Carly Simon – Another Passenger (1976): Forgotten Series

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Coming just a year after her Best Of collection, Carly Simon’s Another Passenger was unleashed on a disinterested public during that long-ago Bicentennial summer of 1976. Americans couldn’t get enough of Frampton Comes Alive and the Rolling Stones’ Black and Blue that year, and guitar-strumming singer/songwriters who’d had success in the early ‘70s were dropping like flies, commercially speaking.

For Another Passenger, her sixth studio album, Carly Simon had jettisoned producer Richard Perry, overseer of No Secrets, Hotcakes and Playing Possum, all Top Ten albums with big hit singles. Instead, she worked with Ted Templeman, best known as the go-to guy who produced the Doobie Brothers (and would, after the Simon project, begin a long and lucrative career behind the board for Van Halen).

Templeman recruited various Doobies, and members of Little Feat, for the backing band on Another Passenger, giving the record a tougher, more sinewy sound than the Perry-produced folkie pop of her earlier material. Having Jeff “Skunk” Baxter and Paul Barrere on guitars, Dr. John on piano and the likes of Jackson Browne and Linda Ronstadt on harmony vocals was all well and good — but if you don’t have the songs, even the best session players in the world can’t help you.

Song for song, Another Passenger is the best album Carly Simon ever made. Never a brilliant lyricist, she had always been able, nevertheless, to create and hold mood and character with her songs and her throaty alto. On this album, she hit peaks previously unscaled — peaks she would never reach again in her long career. The writing is intelligent and thoughtful.

“Fairweather Father” is a light-hearted lyric about an unappreciated wife and mother (“Wants his wife to be a truck driver/Wants his wife to be the gardener/And still look like a Hollywood starlet”), with distinctive acoustic guitar flourishes by James Taylor. (Carly Simon’s then-husband, he was thanked in the notes for “not being” a fairweather father.)

A story-song about a girly Frenchwoman who marries a Texas oil baron, “Cowtown” is both fascinating and funny — two words not usually associated with this particular songwriter. “He Likes to Roll” is a sweet-scented bossa nova with a gorgeous melody. “In Times When My Head” is a bare-bones piano ballad that’s a welcome throwback to Simon’s criminally-underrated first album (written and recorded before she was a famous, self-conscious rock ‘n’ roll sex symbol).

Michael McDonald’s “It Keeps You Runnin’” is here, in a similar arrangement to the Doobies Brothers’ own version. Although the Doobie one later became a huge hit, Carly Simon’s vocals are stellar on her cut; it’s both smooth and rocking. “Half a Chance” (co-written with Jacob Brackman) is a catchy pop song with surprisingly substantive lyrics. It was released as the single from Another Passenger. Simon made a rare public appearance, singing “Half a Chance” on Saturday Night Live. Even so, it flopped.

There’s literally no filler on Another Passenger, another rarity for a Carly Simon album. The penultimate song, “Libby” (a reference to songwriter Libby Titus, who ran in the same circles), is sweeping and grandiose, but, like nearly all the songs on the album, it follows its own muse without any commercial concessions (i.e. there’s no “hook”; it’s simply a great song).

Perhaps because it eschewed any sort of formula, Another Passenger became Simon’s least successful record to date: It barely cracked the Top 30. It’s a mature album, in a way, a “wine and cheese” affair. Adult Contemporary, before the term was coined. It also, pointedly, didn’t have a sexy cover like Simon’s previous Playing Possum — or 1978’s Boys in the Trees, for that matter, which returned her, briefly, to the Top 10).

Whatever the reason, Carly Simon’s Another Passenger died on the vine, unheard and unappreciated by the public at large.

Bill DeYoung

Bill DeYoung

Bill DeYoung spent 35 years as a music journalist before giving it up for a (relatively) cushy job in public relations. His essays appear in more than 100 CDs (including the Cat Stevens Box Set, Stephen Stills’ 'Manassas Pieces' and Chicago’s 'Stone of Sisyphus'). He is also the author of 'Skyway: The True Story of Tampa Bay’s Signature Bridge and the Man Who Brought it Down.' See; contact Something Else! at reviews@
Bill DeYoung
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