Someone once called Emitt Rhodes’ eponymous debut “the best album Paul McCartney never made.” Because of comments like this and the obvious likeness to the former Beatle, I always just assumed that Rhodes was British. Not true, actually. He’s from Southern California by way of Illinois. So how could such an obvious difference have slipped by me? Well, the fact is that very few people seem to know anything about Mr. Rhodes. This is despite the fact that his songs have been used in movies and the track “Fresh As A Daisy” was a top 50 recording in 1970. Rhodes even scored a west-coast hit a couple years earlier in the band Merry-Go-Roung with the song “Live.” And now, despite his relative obscurity, the album “Emitt Rhodes” is considered a “true classic of the period.” What is most remarkable about the album, despite it’s sheer consistency in quality of songwriting, is that Mr. Rhodes wrote, sang and recorded every single instrument himself. As far as I’m concerned, this was pretty much unheard of in the late 1960’s in terms of the quality.
Upon looking up some of his songs on YouTube, one comment struck a chord with me: “If you actually listen to the lyrics, they’re pretty lame.” This is true. Rhodes may have some serious songwriting chops in terms of hooks, chords and production, and his voice may be good, but he doesn’t have much to sing about. The best songs tend to be the ones with the simplest and most repetitive story lines, because this helps him avoid such banal topics as dragons and fair maidens, or fairies and daisies. It is clear to see why Emitt Rhodes sort of washed away in the early 70’s, after four very similar releases, and even clearer to see why he stuck with producing. That makes the tracks on this collection seem all the more like a ‘stroke’ of genius.