Flo & Eddie’s ‘Moving Targets’ Album Review

Flo & Eddie’s 'Moving Targets' Album Review

Flo & Eddie aka The Phlorescent Leech & Eddie aka Mark Volman and Howard Kaylan aka founding members of the band The Turtles always had a great sense for pop songs with a subtle sense of humor. Can anyone say “So happy together – how is the weather?” or “Eleanor, my pride and joy etcetera.” So, it’s not so far-fetched that when The Turtles broke up in 1969 they would end up working for someone as humorous as Frank Zappa in 1970. They starred in his movie 200 Motels and toured with him and The Mothers until the end of 1971 at that point FZ needed to recover from injuries due to being thrown off the stage at the Rainbow Theater in London. Consequently, Flo & Eddie did their own tour, released an album supported by many of the Mothers, sang backups for Marc Bolan, Alice Cooper, Hoyt Axton, and eventually released in 1974, a polished, perversely humorous, partially live album entitled Illegal, Immoral and Fattening. 

Though it did not do well in the charts it had me hooked with their melodic, raucous song stylings. Their next effort released in 1976 was nothing short of a masterpiece of pop-rock: the album Moving Targets. Unlike their previous record, this one was completely accessible – dare I say strictly commercial? But in a good way.  Each tune lyrically more or less centers around Mark and Howard’s friendship and the wisdom they’ve accumulated over the years dealing in the flaky music business. The songs are all melodic and expertly arranged by Allan MacMillan and engineered and produced by the legendary Ron Nevison (Chicago, Jefferson Starship, Heart, Ozzy Osbourne…)

Side one opens up with the aptly titled, “Mama Open Up.” This is a song about wanting to crawl back into the womb and not deal with this earthly life. The lyrics describe in minimal detail some of the excursions Mark and Howard had playing from the White House to the Fillmore and falling into the world of fame. At this point in their career, they were underpaid, overweight and no one really cared about their music at all. Though the concept is depressing, the song bobs back and forth from soft acoustic folk to a heavy rock landscape during the chorus, a change up that prevents the song from sounding maudlin. It works well as the lead-in track, setting us up ultimately for the closing tune on side two.

The second cut, “The Love You Gave Away” is a mature take on falling in love with another guy’s wife and the inevitable awkward consequences of such a situation. Unfortunately, not being able to have the confidence the main character misses when he was younger, leaves us thinking that this relationship will never solidify. However, it is suggested that there is always someone out there waiting to give their love to us and a true romance is never far away. The track is musically bouncy and highlighted by a snappy horn arrangement not too far from what one might hear on a Chicago song at the time. In many ways, the horns become as equally important as the hook of the song.

Track three, “Hot” is Flo & Eddie commenting on groupies. A familiar topic they exploited while playing with Frank Zappa. In this case, though, the lyrics aren’t as blatantly racy as with Zappa. The song opens up with an electric guitar playing the verse melody (which becomes a hook) and a tasteful use of feedback. Ex-Steely Dan member Jeff Skunk Baxter adds the perfect touch of slide guitar throughout. Howard Kaylan’s vocals sound like a polished Mick Jagger as he prances confidently on top of the driving backbeat. This is a very commercial-sounding tune that ended up as the B-side to the single “Keep It Warm.”

And speaking of commercials we are then treated to “Best Friends” a very catchy, upbeat song that apparently was written for an unsold TV pilot. The horn arrangement is again very Chicago-inspired and fills in the gaps between verses expertly. Alternating verses between Flo & Eddie emphasize the cheerful, friendly vibe. Somehow they manage to sound pretty sincere on this tune even though it is clearly composed as a TV theme exercise. The semi-triteness of this song (and I still do enjoy it) is a great setup for what comes next…

“Best Possible Me” is a song that plays like a piece you would find in a rock musical. Its arrangement is very dynamic with passages shifting from loud to soft. The verses are in a minor key where the lyrics are pensive and self-reflecting, but then switch to a major key for the chorus which is life-affirming. The basic concept is about acceptance of one’s own self and being grateful for the simple things in life. In this case the friendship between two people (Mark and Howard?). Now, at face value, the whole lyrical premise seems pretty legit but knowing Flo & Eddie’s penchant for sarcasm one wonders if they are not just pulling our leg. Maybe it’s all bullshit. Since I will never know, I’ll go along for the positive musical ride and enjoy this upbeat closer to side one.

