Robbie Dupree’s invitation to “Steal Away” on his 1980 Elektra Records self-titled debut earned the singer-songwriter a U.S. top ten hit as well as a Best New Artist Grammy nomination. Now, a new reissue label has launched with expanded editions of Robbie Dupree and his sophomore effort, Street Corner Heroes. This pair of initial releases from Los Angeles-based indie Blixa Sounds celebrates the soft rock sound of the late 1970s and early 1980s, sometimes known as “yacht rock.” The style is epitomized by “Steal Away” and the music of artists like Stephen Bishop, whose 1980 album Red Cab to Manhattan will soon arrive as the label’s third expanded and remastered release.
Robbie Dupree‘s mellow vibes were honed by producers Rick Chudacoff and Peter Bunetta, whose varied credits also include work with Matthew Wilder, Johnny Mathis, Laura Branigan, and The Temptations. Chudacoff and Bunetta (veterans of the band Crackin’) took a page from the Doobie Brothers/Michael McDonald playbook with their smooth and radio-friendly productions of such melodic and breezy AM-oriented tracks as “Thin Line,” “Love is a Mystery,” and the top 20 charting follow-up to “Steal Away,” “Hot Rod Heroes.” Though Dupree wrote or co-wrote most of the LP, the latter was penned by Stephen Geyer and Bill LaBounty, who also contributed keyboards to Robbie Dupree. Indeed, shimmering keyboards (primarily played by Bill Elliott) are a key part of the album’s sound. Elliott was joined in the core band by Chudacoff on bass, Bunetta on drums, Robert Palmer on guitar, and Miguel Rivera on percussion. The uptempo “Nobody Else” brought a bit of post-disco flavor and Latin rhythm to the LP, as well as the obligatory yacht rock saxophone. Bill Champlin and David Foster supplied the expectedly fine ballad “We Both Tried.” Blixa has expanded Robbie Dupree with four bonus tracks: Spanish language versions, utilizing the original backing tracks, of “Steal Away,” “Nobody Else,” “Hot Rod Hearts,” and “Lonely Runner.”
Chudacoff and Bunetta reteamed with Dupree for his second album of enjoyably polished pop, Street Corner Heroes. This time, they joined a band including the returning Bill Elliott plus Dennis Herring and Brian Ray on guitars, both of whom were additional players on Robbie Dupree. Naturally, the album plays like an extension of the first, and while a certain sameness creeps in, the sound is more muscular. Highlights include the sleek, Michael McDonald-esque “Free Fallin'” and “Are You Ready for Love,” the guitar-driven title track, the predictably nostalgic ode to “Brooklyn Girls” (a moderate chart hit), the boisterous and brassy “Saturday Night,” and the a cappella doo-wop pastiche “All Night Long.” The single edit of “Saturday Night” has been included as a bonus track here.
Singer-songwriter Stephen Bishop made a name for himself combining traditional songcraft with a quirky streak on his 1976 star-studded debut Careless which featured Eric Clapton, Art Garfunkel, and Chaka Khan all giving Bishop their stamp of approval. 1978’s Bish might have lacked a tune with the obvious commercial appeal of “On and On” or “Save It for a Rainy Day” but it had plenty of memorable moments whether “Losing Myself in You” (with Michael McDonald, the patron saint of yacht rock), “Looking for the Right One” and “When I Was in Love” with their gorgeous Marty Paich arrangements, or the disco-flavored “Everybody Needs Love.” For his third album and first on Warner Bros., 1980’s Red Cab to Manhattan, Bish delivered a set of songs alternately joyful and tragic (reportedly inspired by his breakup with actress Karen Allen). Now, this truly original record (recorded at New York’s Power Station and L.A.’s Sound Labs) has been expanded by Blixa with a healthy complement of six bonus tracks.
Bishop reaffirmed his status as a quirky pop outsider with the opening track on Red Cab, “The Big House.” Over a rock beat, he sings dryly of “cellmate Rudy/Came from Japan/Where they taught him/How to kill with his hands” and pleads, “Let me out/And I will be your basic citizen/Set me free/You’ll know where to find me” – hardly the stuff of radio-friendly pop. Yet Mike Mainieri and Tommy LiPuma’s glossy, lightly electronic production with vaguely tropical overtones smooths out the dark and often vividly theatrical songwriting.
