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THE GREATEST RECORD EVER MADE: THAT THING YOU DO!

An infinite number of songs can each be the greatest record ever made, as long as they take turns. Today, THIS is THE GREATEST RECORD EVER MADE!

HE WONDERS: That Thing You Do!
Written by Adam Schlesinger (possibly with Mike Viola)
Produced by Adam Schlesinger and Mike Viola
From the soundtrack album That Thing You Do!, Play-Tone/Epic Records, 1996

Singer, songwriter, musician, and producer Adam Schlesinger was born on October 31st of 1967. He was too young to really remember the 1960s, on the scene too late to experience Beatlemania, the British Invasion, the debut of The Monkees, the effervescent zeitgeist of a pop music revolution that encompassed MotownThe Dave Clark FivePaul Revere and the RaidersLesley GoreThe Knickerbockers, girl groups, surf groups, and James Brown on The TAMI Show. He did not grow up watching Shindig! and Hullabaloo on TV, he would have only seen Batman and Star Trek in syndicated reruns. He wasn’t yet two years old when Neil Armstrong declared one small step for a man was one giant leap for mankind. He lived the first years of his life in the ’60s, but he could not possibly have retained any substantive memories of that defining decade.

And yet….

Somehow, Adam Schlesinger served the best pop legacies of the ’60s with greater grace and verve than anyone else you could name. He did it the only way a creative soul knows how to do it: instinctively, intuitively. Artfully. He didn’t experience the wonders of the ’60s first-hand. But when one of his projects called for it, he could conjure an effective flash of period verisimilitude untainted by mere nostalgia or bloodless hucksterism. It was just that thing he did.

All of the above kinda side-steps what most would consider Schlesinger’s greater body of work, with his groups Ivy and Fountains Of Wayne, and also the bulk of his voluminous film and television songwriting and production credits, from There’s Something About Mary through Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. I can’t even apologize for my tunnel-vision in that regard. Because Schlesinger was essential to two ’60s-related gems that have meant the world to me. In 2016, he produced The Monkees’ triumphant Good Times! album, a highlight in an otherwise-miserable year. a year that robbed us of Prince and David Bowie (among others) and exchanged them all for the awful reality of a President-Elect Trump. And in 1996, he channeled everything I loved about the ’60s into a magic, frothy concoction that served as the title theme for my favorite movie, That Thing You Do!

Well I have heard your record, Guy, and I like it. I like it a lot. “That Thing You Do!” You know, it’s…snappy!
Actor Tom Hanks made his directorial debut with this light-hearted little romantic comedy about The Wonders (formerly The One-ders), an unknown Erie, PA rock ‘n’ roll group that manages to score a big hit single in 1964. These fictional one-hit Wonders are a quartet of archetypes–the talent, the fool, the smart one, and the bass player–but the film executes the difficult task of making them seem plausible, real. There’s a scene when the members of The Wonders all hear their song “That Thing You Do!” on the radio for the first time, and that scene precisely nails the giddy rush of rockin’ pop music better than any other slip of celluloid I’ve ever seen. Yeah yeah yeah, even better than the entirety of A Hard Day’s Night, which had been my all-time favorite film right up until that night at a movie theater in Cicero, NY in 1996, when my eyes and ears opened wide with glee at Hollywood’s best-ever love letter to rock ‘n’ roll music.

And none of it would have or could have worked without the perfect song.

Mike Viola & Adam Schlesinger

Adam Schlesinger provided that perfect song. Mike Viola of The Candy Butchers co-produced and sang lead; some say Viola also co-wrote the song, but declined to take a songwriting credit. The combined talents of Schlesinger and Viola crafted a stunning confection that steers clear of the quagmire of pastiche or parody, and captures the essence of fab and gear radio-ready 1964. 

Schlesinger’s legacy is greater than one perfect song he built for a movie, and more than a fantastic album he made with the surviving members of The Monkees. I’ll let my many eloquent friends in the pop music community speak on behalf of Fountains Of Wayne, of Ivy, of Tinted Windows, and I’ve already heard testimonials to Schlesinger from many who met him, many who worked with him, many who feel this sudden loss as we all hear and try to process the awful news that Schlesinger has passed from complications related to goddamned COVID-19. Adam Schlesinger was 52 years old, too young to have remembered the ’60s. Too young to be eulogized. Too young, for God’s sake. Too young. 

Our sense of loss as fans pales beside the losses of his family and friends, his children. We can only reflect upon what his music meant to us, and mourn from afar.

I mourn with something snappy, something I heard in a movie more than two decades ago, a movie which took place within a cherished era three decades before that. Adam Schlesinger couldn’t have remembered that era. But he captured it. And I’ll always remember him for that thing he did. Rest in peace, Spartacus.

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To Beat Or Not To Beat

Call me a bundle of nerves. Call me a frustrated Ringo Starr. Most people just call me annoying, because I can’t stop drumming. I don’t mean sitting at a drum kit, bashin’ away while a garage band of my peers stumbles through a gloriously inept approximation of “(I’m Not Your) Steppin’ Stone.” That would be great! No, the vehicles of my percussive assaults are counter tops, tables, even my own legs if I happen to be sitting down. Maybe there’s actually a song playing, as I attempt to keep time with it in my own inherently flawed fashion; often, it’s just an imaginary song in my head. Either way, I try to play along. Badly. And it pisses people off.

When did this start? Probably when I was a teenager, I guess, though maybe earlier. I did receive a set of bongos from my great grandmother’s husband in 1968, when I was eight years old, and I certainly enjoyed pounding those pagan skins. About a decade later, I would take those bongos with me to college and go on to become percussionist for internationally obscure jazz combo Bud Mackintaw & the Skeeters (but that’s another story).

I’ve generally drummed by hand–it’s the bongo player in me–but I’ve owned drumsticks, too. My first sticks were castoffs from real drummers playing live rock ‘n’ roll, projectiles that slipped through the grips of Tommy Allen of The FlashcubesBarry Whitwam of Herman’s Hermits, or Martin Chambers of The Pretenders, among others. I also bought myself a pair of drumsticks somewhere in there because…I dunno. I just wanted to participate. I wanted to be a musician. A guitarist. A singer. Something. Drumming was the easiest thing to fake.

For all that, I’ve never even sat at a drum kit, not once, not ever. It almost happened one time in college, when my roommate Paul and I were working on a campus radio station commercial for a local chicken wing place called Munchies. Trust me, Munchies had the best Buffalo wings imaginable, and I wrote a radio commercial celebrating that rainbow of spice (from mild to abusive and even nuclear), all to the tune of “(Theme From) The Monkees:” Hey hey, we’re the Munchies! Clever? That’s me! There was a drum kit available for our use in producing the commercial, and Paul suggested I handle the percussion. I protested that I wasn’t really a drummer, but Paul said what the hell, I could keep time adequately when attacking a chair with my sticks to provide rhythmic accompaniment to Blondie‘s “Accidents Never Happen” back at the dorm, so, y’know, good enough. Well, fine by me! But scheduling complications and technical issues in the production room scuttled the whole thing.

