Dan Fogelberg: 1951-2007

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.

Thanks Dan!

12 thoughts on “Dan Fogelberg: 1951-2007

  1. How could you possibly pass over “Make Love Stay”? Not even a mention? It’s one of my all-time favorites. Nice list though. I’m a Fogelberg fan too.

  2. This was extremely nice. I’m a huge fan, too. I haven’t been able to listen to his music since he passed. I looked at it again today and decided that I had to put it away.

    “Ever On” is intertwined with my Mom’s passing, making it even harder to listen to him.

    I’ve never grieved over a singer before, but this feels like a huge loss. Thanks for sharing your favorites.

  3. There was at least one other recorded cover: “It Doesn’t Matter” by Stephen Stills was on his underrated album “Exiles.” Very nice remembrance.

  4. I spent an hour after reading this trying to come up with my top ten favorite Dan Fogelberg songs. I honestly cannot do it. There are so many masterpieces of songwriting spread across all of his recordings I cannot chose one to be my favorite. I could pick ten songs I love, but then I can’t assign them a number. It’s like asking me to pick my favorite child, you love each of them with all your heart, no one gets more than the other really.

    Truly though, seeing your list moved me. I love to see other people out there in the world who mourn his death as I do. Other people who listen to his music and saw the gift in Dan.

    I still struggle, as another poster said, with playing his music now. Sometimes it really does hurt to listen and think that he is gone. But I for one could never put his recordings on a shelf forever. There are good days, amongst the grief, when I am grateful to have even been listening to him all these years of my life. Times when I am proud to have listened quietly enough to see the gift of his music. Some songs so powerful that you hear the pure spirit with which they were written with every listen. Those songs will always keep me coming back.

    He may be gone from this world but he is still alive in me.

  5. I love the list and see two of my favorites on here — Sweet Magnolia & the Traveling Salesman (which I’d googled and how I ended up on your blog) is one of my top 10 – and because of the emotional history tied to it in my life is actually a smidge higher on my list. 🙂 It seems I remember him saying that he actually wrote that song about a woman in his life (this was from when I saw “The Man and His Music” tour in December 1983)

    And The Reach, which I think is actually #1 on my list, is such a great song. I’m glad to see that someone else loves it, too.

    A wonderful tribute.

  6. Very nice article and tribute. My list would have included such gems as “There’s a Place in the World (for a Gambler)” which is my personal favorite, “Scarecrow’s Dreams”, “Netherlands” (who can forget the first time they heard this amazing song), another cover, Judy Collins’ “Since You Asked” (absolutely stunning vocals), and last, but by no means least, “Tucson, Arizona Gazette” from his “Windows and Walls” album. Dan did many covers, at least one from each album starting from the “Netherlands” one (“Tell Me to my Face” and “Since You Asked”), “High Country Snows” had two (“Go Down Easy” and “Think of What you’ve Done”), “Exiles” had the wonderfully done “It Doesn’t Matter”, his second live album “Something Old, Something New, Something Borrowed and some Blues” had two notable covers, “You Better think Twice” (an old Poco song, done fantastically live with Timothy B. Schmidt on backing vocals) and George Harrison’s “Here Comes the Sun”. He also did two blues (covers) songs. His last album “Full Circle” had(the title track) and the final song “Earth Anthem”.
    There will never be another (true) artist like Dan Fogelberg. The world lost a bright light that early December morning.

  7. My all time favorite, The Last Nail.

    I’m amazed his passing warranted so little media attention, but I suppose he might have wanted to go quietly. Godspeed.

  8. Just in case anyone is interested in following up on the info in these entries:

    1) Same Old Lang Syne’s opening piano is taken from Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture, not Rossini’s William Tell (The Lone Ranger theme) Overture.

    2) ”Tell Me to my Face” and “Since You Asked” are both from Dan’s Twin Sons of Different Mothers album with Tim Weisberg, not from Dan’s Netherlands album.

    Don’t forget his instrumentals -Half Moon Bay from Full Circle, Paris Nocturne from Twin Sons of Different Mothers, etc. Wrenchingly beautiful!

    He was a genius and a shining light from God. I am still grieving. He gave to us a gift I know we never can repay.

  9. Dan was a very gifted person whose music and lyrics have deeply moved me, songs that actually helped me through many hard times in my life.

    As a guitarist, the following are my favorites:

    Part of the Plan
    There’s A Place In the World for a Gambler
    Below the Surface
    Promises Made
    Along the Road
    The Reach
    Faces of America
    Once in Love
    Icarus Ascending

    I had the opportunity to attend 2 of his performances, one being a solo tour that was breath taking.

    He also lived true to his lyrics and convictions and has moved on with grace and dignity.

    Dan, I thank you for your artistic efforts and heartfelt concerns with the planet at large.

    Most of all, I will cherish the personal effect that your songs have had on me and my life.

    May God Bless You … Dan

  10. A great song is Tucson Arizona (Gazette). The lyrics and the story are awesome, but the acoustic “Spanish” guitar always captivates me. To me, it is like the acoustic guitar is the main thread and the vocal is the background, as well as other terrific instrumentation, electric guitar, piano, and orchestration. I assume Dan did the acoustic guitar. If anyone knows otherwise, post it here. I would love to have a copy of just that specific recording track, the acoustic guitar. I wonder if Dan ever got all those instruments and an orchestra to perform the song live. That would have been amazing.
    What a great musician-angelic and powerful. God bless you Dan Fogelberg.

  11. I just wanted to thank those of you who have shared your feelings. You know, I wrote this blog post just for me as a way of processing my grief and paying tribute to someone who had been such a blessing in my life. It makes me so happy to see others resonating with that. I’ve just re-read all the comments and felt all those emotions again. Thanks so much!

    I also wanted to thank Vee for the clarification on the “1812 Overture” vs. “William Tell Overture” in the intro to “Same Old Lang Syne.” I knew that (heard it from Dan himself in concert as he introduced the song), but somehow got it wrong when I was writing. I’m sure I googled it while writing just to be sure, and then got bad information. In order to not be the source of further propagating bad information online, I’ve changed the post to reflect the correct information. Thanks Vee!

    Also a thank you to others that have pointed out that Dan did a number of covers. I’ve also changed the post slightly to reflect that more accurately.


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