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THE EVERLASTING FIRST: The Easybeats

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

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

Building upon our influences plays a large role in shaping who we are, and what we become. As a kid in the ’60s, and as a teenager in the ’70s, my personality, and my likes and dislikes, were molded in part by the pop culture I absorbed via TV, comic books, movies, and AM radio. A Hard Day’s Night. BatmanThe Monkees. Pulp paperbacks. Jukeboxes. DC ComicsMarvel ComicsGold Key Comics, all kinds comics. WNDR-and WOLF-AM in Syracuse. Throw in some baseball, some random 45s, some more TV (from Gilligan’s Island to The Guns Of Will Sonnett to Star Trek to Supersonic), some books on World War II, some DisneyMarx Brothers, and Jerry Lewis flicks, and some surreptitious glances at Lorrie Menconi and Barbi Benton in Playboy, and you have a partial portrait of the blogger as a young man.

Y’know, it ain’t polite to stare, mister!

And throw in some rock ‘n’ roll magazines, too. I’ve already written at length about the importance of the ’70s tabloid Phonograph Record Magazine, and I will still have more to write about PRM in future posts. I saw an issue of Circus some time in the mid-’70s, and I fell in love with Suzi Quatro when I saw her on the cover of the Rolling Stone. Later on, I’d immerse myself in Trouser PressCreemNew York RockerRock ScenePunkThe Pig Paper, and also a little thing called Goldmine, for which I freelanced for almost twenty years. But the most important single issue of any rock mag I ever read? No contest; that was the February 1978 issue Bomp! magazine: the power pop issue.

The way I read and re-read and re-re-read that issue, it’s a miracle its cover is still attached. I was 18. I was a fan of The BeatlesThe MonkeesThe KinksThe Raspberries, and The Ramones. I’d just seen The Flashcubes for the first time, so I was already a fan of theirs, too. The power pop issue of Bomp! was Heaven-sent, a manifesto for what I already believed, but couldn’t yet articulate. And its pages contained scores of recommendations for more acts I should check out as a nascent power pop acolyte, bands like The Flamin’ Groovies (whom I’d already heard, but needed to hear more), The CreationThe Dwight Twilley Band, and The Nerves; and there was quite a bit of coverage of some band called Big Star, and some group from the ’60s: an Australian band named The Easybeats.

Greg Shaw and Gary Sperrazza!, the auteurs behind Bomp!‘s power pop extravaganza, cited The Easybeats alongside The Kinks and The Who as power pop’s founding fathers. That’s pretty heady company to keep, so I certainly wanted to learn more about The Easybeats. If there were any Easybeats records in print in the U.S. in ’78, I wasn’t aware of them; I don’t think I could even find an Oldies 45 reissue of the group’s lone American hit, “Friday On My Mind.” So Easy Fever had to be deferred for me.

It may seem odd in retrospect that I’d never heard “Friday On My Mind,” but I don’t think I had. I finally heard it in–I think–the summer of ’78. Tip-A-Few, a bar on James Street in Eastwood, specialized in playing oldies while thirsty patrons tipped a few (or, sometimes, more than a few). The DJs at Tip-A-Few were armed with a massive collection of 45s–no need for LPs, because they would only play hit oldies–and I was there with decent frequency, tippin’ a few while requesting singles by Gene Pitney, The Beau BrummelsThe Knickerbockers, and The Fireballs. And, one night, I requested “Friday On My Mind” by The Easybeats.

I liked it, of course, It wasn’t immediately revelatory, but it was catchy rock ‘n’ roll music, and that was fine by me. That fall, I picked up a used copy of David Bowie‘s covers album, Pin Ups, which contained the former Mr. Jones’ take on “Friday On My Mind.” That track was, in fact, the very thing that prompted me to buy my first Bowie album, so yes indeed, thank you, Easybeats! I did eventually score an Oldies 45 of The Easybeats’ “Friday On My Mind,” a record which I grew to love more and more with each easy spin.

