at just the right time for me, providing insight and outlet as I worked through my own issues. Aimee Mann found her lyrical voice, presaging her later solo work. The band is crisp and smart, lending power to the songs. This is as close to flawless as 80s pop gets.

yaz-you_and_me_bothYou and Me Both (1983, Sire) Yaz(oo)
Speaking of 80s pop… A quick look at my Songs of the Day reveals my fondness for the music of my teen years. As I’ve aged, my favorites tend to be the more obscure music, especially synth-pop and smart dance tracks. Alison Moyet and Vince Clarke perfected both. Their brief collaboration as Yazoo (Yaz in the States) turned out two fine albums. This is the better of the pair by a safe margin. Creative synth work, good lyrics, and Alison Moyet’s rich, wonderful voice — magnificent!

FogelbergInnocentThe Innocent Age (1981, Full Moon / Epic) Dan Fogelberg
Not quite the first album I ever bought — an honor that goes to Helen Reddy’s Long Hard Climb — I consider this the launch of my serious music collecting. It’s also a great collection of songs, singer-songwriter magic at its most compelling. Fogelberg gets pigeonholed as an AC balladeer, but his songs could rock, jig, or soar as well. This beautiful song cycle, created as a cradle-to-grave series, shows off all his talents to great effect. A sentimental and musical favorite, packed with hits.

watersonlOnceinaOnce In A Blue Moon (1996, Topic) Lal Waterson & Oliver Knight
The only reason the extended Waterson family shows up this late is that it was nearly impossible to pick one album. While a stay on Waterson:Carthy island would be delightful, Rule 3 demanded a choice. In the end, a dash of Rule 2 combined with the fact that Lal Waterson is one of my favorite songwriters ruled the day. A brilliant set of songs told in her distinctive style with sympathetic support from her talented son, it’s one of the rare albums that I’ll sometimes put on repeat. As an added bonus, Some Old Salty wraps up the album with a good old family sing-along, sneaking some talented relatives onto the island. Family runners-up included Martin Carthy, Bright Phoebus, Norma Waterson, and Red Rice.

Fairport_Convention-Liege_&_Lief_(album_cover)Liege & Lief (1969, A&M) Fairport Convention
Another tough choice. Fairport belonged on the list (although the Richard Thompson double-dip almost got them cut), and What We Did On Our Holidays is my favorite of their albums. This is a close second, however, and Rule 3 brought it home. A pioneering disc, creating the trad-rock genre, it shows the band at the peak of their powers and adds more traditional British music to my island mix.

FearingIndLulIndustrial Lullaby (1997, True North) Stephen Fearing
Another Rule 3 decision, made with great difficulty. I encountered three very different modern folk talents in the same year (1993) and they form a musical trinity for me. Stephen Fearing, Patty Larkin, and Ellis Paul have unique voices but could easily share a stage. (I’d pay to see that!) Since they weren’t here to play rock-paper-scissors, the decision came down to the sheer poetry — lyrical and musical — of Fearing’s album and its astounding cohesion.

TriffidsCalentureCalenture (1987, Island) The Triffids
I had five albums left on my list, and the Triffids dark masterpiece won the final spot. This album is the least like anything else on the list (with Yaz coming in a close second), a strong rock sound with a uniquely West Australian perspective. Urgent and compelling from start to finish, it’s one of the strongest Rule 2 albums in my collection. It didn’t hurt that the title refers to hallucinations caused by too much time at sea.

There you have it, my island playlist is complete. Before I close, I’d like to acknowledge the many amazing artists that bring me musical joy who stayed safely on dry land: The Bats, Peter Blegvad, Nick Drake, the Finn Brothers in all their incarnations, Jethro Tull, the extended McGarrigle – Wainwright family, Stephin Merritt and his many projects, Oysterband, R.E.M., Spirit of the West, those mentioned above, and many more. I’m VERY glad that I don’t have to make this choice as anything but an interesting exercise.

