(As noted in my first Essentials entry, this is an occasional series in which I spotlight albums that, in my estimation, everyone should experience at least once.)
As I write, it’s a gray, damp May morning in the Delaware Valley. And while the Earth’s revolutions around the sun push us, ever-so-slowly, into a soggy afternoon, I’m spinning back into the past – to one of my favorite years, 1985.
On the very first day of the first post-Orwellian year, a new channel named VH1 debuted on many cable systems across the nation, including mine. Its name was short for Video Hits One, and it aired music videos. And only music videos. But unlike its sibling channel MTV, its focus was less on the hot pop and rock hits of the day, and more on adult fare. Like jazz, soul, adult contemporary and even some country.
College, work, and life kept me busy. I was 19, attending the commuter-college paradise that was Penn State Ogontz (now Penn State Abington), and working as many hours as possible as a sales associate at a department store at the Willow Grove Mall. What free time I had was mostly music-centered – LPs, stereo, headphones, music magazines. But one day that late spring or summer, and I can’t remember when, I clicked onto VH1 – and was greeted by this video:
I bought the corresponding LP, Rhythm & Romance, not long thereafter, on July 17th, and was instantly smitten with the album as a whole. It marries the SoCal rock aesthetic, updated for the ‘80s, with a country heart. The opening track, “Hold On,” features a taut guitar solo.
The third song was a Benmont Tench-Tom Petty song, “Never Be You,” that Maria McKee first sang on the Streets of Fire soundtrack the year before…though I didn’t learn that for quite some time. (This was pre-Internet, remember. Not all factoids were a mouse click away.)
Other highlights include “Second to No One.” I never saw the video before now, and must say that it’s quite stunning.
Also: “Halfway House,” which include these truly insightful lyrics: “We’re all in the halfway house/Or so it sometimes seems/Trying to find the truth inside/Instead of getting by on dreams.”
“Never Gonna Hurt,” another favorite, is as spiky as Rosanne’s hair on the cover – it sounds like a lost Jam classic.
Actually – see the track list below? Those are the highlights. All 10 songs. Rhythm & Romance is one of those albums best listened to from start to finish.
A few years back, Rolling Stone published an excellent salute to the album in honor of its 30th anniversary. It included this surprising bon mot from Rosanne’s memoir, Composed: “I still cannot stand to listen to Rhythm & Romance,” especially the “sophomoric, navel-gazing songs.” It just goes to show that, sometimes, the artist is wrong. To my ears, Rhythm & Romance is a classic.
In the year since it was released, of course, Rosanne has released a string of good, great and equally essential albums; and Diane and I have seen her in concert many times. But whenever I hear or think of her, I can’t help but to think of this album.
- Hold On
- I Don’t Know Why You Don’t Want Me
- Never Be You
- Second to No One
- Halfway House
- Pink Bedroom
- Never Alone
- My Old Man
- Never Gonna Hurt
- Closing Time