Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Don Henley - Building the Perfect Beast

Today (November 19th) marks the thirtieth anniversary of Building the Perfect Beast, the second solo studio album from Don Henley. This multi-Platinum seller from 1984 hit number 24 in Sweden, number 18 in New Zealand, number 17 in Canada, number 15 in Norway, number 14 in the UK and number 4 in Australia. Here in the US, it spent sixty-three weeks total on the Billboard Album chart with a top spot of number 13.

Though Henley and keyboardist Danny “Kootch” Kortchmar did work on all the tracks, the album featured a number of guest performers too. The list includes Lindsey Buckingham (guitar and vocals), Mike Campbell (synthesizer and guitar), Charlie Sexton (guitar), Randy Newman (synthesizer), Steve Porcaro (synthesizer), Belinda Carlisle (backing vocals), Patty Smyth (backing vocals), Waddy Wachtel (backing vocals), J.D. Souther (backing vocals), Martha Davis (backing vocals) and many more.

The original vinyl release included just ten tracks. The cassette and CD release included eleven.

Side one begins with “The Boys of Summer”, a song whose lyrics reflect upon aging. The opening guitar-riff with the light backing percussion instantly pulls me in whenever I hear it, taking me back in time to the mid-80’s when the song ruled the airwaves. As the lead single, it went to number 26 in the Netherlands, number 18 in Germany and New Zealand, number 15 in Canada, number 12 in the UK, number 7 in Ireland, number 5 on the US Billboard Hot 100, number 3 on the US Billboard Adult Contemporary chart, and number 1 on the US Billboard Mainstream Rock chart. Henley won the Grammy Award for Best Male Rock Vocal Performance in 1986 for the song, and it was ranked at number 416 on Rolling Stone magazine’s list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All-Time.

“You Can’t Make Love” is a mid-tempo resignation to the fact how powerless one is when it comes to love.

The B-side to the third single was “Man with a Mission”, a high-energy rocker that summons up the spirits of the early days of rock n’ roll. This one, for me, is a definite hidden gem among the deep cuts of the album.

“You’re Not Drinking Enough” drops into the country-rock roots of Henley’s early days with the Eagles.

The slower tempo of “Not Enough Love in the World”, as the third single, swayed its way to number 63 in Canada, number 34 on the US Billboard Hot 100, number 17 on the US Mainstream Rock chart, number 6 on the US Billboard Adult Contemporary chart, and number 3 on the Canadian Adult Contemporary chart. Cher covered the song on her 1996 album It’s a Man’s World.

Side two opens with the bombastic title track. “Building the Perfect Beast” appeared as the B-side to both the second and fourth singles. This one comes across as a little sterile and impersonal for me; it might be the industrial vibe I get off of the percussion and rhythms. The one piece I like is that you can get a hint at the melody of one of the later tracks of the side here.

“All She Wants to Do Is Dance”, the second single, crossed over to number 65 on the US Billboard R&B chart and number 10 on the US Billboard Dance chart. It also boogied to number 13 in Canada, number 9 on the US Billboard Hot 100, and number 1 on the US Billboard Mainstream Rock chart. This one was a big party favorite, getting everyone out on the dance floor – especially the ladies. The lyrics always remind me of the plot for an episode of Miami Vice, the hot cop show that had debuted just a few months prior to this album’s release.

It is here where the cassette and CD versions inserted “A Month of Sundays”, the B-side to the first single. This one is a very beautiful piano ballad that again reflects on times gone by. I can definitely see why it was added back to subsequent releases of the record; it is a very powerful song.

As the fourth single “Sunset Grill”, another sauntering song, went to number 52 in Canada, number 22 on the US Billboard Hot 100, number 18 on the US Billboard Adult Contemporary chart, number 7 on the US Billboard Mainstream Rock chart, and number 3 on the Canadian Adult Contemporary chart. The song was inspired by a hamburger restaurant of the same name on Sunset Boulevard in Los Angeles, California. Clocking in at over six minutes in length, it is the longest track of the group.

The deep track “Drivin’ with Your Eyes Closed”, due to popularity, charted at number 9 on the US Billboard Mainstream Rock chart even though it was not released as a single. The song has a heavy synth hook to it, giving it a new-wave rock vibe. This one pairs quite well with the album’s second single.

The album closes with “Land of the Living”, a tune with a swaying Caribbean rhythm.

Building the Perfect Beast was a popular album around the college campus during most of 1985. While I knew the hits well, I never felt inclined back then to pick up the record. When I was putting together my digital library in more recent years, I did manage to pick it up.

For more albums featuring Don Henley, click here.


Mark said...

I hadn't heard this whole album until just the other day when I received a bunch of old vinyl LPs from a friend and this was in the batch. I was never a fan of Boys of Summer, but always enjoyed Sunset Grill and All She Wants To Do Is Dance. It's clear to me that Kortchmar steals the show here. It's a good enough album - Christagau gave it a B and I'm okay with that.

As I was telling our mutual friend Herc the other day, Henley is one of those few artists that I almost can't listen to because of his abrasive personality. Yes, I'm aware that fact has absolutely bearing on the music here, but I just can't help it. [shrug]

John said...

To this day, when it gets to a certain lyric in the last verse, I always look back. Thank you, Don Henley.

HERC said...

For this guy, there are just three songs on this album: "The Boys Of Summer", "All She Wants To Do Is Dance" and "Sunset Grill".

"Drivin' With Your Eyes Closed" comes close but once I got my mitts on the Vision Quest soundtrack, I tacked on the slightly more up-tempo "She's On The Zoom" and the extended dance remix of "All She Wants To Do Is Dance" on my sixty minute cassette dub of the album (all times off of label on original vinyl):

A Side 27:36
4:45 The Boys Of Summer
3:34 You Can't Make Love
2:43 Man With A Mission
4:40 You're Not Drinking Enough
3:54 Not Enough Love In This World
4:32 A Month Of Sundays (b-side)
3:18 She's On The Zoom

B Side 30:32
4:59 Buliding The Perfect Beast
4:28 All She Wants To Do Is Dance
6:22 Sunset Grill
3:41 Drivin' With Your Eyes Closed
3:24 Land Of The Living
7:38 All She Wants To Do Is Dance (remix)

Almost everyone I knew back then loved this album. But most of them weren't trying to hear the politics and heavy messages Henley was delivering. And most of them thought that this was his debut solo album as they had slept on I Can't Stand Still.

The ASWTOID remix was kind of polarizing among fans of the song: people (like me) either loved it or (like the soft rock kid™) they hated it.

You like the remix Martin? Do you think your fellow party people back in the day realized the song was critical of party people?

Martin Maenza said...

Herc, I probably heard the remix of ASWTDID ages ago. Sure it might have been critical of party people but back in 1984 we were young college students who didn't really care - we just wanted to have a good time and blow of steam on the weekends.