My attempts at drumming have mostly been a source of tension and discord for those around me. The night before our wedding in 1984, my bride-to-be Brenda and I went out with a bunch of pals for drinks and merriment. There was fun! There was camaraderie! There was beer! There was music, which meant there was me, drummin’ on the table with manic glee. And there were the unaffiliated folks at the next table over, angrily insisting I cease that infernal pounding. Brenda thought it was hilarious.

After decades of complaints, I’ve grown tired of it all. Over the past few weeks, I’ve been making a conscious effort to curtail the drumming. It’s difficult, because the rhythmic impulse is ingrained within me, in spite of my lack of discernible prowess. But I’m trying. People hate to hear me pounding on counters, and I understand that. It’s a flaw in my character. I don’t think it’s quite as heinous as some character flaws I don’t exhibit, like smoking, or farting, or talking during a movie, or voting for Trump. But I have to grudgingly admit that it’s a character flaw nonetheless. I fall so far short of being who I wish I could be. I talk too fast. I don’t enunciate with sufficient clarity. I drum. But I’m trying to fit in better. I’m trying not to be an annoyance. I’m trying.

I’m not giving up air guitar, though. Let’s not get crazy. Some concessions are simply too much to ask.

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Coffee


“I enjoy a cup of coffee in the morning more than I have ever enjoyed a beer at night.”

The above observation has become one of my oft-cited go-to mottoes, right up there with “Radio’s job is to sell records.” But I was a relative latecomer to the specific joy of java addiction. I didn’t start drinking coffee until I was 26 years old–specifically, on October 1, 1986. Before that? No. The very idea of drinking coffee was anathema to me.

I did like a cup of tea now and again. That interest began when I was just a kid in the ’60s, as I sipped the occasional cup of hot tea with milk and sugar–heavenly.  I liked sweetened ice tea, too, particularly sun tea, which I baked in a pitcher perched atop our picnic table in the back yard, the solar rays transmogrifying water and tea bags into something special and refreshing. Ah, sweet alchemy. Delicious!

Coffee did not interest me at all. I had sampled it, disliked its taste, and discarded the notion of ever drinking the stuff.

This disdain for the bracing nectar of the coffee bean continued as I went to college, and beyond. If I needed a light stimulant to help propel me through late-night study or writing sessions, I’d sip my tea and soldier on. In the early ’80s, when I was a college graduate with a beer in my hand and a song in my heart, I was openly scornful of the “coffee achievers” TV advertising campaign, which utilized pitchfolk like David BowieKurt Vonnegut Jr., and Heart‘s Ann and Nancy Wilson to tout the supposedly beneficial buzz of a cup o’ joe to goose one’s productivity. In 1985, when I was working a full-time day job in a record store at a downtown Buffalo shopping mall and a part-time night job at McDonald’s, I fortified my AM vigor with a balanced breakfast of a pizza pretzel and a large, caffeine-rich serving of Mountain Dew, courtesy of the Hot Sam stand located directly across from the record store’s entrance. Healthy? Possibly not. Rock ‘n’ roll? Yeah, we’ll go with that.

For dramatic purposes, the role of a 1985 Hot Sam clerk shall be played by Vanity. I’m alert now.

But in the fall of ’86, I was starting a new job, and its first shifts involved work in a warehouse setting, unloading trucks and attending training sessions. It was cold, it was early, and there was free coffee. October 1st, 1986. I started drinking coffee right then and there.

Although my consumption of coffee was driven by circumstance, I developed a taste for it. I preferred it sweet, though I dabbled in drinking black coffee for a year or two in the late ’80s. I eventually decided that I enjoyed my coffee too much to be willing to compromise on how I drank it: cream or creamer, and Sweet’N Low. That specific taste is what I have each and every morning.

I’m otherwise not terribly fussy about my coffee. I’m not a fan of Starbucks. I love Paul deLima, but rarely have the opportunity to drink it. I buy Chock Full O’ Nuts as my preferred brand to make at home in the morning, that choice inspired by writers Billy Miller and Miriam Linna in Kicks magazine, because why not? I used to grab an afternoon cup at a convenience store on work days, but now I’m usually a one-cup-a-day guy (though my cup is really a 20-ounce mug). 

And my morning mug of Chock Full O’ Nuts is one of the highlights of my day. There are times when I go to bed looking forward to the morning treat of my coffee. I still enjoy a beer at night, when I’m in the mood for it. But I enjoy my coffee even more.

Close up white coffee cup with heart shape latte art on wood table at cafe.

Read more by Carl Cafarelli @ https://carlcafarelli.blogspot.com/

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Michael & Micky

Michael Nesmith and Micky Dolenz should make a new album.

The two surviving members of The Monkees (Davy Jones died in 2012, and Peter Tork passed in early 2019) recently announced plans for another tour, and for release of a live album, The Mike & Micky Show Live, due out in April. That is welcome news, even though they’re still not coming anywhere near Syracuse. The mix of hits and deep cuts in the duo’s concert repertoire is intriguing, and they’ve assembled an absolutely crack combo to accompany them. It’s wonderful to hear that’s being preserved in official form; it’s further encouraging (and somewhat surprising) to learn that collaboration will continue for at least a little bit longer.

But man–they really should record a new studio album with their live band.

Why? Honestly, this particular combination of talents simply deserves an opportunity to do something more. The goal of a pop concert embraces familiar material, and rightly so; the audience may or may not be receptive to something new (a discussion for another time), but they for damned sure expect to hear some of the songs that made them fans, songs that made them wanna buy a ticket and throng to venues near and far. A live album documents that experience, both for those who were there and those who wish they could have been.

But an album of new material can expand our appreciation, and give us more songs to love. The Mike & Micky Show’s setlist includes “Birth Of An Accidental Hipster” and “Me & Magdalena,” two gems from The Monkees’ triumphant 2016 album Good Times! The presence of those songs amidst your “Pleasant Valley Sunday” and your “Listen To The Band” demonstrate the truth that great songs don’t care what year it is. 

So why not add to that motherlode? Why not continue to create?

The pool of talent is there, and it starts at the top. As the once-common dismissals of The Monkees as a mere prefab pop product recede into the realm of a grumbling, myopic minority (probably otherwise occupied with yelling at kids to get off of their damned lawn), more and more enlightened fans and pundits recognize the gift and artistry the individual Monkees invested in their work. Dolenz remains a soulful, accomplished singer, Nesmith retains his well-earned aura of gravitas, and the two of ’em sound magnificent together. They always have.

