30 Years Ago: Chris Isaak Keeps His Cool on Self-Titled Second Album
Even though his 1985 debut, Silvertone, didn't chart anywhere except Australia, Chris Isaak didn't change much on the follow-up. Released in December 1986, Chris Isaak was another collection of songs inspired by the country, blues and rockabilly sounds of the late '50s and early '60s, as heard on Sun Records classics by Roy Orbison and Elvis Presley.
“[Chris Isaak] contains a few songs, like ‘Blue Hotel’ and ‘Lover’s Game,’ I think that were written in the early… days that we just never got good recordings of,” guitarist James Calvin Wilsey told Something Else! in 2015. “So, we started with that. But there was always the feeling where a band has their entire life to make the first album, and then they get six months to make the second one, you know?”
The existing songs helped with the quick turnaround time, and so did the addition of a cover to the Isaak-penned material. Chris and the band took on the Yardbirds’ “Heart Full of Soul,” with Wilsey’s twangy axe standing in for the haunting backing vocals on the original. It was a perfect fit and, although released as a single, it failed to become a hit for Isaak.
Listen to Chris Isaak's Take on the Yardbirds' "Heart Full of Soul"
He had more success with “Blue Hotel” and “Lie to Me,” which became decent-sized hits overseas, specifically the U.K., the Netherlands and France (where “Blue Hotel” topped out at No. 28). The album even scraped the Billboard charts with a No. 194 entry. If it wasn’t a blockbuster, it was at least forward progress.
“It’s always that sophomore jinx thing,” Wilsey said. “But overall, I think Chris’ songwriting was maturing. I think we were getting a better feel for what we could do in the studio.”
Isaak was further establishing his main songwriting theme, heartbreak, in songs such as “You Took My Heart,” “Cryin’” and “Blue Hotel.” Although Isaak doesn’t play much from Chris Isaak these days, “Blue Hotel” continues to hold a prominent position in his live set, much of which is devoted to his preferred subject.
“Heartbreak is inevitable, but it’s so much fun trying to dodge it for as long as we can,” Isaak told Billboard. “When I think of most love affairs, if they don’t end badly, they end in time. So there is that element of heartbreak. But would I have it any other way? Would I not be in the game? No way.”
Chris Isaak would keep the performer in the recording game, too, allowing him to continue to refine his style for 1989’s Heart Shaped World and its (eventual) breakout hit, “Wicked Game.”
Top 40 Albums of 1986