“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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It’s like The Rutles, except for Herman’s Hermits instead of The Beatles —Boppin’ (Like The Hip Folks Do) supporter Dave Murray
Ripped! is an independent flick from 2013, written and directed by Rod Bingaman, and you risk no loss of film-fan status if you admit you’ve never heard of it. Hardly anyone’s heard of it. I stumbled across a listing for it on Amazon some time back, thought the concept seemed cute (and certainly unique), and I finally got around to watching it a few weeks ago. Ripped! can rightly claim one all-time accolade as its very own:
It is the Citizen Kane of Herman’s Hermits pastiche movies.
Sure, it’s also the Plan 9 From Outer Space of Herman’s Hermits pastiche movies, the Ishtar of Herman’s Hermits pastiche movies, the Heaven’s Gate of Herman’s Hermits pastiche movies, the Zardoz, West Side Story, Showgirls, and Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein of Herman’s Hermits pastiche movies. Not a really crowded field, those Herman’s Hermits pastiche movies. But Ripped! is indeed one enjoyable, unassuming little hoot of a Herman’s Hermits pastiche movie, and I enjoyed it a lot more than I enjoy any actual Herman’s Hermits movie.
A little bit o’ background here: I love Herman’s Hermits, and none of the seeming snark above should lead you to forget that fact. I love many of the Hermits’ records, especially “No Milk Today” and “A Must To Avoid,” but also including all of their big hits and many of their lesser-known tracks. I saw a bar-band line up of Herman’s Hermits (minus Peter Noone) at a nightclub in 1978 (right in the same time frame that I was seeing The Ramones and The Runaways, The Kinks, Elvis Costello & the Attractions, and The Flashcubes), and I thought they put on an impressive British Invasion rock ‘n’ roll show. I saw Peter Noone with his new wave band The Tremblers in 1981 or ’92, and saw Noone and his current collection o’ Hermits about two years ago, and those were both terrific concerts, too. I have nothing negative to say about ol’ Herm, Derek Leckenby, Karl Green, Keith Hopwood, and Barry Whitwam, nor about their records.
Their movies? Different story. Herman’s Hermits made awful movies.
My thoughts were different when I was a lad of six in 1967, and I went with my sister to see Herman and his Hermits in Hold On! I’m sure I loved it then, and I loved the soundtrack LP when I scored a used copy of it about a decade later. But when I tried to watch Hold On! again as an adult, I couldn’t bear to finish it. Same story when I tried to watch Mrs. Brown You’ve Got A Lovely Daughter, nor could I muster up much interest for Herman’s Hermits’ supporting role in the bland When The Boys Meet The Girls. I love jukebox musicals, from The Girl Can’t Help It through A Hard Day’s Night, Elvis Presley in Loving You through That Thing You Do! (The Greatest Movie Ever Made), The Ramones in Rock ‘n’ Roll High School, The Monkees in Head, even much-maligned vehicles like The Dave Clark Five‘s Having A Wild Weekend and Sonny & Cher‘s Good Times, maybe Bloodstone‘s Train Ride To Hollywood. Hell, I’ll cop to a frequent fondness of Frankie & Annette beach flicks–ya can’t beat Harvey Lembeck, man–and I dig American Hot Wax enough that I forgive its approach of fantastical fiction masquerading as fact. I’ve even come up with fanciful li’l pipe dreams of my own jukebox musicals Jukebox Express, Let’s Go Out Tonight, and The Bay City Rollers in Catch Us If You Can. But Herman’s Hermits movies? No. The Lord says love the singers, hate the singers’ films.
So the idea of a 2013 parody of 1967’s Hold On!, starring fictional Brits Norman’s Normans in place of Herm and the lads, was not a sure thing. The trailer and description seemed intriguing, but my expectations were very, very low. I figured it would be either condescending or dumb, possibly both, and inevitably a pointless waste of time.
But it was fun!
