This is the first installment of a series. Due to the subjective nature of what quantifies a One Hit Wonder, how much of the band must be dead to be a One Hit Wonder With Dead Guys, etc., etc., etc., there will be some shifting of the goal posts. Such is life and rock ‘n roll.
Goal Post Shift 1: It is rather unfair to classify Bob Welch as a One Hit Wonder (hello, Fleetwood Mac?). But because Welch’s time with The Mac was so brief, 1971-1975, and because his hit(s) preceded the mega-stardom of the Stevie Nicks/Lindsey Buckingham Mac of the ‘70s and ‘80s, I think the case can be made.
Goal Post Shift 2: It is also rather unfair to call the Fleetwood Mac version of Bob Welch’s One Mega Solo Hit, “Sentimental Lady”, the definitive version. Tough: in my mind it is.
If you were to call Central Casting searching for a late 1970s rocker, you’d probably get Bob Welch, who tragically died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound last week at the age of 65. He just had that look: thinning-up-top-but-poofy-on-the-sides hair, big diva glasses and open collar shirts unbuttoned to the navel. I wouldn’t be surprised if he inspired the look of the record company exec who tried to turn Greg Brady into Johnny Bravo, and I’m sure that Welch inspired Disco Stu on The Simpsons.
Bob Welch wasn’t Kiss/Bowie glam, but he wasn’t the antiseptic brown banality of Jackson Brown, either. He was the perfect middle-ground: pure 1970s big-business corporate rock, edgy, but still safe to take home and leave the record jacket lying on the coffee table.
His signature song “Sentimental Lady” first appeared on the 1972 Fleetwood Mac record Bare Trees (first clip below), and then again five years later, in a re-recorded and re-arranged version, on the Bob Welch solo record French Kiss (second clip below). The later version is most well-known, and is a touchstone of 1970s AM Radio.
But give me the Bare Trees version any day.
The French Kiss version is great, to be sure, with its music box guitar intro and perfect harmonies. But, it’s too perfect. Too straight.
After releasing several poorly-charting rock albums, Welch decided to go mainstream and craft commercial pop songs. French Kiss is the result, and it’s emblematic of the corporate rock genre.
On the Bare Trees version, Welch’s vocals are spirited and buoyant. He stretches and pushes and takes liberties with tone and time. On the French Kiss version, the vocals are perfectly by-the-book, on the staff and on the beat. Nothing wrong with that, but this version just feels flat in comparison to the soaring brilliance of the Mac rendition. The effect is almost like a kid in marching band who gets yelled at for taking liberties with “Tequila”, and then plays it completely down the middle in cowering fear for the rest of the semester. Where’s the fun in that?
Bob Welch’s legacy certainly should be more than One Hit Wonder, and he left the world with several absolutely brilliant songs. Unfortunately, I think he peaked early and never quite recovered, and I think his own version of his own signature song proves that. Much as I love the “definitive” version of “Sentimental Lady”, I have to go with the Mac.