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As a general rule, guys who play TV doctors shouldn’t cultivate singing careers (Mandy Patinkin and Rent‘s Neil Patrick Harris notwithstanding). That goes double for soap opera studs. But let us forget for a minute that Rick Springfield’s two-year stint as General Hospital‘s Dr. Noah Drake made him the early-’80s George Clooney. Springfield’s 1981 musical breakthrough, Working Class Dog, is an overlooked gem, one of the few hit albums of the pre-Thriller ’80s to hold up in the post-HIStory ’90s.

Behind the moussed hair and skinny tie was a guitar-loving songsmith who embraced muscular guitar pop in an era of new-wavey keyboard cheese. Springfield’s ”Love Is Alright Tonite,” ”I’ve Done Everything for You,” and the ode to lusty envy, ”Jessie’s Girl,” had more in common with cult bands of the day like Shoes and 20/20 than with pop-chart contemporaries like Kim ”Bette Davis Eyes” Carnes. In fact, Dog‘s best songs aren’t too far removed from current chart-topping rockers like Third Eye Blind and Semisonic. Surely director Paul Thomas Anderson sensed this when he chose ”Jessie’s Girl” as the soundtrack to a sequence in Boogie Nights, in which a low-life nutcase performs a demented lip-synch in his bathrobe.

Springfield followed up Dog with a few howlers of his own — including the 1984 film Hard to Hold — and his career quickly crumbled. But don’t be fooled by his footnote status: Of all the megahit albums of the early ’80s — a time when the Oak Ridge Boys and Christopher Cross passed for pop stars — Working Class Dog remains one of the few still worth barking about.

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