DONNIE AND JOE EMERSON-STILL DREAMIN’ WILD: THE LOST RECORDINGS 1979-81.
DONNIE AND JOE EMERSON-STILL DREAMIN’ WILD: THE LOST RECORDINGS 1979-81.
Back in 1979, Donnie and Joe Emerson’s parents spent $100,000 buying equipment for their two son’s home studio. That wasn’t enough. Donnie and Joe weren’t going to settle for second best. Not when it came to the equipment for their nascent studio. The synths, drum machines and eight-track recorders available were good, but not good enough for Donnie and Joe. They had their limitations. So, their parents mortgaged the 1,600 acre family farm in Fruitland, Washington. All this was so Donnie and Joe could follow their dreams. With the best musical equipment money could buy in their studio, Donnie and Joe Emerson recorded their debut album, Dreamin’ Wild.
Donnie and Joe headed into their home studio and recorded eight tracks. Once the eight tracks were recorded, the album became Dreamin’ Wild. This was almost ironic. After all, the Emerson brothers had been living the dream. In doing so, they’d spent a fortune, their parent’s fortune. The Emerson’s had spent $100,000 and mortgaged their future. Dreamin’ Wild had to sell well. It had to be a huge hit.
Rather than try and interest record companies in Dreamin’ Wild, the Emerson family decided to release the album privately. This wasn’t unusual. All across America, private pressings were being released. They varied in quality. Many were little more than vanity releases. Not Dreamin’ Wild.
It showcased two talented singers, songwriters and musicians. Dreamin’ Wild wasn’t just a case of wealthy parents indulging their son’s musical fantasies. No. Far from it. Donnie and Joe’s fusion of soft rock, funk and soul had potential. The Emerson brothers could’ve enjoyed a successful career. Especially, if they’d signed to a major label. They would’ve guided Donnie and Joe’s career. That would’ve made sense. So would bring in an experienced management team to guide Donnie and Joe’s career. Sadly, that didn’t happen.
Instead, Dreamin’ Wild was released on the Enterprise and Co. label. Its only release were Donnie and Joe’s 1977 single Take It, and two years later, Dreamin’ Wild in 1979. Neither sold well. In the case of Dreamin’ Wild it sunk without trace. The Emerson family’s gamble hadn’t paid off.
They’d bet the bank on their talented sons. Not only were they $100,000 lighter, but there was a mortgage on their 1,600 acre farm. Dreamin’ Wild must be the most expensive private pressing ever. Worse was to come.
Following the commercial failure of Dreamin’ Wild, Joe decided to concentrate on the family farm. Donnie and Joe continued to write and record songs. Over the next two and a half years, they wrote and recorded seventy songs. Not only were the Emerson brothers prolific, but the quality was consistent. What differed was style. They recorded everything from FM rock, power pop, and new wave. Sadly, these songs were never released…until recently
On 16th June 2014, Light In The Attic Records released Still Dreamin’ Wild-The Lost Recordings 1979-81. It features twelve of the seventy tracks Donnie and Joe Emerson recorded following the release of Dreamin’ Wild. The story behind the release of Still Dreamin’ Wild-The Lost Recordings 1979-81, began when a record collector bought a copy Dreamin’ Wild.
Just like any self-respecting record collector, Jack Fleischer is always on the look out for hidden gems and rarities. One day, in a Spokane thrift shop he came across a copy of Dreamin’ Wild. It was the album cover that caught Jack’s attention. Donnie and Joe sport matching bouffant hairstyles and white jumpsuits. The album cover epitomises the late-seventies. Paying $5, Jack took his newly acquired copy of Dreamin’ Wild home. Jack was so impressed at what he heard, that he blogged about Dreamin’ Wild. That’s where Ariel Pink, a cult musician read about Dreamin’ Wild.
Having read about Dreamin’ Wild, Ariel Pink recorded his version of one of Baby. It’s without doubt, one of the highlights of Dreamin’ Wild. Ariel’s cover of Baby came to the attention of Light In The Attic Records. They released Ariel’s version with Donnie and Joe’s orignal on the B-Side. Then later in 2012, Light In The Attic Records rereleased Dreamin’ Wild.
Thirty-three years after the original release of Dreamin’ Wild, Light In The Attic Records reissued Donnie and Joe Emerson’s debut album. It was released to widespread critical acclaim. Belatedly, Dreamin’ Wild had found an audience who appreciated it beauty and delights. However, there was more to Donnie and Joe Emerson’s music than Dreamin’ Wild.
All these years later, Donnie still had the tapes of the other seventy songs he and Joe recorded, in their home studio. They proved to be a veritable treasure trove.
