Written by: David Porter
The latter half of the 1980s was still a time when an urgent, American rock song, played with skill and passion, and often without a whiff of synth, could find its way to radio, to MTV and onto the Billboard charts.
There were a great many fantastic American rock n’roll records released between 1985 and 1989 that were undeservedly ignored, which is to say they never arrived at the decade’s hit radio and classic rock radio stations or found heavy rotation on MTV. Sure, the singles from The Hooters Nervous Night (1985) and The Smithereens Green Thoughts (1988) enjoyed a ton of airplay, but some of the albums I loved best from that era have slipped out of print – which doesn’t mean much in an era of iTunes and digital downloads – and into obscurity. I played a number of them to death during my final year of high school, 1986, and throughout a few snowy and rather wasted years at the University of Rochester:
Cruzados (1985), Cruzados
Hallelujah Anyway (1988), The Dancing Hoods
Johnny Comes Marching Home (1986), The Del-Lords
Jungle Boy (1986), John Eddie
The Knife Feels Like Justice (1986), Brian Setzer (produced by Little Steven!)
Mary Jean & 9 Others (1987), Marshall Crenshaw
Outside Looking In (1987), The BoDeans
Songs From the Film (1986), Tommy Keene
Ten Women (1987), Wire Train
Though it took me until 1991 to find my way to it, Danny Wilde’s Any Man’s Hunger, from 1988, deserves a place on this list. Bright, bold, big-hearted rock n’roll for a summer night’s drive, the wind blowin’ through your hair, it was cut at Rockfield under the supervision of Pat Moran, the assistant engineer on Queen’s A Night at the Opera (1975) and the producer of Iggy Pop’s Soldier (1980), Hawkwind’s Choose Your Masques (1982), Robert Plant’s The Principle of Moments (1983) and Big Country’s No Place Like Home (1991). Any Man’s Hunger spent seven weeks on the Billboard Top 200 in the spring of 1988 alongside Appetite for Destruction, Bad, Bête Noire, Faith, Green Thoughts, Kick, Introducing the Hardline According to Terence Trent d’Arby, Now & Zen and Swing Out Sister’s It’s Better to Travel, ascending to 126 before shuffling off to obscurity and a used vinyl bin at a small record shop on Haight Street in San Francisco, where I picked it up, along with a copy of Jude Cole’s A View From Third Street (1990), during a trip west during my spring break in 1991. I was in my second semester at Rutgers University, trying my best to repair the damage I’d done, academic and otherwise, in the frozen wastes of Western New York. Was there actually a time when I spent hours in record stores? Even more astonishing, was there actually a time when I sat on a futon and smoked pot and drank beer and played the records I’d purchased in those record stores?
You know Danny Wilde from The Rembrandts. One of a number of Los Angeles musicians who began cranking out great music in the late Seventies and never stopped, he was a founding member of The Quick, a power pop band whose members would later form legendary LA bands like Cruzados and The Three O’Clock. After The Quick recorded its debut and only album, Mondo Deco (1976), and disbanded, Wilde landed in another LA power pop outfit, Great Buildings, with future Rembrandt Phil Solem. Great Buildings would record two albums, Apart From the Crowd (1981) and Extra Epic Everything (1982), before splitting up.
Wilde released his debut solo album, The Boyfriend, in 1986, then amicably parted ways with Chris Blackwell and signed with Geffen, where he recorded Any Man’s Hunger and Danny Wilde (1989) before Geffen sent him packing. By the next year, he and Phil Solem were already working on the demos that would become the first Rembrandts album, The Rembrandts (1991). The rest, of course, is the stuff that dreams are made of – The Rembrandts would record a number of hit albums, including the wonderful Untitled (1993) and L.P. (1995), where “I’ll Be There For You,” the theme to Friends, resides.
Any Man’s Hunger still sounds fresh, earnest and forceful 25 years on: the guitars still chime and the drums still boom…it still swaggers. The album’s first and biggest single, “Time Runs Wild,” is on a par with the era’s other great paeans to the summers of youth and the loves that were, for the briefest of moments, aflame within them, Bryan Adams’s “Summer of ’69” and Don Henley’s “Boys of Summer.”
