The current crop of college students probably have only a passing idea of who Dan Fogelberg was. Younger than that and they pretty much haven’t heard of him at all (unless they’ve been surfing their parents’ CD collections).
From the late 70’s through the mid 80’s, Fogelberg was one of the most influential singer-songwriters on the musical scene in any genre. I saw Dan in concert a couple times (once in Iowa City and once in Provo). I was frankly never blown away by the live experience. But the songs! Different story. And in both concert experiences I loved it when he dismissed the band and just sat at the piano or on a stool with his guitar.
Bottom line for me is that I sort of moved through young adulthood into marriage and young parenthood with Dan doing the background music. I fell in love at least a couple times with Dan on vocals. I’ve walked out into the falling snow in the middle of a scene of unrequited young adult angst and heard his signature piano play in my mind. It’s tough to survive unrequited young adult angst without proper mood music, and Dan always obliged.
Fogelberg died last month after a long battle with cancer. I don’t normally emote like this when someone I’ve seen but never met passes away, but this one is different. Fogelberg’s music really had a positive impact on my life, and I’m grateful for that.
So here’s my personal tribute. In honor of Dan’s passing, I’m serving up my personal top 10 Fogelberg songs of all-time:
10) “Forefathers” – The Wild Places (1990)
“Forefathers” is a somewhat obscure piece in the Fogelberg collection, and probably makes it onto very few personal top ten lists. Musically it’s fairly simple, and lyrically almost clumsily autobiographical. But it just nails the entire genre of family history and genealogy in a way that I’ve never seen attempted (let alone pulled off) in popular music.
And the sons become the fathers
And their daughters will be wives
As the torch is passed from hand to hand
And we struggle through our lives
Though the generations wander
The lineage survives
And all of us from dust to dust
We all become forefathers by and by
9) “Sweet Magnolia And The Traveling Salesman” – Windows and Walls (1984)
Another obscure Fogelberg classic. “Sweet Magnolia and the Traveling Salesman” is a classic angst-ridden lost love piece. (Hello! He’s a traveling salesman! You think he’s sticking around?!) Relatively simple piano backing and soulful vocals. Dan’s not just singing here, he’s really suffering! Maybe it was just that time in my life, but this song always gets me.
Then one day I flew
Far away from you
I never knew how I’d regret it
My sweet magnolia belle
You know I loved you well
Even if I never said it
8 ) “Looking for a Lady” – Home Free (1972)
“Looking for a Lady” is one of a pair of absolute classics from Dan’s first album (Home Free) in 1972. The guitar work is relatively simple (I can play it well — this should be an indication). The vocals are twangy in a patently classic country sort of way. And yet the angst is golden. More lost love (or love as yet unfound, almost the same thing).
Well I have a few in mind but none in particular
I have had ‘em before but nothing that was for sure
And my feelings have grown rigid like a wooden post
And my love is like a curtain that has been drawn closed
And my life just isn’t going the way I thought it was supposed to
And I’m crying and I find myself
Looking for a lady to change my night to day
7) “The Power of Gold” – Twin Sons of Different Mothers (1978)
“The Power of Gold” was the only hit from the Tim Weisberg collaboration Twin Sons of Different Mothers. (17 years later Dan and Tim tried it again, this time as clean-shaven aging guys with haircuts, calling the album “No Resemblance Whatsoever.” Excellent self-referential humor.) “The Power of Gold” features Weisberg’s distinctive flute and classic Fogelberg rock and roll (a’ la “Part of the Plan”). But Dan being Dan, the song ends with a haunting bass and flute backdrop for mysterious repeating lyrics:
The women are lovely, the wine is superb
But there’s something about the song that disturbs you.
6) “Times Like These” – The Innocent Age (1981)
I love this song, and it has absolutely nothing to do with the fact that it appeared in the 1980 film Urban Cowboy (which I never saw anyway). For me this is the ultimate Fogelberg rock tune. Put down the acoustic guitar, walk away from the piano, strap on an electric guitar and hammer it. (Not Guns N’ Roses hammering it, you understand. This is still Dan.) This is the song that “Part of the Plan” wishes it had been. It never made the charts as a single, and I don’t care. It’s one of the best Fogelberg songs of all time.
Nothing before you, nothing behind
Thoughtlessly chasing the thunder.