Following the success of Dreamin’ Wild, Donnie and Joe mentioned the tapes. The guys at Light In The Attic Records decided to have a listen. They were astounded to find just over seventy track. Given the amount of tracks, Donnie and Joe could’ve been forgiven if the quality varied. It didn’t. Instead, the quality was consistent throughout the tapes. This presented a problem. How do you manage whittle down seventy tracks to twelve?
Eventually, Light In The Attic Records settled on twelve tracks from the original seventy. They became Still Dreamin’ Wild-The Lost Recordings 1979-81, the long-awaited followup to 1979s Dreamin’ Wild. Thirty-five years later, Donnie and Joe Emerson are back, with Still Dreamin’ Wild-The Lost Recordings 1979-81, which I’ll tell you about.
Overture opens Still Dreamin’ Wild-The Lost Recordings 1979-81. It’s a thirty-two second amuse bouche. Just buzzing, pulsating synths and an ethereal piano combine. They tantalise your musical tastebuds as you await the rest of the menu.
This starts with Don’t Fight. It bursts into life. The rhythm section, complete with eighties drums, drive the arrangement along. They provide the backdrop for Donnie’s urgent, emotive vocal. It’s a song about a teenager struggling to find his identity. Donnie sings about being yourself. He also adds ethereal, cooing vocals. Later, as the drama increases, Donnie’s vocal becomes an urgent vamp, during this slick slice of hooky pop perfection.
Ride The Tide has a much more understated sound. The song tells the story of Donnie being introduced to a beautiful, famous woman in L.A. To Donnie, this was “like a dream.” His disbelief shines through in he lyrics. Again, Donnie plays all the instruments. This includes a 12-string acoustic guitar, drums and polymoog synth. Drums provide the heartbeat and the polymoog glistens. Brief bursts of acoustic guitar accompany Donnie’s tender, needy and heartfelt vocal. All this results in another beautiful, urgent example of pop perfection.
One True Love sees Donnie drop them tempo. Donnie wrote the song in 1981, at the family farm. It was how he imagined the city to be like, His vocal is wistful, as the arrangement starts off understated, and grows in power. The rhythm section and acoustic guitar provide the mainstay of the arrangement. That’s until the Fender Rhodes and rocky guitar enters. They play a hugely important role, carrying Donnie’s vocal as FM rock and power pop combines seamlessly to create one of the highlights of Still Dreamin’ Wild-The Lost Recordings 1979-81.
A lone crystalline guitars soars above the arrangement to Somethin’s Comin’ Down. Straight away, Donnie combines the West Coast sound with the songwriting skills of Paisley’s very own, Gerry Rafferty. It’s a beautifully crafted song. Everything falls into place at the right time. Whether it’s the crystalline guitar, Fender Rhodes or wistful piano, Donnie drops it in at the right time. His vocal is tender, needy and emotive. He adds baking vocals, dropping them in at the right time. The result is a gorgeous, seductive paean from the Donnie Emerson.
Everybody Knows It was recorded in the late-seventies, before the release of the Dreamin’ Wild album. In fact it was just the second song the Emerson brothers recorded. Given their lack of experience, it eschews their lack of experience. The poymoog synth and rhythm section drive the arrangement along. Donnie’s vocal is joyous. It plays an important part in this anthemic fusion of pop, rock and synth pop.
Stabs of synths and thunderous drums open Big Money, one of two track Joe wrote and played on. They provide the backdrop to Donnie’s vocal on this track about Reaganomics. Delivered with a mixture of anger and frustration, Donnie’s vocal is accompanied by a hypnotic, robotic arrangement. This is very different from what’s gone before and what comes next.
Ooh Baby Yeah sees the Emerson turn their back on politics, and concentrate on providing a proliferation of poppy hooks. Searing guitars, pounding guitars and stabs of piano grab your attention. Having set the scene for Donnie’s cooing vocal, Donnie and Joe draw inspiration from The Beach Boys and Dire Straits. Accompanying his vocal are sweet harmonies, rocky guitars and stabs of piano. Hooks certainly aren’t rationed, in what’s a delicious hook-laden fusion of pop and rock.
Never before, has a song been written about a guitar amplifier. That’s until Donnie wrote Stand by Love. His performance seems inspired by Rick Springfield. Gone are the synths. Instead, the rhythm section kick loose. They’re joined by Donnie’s 12-string acoustic guitar. He delivers a powerful, vampish vocal on this driving rock track. It has an anthemic, everyman sound, that’s infectiously catchy.
Girl with the Rainbow Seeds sees a return of the synth. Joe plays drums on what’s best described as a fusion synth pop and psychedelia. The psychedelic influence comes courtesy of the Beatles’ inspired lyrics. They’ve a late sixties influence. Donnie, like a musical pied piper, spreads the message about the Girl with the Rainbow Seeds.
