Emitt Rhodes: “Really Wanted You”
Emitt Rhodes is something of a cult figure these days. Rarely heard about in any media if you aren’t looking for him specifically, Rhodes nonetheless made a bit of a splash for a very short time in the very early ’70s, although even then it was apparently more of a critical than a popular success. He had previously been leader of the similarly obscure band, The Merry-Go-Round, who had their biggest hit in 1967 with the song “Live” (which the Bangles later did a great job covering — in my opinion, even improving upon it — on their debut album). Rhodes was a Beatles disciple — his songwriting with the Merry-Go-Round placed them strongly in the “Beatlesque” category — and when he went solo and released the great Emitt Rhodes album in 1970, it became very clear precisely which Beatle he was so enamored with: Paul. His songwriting and singing were dead ringers for Paul’s style, but Rhodes managed to not make it sound like he was merely aping McCartney. He was clearly a talented songwriter in his own right, and although the influence is very obvious, in some ways he even managed to outdo McCartney’s solo work; once you’ve heard the Emitt Rhodes album, you just may find yourself thinking that this is the classic McCartney solo album that he should have released.
Emitt Rhodes earned Rhodes the tag, “The One-Man Beatles,” and it’s certainly not hard to hear why. In addition to the heavy Beatles vibe, Rhodes recorded the album entirely on his own, playing all the instruments in his home studio, much the way McCartney recorded his solo debut, McCartney (the albums came out at roughly the same time, however, so this wasn’t a case of Rhodes copying McCartney’s methods). It actually ended up sounding more polished than quite a bit of McCartney, but the album has a similar warmth and personal feel to it, combined with Rhodes’ undeniable vocal similarities. The home recording continued with his 1971 followup album, Mirror, where it sounds like Rhodes may have been listening to John Lennon’s Plastic Ono Band prior to recording — there’s a bit more of an edge to these songs and some occasionally Lennon-like sounds.
Mirror includes what is probably my favorite Rhodes song: “Really Wanted You.” It’s a great rocker with some nice guitar, both acoustic and electric, and has more of a roughness to it than anything on the debut album, taking the warmth of those songs and dragging some coarse sandpaper over it. It sounds to me, in fact, a bit like a lost track from McCartney’s own followup solo album, Ram. I hate to keep relating everything Rhodes did to the Beatles, really, but the comparisons are inescapable. I think it’s less a case of mimicry than of an artist so deeply influenced by his idols that it simply became ingrained in his style, to the point that his own musical growth began to parallel theirs. The fact of the matter is that Rhodes’ music is excellent and well worth seeking out on its own merits, and — not but, just and — will nonetheless always be associated closely with the Beatles.