Jump to content

Fotomaker's "Vis-a-Vis," ranked and rated


LC

Recommended Posts

For a scant couple of years, Fotomaker filled the power-pop void left by Raspberries's breakup. Alas, the Fortomaker lasted only three albums. For me, the middle one—VIs-a-Vis—ranks as the finest of the three. It was also the one where Wally Bryson was most involved (he was drafted into the group after they started their debut, and he left before the third album).

In fact, Wally was very much in his element in Fotomaker, a tight and talented supergroup, with former Rascals Gene Cornish (bass) and Dino Danelli (drums) joining forces with then-up-and-comers Frankie Vinci (keyboards/vocals) and Lex Marchesi (guitar). Wally joined after the first album was started but was "all in" on Vis-a-Vis. 

Here's how I'd rank the 10 tracks on Vis-a-Vis. (Any other Fotomaker fans here?)

1. Name of the Game: A+ 
It was so satisfying to hear Wally wail away on this power-house rocker. For me, this is his career highlight as a writer and vocalist because everything he did up to this point fed into it. So, we get crunchy guitar, POed attitude, and searing vocal. 

2. Come Back: A+
"Name of the Game" reminded me of Wally's Starting Over work, while "Come Back" reminds me more of Side 3-era Wally. It's a perfect power-pop composition and performance, recalling not only Raspberries but Badfinger and Free and... the Beatles. These two Wally-penned songs were so promising, the sky seemed the limit for Fotomaker back in '78. Alas, Wally left after Vis-a-Vis, and the group had just one more album to come. 

3. Just for You: A
Vinci contributes a killer melody and worthy vocals on a song that's always felt Carmen-esque to me—sort of "Let's Pretend" on steroids. In some alternate universe out there, "Just for You" was a No. 1 smash that rocketed Fotomaker to fame and fortune.  

4. Sweet Lies: A
This ferocious rocker may not be credited to Wally, but it sure sounds heavily influenced by him. In fact, he turns in one of his best lead vocals, letting loose here as he did on "Party's Over" from Raspberries' Starting Over album. 

5. Make It Look Like an Accident: A
This deliberate power ballad has to make you smile. It's the story of a brush-off so painful that it prompted thoughts of drastic revenge. Where else can you find a song with "wet cement" in it?

6. Miles Away: A-
Pounding piano, thumping bass, more of those crunchy guitars—"Miles Away" has it all. It may have been a near-miss as a single, but it's still a great listen. 

7. Two-Way Street: B
Cool and atmospheric, "Two-Way Street" is sort of McCartney-esque, Wings era. It's another song you could picture as a Top 40 hit.

8. If I Can't Believe in You: B–
Starts out a little slow, then bursts into classic '70s power-ballad production. It actually reminds me a little of Journey. 

9. Does She Dance: C+
Not a bad track, but it has a "not-quite-finished" quality.  

10. Snowblind: C
Actually, I'd use the same description as above for this one. Listening to the LP back in the day, I'd frequently get impatient with "Snowblind" because "Just for You" was coming up next.

  • Like 1
Link to comment
Share on other sites

1. Name Of The Game: A
Agree with everything you say about this LC. Very close to an A+.

2. Miles Away: A
The clear choice to be the first single in my opinion. Should have had more success and then followed up by "Name Of The Game"

3. Just For You: B+
In a world where they would have had two hit singles with the above two, this would have been my choice as the third release. Catchy tune.

4. If I Can't Believe In You: B
Sounds like something Badfinger could have done if they had survived longer.

5. Make It Look Like An Accident: B
I'm not sure this song fits with the other stuff on this album, but as a standalone listen, I like it.

6. Two Way Street: B
Easy to listen to. Not great, but a very solid B.

7. Sweet Lies: B
I had this at a B- at first. I don't have the album in front of me, but I always assumed this was written by Wally.

8. Snowblind: B-
Sounds a little like something Supertramp would do.

9. Does She Dance: B-
I'm not sure why I like this as much as I do. It just works in a quirky kinda way.

10. Come Back: C
Looks like the one song that we're far apart on LC. I just can't embrace the melody of this song too much. You're right about it sounding like a Side 3 era song. Problem is, I'm not nuts about any of those Wally tunes either. This would actually be my favorite of those.

