Hobo with a Grin
|Hobo with a Grin|
|Studio album by Steve Harley|
|Label||EMI - EMC 3254 (vinyl LP)|
|Producer||Steve Harley, Michael James Jackson|
|Steve Harley chronology|
Following the release of the 1977 live album Face to Face: A Live Recording, Harley disbanded Cockney Rebel and spent the next 18 months piecing together his first solo venture. The UK music press announced Harley's decision to leave Britain and move to America. At the same it was reported that Harley was in the process of finishing an album in Los Angeles, under the title "Couples". Using a range of session musicians and ex-Cockney Rebel members, the album was a mixture of old songs and a few others Harley wrote upon returning to England, simply as he was unable to write there. When Hobo with a Grin emerged, it was revealed the album took 18 months to make, cost £70,000 in total, and yet proved to be Harley's biggest flop. The album failed to make any chart appearance, and the two singles issued from it; "Roll the Dice" and "Someone's Coming" were both commercial failures too. The former was released one week before the album in the UK and New Zealand, while an American promo was issued featuring an edited version of the track. For the single release of "Someone's Coming", released in the UK only during November 1978, a remixed version of the song was used.
Despite the album's commercial failure, making no chart appearances, in the Denver Post, writer G. Brown noted that Harley, during his time living in California, saw the album becoming his fastest seller yet in America. After being deemed too British-sounding during the years of Cockney Rebel, Harley became convinced the situation was changing upon release of his debut solo album, alongside his move to Los Angeles. However Harley, in the article, disdained the commercial potential of the lead single "Roll the Dice", saying "It's 'poppy,' with that Fleetwood Mac-ish shuffle. 'Catchy' is not a good thing in this country. The more AM radio I hear, the more convinced I am that the goal is to bore." "Amerika the Brave" was noted as receiving some disco play in the country.
Although Harley produced the entire album himself, "Roll the Dice" was produced by Michael J. Jackson. Jackson acted as additional producer on the album. The album was recorded at Sunset Sound, Abbey Road Studios and the Record Plant at Los Angeles. It was mixed at Sunset Sound, and mastered at Capitol Mastering by Ken Perry.
In The Morning Call of 23 September 1978, an American daily newspaper for Allentown, Pennsylvania, an article on Harley written by Len Righi, revealed that the song "Someone's Coming" was originally written for Cockney Rebel, and was one of the oldest songs on the album. With the track "Amerika The Brave," Harley described the song as "my impression of the U.S... just telling what I see." The song featured Marc Bolan on guitar, in what became his final studio session. Harley stated "The last time Marc went in the studio was for "Amerika the Brave". He also can be heard singing background on "Someone's Coming," though he's not credited. Bolan was a close friend. I had known him for a couple of years. We were a lot different. He was much more of an extrovert than me, but we grew very close. They say opposites attract."
The song "I Wish It Would Rain" is a cover of the 1967 song originally recorded by the Temptations. Harley had received some criticism for his cover of George Harrison's "Here Comes The Sun" when he was with Cockney Rebel. Despite this Harley defended his version in The Morning Call article; saying he had forsaken the song's R&B reading and substituted a harder, straightforward one. "I wanted to have a more rock and roll feel than The Temptations version. I defend it." The song "Riding the Waves (For Virginia Woolf)" was dedicated to the 20th century British writer. Harley admitted "I stole two or three lines from her book, "The Waves," for that song." Harley would later re-record the song as the closing track for his 1996 album Poetic Justice, and it has remained a regular inclusion in Harley's live-set to date.
