Before Madonna, Cyndi Lauper, Whitney Houston, The Bangles, Pretenders, and Heart had mega-hits with his songs, Billy Steinberg was the leader of California’s Billy Thermal. Billy Steinberg’s songwriting ability brought him to the attention of producer Richard Perry (Harry Nilsson, Ringo Starr, Barbra Streisand), who signed Steinberg’s band, Billy Thermal, to his Planet Records (also home of the Pointer Sisters). An album was recorded, but never released. Until now. Omnivore Recordings will release Billy Thermal, including the full album plus three bonus demo tracks, on August 12, 2014.
Billy Thermal contains the original versions of songs later made famous by superstars like Linda Ronstadt, who took “How Do I Make You” to the Top 10 in 1980; Pat Benatar, who named her third album after Steinberg’s “Precious Time”; and Rick Nelson, who cut “Don’t Look At Me” on his last album of new material, Playing To Win.
While Billy Thermal would fit best in the “new wave” genre, the album shows the genesis of #1 hits Steinberg would later co-write like The Bangles’ “Eternal Flame,” Cyndi Lauper’s “True Colors,” Whitney Houston’s “So Emotional,” Heart’s “Alone,” Madonna’s iconic “Like a Virgin,” and classics including Pretenders’ “I’ll Stand By You” and Divinyls’ “I Touch Myself.”
Five tracks made their way into the marketplace on an early ’80s EP, but the entire album has sat unreleased for decades. Omnivore Recordings is proud to rectify that with this release, and it is even enhanced with three demos written during the same time frame. The CD contains an informative set of liners from Steinberg and photos from the original album shoot.
In late 1978, Steinberg wrote some songs that he wanted to demo. Knowing he needed a band, he called a friend, singer/songwriter Mark Safan, in Los Angeles, who recommended guitarist Craig Hull. Through an acquaintance in Palm Springs (Steinberg grew up near Palm Springs and in the desert date-growing town of Thermal), he met bass player Bob Carlisle and drummer Efren Espinosa. Safan came to the first session with singer/songwriter Wendy Waldman. Mark and Wendy added background vocals. They recorded in a friend’s Palm Springs garage studio.
Carlisle would eventually score a massive hit of
his own in the 1990s with “Butterfly Kisses.”
According to Steinberg, “Billy Thermal was part of a movement referred to in the music business as New Wave. Early New Wave acts included Elvis Costello, Talking Heads, Television, Blondie, Graham Parker, The Cars, The Knack, The Police, and Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers. Some of these artists had significant commercial success. But by the time the second wave of New Wave acts had records ready for release, the bloom was off the rose. Billy Thermal fell victim to bad timing. Richard (Perry) lost faith in our record, and we were miffed. When Planet offered to cut us loose and give us our record, we were happy. This occurred in late 1980. Shortly thereafter, Billy Thermal broke up.”
Billy Thermal is a record that still sounds fresh and energetic — unfortunately, no one really got to hear it the first time around.
While Steinberg continues to make hits for current artists like Nicole Scherzinger, Demi Lovato and Katherine McPhee — the heat emanated from Billy Thermal.