From time to time there are careers whose course appears highly mystifying and those who are in the know about them wonder why it is that so many other people simply are not. Recently, the research of an online music channel from someone whose tastes in music are not so different from my own reminded me of the career of one Jude Cole, who is remembered, if he is remembered, mainly for his hit single “Baby, It’s Tonight,” which is a somewhat obscure single that deserves to be the theme song of a retro 80’s album about romantic drama. At every turn in Cole’s career he is more obscure than he deserves to be, and for the last couple of decades he has made his career mostly by being in the background and encouraging other acts, some of whom are as mysteriously not popular as he has been, thus deepening the mystery as to what about his music resonates so strongly with listeners like myself that does not do so with the larger music audience. This is a mystery well worth pondering.
Before his move as a solo singer-songwriter of considerable talent, Cole was a background vocalist and guitar player backing up Moon Martin as well as a vocalist and guitarist in the band The Records, for their 1980 album. Throughout the 80’s, as his own solo album didn’t really go anywhere in 1987, he toiled in soundtracks and in serving as a writer and sideman and background vocalist for such artists as Del Shannon, Ted Nugent, Peter Noone, Dave Edmonds, and others. Eventually, in 1990, his second album, A View From Third Street (review forthcoming), provided him with his biggest success as an artist with the successful single “Baby, It’s Tonight,” as well as a follow-up in “Time For Letting Go,” which was later covered as a somewhat successful country hit by Billy Ray Cyrus, and the gorgeous and aching minor hit “House Full Of Reasons.” His next solo album after that, 1992’s Start The Car (review forthcoming), contained a few minor hits as well in the gorgeous “Tell The Truth,” the title track, and a minor hit in “Worlds Apart.” And with that, such position he had in the limelight was over with albums that were released to nonexistent success such as 1995’s I Don’t Know Why I Act This Way (review forthcoming) and 2000’s Falling Home.
After the failure of his fifth solo record, Cole largely dropped out as a singer-songwriter releasing music under his own name, releasing only a couple of very obscure independent albums in the 2010’s. Switching from being behind the mic to being behind the scenes, he served as a co-writer for several successful albums by Lifehouse, providing his skill to an act that frequently lacked stage charisma but still managed to have half a dozen chart entries of their own, some of them big hits. He also produced Lindsay Pagano , another act previously discussed for being of immense talent and considerable seeming charisma, but no popularity with the general public, who similarly went on hiatus after the failure of her gorgeous and spare “Love & Faith & Inspiration.” Even his work with artists like Jewel (where he performed a variety of instruments on her Spirit album) and Billie Myers, Travis Tritt, Leigh Nash, and others generally involved him on albums that did not draw the attention of others except within the music industry where he was viewed as talented but not nearly popular enough to carry his own career.
And that remains the puzzling enigma of Jude Cole’s career. Anyone who listens to his songs (particularly his fantastic second and third solo albums) or who is aware of his contributions to other acts is aware that he is one of the unsung heroes of the pop rock of the 1980’s, 1990’s, and beyond. And yet he remains unsung. As an artist, his music straddled the line between power pop where his career began and the rootsy country and folk rock where his career ended up. In general, he might be said to cover much of the same ground as Bryan Adams did in the early 1990’s, but with more emotional conviction, and and his love of complex instrumentation and heartfelt melancholy would not be far removed from the Gin Blossoms or Toad The Wet Sprocket, who like Cole had strong power pop backgrounds as well. If Cole’s skill as a writer, producer, engineer, and musician have earned him a lasting role as a background player in the world of music, I think we are missing something in not recognizing the yearning and longing and frustration that are at the heart of his own solo music, as he wrestles with the wreckage of relationships and struggles to maintain his integrity in the face of life’s difficulties. If that is not a particularly popular sentiment, it is one that we desperately need in such times as our own. He only ended up with one top twenty hit, another top 40 hit, and three more hits that peaked between 57 and 71 on the Billboard Hot 100 between 1990 and 1993, but he deserves to be remembered and well regarded far more than he is.
 See, for example: