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Les McKeown (1955-2021): The Voice Of The Bay City Rollers

Former Bay City Rollers lead singer Les McKeown passed away in April of this year. This memorial piece originally ran at BOPPIN’ (LIKE THE HIP FOLKS DO) on April 23, 2021.

Les McKeown, lead singer for The Bay City Rollers during their 1970s hitmaking heyday, has died at the age of 65. I was and remain an unapologetic fan of the Rollers’ uptempo material; I like a lot of the stuff the Rollers did when McKeown was a member, and I like a lot of what they did after he split from the group in ’79. I don’t have a specific eulogy to offer for McKeown, but I find myself thinking back now on some of what I’ve previously said on this subject of The Bay City Rollers.

My first feature article for Goldmine was a Rollers retrospective called “Rollermania: A Hard D-A-Y’s Night.” The article was published in 1987, and much later updated for the 2001 book Bubblegum Music Is The Naked Truth  (as seen here). When I was in high school, I had a vague fantasy about trying to write a Bay City Rollers movie. More recently, I’ve had a slightly more concrete fantasy about trying to write a book called The Greatest Record Ever Made! (Volume 1), which would include a chapter about the Rollers’ “Rock And Roll Love Letter;” I also made a video about that chapter. 

For all that, I don’t feel that I have anything fresh to add now about McKeown’s life, career, and body of work. Here’s what I’ve had to say in the past about a few of The Bay City Rollers’ songs:


THE BAY CITY ROLLERS: Saturday Night

Never feel guilty for digging a pop song. I reject the ludicrous notion of guilty pleasures in music; you either like something or you don’t like something, and no amount of misplaced hipsterism should be allowed to alter that. Stand your freakin’ ground, and dig what you dig.

I dig The Bay City Rollers. I pretty much always have, at least once I got over the absurdity of them being hyped as the next Beatles. As a teen, I owned the Rollers’ “Rock And Roll Love Letter” and “Saturday Night” 45s. I did not care whether or not my peers approved of the choice. Guilty? Not me, man–your rules do not apply.

THE BAY CITY ROLLERS: Wouldn’t You Like It

When I was in college in the late ’70s, I had a friend named Jane, who was a DJ on the Brockport campus radio station. We hung out together a few times, including one night when I kibbitzed with her in the studio while she did her radio show. And I requested one specific song….

By the end of the Me Decade, former teen idols The Bay City Rollers were persona non grata to the buying public, an embarrassing relic of adolescence for those (mostly female) fans who’d outgrown their puppy-eyed crushes on this Tartan-clad combo. And most music lovers who identified as older, male, hipper, and/or more mature just despised the Rollers all along.

But not me. Once I learned to ignore that ludicrous “next Beatles” notion, I found that I liked some of the Rollers’ records just fine, thanks. I was especially taken with “Rock And Roll Love Letter” and “Yesterday’s Hero.” When I became aware of the notion of power pop, I was delighted to learn that the writers of Bomp! magazine included The Bay City Rollers as at least a tangent to that discussion.

I saw the Rollers lip-sync an album track called “Wouldn’t You Like It” on the Midnight Special TV show, and I was instantly captivated by its power-chord riffs, chugging rhythm, and sheer overall oomph. My interest in the Rollers wasn’t then sufficient to prompt me to buy many of their records, but my girlfriend’s pal Debi was an unrepentant Rollers fan; she had the Rock And Roll Love Letter album, and played “Wouldn’t You Like It” for me. Man, what a great track.

So some time later, when I was chilling with miamiga pequeña Jane as she did her radio show, I bugged Jane to play “Wouldn’t You Like It.” Bugged. Begged. Pestered. Pleaded. No, Carl!, she insisted, I’m not playing the freakin’ Bay City Rollers on my show! She finally relented just to shut me up. The song played…and, to her surprise, she liked it, and said so on the radio. Gotta give her credit for that. She went so far as to say that if the Rollers had just come along a couple of years later than they did, they would have been considered part of the new wave.

 It’s been more than forty years. We were pals, and we parted as pals. I still think of Jane whenever I play that song, a Bay City Rollers album track that illustrated the transcendent value of ignoring prejudices, and embodied the enduring strength of friendship. And I dedicate the song once again, as I did on the radio just the other night, to an old comrade. This one goes out to my friend Jane, wherever she is. Thanks again, my friend.

THE BAY CITY ROLLERS: Sweet Virginia


By 1977, teen idols The Bay City Rollers were nearing the end of their hitmaking tenure, but not quite done yet. The It’s A Game album yielded the Tartan-clad group’s final American radio hits, “You Made Me Believe In Magic” and “The Way I Feel Tonight.” I recall my friend Dan Bacich being amazed that a group like the Rollers (whom he normally detested) was capable of making a record he liked as much as “You Made Me Believe In Magic.”

Me, I liked the Rollers’ earlier hits just fine, and thought the new stuff okay, too (if nowhere near as pleasingly exuberant as the previous year’s “Rock And Roll Love Letter”). The album as a whole seemed like an attempt to groom a slightly more mature BCR audience, though our Rollers may have been undecided about exactly what kind of mature audience to target. MOR? Disco? The rock crowd, via a cover of David Bowie‘s “Rebel Rebel?” Album track “Sweet Virginia”‘s tragic tale of a young lesbian taking her own life (Was it really such a crime, to be lovin’ your own kind?) is certainly grown-up in its subject matter, its sprightly, boppin’ arrangement providing an odd juxtaposition with its downbeat storyline.

The Bay City Rollers’ next album didn’t sell, and they wound up hosting a Saturday morning kiddie TV show. The mature audience didn’t materialize.

THE BAY CITY ROLLERS: Yesterday’s Hero

We want the Rollers! We want the Rollers!Released late in 1976, The Bay City Rollers’ single of “Yesterday’s Hero” did not match the American chart success of “Saturday Night,” “Money Honey,” “Rock And Roll Love Letter,” or “I Only Want To Be With You,” missing the Top 40 and peaking at a mere # 54 in Billboard. Nonetheless, I’d rate

“Yesterday’s Hero” with “Rock And Roll Love Letter” and an LP track called “Wouldn’t You Like It” as the best of The Bay City Rollers, vibrant proof that the Tartan-clad poster boys were capable of transcending their teenybop image and delivering genuine, exciting power pop. 

In ’76 and early ’77, I wasn’t aware of the phrase “power pop,” which had been coined by The Who‘s Pete Townshend in the ’60s but was not yet a part of the everyday rock ‘n’ roll lexicon. I heard “Yesterday’s Hero” on WOLF-AM in Syracuse, and I loved it. I was in a transitional period, just starting to transfer my allegiance from AM Top 40 to the wider rock ‘n’ roll vistas of album-rock WOUR-FM. I didn’t know that George Vanda and Harry Young, the authors of “Yesterday’s Hero,” had been members of 1960s Australian pop gods The Easybeats, nor that they had written The Easybeats’ signature hit “Friday On My Mind.” In fact, I didn’t know The Easybeats or “Friday On My Mind” at all; that knowledge would come later. I just knew there was a song on the radio that deserved to be on the radio, but that it disappeared from radio almost immediately.

 I was a senior in high school. Boys weren’t supposed to like The Bay City Rollers, and I don’t think that girls my age were much interested in the Rollers by that point; although the group would bounce back with two big hits in ’77 (“You Made Me Believe In Magic” and “The Way I Feel Tonight”), they were themselves about to become yesterday’s heroes.

We don’t wanna be yesterday’s hero.Not me. Not yet. As I turned 17 in January of ’77, I was already tired of people trying to tell me what I could or couldn’t, should or shouldn’t. Piss off. Whether it was superhero comics or oldies records, The Monkees or The Marx BrothersMarilyn Chambers or Suzi Quatro, if I was into something, the matter wasn’t up for debate. Dig what you dig. AM and FM influences would merge and converge. Catchy singles. Deeper cuts. Varying styles. Folk. Prog. Bubblegum. Metal. Soul. Punk. 
And power pop. We don’t wanna be yesterday’s hero. Haven’t I seen your face before? We want the airwaves. We want the Rollers. When we walk down the street, tomorrow’s gonna take yesterday along for the ride.

 It had better. If it knows what’s good for it.

Rest in peace, Leslie.


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This Is Rock ‘n’ Roll Radio with Dana & Carl airs Sunday nights from 9 to Midnight Eastern, on the air in Syracuse at SPARK! WSPJ 103.3 and 93.7 FM, and on the web at http://sparksyracuse.org/ You can read about our history here.

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THE EVERLASTING FIRST: The Romantics

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 story still needs to begin with that first kiss.

Have you ever bought a record you had never previously heard, performed by an act you had never previously heard of?

I’m not talking about a record by a new act that includes a performer you’d experienced elsewhere (like when I recognized Paul Collins from The Nerves and scarfed up the debut LP by Collins’ then-new group The Beat), or a review you read somewhere prompting you to take a chance on the unfamiliar (like when Rolling Stone compared an act to BlondieThe Buzzcocks, and The Ramones, compelling me to purchase the debut album by The Darling Buds). No. I’m talkin’ tabula rasa, baby. You’ve never heard the music. You’ve never heard of the band. But money changes hands anyway, and this new music is now yours.

That’s how I discovered The Romantics.

My memory may be imprecise. I’ll concede the possibility that I read about The Romantics in Bomp! magazine before I bought my first Romantics record, but I’m pretty sure it was record first, write-up later. I do know that I can’t claim full credit for stumbling upon the record unassisted. The guy behind the counter at the record store pointed it for me.

It was in the spring of 1978. I was a freshman in college at Brockport, NY, and a budding power-pop punk with a musical mania for the 1960s, the British Invasion, The MonkeesThe Sex Pistols, and The Ramones. I’d recently discovered my Syracuse hometown heroes The Flashcubes, and I was constantly on the prowl for MORE! A cool place called The Record Grove was Brockport’s vinyl oasis, managed by a true believer named Bill Yerger. This was about a year or so before Bill opened his own emporium, Main Street Records, the best little record store there ever was. Bill was a huge fan of rockin’ pop music, he knew his stuff, and he knew how to steer kindred spirits toward the record we needed to own, even if we didn’t know it yet.