 

  • Like 1
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Great list, Craig, and interesting how close we are on everything (with that one exception). This is a great record.

I’ll bet we’re close on the first Fotomaker album, too. I’ll revisit that one too. Unless you get to it first!

I do remember Blackhawk Pat and I discussing... He prefers the debut to Vis-a-Vis, whereas I’ve got Vis-a-Vis ahead of the first Fotomaker album. 

  • Like 1
Link to comment
Share on other sites

I LOVE that point at 3:33 where Wally's screaming vocal gives way to (or merges with?) his guitar solo. You can't really tell where the voice ends and the solo starts.

It'll be interesting to see how you feel about "Come Back." It's got a more "retro" vibe. As you read above, I'm very high on it, Craig a bit more lukewarm. 

 

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Hey, that's a great point, James. I hadn't even thought about that. But yes! Raspberries doing "Name of the Game" back in those reunion shows would have been awesome. 

BTW, do check out Wally's "Come Back" — and also "Just for You" (see if you agree that it's Carmenesque). And also "Miles Away," per Craig's rave. It really is a strong opener. 

Link to comment
Share on other sites

First Fotomaker Album:

 

1. All There In Her Eyes: A
It's one of those songs that is sorta chorus-less. But I like it. LC decribed "Two Way Street" on the other album as "Cool and atmospheric". That's how I hear this tune. My favorite on the album.

2. Plaything: A-
The power side of Power Pop.

3. Where Have You Been All My Life: A-
AllMusic says"Where Have You Been All My Life," is easily a match for the Raspberries' best. It is the kind of song that guitars were invented for, and will be going around your head for hours after you hear it." Uh...no. That's going way overboard. But it deserves an A grade. 

4. Two Can Make It Work: A-
Another strong track. It's almost middle of the road pop/rock, but not quite.

5. All These Years: B+
I like it, just not enough to bump it the A Range.

6. Lose At Love: B-
The verse is a bit lacking, but I kinda like the chorus. And I definitely like the last minute of guitar.

7. Can I Please Have Some More: B
This song sounds familiar, but I can't put my finger on it. It doesn't really have a hook for me, but it's still somehow pretty good.

8. The Other Side: C
Selected as the second single?? I just can't find any components in this song that would cry "Hit Single".

9. Say The Same For You: C-
Ever hear a band that has a good sound, but you wish they had better material? This is one of a few songs on this album that make me wish that.

10. Pain: C-
It's like Uriah Heep and the Beatles put in a blender. And it doesn't work. I almost gave this a D because I have the feeling that the more I would listen to this, the less I'd like it.

  • Like 2
Link to comment
Share on other sites

8 hours ago, LC said:

Great list, Craig, and interesting how close we are on everything (with that one exception). This is a great record.

I’ll bet we’re close on the first Fotomaker album, too. I’ll revisit that one too. Unless you get to it first!

I do remember Blackhawk Pat and I discussing... He prefers the debut to Vis-a-Vis, whereas I’ve got Vis-a-Vis ahead of the first Fotomaker album. 

Yes, I love both of Fotomaker’s first two albums but that first one to me is just incredible. In fact, I will go out on a limb and say I think it is the second greatest debut album of all time with no clunkers, only followed by Eric Carmen‘s first solo album which I feel is the greatest debut album of all time. Even the Beatles, the Beach boys, and the Rolling Stones, the holy Trinity for me, have a couple of clunkers on their first albums. There, I said it! You can flame me for saying it but you won’t change my mind. 

  • Like 3
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Just listened to  "Just for you", "Come back" and "Miles Away". All three had juicy guitar parts, but none grabbed me on the first listen as "Name of the Game" did. Though the 2nd half of JFY made me feel it. I'll need to listen to them three or four times to be able to form a solid opinion.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I'll check in tomorrow with my ratings of Fotomaker's debut. I'm a little less bullish on it than Pat and Craig, but I do dig it.