Side two opens up with the “hit” single from the album. No, it never reached the top 40 but garnered a lot of radio airplay on alternative commercial stations during the mid-70s. I am of course referring to the song “Keep It Warm.”  This is a super catchy number whose only hook is the phrase “Keep It Warm.” The lyrics start off a bit resigned addressing the pressure of writing a song that people can sing but not making it too funny. This is that song! As the verses go by the lyrics turn darker – more sarcastic under the sweet melody. The same goes for the chords. We start with a piano plunking away at a simple D minor chord and that expands to D minor 7 with increasingly more orchestration and by the last verse before the bridge, we are presented with a fully exposed D minor 9 chord with the flat seventh resolving to the minor 6th emphasized by the horns. What this means to the laymen is that the harmonic tension is at its zenith here.

The results (for me at least) really pull at the heartstrings. Manipulative? Maybe. But it’s beautiful. All this leads to a bridge that is part early Beach Boys and Phil Spector. They even sing Good Vibrations in the next verse and address The Beatles splitting up with a mid 60’s Indian sitar orchestration. The last verse takes a serious turn with distorted guitar in hand and the lyrics are about gunning down some kids from a tower or sniping them in their car. It’s very shocking and it’s probably the main reason the song was never a smash. I bet the record company loved that! The song however ends on a positive note about loving instead of hating, fading with the “Keep It Warm” chorus. The vibe is “very warm” and comforting only to be shattered by the next track.

The duo snaps back with “Guns”, a loud vaudevillian circus (oom-pa oom-pa) type of composition reminiscent of their comedy song “Kama Sutra Time.” Ex-Turtle, Jim Pons receives co-writing credit with Volman and Kaylan on this piece. The lyrics address the use of firearms (as did the tune before) and its anti-gun stance is clear. Despite the serious subject matter Mark and Howard deliver their vocals with panache and good humor. The arrangement in the chorus and outro is very clever with the drums and guitar shooting one another with rapid-fire sixteenth notes. This musical technique would be employed later by Frank Zappa in his 1980 single “I Don’t Wanna Get Drafted.” Was FZ influenced by this number?

From “Guns”, we segue to a very polished re-make of “Eleanor” a huge smash for The Turtles back in 1968. Flo & Eddie do a sincere version of this pop classic and I suspect it was at the record company’s suggestion to include it just to remind audiences where these gentlemen came from.  Howard Kaylan’s lead vocal sounds as fresh and sly as the original recording.

As we are on a positive nostalgic note here, Mark and Howard maintain the vibe with the lovely “Sway When You Walk.” This is a straight-ahead acoustic ballad that sounds like one of those DNA songs that you know as soon as you hear it. The song is about music – its positive attributes and how we are all part of the “big note” (a Frank Zappa reference?).  At only 2:02 we are left with a breezy little number that sticks in our brains. It could have ended side two but our dynamic duo deliver one last knockout punch with the anthemic title track, “Moving Targets.”

Like the first tune on side one the duo addresses their lives in the music business but this time instead of wanting to crawl back into the womb they proudly state that no matter what you think – they are not going away. The music world is where they are firmly cemented into. The song is the heaviest on the album in regards to the use of distorted guitars and it’s made up of three distinct sections. The first part in harmony, announces Flo & Eddie are moving targets and it plays like a rocking Lynyrd Skynyrd song. This is followed by a half-time section reminiscent of Alice Cooper’s song “Hello Hooray.” The tension is planted. We are not sure where the music will take us, but section three ignites our ears and the results are an explosive “DNA” hook that sings as powerfully as The Tube’s anthem White Punks On Dope. To add to the excitement is ex-Mothers of Invention, Ian Underwood wailing away on sax behind the vocals. This chorus is so catchy the listener is left with this earworm well after song fades out. I never get tired of listening to it.

And like the album cover, I never get tired of looking at it. It’s a detailed, realistic painting of a shooting gallery with Flo & Eddie’s faces as targets. It was created by the late Dave McMacken who is responsible for the artwork found on Frank Zappa’s albums Overnight Sensation and 200 Hundred Motels, as well as Kansas’ Leftoverture, and Warrant’s Dog Eat Dog to name a few.

It’s such a shame Columbia Records did not get behind this album. With the proper promotion, I think it would have sold well and been up for pop record of the year. Moving Targets is an excellent example of finely tuned “70’s pop/rock art”, that in my opinion still stands the test of time. Take an uninterrupted listen in headphones or in the car when you get a chance. You will not be disappointed.

Feature Photo: Album cover art used for review purposes. Background picture BLUR LIFE 1975 / Shutterstock

John Tabacco

johntabacco.net

johntabacco.bandcamp.com

itizwhatitizmusic.bandcamp.com

Flo & Eddie’s ‘Moving Targets’ Album Review article published on Classic RockHistory.com© 2022

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