The glee with which I bash “Same Old Lang Syne” (which still sucks) should not be confused with a general hatred for Dan Fogelberg personally. While I would not rank him, as my English-teaching reader did, alongside Shakespeare and Howlin’ Wolf, I have enjoyed and continue to enjoy some of what he left behind after his death in 2007 at the age of 56.
I first heard Fogelberg on “Part of the Plan” in 1975. The album from which it comes, Souvenirs, is a literate and likeable country rock record, every bit the equal (and in some ways better) than what the Eagles were doing at the same time. Fogelberg’s followup, Nether Lands, doesn’t strike me quite so great, but it’s not awful, either. In 1978, Fogelberg teamed with Tim Weisberg on Twin Sons of Different Mothers. The combination of Colorado folk-rock and light jazz seems weird on the surface, but it works—the album made the Top 10, was certified platinum, and contained a memorable hit single, “The Power of Gold.” (It also contains “Tell Me to My Face,” one of the angriest records you’ll ever hear, which deserved to be a hit.) In late 1979, Fogelberg released Phoenix. There’s some pretty fine rock on that record: the anti-nuclear song “Face the Fire” burns like the holocaust it warns against. But it contained the Top 10 hit “Longer,” and “Longer” ruined Dan Fogelberg. From that moment on, he would be an adult-contemporary balladeer, riding the wimp train up the charts again and again.
“Same Old Lang Syne” isn’t his only lyrically clunky hit single. In 1982, “Missing You” contained the immortal line, “I’m getting closer but I don’t know what to,” which is as perfectly empty a sentence as you can construct in English. He’s the guy who rhymed “consumed” with “exhumed” in “Make Love Stay” and “blood” with “stud” in “Run for the Roses.” And he would use rain as a symbol for tears more often than any writer should repeat any trope, especially a clichéd one. Also about this time, he developed a vocal tic, in which he’d enunciate syllables like he was daintily tiptoeing through a cow pasture trying not to step in anything. “Heart Hotels,” “Leader of the Band,” “Hard to Say”—they were all big hits, and every one of them has something about it that grates me like nails on a chalkboard.
(Full disclosure: “Run for the Roses” does not merely grate; I wish that every existing copy of it could be gathered up and burned. It contains everything that’s horrible about Fogelberg’s music in four minutes. I’d rather hear “Same Old Lang Syne,” actually.)
In 1985, Fogelberg made a bluegrass album, High Country Snows, which is much beloved among people who like that sort of thing. He continued to score hit singles on the adult-contemporary charts in the late 80s, hitting for the last time with a cover of “Rhythm of the Rain” in 1990, which is quite good (and which nicks a bit of the Beatles’ “Rain” in the process). The last album released during his lifetime was 2003’s Full Circle. He finished an album while he was dying of cancer and directed his wife to release it after he was gone; Love in Time came out in 2009.
Look, I get why people like Fogelberg’s soft-rock stuff. A sensitive guy with a guitar will go a long way in this world, as will somebody who finds something people want and contrives to sell it to them. I even get why people like “Same Old Lang Syne,” although I think it’s because they read into it what they wish was there, and they ignore the plain evidence in the grooves of how dorky it is.
Shorter now: I am not especially open to persuasion on how great Dan Fogelberg is. Although it’s fun to watch people try.