When I got home from San Francisco I made a tape, of course, with Any Man’s Hunger on one side and A View From Third Street on the other, and I played it constantly. Summer arrived, and the time was right for racing in the street – sober for two years, I started running triathlons. I met a girl, a beautiful girl, and I spent most nights that summer in her bed in her mother’s air-conditioned house, mired in a splendor I shall never know again. She was more than enough for any boy’s hunger, luminous and thrilling, like a girl straight out of an F. Scott Fitzgerald story, if F. Scott Fitzgerald had written about Jewish girls from northern New Jersey and their sun-darkened skin, redolent of summer.
Unfortunately, at the time I was 23 and best-described by a few lines from “Visions of Johanna”: “little boy lost, he takes himself so seriously…” Summer ended, and I thought I was destined for something else, for someone else, for other splendors. I was too young to understand how lucky I was that this particular girl loved me, that she was willing to lavish herself upon me, that I spent even a single night adrift upon the luxury of her tanned skin. I thought I was entitled to such devotion, such magnificence. I thought it would happen again and again as I marched onward toward some imaginary mountain in the distance, my hair shorn, my shoes polished. It seems now, peering back over the decades, the silliest of parades.
Life was simple, she was mine. You know it took so long to realize…Danny Wilde puts it rather well, as does Leonard Cohen in one of his many exquisite poems, “Travel”:
I know why many men have stopped and wept
Half-way between the loves they leave and seek,
And wondered if travel leads them anywhere –
Horizons keep the soft line of your cheek,
The windy sky’s a locket for your hair.
Time runs wild. You might fuck it all up, or you might not, but either way you get to keep the records. That’s pretty much it.
Stereo Embers: Can you tell us about the music scene in LA during the Eighties? Some of your contemporaries included The Bangles, The Blasters, Concrete Blonde, Cruzados, The Dream Syndicate, fIREHOSE, Green on Red, Fishbone, Los Lobos, Oingo Boingo, The Rave-Ups, Stan Ridgway, Social Distortion, The Three O’Clock, X…
Danny Wilde: The LA music scene of that era was close-knit and familiar – everyone knew everyone. I started my first band, Kyxx, with high school chums Bob Davis (aka Chuck Wagon) and Karlos Kabellero, who went on to become The Dickies. After Kyxx I joined The Quick with some other schoolmates, Danny Benair, Billy Bizeau and Steve Hufsteter. The Quick split up in ‘78, and that break-up produced The Three O’Clock and Cruzados. Ian Ainsworth and I started a short-lived project with ex-Sparks guitarists Earle and Jim Mankey (who later became part of Concrete Blonde) called Cigarettes. From there Ian and I recruited guitarist Phil Solem to complete Great Buildings…You get the idea. It was a pretty tight community. Bands would gig several times a week and could actually make money! It was an exciting time to be in the business.
SE: What were you listening to while you were writing Any Man’s Hunger? Was there a particular album, or albums, that inspired you?
DW: My guitar player and co-writer, Matt Downs, and I were really into Tom Cochrane and Red Rider. I could really relate to his music, killer grooves and soaring choruses. And I loved the production. A Welsh guy named Pat Moran produced Tom, and I knew I had to work with this guy!
SE: You recorded The Boyfriend (1986) for Island, but Any Man’s Hunger and Danny Wilde (1989) were both released by Geffen.
DW: After Great Buildings broke up, in 1982, I started working on solo material. That’s when a friend of mine invited me to a Christmas party at Island Records in Hollywood. I had a cassette of my first collection of solo material on me, which I gave to Chris Blackwell. About a week later I got a call from Island saying they would like to sign me. Pretty cool!
A couple of weeks after The Boyfriend was released the president of the label and the head of promotion for Island were fired. I loved Chris Blackwell, but my manager, George Ghiz, thought Island was too artsy and more of a boutique outfit, and that I needed to be on a label that had bags of money to throw at promotion. Blackwell agreed, and Island sold my deal to Geffen. It was very amicable.
SE: Did you finish writing the songs for Any Man’s Hunger before you left for the UK, or did you write some of the songs while you were recording them?
