Graded on a Curve:
Roger Daltrey,
Ride a Rock Horse

Talk about your Trojan Horses; that cover, with Roger the Rock Centaur on it, may look like a gift, but bring this baby into your house and I guarantee it will stink up your living room.

1975’s Ride a Rock Horse is a spavined affair; Daltrey is less half horse than half flounder. And it makes clear one thing; Daltrey, no songwriter himself, is a great interpreter of other people’s songs so long as those other people is Pete Townshend.

Townshend wrote his Who songs with Daltrey in mind; Roger was just another weapon in Pete’s musical armamentarium, and a damn good one at that. But take Daltrey away from Townshend and he sounds at loose ends.

If you’re going to be a great interpreter you’d better know how to pick ‘em, and things might have been different had Daltrey taken the Joe Cocker route and set himself to the task of interpreting great songs. Instead he opted for a very lackluster bunch of tunes (by the immortal likes of Russ Ballard, Paul Korda, etc.) and tried to breathe life into him with his rock historic tonsils. I suspect hubris was to blame, but the strain of artificial resuscitation is evident on just about every song on Ride a Rock Horse.

And it’s not like Daltrey bothered to assemble a crack bunch of musicians to back him up, either. A few of the musicians credited ring faint bells in my head, but this is anything but a Roger Daltrey and Famous Friends affair. Hell, what good is it to be a Rock God if you can’t call in a few favors?

As it is only the Cockney strange “Milk Train” is worth keeping; “someone slipped a substance in the lemonade” sings poor Roger, and he’s left to ride the milk train at 4 a.m. “out of his brain.” Sounds a whole lot like a good Mott the Hoople song, it does, and it makes me wish poor Roger had the good sense to pick some other songs with… personality.

Instead he went with a whole bunch of tunes boasting vague lyrics and trite sentiments, and the whole affair has an air of miasmic anonymity broken only by Daltrey’s cover of Rufus Thomas’ “Walking the Dog.” Which ain’t exactly the Nazz still manages to be the second best song on the album thanks to some funky percussion and Roger’s wide awake vocals.

On LP opener and single “Come and Get Your Love” Daltrey’s in good voice, but the sentiment is cliched, the song itself just okay, and the female backing vocalists sound like they’ve been pressed into service. “Oceans Away” is a big piano ballad and features Roger at his most sensitive, and if you’re a big Eric Carmen fan you might even like it.

“Hearts Right” sounds like dumb English Steely Dan; “Proud” boasts an actual rock riff but it’s a bore. “World Over” is jaunty but also a bore, and I’m beginning to see a trend here. Because “Near to Surrender” and “Feeling” are boring as well, and I can’t even begin to tell you how boring the very heartfelt and saccharine “I Was Born to Sing Your Song” is.

Had I been Roger’s manager, I would have set him down and had him cover some greats by, you know, Elton John and the likes. Or I’d have called Ian Hunter or Ronnie Laine (or anybody who knows how to write good songs) and had them whip up a couple of songs for Roger to sing. What I would never have done was send him into the studio with a slew of tunes that belong in a barf bag.

Because Daltrey’s voice is iconic, a gift from the gods to rock lovers everywhere, and it’s a damn shame seeing it go to waste.

GRADED ON A CURVE:
D+

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