Saturday, January 11, 2014

The Waite For Bad English In Song

By late ‘81 the band that was The Babys was no more.  Frontman and senior Baby John Waite was left standing, wondering what to do.  As Waite told Jeff Sewald in Bam, “I was the last person to make it out of The Babys.  What does a lead vocalist in a band do when his band deserts him?”  Well isn’t it obvious, John?  He embarks on a solo career.  And after relocating to New York City, that’s precisely the path  that John Waite took. 

Having accumulated enough credit points whilst with The Babys, the Chrysalis label backed John Waite the solo artist, and in 1982 Waite released his debut solo album, appropriately titled ‘Ignition’ (US#68).  In terms of production quality the album shone through, having been in the safe production hands of Neil Geraldo (Pat Benatar’s guitarist and producer - see future post).  As he had done so for The Babys, Waite co-wrote several of the tracks, though it could be said he may have missed the input of ex-Babys’ bandmate Jonathan Cain.  Still, elements of The Babys’ power ballad brand echoed on tracks such ‘Going To The Top’.  Stylistically, the album belonged more firmly in new wave territory, with guitar/synth driven mainstream rock such as ‘White Heat’, ‘Be My Baby Tonight’, and the lead out single ‘Change’ (US#16 mainstream rock chart).  But overall, as with the last couple of Babys’ albums, ‘Ignition’ was missing that spark, that throttle surging, hook laden song that would make an impact on the charts.

Two years elapsed before John Waite resurfaced with his sophomore solo album, ‘No Brakes’ (released on EMI).  If ‘Ignition’ had failed to ignite the charts, its follow up album vehicle ‘No Brakes’, in title at least, promised to be a runaway success.  Producer David Thoener took the production booth reigns to guide John Waite through recording nine tracks in all, of which Waite had a writing hand in five.  Their was a winding back on the new wave synth driven sound, and a clear focus on mainstream 80s style rock, with FM play list accessibility in mind.  Mid tempo pop-rock resided alongside fat sounding power ballads, and there’s no doubt that ‘No Brakes’ (US#14/OZ#27/UK#64) had a sound that perfectly conformed to the era during which it was released.  ‘Missing You’ was the gun track in the album’s hit holster, and was fired at the airwaves as the lead out single.  The early signs were promising as ‘Missing You’ was put on heavy rotation by MTV and FM play lists.  Formulaic rock ballad it might have been, but it was delivered faultlessly by Waite’s impassioned vocal style that was a key signature of The Babys’ sound.  It was also a heartfelt reflection of the emotions Waite invested in co-writing the song.  As Waite told Billboard magazine at the time, ‘Missing You’ “was really explaining a lot about myself, what was on my mind that I didn’t really want to admit to”.  What ever question marks John Waite may have had over his capacity to succeed as a solo artist, they disappeared as ‘Missing You’ zoomed up the Billboard Hot 100 charts and didn’t stop until it broke the sounds barrier at #1 during September of ‘84 (OZ#5/UK#9).  The song replaced Tina Turner’s ‘What’s Love Got To Do With It’ (Turner would later record a version of the song herself), and in turn was replaced by Prince’s ‘Let’s Go Crazy’.  Waite himself took great pride in achieving a #1 U.S. hit, something The Babys as a collective were unable to do.

As successful as ‘Missing You’ had been in raising the profile of John Waite the solo artist, the follow up

singles ‘Tears’ (US#37), and ‘Restless Heart’ (US#59) fell short of finding the top 10 home on the charts that ‘Missing You’ had.  Regrettably, 1985’s album ‘Mask Of Smiles’, though reviewed favourably by critics, couldn’t put a smile on John Waite’s face, despite reaching #36 on the U.S. charts, and spawning a US#25 single in the form of ‘Every Step Of The Way’.  Interestingly, ‘Mask Of Smiles’ was rounded out by the song ‘No Brakes’ which was the title of Waite’s previous set.  Waite released a third and final solo album under his contract with EMI titled ‘Rover’s Return’ (US#77/OZ#99).  Unfortunately there was no return to the upper echelon of the charts for Waite, at lease not in his guise as a solo act, though the single ‘These Times Are Hard For Lovers’ (OZ#59) was a catchy little guitar rock number that would have sounded at home on a Bon Jovi album.