DW: All the songs were written and demoed before we set foot in the studio. In those days you couldn’t really afford to experiment or come in with unfinished bits. It was $1500 or so a day for the studio, so we were very prepared.
SE: How did you come to write “Any Man’s Hunger” and “In A Bordertown” with Nick Trevisick? What about Matt Downs, with whom you wrote “Every Goodbye,” “Set Me Free” and “Too Many Years Gone By”?
DW: Nick Trevisick would show up at my apartment in North Hollywood in the morning to write. He always had great little bits, and still does: a melody for a chorus, a guitar part…we’d just run with it. I don’t remember who came up with “Any Man’s Hunger” – it was probably my idea, because it sounds a bit like Roy Orbison in places, but “In A Bordertown” was for sure Nick. We were messing around with the eighth-note bass synth part on that one. It really supports the bottom end and drives the song.
That’s how Paul “Wix” Wickens entered the fold, as a programmer, but his contributions went well beyond programming bass lines. The sequenced “Baba O’Riley” banjo on “Time Runs Wild,” for instance, is all Wix. I also play accordion, which is how we came up with the beginning of “Contradiction.” Wix is amazing. I’m not surprised McCartney scooped him up.
Matt Downs is a great collaborator and friend, as well as a killer guitar player and a great songwriter. I was fortunate to be associated with all of these guys. Most of us have become lifelong friends.
SE: Any Man’s Hunger feels like a break-up album. Five of the songs – “Ain’t I Good Enough,” “Bitter Moon,” “In A Bordertown,” “Set Me Free,” and “Wouldn’t Be the First Time” – are about obsessive and unrequited love, while “Every Goodbye” and “Time Runs Wild” are about lost love. Even the two songs that seem to address enduring romantic love, “Any Man’s Hunger” and “This Old Town,” are nowhere near as celebratory and triumphant as some of the love songs on Danny Wilde, like “My Girl,” “The Stuff That Dreams Are Made Of ” and “Velvet Chains.”
DW: At the time and to this day I’m very happily married, to the same girl, so I guess that’s just the nature of songwriting. In terms of the lyrics, I drew a lot from personal experience, but a lot of it was artistic license and not necessarily about where my head was at. Maybe Matt and Nick were having bad days…you’ll have to ask them!
SE: Although it’s of a piece musically with the rest of the album, “Contradiction” is a thematic detour. From the lyrics, I assume you didn’t think much of American policy in Central America during the late Eighties.
DW: One day during the whole Iran-Contra affair I was watching the news and that “contra contradiction” line came to me. I seriously wrote that song in about 15 minutes – they were practically handing me the lyrics, it was perfect. I felt like it was honest, and that I just said what I wanted to say.
SE: I’ve selected some of my favorite lyrics from the album, and I’m hoping you might discuss how you wrote them and perhaps what you think of them now, after 25 years. From “Time Runs Wild”: “…in the dark of night I pray/well, did I throw my youth away?/on a dream I’ll never realize/so I reach out to touch a time/life was simple, you were mine/you know it took so long to realize…”
DW: I guess that would be about making the right decisions. I’m not the kind of guy to wonder “what if,” but what if?
SE: From “Every Goodbye”: “I remember/summer nights on an open road/and the wind blowin’ through your hair/both of us runnin’ on overload/we were young and we did not care.”
DW: Ah, glowing youth…hot summer nights in the San Fernando Valley.
SE: From “Any Man’s Hunger”: “She walks proud/she don’t have to wonder/she’s more than enough for/any man’s hunger.”
DW: I often tell my wife, Natali, that all my songs are written about her, except for the sad or naughty ones (ha!). But “Any Man’s Hunger” was definitely written for her.
SE: What was it like recording at Rockfield with Pat Moran?
