One of my (and many other music lovers’) favorite artists, Dan Fogelberg, passed away yesterday after a three-year battle with prostate cancer.
He made some radio stations I worked for sound a lot better by cutting some great songs, and made me look like a genius when I was a music director at two of those stations. From 1974-82, in his “heydey”, many of his single releases were guaranteed “hits”, so it didn’t take long for me to figure out that I should add his latest song to the playlist.
Three songs in particular grabbed my attention when I was on the radio. In 1974, when I was a sophomore at Ohio University, I worked at the student run All-Campus Radio Network. His album, “Souvenirs“, was in the “New” bin, so I pulled it out and cued up the first single, “Part of the Plan.” One of the tests of a hit song is the “intro”, which has to grab you by the ears. “Part of the Plan” did just that, and it wouldn’t let go, keeping a steady stream of uptempo guitar licks and catchy lyrics. What a unique voice! As the last note hung in the air, I knew I was hooked. I also remember getting the promotional copy of “The Power of Gold” from the “Twin Sons of Different Mothers” collaboration with flautist Tim Weisberg. Again, right from the start, the tune caught my attention, and Weisberg’s flute was something different. You didn’t hear many flutes on Top-40 radio in the late 70s. It went right on to the playlist of WHIS-AM 1440 in Bluefield, WV, where I held court as the music director. The third song was “Times Like These” from the “Urban Cowboy” soundtrack. Alas, this song didn’t get much airplay because the airwaves were densely populated with Urban Cowboy songs. Unfortunately, the record company pushed Mickey Gilley‘s “Stand By Me” (dreck!) over Dan’s contribution. I told the record promoter to tell those idiots that ran his record company to buy some new ears or something to that effect.
Back then, it was all about radio airplay. If your songs didn’t get on the radio, it was difficult to make a living in the music business. You had to write the hits, record them, or do both, as Fogelberg did. He managed to hit the “radio trifecta”, which is getting significant airplay on three different formats: Top-40, Adult Contemporary, and Album-Oriented Rock. That guaranteed exposure to listeners from different demographic groups, increasing the chances that your albums, singles, concert tickets, and merchandise would generate big sales.
He also managed to insure perpetual airplay for at least four songs: “Same Auld Lang Syne“, which is a holiday favorite; “Run for the Roses“, which is featured on the TV broadcast of The Kentucky Derby; “Leader of the Band“, which is played a lot around Father’s Day, and “Longer“, a staple at wedding ceremonies and receptions, and anniversary parties. Those songs also get year-round play on many adult contemporary and classic hits stations.
Perhaps the most impressive album side I’ve ever heard is Side 1 of his 1985 “High Country Snows“. It featured an unremarkable single, “Go Down Easy” on Side 2. The station where I worked, long-defunct “LITE 95” in Cincinnati, played it. I wasn’t the music director, so I asked that person to let me borrow the station’s copy of the album. WOW! Side 1 is a “must listen”: rock-infused bluegrass/country is about the only way I can describe it. Bluegrass on steroids, if you will.
Every musician has a shelf life, and at some point you’ll stop selling out Madison Square Garden and you’ll start playing casinos, county fairs and 500-seat nightclubs. Just ask America and Blue Oyster Cult. That’s not a pot shot at them. It’s just reality. I also like them a lot. So you cement your place in music history by doing what Dan Fogelberg did.
On a more personal note, my girlfriend (now wife) was also a big fan of his, and his music was one of those common things we could talk about and listen to in those early awkward stages of dating. And I get the feeling that we weren’t alone in that respect. So I owe him that much, at least. We also saw him in concert at Kings Island‘s Timberwolf Amphitheater. A few years ago, my wife went to Alaska and chronicled her trip in a video, using “High Country Snows” and “The Higher You Climb” in the soundtrack.
So today, I’ll load up my car’s CD player with my Dan Fogelberg collection, and tonight I’ll drink a toast to him.