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Adventures Through The Mines Of Mellow Gold 31

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Brace yourselves, Mellow Miners: it’s gonna get a little gloomy here today. Here are the rules: you’re allowed to stick your lower lip out, you’re allowed to find a teddy bear to hold on to, you’re even allowed to weep if you feel it’s absolutely necessary. But that’s as far as I’m going to let it go. I don’t want to open the paper tomorrow and hear about some wuss jumping off a bridge because the most recent Adventure Through The Mines Of Mellow Gold was just too much for their poor heart to take. Agreed? Okay, let’s go.

Robert John – Sad Eyes (download)

(sniffle)

“Sad Eyes” has been on “the list” to cover for a while now, but I was reminded of it last week when Mike mentioned a compilation called Easy Rock. There it is, right at the end of Disc 2, sandwiched in between “Couldn’t Get It Right” and “Bluer Than Blue.” There’s Mellow Gold for you: ending your compilation on the most depressing note possible. The theory might have been that if you made it all the way through the second disc, there was probably little hope for you, anyway. (I suppose that this could theoretically be applied to anybody who’s made it to MG #31, but let’s not think about that – just remember today’s rules, please.)

Anyway, Robert John. His morose but oh-so-mellow gem made it all the way to #1 in October of 1979. But as you’ll see, the trip to #1 was one long journey for this guy, leaving us to wonder what’s sadder: the singer or the song.


Dave Mason called, he wants his collar back.

Robert John was actually born Robert John Pedwick, Jr. in 1946. As a youngster, he honed his vocal chops in doo-wop groups on Brooklyn street corners. In 1958, at the ripe old age of 12, he experienced his first taste of fame: he was signed to Big Top Records, a burgeoning new label that focused primarily on singles. His song, “White Bucks And Saddle Shoes,” was only the fourth release for Big Top, which eventually went on to sign Del Shannon (their biggest success) and Johnny & The Hurricanes. “White Bucks And Saddle Shoes” reached #74 in Fall of 1958. Not a huge hit, but not bad for a kid, right? Surely Robert John thought that fortune and fame were just around the corner.

Robert John was wrong. Really, really wrong.

Really, really, really, wrong.

While he did have some minor success – his ’59 follow-up, “Pajama Party” didn’t break the Hot 100, but sold well, and he sang lead on “My Jelly Bean” by Bobby & The Consoles in 1963, a New York hit – none of it even matched his debut, and certainly wasn’t enough to pay the bills. He changed his name to Robert John, and began working as both a producer and a songwriter. His demos attracted execs at Columbia Records, who released John’s song “If You Don’t Want My Love” in 1968. The single peaked at #49, John’s biggest hit to date. In 1972, on Atlantic, John re-recorded the Tokens’ hit “The Lion Sleeps Tonight,” produced by Hank Medress, one of the original Tokens. “Lion” spent seven weeks in the Top 10, and reached #3. However, Atlantic wouldn’t let him record a full album, and John quit the business.

Producer George Tobin (who, as we know, went on to work with Kim Carnes and Tiffany, among others) had been a fan of “If You Don’t Want My Love,” and convinced John to collaborate with him on a few songs. To make an already long story short, John wrote and recorded “Sad Eyes,” got picked up by EMI, and finally topped the charts.


New for 1979: a hit single from your accountant!

“Sad Eyes” clearly reflected John’s penchant for doo-wop music. In fact, he blended the smooth ’70s soft rock sound with doo-wop quite well. There weren’t any typical doo-wop vocals, but the beat and rhythm guitar part were straight outta the ’50s, as was John’s ever-strong falsetto. At the same time, you’ve got synths all around, gentle strings, some really pretty backing vocals, and – of course – a key change. Would it have killed John to throw in a sax, or maybe some Michael McDonald on the chorus? I’m just saying.

