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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 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.