But the magic of this combo goes deeper than that. Their live band is just killer, propelled in large part by Michael’s son Christian Nesmith. The younger Nesmith is a rockin’ pop force of nature, his guitar and vocals fueling the group’s driving, irresistible sound. Christian’s wife Circe Link–a well-respected talent in her own right–and Micky’s sister Coco Dolenz add heart and harmony to this family affair, and all of the players–all of ’em–know exactly what they’re doing and how to do it. The Mike & Micky Show band can kick any ass that needs kickin’.

And I would so love to hear what they all could do on a new studio album.

I don’t want them to do remakes. I don’t want them to do a tribute to Monkees songwriters like Carole King or Neil Diamond or Boyce & Hart. I’m sure they could pull off a few well-chosen covers for flavor–I’m particularly fond of the idea of Micky singing Gary Frenay‘s unrecognized pop classic “Make Something Happen”–but come on! Don’t you think the members of this band could come up with some great songs you haven’t heard yet, songs that no one has heard yet? For cryin’ out loud, Circe Link & Christian Nesmith’s “I’m On Your Side” was our most-played song on This Is Rock ‘n’ Roll Radio in 2017, and I already know there’s more fantastic stuff where that came from. I wanna hear it, in the studio, with Mike and Micky. I bet you’d wanna hear it, too.

If such an album were ever made, I think I’d prefer that it not be billed as a Monkees record. While these two last surviving members of the group do have every right to call themselves The Monkees, the idea of a new Monkees album invites the idea of including recordings by the late Peter Tork and Davy Jones; many fans would want that, some would insist upon it, and I do not want that at all. We mourn those we have lost. We acknowledge our loss, and pay tribute when it’s appropriate. But we can’t live our lives trying to bring theirs back.

I know this is all a remote possibility. It’s a bit more plausible than my previously-posted fantasy of Micky Dolenz making an album with The Flashcubes. Frankly, I’m not even sure Nesmith or Dolenz would have the merest interest in doing something like this. But I’m still a believer, and I would very, very much like to listen to this band.

Wouldn’t you?

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Comic Book Retroview: Superboy #129

In the 1960s, my older sister Denise took dance lessons from Miss Lorraine’s School of Dance, located in the suburbs of Syracuse, on the stretch of Taft Road that serves as the transition from North Syracuse to East Syracuse, heading toward (believe it or not) Rattlesnake Gulch.  If I recall correctly, she had a friend named Pam Bradley who lived a bit farther down Taft Road.  In 1966, when I was six years old and freshly-addicted to superhero comic books, a car trip with my Dad–mainly to drop off/pick up Denise at either Miss Lorraine’s School of Dance or Pam Bradley’s place of residence–included a bonus side-trip to an unexpected setting of magic and wonder:  a bookstore of some sort, which contained tables filled with comic books.

A brief history of comic book distribution before the rise of the direct market:  for the first several decades of comic book publishing, comics (like other magazines) were sold to vendors on a returnable basis.  Unsold comic books could be returned by the vendor, and then by the distributor, for full credit from the publisher.  To save time, tumult, and money, distributors were not required to return the entire, intact book for credit; they were allowed to return just the cover, or even just the top part of the cover (i.e., the book’s title), and the distributor was then expected to destroy the coverless comic books that remained.

It was, of course, a system rife with abuse.  Were any of these stripped comic books, magazines, or pulp paperbacks ever destroyed?  One presumes there must have been some honest soul somewhere in this chain, I guess.  But thousands and thousands of coverless and 3/4-coverless publications were re-sold, illegally, at deep discounts.  A 12-cent new comic book became, say, a five-cent or eight-cent coverless comic book, a windfall profit of which the publisher received bupkis.

At six years old (and for a long time thereafter), I had no idea that I was purchasing illegal contraband.  I just knew I was getting more comics.

Fifty years of rose-colored vision has likely distorted my memory, but I recall this store on Taft Road as having tables full of stripped comic books.  And, on that one and only visit, I was allowed to pick out a few to take home with me.  One was an issue of The Flintstones.  Another was Superboy # 129.

Oh my God, I loved this comic book.

I doubt I had much clue about what was going on in the book itself.  Nor did I realize that none of the stories were new, just (“just…?!”) 80 pages of reprints. But what did it matter? With a cover blurb promising “Superboy And His Super-Friends,” this book had superheroes as far as the eye could see! There was Superboy himself–The Adventures Of Superman When He Was A Boy!–with all the bullet-racin’, locomotive-beatin’, tall-building-vaultin’ that promised and delivered.  But there was also a substitute Superboy named Vidal, a “super weakling from space” named Dworn, a time-traveling kid from Krypton named Zar-Al, and that, y’know, gurl–Supergirl, that is.  Clark Kent’s own gal pal Lana Lang even got into the act–sort of–when she tried to help and/or manipulate an amnesiac Superboy set up a new secret identity.

But, best of all, there was “Superboy’s Big Brother,” Mon-El.  First off, I dug Mon-El’s costume, which was simple, but featured a tunic-with-tails over shorts, just like Robin the Boy Wonder’s outfit. The two-part novel-length story, which originally appeared in Superboy # 89, shows us Superboy’s discovery of a rocketship containing an amnesiac, super-powered teen from space.  See, in the DC universe, amnesia was a far more common malady than, like, measles.  Circumstantial evidence leads the Boy of Steel to conclude that this strange visitor from another planet must have come from Superboy’s home planet of Krypton; furthermore, this new superkid must be Superboy’s brother, an older brother he never knew he had.  Well, yeah; what other explanation could there be? Big brother arrived on Earth with no memory of his history, nor even his name, so Superboy decides to name him David Crosby. NO!  KID! I’m a kidder. Instead, Superboy names his brother after the day of the week, and Monday’s starchild becomes the superheroic Mon-El.

This new brotherly kinship soon gives way to slight sibling rivalry, but then to outright suspicion, as Superboy begins to question whether or not Mon-El really came from Krypton.  To test Mon-El’s Kryptonian heritage, Superboy even takes the extreme measure of surreptitiously exposing a slumbering Mon-El to a low dose of deadly Kryptonite radiation; while this is kinda like, say, firing a bullet at Bruce Wayne to prove he’s Superman, Mon-El’s healthy non-reaction to the green rays does indeed prove he’s not a son of Krypton.

Now convinced that Mon-El is lying, Superboy arranges a trap to reveal Mon-El’s subterfuge. Superboy arranges for he and Mon-El to encounter a massive amount of fake Kryptonite meteors–actually lead, painted green–and to confront that treacherous cur Mon-El when he pretends to succumb to the ersatz Green K.

