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The Spongetones : The Power Pop Hall Of Fame

“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 HooverSteve StoeckelPat 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 RichardBuddy HollyArthur AlexanderThe Everly BrothersCarl PerkinsLarry WilliamsJerry Lee LewisMotownThe 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 ByrdsThe HolliesThe 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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THE EVERLASTING FIRST: Artful Dodger

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.

I very, very much recommend you add a copy of this CD set to your collection.

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

Was Fairfax, Virginia’s phenomenal pop combo Artful Dodger mentioned in Bomp! magazine’s epic 1978 power pop issue? Either way, the earliest memory of Artful Dodger I can summon would be from Cleveland Scene magazine, a tabloid I used to see sometimes when I visited my sister Denise in Cleveland Heights. I think it was a review of an Artful Dodger show (possibly at The Agora), and the review mentioned that Artful Dodger’s set included a cover of The Dave Clark Five‘s “Any Way You Want It.” Well! In 1978, one way to get my attention was to cover the DC5. But I don’t remember hearing any of Artful Dodger’s music anywhere, so I didn’t really pursue the matter.

In the summer of ’79, I got my first real six-string (bought it at the five-and-dime)…wait, wrong summer, and wrong performer reference. Artful Dodger came to town that summer for a show at Stage East in East Syracuse, with Syracuse’s own power pop powerhouse The Flashcubes opening. If I have the story straight, Artful Dodger played a sparsely-attended Stage East gig the previous week; after three albums that didn’t sell as well as anyone hoped, the band was nearing the end of its tenure with Columbia Records, but hadn’t quite given up on makin’ a grab for that damned elusive brass ring. A second Stage East gig was scheduled, with The Flashcubes (who had a large local following) added to the bill; as an added incentive, the first 100 ladies admitted would receive a copy of The Flashcubes’ most recent single, “Wait Till Next Week”/”Radio,” while the first 100 guys would receive an Artful Dodger EP.  The Flashcubes did radio commercials for the gig, with ‘Cubes drummer Tommy Allen referring to Artful Dodger as “one of the great pop-rock acts of our time.” The message: Get to Stage East to see Artful Dodger, you lot!

The gig itself hit a snag early on: with so much of the crowd drawn there specifically by The Flashcubes–and specifically there to see The Flashcubes–the fans were reluctant to let The Flashcubes finish their opening set and make way for the headliners. The ‘Cubes kept getting called back for encores, until our local lads finally put their collective foot down, announcing that they were done for the night. ‘Cubes bassist Gary Frenay all but pleaded with the crowd to get set for Artful Dodger, “a really great band!,” as the ‘Cubes were finally allowed to leave the stage.

By this time, I guess Artful Dodger had a lot to prove to a skeptical crowd. I wasn’t among the skeptical–I was eager to hear AD for the first time–but I was unprepared for the pinpoint accuracy of Tommy and Gary’s description of Artful Dodger: A really great band? One of the great pop-rock acts of our time? Yes. Oh God, yes!

Artful Dodger seemed like a perfect combination of the best aspects of The Faces and Badfinger, with lead singer Billy Paliselli‘s raspy vocals calling to mind Rod Stewart, and the band’s rockin’ crunch conjuring a meeting of Ron Wood‘s swagger and the power-pop dynamics of Pete Ham and Joey Molland.  I was mesmerized. Granted, I had a pretty good buzz on by now, after an evening at the bar with my pals, but the Artful Dodger boys delivered on their end of the bargain, with a ready ‘n’ steady supply of hook-filled rock ‘n’ roll music. They didn’t do any DC5 material–the only cover I remember from that night is Chuck Berry‘s “Sweet Little Rock ‘n’ Roller”–but they earned my allegiance with their original material. I was particularly captivated by “It’s Over,” a mid-tempo number, drawn out in its live incarnation by a hypmotizin’ extension of its musical intro. From that evening on, I consider myself at home as an Artful Dodger fan.

The next day, I played the Artful Dodger EP that my Y chromosome had awarded me at Stage East’s door: four songs from the group’s eponymous 1975 debut album: “It’s Over,””Wayside,””Think Think,” and my favorite, “Follow Me.”  I eventually acquired all four of Artful Dodger’s LPs, and re-acquired the first two in the CD format, but my Artful Dodger collection began with that EP.

