After Springfield’s initial success with Speak to the Sky in the US in 1972, there followed a long period of frustrating career derailments as his records failed to chart between 1972-80, and his business relationship with Robie Porter began to sour.
Capitol Records and Porter had focused on promoting Springfield as a teen idol in the image of David Cassidy and Donny Osmond, featuring him in a Saturday morning animated series entitled Mission Magic, a ludicrous cross -fertilization of the Beatles Yellow Submarine and JRR Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. It ran for two seasons and was the inspiration for Rick’s third album, 1974’s Mission Magic, which flopped. Apparently Quentin Tarantino fondly remembered watching Mission Magic on TV as a youngster, so it did have its fans, albeit not enough to re-start Springfield’s recording career Stateside.
Despite little happening for Springfield professionally, he was now partying with another married woman following his affair with Allison Durbin back in Australia, this time it was with former Aussie pop star Lynne Randell (above), now a resident of LA and former girlfriend of Davy Jones and briefly Jimi Hendrix, who became Springfield’s tour guide through the seamy sex and drugs scene of the LA music world.
With his musical career stalled, Rick began taking acting classes (his coaches included actors Vincent Crane and Malcolm McDowell) and in 1978, Rick signed on as a contract player with Universal Studios on salary and ‘on call’ tenure. He appeared in various popular television shows, including The Rockford Files, The Six Million Dollar Man, the original Battlestar Galactica, Wonder Woman and The Incredible Hulk. However, eight months into this contract, Universal offered him a career lifeline in the role of Dr. Noah Blake on General Hospital, a soapie that would build to 12 million viewers a day, five days a week, and raise awareness of Springfield with a broader demographic than the teens he had previously been pitched towards. Below with Elizabeth Taylor on the set of General Hospital.
His management contract with 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 (below), the juvenile star of The Exorcist.
She was 15 years old and Rick was 25 at the time, this relationship was not consistent with California’s laws in respect of informed consent, which were only reduced from 21 years to 18 years in 1971, hence what became a live-in arrangement, was blatantly in breach of statutory rape laws at the time, something which Blair’s parents and authorities apparently turned a blind eye to. Springfield was not the only personality to flaunt a blatantly under-age relationship in public down the years, the following are some of the more well-known examples – Bill Wyman (47) and Mandy Smith (14), Jerry Lee Lewis (22) and Myra Gale Brown (13), Elvis Presley (24) and Priscilla Beaulieu(14), Marvin Gaye (34) and Janis Hunter (17), Jerry Seinfeld (34) and Shoshanna Lonstein (17), Don Johnson (22) and Melanie Griffith (15), and Lori Maddox (14/15) and David Bowie, Jimmy Page, Iggy Pop, etc Below Lori Maddox and Jimmy Page.
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 was surprisingly open 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.
Throughout his life Springfield seemed to embody a confusing mix of personality traits, on the one hand he could be raffish, charming, self-deprecating, caring, and humorous, and on the other narcissistic, insensitive, insecure, misogynistic, and amoral, his memoirs (Late, Late At Night 2010) were as confessional and titillating as they were repellant, and brutally indifferent to the casual carnality of a rock star, and in a strange way Springfield seemed to bond more closely with his dogs than with most of his female partners.
Even after he married Barbara Porter (above) in 1984 and fathered two sons with her, he remained a sometime philanderer, behaviour that only served to exacerbate his poor mental health, as a lack of self-esteem, anxiety, and guilt continued to feed his clinical depression. He was however severely distressed when his father, who had been ill for some time, succumbed to cancer in 1981, and Rick wrote the moving My Father’s Chair in memory of a man he loved and respected.
After being signed to RCA Records Springfield completed his fourth album, Working Class Dog, a photo of his bull terrier Ronnie, in collar and tie, appeared on the front cover, despite RCA’s protests. But RCA were pushing for the Sammy Hagar song I’ve Done Everything For You to be the lead single, much to Rick’s disappointment, but ultimately the radio stations gave Jessie’s Girl the thumbs up. This was Rick’s chance to break into the US market, a modest budget was set aside for promotion by RCA, and Rick filmed a promo video, toured and fronted the media to promote the song, whilst still continuing a grueling taping schedule of General Hospital at the same time.
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 school 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 I 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 a petite, dark-haired girl who attended his stained glass-making class in Pasadena, but she wasn’t 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 real name was Gary, 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. Never the less 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 alleyway in Hollywood, Jessie sprays the words “Jessie’s Girl” on a brick wall then departs with his girlfriend, Rick looks on ruefully and delivers the opening verse to camera. Scenes are then intercut with Springfield and his band performing the song in a studio, 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 this bathroom scene. But MTV loved it, they were just starting up and hungry for new footage, particularly a song by a doe-eyed soapie star that had hooks and attitude to burn.
The Working Dog album was a #7 hit in he 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 in Australia and remained on the charts for 22 weeks, it 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 the US soapie General Hospital would sustain a successful career into the future for Rick, and resonate later in the decade when two Aussie soap stars- Kylie Minogue and Jason Donovan- would artfully translate their huge popularity in Neighbours to chart success in the UK and elsewhere.