Toward the beginning of the pandemic, I started taking trips through the complete discographies of randomly chosen artists. At first, my picks were extremely safe, because the world suddenly seemed much more uncertain and I was, I suppose, subconsciously craving musical comfort; as time wore on, I started drifting further afield in an effort to learn more about acts I'd never spent much time with for one reason or another.
These deep dives are almost always enlightening for one reason or another. For example, one of my most recent trips took me through the Allman Brothers Band discography (minus the billion live albums, much to Matt Wardlaw's dismay, and probably yours too). I'd spent a little time with Eat a Peach and their '89-'94 output, but that still left vast swaths of ABB territory that was unknown to me — including the stuff they released on Arista before imploding for most of the '80s, which I'd always assumed was just as wan and watered down as one might expect from a pack of road-weary, substance-addled guys who were weathering all sorts of personal storms.
I'm not going to argue that the time period in question is a classic stretch for the Allmans, but those albums, by and large, were a lot livelier than I ever would have expected — so when Spotify barfed up a random track from the Allmans offshoot Sea Level recently, I was motivated to give them a closer look. Today turned out to be the day for Sea Level, the band's 1977 debut LP.
I was actually kind of excited to dig in, because the aforementioned random track is "Shake a Leg," which is fun and funky and promises great things from the rest of the record. Alas, this did not quite turn out to be the case. In fact, "Shake a Leg" wasn't even written by Chuck Leavell or anyone else in Sea Level — it was written by someone named Edward Hoerner, whose Allmusic page suggests an extraordinarily brief and non-prolific career. I think he might have been the actor Edward Hoerner — we know the Allmans had a history of writing with Hollywood types — but at this juncture, I simply do not know. The point of all this rambling is that trying to figure out the story behind "Shake a Leg" is more interesting than a lot of the Sea Level album, which is largely devoted to instrumental noodling that probably sounded great in a singles bar but is fairly limp overall.
Oh well, Sea Level. We'll always have "Shake a Leg."
From there, I somehow ended up deciding to listen to Michael Franks' 1985 Skin Dive album. Franks' big hit-like thing from this LP, the adult contemporary smashlet "Your Secret's Safe with Me," is one of those songs I caught a sideways whiff of on some random radio station when it was in heavy rotation and was intrigued by at the time, but not enough to actually spend money on that or any other Franks album. In later years, when I was working as a music critic, a number of Franks records ended up in my mailbox, including 1993's Dragonfly Summer, which includes a not-bad duet with Dan Hicks. Still, I was not moved to investigate further.
If you know me, you know I have a major soft spot for the polished, synth-propped pop of my youth, and as adventurous as my listening may have gotten in later years, there will always be a part of me that erupts in gooey nostalgia whenever I hear a song from, say, Chicago 18. Still, even in that context, the music of Michael Franks is upsettingly boneless. I also find it endlessly entertaining to explore mid-'80s albums by artists who weren't natural fits for the sonic trappings of the era, and Franks probably deserves a spot on that list — still, the idea of finding out what he sounded like during the peak drum machine years has never been appealing enough to inspire action. Until today.
Unsurprisingly, Skin Dive makes margarine feel like sandpaper. This album is a white wine spritzer in recorded form. All copies should have come bundled with a velour sweatshirt and Members Only jacket. It's too polite to be offensive, but also too timid to be memorable. I will not listen again, although I still think "Your Secret's Safe with Me" made for a solid 1985 AC jam and it remains reasonably fun in 2024:
As I am often wont to do, as I was listening to Skin Dive, I started looking at the chart positions of various Michael Franks albums in an effort to determine when record buyers turned away from him, which led me to looking at the Skin Dive credits, which led me to realize that Steve Khan played the guitar solo on "Your Secret's Safe with Me," which led me to discover that Steve Khan has released a fucking slew of albums on his own. As of right now, I've gotten no further than his 1977 Tightrope record, but what a place to start — it was released via Bob James' Tappan Zee imprint, and produced by James, and included pretty much the whole Brecker Brothers Band lineup. These cats could have taught Michael Franks a thing or two about how to be smooth yet also bad as hell.
Watching: Moonlighting S5 E8, "Those Lips, Those Lies," in which David's brother Richie (played by the criminally underrated Charles Rocket) returns seeking help getting back the $75,000 that was stolen from his fiancée by her former business partner. There's more to the story, of course, and it all unravels against a background of David and Richie fighting, making up, and finally hitting the streets in a drunken brotherly bonding session set to the strains of Percy Sledge's "Take Time to Know Her." Although the show's creative engine was clearly straining at this point, I always really loved the interplay between David and Richie — and while I've seen this one several times already, I'd forgotten it came this late in the show's run. A sweet little surprise.
Reading: Just about finished with William Diehl's Thai Horse — we're now at the stage where our hero has vanquished the murderous tiger and come face to face with the former friend everyone thought died in 'Nam. Is he really the shadowy kingpin known as Thai Horse? Has he really been murdering babies and stuffing their bodies with drugs in order to smuggle his product across the border? We have mere pages to find out!
Elsewhere: My latest weekly column for Diagnosis Daytime takes a look at the General Hospital episodes that aired between January 8-12.