We spoke with multi-instrumentalist Ian McDonald about a double dose of flip sides from Foreigner’s Double Vision album and celebrate the vinyl debut of the Honey West album Bad Old World, as a follow up to our 2017 Goldmine interview with Ian.
By Warren Kurtz
GOLDMINE: Before we get to the new vinyl release of my favorite album of 2017, Bad Old World by Honey West, which featured your and Ted Zurkowski’s compositions and performances, let’s look back at a pair of flip sides from Foreigner. With sixteen Top 40 hit singles in the ‘70s and the ‘80s, where we heard Lou Gramm’s vocals on all of them, there were a couple of flip sides without Lou. Foreigner’s fourth Top 40 single, and first of three from your second album Double Vision, “Hot Blooded” became your first gold single. Its flip side, “Tramontane,” is an atmospheric instrumental, more in line with the progressive rock you created as a member of the band King Crimson. I enjoy Mick Jones’ acoustic guitar opening, Al Greenwood’s keyboards and all the accents you bring to the recording.
IAN McDONALD: Thank you. “Tramontane” is basically an Al Greenwood composition that I had a hand in writing as well, and it’s an instrumental, which is quite rare for a Foreigner song. On that recording I play an instrument called a Lyricon, which is like a clarinet, except it’s an electronic instrument, so it’s a wind instrument that’s synthesized, and you don’t actually blow air into it, you just put pressure into it. So, the melody on “Tramontane” is played on that instrument.
Flip side: Tramontane
A side: Hot Blooded
Top 100 debut: July 1, 1978
Peak position: No. 3
GM:After “Hot Blooded” was a big summer of ’78 hit, that fall, the second album’s title song “Double Vision” did just as well as the second gold single for the sextet. You continued to be jukebox heroes with your next single from the album “Blue Morning, Blue Day.” In addition to another solid A side, I love Mick’s composition “I Have Waited So Long” on the flip side. It reminds me a bit of when he and Gary Wright were members of the band Spooky Tooth a half-decade earlier, with their composition “Times Have Changed,” except that this song has distinct verses and a chorus. Your sax work rounds out the recording nicely. Either side of this single on juke-boxes during the blizzard of early ’79 certainly should have warmed patrons.
IM: “I Have Waited So Long” is a song where Mick has the lead vocal. My contribution was one of my little trademark things, putting multiple saxophones on it. So, I do these intermittent saxophone lines that are in three-part harmony.
Flip side: I Have Waited So Long
A side: Blue Morning, Blue Day
Top 100 debut: December 23, 1978
Peak position: No. 15
GM:I have two vinyl albums next to me, Foreigner’s Double Vision, that I got while working at our Peaches Records & Tapes store in Cleveland forty years ago, and the brand new vinyl release of Honey West’s Bad Old World from Readout Records. Now I have Bad Old World on vinyl for home and on CD for the car. I haven’t had something like that, in my collection, since The Who’s Quadrophenia in ’73 on vinyl and 8-track. We talked about seven of the songs from the album last time. Here are some observations on the other five songs. The album opens with “The September Issue,” with your lead guitar reminding me of T. Rex, who we highlighted last time. The title tune, “Bad Old World,” has a steady, driving beat, recalling The Hollies’ work in the ‘70s. Side one ends in a punk-rock mood with “Generationless Man,” with a bit of a Kinks sound. Your flute playing is soft and gentle on “Sailing.” “Old Man” takes me back to a band I listened to in the early ‘70s, McKendree Spring, with its relaxing mood.
IM: “Old Man” is the closest song that we have on the record to what Honey West used to sound like when I joined the group. This composition, written by me and Ted, is sort of a country influenced song that’s fairly simple in structure. One interesting thing about it is there’s an instrument called a Baldwin electric harpsichord on this track. When I found this instrument in the studio, I realized I really wanted to put it on this track because it happens to be the same instrument I used on “In the Court of the Crimson King” from King Crimson’s debut album. You can hear it in the choruses and in the verses. If you listen out for it, there’s a counter-melody going on in one of the verses of “Old Man.” Thank you for revisiting Foreigner and Honey West with me. Goldmine readers will need to check out these Foreigner flip sides and this Honey West vinyl album.
Excerpts from our Goldmine 2017 interview with Ian McDonald follow.
GM: I enjoy Ted Zurkowski’s lyrics on “Brand New Car” where “life’s so easy now” on this break-up song, and the humor contained too, including the line, “Think I’ll get a job, maybe one I like.” With the song “Sylvia Strange,” he is “sorry to see her go.”
IM: Ted’s lyrics are witty and smart, such a strong point for him and Honey West. With “Brand New Car,” the music in the middle is a bit of a psychedelic throwback to the ‘60s. On “Sylvia Strange” we don’t pretend to play reggae, but we did it in a similar style. My son Max plays bass on that one and two other songs on the CD. I am proud to have him in our live band. He is a great bass player and great guitarist, too.
GM: I really enjoy the imagery in the opening lines of “California” and song reference, “Never saw a girl so fine with your sunshine eyes, your mountains and your valleys and your ocean and you’re eight miles high.” The music sounds like a Hollies solo song to me while “A Girl Called Life” reminds me of the Searchers. When Ted hits the high notes on the lines, “I’m a guy who can never keep his thoughts to himself. I think and sing anything that pops in my head,” I think this is one of highlights of your album.
IM: “California” is one of my favorites. This was a breakthrough song for us as a songwriting team. When struggling with the lyric, we took a ten minute break. Then picking up a guitar, our partnership was born. I have sort of a soft spot for this one being our first. I also particularly like “A Girl Called Life,” and it might be my favorite on the CD. With a title like that, it had to be a good song.
GM: Your synthesizer strings and Steve Holley’s percussion provide a nice backdrop on “She’s Not Your Life,” a song with Bee Gees-like gentleness, yet a song like “Terry & Julie” sounds like punk-pop, and “Dementia” as the album closer is wild, fun and funny.
IM: “She’s Not Your Life” certainly is beautiful. “Terry & Julie” was inspired by the acting couple Terrance Stamp and Julie Christie, who starred in the 1967 film The Maddening Crowd. We made a small film too, a video, for the single “Dementia,” with the lyrics on tarot cards while I am featured musically on a baritone sax, recorded live in the studio with a live vocal. This can be viewed on our band’s website.
Goldmine 2017 full interview with Ian McDonald
Photo: Ted Zurkowski, left, and Ian McDonald, right, courtesy of honeywestmusic.com
Warren Kurtz is a Contributing Editor at Goldmine. “Warren’s Fabulous Flip Sides” can be heard most Saturday mornings, in the 9 a.m. hour, Eastern time, as part of “Moments to Remember” at wvcr.com or iHeart Radio – search WVCR.