Finally, a note of farewell to my Album of the Week feature. I truly enjoy writing these pieces — and there are certainly more albums to explore — but the limits of my time, collection, and budget demand closure. It seemed fitting that I bookend the regular features with two Richard & Linda Thompson albums and close out these posts as my Jukebox celebrates its fifth anniversary. I will continue my Song of the Day every weekday and Saturday Time Capsules; I may also add an album now and then as inspiration strikes.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, the music of my island is calling…

Song of the Day, October 22: Morning Sky by Dan Fogelberg

FogelbergSouvMorningToday’s song is a fun track from Dan Fogelberg’s second album. After a strong, rock-oriented debut, he began his move to more pop-oriented music with the help of producer Joe Walsh. Souvenirs still rocks in places (as do most of Fogelberg’s albums), but the overall effect is both more varied and polished. It hinted at the singer’s upcoming pop success with his first hit (Part of the Plan, #31 in 1975) while exploring all the musical styles that he would begin to fuse into his own distinct sound.

Morning Sky is a country romp, a fiddle-driven song that shows of the incredible variety that Fogelberg presented over his career. It’s a kiss-off song, urging a lover to make some move to keep the flame alive before he heads out in the morning. With an urgent, Appalachia-tinged vocal, it has a timeless, roots pop quality and is a standout on this smart, transitional album.

Enjoy this delightful song today.

Song of the Day, June 2: Beggar’s Game by Dan Fogelberg

FogelbergPhoenixGameToday’s song is Beggar’s Game by Dan Fogelberg, a standout track from his successful 1979 album Phoenix. It’s a sweeping story of attraction and the redemptive power of love. With elegant strings soaring behind searing guitar work, it merges Fogelberg’s pop mastery and rock roots into a compelling whole.

The spell is broken and my chains fall free
Finally my heart has come home to me
It seems I’ve waited an eternity…

Enjoy this magnificent song today.

Song of the Day, April 23: Give Me Some Time by Dan Fogelberg

FogelbergNetherTimeToday’s song is Give Me Some Time from Dan Fogelberg’s fine fourth album Nether Lands. After exploring roots rock, country-tinged pop, and folky songs, his personal style really coalesced with this offering. It’s a smart song cycle that blends all those roots with a lush orchestration and a solid lyrical sense. The disc works as a cohesive suite of songs about love, with each track standing on its own as an example of the best of 70s singer-songwriter material.

Give Me Some Time is a standout, a lovely song about being once burned by love. Fogelberg is in fine voice, using his higher register to emphasize the fragility of the narrator. He wants to trust again, but needs some space to be sure that this time the trust will be better placed. Breezy but energetic, it’s a lovely song with smart arrangements that emphasizes the emotion without overwhelming.

Enjoy this delightful song today.

Song of the Day, December 25: Nexus by Dan Fogelberg

FogelbergNexusToday’s song is Nexus, the opening track from Dan Fogelberg’s magnum opus The Innocent Age. A soaring anthem to higher powers and self-determination, the song provides a perfect entrée to his song cycle about life and the passage of time. Fogelberg’s lyrics flirt with mysticism yet remain grounded in earthly practicality, a nice balance that shows off his strength as a songwriter. The musical backdrop is stirring rock grounded in 70s folk-pop traditions. Fogelberg’s vocals are clear and bright; guest Joni Mitchell provides a lovely descant that ties the whole package together.

Enjoy this magical song today.

Billboard #1s for the Week Ending February 11, 1984

This week’s Time Capsule!

Chart Title Act Weeks
Hot 100 Karma Chameleon Culture Club 2
R & B If You Only Knew Patti LaBelle 3
Country That’s the Way Love Goes Merle Haggard 1
Adult Contemporary Think of Laura Christopher Cross 2
Rock Jump Van Halen 4
Album Thriller Michael Jackson 28

