Hobo with a Grin
|Hobo with a Grin|
|Studio album by|
|Label||EMI - EMC 3254 (vinyl LP)|
|Producer||Steve Harley, Michael James Jackson|
|Steve Harley chronology|
Hobo with a Grin is the debut solo album by Steve Harley of Steve Harley & Cockney Rebel, released in 1978. The album was produced by Harley, except for "Roll the Dice" which was produced by Michael J. Jackson. Jackson also acted as additional producer on the album.
In July 1977, Harley disbanded Cockney Rebel and began working on his debut solo album, which was largely completed by early 1978. In February of that year, Harley flew to Los Angeles to finish working on the album, which had been given the working title Couples. Of the album's nine tracks, six were recorded at Abbey Road Studios in London, and the other three were recorded in Los Angeles at Sunset Sound or Record Plant. Using a range of session musicians and ex-Cockney Rebel members, the album featured contributions from a range of personnel, including Jim Cregan, George Ford, Duncan Mackay, Stuart Elliott, Gloria Jones and Marc Bolan, as well as American musicians such as Tom Moncrieff, Bob Glaub, Bill Payne, Roy Kenner, Bobby Kimball and Michael McDonald. A mixture of older songs, written when Cockney Rebel were still active, were recorded, alongside some newer material. The album was mixed at Sunset Sound and mastered at Capitol Mastering.
Soon after the album was completed, Harley decided to leave Britain and live in Los Angeles. He had been first attracted to the city when recording and mixing the Love's a Prima Donna album there in 1976. Purchasing a house in Beverly Hills, he stayed there for nearly a year to gain new experience and inspirations. When Hobo with a Grin emerged in July 1978, it was revealed the album cost £70,000 and took 18 months to make, and yet proved to be Harley's biggest flop. The album failed to make any chart appearance, as did its two singles. The first, "Roll the Dice", was released in July, while the second, a remixed version of "Someone's Coming", was released in February 1979.
At the time of its release, writer G. Brown reported in The Denver Post that the album was becoming his fastest seller in America yet. Long deemed "too British-sounding" during the years of Cockney Rebel, Harley felt the situation was changing with the release of Hobo with a Grin. However, after the album failed to make any commercial impact, Harley began to be dismissive of it. Describing the material as "laid back Californian stuff", Harley told Superpop magazine in 1978: "My latest album had no guts. I hated it. For the first time in my life I relinquished responsibility, listened to advice and acted on it, rather than do what I thought was right." In November 1978, he told the Daily Star that the album was "an experience", and in early 1979, told Maggi Russell that the album was a "difficult album, and hard to market".
At the end of 1978, Harley returned to England. During his time living in America, he admitted that he was never inspired to write one single song. Not long after his return, Harley began working on his second solo album The Candidate, which was released later in 1979. Speaking to the Evening News in October 1979, Harley admitted:
"I spent almost a full year out there and did nothing except swim and sunbathe and head for some party or other at night. I had a rented house in Beverley Hills – it was costing me about £300 a week and all I did was lie by the pool and have friends to stay at the guest house. I then realised that I was getting nowhere fast and booked London's Abbey Road studios for two months. I'm pleased with The Candidate – it's the best album I've done in ages."
Speaking of Hobo with a Grin, Harley was again dismissive of the album:
"I looked at that LP the other day – looking is enough. I can't bear to listen to it. It's the worst thing I've ever done. I just want to forget about it. Trash. In fact, I'm getting the old Cockney Rebel band together for a concert in London at the end of this month. And there won't be one song from the "Hobo with a Grin" LP in the set."
However, in a radio interview in early November 2020, Harley stated that he 'honestly did not remember' his animosity towards 'Hobo With A Grin', and that it had some 'amazing stuff on it'. This is in spite of the fact that only 2 of the songs have ever been played live: 'Riding The Waves (For Virginia Woolf)' and 'Roll The Dice'. As of November 2020, the last time 'Riding The Waves' was played live was in 2016, and 'Roll The Dice' has not been played since 1990. However, Harley also mentioned that, in light of the interview, he may reintroduce some songs from both this and his next solo album, The Candidate
Speaking of the lead single "Roll the Dice", Harley commented: "It's 'poppy,' with that Fleetwood Mac-ish shuffle. 'Catchy' is not a good thing in this country. The more AM radio I hear, the more convinced I am that the goal is to bore."
