Face the Fire

I have taken a positively uncharitable degree of pleasure in whacking on Dan Fogelberg over the years. I do it in part because I am so richly entertained by the people who want to defend the guy. My favorite: the English teacher who commented that my dislike of Fogelberg is the same as his students’ dislike of Shakespeare: “you fail to understand his genius.”

‘Twas not always thus. Like most people, I first heard Fogelberg on his brilliant 1975 single “Part of the Plan.” Although I wouldn’t hear all of it until years later, the whole Souvenirs album is generally great, a country-rock record rivaling anything the Eagles were doing at the time, featuring “Illinois,” “As the Raven Flies,” and “There’s a Place in the World for a Gambler.”

When next I heard of Fogelberg, it was in 1978 when he collaborated with Tim Weisberg on Twin Sons of Different Mothers, a quirky mix of smooth jazz and singer/songwriter rock. “The Power of Gold” was the big hit from that album, and although it got a ton of radio play in the late 70s, I can’t remember the last time I heard it on the radio. But the best thing on the album was “Tell Me to My Face,” a Hollies cover that’s one of the angriest songs I know of. Despite his naturally soft voice, Fogelberg rocks the hell out of it, and it’s the best thing he ever did, by a mile.

By 1980, I was program director of my college radio station, and Fogelberg’s Phoenix album went into heavy rotation from the moment it came in the mail. We were an album-rock station, so we played the title song and “Face the Fire,” even as the ultra-ballad “Longer” zoomed up the singles chart. If I’m recalling correctly, I believe we eventually had to give in to listener demand and start playing “Longer,” too.

Give Fogelberg credit for knowing his product and the marketplace: never again would he stray very far from the “Longer” template. “Heart Hotels” followed “Longer” up the charts, continuing the dainty vocal style Fogelberg would use from that album on, hopping from syllable to syllable like a guy picking his way through a pasture trying to avoid stepping in something. The metaphor would apply for the next several years, as he scaled the charts again and again with tastefully performed singles that defined whatever’s the opposite of “edgy”: “Leader of the Band,” “Hard to Say,” “Run for the Roses,” “Make Love Stay,” and “Missing You,” an attempt at a rock song that dissolved me into laughter the first time I heard the lyric line, “I’m getting closer but I don’t know what to.”

And don’t get me started on “Same Old Lang Syne.”

If you’re a fan—and if you’re still reading—tell me what Fogelberg records I should listen to, apart from Souvenirs and Twin Sons of Different Mothers, that might change my mind about him.

11 responses

  1. I know where you’re coming from. I love that you used the word “dainty.” Expect to hear from the Fogelfans shortly.

  2. A jock with whom I worked in New Zealand told me a story I’ve never forgotten:

    He worked at a station that was still spinning vinyl. On the back of the album it was common to label the tracks like we did with carts: “:16/3:35/F” or something like that.

    On the LP for “Same Old Lang Syne”, the outcue had neither an F, or C, but “somewhat meanders a bit.”

  3. I kind of like “Empty Cages” off of Dan Fogelberg’s album, “The Innocent Age.” It’s sort of like “Missing You” but with much better lyrics….and a hell of a lot better than, “went to have ourselves a drink or two, but couldn’t find an open bar” from the aforementioned and deservedly maligned “Same Auld Lang Syne.”

  4. The “Power Of Gold” duet aside, it’s pretty surprising that all eight of Fogelberg’s singles released between “Plan” and “Longer” missed the Billboard charts entirely. Two of those are among my recommendations:

    “Below The Surface” from ‘Captured Angel’ keeps the “Part Of The Plan” vibe alive without sounding like a direct clone. On the album, it was paired in a medley with “Man In The Mirror.”

    “Love Gone By,” from the ‘Nether Lands’ LP, is a flat-out rocker, by Fogelberg standards. Are you sitting down? It actually has a piano glissando during the hook! The deliciously-abrupt ending would have made for a great accent-the-beat DJ patter bed, had the song been even a semi-hit.

