1988 saw Dan make a sideways move from EMI to its Capitol imprint. Rage On has tasteful Kyle Lehning production and excellent material which combines great melodies with interesting lyrics. Dan was at his commercial and artistic peak, and it continued his hot streak with country radio.
Lead single ‘Addicted’ was Dan’s eighth straight #1 hit. It was written by contemporary folk artist Cheryl Wheeler, but it fits Dan like a glove with its pretty melody and sensitive, insightful lyric. His empathetic vocal is perfect for this bleak third person portrait of a woman who can see her lover is drawing away from her, and her own heart breaking slowly:
She says she feels like she’s addicted to a real bad thing
Always sitting waiting wondering if the phone will ring
She knows she bounces like a yoyo when he pulls her string
It hurts to feel like such a fool
She wants to tell him not to call or come around again
He doesn’t need her at all now the way that she needs him
She’s on the edge about to fall from leaning out and in
And she don’t know which way to move, oh no
She wants to be fair, she couldn’t say
He was ever unkind
But if she could bear to walk away
She thinks he wouldn’t mind
Another fine song, ‘Big Wheels In The Moonlight’ followed it to the top of the charts, and has a much cheerier atmosphere. Set to a lively tune with occasional hand claps, it tells the story of a restless young boy bored with his hometown (“so small, look both ways you could see it all”) and dreaming of a truck driving life. There is an optimistic feel as Dan delivers the song with commitment, and Baillie & the Boys provide backing vocals. It was one of three songs on the album written by the regular partnership of Dan with Bob McDill.
Another McDill collaboration, the title track, ‘They Rage On’, broke Dan’s streak of #1 hits, peaking at #5. With a delicate vocal, Dan sympathetically portrays two sets of desperate lovers – a pair of restless teenagers (“like birds in a cage”) and an older couple having an illicit affair (“she’s lost her youth and he’s lost his dreams”) as they cling on to the one thing that makes them feel alive. The video interpreted the song by showing an interracial couple facing hostility, and perhaps it was this relatively controversial topic (not in the original song) that kept it off the top spot.
The final McDill co-write is one of relatively few country songs to have a New York setting. ‘Long Long Island Nights’ is the portrait a successful model who is just a small town girl at heart, in need of love.
Dan wrote two socially conscious songs alone. In ‘Factory Town’, he tackles a town dependent on one employer which is about to shut, playing the part of one factory worker, bewildered by the situation. ‘Those’ is an idealistic plea to help out one’s neighbours, in both material and emotional ways:
Then the world would be a better place for living
More forgiving every day
If those that have learned how to hold their own
Could help those who are slipping away
Those who have loved and lost everything
Could help those who have never loved at all
Those that are free now, no longer feel the pain,
Could help those who are still behind the wall
John Scott Sherrill’s superb ‘Five Generations of Rock County Wilsons’ is my equal favorite track with ‘Addicted’. The melancholy testament of a man whose childhood home is about to be lost to strip mining, Dan’s version is deeply affecting, channelling sadness rather than the outrage of John Anderson’s more forceful later cut, and he gives it a palpable sense of defeat which interprets the song effectively.
And I said “mMama forgive me but I’m almost glad
That you’re not here today
After five generations of Rock County Wilsons
To see the last 50 acres in the hands of somebody
Who’d actually blow it away”
The addition of a recorder in the instrumental section gives it a wistful old-fashioned air which works rather well.
‘Twenty Four Hour Love’ is a quietly catchy number Dan wrote with Mac MacAnally; a gentle love song from a working man who is not normally good at expressing his emotions. ‘Fool Me Once, Fool Me Twice’ was written by K. T. Oslin, and is a solid song with a disillusioned Dan quietly determined to move on. A little more on the pop-country side, ‘A Heartache Just Around The Bend’ was written by Paul Davis and Jennifer Kimball, and while pleasant, is the closest the record comes to filler.
Kimball wrote the downbeat ballad ‘Maybe I’m Missing You Now’ with Blackie Farrell, which has more of an impact. Here Dan ruefully regrets separating from his wife:
We made a promise for better or worse
Well, this is the worse that I’ve been
I’ve run out of reasons to hide anyhow
Maybe I’m missing you now
This is my personal favorite of Dan Seals’ albums, and is well worth adding to your collection. It’s easy to find used, or you could wait until the 2on1 with Dan’s country debut Rebel Heart appears in October.