Not long after the album's release Harley began work on The Candidate, his second solo album, released in early 1979. During Harley's period of living in America he admitted that he was never inspired to write one single song. When writing the material for The Candidate back in England, it took just three weeks. In an article with the Evening News on 5 October 1979, Harley spoke of his return from America. "I spent almost a full year out there and did nothing except sunbathe and head for some party or other at night. I had a rented house in Beverley Hills – it was costing me about £300 a week and all I did was lie by the pool and have friends to stay at the guest house. I then realised that I was getting nowhere fast and booked London's Abbey Road studios for two months. I called my old Cockney Rebel drummer Stuart Elliott and asked him put me a band together. I came back to London, and within about three weeks I had more than enough songs for an LP, I'm pleased with "The Candidate" – it's the best album I've done in ages." This related to the Hobo with a Grin album, which Harley dismissed by stating "I looked at that LP the other day – looking is enough. I can't bear to listen to it. It's the worst thing I've ever done. I just want to forget about it. Trash. In fact, I'm getting the old Cockney Rebel band together for a concert in London at the end of this month. And there won't be one song from the "Hobo with a Grin" LP in the set. But "The Candidate" is a different story altogether. After hours of deliberation, I've left out two songs from it and I hated doing that. There isn't a bad song on it."
In a Superpop magazine article during 1978, Harley was again dismissive of the Hobo with a Grin album. He revealed "My latest album had no guts. I hated it. For the first time in my life I relinquished responsibility, listened to advice and acted on it, rather than do what I thought was right. Compared to that, this one is going to have much more Rock 'n' Roll. None of that laid back Calfornian stuff." In a November 1978 article by Daily Star Article, Harley commented that the album was "...an experience, but this time I'll do things very differently. I'll get the band together, then record the album in a fortnight - the way I always used to." In an interview with Maggi Russell for the UK music press in early 1979, Harley spoke about his feelings of the album; "Hobo was a difficult album, and hard to market. My new album leans back more to the early Cockney Rebel sound."
The album was released in the UK, Germany, the Netherlands and Scandinavia via EMI, on vinyl. It was issued via Capitol Records in American and Canada. A white label promo was also issued in the UK. In 2000, EMI and Harley's own Comeuppance Discs issued the album on CD for the first time with two bonus tracks; the 1974 song "Spaced Out", which was b-side to the hit single "Judy Teen", and a live version of the 1996 song "That's My Life in Your Hands", from the Poetic Justice album. Both tracks were not directly related to the album, and the non-album track "Waiting", which was b-side to "Roll the Dice" was not included. On 31 October 2011, it was released digitally remastered on CD by BGO Records as a double album set with the album The Candidate. It is also available as a download on Harley's own website.
In NME magazine, of 19 August 1978, a black and white, A4-sized, advert was published promoting the album. The advert said "This space is normally reserved for record company superlatives. We simply ask you to listen to the new Steve Harley album for yourself." A colour American promo advert was also issued by Capitol, which stated "Multi-talented Steve Harley proudly unveils his first solo album "Hobo with a Grin". With the help of his musical friends he has crafted an album that puts him in the mainstream of today's music."
A total of three promotional music videos were made in America for the album; "Roll the Dice", "I Wish It Would Rain" and "Amerika The Brave". All three remain elusive, and have not surfaced officially or unofficially.
