Flashcubes On Fire!

These are my liner notes for Flashcubes On Fire, a new CD preserving the Flashcubes‘  incendiary live show at the Firebarn in Syracuse on May 26, 1979. I’ve been waiting more than 42 years for this. You wanna know why the Flashcubes are up with the Beatles and the Ramones in the pantheon of my all-time favorite groups? This CD offers an invigorating glimpse at the answer.

Writing about the Flashcubes brings out the best in me. Syracuse’s own power pop powerhouse. It’s a Saturday night in Syracuse. Get ready. Get set. 

FIRE! 

FLASHCUBES ON FIRE

At its best, live music is alchemy in action, capable of transforming the air around us into pure gold. This mystic process is fueled by so many ingredients, both physical and phantasmic. Sweat. Love. Lust. Hate. Alcohol. Hunger. Ambition. Greed. Generosity. Divine inspiration. Betrayal. Heartbreak. Laughter. Tears. One pill that makes you larger, one pill that makes you small. Amplifiers, power chords, the beat of the bass and drums. Voices rising in anger or exultation. Taking a sad song and making it better. One for the money, two for the show. NOISE. Beautiful, transcendent noise. The sound of gold.

In 1979, I was 19 years old. I reveled in this golden sound. My preferred alchemists were a fantastic rock ‘n’ roll group called the Flashcubes. My go-to goldmine was the Firebarn.

The Firebarn Tavern, a former fire station, was on Montgomery Street in Syracuse. In the mid ’70s, before there were Flashcubes, the Syracuse Cinephile Society held screenings upstairs at the Firebarn; my cousin Maryann took me to see films starring Humphrey Bogart and Errol Flynn, and my parents endured a long evening indulging me for all twelve chapters of the 1941 Adventures Of Captain Marvel movie serial. 

From the age of 18 on, I saw tons of bands at the Firebarn: the Fast, New Math, the Dead Ducks, the James L. Cortland Band, Distortion, the Most, the Battered Wives, and others that the generous flow of beer blocks in my memory. I was not among the tiny group that witnessed the Flashcubes share a 1978 Firebarn gig with a new British group called the Police. But I was at the Firebarn a lot. The bartender recognized me as I came in, and had an ice-cold Miller ready by the time I got to the bar. 

And then: upstairs! The movies weren’t upstairs anymore. Upstairs was for bands.

That’s where you’d find the Flashcubes, bending air into gold. They were gonna be the biggest stars in the whole goddamned world. I knew it. If history contradicted me, I regret nothing. I wasn’t wrong. The world was wrong.

But in 1979, the world was poised to get it right. There was an undeniable buzz. When the Flashcubes debuted in 1977, they didn’t seem…normal. Punk rock? Power pop? Original songs? Cover choices that favored the Sex Pistols and Television rather than Zeppelin? In Syracuse…?! 

Things evolved. In 1979, The Syracuse New Times‘ Mike Greenstein proclaimed the Flashcubes the local band of the year. Gigs drew exuberant crowds. On this very set, you can hear future GRAMMY-winning recording engineer Ducky Carlisle introduce the Flashcubes with confidence: “One day, very soon from now, all you people are going to be able to say ‘I saw this band before they were famous.'” 

As the summer of ’79 approached, that day seemed imminent. Gold. Syracuse’s phenomenal pop combo. Gary, Arty, Paul, and Tommy. Like John, Paul, George, and Ringo, or Johnny, Joey, Dee Dee, and Tommy, the ‘Cubes were a fab and ferocious four:

Bassist Gary Frenay sang sweetly, played commandingly, and crafted surefire radio-ready confections, Central New York’s songwriting answer to Eric Carmen, Emitt Rhodes, and Paul McCartney. 

Guitarist Arty Lenin lived at the left of the dial before anyone heard the phrase, a six-string (and twelve-string!) shaman preoccupied with a million thoughts at once, from William Faulkner to jazz LPs to Miss September. 

Guitarist Paul Armstrong was this town’s first punk and # 1 rock ‘n’ roll fan, driven and hard-working, the individual most responsible for bringing that energy to the Syracuse scene, and described in local fanzine Poser as “Dennis the Menace all grown up.” 