James, there hasn't been enough written about Fotomaker, but here's what I know: It started as a quartet—the Rascals' rhythm section with two on-the-rise guys, Frankie Vinci and Lex Marchesi, from the NY area (Long Island?). They drafted Wally into the band as they were starting the first album. All the songs had been written and selected, so... no Wally tunes. But he did play guitar on the album (along with Marchesi—part of a dual-lead attack) and is listed with the album credits and shown in press photos. And... Fotomaker did get some big media play as a 'supergroup.'

So, the way I understood it, Wally was brought in a hair too late to contribute songs to the debut. But he made up for it on Vis-a-Vis with (for me) the album's two best tracks—plus a killer vocal on the song "Sweet Lies." In fact, I gave "Sweet Lies" an "A" but might still be underrating it. I needv to find my LP version to see who wrote that song. Bryson wasn't listed as author, so I originally thought one of the other guys was singing; amazingly, it took me years before a light bulb when on and it hit me: "That's Wally!" 

The only thing I've gathered about his departure was that Fotomaker was a NY-based group, and Wally wanted to return to Cleveland. But I'm sure there's a lot more to it. Their 3rd album has no Bryson presence at all, and in fact it pales in comparison to the first two. It's called Transfer Station, and I recall buying it as soon as it came out, without having heard any of it, and being put off by how heavily disco the sound was. I remember the first song as pretty good — "Gotta Feel Your Love." But after that, there was a steep drop-off. Remember, it was 1979—the height of the disco era. I wonder (pure speculation) if Wally was put off by the musical direction of the other guys in Fotomaker, because they followed the disco trend. (Yet I should probably give Transfer Station another listen.)

Craig, anything from you on his? 

PS: If you're on FB, there's a Fotomaker page that Frankie Vinci contributes to. It's worth checking out—some rare concert pics and lyric sheets and background info turns up there.Every once in a while, I browse.

  • Thanks 1
Link to comment
Share on other sites

2 hours ago, James said:

Was reading a little about Fotomaker, ..does anyone know why Wally left after the 2nd album?.....and was that the only album where he was a group member?

I’m fairly certain that he left because of family commitments, seem to remember reading or hearing about that.  I will talk to his wife and ask her and get the definitive answer shortly. I’m guessing the direction of the music also had something to do with it because the third album is horrible, and I love Franki. I don’t know how a band could put out two great records from start to finish and then all of a sudden the third one is just awful, but disco was calling. 

I drove to Cleveland a few years ago to see a Wally solo show and when his wife saw me in the audience she told me she would bring me backstage to talk to Wally after the show. One of my best friends was with me at the time and he’s kind of a biker guy who says whatever comes to mind and when she brought us to Wally,  my buddy said, “hey man, I love the first two Fotomaker records but the third one that you were not on really sucked” Wally found great delight in this and busted out laughing and said to his wife “hey Kay, did you know that the third Fotomaker record sucked?” so I kind of picked up a vibe that even he knew it did and maybe that’s why he left because he saw what was coming, but I will contact her tomorrow and get us an answer.

  • Like 1
  • Thanks 1
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Thanks so much LC..very kind of you to take the time to fill me/us in on Fotomaker. I'm going to buy the first 2 on vinyl.

PS that promo video had some pretty high quality ripping rock & roll. I saw where some reviewers said Fotomaker lacked the power in the "power pop" label, but those reviewers know not what they say. That video was evidence. Also I think what you surmised re Wally exiting cuz of the turn to disco could be right on the mark.

 

  • Like 1
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Great stories by BH Pat — you had mentioned the live show thing to me on the phone, but I forgot about it. But reading as you wrote it, yes... it sounds like we can read between the lines and figure the band was heeding "the call" of disco (well-put by you), and Wally wanted no part of it. 

Another interesting thing to think about.... If there were still Raspberries in 1978, when Vis-a-Vis came out, imagine an LP that had "Desperate Fools." leading into "Name of the Game." Talk about worlds apart! And "Come Back" followed by "Change of Heart."  And "Sweet Lies" next to "Heaven Can Wait." Yes, Wally and Eric were headed down different lanes in the mid-1970s. A break-up was the only way!

  • Like 1
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.

Guest
Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Restore formatting

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

Loading...
×
×
  • Create New...