Rick Springfield: The Beat of the Live Drum

Rick Springfield - The Beat of the Live DrumSynopsis: Rick Springfield soared to the heights of stardom in the 1980s as a teen idol, a soap star and a platinum-selling music artist. The versatile Australian-born entertainer played heartthrob Dr. Noah Drake on television’s “General Hospital” by day and Grammy® Award-winning singer by night.

This concert event showcases the energy and vitality that propelled Springfield to the top of the pop charts. Spectacular live footage, giant projection screens, integrated music videos, and thousands of adoring fans come together for an unforgettable evening with one of the hottest performers of the ’80s!

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Rick Springfield: The Beat of the Live Drum 7.5

eyelights: the production of the home video presentation.
eyesores: the artificiality of the concert

We all have our roots. Anyone who reads this page semi-regularly likely knows that I tend to gravitate towards goth/metal/industrial music a fair bit; I like my music edgy. And yet, I also like a good pop hook, which explains why some (but only some) Top 40 acts catch my ear from time to time. I guess I’m a sucker for a catchy melody.

My excuse is that I grew up on early ’80s pop videos. My favourites were Duran Duran and Michael Jackson, who were all the rage at the time, but I also dug Wham!, Tears For Fears, Phil Collins, Billy Joel, and others. I didn’t warm up to the weirder pop stars, like Culture Club, Cyndi Lauper or Prince and The Revolution until later – if at all.

1985 was the year that broke my resistance to pop culture: I lapped up the few music videos I had access to, via a daily after school show called Video Hits, featuring the outrageously congenial Samantha Taylor. Since it was a daily countdown, the videos hardly changed from day-to-day, or even week-to-week, but I tuned in without fail.

This is where I discovered Rick Springfield.

By that point, Springfield had already been in the public eye for a few years: since the late ’70s he’d been focusing on his acting career and eventually become a household name in 1981 as Noah Drake on General Hospital. This coincided with the release of his three times platinum-selling album ‘Working Class Dog’ and a Grammy Award.

I knew none of this, or course (or that he’d released two more albums, many singles, picked up a couple more Grammy noms, become a poster boy, …etc.), when I first saw the video to “Love Somebody”, the lead single to the soundtrack to his feature film debut, ‘Hard to Hold’. All I knew was that I really, really, liked the song.

I liked it so much, in fact, that I promptly got myself the cassette of ‘Hard to Hold’, which I played a lot. I soon got ‘Living in OZ’, ‘Beautiful Feelings’ and ‘Success Hasn’t Spoiled Me Yet’. I even bought ‘Working Class Dog’ and ‘Beginnings’ on vinyl. By the time that 1985’s ‘Tao’ came out, I was a complete devotee of Rick Springfield.

I still remember playing air guitar on a plastic axe (literally… it was purchased for Hallowe’en) to “Motel Eyes” and making up my own lyrics as I warbled along to many of his songs. But it’s when I started to pay attention to his lyrics that I became really interested in Springfield – until then, I had mostly been caught up in the pop-rock mystique.

The first song that really caught my attention was “Inside Sylvia”, from ‘Working Class Dog’. I had this deep crush for a schoolmate of mine named Sylvie, and I was tickled to find a song with her name in it. So I paid acute attention to it – and discovered what was (’til then) the most graphically sexual song I’d ever heard. I just couldn’t believe it.

All I could think was just how gutsy that was. Dangerous, even.

I was both embarrassed and… turned on. (at that age, aren’t the two feelings often blurred together?)

I was far more aware of the impact of lyrics then, and scoured his albums. Some of the songs that eventually caught my attention were “Like Father, Like Son” (from ‘Living in OZ’), which proposed that familial patterns are hard to break, and “Celebrate Youth” (from ‘Tao’), which discusses the roots of prejudice in a hooky dance format.

I was starting to realize that there was far more to him than just a pretty boy with a knack for lovely melodies. This would be confirmed when I came home from the mall with my brand new copy of ‘Beginnings’: the emotionally-loaded “What Would the Children Think?” was so raw and poignant that I couldn’t believe it had been put to song.

