Cultural Consumption: 2/6/24

On covers that are not covers and a general lack of proper prior planning

Cultural Consumption: 2/6/24
Look ma, it's a heart in pieces

If you know me at all on a personal level, it will surprise you not one bit to know that I go into these daily posts without any kind of plan for what I'm going to cover musically. I do keep lists of albums I want to hear and acts I want to investigate further, but my daily listening is typically pretty mood-driven, and some days, the mood is so non-specific that I can spend an inordinate amount of time just figuring out what the hell I want to play.

Today was one of those days!

I did have something sort of like a plan, at least insofar as I intended to dig up a "lost '80s AOR gems"-style playlist to counter the "Wide World of Soft Rock" one I wrote about yesterday, but that was far easier said than done. Apparently there are a lot more soft rock deep cuts than there are hard rock ones — or, more likely, the genre just hasn't had the right cracked genius come along and give it the playlist treatment yet. (You know who'd be great at this? Dave Steed. Miss reading you on the regular, Mr. Steed.)

So that rabbit hole proved stubbornly shallow, but at one point while skimming stuff, I was reminded of Tim Feehan's 1990 album Full Contact, as well as the fact that it's available for streaming, so I went and tumbled down that rabbit hole instead. Those of you who were Chicago fans in the '80s and made a point of reading liner notes will remember Mr. Feehan through "Heart in Pieces," the song he cowrote with former Chilliwack member Brian MacLeod. Chicago's version leads off 1998's Chicago 19:

Chicago was heavy into using material from outside writers at this point, so one could easily be forgiven for never thinking twice about where "Heart in Pieces" came from, or suspecting that there might be another version lurking around out there. But like a number of songwriters to the stars, Feehan was also a recording artist in his own right; in fact, by the time he got around to releasing his own version of "Heart in Pieces" on Full Contact, he was already on his fourth solo LP.

Not that most people were aware of those albums. Like a lot of other pro songwriters with recording careers, Feehan was a charter member of the sub-platinum club — the type of artist who tended to produce hyper-commercial music that ended up falling by the wayside anyway. He's a really fine example of how you can brush the brass ring with the tips of your fingers a number of times without ever quite breaking through; a cursory look at his Wikipedia page is enough to tell you he spent the early part of his career making the type of starry connections (David Foster!) and racking up the type of promising achievements (a Top 10 single in Hawaii!) that look like they'll lead to bigger things, but don't always pan out.

On the Foster tip, Feehan spent some time in the stable of vocalists who were periodically called upon to lend their pipes to some project or other. The year before he landed "Heart in Pieces" on Chicago 19, he was featured on Foster's "All-Star World Tour" alongside Lee Ritenour, Nathan East, and Vinnie Colaiuta. This is a killer lineup, although I should hasten to add for the record that I can find no evidence that the tour ever happened, at least outside Feehan's Wikipedia page. Either way, you get the point — if you were listening to music during this era, I bet you can hear Feehan's voice even before you hear it. Big pipes, just the right amount of sandpaper grit to carry an anthem, rock ballad, or beer commercial; impeccable vocal control; and maybe not a ton of personality.

Had I known about Full Contact in 1990, I'm sure I would have eaten this shit up with a spoon — it's absolutely resplendent with the type of immaculately produced, evidently heartfelt odes to love and love lost that lodged themselves into my Walkman on a regular basis. It's AOR, but not the type of AOR that sounds like it probably has herpes and a dealer on speed dial. It's generally quite hooky. And the liner notes boast a goddamn murderer's row of studio ringers, including Randy Jackson, Prairie Prince, Bruce Gaitsch, CJ Vanston, and Richard Marx (and that's just the first fucking song!). It is, in other words, formulaic to the point of calculation, which doubtless would have been music to my ears. When you're 16 and records cost $10 plus and you only have the radio and/or MTV to go on, you're liable to spend years investing in music that sounds quite a lot like the music you already own.

Alas, I had no idea that Tim Feehan was peddling his wares in 1990, so he sadly missed out on a sale courtesy of 16-year-old me, and I missed what doubtless would have been multiple opportunities to moon over numerous teenage girls to the strains of various Full Contact songs. I think I probably would have docked Feehan a few points for sounding too much like Michael Bolton at certain moments, but still — heavy rotation for sure. Although it's safe to say the album will earn no such honors in 2024, this was still a fairly fun discovery for me today; maybe tomorrow I'll continue the '90 excavation project and see if, I dunno, Down to the Wire by St. Paul or Brickyard Road by Johnny Van Zant is available.

Watching: Slow Horses S3 E6, in which the season races to a pulse-pounding conclusion while Lamb goes all Home Alone on some would-be assassins and the rest of the Horses fight for their lives against a crew of expert killers. And now, just like that, the goddamn season is over and I have to wait however long before Apple dribbles out the next six episodes. (In the meantime, as always, bonus points to the Slow Horses crew for having their shit so far together that each season ends with a trailer for the next one.) Tomorrow, it'll be on to the season premiere of Curb Your Enthusiasm.

Reading: Still making my way through A Drive into the Gap by William Guilfoile.

Elsewhere: My latest General Hospital column for Diagnosis Daytime is up — check it out if you want to read all about the latest happenings in the fictional burg of Port Charles, New York.

Update: Okay, I think I might have found the "(Mostly) '80s AOR Songs You Haven't Already Heard a Billion Times" playlist I was looking for. Goodness gracious, would you take a look at this: