Once again your rockin’ writer felt the need to resurrect his “Listen Again” series. For those of you just joining us, the “Listen Again” series is a series in which we revisit albums that for one reason or another didn’t receive the attention or acclaim they deserved when they were originally released. Whether it was the recording was ahead of its time, broke away from the artist’s usual style, was poorly publicized or initially misunderstood, the “Listen Again” series urges music fans to listen again. This time we focus on a suggestion by my Facebook friend and fellow Souderton High graduate Ken Heffner–Bob Welch’s French Kiss.
For those of you not up on your rock history, L. A. native Robert Lawrence “Bob” Welch was born in 1945 and died June 2012. He was an American solo artist and a founding member of Fleetwood Mac immediately before the band’s meteoric rise to fame. As a member of Fleetwood Mac he was both a good songwriter and a good guitarist but was said by some critics to not be always be able to put it all together thus yielding mixed results.
Music fans feared he had succumbed to his own worst instincts when he left Fleetwood Mac to form the less memorable power trio named Paris. The singer-songwriter/guitarist had composed material for a third album by Paris but the band disbanded in 1977 before the music was recorded. Rather than form yet another group, Welch chose to use these songs for a solo release stepping into the studio later that same year.
Welch would lead the way on vocals, guitar and bass. He would be backed by drummer Alvin Taylor and Gene Page provided string arrangements. Former Fleetwood Mac mates would drop by to record a remake of his best song with that band.
Titled “Sentimental Lady”, it was originally off of the Fleetwood Mac LP Bare Trees. It would go on to become his signature song. Here Welch was backed by Mick Fleetwood (drums), Lindsey Buckingham (guitar and background vocals) and Christine McVie (background vocals). This was the only song not intended to be a Paris tune.
The second selection is one of his noteworthy solo singles “Hot Love, Cold World”. Welch co-wrote it with John Henning. It’s followed by perhaps the slightly less memorable “Mystery Train” and one of his shortest solo compositions “Lose My Heart” which clocks in at less than 2 minutes.
Another collaboration follows. The track is titled “Outskirts” and was written with the album’s producer John Carter. It’s all too quickly overshadowed by another Welch hit “Ebony Eyes” which, like the other singles off this premiere platter, seem specifically made to be radio-friendly.
“Lose Your…” is the briefest track here and is very vaguely reminiscent of material from the not yet released Commercial Album by The Residents (although obviously more commercial). The cut is barely 45 seconds. Also included is “Carolene” which additionally demonstrates Welch’s specific 1970s rock formula and provides a further feel for Welch’s soft solo sound.
“Dancin’ Eyes” and “Danchiva” are also included here although some critics see these songs as perhaps stretching his efforts despite their being fan favorites in some circles. The closing cut is “Lose Your Heart” which is loosely related to the two previous “Lose” pieces. Christine McVie encores on background vocals highlighting the album’s end note.
With a running length of nearly 36 minutes, French Kiss was released on November 18 on the Capitol label. It was his biggest album ever. It sold a million copies and made it up to number 12 in the US eventually going platinum. It gave birth to 3 hit singles as well.
“Hot Love, Cold World” made it to number 31 in 1978. “Ebony Eyes” peaked at number 14 that same year and most notably “Sentimental Lady” climbed to number 8 in 1977. This time Welch’s version of the Fleetwood Mac track was a substantial hit.
Rolling Stone magazine gave it only three stars and considered it only of average worth. Nevertheless, the magazine admitted it held considerable worth for fans of Welch’s powdery, soft pop pieces. Critics were quick to add that his noteworthy guitar was often enough to keep the cuts afloat.
Even Welch’s harshest critics confessed the work has its moments and that half of the songs are exceptional. More recently, Allmusic even gave it a four star rating. If you’ve never listened to Bob Welch’s French Kiss, listen to it. If you’ve already listened to it . . . listen again.
My name is Phoenix and . . . that’s the bottom line.