Wow, has a week really gone by since we explored the wussiness of Christopher Cross and Ambrosia? I guess time flies when you’re wimpin’ it up! Well, no matter – onwards and upwards as we head to another week of Adventures Through The Mines of Mellow Gold!
Walter Egan – Magnet And Steel (download)
Break out your bobby socks and poodle skirts, everybody: Mellow Gold’s goin’ ’50s! “Magnet and Steel,” a #8 hit for Walter Egan in August of 1978, had an unmistakable retro sound, but that doesn’t mean it’s not Mellow Gold. In fact, Egan was well-connected in the Mellow World: most notably, he was part of the Washington, D.C. scene that included, at the time, Bill and Taffy Danoff (Starland Vocal Band), and was offered a spot in Linda Rondstadt’s band (when he declined, the position went to Mr. Andrew Gold instead). But perhaps Egan’s most famous connection, MG or no MG, would be to Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks.
Hoo boy, I’m in the middle!
Oh, this is awkward.
Is it hot in here?
I knew I shouldn’t have worn velvet.
After meeting Buckingham at a party and becoming friends, Egan asked him to produce his album Fundamental Roll. Buckingham didn’t really have time for such things, having just joined the Mac, but did agree to be involved on the fringe of production here and there. Nicks provided backing vocals. Egan was no dummy, and gave them both full production credits.
A couple of years later, Buckingham had some free time, and fully produced Egan’s album Not Shy along with veteran Mac producer Richard Dashut. Not Shy was the album that included “Magnet And Steel.” And here’s where things get interesting.
Both Nicks and Buckingham were in the studio for various parts of the Not Shy sessions. Egan claimed that Buckingham was great to be around during this period of time, except when Nicks was there as well, as the couple were not getting along at the time.
Now, it’s no secret that Buckingham and Nicks have had, shall we say, not the healthiest of relationships. But what probably didn’t help the situation was the fact that Nicks and Egan wound up sleeping together for a period of time during the sessions for Fundamental Roll. After she recorded backing vocals for his song “Tunnel Of Love” (no, not that “Tunnel Of Love”), Egan became downright smitten. He drove home from the sessions, and on the way, saw a purple Lincoln Continental with the license plate “Not Shy.” Struck with inspiration, he went home and wrote “Magnet And Steel.” That’s right: “Magnet And Steel” is about Stevie Nicks. And guess who sings those backing vocals? That’s Lindsey on the low, Stevie on the high. Awkward!
Of course, the Egan/Nicks relationship didn’t last. (My wife: “Why would she date a guy named Walter?” My response: “I dunno, why would she date a guy named Lindsey?”) Regardless, word is that she was honored the song was about her, although admittedly, she preferred the first draft, “Microphone Stand And Scarf.”
And because nobody can get involved with the Mac without getting a little incestuous, Christine McVie adds some backing vocals to Egan’s 1983 album Wild Exhibitions (he insists it was purely professional). Still…shudder.
But all this talk of “Magnet and Steel” and we haven’t even discussed the song itself! Over the course of time, there have been many ways to describe the attraction between two people. “For you are the magnet and I am steel” is a little unwieldy, no? I mean, unless by “steel” he’s talking about his johnson. If that’s the case, then I think it’s okay. But judging by the way Egan looked and dressed at the time, as well as the musical climate surrounding him, I’m guessing he meant it more emotionally…which, of course, is the Mellow Gold Way. Q.E.D.
Maybe I’m wrong, though. Egan seems pretty damn confident. Take a look at the video: Egan knew he was hot shit. You need high self-esteem to actively show off your pink jacket.
The rest of the lyrics are supremely innocuous so I don’t even think it’s worth our time dissecting them. Instead, let’s make fun of the music! Specifically, let’s talk about that guitar solo. Egan plays the most simple solo I’ve ever heard. Walter! You have LINDSEY FUCKING BUCKINGHAM (Lindsey Fuckingham?) in the studio with you, and you choose to play a solo that specifically just plucks out every note of the verse vocal? Maybe this was an homage to ’50s guitar playing, but I just plain think it sucks. That being said, you gotta love that chorus. It’s catchy. (How do I know? Because you’ll be singing it to yourself in about 20 minutes.) I’ll be honest with you, though: I don’t really hear much Buckingham or Nicks in those backing vocals. However, Egan insists it’s them. I guess we’ll take his word for it. After all, we are all but magnets, and he is steel. If steel wore a pink jacket.
If you’re feeling like you need more Buckingham in your Egan, check out this cover by Matthew Sweet, from the Sabrina The Teenage Witch soundtrack. He’s all over those vocals, and that’s him on lead guitar. It’s pretty damn good.
Matthew Sweet – Magnet And Steel (download)
But back to Egan: he’s still a performing musician. Check out his myspace page, where one of his newly-added friends is “Big Cock™ – The Hardest Band In The Land.” He’s also a substitute teacher in Cool Springs, Tennessee, looks a bit like Ted Kennedy, and still wishes the Mac had asked him to join them when Buckingham left. Turns out that in that case, they were magnets and he was…I don’t know, a metal that isn’t magnetic, like steel when nickel is added to it. Or something. Okay, moving on!