I mean, it was dumb, if willfully so; it’s difficult to make a movie about a fictional ’60s British pop group accidentally rocketed to a planet inhabited solely by women–a planet at war with the estranged men of their neighboring world–where the music of Norman’s Normans conquers all and makes everything gear and free, luv…well, it’s kinda hard to try to pull all that off without risking a few extraneous brain cells. “Dumb” would seem the smart path to take here. The ending is rushed and anticlimactic, the result of filmmakers rashly deciding Right, that’s enough! when the ready supply of time, money, motivation, and/or patience evaporates before the story’s been finished. Ripped!‘s virtues outweigh its shortcomings. I can’t explain how the makers of Ripped! were able to maintain just the right tone throughout. It’s not really camp, nor does it seem to be slumming. It believes in itself, in the moment. It’s not smug, and it embraces its own ludicrous identity with casual but undeniable pride. I was expecting parody. Instead, I was rewarded with a loving pastiche of a silly little pop movie I saw when I was seven years old. The pastiche, miraculously, feels more sincere and real than the borderline-cynical B-movie that inspired it.
The music’s cool, too. Going back to the Rutles comparison, the beauty of the music from that 1978 Beatles parody All You Need Is Cash is that The Rutles’ tracks sound like perfectly swell pop music, even apart from their corresponding on-screen hijinks. Norman’s Normans sound similarly fab, and Ripped!‘s opening number “9-9-9!” has already found a place on our weekly This Is Rock ‘n’ Roll Radio playlists. A band doesn’t have to actually exist to make decent pop records. I bought Norman’s Normans’ six-song Music From Ripped! as a download from normansnormans.bandcamp.com; “9-9-9!” and “Down On My Knees” are the Fave Rave Top Gear Picks T’Click, but “(I’m In Love With) The Queen Mother” and–of course!–“Mr. Brown” are snappy like Mr. White’s boys The Wonders, and “Man In The Moon” and “Come With Me (Beam Trip)” add appropriate atmosphere. I realize that Norman’s Normans aren’t, y’know, real, but it wouldn’t break my heart to hear more from whoever crafted their peppy little tunes.
Ripped! will never be anyone’s favorite film. But it’s gentle, confident, and gawkily charming, at home in its own distinct skin. It’s the movie equivalent of the best Herman’s Hermits songs. At long last, there is a movie worthy of Herman’s Hermits. Even if Herman’s Hermits aren’t actually in it.
I don’t understand why no one ever talks about Phonograph Record Magazine, a rock tabloid that ran from 1970 to 1978. The magazine seems to be nearly forgotten, and you don’t see it mentioned alongside your Rolling Stone or your Creem, your Crawdaddy or Circus, or even your Trouser Pressas one of the great rock rags of the ’70s. But it was. For me, in fact, it was more important than any those, even more than my beloved Creem. Because PRM was my first. Not my first rock magazine; I’d flirted with a couple before that. But Phonograph Record Magazine was the first to make me fall in love with rock ‘n’ roll journalism, both as a fan and as a potential practitioner. Maybe I would have wound up writin’ about the big beat even without PRM‘s influence. It’s possible, maybe probable. Either way, though, it was in fact Phonograph Record Magazine that provided that nudge. I remain grateful, and I remain a fan.
I was a senior in high school in the spring of 1977. Although I’d been a devoted AM Top 40 radio listener for all of my young life, the increasingly banal fare on former Syracuse airwave Fave Rave WOLF-AM had largely driven me to FM–specifically, to nearby Utica’s WOUR-FM, “The Rock Of Central New York.” OUR had some of the negative aspects of ’70s FM rock stations, the laid-back atmosphere, the consciousness of its own perceived hipness, the almost smug feeling of superiority over those frivolous, uncouth Top 40 outlets. BUT! The station compensated for all of that by simply being more adventurous than any other commercial station in the area. I betcha Syracuse University‘s WAER-FM was probably at least the equal of WOUR, but I never heard AER at the time. It was okay, though. WOUR rewarded my interest by playing The Kinks (I became a huge fan of The Kinks’ Schoolboys In Disgrace LP track “No More Looking Back” via airplay on WOUR), Graham Parker, Greg Kihn, Michael Nesmith, Nick Lowe, and The Rubinoos. WOUR had a killer Friday night oldies show, but one could often also find essential ’60s gems by The Animals, The Rascals, The Dave Clark Five, and The Beatles airing alongside the station’s contemporary music choices. The following summer, I wasn’t surprised to hear vintage Elvis Presley on WOUR a few days before his scheduled Syracuse concert. Hearing a number of Presley tracks back-to-back, however, was my first clue that The King would not be keeping that Syracuse date. Elvis had left the building.