Although I was perpetually cash-strapped, I visited The Record Grove as often as I could, and bought what I could afford when I could afford it. Bill had a small display box of import and indie 45s for sale at the counter, the box from which I’d purchased my first Ramones and Sex Pistols records during the previous semester. On this particular spring ’78 visit, Bill recalled that I’d recently bought an EP by the British power pop act The Pleasers, a record I’d snapped up on impulse, drawn in by The Pleasers’ overtly Beatley image and the presence of a song called “Lies” (not The Knickerbockers‘ hit, I’m sorry to say). Bill asked me if I’d liked The Pleasers, and I said something like, Yeah, they weren’t bad. Not as good as The Knickerbockers, but I like ’em all right. Maybe Bill already had his next move planned, or maybe it was prompted by my mention of The Knickerbockers. Either way, he said, Well, if you liked that, I bet you’ll like this, too.
And Bill pulled out “Little White Lies”/”I Can’t Tell You Anything,” the debut single from Detroit’s Phenomenal Pop Combo, The Romantics. Awright, then. Just take my money, Bill. Just take it.

My roommate and I were increasingly at odds by this point, so I don’t know if he let me play my newest 7″ vinyl treasure on his stereo, or if I had to wait until a school break to hear the damned thing for the first time back home. Whatever whenever, I immediately dug both sides of this Romantics record, way more than I liked The Pleasers. “Little White Lies” just seemed to combust on the stereo, a pyrotechnic display of pure pop played fast ‘n’ swaggering. “I Can’t Tell You Anything” hijacked a Bo Diddley beat to craft a basic pounder that simultaneously (and incongruously) evoked both The Raspberries and The Rolling Stones. Magnificence times two, and I was duly hooked. When I finally did read about The Romantics in Bomp!, the write-up referenced “Can’t You See That She’s Mine” by my Tottenham Sound lads The Dave Clark Five. But of course.

I listened to a lot of music during the summer of 1978. My parents let me move my little stereo and my growing record collection into the living room; they were away for much of that summer, so I was able to play my rock ‘n’ roll platters with a bit more volume than might have otherwise been likely. I had a part-time job, I saw The Flashcubes as often as I could, and I let the records spin freely: KinksSeedsBobby Fuller FourThe JamGeneration XKISSHerman’s HermitsEddie & the Hot RodsRich KidsRunawaysStandellsBeau Brummels, Monkees, Beatles, Ramones, Pistols, Tom PettyBuddy Holly, Raspberries. The Pleasers, too–I did like them, just not as much as I liked The Romantics. Both sides of my Romantics 45 saw significant turntable time throughout that season.

As summer surrendered its space to my sophomore year at Brockport, I saw that The Romantics were coming to Syracuse for a show with The Flashcubes, and it would be at my favorite nightspot The Firebarn. It would also be my first week back at school, and there was no way I would be able to see that show. The Romantics played Syracuse dates with The Flashcubes on several occasions in this era (and the ‘Cubes also traveled to Detroit to return the favor), but always when I was away at school. I never did have an opportunity to see The Romantics play until decades later.

I remained a fan. I bought their second single, “Tell It To Carrie”/”First In Line,” mail-order from Bomp!, and I scored another Romantics track called “Let’s Swing” on the Bomp Records compilation album Waves Vol. 1 (an LP that also included “Christi Girl” by The Flashcubes). As my third and final year in college beckoned in August of 1979, local rock station 95X started playing “When I Look In Your Eyes,” an advance track from The Romantics’ forthcoming major label debut. That eponymous debut featured another new track, “What I Like About You.” Maybe you’ve heard of it…?

It cracks me up that so many folks think of The Romantics as a one-hit wonder for “What I Like About You.” The Romantics are so much more than one song, and that one song wasn’t even their biggest hit; that would be “Talking In Your Sleep” (# 3 in Billboard), and “One In A Million” also fared better chartwise (# 37) than “What I Like About You.” In fact, “What I Like About You” missed the Top 40 entirely (# 49), but it became a retroactive and enduring Fave Rave a few years after the fact, thanks to the power of a new, content-hungry entity called MTV. They were all hits in my mind anyway.

Sometimes, when a rock ‘n’ roll act you discovered ahead of the pack subsequently achieves mainstream success, you may feel a temptation to dismiss the more popular work, to sniff and insist that you liked ’em not only before they were famous, but before they, y’know, sold out, man! While it is true that, in my opinion, The Romantics’ major-label efforts never quite equaled the sheer punch of “Little White Lies”/”I Can’t Tell You Anything,” it is also true that I’ve loved The Romantics’ work across the span of their career. I love “When I Look In Your Eyes” and “What I Like About You,” I dig “One In A Million” and “Talking In Your Sleep” and “Rock You Up,” their incredible cover of the Richard & the Young Lions nugget “Open Up Your Door,” plus “Test Of Time,” “National Breakout,” and a fantastic, unreleased cover of The Spencer Davis Group‘s “Keep On Running.” Hell, I even like their 1981 hard rock album Strictly Personal–“In The Nighttime” just kicks, man!–and virtually nobody likes that record except me and Flashcubes guitarist Paul Armstrong

After years and years of missed opportunities, I finally saw The Romantics at an outdoor sports-bar show in the mid ’90s. Yeah, I would have preferred to see them at The Firebarn, but it was still a thrill. They opened with an authoritative cover of The Pretty Things‘ “Midnight To Six Man,” and I’m sure you can guess what song closed the show. I don’t believe that I will ever tire of hearing “What I Like About You,” nor will I tire of the lesser-known gems to be found throughout The Romantics’ stellar c.v. More than forty years ago, my friend Bill Yerger introduced me to the music of The Romantics, and they were but one of many pop treasures Bill pointed out for me. Bill Yerger passed away in the late ’90s. Bill, if you can read this across the veil that separates our world from yours, lemme tell ya: the inspiration you provided drives me to this day. That’s what I like about you.

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THE EVERLASTING FIRST: The Red Tornado

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 story still needs to begin with that first kiss.

In 1968, the world seemed like it could shatter. Assassinations and protests, an increasingly unpopular war, conflicts between races and generations, and a general feeling of unease and ugliness permeated the year. I was eight years old. I was oblivious to much of what was happening, but even I could tell that things weren’t quite right in the world.

This was not necessarily reflected much, if at all, in the comic books I read.

Comic books were safe, stable. Even within the occasional soap opera mishigas of Marvel Comics, justice could be expected to triumph. This was even more true in the relatively staid and conservative world of DC Comics, the home of familiar, comforting do-gooders like SupermanBatman, and The Justice League of America. In the pages of a comic book, an eight-year-old could be in his heaven, and all could be right with the world. Even in 1968.

In comics, one symbol of stability was the annual two-part crossover of the JLAand their parallel Earth counterparts The Justice Society of America, the original super-team from the 1940s. The first issue of JLA I remember seeing was the second part of the 1966 JLA/JSA team-up, though it remained on the spinner rack unpurchased (I bought an issue of Batman instead). Just shy of a year later, my first issue of JLA was part one of the ’67 crossover, cover-featuring an adult Robin taking his older mentor Batman’s place in the Justice Society. I was hooked, and dutifully (and gleefully!) purchased part two the next month. A cumulative twenty-four cents well spent.

By the time the summer of ’67 became the summer of ’68, I’d somehow figured out that these team-ups were an annual occurrence, and I was right primed for the 1968 two-parter while on vacation in Missouri. Justice League Of America # 64 only featured the JSA, with only Hourman returning from the ’67 team-up. I sort of knew Starman and Black Canary from seeing house ads for their co-starring appearances in The Brave And The Bold, and I remembered Dr. Fate from the cover of that JLA/JSA comic book I didn’t buy in 1966. This may have been my introduction to The Flash of the JSA’s Earth (Earth-Two), but I immediately dug his costume, with its helmet inspired by the Roman god Mercury.

That left one more new character: The Red Tornado. Over the course of these annual JLA/JSA crossovers from 1963 though ’67, writer Gardner Fox had reintroduced all of the original JSA members except the Earth-Two Batman and Superman, both of whom had been reserve members of the team in the ’40s; Batman had been represented by the above-mentioned adult Robin in ’67, and the original Superman would finally reappear in 1969. The original Red Tornado–nicknamed  “The Red Tomato,” in reality a muscular housewife named Ma Hunkel, who donned costume to beat on neighborhood nogoodniks in Sheldon Mayer‘s comedy strip Scribbly–hadn’t ever been a member of the JSA, nor even a reserve member; she’d stumbled into a one-page cameo in the Justice Society’s first meeting in 1940’s All Star Comics # 3, and was never referenced in that context again.

Although Fox and editor Julie Schwartz weren’t averse to using goofball JSA member Johnny Thunder for comic relief, they plainly had no interest in reviving Ma Hunkel (whom Starman recalled as “all brawn and no brain” in the ’68 story). Like ol’ Ma Hunkel, this new Red Tornado barged into a JSA meeting uninvited, but that and the name were the only things our two Tornadoes had in common.

Unlike the tough street fighter Ma Hunkel, the 1968 model Red Tornado had super powers, basically the ability to create powerful whirlwinds of force. The new Tornado believed himself to be the original Red Tornado from the ’40s, but he wasn’t; he was an android, created by the evil T. O. Morrow to infiltrate and help destroy the Justice Society, all as part of Morrow’s scheme to kill his real arch-enemies, the Justice League. Morrow didn’t even bother to give The Red Tornado a face; there were no eyes, nose, mouth, ears, nor any features at all beneath the mask of The Red Tornado. Nonetheless, The Red Tornado refused to be Morrow’s pawn, and instead helped our heroes defeat the villain. The Red Tornado joined the JSA, and later migrated to Earth-One to join the JLA. He perished saving both Earths in the climax of my favorite JLA/JSA crossover, Justice League Of America # 100-102 in 1971. He was resurrected again within a few years.

The Red Tornado’s 1968 debut roughly coincided with Marvel Comics’ introduction of The Vision in the super-team book The Avengers. These two characters had notable similarities. Both were androids, created by sinister masterminds (Ultron in The Vision’s case) as weapons against the good guys, and both rebelled against their evil overloads and went on to join the teams they were supposed to snuff. Both, incidentally, were also Silver Age remake/remodels of lesser-known ’40s characters. Even visually, both had red faces and wore collared capes. Mere coincidence? Yeah, almost certainly. But remarkable coincidences just the same.

I liked the new ‘n’ (supposedly) improved Red Tornado at the time, but looking back, I’ve come to prefer original Red Tornado Ma Hunkel to her android counterpart. For one thing, those Scribbly And The Red Tornado strips that Sheldon Mayer did for All-American Comics in the ’40s were a hoot, energetic stuff just loaded with sheer personality, more interesting to me than the modern-day miasma of a square-peg android wishing he could fit in. Great, a superhero from the island of misfit toys. I first read a teasing sample of Mayer’s Red Tornado in the ’70s, in DC’s oversized reprint of the JSA’s first appearance. I later read a few months’ worth of Scribbly And The Red Tornado stories when they were reprinted in the hardcover book A Smithsonian Collection Of Comic-Book Comics. I would love to read the entire series. Writer Geoff Johns finally brought Ma Hunkel back in the pages of JSA around 2004.