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Didn’t Hear THAT Coming! (Unexpected Covers In Concert): DAVID JOHANSEN, “Hot Stuff”

Didn’t Hear THAT Coming! (Unexpected Covers In Concert) discusses songs I was surprised to hear covered in a live show by an act I’d gone to see.
Cover songs can add zip and spark to a rock ‘n’ roll group’s live repertoire. In their earliest gigs, most groups start out playing covers, and integrate more of their own original material into their sets as they play more dates, develop more of an identity, and attract more fans with an interest beyond just hearing bar-band interpretations of songs associated with other acts. It’s a basic long-term strategy for groups hoping to get noticed, to get somewhere; there’s a reason The Rolling Stones cut back on Chuck Berry songs and started writing their own material.

Still, a well-placed cover tune can enhance a live set, while the wrong choice can result in irritating a fan who doesn’t want to hear a fave rave act pandering to a lower common denominator. Whether it works or falls flat, the unexpected cover prompts us to say, “Wow–didn’t hear THAT coming!”

In the late ’70s, disco and punk were supposed to be at war with each other. As a self-professed punk rocker in that era, I can attest that, yeah, punks didn’t like disco, and the bumpin’-n-hustlin’ set was appalled by the loud and fast noise my people favored. Hatfields and Capulets, meet McCoys and Montagues. Never mind the fact that the mainstream rock crowd held both punk and disco in nearly equal disdain; this was war!
Except that it wasn’t. I’m skeptical of the notion that many of the Saturday Night Fevered ever took much interest in The Damned or The Dead Boys, but some among the new wave brigade did eventually allow their ears and minds to be a bit more open to non-pogo dance music, to the beat of dat ole debbil disco. Maybe it was just me, but I was a pop fan anyway; my intense dislike of disco music evolved into occasional tolerance, and tolerance evolved into a sporadic realization that some of the records weren’t bad. Plus, Donna Summer was gorgeous. I feel love.

At the age of 19 in 1979, my belated discovery and embrace of early ’70s proto-punks The New York Dolls was still at an early stage. My local Syracuse heroes The Flashcubes introduced me to the Dolls’ classic “Personality Crisis” via their own Cubic live cover in ’78. By the end of my spring ’79 semester at college in Brockport, I think I may have heard former Dolls lead singer David Johansen‘s solo track “Funky But Chic” on the Brockport campus radio station WBSU. I had heard a handful of Dolls tracks, “Personality Crisis,” “Who Are The Mystery Girls?,” and probably “Babylon,” and I was aware of the group’s importance at Ground Zero of my cherished punk movement. Given an opportunity to see ex-Doll David Johansen live, with The Flashcubes opening the show, I had just enough basic familiarity with the headliner (and abundant enthusiasm for the opening act) to declare there was no way in Hell I was missing that show.

The show took place at The Slide Inn in Syracuse. A quick check of Pete Murray’s Flashcubes timeline reveals that the date was 7/26/79. Prior to reconciliation and reunions in later years, it was the last time I saw the original line-up of the ‘Cubes, just a few days before guitarist Paul Armstrong parted company with the group, ejected over musical differences. With no knowledge of the tension within The Flashcubes at the time, I just thoroughly enjoyed their set, a set which included my first exposure to a trio of ‘Cubes originals: Paul’s “You’re Not The Liar,” Gary Frenay‘s “I Wanna Stay All Night,” and Arty Lenin‘s “Nothing Really Matters When You’re Young.”

The David Johansen Group were amazing. Johansen’s fellow former Doll Sylvain Sylvain was no longer in David’s group by the time I saw them, but it was an incredible show nonetheless. It didn’t matter at all that I didn’t know many of the songs; I knew ’em by the end of the show. “Frenchette,” in particular, floored me, and I immediately adored “Cool Metro” and “I’m A Lover,” all three of those gems turning out to be from Johansen’s eponymous debut solo album, an LP I purchased not long after hearing it played live at the Slide.

Johansen and company also did a little bit of Dolls material: “Babylon” and their Bo Diddley cover, “Pills.” The encore was “Personality Crisis.”

