Marcus Joseph: 'Things I Meant to Say'

Rediscovering lost music via the vinyl bins at secondhand stores

Album: Things I Meant to Say

Artist: Marcus Joseph

Place: Habitat for Humanity Thrift Store (2209 N. Central Ave.)

Price: 50 cents

Nostalgiacs seldom yearn for the 1970s. And why would they? The hopeful '60s ended when flower power morphed into Helter Skelter, the Cuyahoga River caught fire, and it became clear that we were going to lose our first war. By mid-decade our paranoid and unstable president was driven from Washington, replaced two years later by a feckless leader who thought that dressing like Mr. Rogers and telling us to drive slower could right the ship. Crime was rampant (in 1975 the murder rate was twice what it is today), and discussions about our cities descending into Escape from New York-like chaos were realistic rather than hyperbolic.

What kind of music came out of this milieu? Hipsters and rock historians will cite the beginnings of heavy metal and punk rock—manifestations of artists raging against the dysfunctional machine. But something altogether different came out of this era as well: soft rock. "Soft rock" is an oxymoron, as most of the music so called is more soft than rock. Soft rock is much maligned, viewed by the intelligentsia as fluff cynically foisted on the listening public while America burned. Soft rock was sweet and polished and earnest when America was everything but these things. I have a much more positive view of soft rock; as an unpretentious reaction to a nihilistic politics, a brutal and confounding war, and shocking levels of civil violence, music about falling in love, taking care of your own, and figuring out how to take it easy makes a lot of sense.

Marcus Joseph's Things I Meant to Say fits nicely in the soft-rock canon. An earnest Joseph stares out at us from the album's front cover, and on the flip side the songs are listed, among them "Before the Night Is Over," "I Don't Want to Get Over You," and "Things I Meant to Say." The songs' titles telegraph what listeners are in for—soft rock in the vein of Ambrosia, Bread, and England Dan and John Ford Coley. The mostly acoustic songs are uniformly sweet and mellow numbers about love and romance. In some, including the wonderful "Nice Guys Finish Last," Marcus laments his inability to win the woman of his dreams. In others, including the "I'd Really Love to See You Tonight" clone "Before the Night Is Over," and "I've Got You Where I Want You," Marcus happily informs another (presumably different) woman of his dreams that they may have a future together but even if they don't they should spend at least one glorious night together. There really isn't a clunker in the bunch. The songs are uniformly catchy, professionally rendered, and just plain pleasant.

As far as I can tell, Marcus Joseph vanished from the face of the globe after this record was released. His voice is slightly raspier than that of sweeter soft-rock crooners such as Christopher Cross and Stephen Bishop, and perhaps this explains his lack of success even in the soft rock-friendly 1970s. Perhaps, however, there is a soft-rock completist somewhere (Japan perhaps?) who recognizes the gentle virtuosity of Marcus Joseph.