(Although Ma Hunkel never appeared in any of the old JLA/JSA meetings, I would have definitely wanted to include her if I’d had an opportunity to write such a story. I picture a scene of a group of non-powered JLA and JSA members, huddled in hiding while surveying an enemy army, Batman urging caution as he comes up with a plan of attack, only to see ol’ Red Tomato break ranks and dive-bomb headfirst into battle. Green Arrow joins the fight, saying “I like this dame!,” and Wildcat replying, “Told ya so!”)

In 1968, the world was in a fragile state, a state of frightening change. There were even changes in the comics, changes too subtle for a clueless eight-year-old to discern. Justice League Of America # 63, the issue before “The Stormy Return Of The Red Tornado!,” had been the final issue of JLA penciled by Mike Sekowsky. Sekowsky had been the League’s regular penciler since the team’s debut in The Brave And The Bold in 1960, but he was now moving on to other projects (including Wonder Woman). His replacement Dick Dillin debuted with The Red Tornado’s debut, and remained at the job until his death in 1980.

The Red Tornado two-parter was the JLA finale for Gardner Fox. Fox had created the Justice Society in 1940, and the JLA in 1960, and he’d been the only writer the League ever had. Until he wasn’t anymore. In 1968, DC wanted fresh blood, younger blood, to help it compete with those pesky upstarts at Marvel Comics. Thank you for your service, Fox; you know the way out. The winds of change were approaching storm velocity. Batten down the hatches, heroes; it’s gonna be a rough one out there.

WHEN THE EVERLASTING FIRST RETURNS: R is for

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45 Single Sleeve Cavalcade #1: Gerber Music Edition

Following tuesday’s reminiscence of the great Syracuse-based Gerber Music chain, we continue our tribute to the late Bill Gerber with this all-Gerber Music edition of 45 Single Sleeve Cavalcade.

ABBA: Knowing Me, Knowing You
I wish I could remember the first 45 I ever bought at Gerber. I picked up some slashed-price close-out singles from a record-store sidewalk sale at Northern Lights Shopping Center some time during my high school years, a haul that included gems like “Rock And Roll Love Letter” by The Bay City Rollers, “Changes” by David Bowie, “You” by George Harrison, and “I’m A Rocker” by The Raspberries. Those could have come from Gerber’s Northern Lights store, but I’m pretty sure the purchase took place after Gerber had left Northern Lights in favor of its new Penn Can Mall location in 1976. Record Town went into Northern Lights, and I betcha I bought those cheapie 45s from Record Town rather than Gerber.

So maybe this fab 1977 ABBA single was first. I liked some of ABBA’s singles, and neither time nor the negative opinion of others has done anything to change that. I enjoyed their first U.S. hit “Waterloo” in 1973, loved 1975’s “S.O.S.,” was benevolently indifferent to “I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do” and “Mama Mia,” dismissive of “Fernando,” and A-OK with 1976’s “Dancing Queen.”

Although by ’77 WOUR-FM had nearly monopolized my radio listening, I still had some interest in AM Top 40, and ABBA’s “Knowing Me, Knowing You” was sufficiently catchy and engaging to prompt a purchase of the single. I also bought ABBA’s 1978 hit single “Take A Chance On Me” at Gerber.

I bought a number of other 45s in the ’76-’77 period, when I was a senior in high school. I can’t recall the precise chronology of my purchases, nor can I guarantee where I bought each of them, but it’s likely that my copies of “Carry On Wayward Son” by Kansas, “Magic Man” by Heart, “Blinded By The Light” by Manfred Mann’s Earth Band, “We Are The Champions”/”We Will Rock You” by Queen, and “Isn’t It Time” by The Babys all came from Gerber’s stock.

I remember eyeing a copy of KISS‘ “Calling Dr. Love” single at Gerber, and deferring the purchase because I knew my sister Denise planned to give me a KISS album as a graduation gift. And I remember being tempted by the sight of The Ramones‘ “Sheena Is A Punk Rocker” 45. I had read about punk rock in my Gerber-supplied issues of Phonograph Record Magazine, and all of that exciting, as-yet-unheard noise intrigued me. I was especially intrigued by The Ramones, but couldn’t bring myself to check them out when I was in high school. That would change when I got to college in the fall of ’77.

THE CLASH: Cost Of Living EP
Just as I can’t positively ID the first single I bought at Gerber, I can’t be sure of the last one, either. But I betcha it was The Clash‘s Cost Of Living EP in 1979. It was my last summer living at home with my parents in North Syracuse; when I graduated from college in 1980, my girlfriend Brenda and I got an apartment in our college town of Brockport, intent on finding out if we could be any good at this mystifying growin’ up thing.

I’ve written often of the events of my summer of 1979; I’ll try not to repeat those details here; those who do still wanna know about what happened can read a summary I call “Summer Could Have Lasted Forever.” For right here and now, suffice it to say that was both my last summer of (presumed) carefree youth and the first real hint of what trouble might loom ahead.

I’m trying to remember what Clash records I owned before this. Maybe just my two 45s, “Remote Control”/”London’s Burning” and “Tommy Gun”/”1-2 Crush On You,” and I may have gotten one or both at Gerber. I don’t think I had any Clash LPs yet; I would pick up the American version of their first album pretty soon thereafter, either at Gerber or at Brockport’s Main Street Records

So my Clash collection was perfunctory. But man, I needed to own this Cost Of Living record. Maybe I read about it in Trouser Press, but I knew it contained The Clash’s cover of one of my favorite songs, The Bobby Fuller Four‘s “I Fought The Law.” The mere thought of one of my punk bands playing “I Fought The Law” thrilled me, and I snapped up the EP the second I saw it for sale at the Penn-Can Gerber Music. 

I liked The Clash’s take on “I Fought The Law” a lot, but never as much as I liked The Bobby Fuller Four’s definitive version. The EP contained two tracks–“Gates Of The West” and “Groovy Times”–that were almost folky, and a killer remake of The Clash’s own “Capital Radio,” with a unique Cost Of Living tag stapled to to the end. It was a good purchase.

I don’t think it was quite my last-ever Gerber Music buy. I probably got a few albums at Gerber that summer, plus an issue or two of Trouser Press (one with The Beatles on its cover), and I think it was at Gerber’s Shoppingtown location that I scored 99-cent cutout copies of The Real Kids and The Residents Present The Third Reich ‘n Roll when I shoulda been back-to-school clothes-buying at J.C. Penney

But if Cost Of Living was indeed my last-ever Gerber Music acquisition, it’s fitting. I was introduced to punk rock in the first place by issues of Phonograph Record Magazine I snagged at Gerber in 1977, and I’m cool with the symmetry of completing my Gerber Music patronage with a punk purchase.

I bought a few other punk records in the time between….

THE RAMONES: Rockaway Beach
Here’s the only instance I can think of where I can tell you the exact date, location, and even the weather outside when I bought a specific record: The Ramones‘ “Rockaway Beach”/”Locket Love” 45; January 17th, 1978; Gerber Music at Penn-Can Mall; it was snowing. 

And it was my 18th birthday.

I was home from college following the fall semester of my freshman year. Things at school hadn’t quite gone according to plan–in part because I didn’t have a plan–but another semester loomed with an opportunity to make things better. (SPOILER ALERT: things got worse before they got better.)

For my birthday, Mom and Dad took me out for a lovely dinner at Beefsteak Mining Company at Penn Can Mall. After dinner, I had planned to go out with friends for my first legal drinks, but there was time for a stop at Gerber Music to pick up a record. A 45. A Ramones 45.

This wouldn’t be my first Ramones record. I had finally gotten around to purchasing the “Sheena Is A Punk Rocker” single while away at school, and already considered it the record that changed my life. I wanted more. And, on a budget, I chose to get more on the installment plan, one 45 at a time.

I don’t think I’d heard “Rockaway Beach” prior to that 1/17/78 purchase, but it didn’t disappoint. So, great birthday meal with parents, great doubling of my personal Ramones library. 

But the weather was disappointing. It began to snow harder, ultimately forcing my goin’-out-drinkin’ agenda to be abandoned for the evening. The perils of a January birthday in Central New York. 

It stopped snowing eventually; that happens, even in Syracuse. I had a few opportunities to go out a-partyin’ in Syracuse before the spring semester commenced back in Brockport. I even had a chance to see a local rock ‘n’ roll bar band for the first time–my first punk band! But that’s another story.

THE JAM: All Around The World
In the summer of 1978, as I tried to reassemble my own scattered pieces after a tumultuous freshman year in college, I got a job at Penn-Can Mall. I was a part-time morning maintenance man–i.e., a janitor–at Sears, part of a mostly-young crew that cleaned the store each AM prior to the start of the business day. My friend Tom was on the crew, and he helped me get the job to begin with. Money in my pocket. I could go out, see bands, try to be better. 

Great. Fine. Worthy goals! But let’s not forget the reason God created cash in the first place: I could buy records.

I still tried to stay within a reasonable budget. But c’mon, I now worked under the same big ol’ roof as a Gerber Music store! I wouldn’t and couldn’t resist the allure of import 45s at Gerber. My preferred rock magazines–Bomp!Trouser Press, and CREEM–gave me an information pipeline to some of what was out there. I read about the U.K. punk/power pop group Generation X, and snapped up their “Ready Steady Go” and “Your Generation” singles at Gerber. I may have gotten my red-vinyl 45 of The Rich Kids‘ “Rich Kids” and/or the single of Rich Kids bassist Glen Matlock‘s former group The Sex Pistols‘ “Pretty Vacant” on one of my frequent Penn-Can Sears-to-Gerber beelines. Beyond punk, the sight of George Thorogood & the Destroyers on TV’s Midnight Special prompted a cash transaction at Gerber to secure my copy of the “Move It On Over”/”It Wasn’t Me” single. I also bought teen pop star Shaun Cassidy‘s hit single “Hey Deanie” and local group The Alligators‘ “I Try And I Try.” My main interests were rock ‘n’ roll, punk, new wave, and (especially) power pop. But I wasn’t strict. If I liked something, I liked it.

My specific interest in power pop was stoked by Bomp! magazine, which had published a special power pop issue earlier in ’78. Gospel to me. Hey, remember that local punk group I mentioned in the previous entry about The Ramones? It turned out the Syracuse punk combo’s idea of punk kinda dovetailed with a power-pop approach, evidenced by their original songs and their chosen covers, of acts like The KinksThe RaspberriesBig StarBadfingerThe Hollies, and the early Who alongside your prerequisite punks The Sex Pistols. And yeah, everyone who knows me knows exactly what local punk/power pop group we’re talkin’ about here, but we’ll get to that in a second. Their originals were fantastic, and they had excellent taste in covers.

