Graded on a Curve: Christopher Cross, Christopher Cross

A few observations on Yacht Rock anti-Christ Christopher Cross’ Grammy Award winning 1979 debut LP.

1. If Stephen King was the Master of the Macabre he claims to be, he would write a short story about a ruthless businessman with a Type A personality who is on his way to shut down an unprofitable mental hospital. He gets into his Porsche only to hear the doors lock around him. Then, and this is the important part, Christopher Cross starts playing on his car stereo and HE CAN’T TURN IT OFF. No matter how many dials he twists or pummels it just keeps playing over and over until the poor fellow goes blubbering insane and ends up as a permanent ward of the very hospital he wanted to close. If the great Mr. King can conjure up a more terrifying scenario than that one, I would love to hear it. Oh, and the scariest part? The whole process takes less than two hours.

2. CC became the face of soft rock with his eponymous debut, which remains one of the sleekest Yacht Rock vessels ever to be launched upon the Easy Seas. It spawned several hit singles (including those immortals “Sailing” and “Ride Like the Wind”), garnered him the Big Four Grammy Awards (which had never happened before and hasn’t happened since), and went platinum five times over in the process. Forget about the horror scenario outlined above. It doesn’t get any more frightening than this.

3. My good friend Dennis Warnack St. George recently told me this story:

“I was on a date with my future first wife when “Sailing” came on the radio. I reached over to change the station, and the next thing I knew I was in Georgetown Hospital. A priest was telling me I would be fine, and I was thinking that that’s what they always say to the moribund. Anyway, a van hit my girlfriend’s car head on. I was thrown through the windscreen (no belt). She was uninjured (belt). She nursed me back to health and we got married two months later.

So, I have bad associations with Christopher Cross. His music makes me think about that harpy I married.”

4. Christopher Cross tore a new one in the pop charts with his debut LP. After that? A few minor successes–in the form of “Arthur’s Theme (Best That You Can Do)” and “Think of Laura”–after which he vanished. Like Amelia Earhart. Or Jimmy Hoffa. Or, God help us, Dexy’s Midnight Runners. The internet is rife with theories about his disappearance. Most blame MTV, which they say killed him as dead as Chicxulub killed the dinosaurs. But my favorite one has it that he ran afoul of Kenny Loggins at a party at Jack Nicholson’s pad in Malibu and was last seen being frog-marched in the dead of night onto Kenny’s yacht, which was headed for the high seas.

5. In reality, Cross has released 14 albums since Christopher Cross. In other words, he’s STILL OUT THERE, looking to stage his big comeback. This may not worry you. But it’s the kind of thing I lose sleep over.

6. If you’re like me, you don’t think of Christopher Cross as a real person, but as the gentle and incorporeal spirit of Yacht Rock itself, wafted to us by a phantom sea breeze as mellow and intoxicating as one of those mixed drinks that comes with a little umbrella stuck in it. But my friend Steve Renfro informs me that Cross is a Texas boy, and that after he hit the big time everybody suddenly had their own “Cross Connection” :

“Down here in Texas, everybody knows the ubiquitous Mr. Cross. I know at least 10 people who have lived next door to him. I know 20 people who lived in the same apartment complex. I know at least 100 people who saw him regularly at the Piggly-Wiggly check-out line. Apparently, he attended three Major Universities here in Texas, on no less than 11 campuses, in the space of 8 years. I know a guy who studied with him Pre-Med and another guy who took his Bar Exam with Mr. Cross. I knew a man whose father said he knew a man who was there the day Christopher Cross was born. Me? Hell, I played Badminton and drank lemonade with him and Lowell George at the Governor’s Mansion.”

7. Christopher Cross isn’t just a good Yacht Rock record–it’s the best Yacht Rock album ever made. No other album comes close. And it’s not great because Cross was some kind of super-unique genius songwriter. No, it’s great because he was a sponge. He absorbed the sounds around him and pureed them into a mellifluous NEW THING. I hear Fleetwood Mac (“Say You’ll Be Mine”), later Steely Dan (in several of the songs), later Doobie Brothers (check out “I Really Don’t Know Anymore, which comes complete with Michael McDonald), Carole King (“Spinning”), Boz Scaggs (“Never Be the Same”), and shit, is there anybody I don’t hear?

And you have to hand it to him–Christopher Cross holds up. Heck, even “Poor Shirley” works, and how he pulled that one off I’ll never know. You know “Sailing,” of course, and you know “Ride Like the Wind,” of course, but before you say you hate them out of sheer reflex give them another listen. The former is egregious sailboat kitsch while the latter is egregious outlaw kitsch (Michael McDonald plays the wind, the other backing vocalists play the Doobie Brothers) but I’ll be damned if they’re not some of the best kitsch I’ve heard my whole life.

8. Oh, and if you think Chistopher Cross is a wimp like England Dan or Dan Hill or those soft-rock pussies Seals and Crofts you’re wrong. He’s no Macho Man like the guys from the Village People, mind you. But he followed the lead of Steely Dan by hiring himself a couple of bona fide guitar slingers (in the form of L.A. sessions guys Larry Carlton, Eric Johnson, and Jay Graydon) to add some bite, and boy does he lay into his vocals on “Ride Like the Wind.” Cross has a gun in his hand, he’s heading for Mexico, and he sounds like a true American outlaw. Forget about Kenny Loggins; Christopher Cross is the real badass of Yacht Rock. Hell, I betcha his yacht flies the Jolly Roger.

9. I wonder if “Minstrel Gigolo” is autobiographical. Having never engaged his services I have no way of knowing. What I do know is it’s as close to funky as it gets on Christopher Cross. It’s not very funky. It’s Elton John funky. Except Elton John is much funkier.

10. If you hold your head underwater as long as you possibly can and then pull it out while “Sailing” is playing, you will think “Sailing” is the greatest song you’ve ever heard. Of course, the same would be true for any song. Oh, and “Sailing” sounds great on whippets. Angel dust too.

GRADED ON A CURVE:
A-

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  • Troy Frisz

    Lmao. Love this review so much I might have to give it another listen..

    • Michael Little

      Thanks Tony! I appreciate the feedback. And love the album!

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