If you’re familiar with the Dolls’ original recording of “Personality Crisis,” you know there’s a pause in the song just before its two-minute mark, followed by Johansen whooping And you’re a prima ballerina on a spring afternoon!, the band returning as well with wolf-whistles and guitar grunge. In a live performance of the song, it’s a natural spot to throw in a snippet of a different song as a willful non sequitur, illustrating the schizophrenic nature of a personality crisis. In ’79, I think I’d read in Trouser Press that Johansen was doing “Personality Crisis” as an unlikely medley with Bonnie Tyler‘s “It’s A Heartache” (a song which channeled Rod Stewart so effectively that I thought Bonnie was Rod; she was, in fact, bigger than Rod). That night at the Slide, I’m sure I half-expected to hear “It’s A Heartache” in the middle of “Personality Crisis.”

But…no. The song’s pause came, and a familiar guitar riff suddenly filled the Slide, as patrons like me, with senses slowed by beer, struggled to mentally name that tune in…OH MY GOD, IT’S DONNA SUMMER!!

I guess the divine Miss S actually appearing at the Slide to duet with David Jo would have been a bigger surprise than just hearing him sing a Summer song, but maybe not by much. Sittin’ here eatin’ my heart out waitin’, waitin’ for some lover to call. “Hot Stuff.” Donna Summer. One could argue that Summer’s own version of “Hot Stuff” was already more of a rock song than it was a disco song. It certainly rocked in the capable hands of The David Johansen Group. 

The connection was monumental. We were punks and rockers, boppin’ with unironic intent to a song–a great song–by the reigning queen of disco. Johansen’s short cover was faithful and true, so we couldn’t claim he’d somehow redeemed the song. The song was already great; our own closed ears may have made us deaf to its charm. Until that instant.

This wasn’t my first realization that maybe some disco or disco-related music wasn’t necessarily awful. I already liked Donna Summer’s percolatin’ hit “I Feel Love,” and (as I’ve noted elsewhere) I’d already approved of “In The Navy” by The Village People, figuring that the sound of an openly gay group chanting They want you! They want you! They want you as a new recruit! on American Top 40 radio was more punk than The Sex Pistols.

But David Johansen singing Donna Summer, even if it was just an excerpt of one of her songs, performed and contained within a cantankerous classic by The New York Dolls, was an irresistible manifesto for a brokered peace between the battling factions of punk, disco, and rock ‘n’ roll. Cease fire. War is over if you want it.

Yeah, I know it wasn’t really that simple. Schisms remained, and would remain. But I saw. I heard. I wasn’t alone in that. By the ’80s, as punk and new wave had slid into new (later alternative) music and disco’s commercial day had passed for the time being, lines continued to blur. Much of the mainstream rock crowd still hated us, but that was okay. We were fighting the good fight. Looking for a lover who needs another, don’t want another night on my own. Fall in, troops. No sleep ’til victory. A New York Doll says Donna Summer’s here, and the time is right for dancing in the streets. 

WHEN DIDN’T HEAR THAT COMING! RETURNS: Love, The Bangles

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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 133 essays about 133 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).

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Didn’t Hear THAT Coming! (Unexpected Covers In Concert): THE FLASHCUBES, “Mrs. Brown You’ve Got A Lovely Daughter”

THE FLASHCUBES: Arty Lenin, Tommy Allen, Gary Frenay, Paul Armstrong

Didn’t Hear THAT Coming! (Unexpected Covers In Concert) discusses songs I was surprised to hear covered in a live show by an act I’d gone to see.
Cover songs can add zip and spark to a rock ‘n’ roll group’s live repertoire. In their earliest gigs, most groups start out playing covers, and integrate more of their own original material into their sets as they play more dates, develop more of an identity, and attract more fans with an interest beyond just hearing bar-band interpretations of songs associated with other acts. It’s a basic long-term strategy for groups hoping to get noticed, to get somewhere; there’s a reason The Rolling Stones cut back on Chuck Berry songs and started writing their own material.

Still, a well-placed cover tune can enhance a live set, while the wrong choice can result in irritating a fan who doesn’t want to hear a fave rave act pandering to a lower common denominator. Whether it works or falls flat, the unexpected cover prompts us to say, “Wow–didn’t hear THAT coming!”

