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Eddie Money Dead at 70
There has to have been a time in history when Eddie Money’s “Two Tickets To Paradise” was a new song, but it feels like something that’s existed since the dawn of time. It’s a track that’s been incepted into your brain, something you will hear a minimum of three times a week on the classic-rock station in your hometown, a song whose every word you absolutely know without ever having tried to learn. It’s an American classic.
On Friday morning, Eddie Money passed from esophageal cancer at the age of 70.
Eddie Money’s self-titled album arrived in 1977, his voice perfectly suited to the album-oriented rock format that dominated FM radio at the time. Americans had an appetite for the emotional big lug archetype that year—Sylvester Stallone was just months off of his Best Picture win for Rocky. They shared a curled upper lip and an inarticulate Catholic tough-guy tenderness, he and Stallone, and when you found out in interviews that Money was the one artsy kid in an Irish family of Long Island cops, you thought: yeah, that makes sense.
He was born Eddie Mahoney, which is a perfectly good rock star name right there, and he made his escape to San Francisco in the late ‘60s, where he sang in bar bands until rock promoter Bill Graham discovered him and signed him to his Wolfgang label. Thus an 8-track classic was born.
His self-titled album produced a handful of hits, and while “Two Tickets To Paradise” is the one you’ll be hearing all weekend, “Baby Hold On” was actually the first and more successful single, just barely missing the top ten. But chart positions are meaningless when you’re talking about the mainstream rock of the ‘70s. Disco and yacht rock dominated the top ten back then, while the rock songs got added to AOR playlists and never moved. Seriously, turn on the classic-rock station wherever you are right now and tell me it’s not 1978.
The next couple albums were released to diminishing returns, and then something magical and career-reviving happened: MTV. Money had always had the voice to sell the music, but a charismatic persona and a willingness to please would do well in the music video era. Then, 1982’s No Control produced “I Think I’m In Love,” whose high-concept video would play a dozen times a day on MTV, and “Shakin’,” which joined his earlier tracks in the classic-rock hall of fame.
In the mid 1980s, a bunch of the stars of the 1970s AOR format—your Hearts and Aerosmiths—made the transition to mainstream pop-rock superstardom, usually with the help of a super-songwriter like Holly Knight or Diane Warren. Eddie Money led the charge here, and did it in style. His 1986 single “Take Me Home Tonight” both became his biggest hit and introduced a new generation to Ronnie Spector, whom he had the class to call out by name.
He stayed on the charts for the next few years, with some songs that didn’t quite deserve his voice—“Walk On Water,” “Endless Nights,”—but we’ll take it where we can get it.
Throughout his career, drug addiction was a part of the narrative; it seemed like he was forever succumbing to it or recovering from it. But in the last decade, he seemed like he got his act together, affably playing himself in a GEICO ad and appearing with his family on the AXS-TV reality sitcom Real Money.
He survived the 8-track era, music videos, cocaine abuse, and insurance commercials. He was a perpetual underdog, and his music will live on as long as there’s a radio station with a Morning Zoo. Raise a toast to Eddie Money, a true American classic.
Dave Holmes is Esquire’s L.A.-based editor-at-large.