Shaun Cassidy's "Wasp" (September 1, 1980, Warner Brothers Records (Reissued for Record Store Day, 2021)

Friday, July 16, 2021

I was working in Reseda, California, which was very close to the porn world of Van Nuys on Sherman Way. Countless women would come to the music store Licorice Pizza to locate music for their stripping act in nearby bars and gentlemen clubs surrounding the store in the late 1970s/80s. I enjoy the clientele, one, I found these women attractive and see them improving their trade or dancing by selecting the right music. They never went for the most popular tune but tried to find something that expressed their identity, which is unique. They often asked for my opinion as I worked there, and knew about the music of course. I was always pleased to help these women because I admired their work ethic, which was way stronger than mine. Usually, I was pretty much satisfied just hanging out behind the counter and arguing with my fellow workers about the merits of Buzzcocks versus Gary Numan's Tubeway Army. One of the albums that came out in 1980 that caught my attention at work was Shaun Cassidy's Wasp.

At the time, New Wave became the new music trend, and there were acts from the recent past that tried to hatch on to the style. Shaun Cassidy was such a figure that belonged directly to the teen idol world. Like his half-brother David, he soared like a shooting star and then crashed into the ground a few years later. For me, there are the masterpieces, the kings of their field, but then there are the failures. And I have always had a thing for those who try and then failed. If they made a series of OK albums and then come up with stinker after a stinker, well, I tend to champion those forgotten works. Although, to be honest, I never even heard a Shaun Cassidy song or album before Wasp, but I knew teenagers of the late 1970s passionately loved him. I have always found that endearing, and to this day, I appreciate teen idols of all sorts. I don't think there is a teen idol I dislike. Even annoying figures like Justin Bieber has some worth for me. All I know is that if there were no teenage music idols, it would be a dull world. 

The interesting thing about Shaun is that I was aware of him being David Cassidy's younger half-brother, and Shaun was very much part of the Rodney Bingenheimer rock n' roll world. Shaun even did a show with his what I imagined to have been his glam-rock band. Early photos reminded me of Shaun as a pretty version of Iggy Pop circa the Raw Power days. There is a photo of Shaun with Kim Fowley, Iggy, Rodney, and various groupies around 1973. So although Shaun comes from a prominent showbiz family world, his first venture as an artist was part of the music underground in Los Angeles. A few years later, he ended up playing one of The Hardy Boys in a popular TV series and also started his recorded music career at the same time. 

Wasp is New Wave-era pop, as made by Todd Rundgren and his band Utopia, with Shaun doing an Iggy Pop as if he was performing TheIdiot.   My first impression hearing this album at the store in 1980, and to this day, is that this is very much using The Idiot as guidance of some sort. For some adolescent fans, this must have been an odd change, but in actuality, this, I believe, was Shaun's genuine music interest. Not a massive leap into the unknown but more of a welcome back to the cutting edge world of music-making. His intentions, I think, were pure, but in the pop marketplace of 1980, one had to re-invent oneself to go on to make records. 

As The Idiot is very much an album by Bowie and Iggy, Wasp is the work of Rundgren and the young singer. The Todd songs here sound very much like his work, and if one is a fan of this creative music maker, then I think one would like Wasp. On the other hand, this is not a good album. It is even more interesting than that, which is a work trying to break out of a prison that contained Shaun Cassidy in the 80s music market. One can gather this was a make-or-break work, and Shaun, I think, wanted to go back to his Rodney on Sunset years. Cassidy was indeed a glam-punk rock kid as well as a showbiz teen pop star. 

The album consists of five covers: Bowie's "Rebel Rebel," Talking Heads' "The Book I Read," "Shake Me, Wake Me (When It's Over), The Animals' "It's My Life," The Who's "So Sad About Us," and Ian Hunter's "Once Bitten, Twice Shy." All terrific songs but not a natural fit for Shaun. Although I have to admit that I like his version of the Talking Heads cut, he gives it a Bowie vibe, more than the neurotic touch of a David Byrne. 

What I do like is that Shaun Cassidy approaches the material as an actor playing Iggy. It's not original, but still a performance that embraces the nature of pop as a relationship between the artist and his producer. Nevertheless, I remember playing "It's My Life" off Wasp for a stripper, and she bought the record. The album is being re-released for the July 17 Record Store Day.