He does have one guest on the song: this chick that comes out of friggin’ nowhere at the end and starts wailing over the last chorus. I don’t know who this is, but I imagine she also auditioned for Merry Clayton’s part on “Gimme Shelter.” I like to think of her as a crazy woman who snuck her way into various recording studios, hid behind an amplifier until an artist was recording their last chorus, and then just went to town with ad-libs. Maybe that’s what really happened, and John happened to run out of studio time or something and couldn’t record another take. Okay, I’m pretty sure this didn’t happen, but at this point I’m just entertaining myself with these thoughts so I’m sticking with ’em.

And how sad are these lyrics?

Try to remember the magic that we shared
In time your broken heart will mend
I never used you, you knew I really cared
I hate to see it have to end
But it’s over.

Yeah, that’s pretty sad. But here’s what I can’t figure out. The song is sung to the woman, right? Check out the first verse.

Looks like it’s over, you knew I couldn’t stay
She’s comin’ home today
We had a good thing, I’ll miss your sweet love
Why must you look at me that way?
It’s over.

“She’s comin’ home today.” Now, I’ve thought about this every which way I can. The only thing I can come up with is that John is a married man, cheating on his wife who’s out of town. That’s not very mellow of you, Robert John. And, might I add, such behavior does not befit a man who routinely squeezes his nuts like two grapefruits in order to hit those high notes. (Okay, small grapefruits.)

“Sad Eyes” was accompanied by a promotional video that cost the label approximately thirty-seven dollars. It’s John, in a really fashionable sweater (I’m lying), sitting on a chair, surrounded in smoke. As if that’s going to stop us from focusing on his abnormally large forehead.

[youtube]C5wa9bwlbwg[/youtube]

Thanks to “Señor Gasmo” for uploading the clip. I am envious of your name, sir.

When “Sad Eyes” hit #1, Robert John made music history in the kind of way appropriate for a Mellow Gold artist. Remember “White Bucks And Saddle Shoes”? (You should, I only wrote about it two minutes ago. Jeez.) That song first charted in November of 1958. When John had his #1 hit, he set the record for the longest span between chart debut and #1: 20 years, 11 months. John kept this record until 1984, when Tina Turner’s “What’s Love Got To Do With It” extended the gap to a full 24 years.

Additionally, “Sad Eyes” entered the charts on May 19, 1979, but didn’t hit #1 until October 6th, 1979, 21 weeks later – tying the record for “Slowest Mover To #1” with Nick Gilder’s “Hot Child In The City.” (Both were defeated by “Chariots Of Fire” in 1981, and as far as I know, “Macarena” now holds the record – 49 weeks – although it fell off the charts for 16 weeks in the middle somewhere.) Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure it’s nice to be noticed for any sort of record-setting, but if you had a choice, you probably wouldn’t choose records like “Longest Span Between Debut And #1” and “The Little Mellow Single That Could.”

So…poor Robert John. He didn’t give up in 1959. He didn’t give up in 1968. Oddly enough, he gave up after finally having chart success in 1972, and then inexplicably wound up with a #1 in 1979. That’s dedication! That’s pathetic perseverance! That’s Mellow Gold!

John had a few other minor hits (go ahead, tell me about ’em in the comments), but his last chart appearance was with “Bread And Butter” on Motown in 1983. I don’t know where he is or what he’s doing anymore; he’s probably living in Norway or something. Regardless, we’ll always have this mellow gem to remind of the man who waited 20 years, 11 months for his chart-topper. And he couldn’t even hold on to that record. Sad eyes, indeed.

Thanks for reading, and check you back here next week for another Adventure Through The Mines Of Mellow Gold!

  • I think Robert John might be related to Dan Hill. See what you can find out about this.

  • Pete

    Ahh, back in the day of the radio hit by a less than attractive singer. Such a lost age thanks to MTV. You could truly project widescreen movies onto his head.
     And that woman at the end is truly going crazy into the microphone! Maybe that was her only chance at a "demo" and she went for it…

  • David

    Frankly, I’m not convinced that’s not Robert John himself wailing like a hot-pokered banshee over the last chorus. And I’m not being snarky here.

