Yesterday, we had our granddaughter over. Sloane is closing in on her first birthday, so her personality is quickly emerging. Thanks to her Mommy and Daddy, she loves her music. But, I think she was exposed to a whole new world with my wife and me. You see, after a week of funk music culminating with my Parliament/Funkadelic concert Saturday, from which I am STILL recuperating, I am going through a little palette cleansing with some early-Seventies pop music. So, I had Pandora playing “Raspberries Radio,” and Sloane got to hear a mix of power pop, bubblegum and some Sixties pop, all of which was making her “dance.” It was so great watching another generation react viscerally to some timeless music.
All of this got me thinking about this music of my pre-teen years. This music was often maligned at the time, yet it continues to find its sound filtering through some of the traditional sounding pop music today. Remember when the radio was filled with the sounds of the Edison Lighthouse, The Archies, Tommy James & the Shondells, The Grass Roots, The Cowsills, The Guess Who, in addition to so many other great pop artists? Sure, that stuff wasn’t as “cool” as Zeppelin, Hendrix, Sabbath, Yes and the rest, but to me, there is something absolutely magical about a great three-minute pop/rock song, an art-form unto itself. To me, that’s what I love about power pop music. You get the energy of those early Who and Kinks songs coupled with the vocal harmonies of The Beatles, The Hollies, The Beach Boys and The Byrds. It’s like having the best of both worlds, as you get rock energy and the safety of some sugary melodies. And, sometimes, these power pop bands create some truly transcendent music.
As you can tell, I have been thinking this through a bit over the past twenty-four hours. To this day, three bands stand out to me from this era of terrific AM radio hits. Two of them lit up the charts at the time, while the third was not discovered by me until the Eighties. I am talking about the triumvirate of early-Seventies power pop: Raspberries, Badfinger and Big Star. The Raspberries were the pride of Cleveland, Badfinger was from England and Big Star hailed from Memphis. Yet, all three embraced the sound of the pre-Sgt. Pepper Beatles, early Who, Small Faces and Beach Boys at a time when that type of music was considered uncool. But, if you begin to trace the development and acceptance of power pop, you will see these bands’ fingerprints all over disparate artists’ sounds such as Cheap Trick, The Knack, Marshall Crenshaw, Bangles, Tommy Keane, Jellyfish, Material Issue, Weezer, Fountains of Wayne, Jimmy Eat World and the rest.
Badfinger and Raspberries found chart success, while Big Star ran into nothing but problems. Both Badfinger and Raspberries stuck to the apparent cheeriness of The Beatles, while Big Star embraced a little more lyrical darkness which led them to be so influential on the bands of the Eighties. While Big Star encountered poor luck with their record company, causing them to miss out the sales they deserve, Badfinger may have been the most snake-bit band of the three. They were marketed as the “NEW” Beatles, always a kiss of death. They were mismanaged to the point where they were left broke after all of their sales, which tragically led to the suicides of two of their creative minds in the band. On the other hand, the Raspberries just never found the radio play their songs were calling out to have. Sure, they had hits, but only one found its way into the Top Five, “Go All the Way.” So, over the next three entries, I would like to make a case for each one of these bands for induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, knowing full-well this is an act of futility. Still, I want it known that these musicians to know how much more meaningful my life has been because of their music.
In honor of the fact that I FINALLY have obtained a copy of the brilliant writer, and musician, Ken Sharp’s 1993 book about the Raspberries, I want to give Eric Carmen’s initial foray into my musical library a huge shout-out. A couple of years ago I bought a copy of the Raspberries’ fantastic live album Pop Art Live and did a write-up of the double-CD set on this blog. It was my first brush with one of my musical heroes when Eric Carmen himself gave me a shout-out on Twitter for the blog entry, thanks to the promotion of my longest-tenured friend in the world, Mike Bond, who was constantly sending my tweets to record companies and artists for them to read. But, when Eric Carmen, God bless him, sent me a “thank you,” well, that was a dream come true. Most of you may know the man through his hit songs “All By Myself” and “Hungry Eyes,” my his work with the Raspberries is impeccable.
The Raspberries were not a vehicle for Carmen, though he was the dominant songwriter of the band. The give-and-take between the members of the band, who initially were Carmen on bass, guitar and vocals, Wally Bryson on lead guitar, drummer Jim Bonfanti and guitarist/bassist Dave Smalley. After the band’s first three albums, Bonfanti and Smalley were replaced by bassist/vocalist Scott McCarl and drummer Michael McBride for the band’s swansong. What was an extremely short run, spanning from 1972 through 1974, the band was given heaps of critical praise that greatly outweighed their actual success on the charts. Yet, the band’s music is now being cited by a third generation of musicians as an influence. You might be surprised to know that the Raspberries are not only held in high regard by the relative small community of power pop artists, but by big names such as Bruce Springsteen and Mötley Crüe.
