That Voice: Larry Hoppen and Orleans

on Jul 26 in Clive: Working for the Man in the Age of Vinyl, Music by

Until they showed up in our little office in early 1982, I hadn’t thought about Orleans since I’d seen them open for Jackson Browne in western Massachusetts in the early 70s. My partner, Michael Friedman, and I had quit our jobs at Arista Records to start our own production/publishing company. We’d had a few successes along the way, but it was hand-to-mouth and unlike life at a record company, where you get a paycheck even if you haven’t been especially productive, we were exhausted.

When Orleans called to say they were looking for management, I remembered these guys were among the first and best at merging acoustic music and harmonies in a band setting. I knew that their original songwriters, John and Johanna Hall had left and I’d lost interest with their second release, which featured along with one of the worst album covers of all time, a top 40 hit I’d gotten really sick of. Still, I was surprised to hear that the Hoppen brothers were without a record deal.

The clincher for us was most likely Michael, who’d been Albert Grossman’s partner managing Dylan, Janis Joplin and The Band, and who was one of the most likable people in the business. At our first meeting, Larry played a batch of new songs, several of which were good, and he agreed to let me do what I’d done at Arista — cast tunes I felt could be hits.

It turned out that the only record company we could get interested was out of Florida. Radio Records had accidentally acquired the U.S. rights to a bunch of discofied hits from the sixties re-recorded and blended together into an awful medley called Stars on 45. It was a smash and I imagine to help ease the shame of having that as their single music business accomplishment, the owners started a small label that they got Atlantic Records to agree to distribute. That spring, they signed Orleans with the stipulation that we make the record in Florida at a dinky little recording studio over the summer. I remember two things about getting off the plane with the band: incredible humidity and the guy at the rental car counter saying whatever you do, don’t flip anyone off because everyone in Miami carries a gun.

I can’t tell if the sadness I feel about this record is attributable to my own disappointment over where I was in my life or how the project ended. I knew by then that I didn’t really like producing, at least the old school way, where you cut rhythm tracks and overdub everything. It was at best, way too detailed and antiseptic and after the first few days, I found it incredibly boring. Orleans was professional, but finding themselves in Florida with no gigs and all expenses paid was to them, a lot like vacation. The first few days, I felt like I was their alarm clock. To make matters worse, my wife was back in NYC pregnant with our first child and the transition to parenthood was not one I was looking forward to.

We tussled. I didn’t want to stay up all night in the house the record company provided for us. Ben Wisch, my co-producer, didn’t want to use one of their buddies in the studio. Another musician the guys insisted on using showed up demanding an eighth of an ounce of coke before he could play. The songs, mostly Larry’s, were OK, but not great. My impression was the band was looking at this record as a last chance to generate excitement from new material and to resist becoming an oldies act and they were understandably uptight and inflexible when I made suggestions about lyrics, arrangements and digging deeper for better songs.

The cover song the band agreed to record was the Everly’s Brothers, Let it Be Me, and brothers Larry and Lance did a righteous version.

[audio:|titles=Let it Be Me]

The title track was also quite spirited with its signature harmonies and the double guitar lead that Orleans had used in Dance With Me.

[audio:|titles=One of A Kind]

There were a few really nice moments in the studio, mostly when the Hoppen brothers sang, and some of the songs had their moments, but overall, the album sounds like a lot of records from the eighties with the big drum sound (kind of juicy though!), stylized (now dated) synthesizer and electric piano sounds, cheesy arrangements, and punched in parts.

My favorite Larry vocal is Circles, a sweet little ballad he wrote and sang, accompanying himself on electric piano and synth. You get a sense from this what an incredible singer he was and although his oeuvre was pop music, which can indeed be shallow, he was also earnest and genuine.


Save Our Planet, an early environmental plea song, was written by Larry and Lance, who is a fine bass player and great vocalist in his own right. You can hear Ben playing with an early drum machine and the influence of Phil Collins’ just-released In the Air Tonight.

[audio:|titles=Save Our Planet]

The week we mixed the record, Willie Nelson released a version of Let It Be Me, which became a huge hit. A few weeks later, the guys at Radio Records folded up their tent, took their winnings and quit the music business. As far as I know, the record, aptly titled One of a Kind, never shipped.

Orleans was a good band. Lance and Larry Hoppen weren’t especially stylish and they didn’t really have much musically or lyrically to say — though you could say the same thing about many others whose had long careers in pop music — but they were talented and professional and they knew what they were doing and what sounded good and most importantly, they made a lot of people happy.

Larry Hoppen, co-founder and lead singer of the group Orleans, died Tuesday at 61. He is survived by his wife, two daughters, brothers and band-mates and a lot of fans.

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