I digress. The point is that WOUR was a great radio station that helped to expose me to more and more music. Hell, I first heard The Yardbirds on OUR, and later on, it was OUR that allowed me my first dose of The Sex Pistols. Let AM radio have its disco and its swill and its “Undercover Angel;” WOUR-FM was playing the stuff I needed to hear.
And, in that spring of 1977, WOUR offered me a chance to read all about it, too.
I doubt that I had heard of Phonograph Record Magazine before that, though it’s certainly possible that an earlier issue crossed the periphery of my vision while I was divin’ through Hollies and Suzi Quatro LPs in the cutout bins at Gerber Music. But the April 1977 issue of PRM was different; it was free! The magazine had deals with radio stations in many markets (WMMS-FM in Cleveland, for example), with the stations presumably underwriting the cost to distribute PRM as promotional giveaways. WOUR instructed local rock ‘n’ roll fans to head on down to any Gerber Music location to pick up a free copy of the latest Phonograph Record Magazine. Well, I had my orders. Duty called! Rendezvous at Gerber Music! FALL IN, you battle-happy Joes!
Target acquired. And I was immediately rewarded with entry into a fresh vista of pure rock ‘n’ roll wonder. Phonograph Record Magazine blew my freakin’ mind.
More than forty years later, in this ever-changing world in which we live in, it’s just impossible to properly convey the feeling of discovery, the liberating sense of possibility, that blanketed me with the turn of each pulpy tabloid page. What, transcendent revelation from a razzafrazzin’ rock magazine?! Oh yes. Emphatically yes. This was a whole new world. This was the Promised Land! And it had a good beat. If one could dance, one would surely dance to that beat.
There was something indescribably exciting about Phonograph Record Magazine, a palpable thrill I never got from previous perusals of Circus or Rolling Stone. PRM‘s writers seemed engaged. tapped into the music they were covering. You might presume it was legendary rock writer Lester Bangs who dazzled me here, but I don’t even remember his Nils Lofgren piece from this issue. No, I was enticed by Ken Barnes, by Greg Shaw (in the May issue), by Rodney Bingenheimer, by Flo & Eddie, and by the proud, delirious silliness of Mark Shipper. Furthermore, I was intrigued by all of these mysterious, elusive rock acts I’d never heard about before. I’d read news reports of the controversial punk group The Sex Pistols, but this was my real introduction to the concept of punk rock. I instantly wanted to know more, so much more. Punk? Hey, that’s for ME! Between this issue and its May 1977 follow-up (with Eric Carmen on the cover), I saw a truckload of rock ‘n’ roll names that were brand-new to me. Iggy Pop. Blondie. The Dictators. Cheap Trick. Elvis Costello. The New York Dolls. Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. Eddie and the Hot Rods. Chris Spedding and the Vibrators. The Damned. Milk ‘n Cookies. The Ramones.
The Ramones. THE RAMONES!!! Oh, the notion of The Ramones just transfixed me. What could they possibly sound like? Were they really that loud, that fast, that violent, that incredible, that irresistible? Were they really as dangerous and depraved as they seemed? Did it matter? I was a closet Ramones fan before I’d heard even one of their famous three chords, all thanks to Phonograph Record Magazine.
Alas, I saw but one more issue of PRM, with the familiar face of The Raspberries‘ former lead singer Eric Carmen as its poster boy. I don’t know if WOUR’s deal with PRM ended, but I presume that was so. And it left me hanging. The May issue’s edition of Flo & Eddie’s Blind Date column had featured our erstwhile Turtles wrestling uncomfortably with British punk, with a promise of an all-American punk Blind Date to follow in June. I never saw it. And Lord, I wanted to! But it was not to be, at least for me. I found an older, WMMS-sponsored issue of PRM while visiting my sister in Cleveland that summer. I never saw another issue anywhere.
