Andrew Gold never got the respect or recognition he so richly deserved. He’s best known for his hit single “Thank You for Being a Friend,” a pop tune from 1978. On release the tune climbed to the #25 spot on the Billboard single charts. And it got a second life when it was used (in a new recording by another artist) as the theme song for the popular sitcom Golden Girls. Nice for songwriter royalties, but not so great in terms of Gold’s rock-cred. I mean: Golden Girls? C’mon.
Gold deserved much better. He was responsible for most of what made many of Linda Ronstadt’s hit singles great: he did pretty much everything on those songs, save of course Linda’s vocal. And when he turned his attention to making music for kids – as he did on a 1996 album called Andrew Gold’s Halloween Howls – he created something of a classic in “Spooky Scary Skeletons.”
But as I discovered when I interviewed* friends and loved ones of the late musician (he passed away in 2011), I discovered that among his myriad talents was the ability to mimic his favorite artists. Now, of course, this kind of thing has been done before: XTC gave us the Dukes of Stratosphear, Utopia made Deface the Music, and Neil Innes and his pals conceived The Rutles. Even attempting to move in that kind of rarefied circle takes some (as they say) chutzpah.
Well, Gold had that, and much more. Though comparatively few would hear of it (or even know of its existence) at the time, in 1997 Gold embarked upon a nearly one-man project he called The Fraternal Order of the All. Crafting some 20 original (but deliciously derivative in the best possible way) tracks, he made Greetings from Planet Love.
The album, released – like much of Gold’s post ‘70s material – on a small indie label, inevitably sank without a trace. If you heard anything from it, it would have been the sublime “Love Tonight,” a tune that sounds for all the world like a track from the Pet Sounds or SMiLE sessions. A skilled multi-instrumentalist and studio rat par excellence, Gold nailed everything about Brian Wilson’s arranging style, applying it to a new song that Wilson-at-his-peak could have written himself (but pointedly did not).
And here’s the thing: “Love Tonight” might not even be the best song on Greetings from Planet Love. While the record gets off to a weird start with its brief backward-masking-and-sitar title track, “Rainbow People” moves into a stomping psych vibe that will be familiar to anyone who’s spent time with Nuggets II: British Empire and Beyond. Or, y’know, Magical Mystery Tour. And anyone who thinks to themselves, “Yeah, Andrew Gold: great pop songwriter, but he didn’t exactly rock, now did he?” Well, you’ve got another think coming.
Those production tropes of the late ‘60s: flanging, phase shifting, fuzztone… when used in music, they transport the listener back to a specific place, time and mindset. And Gold’s clever use of those tools does just that. But – and this is very important – his songs on Greetings aren’t merely vehicles for these sonic tricks; the songs stand on their own, fully developed compositions full of subtlety, ear candy of the sweetest sort.
Some of the most fascinating moments come on the shortest tracks on the album. Serving as linking tracks, cuts like “Swirl” (a near cousin to the instrumental break on The Beatles’ “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite”) and “Whirl” (a kind of keyboard-led rethink of “Tomorrow Never Knows” are tantalizingly brilliant.
Gold’s predilection for puns and wordplay informs “Tube Rye and Will’s Son” (say it out loud, because hey, you’re a genius too). It will inevitably bring to mind the SMiLE opening tracks “Our Prayer.” It’s a thing of beauty. “Freelove Baby,” on the other hand, belongs on the soundtrack of an Austin Powers film. It really, really does. “Groovy Party at Jimmy’s Magic Pad” has a soundtrack feel, too, though it would be more suited to an exploitation film of the late ‘60s. It’s wonderfully atmospheric and marginally NC-17.
Gold’s command of the studio is staggering throughout the record, whether it’s multilayered and crisscrossing vocal parts on “It’s Beautiful” or the hazy psychedelic balladry of “Wink of the Third Eye.” Gold’s deep love (and equally deep understanding) of both mid-sixties Beach Boys and mid-to-late-’60s Beatles finds full expression in tracks like “It Has No Eyes But Sight,” which sounds like what we might have heard had “I Am the Walrus” not faded out after passing the cranberry sauce.
“Space and Time” heads in a very different direction. It sounds more like The Byrds than McGuinn and his pals ever did, right down to the vocals and Rickenbacker jangle. It sounds liek the great prime-era Byrds single that never was. “Time is Standing Still” has less of the retro sheen found elsewhere on the album, but it’s another solid pop tune with scintillating harmonies; it’s a bit reminiscent of Brian Wilson’s Imagination era work.
The 1996 cover artwork. Meh.
The Doors get the Gold treatment on “Ride the Snake,” with doomy organ and some very Morrisonesque moanin’ and groanin’. “Mr. Plastic Business Man” take the listener back on another Magical Mystery Tour, albeit with vocals from Bleecker Street. “Ccosmicc Ccarnivall” is a brief throwaway; it sounds like a snippet of an outtake of between-song noodling. But the album wraps with its rockingest number, the brilliant “Tomorrow Drop Dead.” Incorporating all of the sonic elements from “Tomorrow Never Knows,” Gold creates a completely new song.
Greetings from Planet Love can be enjoyed on any number of levels. For listeners inclined toward playing spot-the-influence, it will provide hours of pleasure. But considered wholly on its own merits, it’s a simply great album.
The late ‘90s release of Greetings from Planet Love was CD-only, and it featured some generic and uninspired cover art. The new 2023 reissue bests the original on many fronts. First off, new cover art doubles down on the pastiche aesthetic, featuring artwork inspired by some of Gold’s own drawings. Second, it’s available on vinyl this time around: the album comes in a gatefold sleeve with a pair of bright yellow 10” discs. That’s the perfect format to appreciate fully Andrew Gold’s musical love letter to the sixties.
*My feature on Andrew Gold’s Greetings from Planet Love will appear in an upcoming issue of Record Collector magazine.