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Mr. Mister: Big Hits, Little Respect

By Steve Pond, taken from Rolling Stone magazine, April 1986.

            Their second album, Welcome to the Real World, hit Number One and yielded two Number One singles—equaling second-album success achieved only by Lionel Richie, Wham! and Tears for Fears. They gave RCA Records its first Number One album in more than a decade. Their first single, ‘Broken Wings’, scored them a Grammy nomination (they didn’t win). Their singing on Saturday Night Live impressed Randy Newman so much that he phoned SNL executive producer Lorne Michaels, convinced they must be lipsynching. And they are arguably the most successful Los Angeles-based band since Toto.

               

Mr. Mister might also be the least respected L.A. band since Toto, critically speaking. Their two hits, ‘Broken Wings’ and ‘Kyrie’, are glossy, immaculately produced, melodic records made for the conservative tastes of Top Forty and AOR radio—not exactly the kind of stuff that earns you street credibility. And the fact that all four members have been highly paid session musicians probably hasn’t endeared them to the critics either. But Mr. Mister doesn’t seem too concerned.

               

“We appreciate music on all levels,” says lead singer and bassist Richard Page, “but we are musicians first. We’ve mad a living at it. So we like jazz, we like classical music, you know? We don’t worry about whether it’s got a street vibe. I don’t think you have to have an attitude to be cool.”

               

Besides, they don’t think Welcome to the Real World is all that slick. “I thought it was less commercial, or less calculated, than the first album,” says Page.

               

“Then, we were trying to write a hit,” admits guitarist Steve Farris. “So we did all the ‘right’ things, like pulling in an outside producer. This time we did what we wanted.”

               

Richard Page and Steve George started working together in a cover band just out of highschool in Phoenix. When jobs turned into seven nights a set in Las Vegas, Page left to attend music school in San Diego and to take some odd gigs he’d rather not talk about. George relocated to L.A., and Page soon rejoined him to play R&B tunes in black nightclubs. “There’d be an entire black audience, with these white, blue-eyed faces up there singing,” says Page. “They liked us, but they wouldn’t say.”

               

The duo formed Pages, a pop-oriented fusion group whose three albums were “resounding flops,” says Richard, “but not within the music community.” Page and George soon found themselves on demand in the lucrative session scene, singing for everyone from Molly Hatchet to Barry Manilow and writing tunes for Donna Summer, Kenny Loggins and James Ingram. “I sort of lost my priorities,” Page admits. “I started relying on session work because there was a lot of money involved. The tendency is to get lazy and fat and lose your vision, and I did to a degree.”

               

At the same time, Page developed a fondness for cocaine and other recreational drugs. He kicked drugs before his wife gave birth to their first child (they’re expecting another this summer) and says the song ‘Welcome to the Real World’ is partly about facing life straight and sober. But despite Page’s cleaning up—and the moral qualms that caused him to back out of singing on a Twisted Sister tune—the band isn’t as “squeaky clean as some people make us out to be,” says drummer Pat Mastelotto.

               

“Yeah,” says Page, laughing. “Lots of people have stopped taking drugs. It doesn’t mean that all of a sudden you go to Disneyland every day.”

               

But ‘Kyrie’, Mr. Mister’s second hit, reinforces the group’s squeaky-clean image. The song’s title is taken from Kyrie eleison, a Greek phrase (meaning “Lord, have mercy”) used as an invocation in the Catholic Mass. “I think religion is probably the most positive thing in the world,” says Page. “But we don’t want to preach or tell anybody to be a Christian. It’s just a powerful, inspirational phrase.”

               

Mr. Mister is currently finishing a string of Canadian shows that sold out in a matter of hours (“That’s because we’re opening for Wayne Newton,” jokes Page). This spring they will play Australia and Japan and scattered American dates. And this summer the band plans to record its next album.

               

For now, they are enjoying their status at the top of the charts. They refuse to worry about the lack of respect from critics—or even from old fans like the Pages fanatic from Idaho who wrote them after Mr. Mister was launched. The letter, recalls Page, said, “How can you do this? I hope you go back to playing real music. I’ll never listen to any of your albums again.

 

Steve Farris shrugs. “So we shot him.”