I was watching Ken Burns’ excellent documentary about The Roosevelts, and one of the historians was going on about Franklin and the effects his polio had on the mechanics of his life. The effort it took him to seem to walk was incredible, but the magnetism of his personality was such that people really believed he could walk. The historian continued that it was a shame that it was unlikely that Americans would ever vote for someone with the same condition again. Which naturally made me think of this $1 Robert John album I just bought.
This unassuming little record has a song that peaked at #1 in October 1979. MTV premiered August 1, 1981. And I don’t think Americans have sent singers like Robert John back to number one since. Before MTV, when a song became a hit from a new artist, you really had no idea what they looked like. Maybe you were lucky, a singer with a hit would randomly appear on a variety show. I even have the 45 of “Sad Eyes”, but until I saw him leaning back in a director’s chair in a Goodwill bin, I had no idea what Robert John looked like (but I was tempted to see if either of his faux-satin jackets were hanging nearby).
It’s not that Mr. John, not Elton, is a particularly bad looking guy, but he just doesn’t seem to have much of a visual presence, even on his own record. After MTV, singers needed to be at least fashionable if not drop dead gorgeous to become successful. Popular music immediately added a visual aspect it never really had before, and just being a guy who could hit a high falsetto on a photo-disco ballad was no longer good enough. I’ve found a live performance of “Sad Eyes” on youtube, and you can see why he wouldn’t have made it if he came along a few years later than he did.
Musically, the record is the catchy hit single “Sad Eyes” coupled wth 9 sub-standard ballads and disco songs. “Dance The Night Away” almost sounds like a disco parody that was written for The Simpsons. Even with first rate “wrecking crew” LA studio musicians and “20 Feet From Stardom” quality background singers, it’s really a pretty bad album. “Sad Eyes”, though, more than justifies the shelf space, and the so-bad-it’s-good album cover, it was a worthy $1 purchase.
Cost: $1, $980 Remaining