    Having bought Imperial’s ‘Hollies Greatest Hits’ album in 1967, the original “Tell Me To My Face” will always be definitive to me. Bergberg do do it justice, even though it goes on forever on the LP. I’ll second “Face The Fire,” since it was the sole reason I bought ‘Phoenix’ (albeit through Billboard’s Record Source International.)

  5. I’ve never been a big Dan fan but you’ve mentioned one of his two superlative albums, Twin Sons, and my personal favorite, High Country Snows. The latter is a bluegrass album loaded with country and bluegrass all-stars helping out, including Jeff Hanna, Chris Hillman, Jerry Douglas, Herb Pedersen, and Vince Gill. Russ Kunkel is on drums. “Sutter’s Mill,” about the California Gold Rush, should be a classic. I will continue to give only lukewarm recommendations for Fogelberg’s music in general but I highly suggest that anyone who is a fan of real country and Appalachian music to pick up this album.

  6. I’m from Fogelberg’s hometown. He recently got a street named after him and the love interest in “Same Old Lang Syne” was outed around the time of his death. A lot of natives thought they knew but definitive ID was made in a newspaper column.

    Fogelberg’s problem was that they tried to shoe-horn him into rock and roll, a common mistake with all of the Irving Azoff’s stable of stars, eh the majority of his stable of stars. He was better off as a coffee-house style guy,where his roots were.

    I liked the Twin Sons’ “Tell Me to My Face” when it came out but in a backwards Yah Shure moment fell for the Hollies version when I heard it. I also thought there was something familiar about that tune and realized it: Alice Cooper cribbed the bridge for his “Billion Dollar Babies.” In the Hollies song it begins, “Is it just that you can’t face the future…..” In the Cooper song it begins, “We go dancing nitely in the attic while the moon is rising….” Take the test for yourself!

  7. Nether Lands, the one that directly preceded Twin Sons. It’s full of great orchestrated country-rock tunes like “False Faces” and “Once Upon a Time”, and the fully orchestrated leadoff title track is a gorgeous thing of wonder.

    My wife loved Fogelberg’s music, and we dated/got married when his biggest hits were on the charts, so while I freely admit he’s not a favorite artist by any stretch, I still have a soft spot for a lot of it. Saw him in Nashville sometime in the mid-80s; Wendy Waldman opened, which is why I was there…other than my wife was dying to see him!

  8. I second Johnny Bacardi’s “Nether Lands” recommendation, both album and track. I tend to like Fogelberg more than most, but I do acknowledge his flaws, and I also agree that he should have been marketed as a coffee-house guy. I should also note that there is some gorgeous music on “The Innocent Age” even as the lyrics over-reach.

  9. I can’t really explain why, but I always enjoyed his late ’80s AC hit “Lonely in Love.” Part of it might be the oddness of such a melancholy title on such a singalong chorus … don’t know. But after being completely burned out on his ballads earlier in the decade, it was fun to hear him tackle a single with more pep.

  10. I’ve always been a Fogelberg fan and really don’t care whether others like him or not. We all have our own tastes in music and I guess that’s one of the things that helps separate us from the animals. If you’re asking what fans like me see in the guy, I would say “plenty”. If you like “Part of the Plan”, I would think you would like “Wishing On The Moon”, from the Phoenix album. Similar in a lot of ways, but better, imo. To me, the best song he has ever done would be “Beggar’s Game”, also from the Phoenix album. “Make Love Stay” is another great song. I wish I could write just one song that good.

    I think what we like in music is continuously shaped throughout our lives. So many different genres and stylings of music to go along with all the different events in our lives.

  11. J.A. Bartlett | Reply

    Based on recommendations from commenters to this post, I have recently listened to both “Nether Lands” and “High Country Snows.” I expected that “Nether Lands” would be pretty good, falling as it does in the pocket between “Souvenirs” and “Twin Sons.” I am not a big bluegrass guy, so some of the pickin’ on “High Country Snows” is wasted on me, but in general I thought Fogelberg sounded a lot more comfortable in that world than in the world of the tasteful adult-contemporary hitmaker. The album probably came out a few years too early, though, before the increased interest in Americana/roots music of the last decade-and-a-half.

    My thanks to everybody for assisting with my ongoing musical eduction.

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