Adrian Belew’s Mr. Music Head was more than ‘Oh Daddy’ : ‘Don’t think I’ve played it again’

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After years of trying with the deeply underrated Bears, Adrian Belew accidentally found himself with a novelty-tune hit. “Oh Daddy” got Belew a record deal with Atlantic, who released Mr. Music Head on April 28, 1989. But that album-opening song hardly representative of what follows. In fact, Adrian Belew admits with a laugh, “I don’t think I’ve ever played it again.”

Featured on every instrument, save for the occasional bass work of Mike Barnett, Mr. Music Head instead finds Belew at a pop-leaning high-water mark. More Talking Heads than King Crimson, the album is dotted with songs like the offbeat, but still approachable “Peaceable Kingdom” and “Bird in a Box” — any one of which should have been the hits. Meanwhile, the experimental soundscape “Cruelty of Animals” serves as a stirring reminder of Adrian Belew’s penchant for the unexpected. Then there’s the plaintive, Harry Nilsson-ish “1967,” one of Belew’s very finest songs.

All anyone remembers, however, is “Oh Daddy,” a goofily fun duet with daughter Audie (their second, after “The Final Rhino” from 1981’s Lone Rhino) that Adrian Belew wrote principally to poke fun at his own foibles in the music business.

“That really was just something fun to do with my daughter,” Belew tells us, in an exclusive Something Else! Sitdown. “I didn’t think it would even be on the record. I was doing the rest of what become Mr. Music Head, and I brought her in thinking this would be fun — and we sang it together, kind of as a novelty.

Only a twist of fate, as a label figure strolled through the studio while Belew was at work on the track, pushed the song onto Mr. Music Head — and then, after the completion of an adorable video — onto television.

“There was a guy there that came through who was a producer for Atlantic Records,” Belew says. “He heard it and fell in love. He didn’t hear any of the other stuff, but he was ready to sign me. My whole career with Atlantic was based on that song, something that I didn’t think I would put out anyway.

All of sudden, Adrian Belew had a video in heavy rotation. After years of struggle, he’s finally made it. Only, not in the way he’d ever wanted to. The risk obviously was that Adrian Belew would be forever associated with a one-off moment of family frivolity. Thankfully, that didn’t happen. In fact, he was next seen touring with David Bowie. A string of well-regarded solo projects have followed, as did more work with King Crimson.

“I was never keen to do the MTV thing,” Adrian Belew adds. “I always felt the music should stand on its own. I didn’t want to dance around like everybody else was doing. ‘Oh Daddy’ did something; it got us into the Top 40. For a while, it was played a lot — but you only get a few weeks of window time. In this case, I’m thankful. It was a novelty. I’m glad I wasn’t saddled with it.”

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso has written for USA Today, American Songwriter, All About Jazz, and a host of others. Honored as columnist of the year five times by the Associated Press, Louisiana Press Association and Louisiana Sports Writers Association, he oversaw a daily section named Top 10 in the U.S. by the AP before co-founding Something Else! Nick is now associate editor of Ultimate Classic Rock.
Nick DeRiso
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