By the time I was in Cleveland that August of 1977, I had heard The Sex Pistols explode my radio with “God Save The Queen,” courtesy of WOUR. And then I was off to college, where I would finally hear more of that punk rock Phonograph Record Magazine had made me crave. I would read more about it, thanks to a (frankly, dumb) one-shot ripoff called Punk Rock or somesuch, teasing, enticing bits in the hallowed pages of a new discovery called Rock Scene, as well as in the otherwise-stuffy Rolling Stone. I would get into Creem and Trouser Press before long, and into John Holmstrom‘s Punk magazine, all as I developed a near-insatiable need to read rock ‘n’ roll magazines. And I developed a need to write about rock ‘n’ roll, which manifested in My First Rock Journalism: “Groovin’ (Like The Hip Folks Do),” an emeritus contribution to my high school newspaper The NorthCaster. My piece was influenced by Phonograph Record Magazine in much the same way George Harrison‘s “My Sweet Lord” was “influenced” by The Chiffons. I had to start somewhere. PRM provided my template.
No one talks about Phonograph Record Magazine. There’s no hardcover retrospective, no proposed behind-the-scenes documentary, no comprehensive, dedicated on-line archive. The magazine that meant so much to me is now a mirage, a memory that few recall. But I remember. If I ever write anything that can come close to connecting with a rock ‘n’ roll fan with even a fraction of the blissful, electric bond I felt with PRM, then my so-called writing career has succeeded. I am not exaggerating when I say that Phonograph Record Magazine was ultimately as important to me as any rock ‘n’ roll act this side of The Beatles. Seriously. Because I don’t get to The Ramones or The Flashcubes–and I don’t get to writing for Goldmine–without PRM pushing me in the right direction.That way, kid. Head to the light!
In the spring of ’78, about a year after communion with my first Phonograph Record Magazine, I was an eighteen-year-old punk of the world. I’d seen punk shows. I’d developed an occasional ability to seem pruriently interesting to gurls. In my mind, I was feverishly linking the punk of the Pistols and Ramones with the Beatles and Kinks records I loved, and with my favorite never-forgotten AM radio sounds of The Raspberries, Badfinger, and Sweet. I found a magazine that articulated that link, a magazine written in part by PRM‘s Greg Shaw, and in part by a visionary named Gary Sperrazza! They were writing about something called powerpop. Their magazine was called Bomp! It was pretty important to me, too.
TO BE CONTINUED!
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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-Op, Ray Paul, Circe Link & Christian Nesmith, Vegas With Randolph Featuring Lannie Flowers, The Slapbacks, P. Hux, Irene Peña, Michael Oliver & the Sacred Band Featuring Dave Merritt, The Rubinoos, Stepford Knives, The Grip Weeds, Popdudes, Ronnie Dark, The Flashcubes,Chris von Sneidern, The Bottle Kids, 1.4.5., The Smithereens, Paul Collins’ Beat, The Hit Squad, The Rulers, The Legal Matters, Maura & the Bright Lights, Lisa Mychols, and Mr. Encrypto & the Cyphers. You gotta have it, so order it here.
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 was love at first sight.
Teen idolatry–specifically, the sort of starry-eyed quasi-romantic longing that conjures adolescent yearning for long walks in the moonlight hand-in-hand with the teen heartthrob du joir–has been part of pop music for as long as there has been pop music. I mean, I can’t speak for the probability of giggling young girls once makin’ ga-ga noises over noted hottie Ludwig von Beethoven, but Frank Sinatra? King Elvis I? Paul McCartney, Mark Lindsay, Bobby Sherman, and the lads in One Direction? Girls swooned over posters and magazines, LP covers and 45 sleeves, and kissed Monkees bubblegum cards with earnest, whispered wishes to one day become Mrs. Davy Jones: I’ll be true to you, yes I will. That was the girls. Boys? Not so much.
That’s the image, anyway. In reality, kids won’t always follow the rigid scripts adults throw at them. There were girls who found this whole notion of getting wobbly-kneed over a pretty face just absurd. There were boys and girls whose pop dreams favored teen idols with whom they shared a gender. And there must have been boys dreaming of sweet pecks on the lips from Mary Weiss of The Shangri-Las, or Marianne Faithfull, or Chaka Khan. In North Syracuse in 1975, there was certainly one fifteen-year-old boy who saw Suzi Quatro on the cover of a magazine, and promptly fell in love. And yes, of course that boy was me.