But the clincher was “The Unhappy Ending”, which takes us to the moment of a man’s suicide, into his final thoughts. Naturally, being 14 or 15 at the time, I hadn’t heard anything like it; this was some seriously heavy !@#$. And yet, it’s enveloped in one of the most delicious melodies he’s ever put to record. I fell in love with it.

What I discovered is that, when Springfield was earnest, he could speak eloquently and beautifully about almost anything. He had a romantic side, yes, a lustful one, for sure, but he also showed some profundity that no one expects from their pop stars. And right from the onset, too: it wasn’t just a ploy to shake off his poster boy image.

That’s part of the reason why I remain a fan to this day. Had his songs been vacuous tripe, like so many pop stars’ are, I would still play his albums from time to time for nostalgic kicks and that’s it. But the reality is that there’s frequently more to his music than just lovely licks, so his albums, even though they’re pop, still play well to me.

Honestly, I dare anyone to listen to “My Father’s Chair” and not be moved by it to some degree.

In any case, at the height of his fame, Rick Springfield released ‘The Beat of the Live Drum’, a 71-minute home video concert programme that was recorded on his 1985 tour. I only found out of its existence years later, while perusing the shelves of a video rental store near a friend’s house one evening. We rented it and I copied it.

(Obviously, when it was made available on DVD, I was the first to buy it)

I have no idea exactly when and where it was recorded, and a quick online search yields no information to that effect. But I suspect that it may have been culled from various dates, based on the fact that it’s not a full, fluid performance; it’s actually edited together for greater effect (I wouldn’t be surprised if the set list was altered, too).

What was surprising to me, while watching the credits, was that this was directed by none other than David Fincher (‘Seven’, ‘Fight Club’, ‘The Social Network’, ‘Gone Girl’) when he was just getting started as a music video/television commercial director. Even more surprising would be just how much of a hand he had in shaping this programme.

You see, even though it’s a concert film, it really is more of a video production: the whole show is enhanced with all sorts of visual effects from start to finish, making it more than just a portrayal of a Rick Springfield concert. It’s a spectacle: there are inserts of large screen, zeppelins, fireballs, beings in the sky above the crowd, …etc..

It begins with a outdoor shot of an auditorium/stadium, with an image of Rick Springfield on a supersized “screen” that was evidently superimposed. It then takes us into the auditorium, where the show opens to a sax solo. The venue is darkened, with almost only the fans’ lighters providing any light. The crowd is cheering adoringly.

1. Don’t Walk Away: Our first look at Rick is with him at the end of an angled walkway down the middle of the concert floor; he’s on the left side of what is essentially a checkmark-shaped ramp. He’s on mic, without his guitar. He offers a dramatic performance, dancing to the beat, trying to start the show with a punch. This song is a nice way to open the set because it comes off smooth, but hooky; it’s one of the best tracks from ‘Hard to Hold’. During the performance, there’s an insert of a zeppelin with a “screen” on it floating by. 8.0

2. Alyson: I always loved this song, even if the lyrics leave me uneasy: it’s about a love affair, but you can feel how conflicted he is about cheating with Alyson on her husband. For the show, Rick is backed by three guys on synths, a drummer, a bassist, and a guitarist. It’s an unusual, workman-like band, lacking glamour. “Alyson” begins with a simple guitar lick by the guitarist, then Rick makes his guitar squeal, sitting on stage. Then, for the rest of the song he just taps it wildly; it’s merely a prop. 8.0

3. Living in OZ: This performance starts with a “hologram” of a man’s head ominously telling people to “pay no attention to the man behind the curtain”. Too late: by that point, given all the post-production work, I was already doing exactly that. Hard not to. This is the title track to his then-most recent solo album and it has a great driving rhythm. For this one, Rick is finally playing a little bit of guitar, although he’s mostly performing. The other guitarist, who is a bald guy in white with a bowler (a total rock star!) is handling things. It ends with a triple closer. Nice. 8.25