Drummer Tommy Allen could have appeared on the covers of 16 and Tiger Beat, while simultaneously wielding fast and lethal sticks like heavy artillery in the battle for your heart and your wallet. 

Gold. Precious metal formed by British Invasion, maximum pop, absolute rock ‘n’ roll, the edgy sound of the underground, and the rush of AM Top 40 when AM Top 40 was cool. Put ’em all together. Let ’em play.

The Flashcubes were loud. The Flashcubes were invigorating. And the Flashcubes were on fire.

On May 26, 1979, the Flashcubes recorded a Firebarn show on multitrack, their only 1970s show to be preserved with that level of oomph. You can hear the sweat. The Firebarn’s upstairs could get hot. It was never hotter than this night. Bright lights. Guitars, bass, drums. Volume. Your ears are gonna be ringing for days. Ladies and gentlemen, The Flashcubes!

The tape is the Flashcubes’ greatest hits, live, from Arty’s Playboy appreciation “Taking Inventory” through the one-two bludgeoning of Paul’s “Got No Mind” and the stalwart “Dizzy Miss Lizzy,” a Larry Williams song the Beatles taught us, with a little Link Wray to chase us home. It’s got Arty’s gorgeous treasure (and the Flashcubes’ first single) “Christi Girl,” Gary’s urgent “Wait Till Next Week” (their second single), Paul’s angry “Sold Your Heart,” pumpin’ covers of fave raves by the Raspberries, Big Star, the Kinks, the Who, Eddie Cochran, and Arthur Alexander (via a Beatles bootleg), and so much greatness from the Flashcubes’ own songbook. 

“She’s Leaving.” “Gone Too Far.” “No Promise,” which should have been their third and biggest single. Arty’s lost song “Cycle Of Pain” and Paul’s likewise-lost “You For Me,” both making their over-the-counter debuts here. Gary’s “Suellen,” later a single for Gary, Arty, and Tommy’s ace post-‘Cubes outfit Screen Test. “Muscle Beach.” “Beverly.” “Boy Scout Pinup.” “Girl From Germany.” “You’re Not The Police.” “Angry Young Man.” And Paul’s “A Face In The Crowd,” a rock ‘n’ roll fantasy performed by a group THISCLOSE to making it all come true.

Gold? Oh hell, yeah. The Flashcubes were pristine ‘n’ dirty gold. Stars? In 1979, the brass ring wouldn’t even know what grabbed it. As the summer beckoned, the Flashcubes shopped their demo to record labels. They did shows with the Ramones, Joe Jackson, 999, David Johansen. They had interest from high-powered management. My God, the Flashcubes were about to go big time.

And it all went away. 

Bad luck. Bad advice. Bad decisions. Gold traded for pyrite. Paul Armstrong was no longer a Flashcube. The Flashcubes were still great, but one could argue that they were no longer the Flashcubes, not as we knew them. The four would reunite in later years. They would play, they would tour and record, they would become legit legends of power pop. But that flashpoint when material gold was within reach, when the dreams written so large in the sky were near enough to touch and taste and take to the bank, THAT moment….

Gone. Like it was never there. But it was there. I remember it.

In 1979, the Syracuse summer was electric with promise. I was 19, a shy, misfit teen from the Northern suburbs, home from college until the fall, and having the time of my life. I was in love, falling ever more deeply in love with a girl I’d met at school. We saw each other every weekend. I had a full-time summer job, putting a little cash in my pocket. So there was romance, money to spend, and a giddy sense of freedom.

And there was gold. The summer could have lasted forever.

Even nostalgia can’t erase the bad times. By the end of that same summer of 1979, my favorite band had split, and one of my best friends was dead by his own hand. I thought the world would just crush me at that point. 

Yet I still look back on that summer as the best I ever had. See, there will always be heartbreak; there will always be tears and sadness, and there will always be an abyss that taunts us. But there will also be love, and there will also be music. In 1979, the Flashcubes were among the best live rock ‘n’ roll acts anywhere. My ears are still ringing. The moment lives on.

Flashcubes On Fire documents that precise moment, that pyrotechnic spark when the Flashcubes were at their peak: a quartet of rock ‘n’ rollers dead set for the toppermost of the poppermost. If you were there, you’ll never forget it. If you weren’t there, just close your eyes, open your imagination, and breathe in the gold. 

