Dean with my grand-daughter, Florence.
The unusual nature of Dean's UK hit Lucky Stars made it stand apart from the mostly mediocre crowd of other pop-songs in the late 1970s.
It was a story-song - as are the majority of his compositions - about a couple having a ding-dong
about the chap's secret meeting with an ex-girlfriend. It originally featured Denise Marsa as the partner who (quite rightly) suspects the nature of that euphemistic "lunch" with Lisa, the girl who's "always stumbling off a cliff".
this song was that pundit opinion was divided. Some declared it their most hated song ever, while others said it was their all-time favourite. At least no one ignored it, especially the vast numbers who bought the single and drove it to the top of the UK charts.
It captivated me at the time, but then I'd always been a sucker for lyrics which conjured up pictures and told a tale. As a child, Old Shep could reduce me to tears. And to be embarrassingly honest, it still does. Standout story-songs for
me in adolescent years included Space Oddity, American Pie, The Ballad of Billy-Joe and humorous numbers like Jake Thackray's Sister Josephine, all of which I bought. And still like.
Not that I didn't like regular pop music too. But
unlike the story-songs, it wasn't terribly memorable, that's all. Hence the appeal of Lucky Stars and Dean's other hit singles of that era, like Ariel, Lydia, Woman of Mine and McDonald's Girl, and, of course, the three albums
he released contained compositions which were, without exception, gems of perfection.
Remarkable, really, when you consider that he was barely out of his teens - he wrote Woman of Mine when he was 16 and the other recordings tumbled out, one
after the other, soon after he got his degree in music from university in New York.
This contrasts starkly with Tim Minchin (above), who determinedly slogged away in front of sparse audiences in Australian clubs until, at nearly 30, his career
took off just as he was thinking of packing it all in and becoming a teacher instead.
But Dean's rise to fame at such a young age really was meteoric, although the stars turned out not to be so lucky in the long-term.
First of all, there
was the trouble caused by that beguiling little track called (I am in love with a) McDonald’s Girl, a typical Friedman story-song which blended humour with perceptive tenderness, captivating lyrics with a catchy melody – the touching tale
of a gauche, angst-ridden teenager haunting the burger store which employs the girl he adores and nervously rehearsing what he'll say to her, but failing to find the courage to speak.
was some controversy in the States about the appearance of the word “virgin” in the lyrics. Much more crucially, in the UK this new song hit the buffers big-time when the BBC banned it for mentioning the name of a commercial company. (How ironic
is that, when you look at the nakedly promotional plugs at the BBC these days, not least in chat-shows?)
Compounding this career calamity was Dean's discovery that the contract in which his record company had ensnared him years before, excluded all
but a pittance from the profits of any records sold outside the USA. Lucky Stars, with a million sales internationally, had earned him next to nothing.
Outraged, he did what so many musicians had done before him: he sued the record company.
They, with their legions of lawyers, had little difficulty in squashing this upstart kid: they dropped him from their list of artists and proceeded to bankrupt him. On his wall at his New York home, the bankruptcy certificate hangs alongside his Lucky
Stars gold disc.
Even worse, the record company retained the rights to all Dean's songs until that point - a situation which effectively put him out of the music business, with the record industry closing ranks and putting their wagons in an impenetrable
circle against him.
Only in 2013 did a new copyright law in the States return the rights to his songs to him - 35 years after they were removed. Immediately he released an album, Words and Music, which contains dozens of them, and
he re-mastered a version of a successful early album, Well, Well, Said the Rocking Chair. In 2017 his latest album, 12 Songs, came out.
But back in the 80s, undefeated, Dean turned to other ways of earning money, writing a seminal
book about synthesisers (a speciality at university), writing and recording theme music for film and TV (Boon being one series for which he penned music), developing digital and interactive games before even Apple did, and inventing giant musical
instruments for children's theme parks.
Only when the internet provided a platform for independent artists to reach their followers by by-passing the record labels was Dean able to start re-building his interrupted recording career. In a stroke
of fin-de-siecle originality, he invented crowd-funding by asking his fan-base to contribute towards the $25,000 cost of financing his first new album for 20-odd years. In a matter of weeks, touchingly, he had all the money.
of what a likable fellow Dean is and how dear he is to his fans' hearts.
But I can't help seeing the tragedy of those lost years from the age of 24 when Dean's superb creativity was at its height. Who knows what other masterpieces might have been written
if, during those 35 years when artists depended totally on their recording contracts, this world-class composer, lyricist and performer had not been locked out in the cold?
A look at the selection of Friedman videos on YouTube is a poignant illustration
of the point. Some show the dark-haired, liquid-eyed youth with a then-fashionable moustache which he's never lived down, and in the more recent set we see a greying man in his 50s and 60s. Nothing in between.
But the smile's unchanged and, more
importantly, so is that distinctive soaring voice - Dean enjoys reminding people that the NME once described him as sounding like "Kermit the Frog on Quaaludes". Which, for those not in the know, is a sedative hypnotic drug.
I know all this detailed
stuff about Dean, of course, because since 2010 he has been running a Songwriting Course at the French House Party every summer. He’s genial, generous of spirit, highly intelligent, good at rational debate, witty and with a sense of fairness and
honesty. I admire him as a bloke and a friend, and sometimes that makes me forget that he’s also a master songwriter and musician (‘Oh look, here’s this iconic songsmith playing my piano and doing that impressive thing with his finger sweeping
along all the keys - Wow!’)
If Dean feels bitter about what happened four decades ago, he keeps it hidden, although he certainly celebrates the liberation which the internet has provided to the independent artist, and I suspect he takes secret
karmic pleasure in the record labels' current state of bowel-loosened panic.
Dean tours the UK and Ireland every year and recently has added other gigs in France besides ours. He spends several weeks gigging at the Edinburgh Festival and has recently
written a clutch of children's musicals to add to his list of achievements.
Dean gets great reviews. Journalist Mike Atkinson described his style thus: “Alternating between lyrical, somewhat jazzy piano‐backed numbers and guitar‐based ditties
which span from spiky satire to tender romance, Dean displays an impressive range as both composer and performer. You could imagine him wowing a sophisticated boho crowd in a Greenwich Village cabaret bar, whose patrons would lap up his nods to Porter, Sondheim
And in October 2015, after a standing-ovation gig in Liverpool, Ian Hall's review contained the great line: "Music may be subjective, but genius isn't" (http://www.liverpoolsoundandvision.co.uk/2015/10/11/dean-friedman-gig-review-epstein-theatre-liverpool-2015/)
Well, isn't that my point exactly?
* Some of my favorite songs appear below. My thanks to Marc d'Entremont for his recording of Dean singing McDonald’s Girl (now used in the fast-food
chain's TV advertising) during a gig at French House Party.