Thursday, July 29, 2010

Forgotten Music Thursday: Bill Champlin - Runaway (1981)

The "perfect pop album" is a rather lofty platitude to heap on an album.  But if ever an album deserved that label, Bill Champlin's Runaway is one of the more worthy of that consideration.

Produced by the then up-and-coming producer, David Foster, back when Foster was still largely unknown by those not "in the know." 

Much like with Chicago 16, Foster's formula for success was intact with Runaway.  He brought in the best of the best session cats to augment Champlin's vocals and keyboard chops. 

Where Champlin's solo debut, Single, still had many of the blue-eyed soul leanings of Bill's then former band, The Sons of Champlin, Runaway, was a step more in the direction of his future adult contemporary/pop leanings of Chicago.  While some of the Jerry Hey horn arrangements (in particular Take It Uptown and Satisfaction, the latter of which Chicago actually included in their live set in the early 80s) would not have sounded out of place on a Chicago album, there's still enough of Bill on here to distinguish this as his album and not a Chicago-wannabe album.  The grit is still in his vocals, although that grit is considerably more polished with David Foster at the helm than it was during his days fronting the Sons of Champlin. 

What makes the album as a whole so enjoyable is its consistency.  There's not a weak track to be found, a testament to both Champlin's songwriting and Foster's production.  The closest any material comes to being weak is Stop Knockin' On My Door which musically is as good as anything else on the album, however lyrically it comes across more as a novelty song.  But even the novelty of the lyrics can be excused as Bill's way of showing he's not taking himself nor his music TOO seriously.  He still knew how to have fun and the lyrics are a testament to that fun-loving nature. 

Given the personnel associated with this album its comparisons to Chicago 16 and 17 are completely unavoidable.  And perhaps the only way this album could have been improved upon would have been with the participation of Peter Cetera.  There was an undeniable vocal chemistry between Champlin & Cetera that was never more evident than on songs like Sonny Think Twice from Chicago 16 or Hard Habit to Break from Chicago 17.  Had that vocal chemistry been discovered just a bit sooner, I have little doubt that Cetera would have made an appearance on this album as many of these songs sound tailor-made for Champlin and Cetera collaborations, the two of them trading off on vocals much as they did on the aforementioned Chicago albums.

But even without Cetera's participation, this album is thoroughly enjoyable to listen to and is easily one of Champlin's best solo endeavours.

Related Links
Bill Champlin (official site)
Bill Champlin (wikipedia)
Other Bill Champlin related reviews/articles on this site
David Foster (official site)
David Foster (wikipedia)


Charlie said...

Based on your description of this album (which I have never heard) do you think it had anything to do with his invitation to join Chicago which occurred the same year?

George said...

David Foster is well known here in Western New York and Southern Ontario. Brilliant producer!

luminous muse said...

I always like David Foster, and if the clips on itunes are any indication I think I'll like this album. Thanks!

David said...

Longtime Chicago / David Foster fan chiming in here.

First, great article. I've owned Runaway since the late 1980s, and it's one of my favorite West Coast records of the 80s. One Way Ticket, Runaway, Sara...all great songs.

I read an interview with Bill Champlin recently where he talked about why this wasn't a big deal upon release: The label guy that signed him left the company right before the record came out. He knew the record would go bust without promotion, so he joined Chicago.

And Charlie, as to your question, in said interview Bill mentioned that they had sung together on someone else's single prior to him joining Chicago, and everybody knew immediately that their harmony really clicked.

You can read more here:

Cheers guys!