But the plan has unintended consequences:  Mon-El does indeed succumb to the fake Kryptonite, but he’s not faking; the exposure is killing him.  The radiation has also restored his memory.  Mon-El is not from Krypton, but from the planet Daxam; he had met Superboy’s parents Jor-El and Lara prior to Krypton’s demise, and that meeting had provided the circumstantial clues that led Superboy to believe (through no fault of Mon-El, mind you) that they were Kryptonian brothers from the same mother. But it gets worse! Lead is just as deadly to Daxamites as Kryptonite is to Kryptonians, and Superboy’s well-intentioned stupid moves have condemned Mon-El to death.  The only hope is to send Mon-El to The Phantom Zone, and let his disembodied form remain diaphanous until he can be cured of his lead poisoning.  With that, Mon-El is voluntarily exiled to The Phantom Zone, awaiting the day Superboy can restore him to a physical, not-dying state. (A text piece in this issue then explained how Mon-El would remain in The Phantom Zone for a thousand years before being cured by Brainiac 5 in the 30th Century, allowing Mon-El to join The Legion Of Super-Heroes in the far future.  So, Superboy’s a cad and a big fat failure.)

As a 56-year-old kid today, I can react to this with all the loving snark I wish.  As a six-year-old kid reading it for the first time, the only appropriate reaction was: “Wow!”
My original, cover-compromised copy of Superboy # 129 did not survive the ’60s.  I replaced it some years later–with a complete cover, this time!–then stupidly sold it in a comics-collection purge in the ’70s.  I bought my third and final copy in the ’80s, and that one will remain mine until I the day I slip forever into The Phantom Zone myself. As a budding teen writer, I imagined a sequel to “Superboy’s Big Brother!” as a Batman and Mon-El team-up for The Brave And The Bold, but never completed any work beyond its title (“The Phantom Of Gotham City”) and a vague concept.

Miss Lorraine’s School Of Dance on Taft Road closed its doors years and years ago. Pam Bradley moved to Florida; Denise reunited with her during our 1970 Florida vacation (a trip mentioned briefly here.) And I never again visited that store, with the tables full of stripped-cover comic books; perhaps it, too, slipped into The Phantom Zone.  But it was real when I needed it to be.

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The Everlasting First: The Jam

Continuing a look back at my first exposure to a number of rock ‘n’ roll acts and superheroes (or other denizens of print or periodical publication), some of which were passing fancies, and some of which I went on to kinda like. They say you never forget your first time; that may be true, but it’s the subsequent visits–the second time, the fourth time, the twentieth time, the hundredth time–that define our relationships with the things we cherish. Ultimately, the first meeting is less important than what comes after that. But every love story still needs to begin with that first kiss.


Anyone who knows me also knows who my favorite bands are: The BeatlesThe Ramones,The FlashcubesThe Monkees, and The Kinks. There are dozens and dozens of worthy acts that I love almost as much–I am proud to be a pop music fanatic and obsessive–but I think I’ve made it clear that this fantastic five sits permanently up there as my Top, my Coliseum, my Louvre Museum, et al.
The Jam used to be right up there with those Beatles and Ramones, too. While I certainly never stopped loving The Jam, they’re not as ever-present in my mind as they were a few decades ago. But in the late ’70s and early ’80s, The Jam rivaled The Ramones for the coveted title of Carl’s favorite rock ‘n’ roll group.

My introduction to The Jam was inauspicious, to say the least. One afternoon in the Fall of 1977, I was lounging in my freshman dorm room, listening to Brockport’s campus radio station WBSU. I listened to WBSU, like, all of the time, constantly pestering the student jocks to play more of the new punk/new wave stuff I wanted to discover–BlondieThe DictatorsThe Runaways, and the above-mentioned Ramones brudders–and also more of the ’60s stuff I loved, from The Raiders (“Let Me!”) and The Dave Clark Five (“Any Way You Want It”) through The Monkees (the station owned the only copy of the group’s Changes LP I had ever seen, though some of the BSU jocks flatly refused to ever play anything by The Monkees).

But this particular afternoon was a singularly revelatory WBSU session, as I heard The Flamin’ Groovies (“Misery”), The Vogues (“Five O’Clock World”), and The Knickerbockers (“Lies”) for the first time. And the station also played a brand-new song by a punk group out of England, performing a cover of “The Batman Theme.” As I heard the song play, I wrote in my journal: “1977 and Batman’s a punk. Progress.”

And that was the first time I heard The Jam.

From small things mama, as Bossman Brucie would later say. If I seemed dismissive at the time, I think I was nonetheless intrigued. The Jam next crossed my consciousness in October, when TV’s The Tomorrow Show took a look at this punk rock thing that was driving some of these mixed-up kids crazy, with the pogo dancing and the safety pins and the anarchy and the use of impolite language. Tomorrow Show host Tom Snyder promised “a punk-rock jam,” but he was himself mixed-up; what he meant was that his guests would include The Jam’s Paul Weller, along with Joan Jett from The Runaways, and Kim Fowley, The Runaways’ former manager. I don’t remember much about this show, other than a sense of no love lost between Jett and Fowley, and the fact that I’d already developed a serious crush on our Joanie (“crush” in the sense that I wanted to hug her and squeeze her and call her Gorgeous; my girlfriend Sharon was neither impressed nor amused). I have a vague recollection that Weller was serious and focused, and that he knew what he was talking about, but the precise details are lost in the cluttered hallway of my memory. I really oughta at least try applying a feather duster to that place some time.

I’m not exactly sure of the sequence of events after that, of how I went from The Jam? to THE JAM!! I do know there were four specific songs involved: “In The City,” “I Need You (For Someone),” “The Modern World,” and “All Around The World.” I can’t tell you where or when I first heard any of these, but I can tell you that the first two were staples of The Flashcubes’ live set. I saw the ‘Cubes for the first time in January of ’78, and it was immediately clear that any songthey did was okay by me. I bought the U.S. Polydor 45 of “I Need You (For Someone)”/”In The City,” and played it often.  I picked up import singles of “The Modern World” (a track I think the ‘Cubes also used to cover) and “All Around The World” when I worked at Penn-Cann Mall in North Syracuse that summer. I was hooked. Guitarist Weller, bassist Bruce Foxton, and drummer Rick Buckler had created exactly the sort of modern world I wanted to inhabit.

I returned to Brockport for my sophomore year in the fall of 1978. By then, the previously-cited girlfriend Sharon was already three or four heartbreaks ago. In early October of that semester, I aced some test or paper or somesuch, and felt I deserved a reward; so it was down to The Record Grove, where I purchased a copy of The Jam’s second LP, This Is The Modern World. I went back to my dorm, and put it on my roommate’s stereo, the volume set somewhere north of lethal. God, I loved this record on first spin. Just about everyone considers it The Jam’s least-noteworthy effort, but it’s always gonna be special to me. “The Modern World.” “All Around The World.” “I Need You (For Someone).” Then on to the tracks I didn’t already know: “Standards.” “Life From A Window.” Wilson Pickett‘s “In The Midnight Hour.” I couldn’t play Side One loud enough.

