“You know I wish that I had Jessie’s girl…”
It’s easy to look at a career like Rick Springfield’s and think “overnight success,” but like so many performers, this way of thinking paints an incomplete picture. Sure, he had a string of hits following his popularity on the soap opera, General Hospital, but his musical career had started long before his face became plastered on every teen magazine in the country.
Growing up in Australia, Springfield was playing piano by the age of nine and composing songs and playing guitar a few years later. By 1969, when he was 20, he was playing in one of the most successful Australian bands of the late 60s called Zoot. By 1971, he had his first hit single in land down under, “Speak to the Sky” which went to #1. Following the success of this upbeat acoustic song, he was signed by Capitol Records and relocated to Hollywood. Released in America, “Speak to the Sky” reached #14 on the Billboard Top 100 and led to a number of television appearances, including American Bandstand, which led to teen magazine covers. In 1973, he was providing music, and a cartoon likeness of himself, for the Saturday morning animated series, Mission: Magic!
Surprisingly, tough times followed. Capitol dropped Springfield in 1973, after rumors surfaced in the industry that they were paying stations to play his music. Columbia Records signed him the same year, but dropped him when his second album, Comic Book Heroes failed to chart, although it received positive reviews from Rolling Stone. By the mid-70s, he was performing in Sunset Strip clubs and trying to regroup. He turned to acting, landing small roles in The Six Million Dollar Man and The Incredible Hulk, which led to a role on General Hospital.
When 1981 rolled around, he released the album Working Class Dog and his luck improved significantly. With most of the material written by him, one particular song would change his career forever, a rockin’ tune about obsessed love called “Jessie’s Girl,” which quickly rose to #1 and earned him a Grammy Award.
He scored another top-10 hit with the Sammy Hagar-penned, “I’ve Done Everything For You.” A year later, another album was released called Success Hasn’t Spoiled Me Yet, featuring its own top-10 offering, “Don’t Talk to Strangers.” His third album in the span of three years, Living in Oz, had a much edgier feel than his earlier work, but that didn’t keep it from being successful. The hard rocking, “Affairs of the Heart” was only one of the hits to come from the album, which quickly went platinum.
With the success of these albums, he landed a starring role in the film, Hard to Hold, playing what else? A rock star. The soundtrack from the film produced a top-10 hit, “Love Somebody” and the song “Bop Til You Drop” was a radio favorite as well. After the release of Tao in 1985, Rick decided to take a break from touring and spend more time with his family. By 1987, he was back to work, but only for a short time. After the release of Rock of Life, his newest album, he was seriously injured in an ATV accident, and unable to play the guitar, the entire tour was cancelled.
The public heard less from Springfield over the next decade, but he did make numerous appearances in made-for-television movies, and television shows such as Suddenly Susan and High Tide. In 1997, he returned to the studio, releasing the album Sahara Snow, followed by Karma in 1999. Both albums were only mildly successful, but his 2004 offering, Shock/Denial/Anger/Acceptance was critically acclaimed and reached the #8 spot on the Top Independent Albums chart and #22 on the Top Internet Sales chart.
In 2005, soap opera fans were delighted when Rick returned to General Hospital after 23 years, reprising his role of Dr. Noah Drake. What was supposed to be short-lived turned into a much longer commitment and by 2007, he was playing two roles on the series – that of Drake, and also of 80s rock star and Dr. Drake look-alike Eli Love. More recently, he has been appearing on the Showtime series, Californication, playing a “twisted version of himself.”
So while it may be easy to mistake Springfield’s meteoric rise in the early 80s as an overnight success, the truth is that he has had a career that started in the late 60s and spanned almost 4 decades. Things are not always as they appear and like most “overnight successes,” the real story is often much different than the first impression.
If you grew up to the music of Rick Springfield, and/or consider yourself one of his biggest fans, we welcome your thoughts in our comments section, as we pay tribute to this familiar face of the 80s, here on Retroland.