The names on the sleeves of the albums in my library range from the household names to the dreadfully obscure. As ones skims along the shelf, occasionally, one spots a name which tends to elicit a response along the lines, of, “Him? Seriously?”

What is it?

Tao is the 1985 studio record from the actor-musician hybrid known as Rick Springfield. It’s roughly ten songs in length in compact-disc form: One song gets its own brief “intro” track (which I’m not counting) and another song starts and ends in just under 90 seconds (which I am counting).

How does it sound?

The tao of samplers shines in every mix:

Why this pick?

One reason for choosing Tao is that it’s a genuinely good pop-rock record. Springfield was still at the height of his popularity and decided to try to push his skills in some new directions, and the result is solidly entertaining. And yeah, the whole “pop-rock” thing seems soft and wimpy as compared to a lot of the more intense stuff I listen to nowadays. I know. I know. Sometimes you just want something a bit lighter, though, and this fits the bill nicely. And since this is the darkest and heaviest of Springfield’s hit records, it makes sense that it’s my favorite, doesn’t it?

The other reason is that Tao is basically the end of the chart-topping-success stage of Springfield’s music career. He’s still turning out good songs even now, but the days of being a household-name mega-star are long, long gone. This record marks the pivot point; the next release, Rock Of Life, came and went almost without any fanfare whatsoever.

Which songs are the highlights?

“Dance This World Away” and “Celebrate Youth” kick off the festivities with big stompy energy and are worth the price of admission alone.

Of course the hit single was “State of the Heart,” which holds up just fine considering it’s a sappy ballad.

An odd piece late in the album is “Stranger in the House,” the strongest of Springfield’s “what it’s like to live with someone while the relationship is falling apart” songs. Yes, he has several of them (eg, Rock Of Life‘s “Honeymoon In Beirut”).

Which songs don’t work so well?

“Written In Rock” doesn’t land, “The Power Of Love” is a bit overwrought, and “My Father’s Chair” isn’t bad but it is kind of sad and depressing.

Which album did you almost pick in favor of this one?

I considered picking one of the newer releases, Venus In Overdrive, as a “hey this guy’s still in the game” selection. I’m not sure it’s a great introduction to his work, though, so I chose otherwise.

Which means the strongest contender for a not-Tao entry would’ve been Rock Of Life, the 1988 album after which Springfield took an entire decade off from the music business. I bet that I’m one of the few people who even remembers, let alone genuinely loves, that record. If you acquire Tao and later want to expand your Rick Springfield collection, I recommend picking that one up as well. (Then head backward in the discography to Living In Oz while you’re at it.)

Any final thoughts?

Every now and then I get a weird look when I mention that I like Rick Springfield’s music. I guess he’s supposed to only be popular with women who grew up in the 80s, or something, which is ridiculous. The dude has a talent for crafting solidly entertaining tunes, and while his mega-star phase was certainly fueled in part by his appeal to the ladies back in the day, there’s genuine songwriting skill behind the pretty face. I don’t think he’s given enough credit for that.

So here we are. Give his stuff a listen, is all I’m sayin’.