Songs Of The Day 7/22/2015: Stephen Bishop – “The Big House” + "Red Cab to Manhattan"

Yacht Rock Underground – Stephen Bishop might not really belong on this list because there's evidence he was in on the yacht rock joke from the very beginning, in the form of one of cinema's greatest-ever music-related scenes. That would be this poetic, tender clip from that searing indictment of higher education, National Lampoon's Animal House:

Yep, that's Bishop playing the offending folk bard -- or as he's officially credited, "Charming Guy With Guitar" -- in that clip. The song he's playing is a real English folk lullaby, alternately titled "The Riddle Song" or "I Gave My Love a Cherry." Bishop also composed two songs for Animal House, including the theme song. I believe he was also dating Karen Allen, who played Katy, at the time. They filmed the whole thing in Eugene, Oregon, filming the ultimate "Deathmobile" scene in nearby Cottage Grove. I could go on about Animal House. I have gone on about Animal House.

So let's steer this back to Stephen Bishop. He was from San Diego -- easily a place more conducive to yachts than even L.A. -- and hit the scene with the album Careless in 1976. This contained a song called "On and On," which got to #11 in America in 1977. The only thing keeping "On and On" from being an anchor in the yacht rock canon is the fact that it's got a sense of humor. Speaking of all-time great cinema comedies: In 1982 Bishop sang, but did not write, the Oscar-nominated song from Tootsie, "It Might Be You." A couple of years later he wrote, but did not sing, the Oscar-nominated song from White Nights, "Separate Lives." Both times, alas, he was the bridesmaid.

In the middle of all that in 1980, Bishop released Red Cab To Manhattan, likely the best album we're going to discuss this week. Fueled by a lack of musical boundaries, a healthy measure of wit and a split personality under moderate sedation, it sounds like an '80s update of Son of Schmilsson without jokes. (Except for the minute-and-a-half track that features both Eric Clapton and Phil Collins. Less than a minute and a half, actually. Thanks for stopping by, Eric and Phil.)

These two songs are opposites of sorts. "The Big House" is built around a prison metaphor. I admit the point of said metaphor eludes me. The particulars are thinly drawn. There's a chance the interpretation might be offensive to some. I can't tell. If it is, I apologize. It might have been clearer if Warren Zevon had come in and finished the lyrics, but then a few more people would have wound up shot. But "Red Cab to Manhattan" is all sorts of loveliness, the sort of lush heartache Paul Simon might have done in the mid-'70s if he had a little more self-editing. The line about Jimmy Stewart and It's a Wonderful Life reaffirms my long-held suspicions that certain conditions have not yet been met, and it's getting a little to do anything about it but sigh.
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