With his three album deal with EMI completed, Waite shopped around for a new record deal and was signed up by A&R staffer Don Grierson to the Epic label.  Waite had grown weary of the solo scene and had decided he’d prefer to be involved in a collaborative environment as the member of a group.  His manager suggested he contact some of his old Baby’s bandmates, and one night backstage at a Heart concert Waite met up with Babys’ keyboardist and chief song writing collaborator Jonathan Cain.  Cain had been involved with arena rockers Journey (see previous posts) for the previous seven years, since his split from The Babys in 1981.  The two agreed to write some material together, and so during 1988, John Waite embarked on yet another chapter in his career, one that would see him once more return to the top of the charts.

The ink of reconciliation led to the formation of Bad English, the rock ‘supergroup’ comprising Waite and Cain, who were joined in class by bassist Ricky Phillips (also ex-Babys), guitarist Neal Schon (ex-Journey & Santana), and drummer Deen Castronovo.  The band took the inspiration for their name from a term oft used by Waite and friends during casual pool games whilst recording some new material. The quintet were signed up by Epic Records (who doubtless recognised the hit making potential of the combo), and during 1989 Bad English set about composing some hit songs.  Having composed seven tracks in house, Waite and co. met with Epic A&R staff to look outside options for more material.  Fortuitously, John Waite had been friends for some years with acclaimed hit songwriter Diane Warren, who had penned the track ‘Don’t Lose Any Sleep’ for Waite’s 1987 album ‘Rover’s Return’.  Warren had penned a rock ballad style song and initially offered it to Canadian soft rock quintet Sheriff, who placed it in the ‘to revisit at a later date’ column.  When the 30 day option to take the song elapsed, Epic’s A&R department recognised the song’s perfect fit for the newly formed Bad English.

Though officially classed a supergroup, Bad English faced the challenges of all ‘supergroups’, in getting the in house chemistry to gel.  In the Warren penned power ballad ‘When I See You Smile’, Waite and his classmates had the perfect vehicle to meld that chemistry just so.  The band chose to release the up tempo (Danger Zone-esque) track ‘Forget Me Not’ (US#45), but it would be the follow up ‘When I See You Smile’ (OZ#5/UK#61) that would attract the attention of record buyers.  The single debuted on the US Hot 100 during September of ‘89, and by November was listed on the Hot 100 ‘honours roll’ at #1 (in the process replacing Roxette’s ‘Listen To Your Heart’ - see future post).  The ascent of ‘When I See You Smile’ to the pinnacle of the US Hot 100 was cause for five pearly white smiles on the members of Bad English.  Proof that the long standing writing partnership of Waite and Cain could still deliver, arrived in the form of the follow up single ‘Price Of Love’, the slow burning power ballad settling inside the US top five early in 1990 (US#5/OZ#43), whilst the self titled album performed solidly (US#21/OZ#17/UK#74), sales further boosted by the airplay of follow up singles, ‘Heaven Is A 4 Letter Word’ (OZ#98), and ‘Possession’ (US#21).

Bad English proved to be a one term wonder, as the follow up album ‘Backlash’ (UK#64) failed to spawn any hit singles, or any interest on the album charts.  Soon after, the ‘supergroup’ called it quits, with John Waite resuming his solo career.  Over the ensuing 20 years, John Waite has continued to satisfy his long standing fan base with regular album releases, the most recent being 2011’s ‘Rough & Tumble’.

 The name John Waite may not reside in the upper echelon of pop rock notoriety, but in a career spanning over 30 years, Waite has carved some very impressive niches along the way.  Few can claim to have enjoyed chart success with two separate bands and as a solo artist.

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