THE FLASHCUBES: Mrs. Brown You’ve Got A Lovely Daughter [Herman’s Hermits]
I believe I’ve already mentioned that I kinda like Syracuse’s own power pop powerhouse The Flashcubes; insisting that my all-time favorite groups are The BeatlesThe Ramones, and The Flashcubes is a pretty direct statement, right? ‘Cubes shows in 1977 and ’78 included a lot of covers; as time went on, the bulk of their set lists became (rightfully) dominated by their own compositions.

The Flashcubes had terrific taste in covers, encompassing ’60s British Invasion, ’70s punk, power pop, new wave, and Eddie Cochran. The ‘Cubes introduced me to the music of The New York DollsBig StarChris Spedding, and Eddie & the Hot Rods. They covered The TroggsThe JamThe HolliesTelevisionThe RaspberriesThe Sex PistolsThe Yardbirds, and “Dizzy Miss Lizzy.” 

And The Flashcubes covered Herman’s Hermits. Just, y’know, usually not the song listed above.

“A Must To Avoid” was the Hermits track that eventually made its way onto Cubic set lists, a song ready-made for live power pop (though the ‘Cubes always skipped its final verse, presumably to keep it lean ‘n’ stripped). But one night in 1978, upstairs at either The Orange or The Firebarn, the ‘Cubes did a seemingly impromptu snippet of “Mrs. Brown You’ve Got A Lovely Daughter.” They were introducing a Sex Pistols cover, guitarist Paul Armstrong saying they were going to do a song by a group that had just broken up. “The Beatles…?!,” bassist Gary Frenay joked. “No,” said Armstrong, “and it’s not Herman’s Hermits either.”

For dramatic purposes, the part of Mrs. Brown’s lovely daughter will be played by the lovely actress Pamela Sue Martin

At which point guitarist Arty Lenin started picking the distinctive faux ukulele intro to “Mrs. Brown.” Paul paused, conferred with Arty, who then resumed his picking as Paul joined in briefly to wail along, Missus Brown you’ve gahht a luuuuvleeee dawwwwwwwterrr…! Drummer Tommy Allen may have thrown in a rim shot, completing this Borscht Belt power pop connection. The gag completed, The Flashcubes launched into their planned cover of either “God Save The Queen” or “Pretty Vacant.” 

She’s so lovely, she’s so lovely…she’s a DAUGHTER…!

Was this whole schtick planned out in advance? Maybe. Probably? If so, The Flashcubes pulled off the illusion of spontaneity with grace and aplomb, perhaps not a phrase often applied to the clattering Wall of Noise that defined the sound of Flashcubes ’78. 

My memory insists that I witnessed Arty throw in his “Mrs. Brown” lick during at least one other Flashcubes show, that time without Paul Armstrong channeling a punk Peter Noone. If he ever did it again, it was still an isolated incident. “Mrs. Brown You’ve Got A Lovely Daughter” would not be listed in any document of songs The Flashcubes ever covered. But I saw it. I heard it. I just didn’t hear it coming.

WHEN DIDN’T HEAR THAT COMING! RETURNS: David Johansen sings disco!

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You can support this blog by becoming a patron on Patreon: Fund me, baby! 
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: download
Volume 2: CD or download
Volume 3: download
Volume 4: CD or download
Waterloo 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 100 essays (and then some) about 100 tracks, plus two bonus instrumentals, 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).

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The Greatest Record Ever Made: “This Year’s Gonna Be Our Year”

“Columnist Carl Cafarelli originally posted this on his 59th birthday in 2019, and it will be included in his book The Greatest Record Ever Made! (Volume 1). The sentiment seems appropriate as we prepare to kick 2020 to the curb. Here’s to 2021 being our year.”

EYTAN MIRSKY: “This Year’s Gonna Be Our Year”
Annus mirabilus. The ideal of the miracle year is intriguing, enticing, yet elusive, and damned near unattainable. We touch it sometimes, briefly. Our favorite sports team exceeds expectations. Our favorite performer delivers a brand new masterpiece, a film or novel or record that thrills our ever-fannish spirits. We connect with the one we love the most, and our hearts rise to a higher horizon. Something great happens to friends or family, or something great happens directly to us, and we feel the elation of miracle. This year…!
That euphoria is short-lived. Setbacks temper our optimism. We win, we lose, we remain precariously steady in place, all with varying and unequal proportion. People leave our lives, whether through death or distance, sudden discord, changes in goals, or a simple freakin’ fork in the road. Time. See what’s become of us.