    I purchased this track from a “by-the-song” mix tape service back in the late ’80s, sort of an analog precursor to iTunes. $1.25 a track, from the limited catalog they’d licensed. It arrived sandwiched between Firefall’s “You Are The Woman” and an (unbeknownst to me, based on the title) jazz version of “Suicide Is Painless.”

    I feel it’s important you know these things about me. Mellow cred and all.

  • Jude

    i know that song, it’s included on that Soft Rock Compilation the two guys from Air Supply do an infomercial for.
    …i don’t know when that thing airs, but i somehow NEVER miss it.
    and, yes, I do watch it all the way through every time.

  • David – might you be talking about Personics?

    Jude – guess who’s going to see Air Supply in July?  (I feel it’s my mellow duty.)

  • David

    It was indeed Personics. And my compilation, it would appear, also featured Nugent’s “Cat Scratch Fever.” So even back then I was fighting the mellow at the same time I embraced it.

    Which seems a very mellow thing to do, provided I was fighting through my tears.

  • I wish I still had my old Personics tape.  I remember that it had "Hot In The City" by Billy Idol, "Dancin’ Machine" by The Jacksons, and I seriously can’t remember one other song on the damn thing.

  • Wow, I’d never heard of Personics before.  I would’ve loved that in 6th grade, but it wouldn’t have been good for me to waste my allowance on it.

    So how many channels is that "Classic Soft Rock Collection" infomercial dominating?  I’ve only seen it on Ion/PAX, but like I said last week, it’s gotta be on at least twice a week on that channel.  That infomercial is the reason why I fell for "Sad Eyes" again back in January.  And on Sunday I bought the collection for my mom for Mother’s Day since she too saw that infomercial recently and started talking about all the great songs that were on it.  (For $150 this gift doubles as her birthday gift, seeing as how her birthday is May 20.)

    I really like your theory about the crazy woman behind the amplifiers, Jason.  In Stephen Bishop’s "Save It for a Rainy Day," that crazy woman is named Chaka Khan.

    This really is a great brick of Mellow Gold, and the cheating-husband angle makes it all the more intriguing.  I also love that Robert John is so average-looking, God bless him.  I miss those pre-MTV days.  Here’s hoping he hangs out with Dan Hill AND Christopher Cross in some coastal tiki bar every weekend.

  • Dave P

    I always assumed that the banshee wailer at the end of the song was, in fact, Robert John (showing off just how small his nuts really are).

    And I vaguely recall his version of “Bread and Butter.” You can just imagine the falsetto stylings on that one.

  • Glad I could refresh your memory!  This is why I love this series so much; it drives my wife and my friends nuts when I perform amateur socioanalysis on Mellow Gold songs.
    "Sad Eyes" is the ultimate passive-aggressive kickoff.  You have to figure that Dr. Hook or Pablo Cruise, caddish as they may have been, would at least be upfront enough to, I don’t know, LOOK THEIR GIRLFRIENDS IN THE FACE as they sit down for the breakup talk.  No such bravery for Robert John.  He’s blaming her ("you know i couldn’t stay,"), rationalizing like mad ("I never used you, you knew I really cared"), and making HER turn the other way as it unfolds.  To be fair, he may be justifiably worried the girl’s going to go Fatal Attraction on him and he’s going to find a boiled rabbit in his kitchen.
    And you’re right; this is completely about a guy kicking his fling to the curb before his wife gets home.  I picture him waking up in his fling’s bed, getting a cellphone call from his wife that her flight is arriving early, and throwing the covers off the bed in an initial panic.

  • Re the doowop influence: this motif was prevalent in the late 1970s, no?  "Magnet and Steel," for instance.  It might’ve been the twin influence of Happy Days and Grease – and the Bee Gees/Leo Sayer for the falsetto.  That’s how I always heard it, at least.

  • And on the same album as "Sad Eyes" you will find…"Lonely Eyes." Color me impressed.

