Nope, Not a 1-hit Wonder/LeBlog’s Cheesetastic Classics: Dan Hill
You might have noticed that the “Nope, Not a 1-hit Wonder” parade has slowed down a little since its introductory burst onto the LeBlog scene a couple of years ago. Between Jeff the Wildman and I, we’ve covered more than twenty artists who common perception might have, through forgetfulness or some other whim of fate, inaccurately labeled as one with just a single claim to fame. While I’m hoping we’ll continue to cover these artists as the fancy strikes us, I also want to start up a new series that might help to soften the landing as Lebeau’s long-running analysis of the Golden Raspberries catches up with the current day in just a couple of weeks.
The schadenfreude associated with watching someone aim high (or very low) and somehow end up the target of derision is both personally shameful and undeniably delicious. What I’m hoping to do is to take that same experience, as is often delivered by Razzie winning movies, and apply it to popular music forms. This will manifest itself as “LeBlog’s Cheestastic Classics,” which will attempt to aim somewhere near that delectable spot that a movie like Mommie Dearest inhabits. A LeBlog Cheestastic Classic should be both undeniably corny or over-the-top while also possessing some quality that makes some of us grin and pump our fists in gleeful irony. Some people might also use the term “guilty pleasure.” But I’m not going to. For our purposes here, these are “LeBlog’s Cheesetastic Classics.”
The skill and talent involved in producing some of these songs may, in fact, be quite impressive and at their core these songs might actually be rather superior to some which are considered cool. But somewhere along the way the songwriter or performer took that wrong turn at Albuquerque and landed themselves in the land of cheese. This is almost certainly the case with our first case study, an artist who manages to fulfill the requirements to take a place in both the “Nope, Not a 1-hit Wonder” and “LeBlog’s Cheestastic Classics” canons, thereby becoming the ideal introduction to the new series through connection to the prior one. Here comes Dan Hill.
Canadian singer-songwriter Dan Hill was born to the family of social scientist and showed an early aptitude toward music despite having two siblings who pursued work as novelists. Dan eschewed the academic life, however, leaving high school when he was 17 and taking work with RCA as a songwriter. Just a few years later, after some time earning his stripes playing small gigs locally, Hill was able to release his first album of tracks, a self-titled effort that won good airplay in Canada. The following year his first release in the United States appeared, called “Hold On.”
“Hold On” again enjoyed some popularity north of the border, but failed to garner Hill an audience in the much more populous U.S. In case you were wondering, his records found an early home in the slightly pejoratively-regarded “Adult Contemporary” charts and by all accounts this was completely appropriate from the beginning. Unlike some artists who start off as kick-butt rockers only to find that their more sentimental offerings got the radio play and sales (cough STYX cough), Hill originated as a painfully earnest balladeer at a time when the fashion was already about as popular as it was going to get.
But not until it helped make Hill slightly notorious as one of its signature mawkish voices.
In 1977, Hill’s third album, entitled “Longer Fuse” followed quickly after his previous two and brought the charts success that he’d been waiting for. The title of the album seems to suggest that Hill is a seething, simmering presence just waiting to explode with anger, even if it’s in comparison to his previous work. But…nope. What we’ve got here is an unabashedly middle-brow soft rock effort that never stretches much past his established pained earnestness. Even when he’s singing about his mixed race parents on the run from those who would persecute them as he does in “McCarthy’s Day,” it never sounds like his problems are anything that couldn’t be solved with a warm beverage and a hug.
Luckily for Hill there was still a market for this kind of sentimental approach and boy had he and Barry Mann succeeded in writing one of the masterpieces of the form, the pajamas and Haagen-Daz classic “Sometimes When We Touch.” This power ballad precursor features some of the signposts of the style, including prose that is mostly devoid of any poetic imagery, or indeed of any expression that isn’t immediately identifiable. There are times when unadorned language can be an absolute rock solid strength in any writing venture, but here he appeared to hand his detractors all the ammunition they needed with the signature line “the honesty’s too much.” Yes, Dan, it really is. Can we please have some metaphors or maybe an obscure literary reference to bring a little interest to the proceedings? No? Well, maybe you know best, after all “Sometimes When We Touch” did hit #3 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 in late 1977 and stayed in the charts into early ’78.
