‘Planet Love’ and the World of Andrew Gold (Part 1 of 3)

Andrew Gold is best known for his late 1970s hit singles, one of which would be picked up as the theme song for a popular American situation comedy. His behind-the-scenes work for dozens of other recording acts is a lesser-known side of his artistry. But his crowning achievement is a little-heard psych-pop pastiche that he recorded – mostly by himself – in 1997. Greetings from Planet Love has been rescued from obscurity thanks to a new vinyl reissue. For this feature, I spoke with to those who were closest to Gold at key points in his life and career. – bk

Though he had been a best-selling recording artist, multi-instrumentalist Andrew Gold’s finest work went largely unheard: Greetings from Planet Love. Essentially a one-man studio project credited to The Fraternal Order of the All, Greetings was the work of Los Angels-based Andrew Gold. At that point in his career, Gold had a serious curriculum vitae: he had scored major hit singles in the U.S. with 1977’s “Lonely Boy” and 1978’s “Thank You for Being a Friend.” The latter tune would find an extended second life when it served as the theme song to the popular sitcom The Golden Girls (1985-1992). In the UK, Gold scored with the 1978 single “Never Let Her Slip Away.”

But Gold’s achievements extended well beyond those hits. Working in the shadow of a bigger star, Gold was responsible for production, arrangement and instrumental work on many of Linda Ronstadt’s biggest chart successes; many of Ronstadt’s hits of the mid ‘70s featured Gold doing most everything except the lead vocal.

An in-demand session player, Gold lent his multi-instrumental talents to recordings and/or concert tours by a wide array of artists including Jackson Browne, Cher, Bob Dylan, Eagles, Art Garfunkel, Ringo Starr, James Taylor and many others. A prolific and versatile composer, Gold wrote songs for Wynonna Judd, Leo Sayer and Trisha Yearwood. As a producer, engineer and/or arranger he worked with Celine Dion, the Everly Brothers, Vince Gill, Joni Mitchell and – again – many other artists.

Andrew Gold – who passed away in 2011 at the age of 59 – was that rarest of creatures: one one hand he was an artist of multifarious skill and talent who could (and often did) record completely on his own. But as his lengthy list of credits makes plain, Gold was a valued collaborator who worked with and for many demanding artists.

And while Greetings from Planet Love is (with minor exceptions) the product of his solo approach, it fits into Gold’s history in a way that now seems inevitable. On the occasion of the album’s first-ever vinyl reissue, those who knew, worked with and/or loved him help fill in the blanks regarding the significance of Andrew Gold’s seventh solo release.

Charles Villiers became friends with Gold when the two were students at the exclusive Oakwood School in California’s Malibu Canyon. “It was like a summer camp converted into this very progressive elite school for hippies,” Villiers recalls. Enrollment was limited to about 60 students. “Everybody who went there had a parent who seemed to own MGM,” he says with a laugh. “Everybody was the child of a celebrity.”

Villiers was at Oakwood on an art scholarship; Gold’s parents were Academy Award winning composer Ernest Gold and singer Marni Nixon. At that time, Gold was “a dumpy, red-headed kid with no charisma, but really funny,” Villiers says. He decided that they would become best friends, and that’s what happened.

Both of the teenage boys were musically inclined, and they soon formed a band modeled after The Byrds. Peter Bernstein, son of acclaimed composer-conductor Elmer Bernstein, was in the band as well. “We went out and bought a 12-string Rickenbacker because we had the wherewithal to do it,” Villiers says. In short order – thanks in no small part to their connections – the new group was playing at a local club, The Hullabaloo. “We were only 15,” Villiers says, “playing a place where we had just seen Buffalo Springfield!”

The band kept changing its name; none really stuck. But that mattered less than the sounds they made. All the band members were talented, but Gold was already on another level. Villiers remembers an episode that took place during one of the hour-long bus rides to school. “A Beatles song came on the radio. Andrew heard it once, and then he played it back [on guitar] completely, with the chords and lyrics!”

Gold had long since started writing songs of his own; his technical abilities and preternatural skills as a mimic made him an astounding musical force, even at his young age. Villiers remembering posing a hypothetical to his friend: “Wouldn’t it be weird that, if in the future, one of us is really famous and one of us isn’t?”

Eventually, Villiers and Gold made some recordings. Quite a few, in fact, though nearly all are lost to time. Staying with Villiers’ parents in London, they cut nine songs as a demo for Decca Records, but the label passed (“Just like the Beatles,” Villiers says with a laugh). They next approached Polydor, demoing a different set of songs.

The label didn’t seem interested, but Villiers’ father pushed the matter by sending a telegram urging action. That worked, and soon the label released a single, “Of All the Little Girls” b/w “This East.” But the record didn’t sell. “They didn’t push it,” Villiers says, “so it floundered.” Not long after, Gold returned to California; Villiers remained in England, setting music aside and eventually becoming a successful artist.

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