Back during 1975, middle school-aged teens around the country were smitten with a song that perfectly depicted the angst felt by millions of teens around the world. And, this very song was the song of choice of that awkward form of middle school dancing that sixth and most seventh graders practiced. You know, that straight-armed distance away with hands on the shoulders, swaying back-and-forth. With our hormones firing at full blast back then, it was probably a good thing that we kept a distance away lest any embarrassing situations might arise that could traumatize one’s self-esteem. That distance we allowed between us was there so cold air cold flow between the pair, cooling down any uncontrolled heat which may be developing between the pair. Anyway, that song that hit us in that pre-bicentennial year was “All by Myself” by Eric Carmen.
Eric Carmen had just gone solo from a band called the Raspberries in 1975 when he released that gooey weeper of a teenybopper ballad. And, that song was hit my age group hard. It was perfect for post-breakup sob sessions, or that “just-started-going-with-her (or him) teens-in-love” euphoria. Whatever intensified feeling you were experiencing at the time, “All by Myself” helped you feel the situation further. Now, if you bought the album, you will remember the iconic bronze metallic sheen to the cover of it, showing Eric Carmen’s portrait. 1975 was the year for metallic sheen covers, with Daryl Hall & John Oates’ eponymous “Silver Album” being released during that year as well. However, what most of us did not realize is that Carmen’s previous group, Raspberries, was a super important band to the sound of many of our MTV-driven artists. People who came of age during the late-Seventies/early-Eighties did so during what is now known at the Golden Age of Power Pop. And, the Raspberries and their main songwriter Eric Carmen, being a HUGE influence on the artists during our time.
Yes, many of you have heard of the Raspberries, and even a few of you are fans (like me!). But, just who are they? Let’s back up to 1972, when a quartet from Cleveland, Ohio, The Raspberries, released their debut album, whose cover contained a “scratch-and-sniff” gimmick that allowed the listener to smell the scent of raspberries on the album cover. That was strike one.
Next, when a critic popped the album on their stereo and put the needle into the groove, he/she did not hear a Led Zeppelin/Deep Purple blues-based, heavy, loud, bombastic hard rock band. No, instead, The Raspberries turned their clocks back to 1965, and looked for influences from the pop-rock era of The Beatles, The Beach Boys, The Who, The Kinks and The Byrds, where The Raspberries wrote concise three-minute pop ditties beefed up with Who-like steroids and Kinks-fuzz coupled with Carmen’s McCartney-esque vocals, Beach Boys-like vocal harmonies and some jangle guitars a la The Byrds. To those who missed that kind of sound, The Raspberries were a godsend. But, if you were looking for the heaviness of a Black Sabbath, then The Raspberries sounded a little teenybopperish. So, instead of the holy triune of rock magazines of Rolling Stone, Creem and Circus articles being written about The Raspberries, the band, consisting of Carmen, Wally Bryson, Jim Bonafanti, and Dave Smalley found themselves on the cover of teen girls’ magazines like Tiger Beat, following in the footsteps of The Monkees, David Cassidy and The Jackson 5. In other words, bands such as The Raspberries were not taken seriously by critics during their moment in the sun.
Ironically, it was the musicians who took the band seriously. Professional musicians as diverse as former Cream bassist Jack Bruce, grunge bad-girl Courtney Love and Ringo Starr have all sung the praises of The Raspberries. And like other power pop artists from the same time period, like Big Star, Badfinger and Todd Rundgren all faced similar fates commercially. Yet, today, those same artists are all held in high esteem by the punk, new wave, power pop, alternative, indie rock and indie pop scenes, making those artists much more widely influential than Metallica or any other metal band. So, I am holding out hope for many power pop artists to eventually be recognized by the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.
Now, in 1972, The Raspberries scored their biggest hit with their debut single “Go All the Way”. That song is not a teenybopper song, with the female in the song begging the male to “go all the way with me, it just feels so right”. How could any male turn down an offer like that? “Go All the Way”, with it’s “Paperback Writer”-like muscle, peaked at number 5 on the Billboard Hot 100, becoming the band’s only Top 10 song. Subsequent singles, most of which followed a similar-sounding formula, did not fare as well. The band had two more Top Twenty hits. From the second album released in 1972, Fresh, “I Wanna Be with You”. Then, in 1974, the band released what may be considered to be their masterpiece, “Overnite Sensation (Hit Record)”. However, the single only reached number 18 on the chart. After the disappointment of that single’s performance and the lack of sales of their fourth album in three years, Starting Over, The Raspberries disbanded.
Then, nearly 30 years later, the original lineup of The Raspberries reunited, which lead to the release of a live double-CD offering entitled Pop Art Live. That set was recorded during their last concert of the tour in Los Angeles. The CD provides proof as to the musicianship and sound of the band being a huge influence on current artists such as the Fountains of Wayne (“Stacey’s Mom), Jimmy Eat World (“The Middle”) and current pop punk darlings Paramore. Then, just this past Black Friday celebration of Record Store Day, Pop Art Live was released as a triple vinyl album, with record one being red, record two blue and record three orange, with all three being translucent. The colored vinyl was intended only for the first run of the album, with all other pressings being on black vinyl. Additionally, the vinyl version contains two extra songs not on the CD set.
Someday, on an October day in the future, I hope to wake up to the news that The Raspberries have finally been nominated for induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. Right now, I have the same hope for Big Star, Jellyfish, The Jam and The Smiths, along with many other Eighties alternative bands who deserve this recognition. I also hope that soon we will get off this classic rock kick we are currently experiencing with regards to Hall inductees. But, as I said earlier, that is a topic for the upcoming days. At least, The Raspberries are inducted into my Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, which is probably the preferred Hall of Fame for most rockers out there: to be loved by their fans.