|1.||"Roll the Dice"||Steve Harley, Jo Partridge||3:31|
|2.||"Amerika the Brave"||Harley||4:56|
|3.||"Living in a Rhapsody"||Jim Cregan, Harley, Duncan Mackay||4:22|
|4.||"I Wish It Would Rain"||Roger Penzabene, Barrett Strong, Norman Whitfield||3:20|
|5.||"Riding the Waves (For Virginia Woolf)"||Harley||4:34|
|6.||"Someone's Coming"||Harley, Partridge||4:36|
|7.||"Hot Youth"||Harley, Mackay||2:52|
|8.||"(I Don't Believe) God is an Anarchist"||Harley||7:24|
|9.||"Faith, Hope and Charity"||Harley||4:01|
|2000 Comeuppance Discs CD bonus tracks|
|11.||"That's My Life in Your Hands (Live)"||Harley, Hugh Nicholson||3:39|
Upon release, Pete Silverton of Sounds magazine wrote "Harley's album is undoubtedly the worst slab of vinyl from a relatively major artist since Framper's "I'm in You". He's a tax exile now. The West Coast fraternity are getting the benefit of his high-powered intellect. Try "Amerika The Brave" - which, sad though it is to admit, has the best tune on the album and could make a single - and it's searching analysis of the state of the Promised Land, its insights so powerful that I can only imagine them being equaled by those of a six-year-old locked in a room with only endless re-runs of 'Perry mason' for company. Beyond the superficial Randy Newmanish attraction of the melody, "Living in a Rhapsody" displays an even deeper understanding of the meaning of life. Okay, I can take guff about love and friendship being more important than money from some brainless poverty-stricken peasant. But, from someone who says, a few lines later: "I've seen half the world in the last seven years"... If I lived in Watts and heard this, I'd be straight up and cruising the Hollywood hills with a blade for Harley's jugular. Other highlights: a version of "I Wish It Would Rain" so spineless that it made me dig out my old marvin Gaye single; a strong contender for dork of the year with "(I Don't Believe) God is an Anarchist" - brackets really making a strong comeback; and, finally, overall unbounded happiness that he's relocated in palm tree and cocaine city. Keep it up, Steve."
Disc magazine writer Rosalind Russell also gave a negative reception to the album; "If Steve Harley thinks this is rock and roll, he's living in his own nightmare. Except he probably doesn't see it that way: to him it must be a beautiful dream. So what happens to people when they fall to the seductive charms of California? Does the sound of the sea at Malibu impair their ability to hear? Does the sun soften their brains? The definition he had with Cockney Rebel has melted, he's gone fuzzy round the edges. And it bores me to death. His dream isn't my dream and the second hand images are too vague for me to grasp. He's also become surprisingly soppy. I can appreciate the idea behind "Someone's Coming" for instance, but the emotion drenched drama is too strong to stomach. This track, like most of the others, suffers from an oddly old fashioned arrangement. That goes too, for the schmultzy strings on "I Wish It Would Rain". And I wonder what prompted him to record that. An excellent but much over used song that deserves a rest of a couple of years. While it was obvious who was top dog in Rebel, the band worked more as an unit. With this collection of session artists, Harley doesn't seem to have as much discipline, at least with himself. The only track I even began to like was "Amerika the Brave". It has a kick, it has some of the Harley bite. But, apart from this, the album has no teeth to speak of. Just a gentle, un-threatening wave of the jaw, like a dreamer murmuring in his sleep."
In the Billboard magazine of 29 July 1978, the album was listed under Billboard's "Recommended LPs" section, under the pop genre category. The review noted "The ex-leader of Cockney Rebel explores a number of musical styles here from a solid rock 'n' roll base. Lots of rock instrumentation is employed including various electric and acoustic guitars, bass, keyboards, saxophones, synthesizer, percussion and drums. Some tunes have a bluesy, r&b quality, while others have a soft, melodic feel. Overall the writing is poignant and Harley's voice has a pleasing pop sound." The album's 'Best Cuts' were listed as "Roll the Dice," "I Wish It Would Rain," "Riding the Waves," "Hot Youth," and "Faith, Hope and Charity".
In The Morning Call of 23 September 1978, writer Len Righi had commented that "One of the best things about "Someone's Coming" is Jo Partridge's guitar work." He also noted "Two of the finest cuts on the LP are "Riding The Waves" and "(I Don't Believe) God Is An Anarchist." The former has a nice melody, poetic images, acoustic piano by Bill Payne of Little Feat (a Harley favourite), and Partridge's oh-so-sweet guitar. The latter song features a powerful vocal and an R&B flavour."
In the Denver Post article written by G. Brown, he noted "If Harley is due for a hit single, "Roll the Dice" could fill the bill nicely. Led by a catchy keyboard introduction, the song boasts a great hook and a youthful Harley vocal. "(I Don't Believe) God is an Anarchist" is a vocal explosion by Harley, harkening to his old, tough phrasing and verbal imagery."
