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“This Is the entry for The Spongetones’ 2017 induction into Aaron Kupferberg’s POWER POP HALL OF FAME.”
The early Beatles reborn, or an incredible simulation?
Taking inspiration from the Fab Four, Charlotte, North Carolina’s phenomenal pop combo The Spongetones have delighted discerning pop fans with avowedly Beatlesque hooks and harmonies. The group’s earliest efforts are engaging pastiches of Beatles ’65–much like The Rutles played straight–with each tune a familiar-sounding rummage through the British Invasion songbook. The appeal transcends mere mimicry; its magic lies not in where the group nicked its initial tricks, but in the self-assured manner in which such thefts became irresistible new pop confections. The greatness of The Spongetones has always been their ability to make all of this their own.
Now yesterday and today our theater’s been jammed with newspapermen and hundreds of photographers from all over the nation, and these veterans agreed with me that the city has never witnessed the excitement stirred by these youngsters from Liverpool who call themselves The Beatles. Now tonight you’re going to twice be entertained by them; right now, and in the second half of our show. Ladies and gentlemen, THE BEATLES!
I can’t say for sure that Jamie Hoover, Steve Stoeckel, Pat Walters, and Rob Thorne–the four young lads who would one day form The Spongetones–were all sprawled in front of black and white TV sets on the evening of February 9th, 1964, eagerly awaiting ol’ Stoneface Ed Sullivan‘s special guests The Beatles. But I betcha they were. They must have been. Because in America, that’s where everything we call power pop started. It’s not that The Beatles were the first great rock ‘n’ roll act; they were preceded by their own greatest influences, by Chuck Berry and Little Richard, Buddy Holly, Arthur Alexander, The Everly Brothers, Carl Perkins, Larry Williams, Jerry Lee Lewis, Motown, The Shirelles, and King Elvis I, plus those California guys The Beach Boys. But pop mania? The notion that the kids could make a noise heard ’round the world? The Beatles weren’t the first there either, but they were the ones that made it permanent, unstoppable. In 1979, a decade and a half after The Beatles reclaimed the colonies for Her Majesty, that unstoppable moptopped juggernaut begat The Spongetones.
The Beatles were a product of everything around them, their sound shaped by every imported American 45 they heard and every tinny AM signal they tried to tune in. The same was true of their followers, and it was certainly true of The Spongetones. The Spongetones listened to The Beatles, The Byrds, The Hollies, The Dave Clark Five, and every other pop sound that ever mattered. They listened. They learned. They created. They called their first album Beat Music, as if anyone could mistake their Mersey-bred goals for something else, for anything other than an early clue to the new direction. After their first album and EP, they began to leave overt Beatlemania behind, but they have continued to make stirring, timeless pop records that distill and expand upon the inspiration provided by the fabbest of sparks. Hoover, Stoeckel, and Walters are still Spongetones, with Chris Garges taking over the drummer’s seat. All together now!
Yeah (yeah yeah), all the Beatle references are fun and fitting. But don’t let the repeated reference fool you into thinking The Spongetones are anything less than what they are and always have been: one of the greatest groups that power pop has ever produced. The Spongetones’ music is a treasure to be savored, an enduring pleasure, a splendid time guaranteed for all. I’m sure they would be flattered by a comparison to The Beatles; they deserve to be recognized for their own ongoing, nonpareil contributions to this music we adore. From Beat Music through Scrambled Eggs, “She Goes Out With Everybody” through “Talking Around It,” with tracks like “(My Girl) Maryanne,” “Anna,” “Are You Gonna, Do You Need To (Love Me),” “Better Luck Next Time,” “You’ll Come Runnin’ Back,” and “Anyway Town” among the many gems perched proudly in between, The Spongetones’ music is just, well, their music. Today, The Spongetones finally take their well-earned place in The Power Pop Hall Of Fame. And you know that can’t be bad.
THE GREATEST RECORD EVER MADE! #34: The Spongetones, “My Girl Maryanne.”
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Born on this day in 1931, in Berlin, Germany, actress, Dana Wynter. Wynter had a nearly forty-year career, starring in Invasion of The Body Snatchers, Night Without Stars, Lady Godiva Rides Again and Airport.
When I was a teenager, I wanted to be an artist almost as much as I wanted to be a writer. I kept writing, and I got better at it; I didn’t really stick with the art to the extent that would have been necessary, so those skills never improved.
This is a piece I did for art class in 1976, when I was 16, a junior in high school. Honestly, although that date felt accurate, my unreliable memory didn’t think I took an art class during my junior year. But I did, and this was from that class:
The character of Agent 690: Man Of Action! was created by my friend Michael DeAngelo, intended as a one-off gag depicting me as an ass-kickin’ adventurer. Mike was a senior, and a much more accomplished artist than I was. We collaborated on comic strips for our high school literary magazine The NorthCaster. Those collaborations were strictly writer-and-artist, with me cobbling together the words and situations and Mike providing the pretty or gritty pictures necessary to tell the story. I had hoped we could take that collaboration to a higher level, working for DC Comics as the next Denny O’Neil and Neal Adams, but the good folks at DC did not share my enthusiasm, and our Batman submission drew nothing more than a polite rejection slip.