The divine Miss Suzi was not my first pop crush; that was probably Nancy Sinatra circa “These Boots Are Made For Walkin’,” or possibly Lesley Gore when she sang “California Nights.” Expanding beyond the chanteuses who caught my eye, my other pop crushes likely included every pretty actress I ever saw on TV, from Yvonne Craig and Bridget Hanley through Linda Evans and all the women who ever appeared in Star Trek reruns. And Lorrie Menconi, Playboy‘s Miss February 1969. Nor was Suzi my final pop crush, as Stevie Nicks, Joan Jett, P.J. Soles, and Vanity were still off in my future when the calendar read ’75. But fickle and fleeting as I may have been, Suzi Quatro always remained my # 1.
I can’t say for certain how that particular issue of Rolling Stone found its way into my living room. Both of my older brothers were married and gone from the household by ’75, so the RS probably belonged to my sister Denise. It could also have come from my Dad, who worked at the post office and occasionally brought home subscription magazines that had been discarded as undeliverable. However it arrived in my suburban home, it was the cover of the Rolling Stone, dated January 2, 1975, that introduced me to this unfamiliar rock ‘n’ roll chick named Suzi Quatro.
Smitten. Immediately, irrevocably smitten.
Why? Man, answering that would be like trying to tell a stranger about rock ‘n’ roll. Some would say she wasn’t conventionally pretty in the way you’d expect a pinup or poster girl to be, but I found her irresistibly cute. It wasn’t even like the pictures of her in Rolling Stone were overtly sexy or deliberately provocative (though the cover and one interior photo did show how her leather pants loved to hug her derriere). I wish I could claim I was a budding feminist at 15, engaged not by Quatro’s looks but by her intelligence and personality, and by her music…but I’d be lyin’. I’d never heard her music, and I don’t know how much of her wit and wisdom could be ascertained from a casual read of a rock rag piece where she discussed the pros and cons of getting a tattoo on her butt. No, I have to admit it was something about her look. I was fascinated. And I was in love with her, as surely as all those girls reading 16 and Tiger Beat were in love with Donny Osmond.
It was a love with no kindling to feed its fire. In the immediate aftermath of discovering her, I didn’t see any more articles about Suzi Quatro. I didn’t hear her music on the radio. I didn’t see her on TV. I’m not sure if I saw any of her records at Gerber Music, but even if I had, I didn’t yet have enough concrete motivation to make a purchase. I was in love with a face, and a body wrapped tightly in leather; I had no idea if that was enough to make me a fan of the Suzi Quatro sound.
On May 1st of 1975, Alice Cooper was scheduled to appear in Syracuse for a concert at the Onondaga County War Memorial…WITH SUZI QUATRO OPENING…?! Glorioski! I thought Alice Cooper was one of the coolest things on AM radio at the time, and with Suzi Quatro on the bill, I knew I had to be there. My parents did not agree with the inevitability of this rendezvous, and refused permission. Years later, I would realize that my Dad was concerned about my seemingly fragile machismo, and was not going to allow his son to see a guy named Alice, no way, no how. I don’t know if Dad would have felt differently if he suspected my potentially prurient interest in Suzi Quatro. I missed my chance to see Alice Cooper, and my initiation into the musical world of Suzi Quatro’s music was likewise deferred.
That initiation finally took place in either late ’75 or in 1976. I’m not sure of the precise time frame, nor the exact sequence of events. Somewhere in there, I found and purchased a cut-out copy of Suzi Quatro, her debut LP. I can’t remember if that was before or after I saw Suzi Quatro on TV. For the sake of the narrative, let’s presume it was after.
Supersonic was a British rock ‘n’ roll TV series, showcasing performers in a cheesy ’70s studio setting, lip-syncin’ their hits and wannabe hits. It was briefly carried on Saturday afternoons by WPIX in New York City, and available to cable subscribers in Syracuse’s suburbs. I watched it when I could, eager as I was for more and more rockin’ pop, whenever and wherever. I saw some familiar acts on Supersonic, from The Hollies to The Bay City Rollers to The Crazy World Of Arthur Brown. I saw that loathsome little bug Gary Glitter. I saw a number of other performers my memory won’t surrender. Supersonic looms largest in my legend for one thing only: showing me Suzi Quatro on TV.
