Music

Beyond ‘Jessie’s Girl’: Why Rick Springfield Was Better, And Way More Popular, Than You Think

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When we think of Rick Springfield, two things immediately come to mind:

1. His massive hit single “Jessie’s Girl”

2. His role as Dr. Noah Drake on the long-running soap opera General Hospital

But while those are his two biggest successes, there’s way more to the man than that. His recorded output has produced a ton of memorable singles, along with a surprising amount of lyrical depth. Quite simply, Rick Springfield is a far more interesting figure than the pop culture zeitgeist gives him credit for.

The fact that “Jessie’s Girl” is practically the only song of his that anyone remembers or talks about is pretty baffling when you consider he had 17 Top 40 singles in the U.S. To put that in perspective, Tom Petty has only had 15. Indeed, throughout the ’80s, Springfield was a hit machine on par with pretty much any musician of the era, other than Michael Jackson or Madonna. That so many of his popular songs have been lost to the ages just seems unfair.

While the vast majority of Springfield’s hits came during his ’80s prime, he made his first impact on the charts in 1971 – 10 years before “Jessie’s Girl” – with “Speak to the Sky,” which peaked at No. 14 on the Billboard Hot 100. The song is a fun, Beatles-esque number that starts out as an acoustic tune and gradually evolves into a singalong. The hippie-ish lyrics are a bit silly, but the melody is undeniably catchy. Even at this early stage in his career, Springfield already had an obvious knack for writing pop songs.

Throughout the 1970s, Springfield continued to release music while being promoted as a teen idol in the mold of Keith Partridge or David Cassidy, which he was never exactly thrilled with. He had fans, but his music wasn’t being taken seriously, and, as a result, his singles failed to do much on the American charts.

That would change, however, with the release of Working Class Dog in 1981, which began a streak of success that would last throughout the decade. The album is, of course, best known for “Jessie’s Girl,” but “I’ve Done Everything for You” was also a major hit, making it to No. 8 on the Hot 100. Additionally, anyone who has seen Wet Hot American Summer is likely familiar with “Love Is Alright Tonight,” even if they don’t know it’s a Rick Springfield song. That song is one of Springfield’s most memorable of the era, with a chorus so hooky, it would make Cheap Trick jealous.

Springfield displayed his sense of humor with the followup to Working Class Dog, the cleverly titled Success Hasn’t Spoiled Me Yet. Beyond the title, the cover art also features the dog who appeared on the cover of Working Class Dog now riding in a limousine. One of the more revealing tracks from this album is “Don’t Talk to Strangers,” which was inspired by his paranoia that his girlfriend was cheating on him while he was on tour. It’s one of his more honest songs, and a reminder that he was far deeper than his teen idol image.

Springfield would continue to release a string of successful albums up until 1988’s Rock of Life, all of which had singles that did quite well on the charts. Following that album, however, he walked away from the spotlight, choosing to spend time with his family rather than embarking on a tour. He finally returned to music with 1999’s Karma, which failed to make an impact, reaching just No. 189 on the Billboard 200 chart. Shortly after returning from the tour for that album, Springfield was arrested for spousal abuse after a confrontation with his wife, although no charges were filed due to a lack of evidence. While we’ll never know for sure what took place that night, it certainly casts “Don’t Talk to Strangers” in a much darker light.

After that, Springfield went away from music for another five years before releasing the most candid album of his career, 2004’s Shock/Denial/Anger/Acceptance. Springfield sang openly about the demons that dogged him throughout his career. Especially revealing was “My Depression,” which included lines such as “Midlife crisis rears its ugly head / Prozac, lithium, could never get enough of ’em / Last wills, shrink’s bills, sleeping pills, sex kills.” Now that Springfield was no longer part of the mainstream pop scene, he was free to be as direct as necessary when talking about his personal issues.

While the confessional lyrics on that album were a bit of surprise, Rick was just getting warmed up. In 2010, he released a memoir entitled Late, Late at Night in which he wrote in far greater detail about his weaknesses. Cleverly, he begins by quoting the lyrics to “My Depression” as the Cliff’s Notes version of the story, then encouraging anyone who was interested in learning more to read on. Even people who are not fans of Springfield’s work could still likely enjoy this memoir. In addition to being far more honest than most celebrities who write books like this, he’s also a shockingly good writer, with an informal style of prose that remains captivating throughout.

If the only things you know him for are “Jessie’s Girl” and General Hospital, I would highly recommend digging deeper. Rick Springfield is a lot of things; a flawed man, a surprisingly witty man, and a much more interesting person than most people are aware of.

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