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Lindsey Articles and Reviews: LB's Great Pop Escape '93
Lindsey Buckingham's Great Pop Escape by Bill Holdship WAITING ON THE COUNTDOWN... No grand critical proclamations here. Only the truth: Lindsey Buckingham is set to release Out of the Cradle, the pop album of the year-perhaps the pop album of the decade-on June 16th. You can safely call it "America's Great Pop Hope," and not feel at all silly doing so. The album borrows its title from "Out of the Cradle, Endlessly Rocking," Walt Whitman's l9th century poetic ode to childhood innocence--and it doesn't take a literary scholar to see that the title (and the connection) works on many different levels. There's an innocent quality to much of Out of the Cradle, and this goes back to the whole pop music philosophy and tradition. lt's a tradition that dates back to the earliest days of rock 'n roll, straight through Pet Sounds, and right up to any number of tunes that you can remember sounding great as they blasted from an AM radio "There is an innocent quality to it," says the 42 year-old Buckingham. "Walt Whitman meant that title as the child that stays within the man as he's walking around as an adult, and the child that's still in there rocking. So that definitely appealed to me. Even the parkaging has an innocent quality. It's almost bordering on precious," he laughs, "but I've got old family photos in there and all that, and the whole thing has kind of a 'Remember this?' sense to it. The songs aren't necessarily about the band (yes, he means that band) or about anything, really. But maybe they're about just trying to take a period of time and trying to put it into the healthiest possible perspective you can." "LOVE IS LIKE A GRAIN OF SAND, SLOWLY SLIPPIN' THROUGH YOUR HAND" " ln l982, by which time the band he refers to had turned into the "enemy" in the eyes of many rock 'n' roll fans, Lindsey Buckingham wrote and recorded a little pop-rock ditty called "Oh Diane," which turned up on side two of an album called Mirage. The song was so innocent that it bordered on the ridiculous, although its-magical, four-chord musical structure never fails to bring up emotions associated with everything from doo-wop to Buddy Holly (and by connection the whole British and American pop rock explosion of the mid-'60s). Of course, you could also add Brian Wilson to that chemistry, thanks to a pristine-sounding modern production; spacey backup vocals; a mandolin and/ or harpsichord (you can't quite tell), which might sound out of place on paper and in concept; and several instrumental bridges that come out of left field. The song went on to become a big hit in England. At least one person--even in his now-jaded, mid-30s still suddenly latches on to all his hopes, dreams, and desires; remembers there are beautiful things in this world; and wants to run out and really fall in love, each and every time he hears "Oh Diane." All in the course of a 2 1/2-minute pop tune! Which of course, is exactly what Jonathan Richman had in mind when he sang about "the power of the AM..." Or the power of pop. Which is sort of a long way of describing what the power of Out of the Cradle is all about. SOUL DRIFTER Not that each song on the new album is like "Oh Diane", although they're really all just as evocalive. Still, it probably needs to be explained in this age of Wilson Nelson and Mariah Bolton that "pop" music is not necessarily synonymous with "easy-listening" or "MOR." It's probably closer to what they call "Classic Rock" these days. Buckingham's roots run incredibly deep, but the first taste of Out of the Cradle you've probably heard is "Wrong," a wailing, dark view of classic rock stardom and the "biz," which was sent to AOR radio the middle of last month. In fact, the album is chock-full of incredible, gritty guitar solos, with its share of hard rockers. On the other side of the coin, however,are beautiful tunes that approach the mainstream while straddling the esoteric. Songs like "Soul Drifter," "You Do or You Don't," "Surrender the Rain," and "Turn It On" wouldn't sound out of place on any radio format. There's a Buckingham reinterpretation of the old folk song/spiritual, "All My Sorrows," which approaches Beach Boys' territory, circa "Wind Chimes," or "Surf's Up." There's "Countdown," and anthem of hope, the single in Britain, and the cut that may lead the pack, if only by a hair. It's one of those songs you feel you've heard a thousand times before in your dreams the very first time you hear it; that is, love a first listen. The are several thrilling, unpretentious, classical guitar interludes. The esoteric bent-including the opening "Don't Look Down," (yet another ode to hope, and the one Buckingham preferred to be the first single)-surely should appeal to an "alternative" audience. You could safely say that Out of the Cradle has the potential to become a commercial monster, and not feel at all silly doing so. Hell, it's hard to say where the audience for this one even begins...or ends, for that matter. After all, "You Do or You Don't" actually quotes a melodic line hom "A Theme From A Summer Place." ("I always loved that song" recalls Buckingham. "It always takes me right back to 1960, and it just seemed to have the same emotional tone I was looking for")-while the final song on the album opens with an acoustic guitar interpretation of Rodgers & Hammerstein's "This Nearly Was Mine" from South Pacific. All of which just goes to demonstrate how deep Buckingham's roots are as a master musical craftsman. "I don't know if you'd call them roots. But that was some of the first stuff I heard, because in the early '50s, before Elvis hit, that's exactly what parents were listening to. But those songs really were great, and they hold up so well. Writers like Rodgers & Hammerstein and George Gershwin really knew what they were doing. And really, when you get down to it, the Beatles, and maybe just a few other artists from that time were the exception of someone who could do something on that level without having to train to do it. Everyone since then has tried to pull that off, but it's really hard to do without musical training and knowledge. I mean, I can't even write or read music, so I really don't know. But I do think there's a lot to be looked at in that type of music. I tried to get that traditional, Tin Pan Alley sort of approach when I was writing 'Soul Drifter.' so I think there's a lot of validity, just looking at that stuff and appreciating it. Especially if it's part of your background." THIS IS THE TIME You could call Out of the Cradle Lindsey Buckingham's first real solo album. And not only because it's the best thing he's ever done, including his work with that other band. In reality, this is actually his third solo effort-Law and Order (which spawned the hit single, "Trouble") and I Go Insane were released in 1981 and 1984, respectively. And make no mistake about it: Every album released with the name "Lindsey Buckingham" as its sole cover credit is definitely a solo effort; besides Buckingham, Out of the Cradle includes only the occasional extra bassist, percussionist, or drum machine (which he assures, "we tried to keep as human and sloppy as possible"). In other words, he serves as the musician, the singer, the songwriter, and the producer on each of his albums, sharing the latter credit (as well as an occasional songwriting nod) with his longtime friend, Richard Dashutt.