GOLD. You’re there now. You’re one of us, upstairs at the Firebarn. Grab a beer on your way up. Welcome to this golden world of promise under the bright, bright lights.

Carl Cafarelli

Syracuse Summer 2021

You can support this blog by becoming a patron on Patreon, or by visiting CC’s Tip Jar. Additional products and projects are listed here.

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.

I’m on Twitter @CafarelliCarl

Suburban HiFi / Superimposition

Suburban Hi-Fi

Superimposition (Futureman)

https://suburbanhifi.bandcamp.com/

Suburban HiFi is a side project parented by Greg Addington of the acclaimed Detroit, Michigan band The Hangabouts. Clever and catchy songwriting, paneled with various pop rock stylings, define the album, forming a goldmine of shapes and sounds that produce an immediate impact. 

Bright and lively melodies give way to a sense of sheer joy on the Raspberries-scented Vinyl On The Radio, which is also highlighted by a cool falsetto and striking breaks, and The Year In Pictures surges forth to an infectiously rocking grip, energized by sturdy and aggressive drumming. Donned in new-wavish accessories, entailing springy rhythms and a sharp and snarky edge, Made For TV dials in as the greatest song Elvis Costello never composed, whereas January Book, is a frail and dreamy ballad.

Utterly brilliant, The Space Between Us pins a nagging disco groove to a cracking arrangement cut of a hypnotic quality, where Beamed In pings and dings with spangly chords, pretty patterns and a nip of intergalactic sonic affects. Thieving cues from both XTC and Fountains of Wayne, Fight On Our Wedding Night hops and bops with luring hooks, and In Her Reverie signs on as a peerless piece of pop rock magic, molded of swirling colors, chiming tones and breathy and airy vocals, akin to those of Roger McGuinn

Strapped tight with spiffy guitar riffs, neat keyboard designs, fluid percussion and harmonious vocals, Superimposition spools out one enticing song after another. There’s something for everybody here, resulting in a recording possessing across the board appeal. When he’s not busy popping and rocking with The Hangabouts, perhaps Greg will find time to cook up another Suburban HiFi album. 

Categories
Got Any Singles?

Song Of The Year, Dolph Chaney’s “My Good Twin”

No song better illustrates the joyous intent of the Power Pop genre than Dolph Chaney’s My Good Twin. From his excellent This Is Dolph Chaney Lp, which is full of winners, it’s a short blast of the pop caffeine we all crave! OUTSTANDING!!

D. Pavelich

https://bigstirrecords.bandcamp.com/track/my-good-twin

The Weeklings / In Their Own Write

The Weeklings

In Their Own Write (JEM Records 2021)

http://www.jemrecordings.com/


Live albums are the next best thing to being there, especially when brought to you by a group as great as The Weeklings. Recorded on the stages of the Strand Theater in Lakewood, New Jersey and Daryl’s House in Pawling, New York, In Their Own Write truly does capture the widely adored combo in all their energetic and exciting splendor.

 Because The Weeklings are so adept at composing and playing heritage genres, you would swear on a stack of vinyl that their songs were platinum-plated hit singles from the golden age of pop rock. 
Bobbing with jingling guitars and cheery choruses, Little Tease, Don’t Know, Don’t Care and Little Elvis mimic the mop-topped Liverpool Class of 1963, where Morning, Noon And Night projects a stirring folk rock feel, accompanied by the tremor of a bluesy harmonica. 

Wrapped in rotating rhythms, surrounded by power chords  and drum drills snapping like rubber bands, In The Moment bears a potent Who presence, the chugging roll of 1,000 Miles Away rests firmly on Chuck Berry turf, and the melodic shimmer of Leave Me With My Pride would have been right at home on a Raspberries album.

No Weeklings’ gig is complete without greeting The Beatles. That said, In Their Own Write contains a pair of John Lennon and Paul McCartney covers, but rather than recycling the songs note for note, The Weeklings offer treatments that are far different from the original versions. Both The Word and Baby You’re A Rich Man are shaped of  a stately stance,  marked by weighty arrangements, a measured intensity and harmonica interludes, resulting in very unique and imaginative takes.

