35 Years Ago: Rick Springfield Breaks Through With ‘Working Class Dog’
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Rick Springfield‘s acting career helped tide him over during his leanest years as a young recording artist — and made him a true double threat when his music really took off with his fifth studio album, Working Class Dog.
Released on Feb. 24, 1981, Working Class Dog snapped a five-year drought between recordings for Springfield, who’d shot to fame in in the late ’60s with the Australian band Zoot. Although he’d enjoyed early success in the U.S. with his first solo release, Beginnings, in 1972, subsequent efforts weren’t as popular — either in the States or at home — and after 1976’s Wait for Night, he found himself out of a record deal.
With his musical efforts in limbo, Springfield stayed on the boards by booking parts on a number of TV shows, and although he looked to resume his recording career after signing a new deal with RCA in 1980, he remained active as an actor — which is why he auditioned for the part of Dr. Noah Drake on the ABC daytime drama General Hospital while he worked on his RCA debut.
The GH audition turned out to be one of several fortuitous developments in Springfield’s professional life at the time. Signed to RCA for a pittance, he made the most of his advance by recording at Sound City, the legendary Van Nuys studio owned by his manager, Joe Gottfried. Tracking during the studio’s largely vacant overnight hours — and on short notice whenever a booking dropped out — Springfield and engineer/co-producer Bill Drescher cut the bulk of the album for little money.
The exceptions proved to be a pair of tracks produced by Keith Olsen, who fit Springfield into the gaps between sessions for Pat Benatar‘s Crimes of Passion — and to Springfield’s initial chagrin, brought Benatar’s husband Neil Giraldo to handle the lead guitar work on the songs. Although Springfield had a right to his misgivings — he played guitars and bass on the majority of Working Class Dog — it was difficult for anyone to argue with the results. Olsen helmed what ended up being the album’s biggest singles: “Jessie’s Girl,” a Springfield original that went to No. 1, and “I’ve Done Everything for You,” a Sammy Hagar cover that peaked at No. 8.
Seemingly overnight, Rick Springfield went from a faded Australian teen idol to a full-on rock star — and just as Working Class Dog started its climb into the Top 10, he started filming at General Hospital, which was enjoying a huge ratings resurgence during a time when the most popular daytime series routinely commanded an audience of 10 million viewers or more. When Springfield arrived on the set, GH had just started what would become a decade of dominance, giving him an incredible source of exposure at a particularly useful juncture.
But working on a soap wasn’t exactly an orthodox side gig for a budding rock star, and the stereotypes associated with the show may have been particularly uncomfortable for Springfield, who struggled to ditch his teen-idol image after leaving Zoot. By the time he released Working Class Dog, he’d grown so uncomfortable with the pinup aspect of his image that he insisted on putting his dog Gomer on the album cover — a decision that gave RCA’s marketing department fits, but ended up earning the record a Best Album Package nomination at the 1981 Grammys.
Working Class Dog‘s success came with its share of bittersweet moments. As Springfield later recounted in his 2011 memoir, Late, Late at Night, his father passed away in the midst of the flurry of activity surrounding the album release, and he had to jet from a GH taping and could only spend a few days at home before getting right back to work.
Springfield would spend much of the decade to come on that treadmill — starting with those hectic years that found him dashing from the GH set to a tour bus or recording studio and back again — and although his output started to slip toward the end of the ’80s, Working Class Dog marked the first in a string of four platinum albums (one of which, 1984’s Hard to Hold, served as the soundtrack to his own movie).
In many ways, Working Class Dog remains the apogee of Rick Springfield’s recording career — an artful blend of his pop and rock instincts that makes him, as he once quipped, “the nice bridge between Metallica and David Cassidy.” “Jessie’s Girl” proved to be Springfield’s sole No. 1 single, but he continued to notch Top 40 hits through the late ’80s — over a dozen in all — and he remains an active recording artist; his 17th studio album, Rocket Science, arrived in February 2016.
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