"Richard's not a musician, per se, or really an engineer in the finer sense of the word," he says of the mystery man behind the scenes. "Neither one of us is that technically oriented. I'm just blessed with a fairly decent imagination, I guess, but that probably comes from years of listening to hits. It gives you a sensibility about how something could become that much more accessible, or at least that much more effective. Our philosophy has always been, turn the knobs until it sounds good.

"Stevie and I moved to Los Angeles in, probably 1973, and we met him almost immediately. He was at another studio, and then he moved over to Sound City in Van Nuys, where Stevie and I recorded the Buckinghmn Nicks album, and he second-engineered that album. By that time, the three of us were all sharing a big apartment, and he just continued to work with us. And when we were asked to join the band, I just said, 'Hey Rich, wanna come out on the road and mix sound?'"

Of course, the last two albums by that other band-Mirage and Tango in the Night-were pretty much produced by this same team; in fact, the story goes that Buckingham's last solo effort was scratched in 1987 so that he and Dashutt could go into the studio to "save" Tango in the Night. Which probably explains why it was the first album by that band on which the duo got sole production credit, if not why the album was the final release by that group to reach the top of the charts and produce a slew of hit singles. What makes Out of the Cradle his first real solo release, however, is that in the past, he always felt obliged to give his rockers to that other band. And since the band was obviously as close to mainstream rock as mainstream gets, he driven to immerse himself in the experimental side on those earlier solo releases. After all, that same experimental side failed miserably on relative commercial terms when he incorporated it into the band on 1979's Tusk. As a result, Go Insane was downright weird, including stuff like a bizarre musicial suite dedicated to late Beach drummer Dennis Wilson.

"I knew him pretty well-he even had an affair with my girlfriend," he laughs. But he was a good guy. He was kind of lost, but I thought he had a big heart. I always liked him. He was crazy just like a lot of other people, but he had a really big heart, and he was the closest thing to Brian (Wilson) there was, too. He was halfway there.

"That was a bit of a darker period," he admits. "I think Law and Order was more like a Lindsey Buckingham variety show. But with Go Insane, there were a lot of not-so-great things happening in my personal life and I really felt I had been drifting a little bit creatively. The band was getting crazy, and personal things were kind of crazed, and that was the product of a very stressful time. I remember I was back East, and some girl called me up and said, "Why do you have to write about such down stuff?' Because that's what was happening." With Out of the Cradle, however, Buckingham has had a chance to merge all his diverse pop styles and influences into something that's totally cohesive. "After I left the group situation, I just kind of sat, tinkering around, letting the emotional dust settle, and then I started getting into it. It's time consuming when you're doing everything yourself, but I just felt I wanted to get some of the instincts back and some of the things that I maybe put aside a little bit with the band--things that sort of got left by the wayside, like different guitar styles. I do have this little esoteric niche that helps in terms of how you're perceived, as well as giving you sort of a whole area to tinker around in and maybe grow. But then I also had that mainstream thing to fall back on. I really thought it was important to cover all the ground of what I'm about, and not just keep cultivating the little sidebar there. I mean, I really wanted to get away from too much synth, and really assert the guitar playing a little more, even to the point of being a little flashy. So, I just tried to get it all in there, as much as I could.

"And I did think that if I were to continue as a solo artist and have any sort of longevity, it would probably make sense to approach it this way...but to do it without becoming something you didn't want to become in the process. Which is a really fine line, you know?"