I have to admit that I’m not quite old enough to remember how anybody around me reacted to the heavy radio play the song was getting at the time. I was seven years old, so my parents or my big brother usually had control of the radio dial. I can imagine, however, that the treacly expression of male sensitivity wore out its welcome pretty quickly in some circles, and this might in part explain Hill’s relatively immediate disappearance from the airwaves in the U.S. His follow-up album “Frozen in the Night” showed up almost immediately and the lead single, “All I See is Your Face” looked to be making a modest run up the charts.
But then it stalled out just outside the Top40 at #41. And not for no good reason. It sounds distinctly like something the secretaries in my junior high school would have had playing softly on a transistor radio at their desks. So that’s not going to get him out of the land of 1-hit wonders, is it?
Things steadily went downhill from there for Hill on the charts, as his next single, “Let the Song Last Forever,” circled the drain way down at #91 on the U.S. charts and was his last Top40 hit in his homeland of Canada for almost a decade. It wasn’t that Hill wasn’t trying, mind you. The prolific nature of his early career didn’t abate much, as he released three more albums over the next five years. But none of his next eight singles was able to hit the Top40 in any of the English-speaking countries where he had had such success before. Then came silence. His 1983 album “Love in the Shadows” looked like it might be his last, as the next three years passed without so much as a peep from him.
But then I turned on the radio one day in 1987…and there he was.
Dan Hill had written another hit song! This time his songwriting partner was his own wife, lawyer Beverly Chapin-Hill. The song was a duet about a struggling love relationship sung with the previously unknown Vonda Shepard. While “Can’t We Try” is solidly within the range of the same sort of soft rock balladry Hill had specialized in, and probably appealed to much the same audience, I can’t say it possesses the same overwrought cheesy awesomeness that “Sometimes When We Touch” has in spades. So I won’t be including it for consideration as one of LeBlog’s Cheestastic Classics. Still, enough people were pleased with it to push “Can’t We Try” not just into the Top40, but way up to #6 on the Billboard Hot 100. I read in multiple places that the song was used as the love theme of some characters on the American daytime soap opera Santa Barbara (one of whom was played by the Princess Bride herself, Robin Wright!), but I couldn’t figure out exactly when this happened. Was the daytime drama responsible for popularizing the song? It’s possible. That sort of thing still happened back in the ’80s.
Shepard would flounder around a bit for the next decade before landing as the musical voice of the ’90s girl power lawyer drama Ally McBeal.
As had happened with “Sometimes When We Touch” back in the late ’70s, “Can’t We Try” was followed by another single that sputtered to a stop just short of the Top40. “Never Thought” peaked at #43 on the U.S. charts and ended up being the last original mainstream hit for Hill in either the U.S. or Canada. Even a remake of his big hit “Sometimes When We Touch” in 1993 only netted Hill a spot at #46 on the Canadian charts.
At some point after singer Faith Hill became famous in the mid ’90s, a rumor started that claimed she had gotten her last name from a failed marriage with Dan Hill. This was clearly untrue.
Okay, so obviously we’ve established that Dan Hill is not a 1-hit wonder, but now we come to one of the features of this new series. I’m going to let you, the readers, decide whether or not the presented songs belong in what will become our master list of LeBlog’s Cheesetastic Classics. Maybe the song is too good for this distinction. Maybe it’s not good enough. Vote below and then plead your case in the comments section.
Posted on June 13, 2016, in 1970s, Music, Nope, Nostalgia, Not a 1-Hit Wonder, poll, Top Ten and tagged Ally McBeal, Dan Hill, LeBlog's Cheesetastic Classics, Vonda Shepard. Bookmark the permalink. 10 Comments.