But as we reach the calendar’s final crumpled page, and we crawl from the rubble of the preceding twelve months’ accumulated yin and yang, we still hope for something better beginning. Our new year’s resolution may be survive and advance. But more than that, no matter how much past experience insists we should expect neither miracles nor miracle years, some resilient spark within us may still whisper, This year’s gonna be our year.

In pop music–a cherished refuge for fragile hopes and unsteady ambition–the feeling is expressed elegantly by The Zombies in their delicate wonder “This Will Be Our Year.” It’s my favorite Zombies track, which is saying something when we’re talking about the group that did “She’s Not There,” “Time Of The Season,” “Care Of Cell 44,” “A Rose For Emily,” and so many more perfect, polished gems. For all that, though, the ultimate reconciliation of facing long, crushing odds and forging ahead anyway has gotta be “This Year’s Gonna Be Our Year” by singer-songwriter Eytan Mirsky.

Do you know Eytan? He’s had some success as a song-seller for film soundtracks, crafting tunes for The Tao Of Steve (“[I Just Want To Be] Your Steve McQueen,” sung by Eytan), Happiness (the title song, sung in the film by actress Jane Adams and during the credits by Michael Stipe and Rain Phoenix), and American Splendor (the title song, sung by Eytan on screen). He’s released six albums from 1996 through 2016, with a new one on the way, and he’s recorded a number of additional tracks for various compilations and tribute albums. His public persona is a snarky Everyman, and he’s made a lot of really good music. If you’re a rockin’ pop fan, you should get to know Eytan Mirsky. You should most especially get to know “This Year’s Gonna Be Our Year,” the lead track on Eytan’s 2012 album Year Of The Mouse

Do you remember
Way back in January
The way we had it all worked out?
Knew what we wanted
Knew what to do to get it
If there was ever any doubt
Then we’d say
This year’s gonna be our year
Don’t you know it’s gonna be our year now
Much better than last year
Which wasn’t good at all

Confidence. Forward! This year’s the year. I know it. I think I know it.

But it so rarely works out that way.
Do you remember
The way we felt in August
When nothing seemed to go as planned?
We didn’t waver
We never hesitated
‘Cause it was time to make a stand
And we said
This year’s gonna be our year…

At what point do we give up? When is it time to concede, to surrender?

Today is my 59th birthday. It’s a number neither great nor small, not ancient, not new. My brain thinks I’m a teenager. There are days when my body’s aches and my mind’s troubles seem like even more than just under six decades of dead weight. There’s so much to do. Sometimes, I don’t want to do any of it. 

But things get done. Bills are paid, responsibilities met. Goodbyes. Hellos renewed. Laughter gives way to tears, but laughter returns. I still know delight and wonder. I have my superhero comic books. I listen to my invigorating pop music, my loud rock ‘n’ roll. I read, I watch TV, I follow the ups and downs of my basketball team. I like food. I enjoy a cup of coffee in the morning more than I ever enjoyed a beer at night. I still enjoy a beer at night. I love, family and friends. I write. I look at my wife, and randomly say to her, “You’re pretty;” every mundane task we do together, I call a date. Hugs and kisses. I clear the snow from my driveway, and set my car’s radio to magnetic North. 

And now we’ve reached December
And it’s been so disappointing
That we’re glad this sorry year’s about to end
But in just a little while
We’ll be back in January
And you know we’re gonna start it all again
And we’ll say
This year’s gonna be our year
Don’t you know it’s gonna be our year now
Much better than last year
And the year before
Guitars and drums. Harmony. Purpose. Eytan sings, and we know he’s right.

Every year, and every moment of every year, we will discover that our path has been blocked. We will overcome the obstacles, until the day comes that we can no longer overcome them. Today isn’t that day. Not now. Not yet. We haven’t quite exhausted our supply of miracles. Like freedom fighters, abolitionists, and suffragettes before us. Like Tom Joad moving his family west, or Green Lantern vowing to shed his light over dark evil, for the dark things cannot stand the light. Allen Ginsberg putting his queer shoulder to the wheel. ElvisChuck BerryRosa ParksThe Beatles aiming for the toppermost of the poppermost. Lesley Gore singing “You Don’t Own Me.” The miracle MetsBarack Obama insisting Yes, we can. Malala. Anyone who’s ever looked ahead and seen the promise of possibility, the odds against us be damned. Win or lose. This year. Annus mirabilus. This year’s gonna be our year. 