My next-door neighbor, on the other hand, thought it was already a wee bit too noisy. I hadn’t even met this chick yet, but she pounded on our mutual bedroom wall, imploring me to turn that goddamned racket down already. I grumbled, cursed, but complied. Ever the gentleman, that’s me! I did eventually meet this girl next door later that month. Her name was Brenda. Wonder whatever became of her…?

(And yes, she still thinks I play that goddamned racket too loud.)

The Jam didn’t exactly fall beneath my radar after that, but I didn’t get their next album, All Mod Cons, until well after the fact. Someone–either my then-current roommate Tom or my future roommate Paul–played “Down In The Tube Station At Midnight” for me on his WBSU show in the spring of ’79; I liked it, I guess, though it didn’t have the exuberance, the immediacy of the Jam tunes I already loved. It was…mature. It would take some getting used to.

By the time I adjusted to the idea of a more grownup-sounding Jam, the group hit me with a new album, Setting Sons. What an amazing record this was! I rarely listen to whole albums nowadays, but I owe myself the pleasure of giving this another complete spin soon. Supposedly originally created as a concept album–a dirty phrase in the post-punk world of 1979-1980–Setting Sons succeeds as a stunning song cycle, simmering with the charred embers of shattered idealism, discarded friendships, wistful memory, and defiant hope. I regard Setting Sons as The Jam’s masterpiece.

The Jam’s follow-up album, Sound Affects, was nearly as good, highlighted by “That’s Entertainment,” an unforgettable number that Weller is said to have written following a pub crawl; the track would have been worthy of The Kinks. The “Going Underground” single was another winner, and The Jam were firmly ensconced near the Toppermost of my Poppermost.

And then they were gone. Another album (The Gift), and a pair of 1982 farewell singles, “The Bitterest Pill (I Ever Had To Swallow)” and “Beat Surrender,” and Weller pulled the plug. The Jam never caught on in the States at all, but they were huge stars in Great Britain, and they quit at the height of their success. I never had much interest in Weller’s next project, The Style Council, but I have to concede neither he nor the rest of The Jam owed me anything. They’d already shown me the modern world, and all around the world: in the city, down in the tube station at midnight, lost in a strange town, Eton rifles beneath a burning sky, gone underground to a town called Malice. That’s entertainment.

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The Blue Beetle!

My Oldest Comic Book: The Blue Beetle # 6 (Fox, 1941)

The oldest comic book I’ve ever owned was a copy of The Blue Beetle # 6, published by Fox Comics in 1941. It was a coverless copy, and I’m not certain whether or not I still own it. I have a box of coverless comic books in my garage, and I’m going to start going through that box soon for a post (or perhaps a series of posts) about ’em.

My kooky memory can often recall all sorts of specifics about when and where I accumulated a comic book or record in my sprawling collections. I can’t remember where I got this one. I’m pretty sure it was in the ’70s; I remember a National Lampoon Golden Age comic parody (called “Ver-Man,” maybe?) which reminded me of The Blue Beetle as depicted here. I did trade with a high school pal for a few very low-grade condition ’40s and ’50s comics; my coverless copy of The Avengers # 4 was among the books he received in the trade, so he did all right. But I don’t think this Blue Beetle was part of that stash. It could have been a flea market purchase. The precise recollection ain’t there. Hell, for all I know, I could have picked this up when I lived in Buffalo in the ’80s. I still think I got in the ’70s.

The Blue Beetle I knew prior to this was the Charlton Comics hero of the ’60s, who shared a name and nothing else with the Fox character. However, the Blue Beetle familiar to me grew out of the original Blue Beetle; Charlton acquired the rights to The Blue Beetle in the mid ’50s, and the company made a few sporadic attempts to continue publishing the character. Charlton revamped The Blue Beetle slightly around 1964–coincidentally, a good year for something that sounded like “Beatle”–but the books were dull and uninspired, boring. Legendary artist (and Spider-Man co-creator) Steve Ditko created the the new Blue Beetle, which debuted as a back-up strip in Captain Atom # 83 in 1966. As presented by Ditko and scripter Gary Friedrich, this new Beetle’s alter ego of scientist Ted Kord was under suspicion in the unexplained disappearance of Dan Garrett, the original Blue Beetle.

But that’s a story for another day, and it’s a story well worth checking out if you’re a fan of Silver Age superhero comics. For now, we go back to 1941 for a tale of the original original Blue Beetle.

Fox’s Blue Beetle comics are now in the public domain. This scan of The Blue Beetle # 6 comes to us via Digital Comic Museum, a trusted resource for free downloads of public domain comics. And now, my oldest comic book. Ladies and gentlemen, THE BLUE BEETLE!

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The Everlasting First: Buddy Holly

Continuing a look back at my first exposure to a number of rock ‘n’ roll acts and superheroes (or other denizens of print or periodical publication), some of which were passing fancies, and some of which I went on to kinda like. They say you never forget your first time; that may be true, but it’s the subsequent visits–the second time, the fourth time, the twentieth time, the hundredth time–that define our relationships with the things we cherish. Ultimately, the first meeting is less important than what comes after that. But every love story still needs to begin with that first kiss.

This was originally posted as part of a longer piece covering both pop music and comic book characters. It’s separated here for convenience.

I was too young to ever know the full story. But my older brothers had a neighborhood friend named Nancy Cook; the only two things I can tell you about Nancy would be that she loved pop music–who didn’t?–and that she died at a young age, not yet 30 years old, in a car accident in the mid ’70s. It’s not the sort of thing I want to ask my brothers and sister about, even all these decades later. But I know that she was gone, too early, too young. And I also know that before she died, she left behind a collection of her 45s.

My first conscious exposure to Buddy Holly came via Don McLean. I was one of the many who just adored McLean’s smash hit “American Pie” in 1971, while having not Clue One of what it was about. At the height of the song’s popularity, an article appeared in, I think, either Life or Look magazine, discussing the song’s genesis. And it was there that I first read about the day the music died: February 3rd, 1959, when a plane crash ended the life of this singer named Buddy Holly.

Many years later, I would learn more about Buddy, and about Ritchie Valens and The Big Bopper, who perished with Holly in that crash. In ’71, I just felt the sadness of “American Pie”‘s lyrics, lyrics which mourned Holly while recalling I can’t remember if I cried when I read about his widowed bride. Devastating. Even at the age of 11, I recognized that song’s poignant mix of sorrow, regret, wistful remembrance, and subtle hope. And I wondered to myself: who was Buddy Holly?

