Rick Springfield deserves better than being written off as nothing more than a slight teen idol, as he so frequently is. Of course, it's easy to see why he's been pegged as nothing more than teenybopper fodder. He had pinup good looks, which led him to a starring role as Dr. Noah Drake on the soap opera General Hospital, which was his regular gig when his 1981 album, Working Class Dog, and its number one hit single, "Jessie's Girl," stormed the U.S. charts, kicking off nearly five years of Top Ten hits. During that hot streak, Springfield was all over teen magazines and the airwaves, seizing the opportunity to be ubiquitous, and who could blame him? He may have been an overnight sensation, but it came with over a decade's worth of hard work, beginning with the psych-tinged heavy rock band Zoot in his native Australia and leading him through flirtations with mellow singer/songwriter tunes, prog, glorious AM bubblegum, and power pop, before winding up with the sleek, mainstream pop/rock that brought him fame with Working Class Dog. That progression, along with the aftermath of his fame, is charted on RCA/Legacy's excellent 2005 compilation Written in Rock: The Rick Springfield Anthology, a 42-track, double-disc set, compiled with the assistance of Springfield (who also contributes terrific liner notes), that covers his entire career. To those who think of Springfield as a lightweight, the very existence of such a hefty career overview may seem ridiculous, but Written in Rock makes an excellent case for his skills as a hooky, tremendously appealing pop star. To snobs, this is the kind of music that's written off as a guilty pleasure -- it's filled with huge, forceful hooks and delivered in slick production that always evokes its era, whether it's the soft focus of the early '70s, the synth-laden fallout of new wave in the early '80s, or the big, meticulously recorded polish of the '90s -- but so be it: that doesn't mean that it's anything less than a pleasure. In particular, his hot streak of the early '80s retains its glitz and kinetic energy, the perfect mix of arena rock, power pop, and new wave, but the real revelation of the set is how terrific the cuts from the '70s are: the rollicking Jesus rock of "Speak to the Sky" managed to hit number 14 in 1972 and it sounds as joyous and irresistible as ever here, but the cuts from 1974's Comic Book Heroes and especially 1976's Wait for Night illustrate that Springfield was quite a talented and versatile pop/rocker nearly a decade before his big breakthrough (here's hoping that they will finally get widespread CD reissue in the wake of this set). In fact, the biggest weakness of this set is that it glosses over the '70s rather quickly, devoting perhaps a little bit too much space to his post-hitmaking years (the final ten songs all date from 1988 to 2004), but even that material showcases a rocker who is a more versatile writer and musician than he's given credit for, and it's also more emotionally open to boot. Even at its considerable length, Written in Rock has a couple of omissions -- his wonderful bubblegum soundtrack for the animated early-'70s TV show Mission Magic is regrettably absent, as are such smaller hits as "What Would the Children Think," "Bruce," and "Taxi Dancing" -- but these are minor flaws since, as a whole, the collection offers a thorough, entertaining, and winning overview of this perennially underrated pop star.
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AllMusic Review by Stephen Thomas Erlewine
Track Listing - Disc 1
Track Listing - Disc 2