It must be true. I have a song that says so. This year, man. This year.

“This Year’s Gonna Be Our Year” written by Eytan Mirsky, Mirsky Mouse Music BMI
You can hear the song hereand order music from Eytan here.

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You can support this blog by becoming a patron on Patreon: Fund me, baby! 
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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Bryan Adams / Run Rudolph Run

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Pop Sunday

Ten Songs For Your Holiday Listening Pleasure

Chuck Berry “Run Rudolph Run” (1958) Stamped with the late great fretmaster’s characteristic cycling chord patterns, “Run Rudolph Run” urges the iconic reindeer with the shiny nose to hurry up and get those presents to the good little boys and girls. “All I want for Christmas is a rock and roll electric guitar,” sings Chuck, which sixty-odd years later remains a staple on many a wish list. 

Wizzard “I Wish It Could Be Christmas Every Day” (1973) Fronted by Roy Wood – whose previous claims to fame included posts with The Move and Electric Light Orchestra – Wizzard were key players on the British glam rock scene of the early seventies. Triggered by the ding of a cash register and clanking coins, “I Wish It Could Be Christmas Every Day” is bundled tight in a glossy package, booming with glistening melodies and the elated pitch of a children’s choir.

Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers “Christmas All Over Again” (1992) Gleaming and streaming with Tom’s signature southern drawl and jangling guitar motifs, “Christmas All Over Again” is so giddy that even Scrooge would enjoy the song. Perky piano passages and a quickie drum solo are icing on the sugar cookie. 

George Thorogood and The Destroyers “Rock And Roll Christmas” (1983) So festive is “Rock And Roll Christmas” that you can almost taste the eggnog and kisses under the mistletoe dripping from the grooves. Accented by the duel drive of George’s rehashed Chuck Berry riffs and the bellowing bray of a saxophone, here’s a song geared for cutting the rug with a goofy grin on your face.

The Kinks “Father Christmas” (1977) From the witty pen and fertile imagination of Kinks lead singer Ray Davies, “Father Christmas” is a darkly humorous narrative of a department store Santa Claus who is mugged by a gang of juvenile thugs. The kids don’t want “silly toys,” they want money. Contagiously hooky, “Father Christmas” is set to a lively cadence that belies the tragic storyline.

The Waitresses “Christmas Wrapping” (1981) The holidays are stressing her out and she is spending Christmas alone, yet that only skims the surface of “Christmas Wrapping,” which additionally shares the tale of meeting a fellow earlier in the year. Phone numbers were exchanged, but schedules didn’t match so they were unable to get together. She coincidentally bumps into the guy while grocery shopping for cranberry sauce, and you can guess what happens from there. A fusion of funk, disco and rap, compounded by a new wave quirkness stand as the exciting elements behind “Christmas Wrapping” that entail red hot horn arrangements, nimble six-string strumming and cool vocals tending to border on talking rather than singing. 

Stevie Wonder “Someday At Christmas” (1967) A teenage Stevie Wonder executes “Someday At Christmas” in an easygoing manner, rich with warmth and maturity that confutes his youth. Shaped of a spiritual nature, the gorgeous song contains prose visualizing a Utopian existence on earth, where peace, love, social and racial unity, and the absence of war are a reality. Illuminated by vibrant vocals, catchy harmonica fills and a spot of elegant orchestration, “Someday At Christmas” dispatches a positive message with honesty and integrity.

Bob Seger and The Last Heard “Sock It To Me Santa” (1966) Prior to obtaining worldwide recognition with the Silver Bullet Band, Bob Seger experienced an impressive amount of regional acclaim in and around the Michigan area, where he hailed from. Stealing the core lick of James Brown’s funk classic, “Papa’s Got A Brand New Bag” – not to mention its title but changing the lyrics to “Santa’s got a brand new bag” – Bob Seger and The Last Heard created a rousing ruckus of garage rocking blue-eyed soul in the mold of Mitch Ryder and The Detroit Wheels. Name checking reindeer, a reference to Santa’s tubby tummy and wanting a baseball bat and bike for Christmas are some of the things covered in the fast-paced sonic stocking stuffer. Ho ho ho! 