  • Damn, Mike.  Your analysis of "Sad Eyes" is spot-on.  You’ve made me feel inadequate – how very mellow of you.

  • woofpop

    Oh! Oh! Robert John!  One of the ‘stars’ of the Walt Disney World Grad Nite ’80 – he played at that future-retro restaurant (Tomorrowland Terrace, right?). Also on the bill around the park that nght: Kool & The Gang, and special guests KC and Terri DeSario (Did they play it? Yes, they played it..). That’s pretty dismal in retrospect.

  • Jason,
    I swear I hadn’t heard this song in like two decades, but within the first 10-20 seconds I knew it all over again. So many memories of being five years old and having to listen to the MOR station on the school bus. Nothing like a re-introduction to the Mellow to re-fill me with rage about my sucky kindergarten days with Mrs. Curren and her "fix-it-shop" chair for bad kids to sit in and be mocked by their classmates. Well, at least these days I’ve got a great job and lovely wife, and Mrs. Curren is probably burning in hell, so I guess everything turned out for the best……oh! Where was I?….That’s right, Robert John.
     
    I had this creepy feeling looking at the picture of Robert John sans beard on the cover of the single. My initial thought was he’s the mellow cousin of Yitzhak Perlman, but then it suddenly hit me….he’s the chunky version of that bastion of 70s health consciousness, Slim Goodbody. That’s right, Robert John is Slim’s evil doppleganger, Fat Badbody! I bet he didn’t even serve that woman in the song breakfast before he kicked her to the curb….probably just shoved a hot pocket in her mouth and quickly shut the door while saying "You don’t have to go home, woman, but you can’t stay here!"

  • I’m evil. Did I ever mention that to you guys and gals? Or is that ‘gal’? Or is that Gayr in a revealing tube-top? Anyway, yes, evil. In regards to Personics, I recall each song cost 99 cents or somewhere thereabouts. So I ordered up a tape full of tunes by Yes, and not the 80s pop ditties at 4 minutes length either – I mean the big, giant, fatassed fantasy jams from 1975! My tape had only five songs on it, but they needed a 90 minute cassette to do the job. EVIL!! And Robert John? Well, for all these years, I clung to the illusion that he became a big-shot producer, seduced a Canadian songbird named Shania and convinced her to shake his cellulite all night long… But that was Robert John "Mutt" Lange, not plain ol’ Baldy McSadly Tight-trousers. He got NOTHIN’! You see? EVIL!! Bwaah haaah haaaah!   –   DwD

  • Jeff B.

     
       I remember a follow-up song that I’ve since seen on a few ‘budget’ compilation CDs- "Lonely Eyes". It’s a bit more up-tempo than the previous song; didn’t chart nearly as well and certainly isn’t as good but is pleasant enough. Maybe he thought he was going to corner the market on "Eyes" songs- did he ever cover "Betty Davis Eyes"? "Doctor My Eyes"? How about "Eyes Without a Face"? Hmmm…

  • Well, Dr. Hook had "Sexy Eyes."  Though somehow I don’t think that would work for Robert John.
    I’m surprised there isn’t a "Sad Eyes 2006."  Maybe we just don’t know about it yet.

  • Looks like it’s over<br> You knew I couldn’t stay<br> She’s comin’ home today<br> <br> What if the protagonist’s wife is coming home from the hospital?  She’s either just had his baby or she’s been recovering from major surgery, and while she was indisposed, he was having an affair behind her back.  Sure, this makes him impossible to sympathize with, but people like him exist.  And they can rationalize what they do.  Ooh, I love imagining Mellow Gold subtext!

  • Pingback: JasonHare.com » Blog Archive » CHART ATTACK! #45: 8/25/84()

  • JP

    I think that mad falsetto at the end of “Sad Eyes” is Robert John for real.

    Back when VH1 used to show reruns of AMERICAN BANDSTAND, they showed the Robert John “Sad Eyes” ep, and when the song is ending, John is indeed lipsynching along with the wild falsetto voice.