The first thing I told John Waite was thanks on behalf of every guy that made out with some girl at a school dance or skating rink back in 1985 or so. Thanks for “Missing You.” Despite the new wave histrionics that 1980’s retro nights inspire, John Waite’s #1 hit from his 1984 album No Brakes was the indelible soft-rock sound of the era, even knocking the omnipresent second act of Tina Turner’s “What’s Love Got to Do With It?” from the charts. It was huge. “You’re very welcome,” he laughed from his home in California. “It’s the very least I could do.”
Waite’s career began in the mid-1970’s as the lead singer of the Babys, one of the many underappreciated progenitors of power pop. When members started splintering off in 1980— Jonathan Cain and Ricky Philips joined Journey—Waite was left to make a name for himself.
Waite has never gotten tired of his hit. “I think it’s a great song,” he says. “I’ve never gotten bored singing it. I think it’s one of those things that separate me from everyone else. Every singer needs one of those songs, and I wrote that one. I’m lucky to have it.” Most recently, Waite sang the song as a duet with Allison Krauss on his 2007 retrospective Downtown: Journey of a Heart.
“I don’t just want to live my life based on what I done, twenty, thirty years ago,” Waites admits. “There’s always new songs to write, new gigs to play, and new doors to open.”
In the last couple of years, Waite has lent his timeless voice to the harder side of things, witness his admirable stab at Led Zeppelin’s “Rock and Roll” in the 2010 live album In Real Time, and on his latest album Rough and Tumble, he stretches things even further with the hard rock core of the title track, the dream narrative in “Peace of Mind” – “it’s based on Hermann Hesse’s Steppenwolf”—and the swaggering take on Ike & Tina Turner’s “Sweet Rhode Island Red.”
“It arena rock,” Waite says. “It’s not easy listening. It’s always been rock ‘n’ roll.” That said, Waite still understands the notion of dancing with the one that brought you. “If You Ever Get Lonely” speaks heart-to-heart the language that has made him the star he is. “I still have hopes that ‘If You Ever Get Lonely’ will give ‘Missing You’ a run for its money.”
John Waite plays the Manship Theatre June 2. Tickets $35 from the Manship Theatre box office. myspace.com/johnwaite