There she was. One Saturday afternoon in the ’70s, the date long faded away, but the image still vivid in my mind. Suzi Quatro. She was beautiful. And hey, whaddaya know? She rocked! I was transfixed. Hey, ya heard about Susie from Baton Rouge? She wasn’t asking me, but I shook my head, jaw agape, as she continued, Well, lemme tell you ’bout it! Guitars and drums, a churning ’70s bop, grinding forward, Suzi Quatro’s bass booming as she not-quite-sneered, not-quite-smiled her way through.
Awright. This deal was sealed as far as I could see. Marry me, Suzi!
It was the only time I saw Suzi on Supersonic, or anywhere else for a while thereafter. And I didn’t catch the damned title of the song! I spent years looking for something called “Little Susie From Baton Rouge,” or “I’m Just Waitin’ For You,” or, I dunno, “Suzi Quatro’s Love Theme From Supersonic,” all to no avail. I bought the above-mentioned eponymous Suzi Quatro album, either before or after seeing her on Supersonic, and that song was not on the album. And the album…aw, the album didn’t do all that much for me, dammit.
Suzi Quatro ain’t exactly a bad record. mind you. It contains not one, but two of her all-time signature tunes, “Can The Can” and “48 Crash,” plus “Glycerine Queen” and covers of Elvis’ “All Shook Up” and The Beatles‘ “I Wanna Be Your Man.” At the time, I only knew the latter as a track on Meet The Beatles, not realizing that John and Paul had originally written it for Mick, Keith, and Brian, or that it had been The Rolling Stones‘ first hit in the UK. At 16 or so, I was intrigued by the notion of a female singing about wanting to be someone’s man, though it really just meant that Quatro didn’t care enough about gender politics to be bothered; she just wanted to sing the song, you stupid boys. Kinda like Ringo singing The Shirelles‘ “Boys” on the first Beatles album. It wasn’t a statement; it was benign indifference. I like the album more now than I did then, and I didn’t exactly dislike it then. But it never threatened to overtake the top of my pops, not like Sweet or The Raspberries, or like Suzi’s song on Supersonic might have. My Suzi Quatro fandom meandered after that. I picked up a used promo copy of her Your Mama Won’t Like Me album on a visit to Record Revolution or The Record Exchange in Cleveland Heights; other than a track called “Paralyzed,” most of the album’s hybrid hard rock/faux funk posturing left me unimpressed. In the summer of 1978, I purchased an import Suzi Quatro album called Aggro-Phobia; the LP was two years old by then, but I’d never seen it before, and rightly figured What the hell–why not?
I’d never quite stopped searching for that elusive, unidentified Quatro song I’d heard on Supersonic. It didn’t seem to be on her second album Quatro, an album I wouldn’t hear until a few more years thereafter, and it didn’t seem to be anywhere. I’m sure I was hoping it would be on Aggro-Phobia, but it was not. However, Aggro-Phobia did include a track which seemed to be a companion piece, since its mention of “Louisiana Sue” was a direct reference to Little Susie from Baton Rouge. The Aggro-Phobia track was called “Tear Me Apart.”
I’ll make your legs start shakin’ every time you hear my name There’ll be no heartbreakin’, and you know you’ll never be the same Don’t talk to me about Louisiana Sue ‘Cause she can’t do the things that I can do So tear me apart if you wanna win my heart
I loved “Tear Me Apart,” a brash and confident rock ‘n’ roller that moved more fluidly and winningly than any other Quatro track I owned up to that point. Most of Aggro-Phobia was forgettable for me; “Tear Me Apart” was classic.
Although Quatro was originally from Detroit (where she and her sisters started a band called The Pleasure Seekers when she was 14), she found stardom in England, stardom that did not translate back in the colonies. In 1977, Quatro had begun appearing in a few episodes of TV’s Happy Days, playing anachronistic chick rocker Leather Tuscadero. I bought a Suzi Quatro poster at Economy Bookstore in Syracuse, and displayed it proudly in my dorm room alongside my KISS and Sex Pistols. 1979 brought Suzi’s belated American success: “Stumblin’ In,” a duet with Chris Norman, broke through the American Top 40 in early ’79, peaking at # 4. I was happy for her success, while remaining resolutely uninterested in any of it. I tried to get into her hit album If You Knew Suzi…, but it was a lost cause. In the midst of my embrace of punk and power pop, If You Knew Suzi… was, well…boring. I didn’t know Suzi, nor was I about to.
