Album: Change No Change
Artist: Elliot Easton
Price: $1.21, Broadway Street Salvation Army
To their credit, John Lennon, Paul McCartney, and George Martin let George Harrison stick a song or two on virtually every Beatles album. Still, it must have been disheartening for George Harrison to know deep in his heart that despite penning unassailable classics including "Here Comes the Sun," "If I Needed Someone," and "While My Guitar Gently Weeps," he remained the third best songwriter in his band. Beach Boys' drummer Dennis Wilson is a somewhat analogous figure, though Dennis' bandmates conspired for years to keep his compositions off Beach Boys albums. Still, Dennis got at least one masterpiece (the beautiful "Forever") on a Beach Boys album, as well as several other songs that compare favorably with anything alleged genius Brian Wilson wrote during his protracted get-really-fat-and-stay-in-bed phase. When Dennis decisively stepped out from behind his ursine brother's considerable shadow to release a solo album in 1977, the results were magnificent. Unfortunately, while working on a follow-up to the album, Dennis died a quintessential rock star death diving while drunk.
So can perennial sidemen—bit players in bands dominated by one or two monumental talents—make good records when they strike out on their own? As long as there are Ray Manzareks and the Edges and Ringo Starrs and Joey Fatones, we will be forced to ponder this question. The question returned to the front of my mind when I found Elliot Easton's sole solo album, 1985's Change No Change, earlier this summer.
Elliot Easton is/was the lead guitarist for the Cars. I like the Cars and so do lots of other Americans—they've sold over 20 million records. More important is the fact that Easton occupies a significant place in rock history, having played guitar on "Moving in Stereo," which in my mind is the best song ever to accompany onscreen onanism (in Fast Times at Ridgemont High).
Change No Change starts strongly with "Tools of Your Labor" and "(Wearing Down) Like a Wheel," both very catchy and accessible, uptempo guitar-driven songs that showcase Easton's ear for melody and gift for craftsmanship. "(Wearing Down) Like a Wheel" merited several replays after the first listen. Its sporadic keyboard blasts are about all on the album that bring the Cars to mind, but they make the song that much stronger. No other song on the album comes close to either of these first two songs. But others (especially "Wide Awake" and "She Made it New For Me") are pleasant and catchy enough, and evoke pleasant memories of mostly forgotten early '80s power popsters, including the Producers, the Shoes, and Novo Combo. There is, unfortunately, a ballad called "Shayla" on the album, which evokes unpleasant memories of Boston's "Amanda," Cheap Trick's "The Flame," and even more questionable material from the 1980s by the likes of Cinderella and Poison. In all, this is an enjoyable listen with at least one bona fide gem.