Originally released in 1980, Hits! was the exclamation point that closed an illustrious chapter in Boz Scaggs’s career. Adorned with a photo of the singer clad in a hot pink jacket, looking every bit the dapper superstar, the LP served up the hits that made Scaggs (née William Royce Scaggs) a Rolling Stone cover boy and a staple on FM radio. Due to the constraints of a single-disc vinyl album, a few hits were noticeably absent from Hits! when it appeared on record store shelves in autumn of 1980. More than a quarter century later, Columbia/Legacy adds more hits (and a different album cover) to Hits!, including “What Can I Say”, “It’s Over”, and “Hard Times”. Whether these “hits” are worthy of the exclamation point in the album title is debatable, but they did chart on Billboard’s Top 100. Some of these hits have retained their platinum sheen, while others are trapped in a 1970s rust-colored amber. Either way Hits! is a no-risk addition to anyone’s collection.
Then and now, Hits! focuses primarily on 1976-1980, just after Silk Degrees (1976) catapulted Boz Scaggs to multi-platinum status. Nearly half of the 15 tracks here are culled from that seminal release, which gives the unassuming listener a rather skewed perspective on Scaggs’s career. Though Scaggs has recorded since the 1960s, only “Dinah Flo”, “Slow Dancer”, and “You Make It So Hard (To Say No)” pre-date 1976. While not exactly monster hits, they were the seeds of the R&B style that bloomed on Silk Degrees.
In the tradition of blue-eyed soul stylists like Van Morrison, Scaggs exhibited a natural affinity for rhythm and blues that obscured racial lines. Exploding off Silk Degrees was “Lowdown”—a bonafide rhythm and blues tune that earned Scaggs and co-writer David Paich a Grammy for “Best R&B Song”. Even three decades later, the musical ingredients pack a fresh punch. Jeff Porcaro’s drum sets it off, and David Hungate’s bass adds sizzling bottom. A dreamy arrangement of strings and horns embellishes the groove, and Scaggs lays down a cool and cavalier vocal. “Lido Shuffle”, Scaggs’ second-biggest hit off Silk Degrees, was the polar opposite of “Lowdown”. A swinging rock and roll ditty with a contagious hook—“Li-doh/Whoa-oh-uh-oh”—the tune shuffled into the Top 20 and became a highlight of Scaggs’s concert appearances. For this reissue, the compilation producers have sequenced it last, like the encore of a 65-minute concert.
But Scaggs was equally as comfortable with ballads as he was with upbeat material. Missing from the 1980 version of Hits!, “Harbor Lights” (another tune from Silk Degrees) sounds like a single that never was. Perhaps too mellow for radio in 1976, it nevertheless became one of Scaggs’s most enduring compositions, with his evocative and heartfelt lyrics intoning “The harbor lights of Venus / Are shining through the breeze / That brings me back to you my love”. Instead, Columbia Records chose another of Scaggs’s compositions, “We’re All Alone”, as the “ballad” for single release. Its sensitivity later served Rita Coolidge well when she earned her own hit version of the tune.
Glenn Frey, Don Henley, and Timothy B. Schmit lent their voices to one of Scaggs’s most successful ballads, “Look What You’ve Done to Me”. The song appeared on the soundtrack to Urban Cowboy and became a Top 5 Adult Contemporary hit in 1980. Co-written by David Foster, it’s the type of ballad that defined the adult contemporary sound of the early 1980s. Also representing Mr. Scaggs’s turn as a balladeer is “Heart of Mine”, a Top 40 single in 1988. Scaggs had retired from recording music between 1981-1988, and the tune signaled his comeback on the Other Roads album from 1988. Its inclusion on the expanded edition of Hits! makes sense only because it’s among his charted singles. Otherwise, “Heart of Mine” sounds slightly out of step, being the only post-1980 track heard on the collection. More in sync with the era Hits! explores in depth are “Jojo” and an extended version of “Miss Sun”. Both are propulsive, R&B-flavored affairs that lit up the airwaves and dance floors alike in 1980 (the latter was the one “new” track recorded for the original version of Hits! in 1980).
At best, Hits! gives a concise introduction to the music of Boz Scaggs and betters other such compilations with its exhaustive track information and song lyrics. Most importantly, Hits! makes good on its promise—just the hits, ma’am!
// Notes from the Road
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