Graded on a Curve:
Loggins and Messina,
Loggins and Messina

Let’s get one thing straight right now; I’m docking this LP a half grade solely because of Kenny Loggins’ hair and beard combo. It’s atrocious. He looks like the mutant offspring of a muskrat and David Cassidy. And I’m docking the LP another half grade for “House on Pooh Corner,” which isn’t even on the album. We all okay with that? Good. Business out of the way, let’s saunter back to 1972, that dark year of Richard Nixon’ reelection, and get ourselves acquainted with Kenny Loggins and Jim Messina’s eponymous sophomore LP.

Loggins and Messina were the epitome of soft rock, or nerf rock as I like to call it. Their gentle vocals were designed to soothe the savage hippie, who’d spent the past five years doing STP, getting busted, getting beat up at Altamont by Hell’s Angels with pool cues, and/or getting murdered by either the Ohio National Guard or the Manson Family. Everybody was paranoid and needed a break, some musical Valium as it were, and folks like Loggins and Messina, James Taylor, Cat Stevens, Joni Mitchell, Carole King, CSN&Y, and innumerable other artists were there to provide it. You could sit back in your bean bag chair, turn on Loggins and Messina, and be transported via their soothing harmonies to a kinder, gentler world, one without Vietnam, drug burns and ODs, and hostile pigs. Things were safe there. You could dream yourself right out of the ugly, post-Aquarian apocalypse.

Loggins and Messina weren’t born as a duo; Loggins was a little-known singer/ songwriter, while Messina—well known thanks to stints in Buffalo Springfield and Poco—was an independent record producer for Columbia Records. Their goal was to produce a Loggins LP, but given Messina’s significant musical input—to say nothing of his name recognition and the belief that it would increase album sales—the two ultimately decided to form a duo. Their first LP, 1971’s Sittin’ In, or to use its full name, Kenny Loggins with Jim Messina Sittin’ In, produced such tunes as successes as “Danny’s Song,” “Vahevala,” and “House of Pooh Corner,” which still stands as the most treacly song of all time, beating out even Morris Albert’s molasses apocalypse, “Feelings.”

Messina’s “Good Friend,” which verges on the funky, almost threatens to deviate from the band’s mellow template; it opens like a CSN&Y song, with lots of guitar and cymbals, and then Messina sings about the people he’s lost due to his own fault, and I assume the third verse (“I knew a fine man so strong with strife/He ran for election and lost his life”) is about Bobby Kennedy. Meanwhile, Loggins’ “Whiskey” is a wimpy and backhanded salute to West Hollywood’s Whisky a Go Go, that launching pad to stardom for everybody from The Doors to Guns N’Roses. The tune opens with a flute, that harbinger of all bad things, and the duo make it clear they have a grudge against the legendary establishment, whose customers weren’t enthralled by the soft rock pair; “Don’t sing anything pretty at the Whisky,” warns Loggins with Messina backing him up, because the crowd will “cover you in hisses.” And all I can say is the Whisky deserves better, much better than this mellow putdown; had the duo really listened to those hisses they might have put more oomph into their performances, and ceased to be one of the wussiest bands of all time.

“Your Mama Don’t Dance” is an iconic nod of the head to the generation gap, the highlight of which occurs when somebody imitating a cop blows the singer’s chance of getting laid at the drive-in with the shout, “Out of the car, long hair!” But I’m being too hard on the tune; it boasts a funky riff, some cool piano, a smoldering sax solo, and one pleasing guitar solo. In fact, my only gripe is with the song’s vocals, which are in definite need of some steroids. “Long Tail Cat” is a play on the old saying, “More nervous than a long tail cat in a room full of rocking chairs,” and it doesn’t do a thing for me; I like the guitar that tosses off notes here and there, and the organ that comes in toward the end, but this is not one of Loggins’ better tunes.

Messina’s “Golden Ribbons” opens on a nicely melodic note and feature lots of horns, then segues into a mid-tempo song of protest against the Vietnam War. Loggins and Messina swap verses and sing the choruses together, while a nice organ riff and a sweet guitar lead to a brief sax solo. Then both men repeat the lines, “What does it avail a man/To gain a fortune and lose his soul,” and I’ll be damned if the thing doesn’t give me goosebumps. Their singing done, Messina plays a cool solo and the tune fades out, and we’re at the mercy of “Thinking of You,” a pop tune that features some esoteric string instruments and at 2:19 goes on exactly 2 minutes longer than it should.

“Just Before the News” is a brief jamboree, and demonstrates that Messina picked some things up during his tenure with the country rockers in Poco. Unfortunately it’s followed by Loggins’ “Till the Ends Meet,” which is completely mediocre until its midpoint, when like 6,000 vocalists come in and Loggins abandons himself to some real shouting. Messina’s “Holiday Hotel” is an upbeat and ostensibly humorous tune that features its fair share of pickin’ and grinnin’. I figured it would be your usual ode to infidelity, but instead it’s a cautionary tale in which the singer’s woman warns him not to stay in a Holiday Hotel. He ignores her and shares a room with a friend, and when he wakes up the next morning the friend has skedaddled without paying his half of the bill. Not every exciting? Neither is the song.

“Lady of My Heart” is a truly awful song, and opens with Loggins singing, “I’m taking the time to fly, yeah” and goes downhill from there. Never mind the song’s shuffling percussion and tasteful guitar fills, there’s simply no way to rescue a song this atrociously clichéd, from its lyrics to its melody, and while Loggins lays the vocals on thick to hide the song’s myriad defects, it’s to no avail. Which leaves us with the bona fide rocker “Angry Eyes,” the only song of theirs I can say I almost like. It opens with some cool guitar and bass, and then kicks into gear, with the boys singing harmony. They’re then followed by a bass solo, which actually works, God help us all. After a sax and some funky percussion take their star turns, Messina plays a long and piercing guitar solo that brings to mind (to me at least) the Rolling Stones’ “Moonlight Mile.” Some more of that guitar, and the duo might have actually been bearable. Anyway, the tempo kicks up a notch and more instrumental hoo-hah follows in the form of a flute, which just about kills the song for me. Nor does it help that the boys bring it all back home with their vocals, which once again remind me of CSN&Y, which is not a good thing.

In the end, the success of Loggins and Messina stands as a testament to the dazed and confused times in which they prospered. Mellow and about as hard-hitting as Jello, the duo played prettified pop-rock tunes to traumatized crowds in desperate need of a musical pacifier. And those crowds loved them for it. Me, I hear two decent songs on this LP, which I can’t even look at due to Kenny Loggins’ mutant beaver face, although Messina looks like a nice enough guy. Loggins went on to big success while Messina more or less disappeared, although over the past years they’ve reunited to tour. I find their continuing popularity inexplicable, as inexplicable as Adolf Hitler recording an album of Laura Nyro covers, but such is the force of nostalgia. Because of it nobody ever really goes away, no matter how little you may happen to want them back. Me, I’d take trepanning, or a sucking chest wound for that matter, over Loggins and Messina any day. But that’s just me. You’re free to sing along with “Vahevala.”


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