Stacked back to back, the records made by Emitt Rhodes in the short time between 1969 and 1973 stand up as one of the great brief flashes of inspiration and greatness in pop-music history. The Emitt Rhodes Recordings 1969-1973 collects all four albums the singer/songwriter/musical wiz recorded over that period of time and adds one extra track (the 1973 single "Tame the Lion"). The set starts off with the album Rhodes recorded after his band, the Merry-Go-Round, broke up in 1969. The songs are a mix of newly written ones and Merry-Go-Round leftovers recorded with studio pros filling in for the band. Not surprisingly, the record is a little scattered-sounding, with some of the songs sounding like the Baroque pop that the MGR had mastered ("You're a Very Lovely Woman," "The Man He Was"), some are experiments in different styles (the calypso-tinged "Mary Will You Take My Hand," the folky "Textile Ranch"), and quite a few point toward the simple sound he soon crafted on his debut ("Let's All Sing," "Saturday Night," "Pardon Me"). That self-titled record from 1970 is the best of the bunch; in fact, it is one of the best pop records of the '70s, and sounds like what would have happened had Paul McCartney saved up his most emotionally powerful and melodically rich post-Beatles' songs and recorded them with Badfinger as his backing band. Each song sounds like it should have been a hit single, from the heart-breakingly direct "Long Time No See" or the deceptively jubilant breakup song "With My Face on the Floor," to the anthemic George Harrison-esque "Live Till You Die" or the rollicking "Fresh as a Daisy." The pacing, sound, and feel of the record are as near perfect as you could hope, and the most impressive feat is that Rhodes did everything on the record himself. It's truly a moment of genius that Rhodes found hard to repeat. His next album, 1971's Mirror, repeats the same basic formula as Emitt Rhodes but has fewer knockout songs, and there are some hard rock (on the title track) and blues (on "I'm a Cruiser") influences creeping in around the edges and scuffing up the perfect pop. Still, the album is filled with great songs like the rollicking "Birthday Lady," the rocking "Really Wanted You," and the bleak ballad "Love Will Stone You" that help make the record a solid and highly listenable follow-up.
By the time of Farewell to Paradise, though, the twin factors of pressure from the record company and Rhodes' increasing perfectionism led to his recording a melancholy, downhearted album that has far less pop and far more introspection in its soul. There is a newfound feeling of pain and hurt that suffuses Rhodes' vocals on songs like "Trust One More" or "Blue Horizon" that gives the record some real depth, and the less focused and more folky arrangements give the record more of a Van Morrison feel than a McCartney feel. It would be easy to view the record as a disappointment on pure pop terms, but as a statement of Rhodes' disillusionment and frustration, it totally works and actually could be considered a lost treasure of the singer/songwriter era. Hearing it in context of his previous work shows just how much Rhodes had begun to change, and it makes it even more of a loss that Rhodes basically walked away from his career at the age of 24. The Emitt Rhodes Recordings 1969-1973 is essential to any fan of late-'60s/early-'70s pop music and hats off to Hip-O Select for giving Rhodes the attention he deserves.