And they covered The Jam, a great new British group that came out of punk but were clearly and proudly beholden to the model of ’60s Mod, particularly The Who. Following my own weird introduction to The Jam’s music, my fascination with them had grown by leaps and bounds. I bought The Jam’s U.S. single of “I Need You (For Someone)”/”In The City” while away at school, and dutifully trekked to Gerber after Sears shifts to snag import 45s of “The Modern World” and “All Around The World.” Of these four songs named, “All Around The World” was the only one I didn’t already know via live in-club covers by Syracuse’s own power pop powerhouse…

THE FLASHCUBES: Christi Girl
Of course.

The story of The Flashcubes is happily entwined with the Gerber Music story. All four of The Flashcubes–guitarists Paul Armstrong and Arty Lenin, bassist Gary Frenay, and drummer Tommy Allen–worked at Gerber at some point. When Bill Gerber passed in May, The Flashcubes issued a statement: “There would be no Flashcubes if there had never been a Gerber Music. In 1977, we all worked at the best music store in CNY history. Gary and Paul (and sometimes Arty) worked at the Shoppingtown store, and Tommy worked at the Fairmount store. It was there that we hatched the idea of forming a band. Bill Gerber was a great boss (and a championship amateur golfer), and when you worked for him, you became a member of his extended family, that included his wife Debbie, mother Jean (and HER mother Mrs. Rosenbloom), and his siblings Leonard, Heidi and Terri.”

In no uncertain terms: the very existence of my all-time favorite power pop group was owed to Gerber Music. That makes Gerber sacred ground to me, now and forevermore.

When the ‘Cubes were set to release their first single “Christi Girl” in ’78, I hounded the staff at the Penn-Can Gerber every freakin’ day, with my own breathless inquiry of Is it out yet? Is it out yet? Is it out yet? To their credit, the good folk behind the Gerber counter put up with me. They even had an advance copy of the 45 on hand, awaiting its slow-to-arrive picture sleeve, and they let me hear both sides of it on the store’s sound system. I bought it the first day it was available.

I cannot overstate how important The Flashcubes have been to me. As I’ve said elsewhere, it’s possible that I would have gotten around to writing about pop music and co-hosting a weekly rock ‘n’ roll radio show even without The Flashcubes’ influence, but it would be a stretch for me to imagine how that would have been. When I was given the honor of inducting The Flashcubes into the Syracuse Area Music Awards Hall of Fame in 2014, I noted once again the three groups that had the greatest and most lasting influence upon my life as a pop fan: The Beatles, The Ramones, and The Flashcubes.

That was also the night I met Bill Gerber, however briefly. Gerber Music was inducted into the SAMMYs Hall of Fame on the same 2014 evening, with members of The Flashcubes helping to induct their former employer. I shook Bill’s hand, and told him, “I never worked at Gerber; I worked at Cavages (the Buffalo chain that bought out Gerber), but I wish I’d worked for you!” I added that Cavages fired me, and he laughed and said, “They fired me, too!” I bought a commemorative Gerber Music/Flashcubes SAMMYs Hall Of Fame t-shirt from Bill’s sister Terri Gerber; I wear it often, and I glow with the shared pleasure of strangers who recognize the Gerber logo and want to tell me how much they cherish the joyful memory of being a Gerber Music customer.

Yeah. Yeah.

Memories have a soundtrack. Life has a soundtrack. We play the music, and we let it reach us and inspire us. We’re grateful for those who brought the music to us. The writers, the performers, the music men and women, the DJs on the radio, and the song sellers, for whom it was more than just business; it was the only way to live. 

Gerber Music lives. I have the records to prove it.

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This Is Rock ‘n’ Roll Radio with Dana & Carl airs Sunday nights from 9 to Midnight Eastern, on the air in Syracuse at SPARK! WSPJ 103.3 and 93.7 FM, and on the web at http://sparksyracuse.org/ You can read about our history here.

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Gerber Music

I am not qualified to eulogize Bill Gerber, who passed away in May of 2020. I only met Bill once, very briefly, when his family’s former music retail store chain Gerber Music was inducted into the Syracuse Area Music Awards Hall of Fame in 2014. He seemed like a good guy, he was certainly an important guy, and any music fan who grew up in Central New York in the ’60s and ’70s mourns the passing of someone who operated this vital resource that meant so much to so many of us. I can’t offer a proper tribute to Bill Gerber. I can only offer condolences to his family and friends.

can speak glowingly on behalf of Gerber Music.

As a nascent teen record collector in the late ’70s, I was fortunate to have a number of fine record stores and record dealers available to me, from the used wares at the flea market and at Mike’s Sound’s Center in North Syracuse, to new stuff at chains like Camelot Music and Record Theatre, and to both new and used at places like Record Revolution in Cleveland Heights (where my sister lived). I loved ’em all. 

But there was something special about Gerber Music. I don’t know if the fact that Gerber carried musical instruments as well as records, tapes, and rock magazines may have attracted a staff more intrinsically connected to the music beat, or if the Gerber stores were just better-run than your typical shopping mall vinyl paradise. I couldn’t have defined it at the time, and I’m not sure that I can even now. Shopping elsewhere just felt like…shopping, regardless of the rockin’ treasures I scored. For whatever reason, even though I couldn’t play guitar or drums or anything, evenif my immortal soul depended on it, shopping at Gerber felt closer to the music.

I think I was at Gerber’s Northern Lights location a time or two, and I probably visited the Fairmount Fair Gerber. Probably. It was the Shoppingtown Gerber that was my destination whenever I could get there, combining happy searches of Gerber’s cutout bins with my ritual burrowing through dusty stacks of used books in the basement of the Shoppingtown Economy Bookstore. Records and books. Heaven.

The Northern Lights Gerber moved to Cicero’s new Penn-Can Mall when it opened in 1976. It was within walking distance of my house, and I felt like I’d hit the freakin’ lottery. A burger and a chocolate malt at Burger Haus, magazines and pulp paperbacks at one or the other of the two bookstores, and records at Gerber Music. Better than Heaven!

I was promiscuous in my record-buying habits. I can’t reconstruct any real list of the stuff I got from Gerber stores over those years. One of the most important things I got from Gerber was a free tabloid rock rag called Phonograph Record Magazine, introducing me to punk rock and exerting an immediate, pervasive, and prevailing influence on the parameters of my rock ‘n’ roll world. There was the time I went up and down the mall looking for a store that carried Baby Ruth chocolate bars; radio station WOUR-FM was running a promotion with Gerber and the corporate candymeisters, allowing customers with a Baby Ruth candy wrapper to buy Boston‘s debut album for just $2.96 or $3.96 or whatever it was. During that search, I stopped to chat with Sharon, who’d been my friend since childhood. Sharon was working at the movie theater, and I wound up flirting with her co-worker, who seemed to reciprocate (though she declined my request for a date). For a shy and awkward guy like me–no, really!–the request itself was uncharacteristically bold at 16 or 17. Let’s chalk it up to rock ‘n’ roll, and credit Gerber Music with the attitude adjustment.

But like I said, I Iong ago lost track of exactly which records I got at Gerber. The list should include my candy-bar promotion copy of Boston, plus Suzi QuatroIf You Knew Suzi…The Very Best Of The HolliesRumoursAbbey RoadThe Beatles At The Hollywood Bowl, a Japanese import of Beatles VIRock ‘n’ Roll High SchoolThe TroggsTom Petty & the Heartbreakers‘ You’re Gonna Get ItBuddy Holly & the Crickets‘ 20 Golden GreatsThe Runaways‘ Waitin’ For The NightThe Raiders’ Greatest Hits Volume IIGreaseCherry Vanilla‘s Bad Girl, and I’m sure scores of others my stubborn memory can’t locate or isolate in the moment.

My main Gerber Music years were tied to the time I was in high school, dovetailing into between-semester visits home during my first two years at college. Though I continued to shop there as a college student, I wasn’t in Syracuse as often by then, and I stayed in my college town of Brockport after snaggin’ my B.A. in 1980. Gerber Music was sold to the Buffalo-based Cavages chain in the ’80s. 

It wasn’t the same.

Gerber, of course, also sold singles, and we haven’t even mentioned any of the 45s I purchased there. We will mention five of them–by ABBAThe ClashThe RamonesThe Jam, and The Flashcubes–in a special Gerber Music edition of 45 Single Sleeve Cavalcade on friday. For now, raise a glass in memory of the great Bill Gerber. Here’s to you, Bill, and here’s to Gerber Music.

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Main Street Records, Brockport, NY

For every moment of celebration or heartbreak, there has always been a song.  There was an artist to create the song.  There was a DJ to play the song, and a pop journalist to tell us about the song.  And, if we were lucky, there was a kind, knowing soul at the record store to sell us the song, so we could take it home and listen to it over and over again.  In that role, there were no kinder souls than Bill and Carol Yerger, and there was no safer haven than Main Street Records in Brockport, New York.

When I went off to college in Brockport in August of 1977, Main Street Records did not yet exist.  I was already a vinyl hound, with a little stack of records scored at flea markets and retail outlets in Syracuse and Cleveland (where my sister lived).  I needed music, in any shape or form.  There were two record stores in Brockport in ’77, both on Main Street:  the tiny Vinyl Jungle, which did not survive through 1978, and the larger (but hipper) Record Grove, which was managed by Bill Yerger.  My first Record Grove purchase was a pair of 45s:  “God Save The Queen” by The Sex Pistols, and a record I’d read about in Phonograph Record Magazine but had not yet heard, “Sheena Is A Punk Rocker” by The Ramones.  SWOON!  My life changed as soon as I played it the first time.  And there would be much more of that to come.

When Bill left The Record Grove to start Main Street Records in 1979 (with his wife Carol, an elementary school teacher fond of Bruce Springsteen, The Kinks and The Beach Boys), my allegiance followed him to his new digs.  Without Bill Yerger, The Record Grove lost its groove.  Though a smaller store, Main Street Records was cool beyond compare.

