I Think I Got What I Want... (Rick Springfield: A Lifetime in Music, Excerpt # 3)

…Back in the United States, Rick’s career was moving at a breakneck speed.  Initially more famous for his soap opera character than for his music, Rick began to appear everywhere, including the cover of TV Guide.  It wasn’t long, though, before music overtook acting.  The first release from the Working Class Dog album, Sammy Hagar’s “I’ve Done Everything for You,” went to #8 on the American charts.  The song also reached #31 on the Australian national charts. Rick’s biggest break, though, came in August of 1981, when “Jessie’s Girl” reached #1 on the American charts.  Ten days earlier, the song had reached the #1 spot on the Australian national charts.

Those two tracks, Rick’s first hits in nearly a decade and his most successful American releases up to that point, were produced by Keith Olsen.  Rick says that, although Olsen only did the two singles, “They were great choices, and they changed my writing and my production dramatically.”  The remainder of the album, including the top-20 “Love is Alright Tonight,” was co-produced by Rick and Bill Drescher, beginning an association that continues more than two decades later.

In addition to writing all of the songs on the album, playing guitar and bass, and co-producing all but two songs, Rick created the concept for the now-famous Working Class Dog album cover.  When RCA executives were skeptical of the concept and wanted to go forward with a more traditional and undeniably appealing photograph of Rick on the cover, Rick created a mock-up of the cover he wanted using his own dog and sold RCA on the idea.

It is difficult to say whether Working Class Dog would have been so successful without Rick’s General Hospital fame. Although the album certainly pulled its own weight, it is undeniable that the visibility of the soap opera made the public more aware of Rick’s music.  When the dreamy heartthrob from television’s most popular show as always singing the #1 song in the country, all eyes were on him.  General Hospital writers, of course, wanted to incorporate Rick’s music into the show, but he refused.  He said that his character, a doctor whose father and grandfather had been doctors before him, would have neither the time nor the inclination to become a rock and roll guitarist.

That kind of blatant self-promotion could have had a negative impact on Rick’s musical credibility, and, having learned well the lessons of his early brushes with teen idol stereotyping, Rick was extremely conscious of the image he projected.  He told the Los Angeles Times’s Dennis Hunt in 1981 that he was glad, in retrospect, that his career hadn’t taken off in the early seventies, when he was being pushed and packaged as a teen idol.  “When you’re a teen idol, people never take you seriously.  If I had made it as a teen idol, it would have been nice in the short run, but not in the long run.  It would probably be all over for me now.  Then you’re just an ex-teen-idol.  In this business, that’s like having the plague.”

[1982 concert photos not licensed for web use.]

Image wasn’t the only thing Rick was hyper-aware of because of his experiences in the seventies.  Conscious of the problems that had arisen when he allowed others to control his career, Rick took a much more active role in the business of being a musician.  He set up a corporation to manage his assets and took an active role in production.  Carrying forward what he had learned from Drescher and Olsen during the production of Working Class Dog, Rick would co-produce all but one album from Working Class Dog forward.

The recording and production of Working Class Dog formed the basis for many lasting relationships.  Keith Olsen would go on to produce Rick’s next album, Success Hasn’t Spoiled Me Yet, and co-produce Rick’s 1988 Rock of Life.  Bill Drescher would co-produce Living in Oz, Tao and Karma, and is credited as engineer on the Hard to Hold soundtrack.

Drummer Mike Baird also came on board for the recording of Working Class Dog, and would go on to play drums on Rick’s next three albums and play the role of the drummer in Hard to Hold.  Jack White also played drums on the album, although his primary role then and for the next two decades would be as Rick’s touring drummer.

A solid album, expert production and skilled musicians who worked well together was a recipe for sure success, and that success came in the form of three top-20 songs—but it wasn’t without complications.  Rick’s good looks had been at least as much of a curse as a blessing in the music business. In the seventies, his pink-cheeked innocence and wide eyes had been a perfect fit for the teen idol packaging that had so hindered his career.  An early music review bore the headline “Listen To—Don’t Just Look At—Rick Springfield.”  Not everyone was willing to do that, though, either in the seventies or the eighties.  In perhaps the most ironic twist in a career peppered with the unexpected…

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