The Weeklings flex their stadium rock muscles to maximum momentum on the pulsing Running Away, which climaxes to a whirring jam, as well as the ultra-catchy 3, that bucks and bounces with stabbing hooks, elevated harmonies and a powerful and gritty lead vocal reminiscent of John Waite during his Babys days.

Intended to be experienced to at ear-splitting volume, In Their Own Right will have listeners clapping their hands, stomping their feet and singing along with these nifty tunes. The Weeklings have passed the audition. Here’s to a standing ovation and an encore! 

The Flamin’ Groovies: The Power Pop Hall of Fame

“1975 will be the year of The Flamin’ Groovies!”–Greg Shaw, Who Put The Bomp magazine
“It wasn’t, but it shoulda been.”–Groovies fans ever since then

It could be argued that no rock ‘n’ roll act was ever so good and simultaneously so ignored as San Francisco’s legendary Flamin’ Groovies. Throughout their long history and many personnel changes, the group was consistently out of step with the times. While contemporaries were properly freaking out and endlessly jamming in a tedious soundtrack to an emerging counterculture, the Groovies drew on unfashionable rock ‘n’ roll roots, alternately purveying good-time jug band music á la The Lovin’ Spoonful and rockin’ the motherlovin’ house down with a ferocity to rival The Rolling Stones and The Stooges. By the time reduced-frills rock started making a comeback in the ’70s, a new incarnation of The Flamin’ Groovies was dressed up in Mod clothing and playing polished power pop as if it were 1965 and the band was some mythic combination of The BeatlesByrdsBeach Boys, and Rolling Stones heading into the studio for a session with Phil Spector. And by the time “jangly pop” became a buzz phrase, The Flamin’ Groovies were so far underground that no amount of excavating could bring them to the surface, let alone to the pop stardom that should have been their divine right.

As it is, The Flamin’ Groovies produced some unforgettable work, including three oft-covered classics: “Slow Death,” “Teenage Head,” and the incomparable, booming “Shake Some Action,” which sounded like the eleventh-hour announcement of pop-rock Armageddon. Groovies fans are generally divided into two camps: those who favor the manic-rockin’ original Groovies fronted by Roy Loney, and those who prefer the pop perfection of the Sire years (1976-79) with Chris Wilson. In both incarnations, guitarist Cyril Jordan and bassist George Alexander kept the flame burning brightly.

It’s the Sire era that puts The Flamin’ Groovies into The Power Pop Hall Of Fame. That’s not a knock against the earlier stuff, much of which is just fantastic, but an acknowledgement that we wouldn’t be talking about the Groovies as a power pop act if judged solely on the basis of “Teenage Head” and “Second Cousin;” as irresistible as those tracks are, they’re closer to the cantankerous grandeur of, say, The Pretty Things than to anything one would call power pop. The Flamin’ Groovies’ three albums for Sire–Shake Some ActionNow, and Jumpin’ In The Night–radiate a catchy cool, combining the bop and swagger of a solid rock ‘n’ roll foundation with a swoon-worthy dedication to the giddy, visceral thrill of pure pop pursuits. Shake Some Action is one of the defining albums of the genre, loaded with exquisite tracks–“I Can’t Hide,” “You Tore Me Down,” “Yes It’s True,” “I’ll Cry Alone,” and the nonpareil title tune–that shimmer with conviction and glory. Now and Jumpin’ In The Night have been less celebrated by pundits, but nonetheless gave the undeserving world such pop gems as “Good Laugh Mun,” “All I Wanted,” “Yes I Am,” “Tell Me Again,” and the magnificent “First Plane Home.”

A different line-up of the Groovies (still including Jordan and Alexander) emerged in the late ’80s, releasing the Rock Juice album in 1992 before returning to the shadows. Eventually, Cyril Jordan and George Alexander reunited with Roy Loney for live gigs as The Flamin’ Groovies. Chris Wilson even joined in for an encore at one show, an event that had once seemed, y’know, really unlikely. Credit to all parties for transcending the accumulated baggage of the past.

