When I bring up the name Rex Smith, many people – usually over 40 years of age – instantly remember him as a teen idol, soap actor, balladeer, hard rocker, TV host or stage actor. Oddly enough, they are all absolutely correct! While he may never have achieved ‘household name’ status all over the world, he is still fondly remembered for quite a few things. For the time being, I’m going to set aside his TV, film and stage work (Street Hawk, Grease, Solid Gold, As The World Turns, Pirates Of Penzance, etc) and focus on his Rock/Pop music career in the ‘70s and ‘80s, all of which is included in the six CD box set ROCK AND ROLL DREAM: 1976-1983.
The younger brother of Starz frontman Michael Lee Smith, Rex also followed his Rock ‘n’ Roll dream and played in a few bands before finally landing a high-profile record contract with his group Rex. The band’s music was rooted in Hard Rock and contained elements of Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple and, of course, Starz. Their two albums –REX (1976) and WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE (1977) – are chock full of riffs, wails and sweaty, confident Hard Rock. They may not have re-written the rules but they certainly had a grasp on what made Hard Rock fun and exciting.
When the band split, Rex went solo and changed course. He dove into acting and musical theater, whichlead to a starring role in the 1979 romantic teen-oriented TV movie SOONER OR LATER. Rex performed the Pop-oriented songs from that film, steering clear of his Hard Rock roots. “You Take My Breath” away became a huge hit and his good looks shifted quite a few TIGER BEAT magazines. The album itself is a smorgasbord of sweet pop confections. So many catchy melodies made the album the perfect listen for a sunny, reflective day. Not quite Bubblegum Pop, SOONER OR LATER turned Rex the rocker into a ‘teen idol’. While this may have been an exciting prospect at the time, it also meant that no matter what, his musical career would never be taken seriously again. Just ask David Cassidy…
1980’s FOREVER album continued the Soft Pop feel of SOONER OR LATER but also added a bit more depth. While not a return to Hard Rock form, there are a few rockers on FOREVER that add more thumpus to the rumpus. Then you’ve got songs like “Everytime I See You,” which sounds influenced by the great Yacht Rock bands of the era (especially Fleetwood Mac). A bit beefier than the previous album, FOREVER was a valiant effort to move away from a predominantly teen-oriented crowd and be embraced by a more mature audience.
EVERLASTING LOVE (1981) was a blend of early ‘80s pop with a dash of good ol’ AOR alongside his Soft Pop and Yacht Rock leanings. The album not only featured the Top 40 title track, a duet with Stiff Records’ former teen dynamo Rachel Sweet, but also an impressive cover of After The Fire’s “Love Will Always Make You Cry.” The album still featured power ballads to keep his teen fanbase happy, but the album certainly traveled a lot of musical ground. Rex’s voice could sometimes be a bit melodramatic thanks to retraining his voice for musical theater, but his move away from the teeny-bop sound was nearly complete.
By the time CAMOUFLAGE was released in 1983, he made a bold attempt to return to his Rock roots without losing his Pop audience. The album was produced by AOR knob-twiddler Ron Nevison and featured musical assistance from Jason Scheff, Brad Whitford, Peter Wolf (the keyboardist, not the vocalist), and other session pros. Apart from tracks written by Terry Britten, John David and Smith himself, there’s also a spirited take of The Cretones’ “Real Love” with guest vocalist Linda Ronstadt (Linda had previously covered Cretones/Mark Goldenberg tracks during her New Wave period). CAMOUFLAGE was not a return to his wailing Rex (the band) days but was definitely another step away from SOONER OR LATER. But as stated earlier, once you’ve been branded a ‘teen idol,’ it is hard to break out of that mold. This should have been proof that he was on his way back to fighting form but it was to be his last Pop/Rock release for nearly 20 years.
If you consider Rex Smith as nothing more than ear candy for 13 year olds, then this box set will set the record straight. From Teen Pop to Yacht Rock to Hard Rock to Soft Pop to AOR, Rex Smith’s musical output was a lot more varied than he’s given credit for. For those who are already familiar with Rex’s music, this is your one-stop Rex shop. Six CDs in mini LP sleeves housed in a clamshell box with a nice booklet. What more could you ask for?
Keep on truckin’,
Stephen SPAZ Schnee