In an era flush with white-guy hitmakers who couldn’t dance—Huey Lewis and Robert Palmer and Rick Astley and Daryl Hall and John Oates—Eddie Money really couldn’t dance. The singer of late-seventies and eighties soft-rock mainstays like “Baby Hold On” and “Two Tickets to Paradise,” who died on Friday, at the age of seventy, was a little less than six feet tall, but, onstage, he’d stoop awkwardly over the microphone, like he was embarrassed to be taking up space. He leered and winked, and moved strangely, as if dodging invisible gnats. With his hands, he committed all the notorious crimes of the rhythm-challenged—his fingers pointing, snapping, or else balled into a fist, punching the air. His hands found their most comfortable home on the microphone, which he often appeared to be strangling.
All of this is to say that Money, who was born Edward Mahoney, in Brooklyn, and grew up on Long Island, was an unlikely pop star. He was the son and grandson of New York City police officers, and was a police trainee himself after high school before moving to California, where, in 1978, he charted two Top 40 singles under the management of the legendary promoter Bill Graham. Although he’d play bills with the likes of the Rolling Stones and the Who, and go on to have twenty-one more singles in the Billboard Hot 100 between 1978 and 1992, he never lost the air of a fast-talking local boy made good. In interviews during recent years, he would talk about even his lowest moments—vodka, cocaine—with a kind of humble good nature. Speaking last year with Dan Rather, he found the bright side of a fentanyl overdose, in the early nineteen-eighties, that put him in a coma and left him, for several months, needing a walker to get around. Somehow during this time he was able to record a new album, “No Control,” which went platinum. “Everything was bad about the overdose, but the only thing good about it is, when I made the album cover . . . I was down to a hundred and sixty-five pounds. And they put a Versace suit on me,” he said, laughing. “I looked like a million bucks.”
Extolling the virtues of Money’s catalogue—with its bluesy electric guitars, roadhouse harmonica, gated reverb on the drums, synthesizers, and plenty of cheesy sax—makes one feel a bit like Patrick Bateman, in “American Psycho,” going on about the secret artistry of Phil Collins’s worst songs. But Money contributed a series of earworms that have, thanks to classic-rock radio, burrowed themselves into the American pop psyche. Every so often, I find myself poking around the house, mumbling the simple chorus of “Baby Hold On”—“Baby hold on to me / Whatever will be, will be”—and feeling happy in some very old part of my brain.
Money’s biggest hit came out of just this kind of mundane domestic moment. “I was scraping mashed potatoes off a big china platter when Eddie Money called,” the singer Ronnie Spector wrote in her memoir, in 1990. It was 1986, and he was calling to ask her to perform with him on a new song that his label had given him to record, called “Take Me Home Tonight,” which he didn’t much like. The only good thing, from Money’s perspective, as he later told a reporter from Knight-Ridder, was that the song had a line from the Ronettes’ 1963 smash hit “Be My Baby” in the chorus, which gave someone the idea that it’d be good to get Spector, who had been the group’s lead singer, into the studio to reprise it. At the time, Spector was living in New York with her second husband and two young children, in semi-retirement. It had been twenty years since the Ronettes broke up, and more than a decade since Spector had fled the house she shared with her first husband, Phil Spector, the man who had helped build, and then derail, her career. In her memoir, Spector recalls Money asking her, “What are you doing these days.” She responded, “The dishes. . . . When can we get started?”
“Take Me Home Tonight,” which went to No. 4 on the Billboard charts, remains a staple, a propulsive wedding-dance-floor rock-out of a piece with Bon Jovi’s “Livin’ on a Prayer” and Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’.” It’s a song for the end of the party, right before the lights come on at the bar, the last bit of the night that you can sing at the top of your lungs without feeling stupid: “I DON’T WANT TO LET. YOU. GO. TILL YOU SEE THE LIGHT!” Central to its cathartic thrill is Spector’s voice. She’s announced in the chorus by Money, crooning the line “Just like Ronnie sang”—a fitting pop-royalty welcome. And then she arrives: “Be my little baby. . . .” Her voice is elegant and joyous, music history dusted off and brought back to urgent life. As Spector wrote in a tribute to Money on Instagram, on Friday, the song helped introduce her to a new generation of listeners, and it got her a record contract and restarted her solo career. More than that, singing that line on the radio again may have been a way of reclaiming it, artistically if not financially, from Phil Spector, of making it hers again. There’s a clip online of Money and Ronnie singing the song on “Letterman,” and, though Money looks as ridiculous as you’d expect, dancing next to a resplendent Spector, the whole thing is truly beautiful.