Both "Amerika the Brave" and "Someone's Coming" featured contributions by Marc Bolan in his last studio performance before his death in 1977. Speaking to Len Righi of The Morning Call in September 1978, Harley recalled: "The last time Marc went in the studio was for "Amerika the Brave". He also can be heard singing background on "Someone's Coming," though he's not credited. Bolan was a close friend. I had known him for a couple of years. We were a lot different. He was much more of an extrovert than me, but we grew very close. They say opposites attract." Although it was not released as a single, "Amerika the Brave" gained some disco play in America. In The Morning Call interview, Harley described the song as being: "my impression of the U.S... just telling what I see". "Someone's Coming" had originally been written for Cockney Rebel and was one of the oldest songs to be included on the album."
"I Wish It Would Rain" is a cover of the 1967 song originally recorded by The Temptations. In The Morning Call, Harley revealed he had replaced the song's R&B sound with a more rock and roll one: "I wanted to have a more rock and roll feel than The Temptations version. I defend it." "Riding the Waves (For Virginia Woolf)" was dedicated to the 20th century British writer. Harley admitted: "I stole two or three lines from her book, "The Waves," for that song." Harley would later re-record the song for his 1996 album Poetic Justice.
The album was released on vinyl by EMI Records in the UK, Germany, the Netherlands and Scandinavia. It was released in America and Canada through Capitol Records. Later in 2000, the album received its first CD release through EMI and Harley's own Comeuppance Discs label. It contained two bonus tracks; the 1974 song "Spaced Out", B-side of the hit single "Judy Teen", and a live version of the 1996 song "That's My Life in Your Hands", from the Poetic Justice album. Neither track was directly related to Hobo with a Grin, and the non-album track "Waiting", B-side of "Roll the Dice", was not included. On 31 October 2011, Hobo with a Grin was digitally remastered and released on CD by BGO Records as a double album set with The Candidate.
In the 19 August 1978 issue of the New Musical Express, a full-page, black-and-white advert was published to promote the album's release. The advert said "This space is normally reserved for record company superlatives. We simply ask you to listen to the new Steve Harley album for yourself." In America, a colour advert was issued by Capitol, which stated "Multi-talented Steve Harley proudly unveils his first solo album "Hobo with a Grin". With the help of his musical friends he has crafted an album that puts him in the mainstream of today's music."
Three music videos were filmed in America to promote the album; "Roll the Dice", "I Wish It Would Rain" and "Amerika the Brave". The videos were filmed over a two-day period, in the Bakersfield Desert, California. They were shot on 35mm film. All three remain hard to find, although the video for "Roll the Dice" surfaced on YouTube in 2016.
Upon its release, Pete Silverton of Sounds commented: "Harley's album is undoubtedly the worst slab of vinyl from a relatively major artist since Framper's [Peter Frampton] I'm in You. Try "Amerika The Brave" - which, sad though it is to admit, has the best tune on the album and could make a single. Beyond the superficial Randy Newmanish attraction of the melody, "Living in a Rhapsody" displays an even deeper understanding of the meaning of life. Other highlights: a version of "I Wish It Would Rain" so spineless that it made me dig out my old Marvin Gaye single; a strong contender for dork of the year with "(I Don't Believe) God is an Anarchist", and, finally, overall unbounded happiness that he's relocated in palm tree and cocaine city. Keep it up, Steve." Rosalind Russell of Disc commented: "If Steve Harley thinks this is rock and roll, he's living in his own nightmare. Except he probably doesn't see it that way: to him it must be a beautiful dream. The definition he had with Cockney Rebel has melted, he's gone fuzzy round the edges. He's also become surprisingly soppy. I can appreciate the idea behind "Someone's Coming" for instance, but the emotion drenched drama is too strong to stomach. The only track I even began to like was "Amerika the Brave". It has a kick, it has some of the Harley bite. But, apart from this, the album has no teeth to speak of. Just a gentle, un-threatening wave of the jaw, like a dreamer murmuring in his sleep."
