Where can we find the “Greatest American Hero?” This question has perplexed our society since the signing of the Constitution. Could it be someone you see on the news? Is he or she someone trying to make a change in their community? I have my own answer to this question, and it comes from the back of a 99 cent clearance section box. It was one fateful day last year that I, while digging through piles upon piles of forgotten records at a local store, happened to stumble upon an album that I would never forget. This album was “America’s Greatest Hero” by Joey Scarbury, and it changed my life forever.
There’s very little information about Scarbury available. The first two search results for his name are:
- A Wikipedia entry that I’m almost sure was written by Scarbury himself. From the lack of sources (any, for that matter) to the revision log showing it to have been almost completely written by a user named JohnnyChicago (who doesn’t seem to have edited any other articles)
, I’m almost sure of this.
- An interview from June 2014 where I received most of my info from.
And that’s pretty much it. The rest of the links include places where you can buy his album and an IMDB page with very few credits. I did however, come away with a couple gems in this interview. I have learned that Scarbury has since quit the music industry and moved onto the automotive industry; currently holding a job at a Lexus Dealership, (where my father may or may not have seen him when he was leasing his car). I have also learned that Scarbury spent 15 full years of his life relaxing and coaching little league baseball. Most importantly though, I learned that Joey and his wife met while working for Sears in the catalog department.
Now that we know a bit about Scarbury, let’s move on to the record.
There’s something deeply beautiful about this album. The cover of the album presents an image you won’t be forgetting any time soon: Scarbury, himself, awkwardly standing in a perfectly tailored cream tuxedo in front of a sketch of a half-red-half-blue America. The hilarious absurdity this image conveys while still somehow remaining generic forms a perfect synecdoche with the album.
The first and by far most recognizable track is “Believe It or Not,” a triumphant anthem to the everyman’s ability to succeed and excel. I would wager that over 99% of those who recognize this song first heard it as the theme song to the cult classic ABC sitcom The Greatest American Hero. The popularity of the show is what brought Scarbury the only top 40 placement of his singing career and cemented him as the folk hero we all know and love today. With references to the song appearing in the likes of Seinfeld and The Gilmore Girls, this song
remains, far and away Scarbury’s biggest cultural contribution.
The rest of the songs on the album were not so lucky, and perhaps for good reason. From the beautifully derivative “Love Me Like the Last Time” to the arguably introspective “Down the Backstairs (Of My Life ),” the rest of the 35-minute album feels like a trophy case made out of sawdust and Krazy Glue built for the sole purpose of giving the first track a proper studio album release. I don’t seem to be the only one who believes this, as even Wikipedia describes the album as “hastily produced.” Perhaps it has something to do with the lawsuit against the creators of The Greatest American Hero which kept the album shelved for a while, according to Scarbury. But we may never know the full truth.
America’s Greatest Hero is a perplexing work. It manages to be completely generic,
and yet nevertheless fascinating in a fashion seldom scene. At the end of the day, we can only be certain of one thing: that this is a picture of Joey Scarbury and his wife holding their pet lion cub.