That said, 1980’s Rock Hard had some pretty damned good moments, and I wish I’d been more aware of them at the time. I knew the title track from its inclusion on the cool soundtrack album to Times Square, a film intended to do for new wave music what Saturday Night Fever had done for dat ole debbil disco. I liked that track just fine, but it wouldn’t be until years later that I discovered a couple of other cuts from Rock Hard–the peppy pop song “Love Is Ready” and the way-cool “Gloria” ripoff “Lipstick”–that I liked even better.
I did eventually identify that track I’d seen Suzi Quatro mime on Supersonic years before. I think it was in the early ’90s, rummaging through 45s at a great North Syracuse record store called Knuckleheads (Motto: We ain’t in no mall!), when I found a Quatro single called “I May Be Too Young.” Cash made it mine, and a spin on the ol’ home turntable verified that my search had finally reached its end. I may be too young to fall in love But I’m still hangin’ ’round I’m waitin’ for you I’m just waitin’ for you
You’re never too young to fall in love. I wasn’t too young to fall in love with Mary Rose Tamborelli when I was five, nor with Suzette Mauro when I was six, and they weren’t too young to fall in love with me. Temporarily. They got over me quickly–a little too quickly in Suzette’s case, if you ask me–but we weren’t too young to fall in the first place. You’re not too young to fall in love with people, whether as friends or potentially something more. You fall in love with all sorts of sparkly things. You fall in love with books and movies, cartoons, comics, favorite meals, art and artifice. You fall in love with stars. At 15, I fell in love in Suzi Quatro.
One Sunday afternoon around 1976 or ’77, I was chatting with another music fan at the flea market. The subject of Suzi Quatro came up, and he insisted that she’d posed for Penthouse, and that she’d released a live-in-Japan album called Naked Under Leather. I don’t know about the latter claim, but the Penthouse thing was nonsense. That was never Suzi Quatro’s image. She never pandered, never tried to be sexy or provocative in that way. She wanted to rock like the boys rocked. She wanted to be your man. It wasn’t a statement of sexuality; her gender was simply incidental to her, another label like black or white, Mod or rocker, DC or Marvel. She didn’t care. Have ya heard about Suzi from the Motor City? She was punk before we knew what punk was. She was Suzi Quatro. She’s still Suzi Quatro. Go, go, go, little Suzi.
“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. Elvis. Chuck Berry. Rosa Parks. The Beatles aiming for the toppermost of the poppermost. Lesley Gore singing “You Don’t Own Me.” The miracle Mets. Barack 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 here, and order music from Eytan here.
TIP THE BLOGGER: CC’s Tip Jar! 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-Op, Ray Paul, Circe Link & Christian Nesmith, Vegas With Randolph Featuring Lannie Flowers, The Slapbacks, P. Hux, Irene Peña, Michael Oliver & the Sacred Band Featuring Dave Merritt, The Rubinoos, Stepford Knives, The Grip Weeds, Popdudes, Ronnie Dark, The Flashcubes,Chris von Sneidern, The Bottle Kids, 1.4.5., The Smithereens, Paul Collins’ Beat, The Hit Squad, The Rulers, The Legal Matters, Maura & the Bright Lights, Lisa 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.
Born on this day in 1930, in Niagara Falls, New York, guitarist Tommy Tedesco. As a member of the fabled Wrecking Crew of studio musicians, Tedesco played on hit records by The Beach Boys, The Ronettes, Elvis Presley, The Everly Brothers and more.
Swedish beauty Ann-Margret turns 79 today. Born in 1941 in Stockholm, Sweden, Ann-Margret has had a decades-long career in music, TV & film. She’s probably best-remembered for her 1963 turn in the film adaptation of Bye, Bye, Birdie, which was quickly followed by her co-starring role in Viva Las Vegas, opposite Elvis Presley, in 1964.