In Which a Certain Internet Hack Says All the Kind Things He Can Think of About Dan Fogelberg

The glee with which I bash “Same Old Lang Syne” (which still sucks) should not be confused with a general hatred for Dan Fogelberg personally. While I would not rank him, as my English-teaching reader did, alongside Shakespeare and Howlin’ Wolf, I have enjoyed and continue to enjoy some of what he left behind after his death in 2007 at the age of 56.

I first heard Fogelberg on “Part of the Plan” in 1975. The album from which it comes, Souvenirs, is a literate and likeable country rock record, every bit the equal (and in some ways better) than what the Eagles were doing at the same time. Fogelberg’s followup, Nether Lands, doesn’t strike me quite so great, but it’s not awful, either.  In 1978, Fogelberg teamed with Tim Weisberg on Twin Sons of Different Mothers. The combination of Colorado folk-rock and light jazz seems weird on the surface, but it works—the album made the Top 10, was certified platinum, and contained a memorable hit single, “The Power of Gold.” (It also contains “Tell Me to My Face,” one of the angriest records you’ll ever hear, which deserved to be a hit.) In late 1979, Fogelberg released Phoenix. There’s some pretty fine rock on that record: the anti-nuclear song “Face the Fire” burns like the holocaust it warns against. But it contained the Top 10 hit “Longer,” and “Longer” ruined Dan Fogelberg. From that moment on, he would be an adult-contemporary balladeer, riding the wimp train up the charts again and again.

“Same Old Lang Syne” isn’t his only lyrically clunky hit single. In 1982, “Missing You” contained the immortal line, “I’m getting closer but I don’t know what to,” which is as perfectly empty a sentence as you can construct in English. He’s the guy who rhymed “consumed” with “exhumed” in “Make Love Stay” and “blood” with “stud” in “Run for the Roses.” And he would use rain as a symbol for tears more often than any writer should repeat any trope, especially a clichéd one. Also about this time, he developed a vocal tic, in which he’d enunciate syllables like he was daintily tiptoeing through a cow pasture trying not to step in anything. “Heart Hotels,” “Leader of the Band,” “Hard to Say”—they were all big hits, and every one of them has something about it that grates me like nails on a chalkboard.

(Full disclosure: “Run for the Roses” does not merely grate; I wish that every existing copy of it could be gathered up and burned. It contains everything that’s horrible about Fogelberg’s music in four minutes. I’d rather hear “Same Old Lang Syne,” actually.)

In 1985, Fogelberg made a bluegrass album, High Country Snows, which is much beloved among people who like that sort of thing. He continued to score hit singles on the adult-contemporary charts in the late 80s, hitting for the last time with a cover of “Rhythm of the Rain” in 1990, which is quite good (and which nicks a bit of the Beatles’ “Rain” in the process). The last album released during his lifetime was 2003’s Full Circle. He finished an album while he was dying of cancer and directed his wife to release it after he was gone; Love in Time came out in 2009.

Look, I get why people like Fogelberg’s soft-rock stuff. A sensitive guy with a guitar will go a long way in this world, as will somebody who finds something people want and contrives to sell it to them. I even get why people like “Same Old Lang Syne,” although I think it’s because they read into it what they wish was there, and they ignore the plain evidence in the grooves of how dorky it is.

Shorter now: I am not especially open to persuasion on how great Dan Fogelberg is. Although it’s fun to watch people try.

6 responses

  1. I may have said this on your last Fogelberg (I can’t remember) post but I heartily agree with those people who love High Country Snows. His song about the California Gold Rush, “Sutter’s Mill”, is as great a song about American history as any ever written. I also agree with you about the album he did with Tim Weisberg. The rest of his stuff is absolutely dorky.

    It’s funny how one song can ruin your reputation. It happened with 3 Dog Night too. After the horrible “Black and White” they were viewed as a bubblegum act. Proof that no one should ever sing with kids unless the song is for the ears of children.

  2. “Tell Me To My Face” was one of the softest-launched singles I can recall. Full Moon/Epic more or less slipped the edited single under the door and that was that.

    My introduction to the song came when I bought Imperial’s 1967 ‘Hollies’ Greatest Hits’ album, issued just as the band was defecting to Epic. TMTMF would have been a better follow-up single to Imperial’s “Pay You Back With Interest” than the chosen reboot of “Just One Look,” had Keith not already covered it. To me, TMTMF remains *the* great lost Hollies 45. Dear Universal: put that one out with the retro Imperial label for Record Store Day, and I’m there.

  3. The only Dan Fogelberg song I can remember at all is “Times Like These.” He manages to pack more cliches into three minutes than should be humanly possible.

  4. You and I are of like mind on this, my friend.

  5. Pretty much the entire Dan Fogelberg album “The Innocent Age” sucked except for “Empty Cages,” a song I really liked. If you wanna hear Dan Fogelberg rock out, listen to “Empty Cages.”

    Funny how a ballad, and usually the biggest hit for an artist or band, is the song that sinks that artist or band to an all-time low. “Rosanna” and “I Won’t Hold You Back” made Toto seem like a wimp band, when, in fact, they were not. Just listen to “Afraid of Love” and “Lovers in the Night” off of “Toto IV” and you’ll see why Toto really rocked! Members of Foreigner have often said “I Want To Know What Love Is,” despite being a #1 hit, actually hurt the band. Same thing for groups like Journey and Boston.

  6. […] —We read the comments on our posts to find people defending Dan Fogelberg (and then we tried defending him ourselves). […]

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