‘The Passenger’ was Melvin James’ 1987 debut solo release. This could be new wave/power pop from the 1979/1981 timeframe.
Written by: gdmonline
ARTIST: Melvin James
ALBUM: The Passenger
SERIAL: MCA-5663 (LP), MCAD-5663 (CD)
CD REISSUE: Discogs Reissue List
COUNTRY OF ORIGIN USA
LINEUP: Melvin James – vocals, guitars, bass, percussion * Dik Shopteau – bass * Dave Hern – bass synthesizer * Joe Vitale – synthesizer, drums (tracks 3 – 9) * Gordy Knudtson – drums (track 1) * Pye Prochowitz – drums (track 2)
TRACK LISTING: 01 Why Won’t You Stay (Come In, Come Out Of The Rain) * 02 We Hear The Thunder * 03 Telephone * 04 Passenger * 05 Loving You Is Strange * 06 Twisted * 07 She’s So Sorry * 08 Sugar Candy * 09 Devil With A Halo
Melvin James is a name unknown to many, but residents in the Twin Cities area of Minnesota should remember this fellow going way back into the 80’s. Bought up on a diet of 70’s greats where all the usual suspects crossed his turntable (Cooper, Purple, Heep, Bowie, T-Rex etc), Melvin James was a self taught guitarist who apparently had his first ever gig at the tender age of 14.
By his late teens, Melvin had moved to Minneapolis, formed the band Crash Street Kids, who released an acclaimed debut album on Fat City Records. He spent six years with that band before the label went belly-up. Undeterred, Melvin was a prolific songwriter with enough material to go in search of a solo deal. A few showcases later, he was snapped up by MCA, who won out in an apparent bidding war! This turned out to be a curse rather than a blessing.
The resulting debut album, ‘The Passenger’, was released in 1987, and would prove to be Melvin James’ only solo release up to that point. When listening to this, you can’t help admire the sound, which really sounds as if it was a better fit around the new wave/power pop era from the 1979/1981 timeframe.
For reference points, I hear guys like Mikael Erlandsson, Glen Burtnick and Tommy Keene. Interesting to see Dik Shopteau (previously with Minnesota legends Judd and the Daisy Dillman Band) listed in the credits, along with well renowned drummer Joe Vitale, who is also a solo artist in his own right (refer his album ‘Plantation Harbor’).
Perhaps the most recognisable track here is the opener ‘Why Won’t You Stay (Come In, Come Out Of The Rain)’. An MTV video was made of this song (refer below). Other highlights include the expansive ‘We Hear The Thunder’, the 80’s synth pop rock of ‘She’s So Sorry’, the pulsy pop rock sound of ‘Loving You Is Strange’ or the big arena rock that emanates from the grooves of ‘Sugar Candy’.
Unfortunately Melvin James’ time at MCA ended when the label had a broom swept down the halls of senior management – he along with a few others were dropped from the label like a lead balloon. ‘The Passenger’ peaked at 146 in 1987, and the single ‘Why Won’t You Stay’ made it onto Billboard’s Mainstream Rock Tracks chart, though I hardly think that actually means anything.
In the ‘where is he now’ stakes, Melvin James is now in the band Planet Melvin, playing alongside his son (Melvin James Jnr), who plays drums. The guys are still at it today. For an 80’s blast of power pop/rock in the vein of Glen Burtnick, ‘The Passenger’ is worthy of your investigation.
Why Won’t You Stay