CD Now tells me that "Customers who bought titles by Marc Jordan also bought titles by this artist: Terence Boylan." Yeah, I suppose they did. I know I did. These are the two names from the early days of California rock who flew hang gliders of creamy melodies and sweet, sweet guitar licks higher than any Eagles ever dared. The guitar licks were courtesy of Larry Carlton, for the most part, but the lyrics and the melodies were homemade and warm like fudge, like flesh.
I'm not sure how we found these two guys down in the cultural wasteland of the American South, but there they were in 1978. On any given day, Marc Jordan's Mannequin album would be over there on the turntable sitting on the real table in that living room, finishing side A as the needle found the quick center, lifted itself with a slight pop, returned to home base, and then resumed our entertainment as it found the noisy intro-groove surface of Terrence Boylan's self-titled debut. When the needle found its way home again, we'd turn these two over and play the B sides. And then we'd do it over again. The songs on both these albums are burned into me, like scripture. The stuff on the radio at the time, like The Gambler by Kenny Rogers and Margaritaville by Jimmy Buffett, had led us to turn the radio off. Or maybe we shot the radios. I know that bullets were fired at one point during that year, and this might have been the reason. Would that I could recall the days and nights of that year as well as I can recall these songs.
Mannequin begins with Street Life, a jumping little number.
I've waited all day for the sun to go down
To give this fat boy some relief ...
Forget about tomorrow
let it come.
You might think of it as his Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard
. It flows perfectly into the next low-key number. In fact, you could imagine that he's talking about the same girl and the same town and the same boyhood sepia-tinted time
Dancing on the Boardwalk is a lazy tale of his relationship as a Brooklyn kid with a girl named Maggie.
She cut her hair
Her mother's joy
And became a ne'er-do-well
Oh, and her black friends on the block
Became the object of some talk.
I get chillbumps
every time I hear this song. In fact, this entire album is a roller coaster
ride of chillbumps if you are able to slide into it like a tub of warm water. I realize that this mellow California pop has been done and done to death and then done some more, but I can promise you that it was never done any better than it was on this album. Jordan was around 30 when he put this out. Thirty is a good year to get stuff done.
It was sometimes her
And sometimes me.
is next. It's a piano-based tune about the vagaries of the night life
I'm going back to Tin Pan Alley
To that one room Bally High
I'm gonna rewrite the words of this song tonight
Still I know when I sleep
There'll be no relief
From the vagueness of that crowd you keep.
I've got to turn on the light to stab away the night
I've got to feel these four walls around me now
'Cause when I'm dancing with you
In this mattress blue bar
I could run I could run and never reach you.
You ever have a dream like that? Where you could run and you could run and you could never reach her? They are called frustration dreams
. But you already knew that, didn't you?
One Step Ahead of the Blues is a kicky little piano jazz number about a guy who's getting his comeuppance.
I got paid back
For the time I was flyin'
Laid around that girl's house
Just like a papa lion.
In the middle of this tune comes the killer couplet
. I dare you to write one better than this.
These teardrops are wet
As they fall in duet.
There it is. The best couplet ever in pop music. Cole Porter
is waking up in his drunken Purgatory
, thinking, "Damn. That one was so simple, too. I know I wrote that down once. I should have quit drinking so much
and admitted I was gay
. Life would have been easier."
Lost Because You Can't Be Found is a syrupy, slinky tune with the bass line as the moving dynamic. This one is like one of those nodes where the title says it all. You can't hear a writeup here, however. The sound of this is nice and cool.
Side two starts out with an ode to Survival, called just that.
Grow up too fast
They don't even have the right tools
If you thought Carlton's guitar work in Steely Dan
's Green Earrings
is good, you should hear what he does here. Jordan says that Donald Fagen
was a big help when he was putting Mannequin
together. Gary Katz
produced this album, so this should tell you that the same folks who thought Steely Dan was something special had the same feelings about Marc Jordan.
Jordan has reprised this song several times as the years have gone by, so you could assume that Survival is probably the one he thought was hit-worthy from this album. For my money, any of them beat the hell out of anything that was on the radio at the time. That must have driven him far crazier than it drove me. Now that I think of it, I am pretty sure we did shoot the radio that year.
Side two continues with Jungle Choir. He's giving a subtle compliment to the 1974 mega-hit by Maria Muldaur, Midnight at the Oasis, here. (That's a damn good song if you've never heard it.)
Mystery Man is next. This is a great "car song." He's jumping into his Chevy, which has some heavy-duty gas and new tires all around and is running fine. He's going where "the diners and the truckers are a lonely man's mothers and the gas tanks are open wide." Timothy B. Schmidt can be heard distinctly in the background, making this a better tear-jerker than the Eagles ever wrote for him. Plus, listening to Larry Carlton play the break behind these vocals beats the hell out of anything you've ever heard from Glenn Frey or Joe Walsh. It's right around this tune that you begin to wonder, "Can this whole album actually be getting better and better as it goes along?"
Marina del Rey comes next. You could liken this to Steely Dan's inclusion of Haitian Divorce on The Royal Scam. This one actually became a radio tune in some markets. Steel drums are a very sadly underused commodity in American music.
Red Desert is the last tune and it is the masterpiece. I love it when an album ends with the masterpiece song. I'm not real sure what the song is all about, but I know that it is sublime. I think it's like the Shenandoah story: White man and native girl hook up and it doesn't turn out well.
The wind blows thru these walls
So hard it hurts sometimes.
I could be wrong about the story, but if you doubt the power of Timothy B. Schmidt and Larry Carlton to send shivers all up and down your spine, this is the tune to cure you of that heresy
. It only works because the lyrics and the tune are perfect. This one reminds me somewhat of Third World Man
by Steely Dan, but it's better. I've never heard Larry Carlton construct a better outro in any song.
So what's the point of all this? You couldn't find this album if you searched all the used record bins all over the world. It's dead. It no longer exists. (1) How could something which meant (and still means) so much to me and a few selected friends be extinct when it was the very best example of an entire genre of pop music which still flourishes? I guess you'd just have to turn on your radio and see what they're trying to sell you today to find out.
(1) Well, you could go to www.marcjordan.com and buy it direct, if you wanted to.