Traveling lightly, traveling blind
Never detouring to wonder why
5) “The Reach” – The Innocent Age (1981)
“The Reach” is probably the most tender and inspiring song on the amazing double album “The Innocent Age” from 1981. It tells the tale of lobstermen taking their sons and their boats out into the water in search of the “catch of the day.” Sounds a bit pedestrian, or seafaring, or working class, and it is. But it’s so much more than that. The music is elaborate, orchestrated, and moving. The tone and the vocals are tender and moving. And of course, it wouldn’t be Dan if there wasn’t some rain.
I will take from the reach
All that she has to teach
To the depths of my soul
4) “To The Morning” – Home Free (1972)
“To the Morning” might be the most brilliant early and mostly undiscovered song in the entire Fogelberg portfolio. No single. No charts. Dan and his piano and his silky voice. It’s not just good music, and a great composition, but the fundamental message of the song is about hope and perseverance in the face of whatever.
And it’s going to be a day
There is really no way to say “No” to the morning.
3) “Rhythm of the Rain” – The Wild Places (1990)
“Rhythm of the Rain” is one of the few covers that Fogelberg recorded. The song was written by John Gummoe and recorded in 1963 by the Thundernotes (formerly the Cascades), whose original version hit #2 in the states and #1 in many places internationally. It was later recorded by artists including Lawrence Welk, Jan and Dean, Johnny Rivers, Jerry Jeff Walker, and Neil Sedaka. But Dan’s version kicks them all. The soulful vocals are classic, the sax solo about two-thirds through is classic Dan, and the slightly strange but smooth transition at the end to Lennon and McCartney’s “Rain” is, um, classic… for Dan. In 1990 when this song was released, Dan’s commercial appeal had already faded. But this song still moves me.
Rain please tell me now does that seem fair
For her to steal my heart away when she don’t care?
I can’t love another when my heart’s somewhere far away
2) “Hard to Say” – The Innocent Age (1981)
Back to 1981 for the finale. The Innocent Age was possibly the most amazing singer-songwriter accomplishment in musical history in terms of densely packed instant classics. Think MJ’s “Thriller” or Boston’s first album, except Dan with a guitar and a piano. My all-time #2 Fogelberg hit is “Hard to Say.” It’s got everything: cool guitar work (including a harmonic note transition created using the tuner, rather than distorting the string through fingering), classic Dan vocals (naturally), Glenn Frey of the Eagles on backup vocals (not making that up), angst-ridden lost love (of course), and both snow and rain. Why do you cry each time the sky begins to snow?! Not sure, but this song should help ease the pain anyway.
Lucky at love, well maybe so
There’s still a lot of things you’ll never know
Like why each time the sky begins to snow you cry
1) “Same Old Lang Syne” – The Innocent Age (1981)
Drumroll please… This is my number one Dan song of all time. I understand that your mileage may vary, but this is my list. I struggled a bit with this choice, but decided ultimately that it belonged here. The song starts with the opening notes of the “1812 Overture” (10 notes, followed in Tchaikovsky’s composition by cannons exploding) developed into a very cool but simple theme on the piano. Then starts the simple and beautiful autobiographical story, “Met my old lover in the grocery store. The snow was falling Christmas Eve.” To be quite frank, as in other biographical songs by Dan, the lyrics are sometimes a bit clumsy (“She went to hug me and she spilled her purse, and we laughed until we cried.”) But there’s just this honesty about the story telling, the honesty of vocal expression that was uniquely Dan (and ironically often not as well achieved in concert as in the studio). But the ending seals the deal. You’ve got Dan, his piano, an angst-filled encounter with a former girlfriend, a holiday, snow, rain, loneliness, and a saxophone. Say no more. In the Fogelberg portfolio this song brings almost every conceivable element of the Dan musical persona to bear.
Just for a moment I was back in school
And felt that old familiar pain
And as I turned to make my way back home
The snow turned into rain
That’s my list. My apologies to those of you going, “Where’s Longer?! Run for the Roses?! Leader of the Band?!” Sorry. My faves. My tribute.
But most of all, thank you Dan for the music that was such a huge part of my young adult years. It wouldn’t have been the same — breaking up, walking out into the snow, and that sax playing in my head while the snow turned into rain. Somehow the Fogelberg soundtrack in my head made it all a bit more tolerable.