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Bill Champlin: Single

Album Notes

Bill Champlin served as lead singer, primary songwriter, keyboard player, rhythm guitarist, and occasional saxophonist in the Bay Area band the Sons of Champlin from 1965 to 1977, shepherding the middle-level San Francisco rock group through seven modestly selling albums. In August 1977, he quit the band that bore his name and moved to Los Angeles, where he became a busy session singer. Not surprisingly, that soon led to his own solo recording contract and his debut album, Single. To anyone expecting acid rock from a veteran hippie musician, however, Champlin announces his change of direction on the album cover, an elaborately staged photograph of him admiring himself in a three-sided mirror, dressed in a tuxedo, his hair and beard fashionably trimmed, as a cadre of tailors tries to tempt him with more colorful fabrics and outfits. The picture is a signal on which the album follows through, although those who bought the Sons of Champlin's last three albums, The Sons of Champlin, A Circle Filled with Love, and Loving Is Why will not be greatly shocked. Single is simply an extension of those LPs, which were moving in a more commercial direction already. Champlin had hooked up with producer David Foster to write and record a collection of love songs very much in the mold of Boz Scaggs' blue-eyed soul blockbuster Silk Degrees. Lead-off track and single release "What Good Is Love" has a loping disco beat, and the rest of the album consists of sleek -- and sometimes slick -- '70s white R&B, as played by a cast of Los Angeles studio pros including all six of the future members of Toto. The punchy horns are arranged by Jerry Hey, the sweeping string charts by Marty Paich, and the background vocals are handled by a team that includes Michael McDonald of the Doobie Brothers and Daryl Hall of Hall & Oates. At the center of it all is Champlin, whose soulful, rhythmic voice ranges from a tender tenor to a gruff baritone, sometimes in the same line. The songs don't have much to say; in clichéd language, Champlin is either complaining about love gone bad or celebrating love that's going well. This is an album concerned with style, not substance, and it is a state-of-the-art example of studio craft, circa 1978. So, why didn't anybody buy it? Probably because it went almost completely unpromoted. (Champlin did undertake a brief tour, but that was about it.) While nominally speaking "commercial," this is not the kind of music that sells itself, and no one seems to have worked very hard to sell it. ~ William Ruhlmann



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