What did I get from the Yergers?  Man…dozens and dozens and dozens of albums, with titles like Marquee Moon, Raw PowerImagineMr. Tambourine ManDamn The TorpedoesL.A.M.F., and Pure Pop For Now People; various-artists sets like Hard Up HeroesEar Piercing Punk,The Motown StoryBattle Of The GaragesWanna Buy A Bridge? and Beatlesongs!; LPs and singles by Blondie, Cheap Trick, Little Richard, Love, Radio Birdman, The Chesterfield Kings, The B-52’s, The Left Banke, Devo, Them, The Five Americans, Joe “King” Carrasco & the Crowns,  Herman’s Hermits, The Tremblers, The Damned, The Village People, Hendrix, Boston, Billy Joel, The Bongos, Earth, Wind and Fire, Led Zeppelin, Josie Cotton, Public Image, Stars On 45, Joy Division, The Laughing Dogs, The Boomtown Rats, Robin Lane & the Chartbusters, Blue Oyster Cult, The Crawdaddys, Dave Edmunds, Elvis Costello, Elvis Presley, The Knack, The Holy Sisters Of The Gaga Dada, The Doors, 20/20, The Cucumbers, Queen, Quincy, Blotto, Dylan, Phil Seymour, The Revillos, The Searchers, Graham Parker & the Rumour, Holly & Joey, The Rattlers, Great Buildings, Shrapnel, Gary Lewis & the Playboys, The Dead Boys, The Lords of the New Church, Roxy Music, Cherry Vanilla, Tommy Tutone, The Vapors, Kansas, Blue Angel, The Hypstrz, The Fast, Pete Shelley, The Quick, Soft Cell, Pat Benatar, The Cars, Gary Numan, Mott the Hoople, The Dictators, Squire, AC/DC, Kim Wilde, The Invictas, Alice Cooper, The Outsiders, The Music Explosion, and then all of the records listed on the playlist below.  And then still more stuff, and more after that.   I was voracious.  And I was satisfied.

Any clerk can sell you a damn record.  Bill and Carol could help you find the record you didn’t even know you needed.  They could–and would–make recommendations:  “You’ll like this.  I don’t think you’ll like that.  This one might be good.  Have you heard this?” Direction transcended the verbal; maybe it wasn’t all that unusual to find a magazine like Trouser Press at a record store, but how many small shops in small towns also carried Bomp! magazine, or The Pig Paper?  How many little village stores had such a wealth of popular favorites and obscure nuggets available in such great supply, whether new releases, cutouts or used LPs (often from Bill’s own collection)?   Main Street Records was a business, and it needed to turn a profit, but Bill and Carol had loftier goals alongside the necessity of making a buck.  “Carl,” Bill told me, “we’re gonna make a Beach Boys fan out of you yet.”  Carol asked me what my favorite Beach Boys song was; when I answered “Sloop John B,” she was appalled, and muttered as she turned away, “Who’s favorite Beach Boys song is ‘Sloop John B’…?!”  I had a lot to learn.  I loved every minute of learning it.

(As a further illustration of how much I owe the Yergers, consider my cherished Flashcubes live tape.  The Flashcubes were my favorite power pop group; if you think it’s silly that my three all-time fave raves are The Beatles, The Ramones, and The Flashcubes, then go get your own radio show.  But The Flashcubes only released two 45s before imploding in 1980, and that certainly wasn’t enough to sustain me.  I borrowed a cassette of a 1978 Flashcubes live show from a pal, I brought it to Main Street Records, and I asked Bill to copy it for me.  He did so, and that tape was the only long-form Flashcubes document I had for years and years.  It wasn’t something Bill had to do, but he did it anyway.  To me, that was the most important cassette I ever owned, a tape I only had because of Bill’s kindness.)

I moved out of Brockport in the summer of 1982, though I still visited sporadically for a couple of years thereafter, always making sure to stop at Main Street Records and add to my collection.  The very last time was in the summer of 1988.  Our friends Brian and Lisa were visiting my wife Brenda and me in Syracuse; on a whim, we decided to hit the highway and visit Brockport for the day.  Naturally, we had to check in at Main Street Records.

Bill recognized us immediately, and we chatted as if we were still regulars there.  Brenda talked about her apprehension in starting a new job as a preschool teacher, and Bill offered words of encouragement, just as teacher Carol had offered Brenda similar encouragement years before.  The talk turned to The Monkees, and I mentioned that I had never seen the group’s then-rare 1969 TV special, 33 1/3 Revolutions Per Monkee.  Well, Bill owned a copy of it, and he promised to make a dub and mail it to me in Syracuse.  We chatted a bit further, we made our purchases–okay, MY purchases–and we said our goodbyes.

The VHS tape of 33 1/3 Revolutions Per Monkee arrived in the mail some time thereafter, filled out with miscellaneous clips from Shindig and Hullabaloo, plus The Monkees’ 1970 promo clip for the single “Oh My My,” a fave track of Brenda’s.  I still have the tape, and I still have the note that Bill sent with it:

“Dear Carl & Brenda,
Here’s a tape full of hits–but I got carried away and the “Oh My My” clip isn’t totally complete.  Anyway, someday I’ll put it on another tape in full for you.  Okay?
Brenda, for what it’s worth–I think you’d make a GREAT teacher, and I can speak with some authority on it because I’ve been married to a great teacher for years!
Anyway, I hope you both had a nice day in Brockport.  Your friend, Bill”

I only corresponded with Bill a couple of more times after that, via e-mail in the ’90s.  He told me that he had sold Main Street Records because it wasn’t fun any more.  I told him that, if nothing else, his long-ago efforts had finally paid off, for I was now a huge Beach Boys fan.  When I wrote a history of power pop for Goldmine magazine in 1996, I acknowledged Bill & Carol Yerger, and Main Street Records, among my primary inspirations; Bill e-mailed me his appreciation, and signed his note “Fuzz Bass Willy.”

 It was the last contact I ever had with Bill Yerger; he passed away not very long after that.  He was younger then than I am now.  It’s too late to mourn, but I still feel sad.  And I’ve grown so weary of feeling sad.
There are places I remember all my life. That line itself comes from one of Bill Yerger’s favorite songs.  There has been a song for every place and every face, for each lonely teardrop, for each smile that’s ever bust out at full speed.  Bill Yerger was the man who sold me records; he was a friend, and he was a mentor.  I learned so much about pop music just from shopping at Main Street Records, and that is one of the foundations upon which this show is built, the foundation upon which my brief career as a pop journalist was built.  It is a debt I can never fully repay.  But I believe that I do pay it back, just a little, whenever I play records…especially when I play records for someone else.  It was Bill Yerger’s gift to me, and it’s my own lasting legacy of the best little record store there ever was.

It’s time for some songs.

This edition of THIS IS ROCK ‘N’ ROLL RADIO with Dana & Carl is a tribute to Bill and Carol Yerger.  Every one of the tracks we played this week, including the 27 song-snippets heard in our opening medley, is a tune I got from the Yergers at either The Record Grove or Main Street Records.  It could have been a thirteen-hour show.  Bill and Carol, I thank you for the days.  And I turn it up loud, so that everyone can hear.

THIS IS ROCK ‘N’ ROLL RADIO with Dana & Carl streams live every Sunday night from 9 to Midnight Eastern, exclusively at www.westcottradio.org.

TIRnRR # 634, 6/17/12:  A Tribute To Main Street Records

*MAIN STREET MEDLEY:
*THE RAMONES:  “Do You Remember Rock ‘n’ Roll Radio?” (Sire, End Of The Century)
*THE NEW YORK DOLLS:  “Babylon” (Mercury, Too Much Too Soon)
*THE ROMANTICS:  “What I Like About You” (Nemperor, The Romantics)
*BLUE CHEER:  “Summertime Blues” (Philips, Vincebus Eruptum)
*THE ROLLING STONES:  “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking” (Atlantic, Sticky Fingers)
*RICK JAMES:  “Give It To Me Baby” (Motown, VA:  25 # 1 Hits From 25 Years)
*CAST OF ROCKY HORROR:  “The Time Warp” (Epic, The Rocky Horror Picture Show OST)
*BOW WOW WOW:  “C30, C60, C90, Go!” (EMI, single)
*BRAM TCHAIKOVSKY:  “Girl Of My Dreams” (Polydor, Strange Man, Changed Man)
*THE BEAT:  “Rock And Roll Girl” (Columbia, The Beat)
*NIKKI & THE CORVETTES:  “Just What I Need” (Bomp!, Nikki & the Corvettes)
*THE VELVET UNDERGROUND:  “Rock And Roll” (Cotillion, Loaded)
*JOAN JETT & THE BLACKHEARTS:  “I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll” (Boardwalk, I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll)
*R.E.M.:  “Radio Free Europe” (IRS, single)
*CHUCK BERRY:  “Roll Over Beethoven” (Chess, Chuck Berry’s Greatest Hits)
*DAVID BOWIE:  “DJ” (RCA, Lodger)
*DAVID JOHANSEN:  “Frenchette” (Blue Sky, David Johansen)
*GEN X:  “Dancing With Myself” (Chrysalis, single)
*THE MODERN LOVERS:  “Roadrunner” (Beserkley, The Modern Lovers)
*JOE JACKSON:  “On Your Radio” (A & M, I’m The Man)
*DONNA SUMMER:  “On The Radio” (Casablanca, On The Radio:  Greatest Hits)
*KISS:  “Rock And Roll All Nite” (Casablanca, Dressed To Kill)
*JOAN JETT:  “Bad Reputation” (Boardwalk, Bad Reputation)
*SLADE:  “Mama Weer All Crazee Now” (Polydor, Sladest)
*THE GO-GO’S:  “We Got The Beat” (IRS, Beauty And The Beat)
*THE JAM:  “In The City” (Polydor, single)
*THE BEATLES:  “Penny Lane” (Capitol, Rarities)

THE RAMONES:  “Sheena Is A Punk Rocker” (Sire, single)
THE ROLLERS:  “Roxy Lady” (Epic, Ricochet)
THE RUNAWAYS:  “School Days” (Mercury, Waitin’ For The Night)
THE DAVE CLARK FIVE:  “Nineteen Days” (Epic, 5 By 5)
THE PLEASERS:  “The Kids Are Alright” (Arista, single)
SPLIT ENZ:  “I Got You” (A & M, True Colours)

THE ROMANTICS:  “Little White Lies” (Spider, single)
SHOES:  “Tomorrow Night” (Elektra, Present Tense)
THE ROLLING STONES:  “Happy” (Atlantic, Exile On Main Street)
UTOPIA:  “Silly Boy” (Bearsville, Deface The Music)
MARSHALL CRENSHAW:  “Cynical Girl” (Warner Brothers, Marshall Crenshaw)
THE MOVING SIDEWALKS:  “99th Floor” (BFD, VA:  Pebbles Volume 2)

THE 13th FLOOR ELEVATORS:  “You’re Gonna Miss Me” (Sire, VA:  Nuggets)
THE GREG KIHN BAND:  “The Breakup Song (They Don’t Write ‘Em)” (Beserkley, single)
PAUL COLLINS:  “Walking Out On Love” (Bomp!, VA:  Waves, Vol. 1)
THE FLAMIN’ GROOVIES:  “Shake Some Action” (Sire, Shake Some Action)
THE BOBBY FULLER FOUR:  “Another Sad And Lonely Night” (Rhino, The Best Of The Bobby Fuller Four)
THE VELVET UNDERGROUND:  “I’ll Be Your Mirror” (Verve, The Velvet Underground & Nico)