FogelbergLanguageThis week sees a renowned performer rack up his eleventh and final consecutive Top 40 hit. Dan Fogelberg started his career performing solo acoustic shows in cafés. He recorded a debut album that met with disappointing sales, then regrouped for his notable sophomore effort, Souvenirs. It included his first hit, Part of the Plan [#31, 1975]. From that point onward, he had solid album sales and slowly began releasing more singles. He broke through with the #2 smash Longer in 1980, taken from the album Phoenix. His next album, The Innocent Age, was his masterpiece and commercial peak, spawning four Top 20 hits. He followed that with a greatest hits package that included all eight of his singles; the two new songs on the disc were also released, running his string of Top 40 singles to ten consecutive, a fairly impressive feat. In 1984, he released Windows and Walls, a reasonably successful album that included the single The Language of Love. This week the song moved from its #59 chart debut to #39, becoming his 11th and final Top 40 single; it peaked at #13 in late March. Fogelberg never saw big chart success after this decade of steady charting, but he continued to record and perform regularly until his death from cancer in 2007 at the age of 56.

Song of the Day, February 5: Stars by Dan Fogelberg

FogelbergFreeStarsToday’s song is Stars by Dan Fogelberg. It appears on his first album, Home Free. While not as well-rounded as his later work, the disc showed his talents as a singer and lyricist. This is the standout track, a bittersweet song of loss, narrated against the backdrop of the cold night sky. Deftly crafted and beautifully sung, it is one of the most powerful ballads in his catalog.

For stars fall every time a lover has to face the truth
And far too many stars have fell on me.

Enjoy this beautifully sad song today.

Album of the Week, April 28: The Innocent Age by Dan Fogelberg

FogelbergInnocentRBHSJDIDBadgeDan Fogelberg was born in Peoria, IL in 1951. He came from a musical family and learned slide guitar and piano at an early age. He worked with a number of bands in Illinois as he finished high school and attended the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He came to the attention of Irving Azoff, manager of REO Speedwagon, who sent him to Nashville where he worked as a session musician and recorded his debut album, Home Free. The disc flopped, so Fogelberg regrouped, touring with Van Morrison and rethinking his musical direction. His next album, Souvenirs, was produced by Joe Walsh and included his first hit, Part of the Plan. This album provided the template for much of his future work, mixing quiet and introspective numbers with rockers and featuring Fogelberg’s insightful lyrics and lovely singing. After three more albums — including a collaboration with jazz flautist Tim Weisberg — he hit it big in 1979 with Phoenix, featuring the #2 hit Longer. Wishing to make the most of his success while honoring his roots, Fogelberg took nearly two years to record the follow-up.

Title The Innocent Age
Act Dan Fogelberg
Label Full Moon / Epic Release Date Aug. 1981
Producer Dan Fogelberg and Marty Lewis
U.S. Chart  #6 U.K. Chart  n/c
Tracks
[U.S. Hot 100]

Disc One

  1. Nexus
  2. The Innocent Age
  3. The Sand and the Foam
  4. In the Passage
  5. Lost In the Sun
  6. Run For the Roses [#18]
  7. Leader of the Band /
    The Washington Post March [#9]
  8. Same Old Lang Syne [#9]

Disc Two

  1. Stolen Moments
  2. The Lion’s Share
  3. Only the Heart May Know
  4. The Reach
  5. Aireshire Lament
  6. Times Like These
  7. Hard to Say [#7]
  8. Empty Cages
  9. Ghosts

The Innocent Age was a two-disc meditation on life and the passage of time. Fogelberg credits Thomas Wolfe’s Of Time and the River as a major influence on his writing. While acknowledging the diverse forces that helped craft his art, Fogelberg shines on this album as a true force of his own. Despite strong album sales (and four Top 40 hits), he was still seen as a quiet singer-songwriter. This masterpiece ironically helped shatter that image while its hits cemented it for much of the public.

Things start off with the lovely Nexus, a wonderful reflection on the forces that shape our lives and something of a secular hymn to higher powers. Joni Mitchell provides a beautiful descant on the choruses, the first of the many guest stars. The Innocent Age is next, a lovely song about childhood and the dreams of youth. Dedicated to the Buffalo Springfield, it is an homage to the power of those dreams and a distinctive statement of Fogelberg’s vision for the album. Another quiet number, the wistful The Sand and the Foam, follows, pondering the fragility and transitory nature of those childhood dreams.

