Friday, February 03, 2006

Bill Champlin

Through most of the 90s I was on a Bill Champlin kick. I needed to hear every song he sang lead on. I need to not just hear, but feel, and complete digest his entire catalog. I got to the point where I kutchered him. I had to take a break for a few years.

Last night I made an mp3 CD including all of his solo studio albums which I've been slowly, but surely re-introducing myself to.

Most people don't know who Champlin is, but if they were listening to the radio in the 80s they're certainly familiar with his voice on Chicago hits like Hard Habit to Break (he shared lead vocals with Peter Cetera), Look Away, and You're Not Alone. Sadly those aren't even close to being his best work.

I'd forgotten how good much of his solo material was/is-- the in your face brass of Yo Mama off of Single; the pristine studio gloss of the entire Runaway album; No Wasted Moments and Before You Go which could just as easily have been Chicago songs from his No Wasted Moments EP; Fly By the Light and Highest Stakes from Burn Down the Night; Turn Your Love Around, Sound of the Rain, and Through It All from Through It All; and Southern Serenade and It's About Time from He Started to Sing. I could go on and on...There's something about his gritty baritone that keeps me coming back for seconds, thirds, fourths-- well you get the idea.

Yes his material is pop, but it's pop in its best form-- not the dime-a-dozen cookie-cutter crap that the music industry cranks out faster than the listening public can digest (and more often than not, excrete). Part of Champlin's appeal is his variety-- he goes from traditional pop that would be at home on any album circa 1980-1989, to Lou Rawls inspired R&B, to blues (his cover of In the Heat of the Night shows him at his bluesy best), to the blue-eyed soul of Yo Mama or Turn Your Love Around.

Champlin also shows he knows when to call in his friends-- Single, Runaway, and Burn Down the Night feature a who's who of LA session musicians. And when to go it alone-- Through It All features Champlin doing just about everything from guitars to keyboards, to vocals, and production himself.

Bill Champlin is the total package when it comes to rock/pop music.


Charlie said...

I believe Bill Champlin's tenure in Chicago has largely been wasted because controlling interests in the band emphasized the commercial realities (i.e: power ballads sung by Jason Scheff) rather than exploit the quality music that could have come from the pens of both he and Robert Lamm and even Jim Pankow if he felt motivated. Sadly I don't think we'll ever get to see what the post-Cetera band is capable of.

Perplexio said...

Champlin is also an extremely talented songwriter. Much of his solo material has a social conscience we haven't heard from Robert Lamm since [i]We Can Stop the Hurtin'[/i] on Chicago 17.

Chicago's use of Jason Scheff isn't what has hurt them so much over the years-- it's their over-reliance on outside songwriters when they have some really good ones already in the band. That and the horn section is more concerned with preserving their legacy than they are with being creative or ballsy.

The Phoenix said...

Chicago's ballads killed their unique sound. I understand the commercialization of the industry, and with all those #1s, how could you say "no" to the money?

Even after Cetera left, they still searched for another balladier - like the lead singer from Mr. Mister. Too bad they didn't focus on Champlin like they originally were going to do.

BobbyG said...

Bill Champlin's friend Jerry Lopez has the most kick-ass band I ever heard, here in Vegas. Check out the blog:

I'm a LONG-TIME Sons and Bill Champlin fan, all the way back to 60's San Francisco.

Jerry's band is off the scale excellent.

Anonymous said...

Bill Champlin is completely, unabashedly overrated and I go to the bathroom at concerts when he "sings." A better word for it is "whiny wailing." He also looks like Bill O'Reilly of the FOX network.