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Vinyl Finds: John Waite, "Rover's Return"

In 1987, John Waite released one of his best records, "Rover's Return." With songs like “These Times Are Tough For Lovers” and “Don’t Lose Any Sleep,” he found himself charting again (and for the last time professionally).

By Ray Chelstowski

John Waite has long been one of the best utility players in rock and roll. Armed with two fantastic songs written by the team of Jack Conrad and Ray Kennedy (The Beach Boys) he led The Babys to the mainstream with FM hits like “Isn’t It Time” and “Every Time I think of You”. Those songs would become the model for how his future hits would be constructed. Verses would be delicate and performed with an almost ballad like intimacy. The bridges and chorus would then quickly launch into full-bodied arena rock sky climbers. This always worked because Waite’s voice was incredibly versatile and occupied a stylistic range that could go from croon to wail with ease.

Even his breakaway 1984 hit “Missing You” follows a similar albeit refined version of that formula. It was a song so powerful and lasting that it kicked Tina Turner’s “What’s Love Got To Do With It” from the #1 Billboard slot. Not only would Tina record it later, it would appear in countless soundtracks and become unavoidable on radio for a good year. Waite followed this up with the album Mask Of Smiles and his fame quieted quickly. There wasn’t a song with the same firepower as “Missing” to be found in the track list.

In 1987, Waite released what I consider to be his best record Rover's Return. With songs like “These Times Are Tough For Lovers” and “Don’t Lose Any Sleep” he found himself charting again (and for the last time professionally). The record was met with mixed reviews and poor sales. Both singles were sturdier than “Missing You,” more anchored in straight out rock. And, L.A. hair metal was grabbing more airtime on radio leaving less room for music that sat in the middle between Adult Contemporary and hard rock. Rover became a bit of a rock orphan. Reflecting back on it 30 years later it was really an overlooked gem.

To begin with his songwriting partners were some of the best if not most successful at that time. Desmond Child, Diane Warren, Dan Hartman, and Charlie Midnight all contributed to Rover. For context, these folks at that time were writing Top 10 hits for everyone from Cher to Bon Jovi, to Aerosmith. There’s every reason to expect that the success those artists enjoyed working with this roster would carry over to Waite. It didn’t.

The song “Woman’s Touch” appeared that year in the Jim Belushi movie The Principal. Remember that film? No I don’t either but it did offer another touch point to this album. Would a big summer blockbuster have given the album more lift? Maybe…

What’s interesting is that Waite would later that year reunite with former Babys bandmate Jonathan Cain and form the group Bad English. Together they would hit radio gold once more in 1989 with the single “When I See You Smile”, another Diane Warren song. As I went back and listened more to that material it dawned on me that the problem with Rover’s Return wasn’t the material - that was written by world-class contributors. It wasn’t the band – Waite had some of the best session guys around (i.e.,. Anton Figg). It wasn’t the production. They recorded at The Power Station in NYC with Frank Fillipetti (Elton John, The Bangles, Foreigner, 10,000 Maniacs, etc.). It was timing. Had Waite sat on this material for just a year and had it in hand when Bad English first formed Rover's best hits would have made Bad English even bigger. Moreover, Bad English might have had more breathing room to create a stronger follow up to their self-titled debut. They also likely would have had more than one hit. The sound of Rover was 18 to 24 months ahead of its time. It needed to age in the barrel just a bit longer.

In concert today the Rover hits sit side by side with Bad English and arrive in the set like siblings sitting next to each other in a family photo. They keep the energy of the show ramped and the string of hits steady. Fans probably can’t remember now which songs came out when and with whom. They are John Waite hits and that’s all that matters. But back then as it is today – hits are all that matter. Had they been herded together differently all of the great albums by Waite that followed (i.e., 1997’s When You WereMine) would have likely received their proper due. They didn’t and that’s why timing is everything – especially in rock and roll, no matter how many times Rover returns.

A1 These Times Are Hard For Lovers
Producer – Desmond Child
Written By D. Child, J. Waite

A2 Act Of Love
Written By J. Waite

A3 Encircled
Written By J. McCurry, J. Regan, J. Waite

A4 Woman's Touch
Written By J. Waite

A5 Wild One
Written By J. Waite

B1 Don't Lose Any Sleep
Producer – Rick Nowels
Written By Diane Warren

B2 Sometimes
Producer – Rick Nowels
Written By C. Midnight, D. Hartman

B3 She's The One
Written By I. Kral, J. Waite

B4 Big Time For Love
Guitar [Guest] – Gary Myrick
Written By J. Waite, R. Nowels

Backing Vocals – Desmond Child, Diana Grasselli, Diane Warren, Elaine Caswell, Ellen Shipley, Joe Lynn Turner, Louie Marlino, Maria Vidal, Myriam Valle, Patty Forbes
Bass – John K., John Regan
Drum Programming – Jimmy Bralower
Drums – Anton Figg, Mike Braun, Thommy Price
Engineer [Additional] – Arthur Payson, Billy Miranda, Bradshaw Leigh, Dave Dale, Mike Frondelli, Phil Magnotti, Tom Lord Alge
Guitar, Acoustic Guitar – John McCurry
Keyboards, Synthesizer – Arthur Stead, Chuck Kentis, Greg Mangiafico, Tommy Mandell
Photography By – Trevor Key
Producer – John Waite
Producer, Recorded By, Mixed By – Frank Fillipetti