DW: Rockfield was a great scene, guys were always dropping by. I’d be in the vocal booth singing and Robert Plant or Lemmy from Motorhead or Dave Edmunds would walk in. We had a lot of fun making the record, at least at first. I don’t have any desire to work with the “A” list gang – if you’re in my band, we’re gonna have a good time, like it or not! Pat Moran, on the other hand, was all business. Don’t get me wrong – he was a good guy, and we had some laughs, but he was a perfectionist, and I get bored very easily. After 10 days in the studio we only had three finished tracks, and things got tense – after 15 takes of the same song I couldn’t tell the difference anymore. I don’t give a damn if the drummer gets a little on top or behind, I just want it to feel and sound great! But one of the key tricks in Pat’s bag was using programmed hi-hats and tambourines – all the cymbals would be overdubbed later on. Our drummer, Gordy Gale, wasn’t used to playing to that rigid of a time base, so Pat sent ‘ol Gordy packing and hired Simple Minds drummer Mel Gaynor to finish the album. Any Man’s Hunger rocks, but I feel it’s a little stiff in places.
SE: You had Matt Downs on guitar, Rick Wilson on bass guitar, Gordy Gale on drums and Wix on keyboards, accordion, pedal steel and banjo. How did this group of musicians come together?
DW: Phil Solem was working on his own thing in Minneapolis, and Pat Mastelotto was on the road touring with Mr. Mister, so they weren’t available to work with me when I needed to get a band together for Any Man’s Hunger. We held auditions in L.A., and I hired Matt straight up. I had seen him play before, in Doug Fieger’s band, Taking Chances, and I thought he was great. I liked his vibe – and his hair! Sig Emerson was our bass player at the time.
SE: Do you remember the tour for Any Man’s Hunger?
DW: Most of that tour was in a motor home, with me driving! We had great fun.
SE: Did you read any reviews of Any Man’s Hunger?
DW: I read a lot of them. Anyone who tells you they don’t read reviews of their albums is full of crap. I love the good reviews, the bad ones not so much.
SE: Did you expect “Time Runs Wild” to land on pop and classic rock stations? What kind of impact did you expect Any Man’s Hunger to have on your career?
DW: The success of “Isn’t It Enough” (from The Boyfriend) at rock radio had pretty much opened the door for me in that format. “Time Runs Wild” was traveling up the rock radio charts, but it wasn’t crossing over to CHR (Contemporary Hit Radio), which is where the hits live. So Geffen put me in the studio with Jimmy Iovine, and I came up with the song “Wouldn’t Be the First Time,” which Jimmy liked a lot, though I thought it was a bit tame and kind of cheesy. Nevertheless, the band and I showed up at the studio to record it, but Jimmy had hired all these amazing session guys to back me up. We tried it out for awhile, but then I said ‘no fucking way,’ and the band and I walked out. That’s when the whole Geffen thing started to go bad. I felt like they were derailing my career, albeit unintentionally, just to have a hit. I did one more album with Geffen, Danny Wilde, and then I called it quits, which is to say Geffen dropped me. So I called up my old Great Buildings band mate, Phil Solem, to see what he was up to, and that was the beginning of The Rembrandts.
SE: You’ve been in the music industry since the mid-Seventies. What’s your take on its 2013 iteration?
DW: The need to rock! More guitar pleeeeez!
SE: What Danny Wilde projects can we look forward to?
DW: I’m just finishing up a buddy record with Jesse Valenzuela of The Gin Blossoms. We’ve been friends for years, and we’ve wanted to do this for awhile. We worked with Matt Downs, who’s playing bass and pedal steel, and with legendary drummer Gary Mallaber, who’s played with The Steve Miller Band, Peter Frampton, Van Morrison and Bruce Springsteen, among others. The album has a very West Coast country-rock vibe – we tracked it live over a three-day period in my studio, with minimum overdubs. I think we’re going to call it Valenzuela-Wilde (pretty original, right?). And Phil Solem and I are trying to find a home for our new Rembrandts album, Via Satellite.
Danny Wilde: www.dannywildemusic.net
The Rembrandts + Great Buildings: www.therembrandts.net
Mondo Deco (1976)
Apart From the Crowd (1981)
Extra Epic Everything (1982)
The Boyfriend (1986)
Any Man’s Hunger (1988)
Danny Wilde (1989)
The Rembrandts (1991)
Spin This (1998)
Lost Together (2001)
Choice Picks (2005)
The Rembrandts Greatest Hits (2006)