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Rick Springfield – Jessie’s Girl

220px-Jessie's_Girl

Fortune does not always favor the overly-ambitious, particularly when it comes to film and TV actors who want to be pop stars. For every Kylie Minogue, emerging from the protective cocoon of Neighbours to become one of the music industry’s beautiful butterflies, there is a Lindsay Lohan, who jumped off the Disney family film bandwagon to become a pop chart roadside casualty.  A few acting icons have made the leap from the silver screen to the music charts with one-off pop hits – some huge ones in fact – before going back to their day jobs. Notable examples here include Eddie Murphy (Party All the Time, US no.2), Bruce Willis (Respect Yourself, US no.5), Nicole Kidman (Somethin’ Stupid, UK no.1), and Kate Winslet (What If, UK no.6). Yet more often than not those with Oscar-caliber acting talent would have been better off leaving their dreams of Grammy superstardom at home (I’m looking at you, Russell Crowe). As for the lucky few that did successfully make the transition from acting to singing – Miley Cyrus, Natalie Imbruglia and Jason Donovan being among the most notable members of this elite group – one of the most successful, at least for a time in the US, was the handsome Australian star of the U.S. daytime soap General Hospital, Rick Springfield.

Springfield’s road to TV and music superstardom was an interesting one. A veteran of several bands in his native Australia in the 1960s, Springfield scored a surprise international hit in 1972 with his song Speak to the Sky, which reached the Top 5 in Australia and no.14 in the US.  Marketed as a teen idol in a vein similar to Donny Osmond and David Cassidy, Springfield had middling chart success with his follow-up records.  Because of his name, he was often confused with Bruce Springsteen (and in fact his 1984 US top 40 hit Bruce paid tribute to this confusion). By the late 1970s, with his music career on the wane, he began to focus primarily on acting, scoring guest roles in a number of popular TV shows.  In 1981, he landed his highest-profile role yet, as the heartthrob playboy Dr. Noah Drake on General Hospital.

It is hard to overstate the popularity of General Hospital in the US in the early 1980s.  The no.1 daytime soap for most of that era, it was a bona fide cultural phenomenon, and its actors and plotlines were regularly discussed breathlessly in fan and supermarket magazines and on TV talk shows. The episode featuring the wedding of two of its central characters – Luke and Laura – was the most watched-event in US daytime serial history. The show even spawned two top 40 hits, Christopher Cross’ ode to the show’s central character, Think of Laura (US no.9 in 1983) and the rap tribute to the show, General Hospitale by the Afternoon Delights (US no.33, 1981).

Around the time he began his role on General Hospital, Springfield signed a new contract with RCA Records and recorded the album Working Class Dog. Neither Springfield nor his agent thought the album – chock full of melodic punk-pop numbers – would do very well, given Springfield’s long absence from the charts. The lead single from the album, Jessie’s Girl, however, began to catch on, in no small part due to Springfield’s role on General Hospital and the show’s huge popularity with US viewers. Insanely catchy, the song tells the tale of a man obsessed with his best friend’s girlfriend.  Despite the fact that he’s been funny and has “been cool with the lines,” he just can’t get the girl. And in the video, that obsession turns to anger, as Springfield angrily smashes a mirror when he sees Jessie’s girl in it.  (Little known fact:  according to the spray paint in the video, Jessie’s girl is named “Patty’).

 
The song was a huge smash, spending two weeks at no.1 and in the long run becoming one of the most-played and defining hits of the 1980s. It launched Springfield’s music career in the US, and from 1981 to 1985 he was one of the most successful singles artists on the charts, racking up 16 top 40 hits, including 5 top 10s.  In the UK, however, he charted only one top 40, the no.23 1984 hit Human Touch. Thinking they could follow up that hit with his original slam-dunk international smash, Springfield’s UK record company released Jessie’s Girl in March of 1984, but it was already three years old and its significance as a pop music/TV crossover was lost on the British public.  It puttered to a sad no.43 and became something of a joke in the British music press. Springfield, of course, had the last laugh – he became an international pop music icon and TV star and continues to act to this day – in fact, he is scheduled to appear in a featured role in the new season of True Detective on HBO.

Entered chart:  17/3/1984

Peak Position:  43

Weeks on chart: 7

Who could sing this today and have a hit? Ed Sheeran could do a cool acoustic cover of this and make it work. Or if he wants to revive his career with a beloved 80s classic, Robbie Williams.

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