It took me a while to expand my Easybeats stash beyond that one 7″ single. In the mid-’80s, Rhino Records‘ The Best Of The Easybeats rewarded me with a glimpse into the true and enduring greatness of The Easybeats. “Friday On My Mind” was their only Stateside hit, and on some days I’ll agree it was their best track. But most days, I’ll dig in my heels, and I’ll insist, Yeah, “Friday On My Mind” is great, but “Sorry” is better!  “Sorry” struck me as the perfect melding of The Monkees and the early Who, so sign me up for a new religion based on those Australian pop gods, The Easybeats. “Good Times.” “Made My Bed (Gonna Lie In It).” “St. Louis.” “She’s So Fine.” “Sorry.” “Friday On My Mind.” Scripture. Chapter. Verse. Easy!

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THE GREATEST RECORD EVER MADE: Baby Blue

An infinite number of rockin’ pop records can be the greatest record ever made, as long as they take turns. Today, this is THE GREATEST RECORD EVER MADE!

Badfinger: “Baby Blue”

These guys sound like The Beatles!

When I was a teenager, AM radio was both a tether to the real world and a pipeline to an imagined (if not quite imaginary) world of awe and wonder. In Syracuse, in the early- to mid-’70s, WOLF and WNDR supplied the hooks and the hype, the very foundation of my formative rock ‘n’ roll dreams. Every new song was a potential revelation. Every new record was a new possibility.

My daughter tells me how much this has changed; she loves music as much as I do, but radio has become irrelevant. It’s still on in the car sometimes, when the iPod’s not available, but it’s background noise, a gray haze of commercials and forgettable music, punctuated occasionally (if at all) by something decent to listen to, briefly. Neither she nor her friends ever listen to radio at home; why would they? There’s nothing for them. There’s nothing for me. I can rarely tolerate listening to any commercial radio station for long, and it’s not the commercials that drive me away. It’s the music.

These guys sound like The Beatles!
I don’t remember which local DJ used that line, but I know I heard him use it at least twice. The second time, a couple of years later, he used it to describe The Raspberries, and I’m sure we’ll be discussing that in a future post here. To me, as a popsmacked young teen whose all-time favorite film was A Hard Day’s Night, there could be no higher praise. The radio knew what I wanted. And the first time the radio promised me a new band that sounded like The Beatles, the radio gave me a revelation. The radio gave me Badfinger.

I’m not sure which Badfinger hit inspired such fab praise. I know it wasn’t Badfinger’s first hit “Come And Get It,” a little ditty written by Beatle Paul; it could have been “No Matter What,” or “Day After Day,” both of which ruled my AM radio world with absolute, unquestioned authority. But it could also have been my favorite of favorites, The Greatest Record Ever Made: “Baby Blue.”

As noted above, the concept of The Greatest Record Ever Made maintains that an infinite number of records can be the greatest record ever made, as long as they take turns. But it’s not–it is never–faint praise. For a record to take its turn as The Greatest Record Ever Made, you have to believe it really is the best thing you’ve ever heard, or could ever hear, for the full three minutes and thirty seconds (or whatever) that it plays. In that moment, there is no other song. Objectivity can return to you later, after the record’s over, or you can effectively delay objectivity by just playing the damned record again. Screw objectivity–this is pop music! And what’s objectivity ever done for you, anyway?

“Baby Blue” qualifies. For 3:36 or thereabouts, “Baby Blue” takes everything that’s ever been great about rockin’ pop music and amplifies it and compresses it all into a sheer, harmony-laden, irresistible force.  There has never been a better single. There are others that can compete, in their own turn, but nothing–nothing–has ever topped it. It sounds like The Beatles. No, it’s better than The Beatles. Even as a twelve-year-old kid in 1972, certain to my innermost core that The Beatles were the sine qua non of pop music, I think I still knew in my heart: “Baby Blue” was even greater. Each time I hear it, I still believe that’s true.

