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Hold On! It’s NORMAN’S NORMANS!

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 ZardozWest Side StoryShowgirls, 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 RunawaysThe KinksElvis 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 LeckenbyKarl GreenKeith 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 NightElvis Presley in Loving You through That Thing You Do! (The Greatest Movie Ever Made), The Ramones in Rock ‘n’ Roll High SchoolThe 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 ExpressLet’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.

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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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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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LP Cover Cavalcade #2

THE GO-GO’S: Beauty And The Beat

The Go-Go’s do not get anywhere near the level of respect they deserve. A self-contained rockin’ pop combo that wrote nearly all of their own material, The Go-Go’s scored hits in the early ’80s, and released three fantastic albums before splintering in the acrimony that claims many a great group. They’ve reunited a few times since then for concerts and additional fine recordings. They should have been a shoo-in for induction into The Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame years ago. They have never even been nominated.

Their debut album Beauty And The Beat was my favorite new album in 1981. Nearly four decades later, I remain as fond of it now as I was then. It is very nearly a perfect album, with the cold-sounding, dispassionate new wave number “Automatic” the only track I don’t like. The rest? “How Much More,” “Lust To Love,” “Skidmarks On My Heart,” “This Town,” “Fading Fast,” “You Can’t Walk In Your Sleep (If You Can’t Sleep),” “Can’t Stop The World,” and “Tonight” are all engaging as hell. The first single “Our Lips Are Sealed” was one of the two best things on the radio in ’81; the other best thing on the radio that year was also by The Go-Go’s, also from Beauty And The Beat, and it was their signature tune “We Got The Beat,” a magnificent single that earns its own entry in my book The Greatest Record Ever Made! (Volume 1). Gotta respect The Go-Go’s.

HERMAN’S HERMITS: Hold On!

Although I did indeed see Herman’s Hermits in their 1966 movie Hold On! when it was still in theaters, let’s forget about that. And believe me, it’s an easy movie to forget. Instead, let’s move ahead by a decade and change, to when I was an 18-year-old college freshman in 1978. That’s when I scored a truly beat-up copy of the Hold On! soundtrack LP, a record that was a lot more interesting than the cinematic trifle that spawned it.

One may be tempted to likewise dismiss the album as a trifle, but it was at least an interesting trifle; I loved some of it, and I wasn’t much put off by the rest. If I could take or leave (mostly leave) “The George And Dragon,” “Leaning On A Lamp Post,” and Shelley Fabares‘ “Make Me Happy” (which skipped on my copy anyway), I had more enthusiasm for “Hold On!,” “Wild Love,” “All The Things I Do For You Baby,” and “Gotta Get Away.” My biggest go-to tracks on Hold On! were “Got A Feeling,” “Where Were You When I Need You” (which I heard and loved here before discovering that it had later been a hit for The Grass Roots), and “A Must To Avoid.” “A Must To Avoid” quickly became my favorite Herman’s Hermits (at least until I heard “No Milk Today”). My local heroes The Flashcubes used to cover “A Must To Avoid” in their live sets, and that was okay by me.

The sharp-eyed among you will notice some scribbling near the photos on my LP cover. The Herman-less Hermits played a bar called The Gin Mill in Liverpool, NY that very same summer of ’78, and you’re damned right I was there. The Hermits put on a swell show, after which I solicited autographs from bassist Karl Green, guitarist Derek Leckenby, and drummer Barry Whitwam, plus guitarist Frank Renshaw, who had replaced Keith Hopwood in Hermitdom. I saw original Herman’s Hermits lead singer Peter Noone on several subsequent occasions, including one show with his fab early ’80s new wave group The Tremblers, but have never had an opportunity to get him to add his signature alongside those of his erstwhile co-workers.
THE KINKS: The Great Lost Kinks Album

About a year before The Who‘s vault-raidin’ 1974 compilation Odds And SodsThe Kinks‘ by-then-former American label Reprise issued The Great Lost Kinks Album, a collection of 1966-1970 recordings that The Kinks would have preferred to leave as lost. Gentlemen, start your lawyers! 

I associate this album with The Vinyl Jungle, a small and short-lived record shop in my college town of Brockport in the fall of ’77. I remember seeing the album for sale at The Vinyl Jungle, but I passed on it and instead bought a Kinks compilation called The Pye History Of British Pop Music. I didn’t get my copy of The Great Lost Kinks Album until many years later, when I was considering (and finally deciding against) writing a book about the 500 definitive albums of the ’70s. This LP wouldn’t have been among the records discussed in That Great Lost Carl Book, but I scooped it up at the same time I was grabbing cheap-cheap-cheap vinyl by Lynyrd SkynyrdFoghatZZ Top, et al. for research. Far out, dude. The Great Lost Kinks Album was of much more interest to me anyway, and I especially fell for “This Man He Weeps Tonight.” All of its once-rare tracks are now readily available, the lawyers all paid and satisfied.

THE RUTLES: The Rutles

My introduction to the fictional Prefab Four The Rutles came when Eric Idle of Monty Python’s Flying Circus hosted Saturday Night Live (then still called NBC’s Saturday Night) in October of 1976, when I was a high school senior. Idle played a clip of his faux Beatles mugging through “I Must Be In Love,” and I was hooked. When The Rutles’ TV special All You Need Is Cash appeared in March of 1978, I was all in. I reveled in the promo clip of “Ouch!” that was shown on Midnight Special the week before All You Need Is Cash, and was one of several floormates crammed into the dorm room across from mine to watch the TV special itself when it aired.

Alas, I was the only one among my group who dug it.

Undeterred, I bought the 45 of “I Must Be In Love”/”Doubleback Alley,” and gratefully accepted a gift of the companion album The Rutles, brought home from England by my sister Denise. Number one, number one…!
VARIOUS ARTISTS: The Motown Sound Vol. 6

My very first Motown record? Could be, though my lovely wife Brenda thinks this was her LP rather than mine. If only we’d kept better track of stuff prior to the matrimonial merging of our collections. Either way, I do remember that we picked it up on a visit to the weekly flea market at Syracuse’s Regional Market, probably in 1979. It would have been around the same time (if not the same weekend) that Brenda snagged her flea-market copy of The Kinks’ Greatest Hits!, and/or when I got my 35-cent copy of The Who’s Meaty Beaty Big And Bouncy. We were frugal shoppers. In spite of many, many cullings of the collection over the years, all three of these LPs still remain in our vinyl library.

And it certainly could have been either one of us who grabbed this Motown sampler. Brenda had grown up listening to soul and R & B on the radio, and this would have been a natural thing to add to her personal stash. I was just beginning to appreciate how great all that stuff was, and would have been drawn to my favorite Supremes song “Stop! In The Name Of Love,” my favorite Four Tops song “It’s The Same Old Song,” and my favorite Stevie Wonder song “Uptight (Everything’s Alright),” and probably to The Miracles‘ “Going To A Go Go.” The rest would have been a history lesson waiting to happen. So: Brenda’s record? My record? 

C’mon.
Our record now.

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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

Carl’s writin’ a book! The Greatest Record Ever Made! (Volume 1) will contain 155 essays about 155 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).