Bishop’s personal life has long been said to have informed Red Cab. The brassy, ironically jaunty “Thief in the Night” is a story of heartbreak and the comeuppance the singer hopes the other man receives; Don Sebesky of Broadway and CTI Records fame provided the fine orchestration while Phoebe Snow joined on background vocals. The theme of loss of love and unfaithfulness continues on the edgy “City Girl” and the wistful and melodic “Send a Little Love My Way (Like Always)” (the lone single A-side off the album). On the pulsating, jagged demand to “Let Her Go,” Bishop’s vocal exudes sheer desperation. Still bleaker is “The Story of a Boy in Love,” on which the singer chronicles a man so distraught over a breakup that he commits a murder and leaps to his death from a bank rooftop to evade the police. It’s far from “easy listening” despite the lustrous production.
The artist veers into beautiful and affecting Brian Wilson territory on the baroque “Little Moon” in which he repeatedly cries “Karen.” The track is further distinguished by an all-star cast including Eric Clapton on electric guitar, Gary Brooker on keyboards, and Phil Collins on drums. “Don’t You Worry” is a pretty, reassuring ballad but the sad but exquisite “Red Cab to Manhattan” (with its lyrical references to Jimmy Stewart and The O’Jays) veers into more unconventional territory. Boasting ethereal backgrounds from Art Garfunkel, it extends the lyrical experimentation into the music itself, segues into a trombone solo from Bishop. The frankly bizarre hoedown of “Sex Kittens Go to College” also features Collins, Brooker, and Clapton. It’s a bit of a lark especially considering the talents involved. Bishop’s humor also extends to “My Clarinet,” a dry reflection of an unfulfilled existence on which he is primarily accompanied by guitar.
The six bonus tracks include a loose stab at “Hit the Road, Jack,” the single version of “Send a Little Love My Way,” and four attractive guitar-and-voice demos: “Shine On You Crazy Moon,” “Smile When You Touch Her,” “I’d Come Home for You,” and “Teenage Millionaire.” The intimate sound of these demos (especially the first three, all ballads) makes Bishop’s songs even more heart-rending.
Bill Inglot and Dave Schultz have superbly remastered both the Robbie Dupree and Stephen Bishop albums, and they’re all housed in sturdy gatefold digipaks with the original album artwork. The only downside is the lack of any booklet with liner notes or supplemental information. The musicians (originally listed on an insert with lyrics) are absent from the Red Cab to Manhattan package, while the songwriting credits (initially on the LP labels) are missing from the Robbie Dupree titles. Context would have only further illuminated and celebrated the careers and music of these so-called “yacht rock” artists who, in fact, were (and are) purveyors of pure pop songcraft.
For an enjoyable and nostalgic trip back to the dawn of the 1980s, “steal away” with this first trio of releases from Blixa Sounds. Robbie Dupree and Street Corner Heroes are out now, while Red Cab to Manhattan hits stores on May 18!
- Steal Away
- I’m No Stranger
- Thin Line
- It’s a Feeling
- Hot Rod Hearts
- Nobody Else
- We Both Tried
- Love is a Mystery
- Lonely Runner
- Naveguemos (Steal Away)
- Nadie Mas (Nobody Else)
- Autos de Amor (Hot Rod Hearts)
- Eres Solitaria (Lonely Runner)
Tracks 1-9 released as Elektra 6E-273, 1980
Track 10 from Elektra promo single F-ELK 009041.5 (Peru), 1980
Track 11 from Elektra promo single E-47054, 1980
- Street Corner Heroes
- Brooklyn Girls
- All Night Long
- Free Fallin’
- I’ll Be the Fool Again
- Are You Ready for Love
- Saturday Night
- Missin’ You
- Long Goodbye
- Saturday Night (Single Edit)
Tracks 1-10 released as Elektra 6E-344, 1981
Track 11 released as Elektra promo single E-47416, 1981
- The Big House
- Don’t You Worry
- Thief in the Night
- Send a Little Love My Way (Like Always)
- Let Her Go
- Little Moon
- The Story of a Boy in Love
- Living in the Land of Abe Lincoln
- Red Cab to Manhattan
- Sex Kittens Go to College
- City Girl
- My Clarinet
- Hit the Road Jack *
- Send a Little Love My Way *
- Shine On You Crazy Moon *
- Smile When You Touch Her *
- I’d Come Home for You *
- Teenage Millionaire *
Tracks 1-12 released as Warner Bros. Records BSK 3473, 1980