Local H's Scott Lucas: my top 5 not-so-guilty pleasures of all time
As the prime architect of the power duo conceit, Local H’s Scott Lucas has created a body of work that has, over the years, been met with considerable critical acclaim. But the Chicago-based rock minimalist stresses that he’s no elitist when it comes to his own listening habits. “There’s lots of records I love that aren’t considered ‘cool,’” he says. “In some way, that makes me love them more.”
A mainstay on Lucas’ iPod is one of the first records he ever bought – ABBA's Arrival. Although the Swedish quartet are now lauded for their infectiously catchy pop songcraft, during their active years, particularly the mid- to late ‘70s period that saw them land hit after hit on the charts, they were derided for what was then seen as a slavish devotion to commercial formalism.
“I could never figure out why people made fun of ABBA,” Lucas says. “They were right on the money. So the records were slick – big deal. In my mind, I thought it was fine to be into this sugar-pop band with unbelievable songs. I held onto those records and kept loving them.”
Lucas' affection for radio ear candy extends to current pop queens Katy Perry and Rihanna, and he counts himself as an admirer of Madonna's early work, as well. "With them, it's more on a song-to-song basis," he says. "I remember the scene in Reservoir Dogs where they’re talking about Madonna, and one of the characters says, ‘I liked her stuff like Borderline, but after Papa Don’t Preach, I tuned out.’ And they sat there and debated her relevance, which says a lot about her impact. I agree that Borderline is a great song, so there you go."
On the following pages, Lucas counts down and discusses his not-so-guilty pleasures, albums that aren't necessarily in his wheelhouse, but they're ones which he dutifully defends. “I don’t feel the least bit embarrassed about liking any of them," he says. "They’re great records, and I can prove it.”
ABBA – Arrival (1976)
“A fantastic record. It’s got Dancing Queen, Knowing Me, Knowing You, When I Kissed The Teacher – really, really perfect songs. This album was a key influence on me. And they’re in a helicopter on the cover, too. I always thought that was cool.
“Every time I hear Dancing Queen, it sweeps me away. It’s beautiful from the first piano part that kicks off the song. I don’t understand why anybody wouldn’t like it. Brilliant songwriting.
“I was pretty young when I got into ABBA. The first record of theirs that I bought was ABBA: The Album, which came out after Arrival, actually. That one had Take A Chance On Me, The Name Of The Game and Hole In Your Soul on it. Sometimes it’s hard to remember what’s on each album because I’ve spent so much time listening to their Greatest Hits – it all blurs together.
“But man, talk about a body of work. ABBA are the sugar-pop version of The Beatles, and that’s not to diminish them in any way. They made very smart, totally catchy recordings. And they’re not as squeaky-clean as people might think – some of their songs are about divorce the the dark side of relationships. In real life, they had a whole Fleetwood Mac thing going on, but probably without the drugs.
“ABBA rules. They’re rich, they’re Swedish, and Led Zeppelin recorded in their studio. There’s a lot of lessons you can learn from listening to their music, and God knows I have.”
Journey – Escape (1981)
“I love Journey. The Roy Thomas Baker records are pretty great, so it’s hard to pick a favorite, but when I really think about it, I would say that Escape is probably their masterpiece.
“Don’t Stop Believin’, Who’s Crying Now, Stone In Love – how can you argue with those songs? Journey kind of gets lumped in with that early ‘80s corporate rock thing, but Steve Perry has a voice that the singers in those other bands didn’t have. The guy in Styx, his voice wasn’t anywhere near as good as Steve Perry’s.
“You hear these songs on Glee now, and they get reduced to theater music, but when you go back to the originals, it becomes apparent how brilliant Steve Perry is. He’s almost like Sam Cooke in his emotive force. There’s a really interesting timbre in his voice.
“Neal Schon is one of my favorite guitar players. He’s lyrical, his tone is great, you can hum everything he does, and every solo is just as good as the song itself. He always throws in a little technical flash, but he's all melody. In Don’t Stop Believin’, he actually plays the melody in a solo before they even get to the chorus. That’s stupendous.”
Roger Hodgson – In The Eye Of The Storm (1984)
“This might be the feyest record that I’ve ever listened to. There was only one single on it, a song called Sleeping With The Enemy. I remember Roger Hodgson running naked in the video – I guess that made an impression on me. Somebody told me that the album was good, and I said, ‘I don’t know… I don’t think I can like it.’ I couldn't imagine being into something so light.
“There’s seven songs on it, and they’re all really long. It’s almost like elf music – and that’s not even right, because it’s almost pixyish. Roger was doing that on some Supertramp records, but it was kind of kept at bay. Here he brings it all out in full-flowered form.
“I was really surprised to find that I loved it. It’s one of the first things that I ever bough on iTunes because I lost the original album. I didn’t always like Supertramp – I used to think they were pretty annoying – but now I think they’re great. It might have started for me with this record. It’s got everything that Roger was probably trying to do in that band, but more so. And when I say ‘more,’ I really mean ‘less.’ It’s way lighter than Supertramp, but it works.”
The Killers – Hot Fuss (2004)
“There’s jam after jam on this record. The songs are undeniably awesome. I listened to it a lot when it came out. Even though The Killers got huge pretty quickly, the consensus was still out on them for a lot of people. You could definitely see them as a new Duran Duran in a way.
“I heard Somebody Told Me first, and I wasn’t that into it. Then I heard All These Things That I’ve Done, and I thought that it was really good. Smile Like You Mean It is amazing. Pretty soon, I got hooked. Listen to side one – there’s hit after hit and it just keeps going. Mr. Brightside is terrific, too.
“I bought the band's second record, Sam’s Town, but it didn’t hold my interest – I tried. I didn’t see the need for them to be doing the Bruce Springsteen thing. Maybe because their first record was so huge, they reacted to their success and wanted to show people that they weren’t trying to be U2 or something. That can be the downside to pop music and how it can be seen as disposable. I think that's pretty sad, because it’s not throwaway at all.”
REO Speedwagon – Hi Infidelity (1980)
“REO Speedwagon are not a cool band. They’re not now, and they weren’t then. You could argue that when Journey was featured in The Sopranos, that made them cool, but you never would have heard REO on The Sopranos. They just don’t have that kind of cache.
“That said, Hi Infidelity is a tremendous record. For the longest time I wanted to do a track-for-track cover of it. I told Evan Dando about it, and he threatened to steal the idea. We ended up getting into a fight over it.
“When it came out, I remember putting it on and keying right into what Gary Richrath was doing on the guitar. I thought he was so heavy. Listening to it now, I realize there’s nothing heavy about the record at all. It’s drenched in reverb, and it sounds like the band is in another room.
“It’s still good, though. When Gary hits the guitar chords at the end of Don’t Let Him Go, it’s like, ‘Whoa!’ And the solo in Take It On The Run is pretty great. The song isn’t quite a ballad, but it could be. It opens and closes with the same lyric, which is cool. Plus it’s a terrific line: 'Heard it from a friend who/ heard it from a friend who/heard it from another you been messin' around.’
“REO laid down the template with Keep On Loving You. That's the one that made it easy for bands to grab the money with super-lame power ballads. I can imagine them saying, ‘And then we’ll put a fiery guitar solo in it just to show everybody we haven’t totally pussied out.’ Roy Thomas Baker toyed around with the concept on some Journey records, so he put the germ of the idea out there. But REO nailed it, and every band took from them. Everybody stole from REO.”