Okay, corny titles (and yacht rock label) aside, I actually dug the group many people now claim to hate from back in the day: those soft-rock balladeers from Melbourne, Australia known as Air Supply.
And while the group Air Supply (now a duo featuring the two Russells) was never accused of being the most interesting band in the world – to complete the metaphor – the love-obsessed act was certainly among the most popular during its early ‘80s, post-disco heyday in America…and for good reason: they were damn good at what they did – make romantic ballads that touched the heart like few others could.
People of a certain age remember that heyday well. It began in 1980 with the demise of disco – a genre of music that, like Air Supply, some people now recall with exaggerated contempt. Yet, despite their mutual status as being easy targets for music’s rock elitists, Air Supply’s brand of soft rock was the antithesis to disco, and a welcome antidote to the 1978-79 overdose that led to the omnipresent dance genre’s ultimate demise. By 1980, people were ready to trade in their platform shoes and designer jeans for easy listening songs about love and all its travails.
And Air Supply – one of the guiltiest of guilty pleasures – was just the band to fill that need.
Whether they were lost in love, the one that you love, making love out of nothing at all, or just plain all out of love, you knew when an Air Supply tune came on the radio (because that was the only way you were going to hear it, right?) that love was going to be the central theme.
That theme rang loud and strong during Air Supply’s performance here at the Arcada Theatre on Saturday, November 3, near Chicago. Air Supply’s two Russells – Graham Russell (originally from England) and Russell Hitchcock (born in Melbourne) – served up enough rock and romance at the Arcada to fill wedding chapels from here to Melbourne.
The love affair started with four songs that all peaked at No. 5 on the Billboard Hot 100, beginning with “Sweet Dreams,” a Graham Russell-penned ballad that – like many of the others performed on this night – packed more power and punch than it did on the original record. Air Supply’s popularity in America predated the “power ballad” that dominated the second half of the 1980s, but the heavy guitar chords used on “Sweet Dreams” and others during this show certainly qualified the group’s songs as such.
Next was this writer’s personal favorite, “Even The Nights Are Better,” the 1982 piano-driven ballad that made Air Supply the only group to send its first seven Billboard chart hits into the top 5 of the Hot 100. With an arrangement that was again heavy on the drums and guitars, what was once a soft-rock ballad was practically transformed into a hard-rocking jam with the only constant being Russell Hitchcock’s soaring tenor – the star of this song both in 1982 and today.
That was followed by two more No. 5 hits, “Every Woman In The World” (perhaps the night’s best singalong by the audience) and “Here I Am (Just When I Thought I Was Over You),” before the group played “Chances,” another Graham Russell written song from their huge American breakthrough album, Lost In Love. The song was never released as a single but it’s one that is often included in their live set.
It was in the build-up to “Chances” that Graham Russell finally asked the audience “are we in a romantic mood tonight?” The question couldn’t have been more rhetorical considering the band’s repertoire of hit songs. Still, Russell’s statement was met with loud cheers of “yes” by the highly enthusiastic – and surprisingly mixed-generational – group in attendance.
Next was the song “Goodbye,” a 1993 tune from their The Vanishing Race album that did much better in Asian countries than it did in North America. By 1993, American popular music had seen several metamorphoses since Air Supply’s last top-40 single eight years earlier, including the second British Invasion, big hair bands, dance-pop, grunge rock and, of course, hip-hop. None of those left room for Air Supply’s soft rock balladry on American radio play lists. Still, the duo has been able to sell millions of albums around the world thanks to the popularity of songs like “Goodbye” in countries abroad.
It’s that continued international popularity that likely inspires the duo to continue recording new material after nearly 44 years together. As the story was told on this night, the two Russells met on May 12, 1975, during a rehearsal for the rock-opera musical Jesus Christ Superstar, from which they were rejected but which sparked a lifelong, argument-free friendship that has yielded 18 studio albums, three live albums and countless compilations.
The band mixed in the new with the old as they performed “I Adore You,” a beautiful 2015 single where Russell Hitchcock sings in the chorus, “do you mind if I adore you…for as long as it will take?”
Cheesy, yes…but beautiful nonetheless.
In “Son of the Father,” a new tune Air Supply has yet to record, songwriter Graham Russell got a rare solo turn as he veered from the band’s normal romantically themed material to sing the song that was inspired on a recent plane flight by a random passenger’s tale of losing his father at a young age.
That followed a moment Graham referred to as an Air Supply concert staple, where he stood solo and read aloud a poem he wrote called “Invisible.” With a slow, deep-voiced cadence that recalled Mike Pinder’s “Late Lament” from the Moody Blues’ “Nights In White Satin,” I almost expected we would hear “Breathe deep, the gathering gloom…”
Alas, we did not, and Graham was later rejoined by his partner Russell for more of what Air Supply did best – deliver great pop ballads.
That was when they brought out the big guns: million-selling hits like their only American No. 1, “The One That You Love,” and the Jim Steinman written, No. 2 hit “Making Love Out Of Nothing At All.”
On “Lost In Love,” their big American breakthrough single that peaked at No. 3 in 1980, the band was again in ballad transformation mode as they added a “Bette Davis Eyes”-like handclap (clap-clap… clap) to the once-ballad to get the highly engaged crowd even more involved than they already were.
The group’s encore performance included three songs: a cover of the 1972 Harry Nilsson tune “Without You,” a rock and roll tune called “Shake It,” and their signature anthem, “All Out Of Love,” a No. 2 smash that was kept out of No. 1 by two disco songs in 1980 – “Upside Down” by Diana Ross and “Another One Bites The Dust” by Queen.
That chart fact underscores the irony of Air Supply – makers of beautiful pop ballads in a post-disco era where their biggest hit was upstaged during its day by two disco holdovers. Air Supply – kings of power ballads before the term “power ballad” was even a thing. And now Air Supply – a band who continues to try to shake the soft-rock label by transforming some of its nicest ballads into guitar-driven rock jams.
Still, it was Air Supply we came to see on this Saturday night. And we got just what we expected: a group whose ballads are still among the best to ever grace American pop radio.
And Air Supply – highlighted by Graham Russell’s beautifully penned tunes and Russell Graham’s soaring tenor vocals – still creates and performs those romantic ballads in the great way that no one else can.
Air Supply’s Set List at The Arcada Theatre in St. Charles, IL on November 3, 2018:
- Sweet Dreams
- Even The Nights Are Better
- Every Woman In The World
- Here I Am (Just When I Thought I Was Over You)
- I Adore You
- Poem by Graham Russell “Invisible”
- Son Of The Father
- Now and Forever
- Two Less Lonely People In The World
- The One That You Love
- Lost in Love
- Making Love Out Of Nothing At All
- (Encore) Without You (Harry Nilsson cover)
- (Encore) Shake It
- (Encore) All Out Of Love