THE MONKEES:  “Love To Love” (Arista, Monkeemania)
DOLENZ, JONES, BOYCE & HART:  “You Didn’t Feel That Way Last Night (Don’t You Remember?)” (Capitol, Dolenz, Jones, Boyce & Hart)
THE SCRUFFS:  “She Say Yea” (Power Play, Wanna’ Meet The Scruffs?)
THE RAMONES:  “All’s Quiet On The Eastern Front” (Sire, Pleasant Dreams)
THE REAL KIDS:  “Now You Know” (Bomp!, VA:  Experiments In Destiny)
THE BEACH BOYS:  “God Only Knows” (Capitol, Pet Sounds)

BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN:  “The Ties That Bind” (Columbia, The River)
THE NOW:  “He’s Takin’ You To The Movies” (Midsong, The Now)
DAVID WERNER:  “Too Late To Try” (Epic, David Werner)
EDDIE COCHRAN:  “Nervous Breakdown” (United Artists, The Very Best Of Eddie Cochran)
STIV BATORS:  “It’s Cold Outside” (Bomp!, single)
THE GO-GO’S:  “Vacation” (IRS, Vacation)

BIG STAR:  “September Gurls” (Ardent, Radio City)
THE RAMONES:  “Blitzkrieg Bop” (Sire, Ramones)
NEW MATH:  “Die Trying” (Reliable, single)
THE KINKS:  “Animal Farm” (Reprise, The Village Green Preservation Society)
THE PRETENDERS:  “Stop Your Sobbing” (Sire, Pretenders)
THE JAM:  “That’s Entertainment” (Polydor, Sound Affects)

THE SEX PISTOLS:  “God Save The Queen” (Virgin, single)
THE WHO:  “The Punk Meets The Godfather” (MCA, Quadrophenia)
THE BARRACUDAS:  “I Wish It Could Be 1965 Again” (Voxx, Drop Out With The Barracudas)
THE CLASH:  “Spanish Bombs” (Epic, London Calling)
THE UNDERTONES:  “Teenage Kicks” (Sire, The Undertones)
DAVID JOHANSEN & ROBIN JOHNSON:  “Flowers In The City” (RSO, VA:  Times Square OST)

THE MONKEES:  “Naked Persimmon” (from 33 1/3 REVOLUTIONS PER MONKEE)
THE BEACH BOYS:  “Our Prayer” (Capitol, 20/20)
JOHNNY THUNDERS:  “You Can’t Put Your Arms Around A Memory” (Sire, So Alone)
THE RAMONES:  “I Want You Around” (Sire, VA:  Rock ‘n’ Roll High School OST)
THE RECORDS:  “Hearts Will Be Broken” (Virgin, Crashes)
THE FOUR TOPS:  “Reach Out (I’ll Be There)” (Motown, Greatest Hits)
THE FLESHTONES:  “Let’s See The Sun” (IRS, Roman Gods)
THE ZONES:  “New Life” (Arista, VA:  That Summer! OST)
DIRTY LOOKS:  “Let Go” (Stiff/Epic, Dirty Looks)
THE KINKS:  “Better Things” (Arista, Give The People What They Want)
EDDIE & THE HOT RODS:  “Do Anything You Wanna Do” (Island, single)
THE VENTURES:  “Walk–Don’t Run” (Liberty, The Very Best Of The Ventures)
THE BEACH BOYS:  “Pet Sounds” (Capitol, Pet Sounds)

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Pezband / The Power Pop Hall Of Fame

Sparkling power pop! Chicago’s musical DNA is understood to be that of a blues town. Rightly so; the Windy City’s seminal role in developing and shaping the blues as we know it is beyond question, and Chicago deserves further specific recognition as the home of the mighty Chess Records label. But Chicago is large; it contains multitudes. It’s not a contradiction for a city to produce and embrace more than one style of music. For power pop–sparkling power pop–Chicago’s favorite sons would have to be Pezband.

Pezband denied comparisons to The Raspberries, but the similarities were always too obvious to ignore.  Influenced by The Beatles and other ’60s pop juggernauts? Check! Breathy vocals over hook-filled jangle ‘n’ buzz, tailor-made for the best AM radio station ever?  Right-o, daddy-o. Harmonies? Guitars? Oomph? Yeah, yeah, yeah. Pezband released three albums of pleasantly Beatlesque pop, commencing with 1977’s Pezband.  That debut album included Pezband’s signature tune “Baby It’s Cold Outside,” and it carried a proud advisory to File Under: Pop Vocal. Pezband seemed primed for the poppermost’s elusive toppermost. And while the frenzied mass adulation of Pezbandmania never materialized, Pezband remains one of the all-time great power pop acts.

Pezband’s second album, 1978’s Laughing In The Dark, overtly embraced power pop as a marketing approach, its above-cited Sparkling power pop ad line beating The Knack to the punch by a year or so. 1979’s Cover To Cover was Pezband’s final album, and the group disbanded shortly thereafter. There have been reunions and scattered archival releases, but the U.S. market is sadly lacking the comprehensive Pezband reissue series pop fans deserve. Even a best-of set, collecting Pezband essentials like “Baby It’s Cold Outside,” “Stop! Wait A Minute,” “Love Goes Underground,” “Come On Madeline,” “Please Be Somewhere Tonight,” and “Waiting In Line” would serve as a potent reminder of Pezband’s status among the all-time giants of power pop. Pezband frontman Mimi Betinis remains active, crafting pure pop for new and old people, a national treasure waiting in line for overdue recognition. That recognition begins with Pezband’s induction into The Power Pop Hall Of Fame. Just another power pop band from Chicago? No. Chicago’s phenomenal pop combo, a blues town’s favorite power pop sons. Love goes underground. The bright sound of Pezband reverberates still.


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10 SONGS / THE KINKS

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.

This special 12-song edition of 10 Songs collects previous 10 Songs entries celebrating the music of THE KINKS!

THE KINKS: All Day And All Of The Night

It’s important to note the significance of “All Day And All Of The Night” in the story of how I became a fan of The Kinks. “Lola” was the first Kinks song I ever knew. My sister’s copy of The Live Kinks was the first Kinks album I ever saw. But “All Day And All Of The Night” was the first Kinks track I ever owned, contained on the 2-LP compilation History Of British Rock Vol. 2 I received as a Christmas present in 1976, less than a month prior to my 17th birthday. Essential. And loud! The track was also on my first Kinks LP, Kinks-Size, purchased early in ’77. 

When discussing the monolithic 1-2 punch of The Kinks‘ first two U.S. hits, “You Really Got Me” tends to grab all of the loud ‘n’ grungy glory. It is, after all, the greatest record ever made. But its follow-up “All Day And All Of The Night” is even more savage and relentless, and if it lacks a tiny bit of “You Really Got Me”‘s mesmerizing single-mindedness, it compensates with its sheer combustibility. “All Day And All Of The Night” sounds like it’s ’bout to explode, and it sounds loud (if never quite loud enough) at even the lowest volume. As revealed in my Everlasting First piece about how I discovered the group, “All Day And All Of The Night” was the first Kinks track I ever owned. There would be many, many more to follow.

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.

THE KINKS: I Took My Baby Home

For a very brief flash of time, “I Took My Baby Home” was the most exciting track that The Kinks ever released. It didn’t have a lot of competition for that title, since it was the B-side of the very first Kinks single, and much more distinctive and interesting than the perfunctory cover of Little Richard‘s “Long Tall Sally” on its A-side. The Kinks’ second single, “You Still Want Me”/”You Do Something To Me,” paired a couple of fine beat numbers, though I’d say “I Took My Baby Home” was still the pick of this four-song run.

The Kinks’ third single was the greatest record ever made, and its release ended the short reign of “I Took My Baby Home” as the best of The Kinks.

Nonetheless, “I Took My Baby Home” remains a superb rock ‘n’ roll track, with its strutting harmonica come-on and its euphoric tale of a helpless chap gleefully seduced by his girl (whose high-powered kisses really knock him out, they knock him oh-oh-over). 

And it was one of the songs I acquired in my first year as a Kinks fan. I started with “All Day And All Of The Night” on a various-artists LP at Christmas of 1976, added “You Really Got Me,” the Kinks-Size LP and maybe Sleepwalker before heading off to college the following August, and scored my first Kinks compilation album during the fall semester. This Kinks volume of The Pye History Of British Rock introduced me to “I Took My Baby Home,” right alongside “Dedicated Follower Of Fashion,” “Sunny Afternoon,” “I’m Not Like Everybody Else,” “Where Have All The Good Times Gone,” and “Till The End Of The Day.” I knew “I Took My Baby Home” before I knew “Waterloo Sunset,” though I would discover that one soon enough. Not a bad way to get to know The Kinks, I say.

(And I still mentally change the song’s line “And she put her hands on my chest” to “And she put my hands on her chest.” Aggressive girl. I bet her name was Lola.) 

THE KINKS: Muswell Hillbilly

I have a black t-shirt emblazoned in white letters with The Kinks‘ classic ’60s logo. It’s my favorite t-shirt. When I wear it, some random stranger will often notice it and express approval (even from a socially-distanced vantage point). I’ve had people insist I’m too young to even know who The Kinks are (which means I’m either older than I look, or that I wasted my money on those three Kinks concerts I attended; I enjoyed those shows, so I don’t feel like I coulda been too young to know The Kinks at the time).

Yes, I DO wear this shirt all day and all of the night!

It’s not unusual for the sight of my Kinks shirt to inspire strangers to want to chat, however briefly, about these well-respected men. Recently, a gentleman just over six feet away from me admired my shirt, and mentioned his favorite Kinks album: 1971’s Muswell Hillbillies.

This is not the first Kinks record that most passers-by will cite in reaction to my dedicated follower of fashion choice of wardrobe. “Lola.” “You Really Got Me.” One guy said “Come Dancing.” Muswell Hillbillies isn’t exactly an obscure record, but it doesn’t usually come up in casual conversation out in the real world, the vast playground beyond our own shared but insular rockin’ pop universe. I was pleased. And I made sure to play the album’s title track on this week’s TIRnRR

THE KINKS: Set Me Free

I’m not 100% sure where I first heard The Kinks‘ 1965 single “See My Friends.” I initially knew “See My Friends” from the great British group The Records, who included their version in an all-covers EP that came with the purchase of The Records’ debut LP in 1979. My first exposure to The Kinks’ original must have been Golden Hour Of The Kinks, a 1977 compilation I picked up as a budget cassette release in the mid ’80s. With the possible exception of my bootleg live Flashcubes tape, Golden Hour Of The Kinks was my favorite cassette, even more so than the (then-) contemporary garage sampler Garage Sale. I listened to Golden Hour Of The Kinks over and over on the boom box my Uncle Carl gave Brenda and I as a wedding gift in 1984, with only a couple of Beatles tapes (Help! and Beatles For Sale) challenging its boom-box sovereignty. Golden Hour Of The Kinks hooked me on “Animal Farm,” reinforced my adoration of “Days,” “Dedicated Follower Of Fashion,” “Till The End Of The Day,” “Waterloo Sunset,” “Dead End Street,” “Shangri-La,” and “You Really Got Me,” and it introduced me to the original “See My Friends.” Best cassette ever? A contender at the very least.

