Your Sister’s (Record) Rack: Emitt Rhodes
Ah, we’ve finally managed to pick the lock on our sister’s bedroom and now we once again have access to her vast – and strange – record collection. Today we’ve “checked out” one of rock’s fascinating also-rans: Emitt Rhodes the singer/songwriter, as heard on Emitt Rhodes the album.
Rhodes was a California musician who played in late 1960s bands like The Palace Guard and The Merry Go-Round, and Emitt Rhodes (from 1970) is his first solo LP. A multi-instrumentalist as well as a songwriter and singer, Rhodes cut his first album as a one-man band and remarkably sold it to a big record label.
When Emitt Rhodes was released by ABC/Dunhill Records, quite a few people fell in love with Rhodes’ pop sensibility. On a song like the first single “Fresh As A Daisy,” you can immediately hear the influence of the Beatles, particularly the melodic instincts of Paul McCartney. The (slightly) more rocking “With My Face On The Floor” and especially “She’s Such A Beauty” come uncomfortably close to White Album-era McCartney and in fact a few of the radio DJs who spun Emitt Rhodes thought this could be a lost Beatles album.
Even when Rhodes slowed it down for a ballad, his piano-and-guitar approach supporting his sweet vocals (and harmonies) couldn’t help but recall the cute Beatle. Listen to “Long Time No See” – I hear Badfinger more than McCartney, but that’s a wash! Listening to Emitt Rhodes in its entirety, I get the impression that this is what Paul McCartney produced by Brian Wilson could have sounded like.
Anyhow, Emitt Rhodes and the single “Fresh As A Daisy” met with critical acclaim and people really liked this album. However another big record label, A&M Records, saw its chance to cash in and about the same time Rhodes’ solo masterpiece was climbing the charts A&M released The American Dream, an album of outtakes Rhodes recorded earlier with the band The Merry-Go-Round. But they released it as an Emitt Rhodes album and buyers were confused.
More trouble came in the form of Rhodes’ contract with ABC/Dunhill, which stipulated that he produce two albums a year. The young genius couldn’t work that fast – he was a one-man band, after all – and only a few months after his first taste of solo success he found himself sued by his own label. He hurried up and finished the follow-up Mirror, which was released in 1971, but the haste showed in the music: the songs simply weren’t as developed and catchy as those on the debut.
The label dogged Rhodes, withholding all of his royalties and finally after recording his third album Farewell To Paradise (1973), he retired as a performer at the ripe old age of 24. He went on to work as a producer and engineer for Elektra Records, and today he owns a recording studio in California. Emitt Rhodes occasionally threatens to come out of retirement with an album of all-new songs, but to date nothing has appeared. It would be tough to top that debut, though. To paraphrase Humphrey Bogart in Casablanca, “We’ll always have … Emitt Rhodes.”