4. Affair of the Heart: I didn’t know this, but this is one of Rick’s biggest singles in North America, peaking at number 9. Hmmm. There are better songs on “Living in OZ’, but it has a nice guitar rhythm and bass line. For the show, they started by spotlighting the different band members in pulsations. Nice. It has an extended intro and Rick’s at the end of the walkway at a mic stand. At the hit of the drums (accompanied by a guitar riff), fake fireballs shoot upwards. There’s more fake fire, including a huge fireball at the end. I guess it was cheaper to add it in post. There’s also a ghostly female form floating above the crowd. Rick’s only tapping his guitar again. Why? It’s clear he can play, so what gives? 8.25

5. Celebrate Youth: For some reason, the show is also enhanced not just with special effects, but with music videos. This is the clip for the lead single to ‘Tao’. Perhaps it was some sort of cross-promotion: could the home video have been released right at the time of the album’s release? Either way, I really like this song, as noted above. Sure, it’s anything but rock, but it has a great energy and I love its message.

The video is mostly in black and white, with a little bit of red and blue to colour Rick’s scarf, his sneakers, a kid’s runners and a balloon. Rick spends most of the video sitting on a jungle gym. There are inserts of a hopscotch court, a rocking horse, …etc. There’s also a shot of a boy sitting on a chair next to grandfather clock and a kid exploring an attic, trying on old clothes. And there are a bunch of kids hopping, cheering in a hallway. It’s okay. 8.5/7.5

6. Human Touch: This one opens with shots of people exploring a sci-fi setting on a “screen” above the stage. Then two hands reach out above the crowd and touch indexes. Rick shows up donning a new outfit (which led me to wonder if it was the same concert. I mean, it seemed early for a change…). For this track, the opening number from ‘Living in OZ’, he was running around the stage a lot; it was an energetic performance. Strangely, I had forgotten that there was a sax solo in this song, so I was all WTF watching this. 7.75

7. My Father’s Chair: This is the only song from ‘Tao’ featured here. Perhaps the album wasn’t out yet, but the song was already being played live? In any case, it’s one of his most touching numbers, discussing the death of his father. It’s the second such track, but the previous one (“April 24, 1981”) was a short tribute. This one really digs deep, baring his feelings about the moment. For the show, he’s stripped down to a near-sleeveless white shirt. He introed the song before taking to the piano, solo. There was a “screen” behind him that showed a photo album of (presumably) his dad. What was weird was that Fincher inserted shots of a super-attentive, zombie-like, crowd. Did the song really need this? And, if so, couldn’t they make it look real? Sadly, this is not Rick’s best interpretation. But it’s good. 8.0

8. Jessie’s Girl: Being Rick’s most well-known song (i.e. Grammy-winning, platinum-selling), this one gets the crowd going. For me, it’s over-played. I was rather impressed that it wasn’t the set’s closer, because many artists keep the hits for the end, sometimes even the encore, leaving the crowd hanging. Of course, who knows where it figured in the original set list, before Fincher got his hands on it. At the end of the song Rick throws his guitar up and catches it on the final drum beat. Great timing. Apparently, he does this to this day. And better (although I’m not sure he still does it to this song). 7.75

9. State of the Heart: This is another video. It’s a cover of am Australian band called Mondo Rock, this was Rick’s second single from ‘Tao’. I wish they’d released “Dance This World Away” or “Walk Like a Man” instead, ’cause this is merely a smooth AOR track, nothing super special.

