Pop perfection: Andrew Gold, “Lonely Boy” (1977)

gold

(Above: It’s an album AND it’s a game.)

At one point this afternoon I suffered from the earworm that wouldn’t quit. I got the first verse of Andrew Gold’s “Lonely Boy” – which I have not heard in years – stuck in my head.  As you know, the only way to deal with these ailments is to find the song and play it, which I did when I got home. And damn, what a fine record this is.

Andrew Gold possessed all of the genetics to be a musician. His father was Ernest Gold, the composer who wrote themes like “Exodus.” His mother was Marni Nixon, who had one of the most beautiful voices in film even if she didn’t get screen time. She was the voice for Audrey Hepburn through most of My Fair Lady, and was also the voice of Natalie Wood through West Side Story.  So, yes, she could sing a little bit.

Gold was born on a summer day, 1951. It’s not just the first line to this record, but the first line to his autobiography. And no, they’re not one and the same: despite the younger sister arriving (twice) and Dad leaving home one day in 1969, Gold explained that the song and his life are two separate tales that share some details in common. The sad part of Gold’s story is his death in 2011 at the young age of 59 due to cancer.

Musically, though, there are some great parts to his story. You’re very likely familiar with another hit record that he wrote, “Thank You For Being a Friend,” which was – of course – the theme song to TV’s The Golden Girls. Gold was also the lead singer for a group called Wax, who had a minor hit in 1986 with a fantastic song called “Right Between The Eyes.” Wax also claimed Graham Gouldman as a member, who was formerly of 10cc, a band that Gold joined for one LP in 1981. He played on a variety of other performers’ work, including Cher, and wrote songs for Trisha Yearwood and Wynonna Judd. He toured with the Eagles. He played all of the instruments on Art Garfunkel’s hit version of “I Only Have Eyes For You.” Oh, and he also produced work for Nicolette Larson, with whom he was involved for a while outside the studio.

But here’s where we mention Linda Ronstadt. Gold played the bulk of the instruments on Ronstadt’s hit “You’re No Good.” (While I am on the Betty Everett team on this one, Ronstadt’s version, at #1, was the much bigger hit.) Same with “When Will I Be Loved” and “Heat Wave.” Ronstadt repaid the favor by singing on – this record. That’s right – the part of Mom singing “We must attend to her needs/She’s so much younger than you” is Linda. The more you know.

Sonically, this is an amazing record. The piano solo at the front gets your attention, and then more and more instruments join in layers. The rhythm is oddly off-beat, which means it’s probably what I’d be playing if I tried to do it right. It’s got a simple chorus, punctuated with – sleigh bells? Why not? They’re not just for Christmas anymore. Personally, I prefer the longer LP version (with the “goodbye mama, goodbye youth” bridge in the middle surrounded by a pretty solid guitar solo for a Top 40 record.) By the time the melody makes it to a frenzied ending and collapses into sustained strings, you realize you’ve just heard a h-i-t. The record made it to #7 in both the US and Canada, and was the biggest hit he ever had, with the Golden Girls tune serving as his only other Top 40 entry.

When I hear this song, I think of it blasting out of every radio in Brementowne tuned to WLS in the summer of 1977. (Hell, I probably also heard it in the telephone, since we got pretty good reception of WLS on that as well.) I also think of my first time around, in the summer of 1990, when WCFL-FM went on the air, and I joined the staff as a baby disc jockey, shouting through the reverb and hitting the post on this whenever I could.

When’s the last time you heard it? You can hear the long version of “Lonely Boy” by clicking here.

One thought on “Pop perfection: Andrew Gold, “Lonely Boy” (1977)

  1. I agree that “Lonely Boy” sounds fantastic–it was a big favorite of mine that spring/summer. Somewhere along the way I decided the self-centeredness behind the narrator’s alienation reduced the enjoyment for me somewhat. But you’re right–it was absolute magic coming out of the radio in real time.

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