I entered eighth grade in the fall of 1972. In ’72 and ’73, as my interest in pop music continued unabated, I began to look more and more into supplementing my AM radio lifeline by investigating what interesting records might already be in the family collection. Both of my brothers had moved out on their own, and had presumably taken the bulk of their record collections with them (though Art had left the first two Monkees albums behind). My sister was still in college, and I don’t remember what records she’d left in North Syracuse and what she’d hauled off to Adelphi University. But there were still some rock ‘n’ roll gems at the house: a few Beatles albums, a Dave Clark Five single, The Live Kinks, and probably some Grass RootsThree Dog NightGene PitneyRick Nelson, and Who. While rummaging through the collection one day, I discovered two little bound volumes of 45s; these little collections of singles had Nancy’s name written on them.

As I examined these buried treasures, I made mental notes of the artists’ names, both familiar and unfamiliar. I’d never heard of Ivory Joe Hunter, but I was taken with “You Can’t Stop This Rocking And Rolling,” the B-side to “Since I Met You Baby.” I knew Elvis Presley, of course, though it would still be a few more years before I cared about him, and I’d likely heard The Coasters‘ great “Charlie Brown” on a TV commercial for some oldies compilation. But the most intriguing discovery was a 45 on the Coral Records label: Buddy Holly. “Peggy Sue” and “Everyday.” For the first time, I was finally going to hear a Buddy Holly record.

And I was a Buddy Holly fan, just like that.

Both sides of the single captivated me. The hypnotic, rolling percussion of “Peggy Sue,” and Holly’s repeated, insistent pleading Peggy Sue, Peggy Sue, pretty pretty pretty pretty Peggy Sue, combined to convey sheer, urgent desire. On the flip side, “Everyday” eschewed the earthiness of “Peggy Sue”‘s primal plea, and opted for a (seemingly) chaste wish for pure love everlasting: Every day seems a little longer, Every day love’s a little stronger, Come what may, do you ever long for true love from me? A rendezvous in the bedroom, backed by an earnest ache to be happy together forever and ever? Yeah. Yeah, I’m good with that.

Throughout eighth grade, each day before school, I tried to make time to listen to both sides of that 45 before grabbing the bus. At some subsequent point, while enjoying my sacred Beatles stash, I noticed that a song on my favorite album, Beatles VI, was written by Buddy Holly. “Words Of Love” was a Buddy Holly song? Ahhhhhh! I couldn’t have been more hooked on Holly by that point, but I’d reached a temporary plateau nonetheless. I only knew a mere three Buddy Holly songs, and one of ’em was by Fab Four proxy. It would be a few years before I could advance beyond that.

But Holly days would come at last. There were further Holly proxies to discover first–Linda Ronstadt‘s “That’ll Be The Day” and The Rolling Stones‘ “Not Fade Away”–and an amazing Holly soundalike, “Sheila,” by Tommy Roe, before I could truly discover the wealth of the Buddy Holly catalog. The 1978 film The Buddy Holly Story was an integral catalyst, even though I knew it was largely fiction. But I loved that movie anyway, and it prompted me to buy Buddy Holly and The Crickets‘ 20 Golden Greats best-of.  “Oh Boy,””Rave On,” and “Well…All Right” immediately became fave raves. I received another Buddy Holly collection, He’s The One, from my friend Jay, filling in my Holly collection with additional tracks like “Rock Around With Ollie Vee,” “You’re The One,” “Dearest,” and “Love’s Made A Fool Of You.” In 1984, Buddy Holly’s “True Love Ways” became my wedding song, so it has a meaning for lovely wife Brenda and me well beyond other pop songs.

I haven’t thought of my siblings’ late friend Nancy in years. I asked my Mom about her recently, and Mom’s face lit up with the memory of Nancy and the rest of my brothers’ friends hanging out at our house years ago.  Mom remembered how hard it hit everyone when Nancy was killed. Try as I might, I can’t remember Nancy at all. I can’t mourn her, but the thought of her too-short life nonetheless inspires a wistful…well, not quite melancholy, but yet another reminder of the tenuous nature of our time in this world. Buddy Holly also died too young. In my mind’s eye, Buddy is singing to Nancy right now. Love like yours will surely come way. They say Buddy Holly lives; if that’s true, then Nancy Cook lives. too.

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10 Songs

10 Songs is a weekly list of ten songs that happen to be on my mind at the moment. Given my intention to usually write these on Mondays, the lists are often dominated by songs played on the previous night’s edition of This Is Rock ‘n’ Roll Radio with Dana & Carl. The idea was inspired by Don Valentine of the essential blog I Don’t Hear A Single.

THE B-52’s: 52 Girls

When I was in college, there was a girl (whom I’ll call Roxy) from somewhere downstate in the dorm room kitty-corner from mine. Roxy felt her musical taste was jarringly outta step with that of our peers at our school. I felt her pain; I was roughly as much of a musical oddball as she was. Roxy liked punk and its anti-mainstream ilk, and she had no use for the prevailing Deadheadedness that was the preferred soundtrack of our fellow students. We weren’t exactly friends, but I was one of the very few sympathetics she encountered. I was impressed that she had seen Sid Vicious at Max’s Kansas City. And she was one of the first people I met who liked The B-52’s; in our dorm in 1979, before “Rock Lobster” became an alt-pop staple and long before “Love Shack” became a hit, Roxy, my roommate, and I seemed to be the only prospective members of any hypothetical Perry Hall B-52’s Fan Club. 

Even more than “Rock Lobster,” “52 Girls” was my early B-52’s favorite, a chugging milkshake of catchy, spastic pop. Roxy’s frustration with her four-cornered surroundings likely contributed to her decision to hightail it outta there; she didn’t finish the semester, and may have been gone within the first month. The following spring, my roommate and I helped to put on a successful Punk Night at a bar in town. Maybe Roxy shoulda tried to stick it out?

For dramatic purposes, the role of Roxy shall be played by singer and actress Debbie Gibson.

BLUE OYSTER CULT: This Ain’t The Summer Of Love

BOC’s best-known tracks are “Don’t Fear The Reaper” and (later on) “Burnin’ For You,” with maybe an honorable mention for “Godzilla.” My favorite remains “This Ain’t The Summer Of Love,” a lean and efficient LP track from Agents Of Fortune (the album that gave us “Don’t Fear The Reaper”). I learned of the song through my doomed high school pal Tom, prompting me to purchase my own battered, used copy of the album in time for college. During my freshman year, Side One of Agents Of Fortune was as much a go-to slab of vinyl as my Sex Pistols and Monkees records, and “This Ain’t The Summer Of Love” in particular fit well alongside my steady diet of RamonesTelevisionJam, and Dave Clark Five. My friend Ronnie Dark mentioned Agents Of Fortune last week, and that was sufficient motivation for me to play this great track once again.

