Wednesday, October 21, 2009

THE Cult Band of Our Time

Category: 50 Songs to Hear

SONG: Spellbound
ALBUM: Legend

We've been together longer than any of our marriages.
(Paul Cotton)

Jethro Burns once quoted his father as saying of Homer and Jethro's early career, "You boys are about as unlucky as a one-legged man at an ass-kicking contest." Looking at the long career of Poco, one can only wonder if a member's father made that assessment of them as well. Poco was the pioneering band of the genre that would become known as "country-rock" in the late 60s and early 70s, forming before Gram Parsons joined the Byrds and made the landmark Sweetheart of the Rodeo album, and singing "there's just a little bit of magic in the country music we're singing" long before the Eagles even dreamed of takin' it easy -- or had even moved to California. The Eagles eventually became the epitome of "country-rock" and in the process acquired both their bassists from Poco (Randy Meisner played bass on Poco's first album but left before the album artwork was done, relegating his mention to a footnote in the credits) while enjoying a hall of fame career
. Meanwhile, Poco put out album after album of great music, most of which sold a tiny fraction of the Eagles' records.

Ironically, after spending most of the 1970s in the shadows of the far more successful (and lyrically cynical) Eagles, it was the long hiatus that the Eagles took after the monstrous success of Hotel California -- and the departure of Timothy Schmit from Poco to replace Randy Meisner in the Eagles as he had done in 1968 for Poco -- that gave Poco an opening to score their biggest commercial success, 1978's "Crazy Love" from the album Legend. The album eventually sold nearly two million copies while Schmit was sitting in a studio in Miami recording the follow-up to Hotel California (1979's The Long Run, the last Eagles studio album for almost three decades), leading Glenn Frey and Don Henley to joke that Schmit may have left his former band right at the wrong time.

"Crazy Love" is a superlative song, one of the few numbers that became the best-known song for a "cult status" act that was actually deserving of the success (think of the best-known songs by acts like Jimmy Buffett, Warren Zevon, and Steve Forbert as examples of the opposite being true). One song that was overlooked on Legend that certainly should not have is "Spellbound." The song's title is a good indication of what the tune does to its listener.

The lyrics paint a lovely opening picture. The sound of crickets compliment the first line, "There's an easy evening breeze moving softly through the trees." The lyrics continue to weave a spell of spine-tingling lines ("she's got me hanging my a heartbeat") and meanders between first-person and third-person to suggest that this type of love (deemed "crazy" in that big hit on side two of the album) hits everyone at some point.

Poco has existed for over forty years in various incarnations. They have lost many famous members (Richie Furay, Jim Messinia, and the two bassists) and have seen music change so much that even their more rock-based songs would never find a home on country radio because they would be labeled "too country," yet they endure. As of this writing, original drummer George Grantham has recovered significantly from a stroke suffered onstage in July of 2004 but is unable to drum.

Country-rock would not exist without Poco, and if for no other reason than that they belong in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. .


(This is one band I truly want to say "get everything of theirs.")

The entire Rose of Cimarron album -- they should sue Emmylou Harris for what she did to the title track. Songs like "P.N.S. (When You Come Around)" and "Too Many Nights Too Long" make this one of Poco's best albums.

The entire Indian Summer album -- and then there's Rose of Cimarron's follow-up, the last album Timothy Schmit played on before leaving for the Eagles. What an album to go out on. The title track is one of the best songs of the 1970s, period.

The entire Cantamos album -- Richie Furay left after Crazy Eyes and Poco recorded a clunker (Seven). They rebounded beautifully with this marvelous album.

The entire Head Over Heels album -- the closest thing to a hit Poco had before "Crazy Love" is "Keep on Tryin'" off this album. Other gems such as their rendition of a song penned by Walter Becker and Donald Fagen ("Dallas") and a lovely tune about New Orleans ("Down in the Quarter") make this worth owning.

"Brass Buttons" (from Crazy Eyes) -- a lovely rendition of Gram Parsons' song.


Anonymous said...

Great piece. Very informative and well-written, unlike most music blogs that either "borrow" from All Music Guide or other common sources and end up rehashing the same old information. Thanks for putting this on the web.

Raizor's Edge said...

Dear Anonymous,

Thank you for those kind words!