Classic Songs of My Youth Revisited #37

Player – Baby Come Back

In 1978, Robert Stigwood was king of the music industry, and it wasn’t close. He’d been doing just fine before then – managing (Cream, the Bee Gees) and booking (The Who) bands, owning a scriptwriters’ agency (where the British originals that became “All in the Family” and “Sanford and Son” found a home), producing musicals for Broadway (“Hair”) and film (“Tommy”), and running his record label, RSO – but it went to another level that year. On September 24, 1977, “How Deep Is Your Love”, the first Bee Gees single from the upcoming “Saturday Night Fever” soundtrack, was released, and this began an onslaught of single after single that dominated the charts in the coming year, and into the next. Add to this multiple hits from the “Grease” soundtrack and Andy Gibb, along with Stigwood mainstay Eric Clapton, and you couldn’t listen to your radio for very long – and no one wanted to – without hearing an RSO jam.

A chunk of my own limited cash went into Stigwood’s pockets: the little red cow that was the RSO logo was on a lot of my favourite 45s that year. And, in the middle of this were a bunch of transplants to California with an ode to lost love. I certainly liked “Baby Come Back” at the time – I owned a copy – but I never gave the band a moment’s thought, and could not have picked them out in a police lineup. (They still do that, right? Did they ever do that? Or is it just on TV?) And when it comes up on a ‘70s playlist, I’m happy to hear it. But the band was never interesting to me. That is, it wasn’t until Ronn Moss showed up on “The Bold and the Beautiful”.

Soap operas were a big part of my viewing entertainment from the mid and late ‘70s (“Another World”) into the early and mid ‘80s (“General Hospital”, of course) and late ‘80s (“Santa Barbara”, baby!). I loved the form, and would even follow the stories of shows I didn’t have time to watch, through summaries in “Soap Opera Digest”. I would also read the actor profiles in the magazine, which is how I learned that the square-jawed actor playing Ridge Forrester was a former rock star. I thought his career arc was pretty cool. The only other music stars I knew from a soap were Rick Springfield (whose acting and music careers followed different paths) and Jack Wagner (whose music success flowed out of his soap career). Moss had been at the top of the heap – three weeks at #1 – and here he was, working away at a new career.

Now, Moss can present as a little bit ridiculous as a person. I learned this when I stumbled across an episode of “Celebrity Wife Swap” that he appeared on. But he was completely comfortable with this ridiculousness, which is rather charming. And though his soap hunk days are long past, he’s a soap producer now, and doing well at it.

And he’s still making music! So, as part of my commitment to bringing you the best in music journaling, I listened to some of it. There were multiple choices, so I went with the oldest, 2004’s “I’m Your Man”, on the presumption his younger voice would sound best. And I didn’t completely hate it. There’s a Latin feel on a lot of tracks (think Enrique Iglesias, not Celia Cruz), and it’s a breezy listen. He’s a very relaxed performer, and I could see soap fans swooning over this dude. I think a lot of these are covers (Marty Balin’s “Hearts” for sure (which he does a pretty good job on), and Timmy T’s “One More Try”), but good luck finding out much about this record on the internet.

Moss’ old band mate Peter Beckett has only released one album as a solo artist, 1991’s “Beckett”. The album is a pop singer’s idea of what a rock record should sound like: lots of screeching guitars, booming vocals, very little nuance. But I liked it. It’s soooo 1991, and I quickly found myself spontaneously bobbing my head back and forth. These tunes wouldn’t be out of place on a playlist with fellow ‘70s icons like John Waite and Lou Gramm, and that’s not bad company at all.

A third band member, J.C. Crowley, released one country album in 1988 and had a few minor hits, but it’s not on Spotify or Amazon. There are a few songs on YouTube, and I might like them more than Beckett’s record, especially “I Know What I Got”, which is a real toe tapper. After that, he focussed on writing for other artists.

Player still existed as a band into the mid 2010s, though it was just Moss, Beckett and an ever-changing cast of supporting players. They performed on two tours that I absolutely wish I’d been aware of when they happened: Sail Rock 2013, with Christopher Cross, Al Stewart and Robbie Dupree among others on the bill, and Rock the Yacht 2015, which also included Little River Band and Ambrosia. It looks like the partnership finally ended in 2018 following a legal dispute, though the band’s Wikipedia page is vague enough about this to suggest they could still work together again.

And what about “Baby Come Back”? Though an outlier in terms of sound, it fit squarely within the RSO ethos of catchy hooks and great production values. Beckett thought their sound was R&B pop, but if that’s true, it’s the lamest R&B you’ve ever heard. No, this falls squarely in the post-facto yacht rock genre, and that is not a pejorative: any grouping that includes Steely Dan, Pablo Cruise, Seals & Croft and Boz Skaggs is the kind of team I want to support. It’s jazzy without the danger, rock without the volume. And, for a song I think I know pretty well by now, it still has the power to surprise me: I never really appreciated the low-key shredding going on in the song’s last minute. It’s the musical equivalent of being encased in bubble wrap: you feel safe and protected while it plays. But maybe that’s true of all the music we loved in our youth.

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