The Blues Magoos “Jingle Bells”/”Santa Claus Is Coming To Town” (1967) The psychedelic lollipopsters deliver a double  whammy on this smashing single featuring unusual versions of traditional Christmas songs. Thudding with power, “Jingle Bells” echoes the hard and heavy rock of Vanilla Fudge, where “Santa Claus Is Coming To Town” swings and swaggers to a jazzy bent.

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Pop-A-Looza TV

Bryan Adams / Run Rudolph Run

Categories
Boppin'

The Greatest Record Ever Made : Lies


Jimmy Walker
 of The Knickerbockers passed away last week. This is a chapter from my forthcoming book The Greatest Record Ever Made! (Volume 1).
An infinite number of songs can each be THE greatest record ever made, as long as they take turns. Today, 
this is THE GREATEST RECORD EVER MADE!

THE KNICKERBOCKERS: “Lies”Imitation and inspiration are two very different things. We generally have less regard for the former, but recognize that nothing worthwhile can be sparked without the latter. And some imitations are inspired. Many Beatles fans adore The Rutles, and also Utopia‘s Deface The Music, both of which are able and engaging tributes, copying familiar Beatles songs, rewriting them, and reframing them as something almost new. The result is sincere flattery, but compellingand interesting sincere flattery. 
The Beatles inspired more than just imitation, though. The Beatles certainly drew from their own gumbo of influences–Chuck BerryLittle RichardBuddy HollyCarl PerkinsThe Everly BrothersThe ShirellesArthur Alexander–and evolved from imitation to divine inspiration. Some acts set out to imitate The Beatles in some way and became inspired to be more than imitation: to become The Byrds, to craft the sublime majesty of Pet Sounds, to invent ’70s punk rock as simply as a rapid-fire count-off of 1-2-3-4!  Let’s be The Beatles, lads. And then let’s be something we can call our own.
Most would think of “Lies” by The Knickerbockers as imitation, a greed-driven attempt to recreate the sound of The Beatles, maybe even to fool the gullible into thinking it is The Beatles. When I first heard it, my immediate reaction was that it sounded more like The Beatles than The Beatles did. So yeah (yeah yeah), I guess it is imitation. But it’s imitation with a vision, and it is still so much more than just that.

At first glance, The Knickerbockers would seem an unlikely source for rockin’ pop transcendence. I don’t mean to be disrespectful when I say that The Knickerbockers never looked cool, because–let’s face it!–I’ve never looked cool either. The group started out in Bergenfield, New Jersey in 1962, and they were not in any way ahead of their time. They were a cover band. They imitated. They got people to dance, which is good, but they could make no claim to greatness. 
Until, suddenly, they could make that claim.

Founding members Beau Charles and John Charles–brothers, on guitar and bass respectively–were joined by newer Knicks Buddy Randell (sax) and Jimmy Walker (drums) in 1964. They were still primarily a covers act. Their first two albums, Lloyd Thaxton Presents The Knickerbockers and Jerk And Twine Time (both from ’64), were without distinction. Either or both could be erased from history without affecting the time-space continuum in the slightest.
Given that: where the hell did “Lies” come from…?!