THE KINKS: Set Me Free

1977: I was just 17, if you know what I mean. And my girlfriend and I were moving way too fast. It was almost entirely my fault, maybe even my fault alone. But I had to stop it.Over the course of ’77, I had become a fan of The Kinks. In August, I went off to college with the tentative beginning of a Kinks collection, which included the Kinks-SizedSleepwalker, and possibly Schoolboys In Disgrace LPs. I was still learning about this great band and its cavalcade of wonder. Late in that fall semester of my freshman year, I picked up a Kinks compilation, The Pye History Of British Rock. That revelatory set included just two Kinks tracks I already owned (“You Really Got Me” and “I Gotta Move”), and introduced me to “I’m Not Like Everybody Else,” “Dedicated Follower Of Fashion,” “Where Have All The Good Times Gone,” “Till The End Of The Day,” “Sunny Afternoon,” “The World Keeps Going Round,” “So Mystifying,” “Long Tall Shorty,” and a superb, rockin’ B-side called “I Took My Baby Home.” Fantastic stuff, and an essential plank on my path to greater Kinks devotion.
And it included a song called “Set Me Free.”
Set me free, little girlAll you gotta do is set me free, little girlYou know you can do it if you tryAll you gotta do is set me free, free….
It wasn’t her fault. It was mine. Yeah, probably all mine. I was 17. That’s explanation, not excuse. I listened to the song playing on my roommate’s stereo in our dorm room, looking at my girlfriend, feeling guilty for what I was thinking. But I was beginning to realize what had to happen.
We lasted until Christmas break. I wrote her a letter. It hurt her, and I regret my actions that made that seem necessary. Damn me. But it was time. Set me free.

This was my first Kinks LP. Though my copy was considerably more beat-up than this one.

In my oft-told story about how I became a fan of The Kinks, 1964’s “Tired Of Waiting For You” represents the tipping point, the seismic event when I heard the song on the radio in 1977 and knew, just knew before the DJ said, that it was The Kinks. The Kinks’ primal oldies “All Day And All Of The Night” and “You Really Got Me” had only recently taken my fancy hostage, a mere decade and change after the fact. Radio introduced me to The Kinks with “Lola” in 1970, my burgeoning interest in the mid-’60s British Invasion prompted a deeper dive into Sire‘s History Of British Rock collections, and radio came back to seal the deal with a spin of “Tired Of Waiting For You.” It’s not an oversimplification; that really was the precise moment when I became a die-hard Kinks fan. It’s your life, and you can do what you want. And I want to listen to The Kinks.

THE KINKS: War Is Over

Last week on his SPARK! radio show Radio Deer Camp, the above-cited Rich Firestone played The Kinks‘ “To The Bone,” a cut that has never been played on This Is Rock ‘n’ Roll Radio. And we’ve played a lot of Kinks songs over the past 22 years! The song is the title track from a 1996 2-CD US version of a live Kinks album released as a single disc in the UK in ’94. The US version adds several tracks, but omits “Waterloo Sunset” and “Autumn Almanac,” forcing fans (like me) to buy both versions. The US set also adds the two studio tracks that are the final Kinks recordings issued to date; Rich just played “To The Bone” on Radio Deer Camp, and we played the other studio track (“Animal”) on TIRnRR some time ago.
We still haven’t played “To The Bone,” but we did want to try to program a Kinks song that we hadn’t played before. We picked “War Is Over,” from 1989’s UK Jive, which is my least favorite Kinks album. The song’s fine. The album….
I was able to see The Kinks on the UK Jive tour. It was the third and final time I saw The Kinks in concert, and oddly enough the show occurred in the same week that I saw my first Rolling Stones concert. Kinks and Stones in a single week? Awrighty! 
My first Kinks show was in 1978, and it was awesome; I told that story here. Seeing them a second time at a mid ’80s arena show in Buffalo was less special, but still The Kinks. The 1989 show was weird. It was staged in a gym at the State University of New York at Oswego; the arena show felt impersonal, and this felt, I dunno, somewhere in between, but still almost haphazardly disconnected. 
The show was sparsely attended, so lovely wife Brenda and I were able to get THISCLOSE to the stage where The Kinks–THE KINKS!!!–were playing. But it was the UK Jive tour. I have little memory of it. I can’t believe I saw The Kinks at such close proximity, but that a combination of off-putting venue and a set list emphasizing a lesser album made the whole event seem so forgettable.
But it was THE KINKS…!

THE KINKS: Waterloo Sunset

“Waterloo Sunset” is one of two songs by The Kinks given its own chapter in my book The Greatest Record Ever Made! (Volume 1), where it immediately precedes The Kinks’ “You Really Got Me” and Holly Golightly‘s version of “Time Will Tell” (itself also a song written by The Kinks’ Ray Davies). This is how the book’s discussion of “Waterloo Sunset” begins:
It’s one of the most beautiful depictions of burgeoning romance ever committed to song. And it’s told, not from the perspective of the young lovers themselves, but from the viewpoint of a benevolent onlooker, wishing them well as they cross over the river, where they feel safe and sound.
I wonder what that onlooker would have thought of me when I was 18….
Our connection with the pop music we love is personal, deeply personal. We know that the songs on our stereo, our radio, our iPod, or our Close-N-Play aren’t really about us, but we have license to incorporate them into our own experiences. We assign meaning. While The Kinks insisted elsewhere that it was only jukebox music, it is really so much more than that.
In the book, I place “Waterloo Sunset” directly after chapters about T. RexThe Runaways, and “Sister Golden Hair” by America, a little trilogy threaded together with the memory of my near-disastrous freshman year in college, 1977-78. “Waterloo Sunset” follows with the potential for catharsis. Every day I look at the world from my window…Waterloo sunset’s fine.It’s not the story Ray Davies intended to tell. It’s the story I hear nonetheless.

THE KINKS: Waterloo Sunset (worth a second entry!)

The Kinks have come to be known as TIRnRR‘s house band, perhaps for no real reason other than we all think it’s cool to celebrate the splendor of The Kinks whenever possible. The Kinks remain the only act to ever take over an entire episode of our radio show; in fact, we’ve done two all-Kinks shows. God save the house band!

“Waterloo Sunset” has two additional specific links to TIRnRR. In 2019, when a bunch of our friends and supporters decided to surprise us by recording a single to benefit our cash-strapped operation, these TIR’N’RR Allstars chose to do a cover of “Waterloo Sunset.” And we were in paradise. And some years back, when Dana was out of commission for a bit, I devoted a show to something I called “A Girl And A Boy: The Story So Far.” This was an attempt to create an extended song cycle to tell the story of a relationship, using preexisting songs and alternating female and male lead vocals to suggest a girl and boy looking back at their history together and apart. The boy’s name was Terry, the girl’s name was Julie, and as long as they gaze on Waterloo sunset, they are in paradise. It was a fun exercise, and intended as a tribute to one of my favorite songs. Sha-la-la….  


THE KINKS: (Wish I Could Fly Like) Superman

Bert Parks‘ greatest hit. Sort of.

The Kinks‘ 1979 album Low Budget brought the group a commercial resurgence in America, moving them from modest concert halls to arenas. Its release was preceded by the single “(Wish I Could Fly Like) Superman,” which was a seemingly incongruous mix of our dedicated followers of fashion with a disco beat. Faster than a speeding leisure suit, more powerful than a mirrored ball, able to leap over tall velvet ropes in a single bound, the record is flush with Ray Davies‘ characteristic cantankerousness, and it was accepted by rockers who would not have been caught dead with any kind of Saturday night fever. Disco? The Rolling Stones did it. KISS did it. Blondie had their first U.S. hit by doin’ it. Even the razzafrazzin’ Grateful Dead did it with “Shakedown Street,” though every Deadhead I knew denied the fact and the beat. So why shouldn’t The Kinks make a disco record? The Kinks pulled it off, and The Kinks got bigger.

And then…Bert Parks.

1979 was the final year that Parks would host the annual Miss America beauty pageant. He had been that show’s host since about, oh, the dawn of time, and he was about to be kicked aside and replaced by someone younger, if not exactly hipper. “Hipper” and “Miss America beauty pageant” were definitely not two great tastes that taste great together. Actor (and former TV TarzanRon Ely took over the job in 1980 and ’81.By ’79, I was not in the habit of watching the Miss America broadcast. Whatever interest I could have derived from seeing pretty girls on my TV screen was overshadowed by the sheer hokiness of such an emphatically four-cornered spectacle. But that year, my girlfriend asked me to be her plus-one at the wedding of one of her dearest friends, so I accompanied her out of town for the event. We had some down time one evening, and we found ourselves watching TV. 

Miss America.

Bert Parks.

The…Kinks…?!

No, Muswell Hill’s finest didn’t show up to warble “Theeeere she is, Miss America…!” That would have been odd, but interesting. Instead, Bert Parks himself lent his golden throat to a never-before, never-again, why-in-God’s-name-in-the-first-place performance of “(Wish I Could Fly Like) Superman.” Parks concluded the brief songlet by ripping open his shirt to reveal the Superman shield on his chest.

I was horrified. Transfixed, car-crash hypmotized, unable to turn away, scarred for life, damaged beyond repair, a gas-strike, oil-strike, lorry-strike, bread-strike pinned-in-place deer in the disco lights. Hey, girl. We gotta get out of this place.

You don’t believe me? Lord, I wish it had only been the hallucination it seemed. But no! It was real. Check out this YouTube clip, and go directly to the 38:08 mark…IF YOU DARE!

So. Bert Parks’ final gig as Miss America pageant host. Coincidence? Maybe. Or further evidence that you don’t tug on Superman’s cape. And, for God’s sake, you don’t mess with The Kinks. 