Badfinger’s real life story is one of the most tragic tales in rock ‘n’ roll’s often tear-stained annals. But the music transcends its origin, rises above the show-biz treachery and human frailty that claimed the group itself. “Baby Blue” is the embodiment of why I fell in love with the radio in the first place, and an enduring testimony to why I still love radio’s potential, in spite of all efforts to make me give up on that love. Radio gave me Badfinger. I can never repay that debt.

Because these guys? They sounded like The Beatles. And I guess that’s all I have to say.

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Lights! Camera! REACTION! My Life At The Movies: Rock ‘N’ Roll


For me, it began with The Beatles. My first rock ‘n’ roll movie was A Hard Day’s Night in 1964, which I saw at The North Drive-In in Cicero, New York when I was four years old. Don’t worry, I’m not telling that story again here. That was a tough act to follow, but I managed to see–and even enjoy!–a few more jukebox flicks after that.

My second rock ‘n’ roll movie was Hold On!, an awful film vehicle for Herman’s Hermits in 1966. I’m sure I liked it at the time, but I’ve made a few attempts to sit through it again as an adult, and each time it was torture. Decent soundtrack LP, with “A Must To Avoid” and a version of “Where Were You When I Needed You” that predates The Grass Roots‘ hit version. The album meant a lot to me in the summer of ’78, when I routinely played it alongside my cache of punk and power pop. I own two copies of that LP, both more than slightly beat-up, one of them autographed by 4/5 of the original Hermits; I got autographs from Karl GreenDerek Leckenby, and Barry Whitwam (plus guitarist Frank Renshaw, who’d replaced Keith Hopwood) at a Hermits show in ’78, and added Peter Noone‘s signature many years later. I still like Herman’s Hermits. I still find Hold On! unwatchable.


I’m not exactly sure of my chronology of seeing rock movies after Hold On!, though I’m pretty sure I didn’t see any more of them until the ’70s. In whatever sequence, the Me Decade brought me opportunities to see the rest of The Beatles’ filmography: Help! on a local TV station’s afternoon matinee, Magical Mystery Tour and Let It Be on a double bill at The Hollywood Theater in Mattydale (same spot where I’d seen Hold On! years before), and Yellow Submarine…somewhere. I caught The Monkees‘ dark ‘n’ brilliant feature film Head on CBS‘ late movie; it had been shown in that slot previously, but preempted locally, and young teen me did indeed call Channel 5 to complain about that! When I finally did see Head, I didn’t really get it. Appreciation of the film (and its sublime soundtrack) would come in due time.

By the end of the ’70s, I’d also seen The Rolling Stones‘ disturbing Gimme Shelter and Elvis Presley‘s engaging Loving You on TV. I don’t know whether or not Loving You was my first Elvis film, but it was one of the few I liked, and I liked it and (eventually) Jailhouse Rock just fine. 1969’s A Change Of Habit? Not so much. I saw The Buddy Holly Story at the cineplex in 1978, and The Ramones‘ awesome Rock ‘n’ Roll High School screened at a nightclub called Uncle Sam‘s prior to live sets by The Flashcubes and The Ramones themselves. I saw 1978’s American Hot Wax (a far-from-factual dramatization of the life of DJ Alan Freed) well after the fact, but found it thoroughly entertaining, even as it ventured into the realm of science-fiction by showing the notoriously miserly Chuck Berry agreeing to perform for free–hokum, but engaging hokum!


I also saw Grease and Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band during their theatrical run; I liked the former at the time, and now say a full-on yechhh to both. I saw The Rocky Horror Picture Show at a matinee showing in the ballroom at college in 1978, with no knowledge of its attendant props and hoopla, and thought it was a hoot on its own merits. I didn’t experience the film’s legendary audience par-ti-ci-pation elements until subsequent viewings.