Since You Been with Me has a robotic sound. That’s down to the polymoog synth and organ drum machine. Providing a soulful contrast is Donnie’s melancholy, thoughtful vocal. His vocal is reminiscent of Hall and Oates. As for the arrangement, despite its robotic sound, it’s still funky. However, stealing the show is Donnie’s wistful vocal.
Don’t Disguise The Way You Feel closes Still Dreamin’ Wild-The Lost Recordings 1979-81. It’s the longest track on the album. At over seven minutes long, it’s like a lost teenage symphony. Swathes of synthetic strings sweep, producing a wistful, heartbreaking sound. This is perfect for Donnie’s grief stricken vocal. He’s recovering from the loss of a friend and is questioning everything. His vocal is an outpouring of hurt and grief. Drums add a lo-fi backdrop and Donnie strums his guitar, as he searches desperately for answers. A hugely powerful and moving track, that’s a poignant reminder of the Emerson brother’s musical potential.
Sadly, the Emerson brothers never fulfilled their potential. They only ever released one album, Dreamin’ Wild. Released as a private pressing, Dreamin’ Wild sunk without trace. Nothing was ever heard of the album. That’s until record collector Jack Fleischer came across a copy of Dreamin’ Wild in a Spokane thrift shop. Paying his $5, Jack took his newly acquired copy of Dreamin’ Wild home. He was so impressed at what he heard, that he blogged about Dreamin’ Wild. That’s where Ariel Pink, a cult musician read about Dreamin’ Wild.
Having read about Dreamin’ Wild, Ariel Pink recorded his version of one of Baby. Light In The Attic Records heard Ariel’s version of Baby, and most importantly, heard Dreamin’ Wild. They reissued Dreamin’ Wild in 2014. Then on 16th June 2014, Light In The Attic Records released Still Dreamin’ Wild-The Lost Recordings 1979-81. It features twelve of the seventy songs Donnie and Joe Emerson recorded between 1979 and 1981. They’re an eclectic selection.
Everything from FM Rock, pop, power pop, psychedelia, rock and synth pop on Still Dreamin’ Wild-The Lost Recordings 1979-81. On these twelve tracks, Donnie is the senior partner. He features on all the tracks. Joe appears just twice. Following the commercial failure of Dreamin’ Wild, Joe decided to concentrate on the family farm. Donnie never gave up his musical dream.
Throughout his life, music has beee a constant. He never made the commercial breakthrough he’d hope of. However, he had the opportunity to follow his dreams. His parents made sure of that. They spent $100,000 buying equipment for their two son’s home studio. That wasn’t enough. Donnie and Joe weren’t going to settle for second best. Not when it came to the equipment for their nascent studio. The synths, drum machines and eight-track recorders available were good, but not good enough for Donnie and Joe. They had their limitations. So, their parents mortgaged the 1,600 acre family farm in Fruitland, Washington. All this was so Donnie and Joe could follow their dreams. Sadly, this gamble didn’t pay off.
This wasn’t because Donnie and Joe lacked talent. Far from it. Instead, it was a case of making a series of bad decisions. The first was spending a small fortune on a home studio for two teenage boys. That was indulging two boy’s dreams. In doing so, the Emerson family risked everything. Their second mistake was not trying to get a record company interested in Dreamin’ Wild. Maybe then, Dreamin’ Wild would’ve become a commercial success. By releasing Dreamin’ Wild on their own label, the Emerson family weren’t able to promote the album sufficiently. So, it’s no surprise that Dreamin’ Wild sunk without trace. After that, Joe Emerson gave up on his dream. Thirty-five years later, Joe and Donnie are back.
Still Dreamin’ Wild-The Lost Recordings 1979-81 showcases the Emerson brother’s undoubted talent. The twelve tracks on Still Dreamin’ Wild-The Lost Recordings 1979-81 show what they were capable of. Who knows what heights Donnie and Joe Emerson would’ve reached if things had been different? Maybe then, the twelve tracks on Still Dreamin’ Wild-The Lost Recordings 1979-81 wouldn’t have lain unloved and unreleased for thirty-five years. Not any more.
Light In The Attic Records have done Donnie and Joe Emerson’s music justice. Still Dreamin’ Wild-The Lost Recordings 1979-81 is a luxurious and lovingly compiled compilation that showcases two talented brothers Donnie and Joe Emerson, who could’ve and should’ve, enjoyed commercial success and critical acclaim thirty-five years ago.
DONNIE AND JOE EMERSON-STILL DREAMIN’ WILD: THE LOST RECORDINGS 1979-81.