Edgy powerpop guitar god Chris Church hepped me to a new release from Walter Egan. That surprised me a bit as Egan is neither very power poppy nor edgy. But, hey, it’s good to be surprised. The tip sent me down a research rabbit hole of discovery, scouring Egan’s whole back catalogue and the results were delightfully surprising. Like many people, Walter Egan was essentially that one killer single for me, “Magnet and Steel.” When I re-heard it on the 1997 Boogie Nights soundtrack it totally transported me back to 1978 AM radio and that slick but oh-so-addictive California melodic-rock sound of Fleetwood Mac, Warren Zevon, Egan and others. Kinda made me wonder what else he’d been up to over the years. Well two decades later I’m here to report that Egan was and is much more than a ‘one-hit wonder.’ Over the course to 12 albums or so he’s amassed an impressive collection of memorable tunes.
Let’s start with Egan’s new album Fascination. Man, he’s still got it. The opening bars of “I’m with the Girl” sound so Asylum Records 1977 and once the vocal harmonies kick in it’s like anything Linda Ronstadt or the Everly’s might have put out in the period. Meanwhile “A Fool in Love” bolts out the gate like any should-be hit single will do, the songwriting strong and the arrangement a winner, carried by a relentless guitar hook. Now this record is not some late in life career revival for Egan. Really, he never went away. But his recorded output does seem to be limited to three distinct periods: early career releases from 1977 to 1983, a spate of LPs turned out from 1999 to 2002, and a more recent cache of records from 2011 to the present. The albums try out different styles but never stray far from a California pop meets retro rock and roll formula. And I’m Ok with that.
Egan’s 1977 debut Fundamental Roll was produced by Lindsay Buckingham and it shows, all shiny acoustic guitars, tasty electric guitar lead lines, and exquisite background vocal support from Stevie Nicks, the latter nicely showcased on the majestic “Won’t You Say You Will.” His breakthrough 1978 album Not Shy is so much more than just “Magnet and Steel.” “Hot Summer Nights” has a stop-what-you’re-doing cool opener that builds incredibly, helped by those ghostly background ‘oohs’. The vibe from this track so reminds me of John Stewart’s “Gold” from the same period. 1979’s HiFi was supposed to solidify Egan as a hitmaker but the record seemed to fall between audiences. Personally I love the tentative new wave sprinkled throughout this record, and very apparent on “Like You Do” with its interesting song structure (particularly the twist in the chorus). Record labels would give artists a bit more rope back in the day but the clock was ticking for Egan to get back on the charts. Alas neither 1980s The Last Stroll or 1983’s Wild Exhibitions did the trick – but it wasn’t for lack of trying. Both records had great songs, like “Motel Broken Hearts” on TLS or “Fool Moon Fire” from WE.
The 1980s and 1990s witnessed Egan mostly contributing to other people’s tours and albums. But 1999’s Walternative kicked off a recording comeback, the first of a quick trio of albums that saw Egan charting some new musical territory, like the reggae-infused pop of “There Goes My Girl.” Or the very Fleetwood Mac Rumours acoustic twinge all over “The Loneliest Boy” from 2001’s Mad Dog. 2002’s Apocalypso Now carried on with the acoustic theme on songs like “Time and the Rain” and the beautiful instrumental “Lullaby” but also rocked out with solid hooky singles like “The Reason Why.”
Egan’s most recent recording period emerged in 2011 with Raw Elegant, a record that is largely unavailable. Even Egan’s website admits it’s a rarity! 2014’s Myth America has a great title and artwork (featured above) and songs that might best be cast in the Americana tradition. Egan’s vocal on “Time the Master” has a lovely vulnerable quality that suits the low key melody. By 2017 Egan was back to an acoustic feel on “Old Photographs” from True Songs.
Walter Egan’s a musical survivor. He had a gargantuan hit that movie-makers still reach out for to paint that perfect late 1970s tableau. But he’s a whole lot more than that one song, as his sporadic recording career ably demonstrates. Take a stroll with Egan’s new record or any of the albums featured here and hear it for yourself.
The painting above (which adorns the Myth America album) is actually by Walter Egan. What a beauty!