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.