Review Summary: If Pat Benatar had stepped out on Neil Giraldo and had a fling with Becker and Fagen of Steely Dan, the offspring would most likely have been Quarterflash.
The 1980s was a more varied decade musically than it's often given credit for. Yes, there was new wave music and the beginnings of synth-pop, but there was also so much more. There were hair bands and punk bands. There were arena rock bands, trying desperately to hold onto the relevancy they had established in the '70s. There were various sub-species of metal bands, as Sputnik Music readers certainly know. Then there are those bands that didn't fit comfortably into any of these categories. Quarterflash was one of these.
They weren't new wave. They weren't soft enough to be soft rock. They weren't consistently jazzy enough to be jazz rock. And they certainly weren't hard rock. Largely the project of the wife/husband team of vocalist/sax player Rindy Ross and guitarist/songwriter Marv Ross, they were instead something of a musical hybrid. If Pat Benatar had stepped out on Neil Giraldo and had a torrid affair with Walter Becker and Donald Fagan of Steely Dan, Quarterflash might well have been the resultant offspring. It's not that Ross's voice sounds like Benatar's. It isn't quite as powerful, but it's tastefully smoky and has its own unique quality. Some of the band's songs, though, sound like they'd fit very comfortably in Benatar's catalog.
, the band's first album, was also their most successful. Released in 1981, the LP charted at #8 on the Billboard
charts, and was eventually certified platinum by the RIAA. It was powered largely by a hit single that still gets airplay today, "Harden My Heart". "Harden My Heart" reached #1 on the Billboard
Mainstream Rock chart, and charted #3 on their Hot 100 chart. A well-crafted breakup song, it features a catchy and powerful sax line, and one of Ross's best vocals, especially on the lead-in to the chorus, as she sings "Darlin', in my wildest dreams, I never thought I'd go/But it's time to let you know/I'm gonna harden my heart..." This track was later featured in the 2007 video game Grand Theft Auto: Vice City Stories
, and was included in the Broadway jukebox musical Rock of Ages
as well, doubtlessly netting the Rosses some serious coin.
The rest of Quarterflash
also holds up pretty well today, almost 40 years later. There are 9 songs in total, with second guitarist Jack Charles taking the lead vocal on two of them, including "Critical Times", which he wrote, and "Cruisin' With the Deuce". "Find Another Fool", the most Benatar-like song on the album, was also a minor hit, charting at #16 in the U.S. Another track, "Right Kind of Love" was also released as a single, although this one failed to chart.
Other than "Harden My Heart", my favorite track on Quarterflash
is a slow, moving ballad called "Love Should Be So Kind." A song firmly in the "love sucks" category, it features one of Rindy Ross's most poignant vocals, as she sings lyrics such as "Love is easier to give at night/Nothing's in the light, nothing in a sight/Reveals the thief we hide." Another high-quality number is the album closer, "Williams Avenue". This is a jazz-rock song immortalizing a famous street in the band's hometown of Portland, Oregon, as they assure us that "The wine is red and the song is blue/High on Williams Avenue."
Quarterflash released a total of three albums in the '80s, then disbanded, reuniting at various times over the next three decades to release three more albums. To the extent they are remembered at all, though, it is largely due to "Harden My Heart" and the Quarterflash
LP. Like the wine on Williams Avenue, this single and the album it's contained on have aged nicely. Both are minor gems in the history of rock music.