The video has Rick on an indoor set wearing (and then holding) a hat. The room is a modern/Asian blend with a fountain in the middle of the room. There’s marble everywhere – even the dais he sits on is of marble. There are shots of water falling, a girl undressing and a woman’s shadow behind the screen. But it mostly consists of just him singing, contemplatively. Meh. 7.25/6.5

10. Bop ‘Til You Drop: You know, I’ve never liked this song much; I really never understood why it was a single (in all fairness, there were only a handful of his songs on ‘Hard to Hold’ and this was the third single). This performance begins with some sort of sci-fi, post-apocalyptic themed images. Is it from the song’s video? In any case, it’s an energetic performance: he kicks a lot and even climbs a weird smoke machine contraption and shoots bursts of smoke from it. Nice. But there was a jarring harmonica solo at one point from a guy in a Hawaiian shirt and straw hat. Yep, workmanlike. 6.5

11. Don’t Talk to Strangers: This is Rick’s second-most successful song after “Jessie’s Girl”. When I heard it, it sounded like an oldie to me, even though it comes from the album right before ‘Living in OZ’. But there’s a such a dramatic difference in style between both albums; his sound matured so much. The performance is fairly standard except for a short solo improv and a flip he does when he runs back on stage. 7.0

12. Love Somebody: I may have overplayed this one, because it doesn’t have the same effect on me as it used to. It’s still the big one for me, because of its impact. My reaction may have everything to do with the performance, because I couldn’t stop wondering if he was playing for real or just mimicking. I mean, it doesn’t even look like he’s plugged in, for goodness’ sake! Who decided that he shouldn’t play? And why? The guy can probably play better than most of the musicians there, so what gives? 7.75

13. Souls: This is a standout track from ‘Living in OZ’ and Rick makes the performance unforgettable – melodramatic, cheesy even, but unforgettable. We find him on his knees, crawling across the stage to the mic stand, during an extended opening. After singing a little bit, he crumbles to the stage and reacts to drum hits, as thought he were having mini fits. But he picks himself up and runs around, eventually throwing himself on the walkway – where he picks up his guitar and “plays’ it in the wind at the end of the walkway. It’s rock star/poseur material – très cool to watch, but it’s fully artificial. 7.75

14. Dance This World Away: This is another video. Presumably they’d planned to release this as a single, but didn’t (at least, in North America – because it was released in Germany). Although it’s a repetitive dance number, I like it because it’s hooky and the lyrics express Rick’s concern about our detachment from the world’s problems. It’s socio-political pop, which is a rare treat.

The video begins with shots of Rick (looking like Clark Kent) hosting a kid’s programme called The Uncle Dick Show. It then takes us to a monochromatic dance hall, where he’s a sleezy-looking mustachioed MC. We are then taken to a post-apocalyptic setting with him watching these videos sitting at a desk on a pile of rubble. The video discusses the fate of the world at the time, including acid rain, nuclear war, …etc. He clearly shows his frustration and social conscience here. Bonus points for intention. 7.75/8.0

15. Stand Up: The final song of the set is another track from ‘Hard to Hold’. Frankly, it should have been earlier in the set – maybe the second track, because the chorus compels people to get to their feet. Really, it’s another socio-political song, telling people to stand up for themselves, to speak their minds, …etc. So maybe he wanted to part with this message. Personally, I would have wanted to rouse them with it. Anyway, there’s a lot of dancing during this one and it ends with superimposed fireworks. It’s a decent end to the programme. 7.0

I’ve had to defend my love for Rick Springfield quite a lot over the years; people only remember him for “Jessie’s Girl” and the pop star image he had for a few years. And, watching this programme, it’s hardly surprising: you don”t get more ’80s than this. It’s really a product of its time, dated by the effects and the ’80s fashion (including Rick’s mullet).

But it’s a darned shame that this is all that people want to remember, because there’s far more beneath the veneer. And, although what brought Springfield into the spotlight were his good looks and infectious pop-rock confections, he always has had something to say. I wish that people had picked up on that side of him more. I wish he hadn’t been written off.

In any case, even though parts of his catalogue show their age now, thirty years later, I remain a fan. The melodies and hooks are tied to my DNA, and the sincere humanity on display in some of his tracks actually cut through all my cynicism and move me. And while I suspect that ‘The Beat of the Live Drum’ won’t get much replay from me, his albums will.

Date of viewing: Jan 1, 2014

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