American magazine Billboard listed the album in their "Recommended LPs" section. The review noted: "[Harley] explores a number of musical styles here from a solid rock 'n' roll base. Lots of rock instrumentation is employed. Some tunes have a bluesy, r&b quality, while others have a soft, melodic feel. Overall the writing is poignant and Harley's voice has a pleasing pop sound." The album's 'Best Cuts' were listed as "Roll the Dice", "I Wish It Would Rain", "Riding the Waves", "Hot Youth", and "Faith, Hope and Charity". Len Righi of the American newspaper The Morning Call commented: "Two of the finest cuts on the LP are "Riding The Waves" and "(I Don't Believe) God is an Anarchist." The former has a nice melody, poetic images, acoustic piano by Bill Payne of Little Feat (a Harley favourite), and Jo Partridge's oh-so-sweet guitar. The latter song features a powerful vocal and an R&B flavour."
The Poughkeepsie Journal said: "This is Harley's most Americanized recording, and I think his best. While he'll never be the paradoxical combination of David Bowie and Bruce Springsteen he sometimes seems, Harley is a real rocker - smart enough to sing the Temptations' "I Wish It Would Rain" better than Mick Jagger's ever covered Motown, dumb enough to dedicate a song to Virginia Woolf. Don't trust either - "Hot Youth" is this album's most blatant pitch to its potential audience, and the best Harley song I've ever heard." Cash Box commented: "Steve Harley is now a solo artist with an album that focuses upon his irreverent, charismatic songwriting style and personality. Hobo with a Grin contains a diverse array of material, ranging from the intimately-designed "Living in a Rhapsody" to the exuberant "Roll the Dice". Backed up by several top session cats, Harley on this LP is finally set to attract a sizable U.S. following."
Dave Thompson of AllMusic retrospectively wrote: "Hobo with a Grin marks the utter desecration of everything which Harley once stood for. Two new songs peep out of Hobo with anything remotely resembling pride - "Riding the Waves" has sufficient art house pretension to remind us of "Mr. Soft" and his friends; and "Living in a Rhapsody" shares a vague familial resemblance to "Make Me Smile." There's also a smartly stylized cover of the Temptations' "I Wish It Would Rain," which possesses a heartfelt joyousness all the same. But "Amerika the Brave," "God Is an Anarchist," and "Roll the Dice" are Harley wordplay-by-numbers: clever on paper, but too clever-clever by half. We already know he's a brilliant wordsmith; does he have to keep trying to show us how brilliant? And does there come a point when he'll stop, and try his hand at tunes as well? At its best, the bulk of Hobo is almost completely devoid of memorable melody. At its worst, it doesn't even pretend to care."
Of the 2000 re-issue of the album, Q said: "Fast declining sales, punk rock and hysterical critical opprobrium exiled Steve Harley to America for the recording of much of Hobo with a Grin. Sneered at then, it's aged rather well. Harley's self-production is as lush as his songs deserve, the towering "Roll the Dice" features Michael McDonald on backing vocals and "Riding the Waves (For Virginia Woolf)" is the sound of a man who'd been boorish as a star maturing into dignified old age. Charts remained untickled. Time surely for a little readjustment of history." Of the 2011 BGO double CD release of the album along with The Candidate, Terry Staunton of Record Collector stated: "Harley's opening brace of releases not to feature the Cockney Rebel name took him ever further away from the glam/art rock of his chart past. As road maps to what he had in mind for the next stage of his career, they're both a tad confused, arrows scrawled all over them in numerous directions. Hobo takes stabs at anything and everything; "Amerika The Brave" stutters with Bowie bombast, "Living in a Rhapsody" and "Riding the Waves" tentatively exploring the subdued folk of Nick Drake, while a cover of The Temptations' "I Wish It Would Rain" has the bleary-eyed fatigue of last orders pub-rock."
|1.||"Roll the Dice"||Steve Harley, Jo Partridge||3:31|
|2.||"Amerika the Brave"||Harley||4:56|
|3.||"Living in a Rhapsody"||Jim Cregan, Harley, Duncan Mackay||4:22|
|4.||"I Wish It Would Rain"||Roger Penzabene, Barrett Strong, Norman Whitfield||3:20|
|5.||"Riding the Waves (For Virginia Woolf)"||Harley||4:34|
|6.||"Someone's Coming"||Harley, Partridge||4:36|
|7.||"Hot Youth"||Harley, Mackay||2:52|
|8.||"(I Don't Believe) God is an Anarchist"||Harley||7:24|
|9.||"Faith, Hope and Charity"||Harley||4:01|
|11.||"That's My Life in Your Hands (Live)"||Harley, Hugh Nicholson||3:39|
|Australia (Kent Music Report)||100|
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