Rick Springfield had relocated to live and work in the USA in 1971, his initial success with Speak to the Sky had been followed by a long period of frustrating career derailments as his records failed to chart between 1972-1980.Capitol Records and his manager Robie Porter (60’s steel guitar instrumentalist Rob E.G.) had focused on promoting Springfield as a teen idol, in the image of David Cassidy and Donny Osmond, featuring him in a Saturday morning cartoon series entitled Mission: Magic, (see above)a ludicrous cross-fertilisation of the Beatles Yellow Submarine and Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, which ran for two seasons and was the inspiration for his third album, 1974’s Mission Magic, which flopped.
Despite little happening for Springfield professionally, he was partying with another married woman again, following his affair with Allison Durbin, this time it was former Aussie pop star Lynne Randell, now a resident of LA, who became Springfield’s tour guide, through the seamy sex, and drugs side, of the LA music world.His contract with Robie Porter had ended acrimoniously in protracted litigation, Rick had been aiming for something more mature and substantial than teen idol status, but several failed singles and albums later, there was an inevitable parting of the ways. Porter hit Springfield with a lawsuit and damages claim of $250,000, Springfield was broke, and had to live in an apartment rented for him by his new girlfriend, Linda Blair (above), juvenile star of The Exorcist, she was 15 years old and Rick was 25 at the time.Capitol had let Rick’s recording contract lapse, and to further complicate matters he was continuing to deal with a life-long battle with depression. In his memoirs Springfield had been confessionally honest about his ongoing battle with Mr. D, the name he had given to his condition which coincided with the onset of puberty and fueled feelings of self-doubt, body-shame and diminished self-worth, which had even driven Springfield to attempt suicide at the age of seventeen.With his music career on hold, Springfield concentrated on pursuing an acting career, and got bit roles in such TV network series as The Rockford Files, The Incredible Hulk, Battlestar Galactica, The Six Million Dollar Man, until he landed the role of Dr. Noah Drake (above) on General Hospital, a soapie with a daily audience that would build up to 12 million viewers.After being signed to RCA Records, Springfield completed his fourth album Working Class Dog, a photo of his pet bull terrier Ronnie, in collar and tie, appeared on the front cover. RCA pushed for the Sammy Hagar song I’ve Done Everything for You to be lead single, but it failed to win support from radio, who were more interested in Jessie’s Girl, RCA then gave the song the promotional push via a video, touring and MTV appearances, necessary for it to become a hit.Jessie’s Girl was a tune that Springfield had worked on for some time with his backup band, but it also went all the way back to a young Rick travelling from his Broadmeadows home to Fawkner Primary School (Melb) on the bus, and listening to Dream Lover by Bobby Darin on the radio, in his memoirs he noted “ I hear it on the bus on the way to school one morning and can’t get it out of my head. It’s cool and catchy and nothing like the music my parents play around the house. I don’t know them by name yet, but those four glorious chords – D, B minor, G and A – are the same four chords I will use twenty years later to write my own first hit song of the 80’s, Jessie’s Girl.”It’s a song of unrequited love of a man’s best friend’s girlfriend, the identity of the girl in question remains anonymous, but according to an interview that Springfield did with Oprah Winfrey in 2008, the song was based in real life, as Rick had fallen for a petite, dark-haired girl who attended his stained glass-making class in Pasadena, but she was not interested in his overtures and he felt the angst. The song’s lyrics are catchy and engaging, and capture Springfield’s yearning “You know I feel so dirty when they start talking cute/ I wanna tell her that I love her/ But the point is probably moot.”The boyfriend’s name was Gary, but Jessie was a better fit lyrically, although Rick got the male spelling of Jessie – Jesse – wrong as he was wearing a Los Angeles Rams Ron Jessie t-shirt at the time and copied the spelling from it. Nevertheless Jessie’s Girl was a fine example of well-crafted mainstream power pop of the 80’s, with dramatic guitar riffs played by Pat Benatar’s husband Neil Giraldo, a killer chorus, and all finely-tuned by the deft production skills of legendary American producer Keith Olsen, at the Sound City Studios in LA.
The promo video was made on the cheap, Springfield developed the storyboard, and it was partly filmed in an alleway in Hollywood, Jessie sprays the words “Jessie’s Girl” on a brick wall then leaves with his girlfriend, Rick looks on ruefully and delivers the opening verse to camera. Scenes are intercut with Springfield performing the song with his band and standing in his bathroom where he sees an image of the girl in the mirror, angrily smashing it with the headstock of his guitar – it took twenty-four takes and mirrors, to nail the bathroom scene. But MTV loved it, they were just starting up and hungry for new footage, particularly a power pop song by a doe-eyed soapie star that had hooks and attitude to burn.The Working Dog album was a #7 hit in the USA and #33 in Australia, but Jessie’s Girl was even bigger, after 19 weeks it climbed to #1 in the US and occupied the charts for 32 weeks, similarly it was #1 here and remained on the charts for 22 weeks, sold in excess of 1.5 million copies globally, and also won the Grammy Award for Best Male Rock Vocal in 1981.The double-punch impact of Springfield’s chart success allied with his popular role on US soapie General Hospital would resonate later in the decade when two Aussie soap stars – Kylie Minogue and Jason Donovan – would artfully translate their huge TV popularity in Neighbours to chart success in the UK and elsewhere.