THE KINKS: You Can’t Stop The Music

God save The Kinks! From a previously-posted piece about my five favorite 1970s Kinks songs:Other than Schoolboys In Disgrace, I mostly missed out on The Kinks’ concept album phase. I saw Preservation Act 1Preservation Act 2, and The Kinks Present A Soap Opera in the bins at Gerber Music, but I didn’t hear any of that until many years later. And while I appreciate them and dig each of them in its own right, I can’t rank them alongside The Kinks’ 1960s album masterpieces like Face To FaceThe Village Green Preservation Society, or ArthurWith that said, “You Can’t Stop The Music” is (along with “[A] Face In The Crowd”) one of a couple of standout selections on Soap Opera. It serves as a de facto statement of intent, and a reminder of the resilience of the sounds we adore. 

Ahem. THE GREATEST RECORD EVER MADE!!

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The Flamin’ Groovies: The Power Pop Hall of Fame

“1975 will be the year of The Flamin’ Groovies!”–Greg Shaw, Who Put The Bomp magazine
“It wasn’t, but it shoulda been.”–Groovies fans ever since then

It could be argued that no rock ‘n’ roll act was ever so good and simultaneously so ignored as San Francisco’s legendary Flamin’ Groovies. Throughout their long history and many personnel changes, the group was consistently out of step with the times. While contemporaries were properly freaking out and endlessly jamming in a tedious soundtrack to an emerging counterculture, the Groovies drew on unfashionable rock ‘n’ roll roots, alternately purveying good-time jug band music á la The Lovin’ Spoonful and rockin’ the motherlovin’ house down with a ferocity to rival The Rolling Stones and The Stooges. By the time reduced-frills rock started making a comeback in the ’70s, a new incarnation of The Flamin’ Groovies was dressed up in Mod clothing and playing polished power pop as if it were 1965 and the band was some mythic combination of The BeatlesByrdsBeach Boys, and Rolling Stones heading into the studio for a session with Phil Spector. And by the time “jangly pop” became a buzz phrase, The Flamin’ Groovies were so far underground that no amount of excavating could bring them to the surface, let alone to the pop stardom that should have been their divine right.

As it is, The Flamin’ Groovies produced some unforgettable work, including three oft-covered classics: “Slow Death,” “Teenage Head,” and the incomparable, booming “Shake Some Action,” which sounded like the eleventh-hour announcement of pop-rock Armageddon. Groovies fans are generally divided into two camps: those who favor the manic-rockin’ original Groovies fronted by Roy Loney, and those who prefer the pop perfection of the Sire years (1976-79) with Chris Wilson. In both incarnations, guitarist Cyril Jordan and bassist George Alexander kept the flame burning brightly.

It’s the Sire era that puts The Flamin’ Groovies into The Power Pop Hall Of Fame. That’s not a knock against the earlier stuff, much of which is just fantastic, but an acknowledgement that we wouldn’t be talking about the Groovies as a power pop act if judged solely on the basis of “Teenage Head” and “Second Cousin;” as irresistible as those tracks are, they’re closer to the cantankerous grandeur of, say, The Pretty Things than to anything one would call power pop. The Flamin’ Groovies’ three albums for Sire–Shake Some ActionNow, and Jumpin’ In The Night–radiate a catchy cool, combining the bop and swagger of a solid rock ‘n’ roll foundation with a swoon-worthy dedication to the giddy, visceral thrill of pure pop pursuits. Shake Some Action is one of the defining albums of the genre, loaded with exquisite tracks–“I Can’t Hide,” “You Tore Me Down,” “Yes It’s True,” “I’ll Cry Alone,” and the nonpareil title tune–that shimmer with conviction and glory. Now and Jumpin’ In The Night have been less celebrated by pundits, but nonetheless gave the undeserving world such pop gems as “Good Laugh Mun,” “All I Wanted,” “Yes I Am,” “Tell Me Again,” and the magnificent “First Plane Home.”

A different line-up of the Groovies (still including Jordan and Alexander) emerged in the late ’80s, releasing the Rock Juice album in 1992 before returning to the shadows. Eventually, Cyril Jordan and George Alexander reunited with Roy Loney for live gigs as The Flamin’ Groovies. Chris Wilson even joined in for an encore at one show, an event that had once seemed, y’know, really unlikely. Credit to all parties for transcending the accumulated baggage of the past.

Both Jordan and Wilson remain in the current edition of The Flamin’ Groovies, and they released an album called Fantastic Plastic in 2017, 24 years after Rock Juice, 38 years after Jumpin’ In The Night. George Alexander plays on some of the album, but Chris von Sneidern has occupied the bass spot for recent live shows. Is this finally The Year Of The Flamin’ Groovies? No, it is not. And that’s okay. To fans, every year is another year of the Groovies. Let us bust out at full speed, ’cause love is all we need to make it all right.

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Our new compilation CD This Is Rock ‘n’ Roll Radio, Volume 4 is now available from Kool Kat Musik! 29 tracks of irresistible rockin’ pop, starring Pop Co-OpRay PaulCirce Link & Christian NesmithVegas With Randolph Featuring Lannie FlowersThe SlapbacksP. HuxIrene PeñaMichael Oliver & the Sacred Band Featuring Dave MerrittThe RubinoosStepford KnivesThe Grip WeedsPopdudesRonnie DarkThe Flashcubes,Chris von SneidernThe Bottle Kids1.4.5.The SmithereensPaul Collins’ BeatThe Hit SquadThe RulersThe Legal MattersMaura & the Bright LightsLisa Mychols, and Mr. Encrypto & the Cyphers. You gotta have it, so order it here. A digital download version (minus The Smithereens’ track) is also available from Futureman Records.

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THE EVERLASTING FIRST: Tarzan

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 story still needs to begin with that first kiss.

It all started with a scream.

Everyone knew the scream. It didn’t matter if you were young or old. The fierce jungle cry of Tarzan was a shared reference in our common pop culture, as was the familiar exchange of “Me Tarzan, you Jane.” Some knew the story with a greater measure of depth than that. But everyone knew the scream.

And, with that said, I confess I don’t know exactly where and how I first encountered this iconic Lord of the jungle. Well, except that I’m reasonably certain that my introduction to Tarzan came via my TV screen.

I was six years old when the weekly Tarzan series debuted on NBC in September of 1966. Contrary to the collective popular conception of Tarzan as a savage warrior with limited command of the English language, actor Ron Ely played the title hero as articulate and educated. He still had the scream, of course, but he spoke in complete sentences. Years later, I would discover that this well-spoken character was the (if you will) real Tarzan, the Tarzan featured in the original novels written by the character’s creator, Edgar Rice Burroughs. That “Me Tarzan” jazz mentioned above? That was just Hollywood messin’ with the concept. Eff the man, man.
But, as much as I want to say that Ron Ely and his two televised seasons of protecting the jungle served as my gateway into all things Tarzan…the math isn’t there. I was six years old, already a veteran viewer of TV heroes from Flash Gordon and Superman to The Cisco Kid and Batman. By the age of six, I knew about (or at least thought I knew about) Tarzan. Everyone knew Tarzan. The guy with the scream. Tarzan of the Apes.
It’s quite plausible that my early knowledge of Tarzan formed via pop culture osmosis. I may or may not have seen a Tarzan movie, but the character was such an integral part of Americana that, well, he was just there. Always. A specific introduction wasn’t strictly necessary. No one introduces you to running, or clouds, or snowfall, or the idea that girls can be cute. It’s a fait accompli. It is because it is, was, and ever shall be. Chicken. Egg. Tarzan. 
Anyway, knowing Tarzan wasn’t quite the same as being interested in Tarzan. Let’s presume I caught an episode of the TV show in there somewhere. Let’s further presume I’d had a glimpse of one or more of the older Tarzan movies in TV reruns. Neither of these presumptions is Gospel, but sometimes ya gotta grab that vine and take a swing of faith. I might have thumbed through one of Gold Key‘s Tarzan comic books at the doctor’s office. But even if I did see something of the new or old adventures of Tarzan, they didn’t inspire me to become a fan. Not yet.
The first Tarzan product I ever owned was a Big Little Book. I went through a Big Little Book phase in fourth grade, 1969-1970, and I snapped up as many of those little treasures as I could. The Big Little Books were licensed properties, tiny hardcover volumes featuring a page of text accompanied by a facing page of illustration. I accumulated BLBs starring Batman, The Fantastic FourTom and JerrySpace GhostAquamanDick TracyThe Lone RangerDonald DuckBugs BunnyFlipperThe FlintstonesMickey MouseFrankenstein Jr.…man, any of ’em I could get my hands on. I even grabbed some BLBs based on TV shows I didn’t really watch, like BonanzaThe Man From U.N.C.L.E., and The Invaders. And my haul included the lone ’60s Tarzan BLB, The Mark Of The Red Hyena.

I remember the cover. I know I owned it, and I know I read it. I have no other recollection of The Mark Of The Red Hyena.
But my interest in Tarzan was about to manifest. In 1972, the Burroughs estate terminated Gold Key’s license to publish Tarzan comics, and DC Comics eagerly picked up that license. At DC, writer-artist Joe Kubert began adapting the original novels, and the result was stunning and irresistible. It would be a little bit of an exaggeration to say I was hooked, but I was intrigued, and I read the book as often I could fit it within my comics-buyin’ budget.

Kubert’s work was my real gateway into Tarzan’s world. From there, I started watching the old movies on TV, both the ’30s and ’40s films starring Johnny Weissmuller as the less-loquacious hero and the ’50s and early ’60s action flicks starring Gordon Scott or Mike Henry. I soaked up reruns of the Ron Ely TV series when I could find it. I started reading some of the novels, and DC even published a 100-Page Super Spectacular reprinting a Tarzan newspaper strip storyline, with gorgeous art by Russ Manning.

I became dismissive of the Weissmuller movies, smugly insisting that the monosyllabic brute depicted in those pictures was a distortion of the character. Yet I enjoyed those anyway, especially Tarzan’s New York Adventure. Ron Ely was my favorite Tarzan, but I came to respect the Weissmuller films, too.

In this 21st century, Tarzan isn’t quite the ubiquitous figure in pop culture that he was in the ’60s and ’70s, when I was a mere lad and beardless youth. I’ve never seen the Disney animated take, and I’m sure the House Of Mouse’s Tarzan provides the key contemporary reference point for today’s kids, if they know Tarzan at all. When my daughter was in college, one of her fiction courses required her to read the first Tarzan novel, ERB’s Tarzan Of The Apes from 1912. That was, at least, a text book she didn’t have to buy, as I lent her my copy instead. She hated the book, of course, appalled by its casual, implicit racism and its imperialist POV. I’ll have to ask her if the Disney version is more to her liking.

And maybe I should check out Disney’s Tarzan, too. Does he still have the scream? Gotta have the scream, I say. Gotta have the scream.

WHEN THE EVERLASTING FIRST RETURNS: T is for:

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