To be perfectly honest with you, I am sick and tired of all the whining Eddie Trunk does about the lack of metal artists in the RRHOF. Really, Eddie?!?! Metal, while a very important genre in rock’s history, is also one of rock’s most limited, with the most passionate fans who predominantly believe that rock music is ONLY metal. But, when you analyze the Hall’s membership, sure there are glaring omissions from metal, such as Judas Priest, Iron Maiden and Mötörhead, but power pop only has Cheap Trick, of whom I would argue is not a total power pop band. So, Eddie, quit your bitching! My beloved, and equally influential Raspberries, Badfinger and Big Star sit on the outside, while hundreds of Jimmy Eat Worlds continue to ride the coattails of these trailblazers to some hit songs and albums.
So, with part one off my chest, here is my ode to Cleveland’s beloved Raspberries and my 20 favorite songs of the band.
20. “It Seemed So Easy” (Fresh Raspberries, 1972)
19. “Last Dance” (Side 3, 1973)
18. “Making It Easy” (Side 3, 1973)
17. “Hard to Get Over a Heartache” (Side 3, 1973)
16. “I’m a Rocker” (Side 3, 1973)
15. “On the Beach” (Side 3, 1973)
14. “If I Could Change Your Mind” (Fresh Raspberries, 1972)
13. “Don’t Want to Say Goodbye” (Raspberries, 1972)
12. “Starting Over” (Starting Over, 1974)
11. “Cruisin’ Music” (Starting Over, 1974)
10. “Rose Coloured Glasses” (Starting Over, 1974). What a brilliant little ode to the days of the British Invasion, only a decade later. No wonder the people of my age grew up playing punk, power pop and new wave.
9. “I Don’t Know What I Want” (Starting Over, 1974). This song lyrically typifies the Pete Townshend male teen angst cry of wanting change for the sake of change. I have read that Carmen prefers the second album, Fresh Raspberries. But, I sure love the final album since the band, with its two newest members, sure seem to be more fully realizing The Who/Beatles mix the band originally envisioned.
8. “Let’s Pretend” (Fresh Raspberries, 1972). What a beautiful McCartney-esque ballad! This is probably Carmen’s hot zone.
7. “Party’s Over” (Starting Over, 1974). What The Beach Boys’ “Fun, Fun, Fun” was to the Sixties, “Party’s Over” should have been to the Seventies: a party song for the ages.
6. “Ecstasy” (Side 3, 1973). Are you seeing a pattern? I kind of dig the latter two albums more than the first two. Sorry Eric! I love their rawness. I just love the sexual innuendo of the lyrics.
5. “Tonight” (Side 3, 1973). What a terrific song!
4. “Play On” (Starting Over, 1974). This is a fantastic example of what McCarl brought to the band. Since McCarl is from Nebraska, I want to know if fellow Husker Matthew Sweet was the second coming of McCarl? Just a thought.
3. “I Wanna Be with You” (Fresh Raspberries, 1972). This song is great in the studio form, but just pops from the speakers on their live albums released here in the 21st century. Maybe, in retrospect, the Raspberries should have released a live album, which might have broken them to a much bigger audience, just as what happened to Peter Frampton, Kiss and Cheap Trick. Oh, what could have been!
2. “Overnight Sensation (Hit Record)” (Starting Over, 1974). The old “if only my band could get a hit song” hit song, cut from the same lyrical cloth as Dr. Hook’s pleading “Cover of the Rolling Stone” from the same era. Only thing, this is a PERFECT pop/rock song, full of Brian Wilson productions touches, Keith Moon-inspired drumming, Beatlesque sound affects and outstanding musicianship. Honestly, this is power pop heaven at its finest. Normally, a song of this caliber and quality should be a band’s best, but the Raspberries also had…
1. “Go All the Way” (Raspberries, 1972). This is POWER POP!!! If I would have been given the task to choose one song to represent the greatness of Seventies pop/rock to send into the universe for alien civilizations to discover, this is my song! It is perfect. From the loud Kinks-style guitars, to The Who’s power chords and rhythm section, to the Hollies’ choral harmonies, all the way through the lyrics describing a GIRL begging her boyfriend to “go all the way” with her. My goodness! To a pre-teen whose male hormones were just beginning to kick into full gear, this song was a revelation. I was taught that girls were all good and virtuous. I had absolutely no idea they were like me at the time – a horn dog! And, if you can hear Matthew Sweet and Susanna Hoffs’ version of the song, with Susanna purring “go all the way” chorus, OMG! It’s a call to the groin. Still, I prefer this version because of the sexual tension the band brings to the song. PERFECTION!
Since I began this little mini-series with the dessert, I will bring it back to a main course of Badfinger for the next go-around. Stay tuned!