Some Old Jazz Guy: Exploring Michael Franks, Part Two

Some Old Jazz Guy: Exploring Michael Franks, Part Two

Written by Rudy Radelic

Part One of our Michael Franks series (Issue 191) covered his first four albums. With this installment, we’ll continue with the next batch of albums.

Released in 1979, Tiger in the Rain dispensed with the production team of his last three albums and employed the talents of producer John Simon. The results are no less lush than some of his earlier recordings, yet quieter and more romantic. It is a low-key album mood-wise and features some pleasing highlights throughout. “Hideaway” and the title track both signal the mood of the album.


The album’s title refers to the painting on the album cover by Henri Rousseau entitled “Tiger in a Tropical Storm.” The only “storm” on this album is of the quiet type, as witnessed in the title track featured here.


Franks’ 1980 album One Bad Habit was something of a commercial breakthrough. The title track “One Bad Habit” received a lot of airplay where I lived. The lyrics are typically playful in this relationship song that Franks has made his trademark.


A concert favorite, “Baseball” is perhaps one of his most blatant, and clever, double-entendre songs. Tongue firmly in cheek, one can’t help but smirk at some of the wordplay here. One wonders what Franks may have done with a song about hockey, although hockey would probably be just a little too violent of a sport to work into double-entendres suitable for most audiences.


While sounding a little dated in the arrangement, the beautiful track “Lotus Blossom” highlights his penchant for a love song filled with longing and mystery.


The 1982 album Objects of Desire revisits a similar mood to Franks’ Tiger in the Rain, similarly featuring a painting on the album cover (Two Tahitian Women by Paul Gauguin). As we’ll see in an upcoming installment in this series, art will play a larger part in Michael Franks’ music. His song “Tahitian Moon” visits a topic Franks would return to many times – going to a tropical paradise in search of romance.


A local radio station picked up on “Love Duet,” featuring the familiar alto sax of David Sanborn, and Sherlyn Renee Diggs as his vocal duet partner on the song.


The Brazilian influence had appeared in earlier Michael Franks albums to an extent, but the 1983 album Passion Fruit layers that influence on thick. If the 1980s needed a make out album, this would have been high on the list (or at least mine, anyway). While the album starts out with two songs that mislead us into thinking this is another typical Michael Franks record, the third track, “Amazon,” launches us head first into the rain forest. So much so, that Brazilian legend Astrud Gilberto accompanies Franks through parts of the song.


Somewhat out of place is the mechanical-sounding “Now That Your Joystick’s Broke” which, as you have probably guessed, is one of his double-entendre pieces using video game imagery as its topic. Less out of place is the lighter funk piece “When Sly Calls,” which is a lyric built around a phone call you simultaneously look forward to…and dread picking up, with Sly being that character who has “…some baaad news for ya, bro.” Don’t touch that phone!


In a similar dreamy style as “Amazon,” “Sunday Morning Here with You” is a playful song about a Sunday morning with Franks’ loved one (explained below). It unfolds slowly, like a tone poem carefully revealing itself verse after verse. The song itself is apparently in no rush on a lazy Sunday morning.


One of the songs that has defined Michael Franks since its release is “Rainy Night in Tokyo,” an autobiographical account of his wedding day. “Seventh of September, remember when…” The backdrop of the story of his marriage to his wife Claudia is a beautiful, shimmering arrangement awash in tropical colors.


Part Three of this series will document a shift in Franks’ musical style. Will it lead to more success? Check back to find out!


Header image: Reprise Records promotional photo/Kip Lott.

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