What else? Oh yeah: the tepid When The Boys Meet The Girls (with Herman’s Hermits and Sam the Sham & the Pharaohs) and Sonny & Cher in the fairly interesting Good Times on TV, both some time in the mid ’70s, and Cliff Richard in Expresso Bongo, as well. I dug The Girls On The Beach, whenever it was that I saw it. I must have seen some concert films at some point, but they were never really my thing, and the only one I remember right now is Chuck Berry’s Hail! Hail! Rock ‘n’ Roll. I always wanted to see more jukebox musicals in the tradition of A Hard Day’s Night and Help!, but opportunities were few and far between. I saw The Girl Can’t Help It–the first great rock ‘n’ roll movie!–on VH-S in the ’80s. I longed to see The Dave Clark Five in Having A Wild Weekend and Gerry & the Pacemakers in Ferry Cross The Mersey–hell, even Freddie & the Dreamers in Seaside Swingers–but there was just no chance to do that. I still haven’t seen the Pacemakers or Dreamers flicks, but I did see the DC5’s cinematic opus on TV in the late ’80s or thereabouts; Having A Wild Weekend was a much more downbeat movie than the fluffy trifle I had expected, but I loved it. I also saw Herman’s Hermits’ other film, Mrs.Brown, You’ve Got A Lovely Daughter, but it wasn’t much more palatable than Hold On! 
I admit that I liked Eddie And The Cruisers, though the original novel by P. F. Kluge is better. Director Allan Arkush‘s Get Crazy was nowhere near as great as his Rock ‘n’ Roll High School, and producer Roger Corman‘s Ramones-less Rock ‘n’ Roll High School Forever made Hold On! look like La Strada. I have never seen Repo ManThis Is Spinal Tap is still hilarious. Paul McCartney‘s Give My Regards To Broad Street had a great soundtrack staggering under a pedestrian film. I’ve seen most of the biopics over the years, from La Bamba to Ray to Walk The LineChadwick Boseman‘s portrayal of James Brown in Get On Up was the king of ’em all, y’all.

I’m sure I’ve forgotten something I should mention, but I’ve saved my favorite for last: 1996’s That Thing You Do! is a cavalcade of one-der, chronicling the short career of a fictional one-hit wonder band from Erie, PA in 1964. It has superb rockin’ pop music, winning performances, style, grace, humor, charm, and…everything. The scene where the members of The Wonders (and Fay, played by the lovely Liv Tyler) hear their song on the radio for the first time is the single greatest, most evocative expression of the pure joy of rock ‘n’ roll that has ever been captured on the screen. It’s even better than the We’re OUT! “Can’t Buy Me Love” scene in A Hard Day’s Night, which I’d say is the second most definitive such moment in filmdom. For decades, A Hard Day’s Night was not only my favorite rock ‘n’ roll movie, but my favorite movie of any description. That Thing You Do! has since claimed that top spot. The O-needers WIN!

I wish there were more jukebox movies, more rock ‘n’ roll flicks with a storyline (however flimsy) and wall-to-wall music. I wish there were more The Girl Can’t Help Its, more Help!s and Hard Day’s Nights, more Monkees, more Ramones, more That Thing You Do! In the ’70s, I imagined writing my own film vehicle for The Bay City Rollers, and in the ’80s thought of concocting a new wave successor to The Girl Can’t Help It, starring Bo Derek in Let’s Go Out Tonight! More recently for this blog, I slapped together a fanciful approximation of a 1958 movie called Jukebox Express, a movie which only exists in my mind. But I’d love to see it. I’d love to see all of these, real and fake alike. Screw documentaries. To hell with concert films. Gimme a jukebox flick any day.