Sanford Townsend Band – Smoke From A Distant Fire (download)
I have a confession to make: I’m not completely sold on this song being Mellow Gold. But that’s okay, I’m covering it anyway, for two very important reasons:
1) It was the first Mellow Gold request ever, back in MG #1 by Scraps (backed up by Billy K.).
2) This song fucking rocks! Hey, maybe that’s why it’s not Mellow Gold! Scraps and Billy, I’m really glad you suggested it; I wouldn’t have heard it otherwise.
First, a little background for you. The band consisted of Ed Sanford and John Townsend, who were both keyboardists (two in one band? How very Mellow Gold of them!). The duo met in the late ’60s as members of the band Heart (no, not that Heart). Heart had little success (although they did open for Hendrix), and eventually broke up. A number of years later, Sanford and Townsend reunited, this time as budding songwriters looking for a publishing deal. One of the members of Townsend’s post-Heart band, Feather (Feather!) was now part of the band for Loggins & Messina, which led to the Sanford/Townsend song “Peacemaker” landing a spot on the L&M album Native Sons. The big-name-band success was enough to get them into the studio to record some demos, and caught the attention of legendary producer Jerry Wexler, who convinced Warner Brothers to give them a contract.
Sanford Townsend Band was released in 1976 and was a flop. But remember, friends: this was still back in the day when record companies wouldn’t give up on an album if it didn’t sell right away. “Smoke From A Distant Fire,” the third single from the record, was released in the Summer of 1977, whereupon it, um, caught fire and reached #9. Warner Brothers quickly re-released the album as – what else? – Smoke From A Distant Fire.
If you haven’t listened to the song yet, don’t. First, let’s take a look at some of the lyrics from “Smoke From A Distant Fire.”
You left me here on your way to paradise
You pulled the rug right out from under my life
If things are the same then explain why your kiss is so cold
And that mist in your eyes feels like rain on the fire in my soul
Imagine these lyrics in the hands of somebody like Paul Davis, and you know what to expect: a slow, slow ballad, with very little guitar, and a plaintive, gentle vocal. In other words, a Mellow Gold classic. You get a taste of what it’s like to be burned by a woman you loved so much. And you feel bad for this guy who wrote these heartbreaking lyrics, but you’re praying he’s not going to call you tomorrow and cry some more. And of course, he is going to call you tomorrow and cry some more. Because he’s a pussy.
Okay, now you can listen to the song.
In the capable hands of Sanford, Townsend and co-writer Steven Stewart, this song takes a decidedly different path. Instead of a wistful, regretful tune, “Smoke From A Distant Fire” is one of the most enjoyable, happy, chipper songs about figuring out your girl is banging some other guy behind your back. I feel like it’s the kind of song that wedding bands play, and people dance and sing along, but have no idea what the song is about. The song screams joy, from beginning to end. A great shuffle, a terrific horn section, kickin’ keyboards and backing vocals, and of course, the powerful vocal from Townsend all make “Smoke” one hell of a tune. The bridge is great, too: “Don’t let the screen door hit you on the way out” is delivered perfectly, and the harmony leading into the solo is stellar. And yes, Virginia, there’s multiple sax solos. Multiple!
Just when you think this song can’t get better, they bring it down a bit with just 30 seconds left, and build up to an ending that actually made me shout “YES!” the first time I heard it. Yeah, I’m lame, we both know it, but see if you don’t get at least a touch of the same triumphant feeling at the end. Then, quickly remind yourself: this song is about somebody cheating! Hard to remember, isn’t it?
Now, I can’t write a lyric for shit, so it doesn’t take too much to impress me – however, I love the fact that “your eyes have a mist from the smoke of a distant fire” is not only a great line, but scans so “mist” rhymes with the “dist” in “distant.” These guys were clever, I tells ya.
So how did “Smoke From A Distant Fire” originate? Well, Stewart and Sanford shared an apartment, and Stewart would often stay up all night practicing classical guitar. Sanford, fed up from lack of sleep, complained that Stewart was wasting time on music that wouldn’t bring any cash flow into their lives. Stewart mockingly came up with a riff he felt was the kind of moneymaker that was beneath his level. Townsend heard the riff, ran to the piano, and “Smoke” was born. The title of the song comes from a poem Sanford wrote in college (and I’ll bet you anything the poem is mellow as all get-out).
“Smoke From A Distant Fire” was the only hit the duo would have. Sanford and Townsend continued their musical paths, however: Townsend played for a number of musicians, including Gregg Allman, and began work as a solo singer-songwriter. Sanford went a more mellow route; he’s a cowriter on McD’s “I Keep Forgettin’ (Every Time You’re Near)” and the Loggins/McD song “No Lookin’ Back.” All roads, people – all roads lead back to McD.
As an aside, it should be noted that in support of “Smoke,” Sanford & Townsend went on the road, opening for none other than
Benny Mardones Fleetwood Mac, on theirRumours tour. And the circle is complete. See how nicely that wraps up? (No, I don’t know if any of them had sex with Stevie Nicks, so don’t ask.)
Thanks again for the request, and please, keep ’em coming! See you here next week for another Adventures Through The Mines of Mellow Gold!