The pace picks up with In the Passage, a look at the journey from childhood days through life and the fact that we spend much of our time “madly dancing.” Part warning, part celebration, it notes the speedy passage of time. This theme is picked up in Lost In the Sun, another warning that the rapid pace of life can cost us our dreams if we aren’t careful. Despite the dark themes, these two tracks (the end of side one and opener of side two on the original vinyl) have an optimistic underpinning, allowing the listener space to listen, learn, and grow.

The next trio of songs were all big hits. Run For the Roses is a song about striving to be one’s best in life, framed around the early years of a racehorse. It was the final single from the album and has been adopted as an unofficial theme of the Kentucky Derby. The Leader of the Band, the third single, is a tribute to Fogelberg’s father, Lawrence, as high school music teacher and conductor. It’s a beautiful tribute and a moving celebration of the passing of dreams and traditions from one generation to the next. The album version includes a fragment of Sousa’s Washington Post March as a coda, arranged by Lawrence Fogelberg. Disc one (side two) closes with Same Old Lang Syne. Released well before the album, it was the first single, a bittersweet ballad of lost love and fond remembrance.

Disc two picks up those themes and challenges the listener to make the most of love. Stolen Moments is one of Fogelberg’s best songs, an upbeat soft rocker filled with hope. The Lion’s Share moves back into darker territory, building on hope to encourage the listeners not to settle for less than they deserve in the world. Another guest star appears on Only the Heart May Know as Emmylou Harris duets with Fogelberg on a lovely celebration of the private intimacies of love. Their voices work perfectly together, providing one of the album’s vocal highlights.

The Reach is a work song, reminiscent of John Denver’s Calypso, as it pays tribute to the hard work of fishermen and the crafts that they rely on. It’s a beautiful celebration and one of the most touching moments on the disc.

The final side opens with a brief instrumental, Aireshire Lament, the quietest moment before the powerful closing tracks. Up next is Times Like These, a desperate reflection on the chaos of modern life and the struggle to keep up. It’s followed by the album’s biggest hit, Hard to Say, perhaps Fogelberg’s finest song. A wistful look at how love can come apart, it is both a warning and a celebration, beautifully constructed and sung. (Eagle Glenn Frey provides some nice backing vocals as well.)

Empty Cages is one of the most rock-oriented songs on the album, a look at the traps of life, the ways we can succeed and celebrate despite them, and the inevitable passage of time. The final track, the stately Ghosts, starts quietly and builds to a perfectly suited climax, celebrating the forces that shape our lives and the ways we each try to make our mark on the world as we pass through it. The song is a perfect bookend to Nexus and captures the spirit of the album’s wonderful journey.

FURTHER LISTENING: Before his death from prostate cancer in 2007, Dan Fogelberg released seventeen studio albums (including two with Tim Weisberg). They cover fairly wide musical territory from the country-tinged rock of Home Free to the straightforward ballad pop of Windows and Walls to the delightful bluegrass celebration of High Country Snows. Every album has something worthwhile to offer, especially for fans of well-written soft rock, insightful lyrics, and strong musicianship. Other than The Innocent Age, the finest is Phoenix, which gets a bit heavy-handed but has a number of great tracks. NetherLands is also a standout. For fans of Fogelberg’s hits, the 1982 Greatest Hits release is a perfect capsule.

Song of the Day, August 13: Heart Hotels by Dan Fogelberg

Today’s song is Heart Hotels by Dan Fogelberg. Released as the follow-up to his #2 smash, Longer, it was a smaller hit (#21 in May 1980) but a much more complex song. Using an abandoned hotel as a haunting metaphor, Fogelberg creates a wonderful atmosphere of loneliness and loss.

Well there’s too many windows in this old hotel
And rooms filled with reckless pride
And the walls have grown sturdy
And the halls have worn well
But there is nobody living in inside
Nobody living inside

It’s one of his finest songs, richly orchestrated and beautifully sung. Dan Fogelberg was born on this day in 1951 and departed us too soon. Enjoy this great song in his honor today.

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