THE DARLING BUDS: Let’s Go Round There

The Darling Buds’ 1989 debut Pop Said… is the only album I can recall buying just because Rolling Stone magazine told me to. A review of the record in RS name-checked The Ramones, The Buzzcocks, and Blondie in its attempt to describe the group’s sound, and I was sold on it, unheard, right then and there. I think I made the purchase before hearing “Let’s Go Round There” on MTV‘s 120 Minutes, a show I committed to VHS every Sunday night, and it certainly became my favorite Darling Buds track (edging out “The Other Night” and “Hit The Ground”).

THE JACKSON FIVE: I’ll Be There

Simply exquisite. This is such a magnificent pop single, and it rates a chapter in my (theoretically) eventual book The Greatest Record Ever Made! (Volume 1). Enjoying the innocent sound of the young Michael Jackson requires a disconnect with the (credible, I think) accusations of his crimes as an adult. If we can make and maintain that separation of art and artist, The J5’s “I’ll Be There” offers sheer, sweet joy. A friend advised me last week that it’s probably okay to make that separation, especially in this instance of records made decades before MJ’s alleged misdeeds. He’s probably right. Your mileage may vary.

THE KINKS: Dedicated Follower Of Fashion

When I was in the process of becoming a Kinks fan at the age of 16 and 17 (circa late ’76 and into ’77), “Dedicated Follower Of Fashion” was a mystery track. I had seen the title listed in reference works, but it wasn’t a Kinks song I knew, like “Lola” or “You Really Got Me,” “All Day And All Of The Night,” “Tired Of Waiting For You,” “A Well Respected Man,” or even “No More Looking Back” from Schoolboys In Disgrace.  I recall hearing Status Quo‘s “Pictures Of Matchstick Men” on the radio, and wondering (with no real-world justification) if that might be “Dedicated Follower Of Fashion.” I have no memory of where, when, or how I finally heard “Dedicated Follower Of Fashion,” but I do remember that I was initially underwhelmed by it. 

Well, that reaction sure changed over time. In the summer of 1979, the first time I saw the fab local combo The Dead Ducks, my pal Joe Boudreau and I bellowed along with the Oh yes he IS! as the Ducks covered the song. Many, many years later, I have a specific memory of strolling through a shopping mall with my wife and daughter as “Dedicated Follower Of Fashion” came on the sound system. Just as I’d done as a teenager, I began to bellow along, Oh yes he IS! My then-teen daughter was mortified. Hmph. It’s as if she didn’t think her Dad was in fashion.

KISS: Anything For My Baby

“Anything For My Baby” is an LP track from the 1975 KISS album Dressed To Kill, the record that gave the world “Rock And Roll All Nite.” The song was written and sung by Paul Stanley, but for some reason Stanley all but disowns the tune. I’m unashamed in my continuing affection for some of KISS’s work, and “Anything For My Baby” would be a candidate for my all-time KISS Top 10.

THE MONKEES: For Pete’s Sake

From The Monkees’ 1967 album Headquarters, their third LP but the first where they were allowed to be the musicians in the studio. The song was co-written by Peter Tork and Joseph Richards, it was used as the closing theme during the second season of the group’s TV series, and it shoulda been a single. At this year’s GRAMMY telecast, a snippet of “For Pete’s Sake” played when Tork’s face appeared during the memorial segment honoring artists we lost during the previous year. We were born to love another, this is something we all need. Frankly, I’d expected the awards show to use a more familiar Monkees hit, either “I’m A Believer” or “Daydream Believer,” and I’m delighted that the producers made the right choice instead.

THE SOFT BOYS: I Wanna Destroy You

If I had heard The Soft Boys’ 1980 album Underwater Moonlight some time contemporary to its release, it would have been one of my favorite albums of that decade. Instead, I didn’t hear it until its CD reissue on the Matador label in 2001. I did hear the group’s classic Underwater Moonlight track “I Wanna Destroy You” somewhere in between, probably from Dana (who played it again on this week’s show). But my introduction to the song itself predates that spin, and is about as weird as it gets. In the ’90s, former teen pop star Debbie Gibson was said to be involved with the producer of Circle Jerks, the hardcore group perhaps best known for “Golden Shower Of Hits,” their thrashing covers medley of cheeseball blechh like “You’re Having My Baby.” Realizing a match made in Perdition, Gibson sang backup on Circle Jerks’ cover of “I Wanna Destroy You,” and even joined them on stage to perform the song at CBGB’s in 1995. Well, that all sounds ducky so far, right? I’m not sure if it was a one-off where she jumped on stage to join those Jerks in concert, or if it was staged as an MTV event, or what. But I learned about it in a report on MTV News, and I submit that no one else had a weirder introduction to this song than I had.

TIN TIN: Toast And Marmalade For Tea

A throwaway line in my Sunday hype for this week’s TIRnRR inspired a need to include this on the show. Some time back, when Dana and I were attending an acoustic show by The Flashcubes‘ Gary Frenay and Arty Lenin, Gary and Arty performed a cover of “Toast And Marmalade For Tea,” then defied us to name the original artist. In yet another stunning display of the boundless mastery of pop information that drives This Is Rock ‘n’ Roll Radio, we…yeah, we didn’t have a freakin’ clue. Heads will roll, my friends, heads will roll. Oops–eyes will roll. Sorry, I read that wrong. Man, it’s good thing Dana and I have tenure.

The palpable Bee Gees vibe of “Toast And Marmalade For Tea” is partially attributable to the fact that the record was produced by Maurice Gibb, who also plays bass on the track. But I’ve retroactively decided that it wasn’t Tin Tin at all; it was Debbie Gibson, using a time machine to go back and make a record before she was even born, disguising her voice so she sounds like two guys from Australia. Of course.

Toast and marmalade for tea…FROM THE FUTURE!

STEVIE WONDER: I Believe (When I Fall In Love It Will Be Forever)


This song comes from Stevie Wonder’s 1972 album Talking Book. My point of entry for this wonderful number comes via the 2000 film adaptation of Nick Hornby‘s High Fidelity. The song is used so effectively in the movie’s climactic scene, and it’s been lodged in my consciousness ever since. My entry for this song in The Greatest Record Ever Made! (Volume 1) likewise serves as the book’s climactic chapter. I hope you get to read it someday.

By Carl Cafarelli

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Comic Book Retroview: The 1966 Batman Signet Paperback

COMIC BOOK RETROVIEW: The 1966 BATMAN Signet Paperback

by Carl Cafarelli

I don’t think I’ll ever know this for sure, but it’s possible that my first Batman and Robin comic book wasn’t really a comic book at all. I mean, it could have been. It could have been Batman # 184, which I selected out of other four-color choices perched in the comic book display at a grocery store in Aurora, Missouri while on vacation in the summer of 1966. Or it could have been a mini-comic given away as a promo item from Kellogg’s Pop Tarts. Stretching our parameters a bit, it could have been a Batman coloring book. But no–I think my first Batman comic book was really a paperback book: a little 1966 package from Signet Books, promising “The BEST of the original BATMAN–the Caped Crusader’s greatest adventures.” I was six. And a new world was waiting for me.