What would be something he didn't want to become? "Just gearing your entire approach to what's going to sell. Besides, God only knows what's going to sell; that's part of the problem these days. I mean, 15 minutes is really becoming 15 minutes. When Bruce can come out with two albums, and they can hit the top immediately, and then go down just as fast. This is why he did Saturday Night Live, right? I mean, that's a scary thought So God knows what my aIbum is going to be perceived as. Also, you don't want to water it down to be more radio friendly. And you still want to make it somewhat challenging--make it your own and make it fresh. So if you can do all that, and still make it accessible, then I guess you're doing alright." STREET OF DREAMS The first thing you may notice about Lindsey Buckingham is how "normal" he seems to be for a rock star. This may be your thought, regardless of whether he's sitting in a Warner Bros. conference room in 1992, following five days of "video hell" with director Julian Temple; or in his own Bel Air home studio--dubbed "The Slope" back in 1987, feeling somewhat miserable and trapped (and perhaps not unlike Michael Jackson at the time of the Victory tour) because that other band needs him to go out on tour. (The band's namesake drummer, in fact, made no secret of the fact that he's broke.) Perhaps the normalcy has to do with his fairly traditional upbringing in a small Northern California town called Atherton, near Palo Alto. Growing up in a middle class family (his father owned a smalI coffee company), Buckingham makes it sound almost like an episode of The Adventures of Ozzy & Harriet, with him in the Ricky Nelson role. "I had a swell childhood--two older brothgs, great parents, and lots of activities and shared quality times," he recalls. "And it was one of the older brothers who was probably responsible for me doing what I'm doing." "Of course, that wasn't an uncommon story in the '50s. I'm sure if you asked Bruce what he listened to growing up, it would be a similar situation. I mean, anyone can see how strong that image of a guy with a guitar was. And all of us, even that age, could hear the. difference between 'How Much Is That Doggie in the Window' and 'Heartbreak Hotel' and see what a jump that was. Yeah, a lot of kids running out and getting guitars in 1957 and '58, I'm sure. And I was one of them. I started very, very young. No lessons, just playing and listening to the records. "By the time Hendrix came along, he didn't have much of an effect on me. I mean, I enjoyed what he was doing, but I cut my teeth on (Elvis's lead guitarist) Scotty Moore, so that by the time Brian Janes ana Keith Richards came along, I wasn't overly impressed by what they were doing as guitarists. I mean, I loved how they made their records. Obviously, I love that stuff, but it wasn't like I was going,'Wow,listen to that guy!' I mean, I could already play. When the psychedelic stuff came along, I wasn't taking drugs...quite yet, he laughs, "so I would go up to the Fillmore and watch all that stuff, but I was so locked into my style as a guitar player that it didn't really influence me much. Plus, right about that time, I switched over to play bass (in the Bay Area band, Fritz). It was actually the first band I was in, and I switched to bass because I didn't have a fuzz unit. In fact, all I actually had up to that point was an acoustic guitar. I had started playing young, but I had always kept it to myself. I mean, I was a swimmer in high school, and our family was very athletic. My mother was never one to say, 'Yeah, you should go into entertainment,' because she knew what a rough life it was. So she always encouraged me to be a good player, but never as a career. And then, right after high school, someone saw how well I played, and they just sort of yanked me out of my situation. That same fall, I quit the water polo team, grew my hair out, and that was it. My mom was going, 'Oh my God!' My brother's going, 'You're not going to let him grow his hair out, are you?!' Fritz did OK in the Bay Area. We opened shows at the Fillmore maybe once or twice, but it was not a big thing. At some point, however, Stevie and I kinda got selected out of that group as the ones who were perceived as having the most potential. We had not gotten romantically involved until that time, though, and when Fritz broke up, we kind of got together on a lot of different Ievels. We met (producer) Keith Olsen who eventually brought us down here to LA to make the Buckingham Nicks album, and one thing led another. It was kind of a tough time, actually. After the album went down the toilet, we had managers who were trying to get us to play steakhouses and that sort of stuff...which we figured was a dead end, so we didn't want to do that. We also had to deal with a record company that didn't seem to have any idea of what the music on the album was about. "So, yeah,we had to deal with all that. To make money, I had to go out on the road with Don Everly's band, which was as heartbreaking as hell, watching Don trying to do something that wasn't being received very well. Stevie was working in LA as a waitress. And yet this whole cult thing was emerging out of the South, where we were able to headline in front of 5000 people. I mean, that was just a bizarre contrast to what we were dealing with in Los Angeles, where we were starving. We weren't much a part of the scene in LA during the early'70s. We played the Starwood and a few other clubs, but not in a situation of prestige at all. One time, I was right in the middle of a song, and the club manager walked up onstage and turned down my amp. We had to deal with all that sort of stuff. But we went down south and opened for Poco, and they absolutely loved us. We never really found out what would've happened with that scene, because right about that time, Mick Fleetwood stepped in and asked us to join. We thought about it for a week, and then we went, 'Oh, OK. Let's do it.' "They weren't making any money at all. Fortunately,they were on Warner Bros., which has always been an artist's label. And Mo (Ostin) had seen them through all these various incarnations and still believed in what they had going. And Mick was defiant in terms of seeing something through, believing in what he had to offer, and what certain aspects of that band had to offer."