Record Collector magazine reviewed the BGO Records double album set of the Hobo with a Grin and The Candidate albums. Reviewer Terry Staunton stated "Harley's opening brace of releases not to feature the Cockney Rebel name on their sleeves took him ever further away from the glam/art rock of his chart past. As road maps to what he had in mind for the next stage of his career, they're both a tad confused, arrows scrawled all over them in numerous directions. Hobo takes stabs at anything and everything; "Amerika The Brave" stutters with Bowie bombast (its guitar riff lifted wholesale from Starman), "Living in a Rhapsody" and "Riding the Waves" tentatively exploring the subdued folk of Nick Drake, while a cover of The Temptations' "I Wish It Would Rain" has the bleary-eyed fatigue of last orders pub-rock. The following year's offering draws from just as big a notice board."
Dave Thompson of Allmusic reviewed the album, and said "Hobo with a Grin marks the utter desecration of everything which Harley once stood for. Two new songs peep out of Hobo with anything remotely resembling pride - "Riding the Waves" has sufficient art house pretension to remind us of "Mr. Soft" and his friends; and "Living in a Rhapsody" shares a vague familial resemblance to "Make Me Smile." There's also a smartly stylized cover of the Temptations' "I Wish It Would Rain," which, while not a patch on the Faces' then-recent revision, possesses a heartfelt joyousness all the same. But "Amerika the Brave," "God Is an Anarchist," and "Roll the Dice" are Harley wordplay-by-numbers: clever on paper, but too clever-clever by half. We already know he's a brilliant wordsmith; does he have to keep trying to show us how brilliant? And does there come a point when he'll stop, and try his hand at tunes as well? At its best, the bulk of Hobo is almost completely devoid of memorable melody. At its worst, it doesn't even pretend to care. And so we sadly replace the record in its sleeve, shed a tear for so much talent down the pan, then turn again to ponder."
- Steve Harley - lead vocals, producer
- Ian Bairnson - acoustic guitar, guitar
- Marc Bolan - guitar
- Jim Cregan - acoustic guitar, guitar, backing vocals
- Tom Moncrieff - guitar
- Jo Partridge - guitar
- Greg Poree - guitar
- Fred Tackett - acoustic guitar
- Herbie Flowers - acoustic bass, bass
- George Ford - bass, backing vocals
- Bob Glaub - bass
- Alan Jones - bass
- Reggie McBride - bass
- Michael James Jackson - piano, percussion, producer, mixing
- Duncan Mackay - keyboards, strings, electric piano, harpsichord, synthesizer bass, overdubs
- Bill Payne - organ, piano, design
- Chris Mercer - saxophone
- Stuart Elliott - drums
- Ricky Fataar - drums
- Paul Humphrey - drums
- James Isaacson - drums, engineer, remixing
- Rick Shlosser - drums
- Chris Caron - percussion
- Lindsey Elliott - percussion
- Luís Jardim - percussion
- Simon Morton - percussion
- Rosemary Butler - backing vocals
- Bill Champlin - backing vocals
- Gloria Jones - backing vocals
- Yvonne Keeley - backing vocals
- Tom Kelley - backing vocals
- Roy Kenner - backing vocals
- Bobby Kimball - backing vocals
- Michael McDonald - backing vocals, design
- Barry St. John - backing vocals
- John Townsend - backing vocals, design
- King Errisson - conductor
- Jimmy Horowitz - horn arrangements, string arrangements
- Tony Clark - engineer
- John Haeny - engineer
- Peter James - engineer
- Gary Ladinsky - engineer
- Haydn Bendall - assistant engineer
- Paul Black - assistant engineer
- Ken Perry - mastering
- Jim Shea - photography
- Kosh - design
- Strong, Martin C. (2000). The Great Rock Discography (5th ed.). Edinburgh: Mojo Books. pp. 424–425. ISBN 1-84195-017-3.
- "New Wave Rubbish". Harleyfanzone.com. Retrieved 29 July 2013.