Almost Hits: Gino Vannelli, “Black Cars” (1985)

Canadian pop crooner Gino Vannelli’s big era was from the mid-70s to the turn of the 1980s. However, like Yes — and this might be the only similarity to Yes — he put out an album in the middle of the ’80s that was not a return to form, but instead a sort of rebirth adapting surprisingly well to the decade’s icy, bombastic production values of the decade.

That album was called Black Cars, an update of the jazzy, synth-y sound Vannelli with his brothers Joe and Ross had architected in the ‘Me’ decade. The old way was good enough for a gaggle of moderate hits and a couple of big ones (“I Just Wanna Stop” and “Living Inside Myself”), with the latter climbing into the top ten in 1981.

In the intervening four years between that hit and the next album, popular music went through a transformation. Vannelli didn’t write songs any differently but he and his brothers got to work on adapting that sound of theirs to the times.

The title song best shows off this new, digital Gino. Swapping Moogs for Yamaha DMX’s, chest shag carpeting for crisp, buttoned-up shirts and a long mane for a carefully coiffed ‘do, the Vannellis put together a very danceable number (if you like stilted dancing). Those requisite booming, clipped Phil Collins/Hugh Padgham drums are present and even thundering drum fills that restarts the groove before it dies out.

Behind all that Reagan-era production remains classic Gino, and thankfully so. He could always pen a catchy melody and this song actually contains one of his better uses of metaphors. Lastly, he goes against the grain and still croons it, and why the hell not? That’s what the man does the best.

All this was only good enough for peaking just outside the Top 40 in the Hot 100. I blame a sub-par chart performance on his reputation: most of his singles entries, including those two aforementioned legit hits, have been sweetly sentimental ballads. Few people outside of his fans could believe he was built to make people move.

I’m not saying that “Black Cars” should have done as well as Yes’s #1 “Owner of a Lonely Heart” but deadgummint if Canada’s Italian Stallion didn’t roll with the changes with some poise.

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S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron is a CPA and mid-level data analyst for a Fortune 100 company by day, music opinion-maker at night. His musings are strewn out across the interwebs on jazz.com, AllAboutJazz.com, a football discussion board and some inchoate customer reviews of records from the late 1990s on Amazon under a pseudonym that will never be revealed. Contact Something Else! at reviews@somethingelsereviews.com.

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