Both Jordan and Wilson remain in the current edition of The Flamin’ Groovies, and they released an album called Fantastic Plastic in 2017, 24 years after Rock Juice, 38 years after Jumpin’ In The Night. George Alexander plays on some of the album, but Chris von Sneidern has occupied the bass spot for recent live shows. Is this finally The Year Of The Flamin’ Groovies? No, it is not. And that’s okay. To fans, every year is another year of the Groovies. Let us bust out at full speed, ’cause love is all we need to make it all right.

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-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.

Categories
Quick Spins

Tinted Windows

This week, I’m taking another look at reviews I wrote of various Adam Schlesinger projects, when my Quick Spins column ran in The Kenosha News. Adam’s recent passing due to the pandemic has really impacted me, so I’d really like to be a part of people discovering what made him such a special guy.

D.P.

Tinted Windows

Tinted Windows (S-curve)

http://www.tinted windows.com

Wow, did this album take me back. Tinted Windows‘ debut is a power pop feast that harkens back to the late seventies and early eighties. It’s no surprise then, to learn just who makes up this stellar group.

Tinted Windows are; Bun E. Carlos of Cheap Trick (drums), Adam Schlesinger of Fountains Of Wayne (bass), James Iha of Smashing Pumpkins (guitar)and Taylor Hanson of Hanson (lead vocals). Quite a line-up, to be sure.

“Kind Of A Girl” starts things off as one of the greatest singles I’ve heard in several years. With muscular guitars and drums propelling the ageless vocals of Taylor Hanson, it’s hard not to be suckered in.

You’ll find that most of these eleven tracks will blow by in what seems like seconds. They are catchy as all get out, especially the Latin-flavored “Cha Cha.” This is gonna sound great in the car this summer. Buy this. Now.

D.P.

Categories
Quick Spins

Big Stir Singles: The Fifth Wave

Various Artists

Big Stir Singles: The Fifth Wave (Big Stir)

http://www.bigstirrecords.com

Way back in the prehistoric 1990’s, cool record labels used to distribute sampler CD’s of their artists to record stores. They were usually in a stack at the front of the store, with other freebies like stickers and band flyers. Cool indie labels like Sub Pop, Mammoth and Enigma, used this as a marketing tool, to expose the music-buying public to their roster. In a move that puts a smile on my face, Big Stir Records is reviving the tradition.

Volume five in this series boasts a whopping twenty-three tracks, almost guaranteeing something for everyone. The including bands are old school, in that these tunes were inspired by classic guitar bands ranging from The Beatles to ELO to Teenage Fanclub and back again.

The GoAllTherWays open in glorious jangle with “Silly Girl,” before Mod Hippie lets loose with “Saturday Show,” rooting in equal parts Matthew Sweet and The Monkees. How can you not be energized by that? The Tor Guides bring the California sunshine with the buoyant “Just A Smile,” and The Forty Nineteens set their hyper-pop sights atop a reworked Bo Diddley beat, that’ll make you wanna get up and dance.

The stunner of the collection is the beautiful “Summer Blue” by Lannie Flowers. With enough clever chord changes and soothing harmonies to make Collingwood & Schlesinger blush, it just may be the best song I’ve heard in a couple of years. Wait, scratch that “may be.” It is.

D.P.

Categories
Quick Spins

The Toms /The 1979 Sessions

The Toms

The 1979 Sessions (Futureman)

http://www.tommymarolda.com

When Tommy Marolda sequestered himself into his home studio one weekend in 1979, he probably didn’t realize that the Lp he was creating would come to be coveted by power pop vinyl collectors. As rare as that platter is, thankfully, our friends at Futureman Records have seen fit to reissue in on CD.

If bands like Shoes, The Knack and The Raspberries mean anything to you, this may just be your next favorite record. Boyish vocals top Beatlesque choruses, weaving through the Revolver-ish “Call The Surgeon (Part 2) to the Rutle-y “Guilty As A Killer Wave.” Marolda is a one-man band with rare aplomb, and these fourteen songs are an absolute joy to take in.

It would not be over-selling “The 1979 Sessions” to say that it is a pop masterpiece, because it most certainly is.

D.P.

Update: I was incorrect in stating that these recordings and The Toms’ debut are one and the same. These are previously-unreleased recordings, that were tracked during the same whirlwind sessions as the debut. Thanks to Futureman’s Keith Klingensmith for setting the record straight, I’m even more impressed now!