Mike’s father Richard DeAngelo was my 11th-grade art teacher, and possibly my 10th-grade art teacher, too. Mr. DeAngelo was NOT–big letters, in italics, and what the hell, let’s put it in bold NOT–the high school art teacher referenced in my reminiscence The Jack Mystery Story, the teacher who told my parents he had to break me. No, no, no. Mr. DeAngelo may not have been terribly impressed with my prowess as an art student, but he never really discouraged me; that was my freshman art teacher, who I guess figured it was his job to crush the uppity art-makin’ aspirations previously nurtured by my eighth grade art teacher John DiGesare. Mr. DeAngelo did throw me out of his house once–I spent quite a bit of time there, visiting Mike and later on his younger sister Lissa–but that’s another story.
(There’s also a story–perhaps apocryphal–that Mr. DeAngelo, as an active member of the local arts community, invited John Lennon and Yoko Ono to his house when Yoko’s This Is Not Here exhibit was at the Everson Museum in 1971, and that they accepted his invitation. But I digress.)
Anyway. I don’t remember whether or not I asked Mike if I could use Agent 690 for my own one-off art project, but use him I did. The result was silly and inconsequential, but I was 16, and I look back upon it fondly.
When He THOUGHT He Was An Artist! returns: before Agent 690, I did another one-off comic strip for Mr. DeAngelo’s class, a dark ‘n’ gritty superhero tale called Hero. My apparent lack of shame means it will post here soon.
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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.
The many fine This Is Rock ‘n’ Roll Radio compilation albums are still available, each full of that rockin’ pop sound you crave. A portion of all sales benefit our perpetually cash-strapped community radio project:
Volume 1: downloadVolume 2: CD or downloadVolume 3: downloadVolume 4: CD or downloadWaterloo Sunset–Benefit For This Is Rock ‘n’ Roll Radio: CD or download
Hey, Carl’s writin’ a book! The Greatest Record Ever Made! (Volume 1) will contain 134 essays about 134 tracks, each one of ’em THE greatest record ever made. An infinite number of records can each be the greatest record ever made, as long as they take turns. Updated initial information can be seen here: THE GREATEST RECORD EVER MADE! (Volume 1).
Born on this day in 1912, in Barahona, Dominican Republic, actress Maria Montez. She starred in several Universal Pictures films, including The Invisible Woman. She went on to star in many Technicolor adventure epics like Arabian Nights and Tangier.
Big Stir Singles: The Tenth Wave (Big Stir Records 2021)
Chaos and confusion often produces great art – and the disastrous year of 2020 certainly motivated many musicians to flock to the studio and transmit their thoughts onto tape. That said, the main thrust of material on Big Stir Singles: The Tenth Wave, which involves singles released between October and December 2020, addresses and comments on the pandemic pandemonium. But this is no dreary affair, as the disc buzzes with energy, moments of humor and wit, and visions of a better day.
Connoisseurs of quirky British pop stationed in the seat of XTC and Robyn Hitchcock are sure to glean much pleasure from Whelligan’s Anyone Who Never Had A Heart and the psychedelic-tinted Rabid Hole. Then there’s NPFO Stratagem checking in with a cocktail lounge version of Jello Biafra’s Nazi Punks Fuck Off, along with an enthused take of Ringo Starr’s Back Off Boogaloo.
Popdudes also join the cover game via The Guess Who’s powerful Share The Land and the gorgeously silky soul of O-o-h Child that was a hit in 1969 for The Five Stairsteps.
October Surprise signs on with the hypnotic sing-songy rhythms of (Just Can’t See) The Attraction and a sophisticated rendition of John Cale’s Paris 1919, where D.F.E’s I Say We Take Off And Nuke The Site From Orbit contains a mesmerizing mishmash of grunge rock, experimental pop and weird psychedelic effects. Both bands are actually pseudonyms for The Armoires, the revered Burbank, California based group featuring Big Stir label owners Rex Broome and Christina Bulbenko. The band birthed a string of fantastic singles under different names that have recently been issued as a complete album, cleverly titled Incognito as The Armoires.
Navigated by a nasty sneer, the hard-edged bite of Funhouse by The Incurables blends punk elements with heavy metal guitar flash in a highly appealing manner, The Speed Of Sound’s choppy and economical Radio State spawns a solid Lou Reed influence, and mylittlebrother’s Song About Amsterdam clicks and clacks to a vaudeviile vibe before turning into something resembling a Hungarian waltz.
The Ice Cream Hands deliver a real showstopper with Can You Feel My Love, which gushes and glows with divine harmonies, exuberant melodies and polished arrangements. Generated by chiming Byrds– inspired guitars and intoxicating hooks and breaks, Octagon from the dynamic duo of Anton Barbeau and Allyson Seconds plugs in as another utterly flawless piece of pop rock magic, as well as Nick Frater’s California Waits, that streams forth to a swinging and spunky temper attired in dapper instrumentation and rich and radiant vocals.
For the past two years, our good friends from the Big Stir headquarters have been knocking out singles on a weekly basis, resulting in a series of universally acclaimed albums. Big Stir Singles: The Tenth Wave marks the final episode of this particular odyssey. But have no fear, because these creative folks are on a roll and will eternally unleash the kind of cool and crafty fare we have come to expect from them.