Most of us probably spent much of the weekend listening to our favorite Eddie Money songs and albums. Inevitably, when a beloved musician dies, fans look back on his or her legacy. Eddie Money’s discography wasn’t huge: eleven studio albums and a few EPs in a career spanning a little over four decades. He didn’t often record songs for soundtracks or tributes, and he wasn’t the guy who guested on everyone else’s albums. He always seemed unpretentious. His music was unpretentious and so was his discography. You don’t need to do too much searching to find most of his recordings.
Radio listeners from the ‘70s and ‘80s know the highlights. His 1977 self-titled debut is a classic; “Two Tickets To Paradise” and “Baby Hold On” are timeless. It also had his mission statement, “Wanna Be A Rock N’ Roll Star,” and an interesting arrangement of Smokey Robinson’s “You’ve Really Got A Hold On Me.”
The album went double platinum, the hits are radio staples, and — no surprise here — critics didn’t love it. Music critic and noted fitness guru Robert Christgau said in his review, “Sorry, girls (and guys)–live inspection reveals that the sleek stud on the cover (and in the ads) is as pudgy and sloppy as his voice. He even has jowls. Watch those cheeseburgers, Eddie boy, or you’ll never get to the caviar.” (Today, this review would rightfully be flagged for body-shaming, as well as general douchebaggery.)
Happily, none of Eddie’s fans cared about Christgau’s opinion (or likely even knew who he was). For context, some of that guy’s picks for the best albums of the ‘70s included John Fahey, James Talley and Michael Hurley. Let’s all agree that Eddie Money’s music has stood the test of time a bit better, at least in the hearts and minds of the general public.
Eddie Money was tough to follow up, and the next two albums didn’t make the same impact. But in 1983, he released No Control. You could argue that “Shakin’” and “Think I’m In Love” were as strong as the hits on the debut. But they got him a new audience thanks to their instantly memorable music videos. (Fun fact: “Shakin’” featured Apollonia before she worked with Prince.) While some of his peers were reluctant to act in music videos, Money dove right in. He wasn’t a great actor, but technically, he wasn’t a great singer. Hey, it’s rock and roll, you don’t let lack of ability hold you back!
Where’s The Party, released the following year, fizzled. It would be three years before he returned again with Can’t Hold Back, an album that clearly had more record label meddling than usual. The production was classic ‘80s adult contemporary. Where No Control made him a staple of MTV, this time around he was being aimed squarely at VH1, the boomer-centric channel where classic rockers glided into middle age. Also, he was recording songs that he didn’t write or co-write, including his biggest hit ever, “Take Me Home Tonight.” and another huge hit, “I Wanna Go Back.”
(A quick note about “Take Me Home Tonight.” He took Ronnie Spector and brought her back to the limelight and the mainstream. Years later, Joey Ramone produced Ms. Spector’s She Talks To Rainbows EP, and rightfully got credit for helping her out. Money deserves at least as much credit and — it’s worth mentioning — that hipster cred aside, “Take Me Home Tonight” brought her to a much wider audience. As roots rocker Jason Isbell tweeted last week, “Eddie Money brought Ronnie Spector back out and gave her some respect so that dude is forever cool in my book.”)
Did Money love stepping back as a songwriter, and did he love the softer, smoother production? Maybe he didn’t, but in some ways that makes him more relatable. Sure, there are guys like Tom Petty, who called his own shots from the very beginning to the very end, who had verbal and legal battles with his record company, radio and the touring industry and still maintained a massive fanbase.
But there’s something quietly heroic about the guy who makes it work even when things don’t go his way. For most of us, our adult role models made due with the hand that they were dealt, even when that hand wasn’t fair, or didn’t make sense. This is a guy who knows what it’s like to hold a job. He attended the Police Academy (he never served as a police officer, as he sometimes claimed early in his career) and he sold bellbottoms in San Francisco when he first moved out there. He knew what the alternative to his singing career might look like. He took his situation and made things work out.
As he told Rolling Stone last year, “For some reason, I missed the boat when it comes to the big money. I don’t know what happened, you know? I’m not really getting rich out here. But I look at it like this: The kids aren’t in jail, they’re not in rehab, nobody’s wrecked the car this week and there’s still milk in the refrigerator. I’m having a good month.”
That’s the way it is for many of us, and that’s why so many people love him, regardless of trends. He’s a regular guy who made good. And hey, even if the critics don’t think that his music changed the world, at least he’s changed some of our nights. Like, every time we’re at a party or in a bar and “Two Tickets To Paradise,” “I Wanna Go Back,” “Shakin’,” “Think I’m In Love,” “Baby Hold On” or even “Take Me Home Tonight” comes on the jukebox, boombox or radio. Thank you Eddie, rest in peace.