Leather Tuscadero in Jukebox Express

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Lights! Camera! REACTION! My Life At The Movies

I’ve been trying to remember what could have been the first movies I ever saw. This was the early ’60s, long before there was any such thing as home video, so we’re talking about trips to the movie theater or drive-in. I suppose it’s possible I could have seen a movie on TV, but it’s not likely. My TV watching was exclusively devoted to cartoons, maybe some sitcoms, and kid’s shows like Shenanigans, our local institution Magic Toy Shop, and The Baron And His Buddies, the latter starring Mike Price as Syracuse’s own inimitable local TV vampire, Baron Daemon.

So , let’s say we’re looking around 1964, when I was four years old, or maybe even as early as three-year-old Carl in ’63. I remember occasional trips to The North Drive-In in nearby Cicero, piled into the car with family to see cartoons and a feature. There was a playground at the drive-in, right in front of the screen, for little ones like me to cavort ‘n’ frolic before the pictures started. I also remember wearing my pajamas in the car; the adults had a reasonable expectation that the kid would fall asleep long before the final credits rolled, so best be prepared to lift the li’l tyke outta the car and plop him in bed at evening’s end.

Although I remember all of the above, and I specifically remember seeing a Pixie And Dixie And Mr. Jinks cartoon at the drive-in, the earliest drive-in feature film I can specifically remember is The Beatles in A Hard Day’s Night. But I am certain that was not my first movie.

I think I have the answer narrowed down to four likely choices, though there could have been another forgotten trip to the cinema that predates all of them. But I know I saw the 1963 Disney animated film The Sword In The Stone, and I know I saw Don Knotts in the 1964 live action/animation hybrid The Incredible Mr. Limpet. Simple chronology suggests The Sword In The Stone would have been first, but it’s also possible I saw that film on second run, so who knows?

And it’s for damned sure I saw the 1964 blockbuster Mary Poppins at the movies, maybe at the drive-in (predating A Hard Day’s Night). Everyone saw Mary Poppins in 1964!

The fourth, vaguely-remembered flick in this group has been difficult to identify. I recall being in a movie theater–possibly in downtown Syracuse–when I was quite young; I remember a talking snake; and I remember a woman on screen, laughing. That’s it. My only other recollection is of us leaving the theater as this woman laughed; I would guess that the scene on screen rattled precious little me, leading to a decision that it was time for us to go. Bye bye, snake. By bye, laughing lady.

A little internet sleuthing leads me to believe this film was probably 7 Faces Of Dr. Lao, a 1964 fantasy film directed by George Pal and starring Tony Randall. I’ve never seen the film in its entirety–nor at all since we presumably made our hasty retreat from the movie house in 1964–but while the description and YouTube clips of the movie don’t precisely match my hazy memory, they’re close enough for me to call it. The intrepid Tony Randall played the title role, and a talking snake, and a laughing, creepy Medusa, among other parts. Eerie ookiness achieved–7 Faces Of Dr. Lao was one of the first movies I ever saw.

(One other movie worth mentioning in this context is Cinderfella, a 1960 Jerry Lewis flick. I was born in 1960, so I’ll go out on a limb here and conclude that I probably don’t remember seeing Cinderfella on its first run. But maybe a second [or third] run, at the drive-in? That would make sense. Let’s call it a kookie quintet of feature films, all mixed together in a photo-finish tie for the coveted title of Carl’s First Movie.)

I’m not a movie buff. I’ve always liked movies, but I don’t go to see an awful lot of them, nor do I catch up with many films on home video or on demand. I’ve never seen 2001: A Space Odyssey. I’ve never The Godfather. I’ve never seen a Hitchcock film, other than seeing part of The Birds once on TV. I don’t say any of this for shock value, nor to be smug or iconoclastic or dismissive of the art of film. I’m not proud of the movies I’ve missed, but I’m also not specifically motivated to correct these omissions in my film-seein’ resume.

This sporadic series of Lights! Camera! REACTION! will look at some of the films I have seen, examine my history as a filmgoer, and just generally chat about my life at the movies. Grab some popcorn, and shhhh! The lights are dimming. I’m ready for my close-up.
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