Emitt Rhodes: Back in Print (for now, at least)
Photo by Max S. Gerber
As a casual record collector in an Ebay world, out of print albums/CDs can be a great thing. Years ago, when the ad agency I worked for (and the corporation that ran us) chopped the heads off of 90% of their staff, my record collection was the thing that not only saved my ass, but also funded my move to a new city. To this day, if I'm ever shopping for music and find a copy of stuff like Sam Cooke's A Man and His Music or the Satan Oscillate My Metallic Sonatas EP by Soundgarden, I buy them immediately and head right to Ebay.
As a music fan, however, nothing bums me out more than an out of print record. It always makes me think of the scene in the excellent DJ documentary Scratch where DJ Shadow is holed up in a record store basement, surrounded by tens of thousands of obscure vinyl albums, looking for beats. There's this almost melancholic moment where he talks about how all these records represent the broken dreams of the people who made them. It was a thought that hadn't really struck me before: these people got to make a record, and put their talent and their dreams down on vinyl, and even THEN, in most cases, all of that work still lead to nothing.
The best those artists could ever hope for, decades after their dreams have faded, collected dust and wound up in a basement, is for someone who cares enough to resurrect those sounds from the dead. Maybe it's a DJ looking for a beat, or maybe it's some complete music nut who runs his own little label. Maybe that little geek finds something that he loves so much, that he goes through the trouble of contacting the people involved with making it, from the producer to the artist or even the people at the record label, to lovingly reissue the thing.
Well, if I had the money, the resources and the time to get it all done, I'd be championing the cause of EMITT RHODES. I've written about Rhodes once before, years ago when I began this blog under a different name. Still, I can't stop championing the guy.
Rhodes, who had previously been in a 60s pop rock band called The Merry-Go-Round, was a 70s solo songwriter of the highest calibre, a feat made all the more impressive by the fact that he was just turning 20 when he recorded his first album. Imagine a young Paul McCartney without all of the baggage that came with trying to top his work in the Beatles. Rhodes was incredibly talented, playing the bulk of the instruments on his solo recordings. By 1970, he had completed his self-titled solo album, a virtually flawless collection of songs (including the dark, heartbreaking "Lullabye," which would finally find a few new fans when added to the soundtrack to The Royal Tenenbaums).
During this time, Rhodes made the ill-advised move of signing a contract with ABC/Dunhill that ensured he would release two albums a year. This contract would be his downfall. When recording for Rhodes second album, Mirror began to take longer than expected, the label sued. By the time he'd reached age 24, Rhodes was burned out and pulled the plug on his own career. In the years that have followed, the story of Rhodes has just gotten sadder and sadder. A reclusive diabetic, Rhodes can barely muster the courage these days to even finish a song (acording to one article I read, it had been 15 years since he did).
A tragedy and a fucking shame, if you ask me. Rhodes has spent decades shacked up in his old neighborhood, recording songs that no one might ever hear. That breaks my heart, and I don't mean that lightly. I have literally shed tears over the plight of Emitt Rhodes. When I hear Jeff Tweedy sing, on Wilco's "The Late Greats," "The best songs will never get sung / The best life never leaves your lungs," I think of Emitt Rhodes, and the pile of tapes that he probably has stored in a closet somewhere, potentially full of some of the greatest pop songs we'll never get to hear.
Sometimes I wonder if it wasn't such a good thing for me to have found Emitt Rhodes' Emitt Rhodes in the stacks of that record store so many years ago. Or maybe I just wish the record hadn't been so damned good. . . one of those albums where there's a good song or two, but you rarely pull it out of your collection. Then maybe I wouldn't care so much about what happened to the guy whose face graced its cover. I wouldn't think about the raw deal he got, and I wouldn't wonder what the man could have done with a different record deal, a different label.
Normally I'm not a fan of posting entire albums on a blog. But when you go to Half.com or Ebay and see Emitt Rhodes CDs going for $50 to $100, and you know he's never going to see a dime of that moeny, it just doesn't seem right.
Tonight, I'm proposing a sort of deal. I know it's pretty futile to think this will even work, but I'm hoping there might be a handful of you readers who understand this gesture:
I'm posting Emitt Rhodes' first two albums in their entirety, as .rar files. (If readers prefer files in a .zip format, please contact me or leave a message in the Comments section.) Download these albums and spend a little time with them. If you love either one of them half as much as I do, or even if you find a few new favorites among the tracks I'm providing, maybe you might consider sending a check (or some well-concealed cash) to:
4636 W 132nd St
Hawthorne, CA 90250-5115
Nothing crazy. If you only like a few songs, maybe send him .99 per track, a la iTunes. If you love the albums, maybe $5 or $10 wouldn't be too much to ask. Personally, I'm working on writing Rhodes a letter of thanks.
If you like the music, guide your friends here. If you write a music blog, send your readers over. Hurry, because I don't know how long I'll be able to keep the files up.
I know, I know. I must be insane to think that people on the Internet would pay for music. Right?
EMITT RHODES (S/T)
And hey, if you happen to run one of those cool little indie labels that takes great joy and pride in re-releasing great, forgotten music, maybe you can give old Emitt a call? I bet there's some real gold to be found in all of those unreleased demos.
- Here's a little scene of DJ Shadow from the aforementioned Scratch:
- A 2001 article on Rhodes from Perfect Sound Forever.
- A pretty incredible, very enlightening L.A. City Beat article on Rhodes today. If the ending of that story doesn't make you want to send a check, or at the very least, a letter of encouragement to Rhodes, you, sir, are an animal.