’66 Batmania had a deep and lasting effect on me. Although my older brother Art had to pry me away from my beloved Wednesday night TV appointment with Lost In Space because he wanted to watch Batman instead, I came to prefer our Dynamic Duo in very short order. Presaging my future life as a pop obsessive, I immediately had to immerse myself in all things Batman. Toys! Coloring books! More toys! Although I had already read (or had read to me) some Superman comic books, the Batman TV show was the true Ground Zero for my lifelong fascination with superheroes.

In retrospect, given the January ’66 debut of Batman, it seems odd I didn’t get to comic books faster. Did I really wait until summer to start amassing these twelve-cent wonders? That simply can’t be true, but I have no memory of reading a Batman comic book prior to Batman # 184 in Missouri, months later. Damn the Swiss cheese of my memories from when I was…all right, only six years old. I guess I can take a mulligan there. Regardless of whether the Signet Batman book was my very first or merely one of my first exposures to Batman in comics form, its significance in my burgeoning hero worship is beyond question. This book mattered to me. A lot.

I’m trying to remember where I got the book, beyond the obvious answer that my parents bought it for me. I have a vague recollection (real or imagined) of plucking it from a spinner rack, and I want to say it was at either J.M. Fields (a department store chain that had its own dedicated Batman merchandise section at the time) or at Switz’s variety store. Neither of those retail outlets carried comic books, damn them. But one of them peddled this, the gateway drug to my lifetime addiction to comics.

The first story in the book has been called the most-reprinted two-page sequence in the history of comic books: “The Legend Of The Batman–Who He Is And How He Came To Be!” It was my first glimpse of Batman’s back story, of how the young Bruce Wayne witnesses his parents’ murder, and the grief-stricken boy’s solemn vow: “I swear by the spirits of my parents to avenge their deaths by spending the rest of my life warring on all criminals.” After years of training his mind and body, the now-adult Bruce prepares to begin his war on crime, brooding and telling himself, “Criminals are a superstitious and cowardly lot, so my disguise must be able to strike terror into their hearts. I must be a creature of the night, black, terrible….”

And the appearance of a bat flying in Bruce’s window provides his inspiration. “A bat! That’s it! It’s an omen…I shall become a BAT!”

It was a far cry from the BIFF! and BAM! of the TV show. On the tube, actor Adam West‘s lines as Bruce Wayne made occasional reference to the murder of his parents; the comics page brought that horror to life, vividly, perhaps even more starkly in this paperback’s black-and-white reproduction.

(The Signet book reprinted Batman’s origin in its most familiar form, as seen in Batman # 1 from Spring 1940, albeit edited into a six-page sequence to adjust for the different page size of a paperback. This two-page origin was first seen, with a different splash image, as the introduction to “The Batman Wars Against The Dirigible Of Doom” in Detective Comics # 33 [November 1939]. Although “The Dirigible Of Doom” was written by Gardner Fox, comics historians believe the origin sequence was written by Batman’s then-uncredited co-creator Bill Finger. The art was by Bob Kane, the guy who took the byline and sole credit for Batman’s creation, ensuring that history would come to regard Kane as a schmuck.)

The rest of the book’s reprints were from the early ’50s, and if they sacrificed some of the pulp noir feel of Batman’s origin, they made up for that loss with sheer zest and commitment. “The Web Of Doom!” (from Batman # 90, March 1955, credits believed to be Finger with artists Sheldon Moldoff and Charles Paris) doesn’t even skimp on the pulp tension, with its riveting tale of amnesia, danger, and time running out. “Fan-Mail Of Danger!” (Batman # 92, May-June 1955, same presumed credits) mixes humor with suspense to winning effect, presaging our current cult of pop idolatry and obsession. 

“The Crazy Crime Clown!” (Batman # 74, December 1952) is next. Written by Alvin Schwartz, penciled by Dick Sprang with Charles Paris inks, this tour-de-force of Batman and Robin versus The Joker offers the book’s only use of any of Batman’s most famous foes, and it’s fantastic. The art’s phenomenal, of course–I regard Sprang as one of the definitive Batman artists, perhaps even more so than later masters like Neal Adams and Marshall Rogers–and the images jump off the page, even in a black-and-white pocket book. And the story remains one of my top Joker appearances, its natural sense of humor balanced with adventure and intrigue. Reading it when I was six, there were times I laughed out loud, while still being thrilled by the storyline. (I do recall being confused by an image of Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson standing in a foggy night scene; rather than fog, it appeared to my young eyes as if our intrepid heroes had burrowed their way up from the depths of the Batcave–like Quisp‘s subterranean rival Quake would have done in commercials for Quisp and Quake cereals–and were surrounded by displaced dirt, not fog. Man, I was an odd kid.)

“The Crime Predictor!” (Batman # 77, May-June 1953), “The Man Who Could Change Fingerprints!” (Batman # 82, March 1954), and “The Testing Of Batman!” (Batman # 83, April 1954) completed the paperback’s  collection of Bat-treasures. I loved each and every one of them, then and now. Having already been introduced to Batman and Robin via the TV series, I found the Signet paperback to be my best possible introduction to my hero’s comic book adventures.

This was the first of three Batman comics collections published by Signet in 1966, though I didn’t get (nor even see) copies of Batman Vs. The Joker or Batman Vs. The Penguin until many years later. I also didn’t see either of Signet’s two Batman novels, Batman Vs. Three Villains Of Doom and Batman Vs. The Fearsome Foursome(the latter a novelization of the 1966 Batman feature film) until well, well after the fact. I have them all now, secured in varying condition from dealers in the ’70s and ’80s. My copy of Batman Vs. The Fearsome Foursome was autographed by Adam West at a car show in Buffalo in 1987.

And I still have that original, worn, tattered, dog-eared, loved-to-death copy of a paperback collection called Batman, plucked from a spinner rack when I was six years old. It’s falling apart, and its inside front cover was customized in ’66 by that very same six-year-old, a kid who would (sort of) grow up wishing to create fictional adventures of his own. 

Hadda start somewhere. Before trading my twelve cents for a copy of Batman # 184 in Missouri, before Detective Comics or The Brave And The Bold or Justice League Of America or World’s Finest Comics, before Denny O’Neil or Steve EnglehartIrv Novick or Jim Aparo, or any other stellar iteration of The Batman in comic form–before any of that–I started here.