It started with a commercial for fake eggs. Now, I happen to be someone who is fond of eating real eggs and real meat, and despite my lactose intolerance I have never been able to enjoy almond milk or soy milk the way that so many others do. Be that as it may, if fake eggs are not my cup of tea, I do have a fond appreciation for songs that are used as commercial jingles, and this fake egg commercial had a really enjoyable song that sounded to me like a forgotten British Invasion song. And as a big fan of the British acts of the 1960’s (and every other decade), this was no mean compliment to make. The first few times I heard the commercial I was unable to catch enough of the lyrics to be confident about what they said, but one time I heard one of the lines and when I looked it up, it brought me to a link for a music video by a singer I had never heard of named Emitt Rhodes called “With My Face On The Floor.” Having some free time, I listened to the song and it ended up being the source of the commercial jingle, which played the chorus that was repeated quite often in the catchy and enjoyable tune that was only three minutes long despite a false ending and a jaunty instrumental bridge. I’ve listened to the song several more times since then and it is certainly an enjoyable one.
As is frequently the case with the YouTube algorithm, once you listen to a song by an obscure artist like Emitt Rhodes, YouTube thinks you want to listen to a lot more by him, and I found it somewhat sad that comments were disabled on the official music video for “With My Face On The Floor,” presumably because the rights holders of the song thought people would be unhappy with its use as a commercial jingle instead of being happy that they heard an amazing slice of Beatlesesque pop from a deeply obscure artist. Having listened to one good song by the artist, YouTube brought to my attention a medley of four songs by the artist that the poster thought should be much better known, although one of them (the very short Lullaby) appeared on the soundtrack to the Royal Tanenbaums or something like that, and those four songs were quite good. So YouTube suggested other songs which were less jaunty but still good, and now I am of the mind that it would be worthwhile to check out the complete recordings of the singer from 1969 to 1972, when Emitt recorded four albums of generally obscure music. I’ll let you all know how that goes, but if it’s anything like what I have heard so far, it will be excellent music.
Hearing such music, which I must admit to being deeply unfamiliar with before despite being very much fond of Beatlesesque pop music, made me curious to find out more about the singer. In watching music videos I saw comments that told of the passionate and obscure fandom that this artist had, among people who argued joyfully over which of his lamentably obscure songs they liked the best and thought that everyone else should be familiar with. This is the sort of fandom I am familiar with, as it happens to be the response of fans of bands like Golden Earring to those people who only know their two hits, only in the case of Emitt Rhodes, he didn’t actually have any hits. His only solo song on the Billboard Hot 100 peaked at #54, “Fresh As A Daisy” from his self-titled debut, which happens to be his most popular album, and one one where the song from the fake egg commercial happens to be found as well, as it happens. Other than that, he had a few songs that may have hit the bubbling under section, but none of his other solo singles ever cracked the Hot 100 again.
That is not to say that he did not have a worthwhile career. Rhodes began his career as a musician with a Los Angeles-based act called The Palace Guard, which is known today mainly for being the place where Rhodes got his start, which is worth something. After that, Rhodes played for another Los Angeles-based act called The Merry Go-Round, which had two songs hit the Hot 100, Live (at #63), and You’re A Very Lovely Woman (which scraped onto the charts at #94), as well as a single album that barely hit the Top 200 album chart before Rhodes went solo. And while three of Rhodes’ solo albums peaked in the bottom quarter of the Top 200 album charts and one of them, Farewell To Paradise, failed to chart at all, his self-titled album did hit #29, which is not a mean feat for an artist who never had a top 40 single as either a member of a band or as a solo artist. Indeed, listening to the work of Rhodes, I was struck by how it was that this artist should be vastly better known than he is. I felt like in listening to his songs and in reading what other people said about him who had met him or watched him perform life that it was like taking a glimpse at a small but passionate community of people who were able to recognize something of quality that was largely obscure and unknown to the vast majority of the world.
And the more I read and heard of him, the more I was impressed. During his four solo albums that he had creative control over, Emitt Rhodes wrote, sang, and played all the instruments on all of the songs, and recorded the albums on a four-track home studio. Unfortunately, his record label demanded an album every six months, and given the intensive labor it took to create his albums, he was unable to record at a fast enough pace to meet his onerous contract. The end result of his musicmaking, nonetheless, is a striking case of lo-fi music that nonetheless is very much hooky and beautiful, without sounding overproduced or overly compressed in any way. One could easily see Emitt Rhodes as being (along with Paul McCartney ), one of the founders of indie pop with his diy aesthetic in making enjoyable and accessible, if obscure, music. And yet in finding out more about this fascinating artist, I came to realize as well that he had died three days after my thirty-ninth birthday, a death that was largely unheralded because 2020 as a year had a fair amount of death already, and because he was not famous enough that his name went viral in any of the circles I happen to be in. It so happens that I heard his music and came to appreciate it too late to send him an e-mail or write a blog about it that he might happen to come across to realize that he was still gaining fans fifty years after recording the main part of his body of music. But alas, it is too late for that.