Analyzing misheard lyrics in rock have provided music nerds endless hours of fun (and even been the subject of a series of books by Gavin Edwards.).
Needless to say, the actual words to some famous tunes were not “Hold me closer, Tony Danza” (Elton John, “Tiny Dancer”); “Scuse me while I kiss this guy” (Jimi Hendrix, “Purple Haze”); or “There’s a bathroom on the right” (Creedence Clearwater Revival, “Bad Moon Rising”).
For ‘70s hitmakers England Dan and John Ford Coley, their breakthrough hit “I’d Really Love to See You Tonight” does not include the phrase “I’m not talkin’ ‘bout the linen.” But in the 1996 action movie The Long Kiss Goodnight, that’s exactly what Samuel L. Jackson’s character tries to convince Geena Davis they’re singing (for the record, what sounds like “the linen” is actually “movin’ in”).
“I joke about it onstage! And it thrills me!” Coley laughs from his home in Nashville. “We didn’t even know the song was in that film because it wasn’t licensed! Shane Black, who wrote it, just liked the song. We wrote them and got a nice chunk of money out of it. But they never clarified in the movie what it was that we were actually saying!
It was only released after two scrappy execs from a smaller label who heard it through the office walls of another exec who had turned it down that it was snapped up because they could smell a hit. And they were right.
“The funny thing is that I rejected the song too!” Foley laughs. “Both Dan and I thought it was a female song, so we didn’t want to do it. They talked us into it! And when it took off, we were like okay…”
Coley also tells the story in his entertaining “unauthorized autobiography” Backstage Pass along with plenty of others from his life in and out of music. Like the first of many times he was mistaken by someone in public for…Sonny Bono.
It happened initially when he was at a restaurant with his family. “My grandmother was pissed!” Coley laughs. “She was so proud of me!” Must have been that mustache.
Born in Dallas, Coley first met Dan Seals as a teenager, and the pair played in bands including Theze Few and Southwest F.O.B. (the latter barely missing the Top 40 in 1969 with the very-of-its-time tune “The Smell of Incense”).
After becoming a duo England Dan & John Ford Coley, they scored a minor hit with “Simone,” but A&M Records released them. They signed with Atlantic subsidiary Big Tree and spit out ‘70s soft rock gold hits including “I’d Really Love to See You Tonight,” “Nights Are Forever Without You,” “It’s Sad to Belong,” “Gone Too Far,” “In it For Love,” “We’ll Never Have to Say Goodbye Again” and a cover of the Todd Rundgren-written “Love is the Answer.”
The pair often toured with like-minded and even bigger hit makers Seal & Crofts, which featured Dan’s older brother Jim (who gave Dan his "England" nickname, stemming from a childhood love of the Beatles).
Amazingly, Coley says that he and Seals received considerable blowback about “It’s Sad to Belong.” A bit of a head-scratcher since it’s about a married guy who finds a new love…but still stays with his wife.
“I don’t know why! I thought it was a comedy song. My attitude was you’re with the ‘right one,’ but a new ‘right one’ comes along. And then a new one and then a new one again! You end up finding the real, real, real right one!” he laughs. “I just call it the Noncommittal Song. And I didn’t play it after 1977 until 2000!”
One of the duo’s deeper cuts is the lengthy “Solider in the Rain.” Written about a returning Vietnam Vet at a time when that was actually happening across the country, it features shifts in tempos and some classical-style music, which was part of Coley’s background.
“This song just kind of came to me, and I didn’t know what to do with it. So [co-writer] Sunny Dalton said, ‘Let’s work on it,’ and we did. It’s not about what happens in a war, but after when everything’s changed,” Coley says.
“Your friends are doing different things and you’ve just come out of this incredibly dangerous situation. And you just don’t fit when you come back. I saw a lot of guys like that, including the drummer in one of our [early] bands. He’s a big guy, and he’s got PTSD.”
He was also cast as a “dead drug dealer” in an episode of TV’s America’s Most Wanted. And the irony of it, especially for a rock star of the 1970s? “I never actually did drugs! I only watched people do it!” Coley says.
He calls himself much more of a “seeker,” and especially when it comes to religion and spirituality. Coley says he’s on a constant and lifelong journey for enlightenment and asks a lot of questions, even if he knows they may annoy or challenge some.
And while not aligning himself to one discipline, he’s got one foot in Christianity and one in Judaism, the latter buoyed by his extensive research on the Torah since 2008.
“In fact, most people think I’m Jewish because I’m study in synagogues all the time. I’ve gone through a lot of searches looking for spiritual connections. And I’ve always been a great questioner of things,” he offers.
“Once in a synagogue, they told me ‘If you have two Jews in a room, you have three opinions!’ [Sometimes] in a church, they just tell you to sit down and shut up and listen. Or reshape me into something I already believe in. But I’m doing double duty!”
It includes a “Falling,” the last song he wrote with Dan Seals during their time together. Seals died in 2009 at the age of 61 from the effects of lymphoma and had received treatment at Houston’s M.D. Anderson hospital.
Houston appears a few times in Backstage Pass. Coley vividly recalls a bad review for one of the movies he was in from the Houston Chronicle. And like many performers of a certain vintage, remembers his somewhat wobbly time performing on the rotating stage at the Celebrity Circle Theatre (now Arena Theatre).
“The funny thing about those rotating stages—we call them rotisseries—is that you wait for that thing to start up and it’s always with a jerk, so you feel like you’re going to fall down,” he laughs. “You better brace yourself!”
Coley also recalls that he was “almost born” in Houston because his father worked in the city, and that his “great-great-great grandfather” fought at the Battle of San Jacinto. But he loves Houston, maybe even more than his own hometown.
“Dallas at the time was a great city. But that was before Dallas the TV show come out. We went from 600,000 people to seven million! I still go down there to visit family, but boy that place has changed!”
John Ford Coley plays 8 p.m. on Saturday, May 13 at the Dosey Doe Breakfast, BBQ & Whiskey Bar, 2626 Research Forest B in the Woodlands. For information, call 832-823-4414 or visit DoseyDoeTickets.com. $98, includes a three-course meal and soft drink, doors open 6:30 p.m.
For more on John Ford Coley, visit JohnFordColey.com