Foghat – Boogie Motel (1979): Shadows in Stereo

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The short story is that Foghat had two platinum-selling albums back in the ’70s, of which Boogie Motel was not one of them.

The longer version explores the nature of the term classic rock, and how the reality of the music industry came to be reinvented as mythic nostalgia.

Any dictionary will give you a general definition of the adjective classic as “judged over a period of time to be of the highest quality and outstanding of its kind.” As well, the term classical comes up as “representing an exemplary standard; traditional and long-established in form or style.”

Sometime after the 1970s had come and gone, the term “classic rock” became a catch-all phrase used to describe a lot of different but popular styles of music from the late 20th century. Similarly (and one would think a music scholar could confirm this), the music of artists such as Mozart or Beethoven probably wasn’t called “classical music” until long after it was established either.

But is there a parallel here?

Sure, it’s possible to make the argument that artists like the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, or Led Zeppelin are the Beethovens of their era – but unlike Beethoven, none of these bands really needed to work after a certain point. The massive popularity they enjoyed in their heyday allowed them the luxury of self-sustaining superstardom, no questions asked, every moment of their history recorded and invested with some amazing detail, revelation, or cautionary lesson.

But history also shows that Beethoven, even in his later years still had bills to pay, so he continued to compose and publish in the music biz. In other words, he probably didn’t sit around resting on his laurels, thinking how wonderfully “classical” his music had become.

Ignore for the moment the other possible connection between the classic rock mythos and Beethoven concerning hearing loss, STDs and substance abuse, and instead draw a different parallel: not the one between the genius of the maestro and the acknowledged rock gods, but between Beethoven and the working bands of the classic rock era, simply artists making music to put food on the table.

Consider Foghat, mostly remembered these days for their boogie-rock classic “Slow Ride,” still in rotation on classic rock radio and frequently anthologized on those stadium-rock compilations that fill the bargain bins at your local discount den of choice.

If one compares them to one of their contemporaries who went on to superstar status like Led Zeppelin, Foghat released roughly the same number of albums during roughly the same time period. But the sales numbers and chart action differ, and that makes all the difference to history.

[SOMETHING ELSE! INTERVIEW: Beverly Paterson is joined by co-founding drummer Roger Earl for a discussion on sticking with the blues, and how Foghat survived decades of change.]

While Led Zeppelin’s albums all sold multiplatinum and reached the top of the album charts, Foghat only had one platinum album (1975’s Fool for the City), one double platinum album (1977’s Live!), and chart action that usually hovered in the lower half of the Top 40. In other words, respectable figures from those who toiled in the heart of the music industry, but nothing spectacular. And whereas each of Led Zeppelin’s releases has been judged to be significant enough to be analyzed extensively in various online and print media formats, Foghat’s output, though loved by fans of the band, have mostly been forgotten by both critics and the general public.

Even with that in mind, 1979’s Boogie Motel gets pushed to the back of the pack behind other items in the band’s catalog like Night Shift, Energized, or Rock ‘n’ Roll Outlaws. Perhaps because the album is one of the last they did with original bottleneck slide guitar slinger Rod Price. Or maybe it was the busy cartoon album jacket illustrating the shenanigans one might find at the titular Boogie Motel: After all, you never want to be seen as trying too hard.

Take your pick. In any case, it’s too bad that Boogie Motel continues to get lost in the shuffle. Despite its rise to only the No. 35 position on the U.S. album charts, the album is actually pretty good, on par with the rest of Foghat’s usual output. The record includes a couple of solid boogie numbers (“Boogie Motel” and “Nervous Release”) a Top 40 single (“Third Time Lucky”) a passable cover (“Somebody’s Been Sleeping in My Bed”) and an interesting sleeper (“Love in Motion”).

One criticism often cited is that the album marked the declining interest in the band from Rod Price. However, lead singer “Lonesome” Dave Peverett proved himself to be capable of picking up the slack in both the guitar playing and song writing departments. The one place where it might have been improved is in its song sequencing: had the sides been reversed, the familiar boogie rock tunes would have been shifted to the first side, which might have had better appeal for the band’s typical fan base.

But maybe the most accurate reason behind the lack of success of Boogie Motel was because Foghat was starting to feel the winds of change brought on by the growing popularity of New Wave music. In the liner notes of 2012’s two-for-one reissue of Boogie Motel/Tight Shoes, Dave Peverett himself is quoted as saying, “I felt Foghat was part of what New Wave was trying to replace.” And so with Rod Price pretty much absent, the band re-tooled their sound to be more New Wave friendly and in 1980 popped out Tight Shoes, which didn’t even make the Top 100.

After that, Foghat continued on for a while with a new lead guitarist, inevitably broke up and just as inevitably reformed and continued on with various replacement players and configurations, some of which have been very good. Still, it’s the “classic” line up that people remember, once described by some rock-magazine wag as “white boys play the blues on reds.” Not very classy, but on the other hand, maybe leave the class-related tag to the Zeppelin van Beethovens of the world, and let the working joes run the boogie motel: “It may be sleazy, but it’s cheap – and it’s easy.”

JC Mosquito

JC Mosquito

JC Mosquito spends most of his day keeping the wolves from the door. When he's not occupied with this pastime, he's interested in all things rock and roll -- which may or may not have died back in the late 1950s, the late 1970s, or the early '90s, depending on who you believe. Contact Something Else! at reviews@somethingelsereviews.com.
JC Mosquito
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