Overlooked Songs From Notorious Names: Rick James’ “Hollywood” – 1978
Motown Records was in the midst of artistic purgatory when Rick James arrived. Stevie Wonder’s creative zenith was behind him, Marvin Gaye’s life imitating art no longer benefited him, the funky Commodores were drowning in a whirlpool of Lionel Richie’s ballads and The Jackson Five minus four was going nowhere. Come Get It’s thinly-veiled themes of good sex, better weed and great parties gave Hitsville some much needed success and street cred. Each track were blue prints to all his hits to follow – “You & I” is a template to “High On Your Love;” “Sexy Lady” is “Come Into My Life” part one; “Dream Maker” paved the way for “Teardrops;” “Be My Lady” is the predecessor of “Big Time;” “Mary Jane” sowed the seeds for “All Night Long.” But then there’s…
With a fade-in of somber Rhodes chords and a piercing lead guitar, “Hollywood” is a brief taste of poignancy in a buffet of debauchery. It’s a tale of a young man fleeing the dismal confinements of his destitute existence in order to fulfill his dream; leaving with an empty suitcase, one pocket full of his mother’s guidance and the other with the gift of song. As Rick pleads with his mother, “Your one and only son has got to get away/before this ghetto life becomes the death of me,” it’s clear this wasn’t Al Jolson’s “California, Here I Come,” a pasty romp of fancy free dream chasing. Rick James’ “Hollywood” was an escape from bleak, deadly inner city alternatives. Sans blasting horns and aggressive guitar shredding, The Stone City Band keeps it simple here, placidly sprinkling colors as cold as the bitter winters of their native Buffalo, New York. Rick’s vocal throughout is quite epic, sustaining lengthy, soulful high notes that leave listeners emotionally drained. The Rick James who indulged in ménage-a-trios on Quaaludes with incense, wine and candles won’t be found here. For the only time on wax we hear James Ambrose Johnson, Jr., exuding unadulterated desperation.
By the end, Rick showed off some of his underappreciated arrangement prowess, kicking Stone City into a reggae vamp out as his groveling cries of “Won’t Be Long! Won’t Be Long,” get him ever closer to tinsel town. Although always an honest artist, the Punk Funk pioneer would never again craft a song with such anguish and torment. “Hollywood” remains a miraculous anomaly in the songbook of a Super Freak.