HEAD EAST – FLAT AS A PANCAKE: Southern-Accented Schlock Rock For The Arenas

This is a prime example of a group that trudged along in semi-obscurity for many years but managed to rack up one genuine classic of an album.  Head East was a journeyman arena-rock outfit that criss-crossed the country as a popular touring act during the latter half of the 1970’s.  Their sound is best described as a southern-accented variation of the AOR style that groups like Foreigner and Journey were popularizing around the same time.  They released a slew of albums during their major-label days but the one that fans of this stuff remember is their amazing debut, Flat As A Pancake.

The song you may know from this album is “Never Been Any Reason,” a song that Richard Linklater used in Dazed And Confused.  This classic rock radio staple that lays out the group’s strengths in full force  – full-blooded vocal harmonies, solid Southern-rock riffery & ensemble playing and a penchant for prog-style fanciness in the arrangements & keyboard licks.  In this song and on the rest of the album, the band pinches little bits of inspiration from everywhere – Lynyrd Skynyrd, Led Zeppelin, the Moody Blues, even a bit of Grand Funk – but they synthesize these disparate influences in a personalized way (a defining element of quality schlock-rock).

Other notable tracks on here include “City Of Gold,” a synth-fortified rocker that works in a stunning and unexpected bridge of vocal harmonies against a mellotron backdrop, and “Jefftown Creek,” a moody Southern rocker whose unison singing shows off the group’s vocal chops to impressive effect.  Not every track is a standout like these aforementioned gems but each one harbors at least one nifty surprise in its arrangement – check out the way the keyboard player teaches his synth to sing the blues at the end of “Lovin’ Me Along” – and the album hangs together beautifully.

As a result of the group’s focus on carefully-crafted arrangements, Flat As A Pancake flows effortlessly from track to track and feels more like a best-of album than a debut.  It’s perfect car radio rock, especially if you are driving through the South… and take a close look at the album’s back cover – its ‘chomping on pancakes in a diner’ visual motif predates the similar, more famous shot from Supertramp’s Breakfast In America by four years (they were even put out by same record label!).