The Beatles were pop music in ’64 and ’65. There were lots and lots of other great stuff happening, from James Brown to Paul Revere & the RaidersMotown to girl groups, Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass to Wilson PickettThe Rolling StonesThe KinksStax, and Louis Armstrong, even. But The Beatles ruled, by perception and acclaim, their fab reign and domain reflected in influence, imitation, and inspiration. Beatlemania inspired The Knickerbockers.
“Lies” was written by Buddy Randell and Beau Charles. The Knickerbockers’ previous records had been competent and bland, bordering on the anonymous. Coming after those forgettable works, “Lies” seemed to scream with moptopped frenzy, Let’s be The Beatles! Was it a conscious ambition? Man, it must have been.  What working rock or pop performer in 1965 didn’t want to be The Beatles? Maybe Quincy Jones didn’t want to be The Beatles. Everyone else did.
It’s one thing to want; it’s quite another to achieve. “Lies” magically distills everything–everything–great about Beatles ’65 into one single 45 side. Originally, it was the wrong 45 side; Challenge Records, The Knickerbockers’ demonstrably clueless label, stupidly relegated “Lies” to the B-side of “The Coming Generation,” an earnest and boring track not destined to ever trouble the Top 40. Clearer heads prevailed when DJs turned the record over. “Lies” was a hit. And you know that can’t be bad.
The track’s obvious debt to The Beatles makes it tempting to dismiss “Lies” as ersatz Merseybeat, a copy and nothing more. Except that it’s not a copy, and it is more. “Lies” is not a ripoff of any Beatle record. There are general elements taken from Lennon and McCartney, but really more in terms of a general feel, an accomplished and successful attempt to channel Meet The Beatles and A Hard Day’s Night and “Thank You, Girl” without resorting to thievery. It didn’t hurt that Beau Charles’ lead vocals were so damned convincingly reminiscent of John Lennon. “Lies” doesn’t sound like any one Beatles record. It sounds like all of them. Audaciously, triumphantly, a band from Jersey had pulled it off. For one shining moment, The Knickerbockers had effectively become The Beatles.
Released in late ’65–pop music’s best year ever–“Lies” should have been a # 1 smash. It peaked at # 20 in ’66, and it was The Knickerbockers’ only big hit. They deserved better. After the dull banality of their earliest records, The Knickerbockers willed themselves into becoming a dynamic beat combo, capable of having a rave-up and having a wild weekend eight days a week, right alongside the best of the British Invasion. In 1966, they released their third and final album Lies (credited to “The Fabulous Knickerbockers”). The album was schizophrenic. Side Two was awash with big balladry, a pseudo Righteous Brothers sequence that squandered the fab rush of “Lies” (and presaged Jimmy Walker’s subsequent departure from the Knickerbockers to replace Bill Medley in the actual Righteous Brothers). But Side One? “I Can Do It Better,” “Can’t You See I’m Trying,” “Please Don’t Fight It,” and especially “Just One Girl” demonstrated that The Knickerbockers should not have been merely one-hit wonders, their lack of follow-up chart success notwithstanding.

n 1994, I picked up a Knickerbockers compilation CD called A Rave Up With The Knickerbockers. I already owned a handful of Knickerbockers discs (including reissues of Lies and Jerk And Twine Time), but this was the first to really demand my attention. A Rave Up With The Knickerbockers eschewed the ballads, ignored the early covers, and concentrated on The Knickerbockers’ uptempo gems. Well, fine, it did include “Coming Generation,” but that was okay in context. I already knew and adored “Lies,” of course, as well as its terrific non-LP follow-up “One Track Mind,” a great cut called “She Said Goodbye,” and the other tracks from Side One of Lies. Putting all of that (minus the Lies track “Please Don’t Fight It”) on one disc, combined with unfamiliar treats like “My Feet Are Off The Ground,” “Rumors, Gossip, Words Untrue,” “High On Love,” and the flat-out amazing “They Ran For Their Lives,” served to provide a fresh revelation. Knickerbockermania!
“One-hit wonder” is often taken as a pejorative term. I never intend it that way. To me, it refers to a missed opportunity, a chance the public didn’t get or never took to hear more from a great act that dazzled the country once, and was probably capable of dazzling yet again. Some one-hit wonders merited much greater notoriety than they received, more praise, more adulation, more airplay, more hits. The Bobby Fuller Four should not have been just a one-hit wonder. The Knickerbockers shouldn’t have been that either. Still, even if “Lies” had been the only track The Knickerbockers ever recorded, its transcendent celebration of an American Beatlemania delivered on its own self-assured terms…well, that would be reason enough for idolatry, cause enough to worship the group that created this essential work of wonder. Someday I’m gonna be happy, but I don’t know when just now.Because it’s no lie: imitation can lead to inspiration. Inspiration is timeless. And it sounds fabulous.

A tip of the hat toBruce Gordon, whose own Let’s Be The Beatles studies have gone in far greater depth than I could ever manage.TIP THE BLOGGER: CC’s Tip Jar!
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Categories
Birthdays

Gilson Lavis

Happy birthday to artist and drummer Gilson Lavis, born on this day in 1951. He’s famous for being in Squeeze for decades, also for touring with Chuck Berry, Dolly Parton and others.