Congrats to The Go-Go’s on reaching Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame!
Continuing a look back at my first exposure to a number of rock ‘n’ roll acts and superheroes (or other denizens of print or periodical publication), some of which were passing fancies, and some of which I went on to kinda like. They say you never forget your first time; that may be true, but it’s the subsequent visits–the second time, the fourth time, the twentieth time, the hundredth time–that define our relationships with the things we cherish. Ultimately, the first meeting is less important than what comes after that. But every love story still needs to begin with that first kiss.
This was originally posted as part of a longer piece. It’s separated here for convenience.
In the ’70s, there was a persistent rock ‘n’ roll legend–not a true story, but a persistent one–that singer Rod Stewart had collapsed on stage during a concert, and had to be rushed to the hospital. In the ER, it was said that Stewart’s stomach was pumped, revealing that he had ingested 10cc of seminal fluid. And again, this absurd and homophobic story was not true. But when I first heard it, its nonsensical nature didn’t stop me from immediately quipping that Stewart went straight from the ER to the studio to record his cover of The Ohio Express‘ bubblegum hit, “Yummy Yummy Yummy (I Got Love In My Tummy).”
This was, of course, not where I first heard of The Ohio Express.
The Ohio Express were never going to be candidates for The Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame, no way, no how. They were less a band and more a means to an end, a vehicle, or really just a name for a vehicle Kasenetz-Katz–producers Jerry Kasenetz and Jeff Katz–could drive to the bank, a bubblemobile loaded with cash taken from eager adolescents in exchange for chewy-chewy catchy-catchy 45 rpm records to spin on Close-N-Plays across the USA. There was another vehicle called The 1910 Fruitgum Company, and other limited-use vehicles with names like Kasenetz-Katz Singing Orchestral Circus, Crazy Elephant, and Lt. Garcia’s Magic Music Box. The whole fleet was built for speed, not durability, slapped together by an assembly line that valued a fast joy ride over safety, comfort, or aesthetics. But these were sweet rides nonetheless–sweeter than sugar. None was sweeter than The Ohio Express.
It’s a common misconception to say that The Ohio Express didn’t really exist, that they were strictly a fictional construct for Kasenetz & Katz’s to toil within as a DBA shell company. This is almost true, but not quite 100 % true. There was a band called The Ohio Express. It’s just that this band called The Ohio Express didn’t really have anything to do with most of the records credited to a “band” called The Ohio Express. This was certainly the case with the very first Ohio Express single, a stunning garage stomper called “Beg, Borrow And Steal.”
“Beg, Borrow And Steal” by The Ohio Express may be The Greatest Record Ever Made, and it will get its turn in that particular Boppin’ blog spotlight. After that single was released and starting to chart in 1967, Kasenetz & Katz recruited an Ohio band called Sir Timothy & the Royals to be The Ohio Express, playing live dates to promote this new single, even though Sir Timothy and company had nothing to do with the record. In fact, the record predates even the concept of The Ohio Express; “Beg, Borrow And Steal” had previously been a failed 1966 single credited to The Rare Breed on the Attack label, and that very same Rare Breed track became an Ohio Express single on Cameo Records. Lawyers, start your engines!
Creative branding aside, The Ohio Express did one album (Beg, Borrow & Steal) for Cameo, which included the title track, a couple of tracks by future superstar Joe Walsh, a charting cover of The Standells‘ salacious “Try It,” and a simply superb LP track called “Had To Be Me,” the latter written by Jim Pfayler of the Royals and the Express. Real success came when The Ohio Express moved on to the new Buddah Records label, and embraced a new marketing concept: bubblegum music.
Joey Levine, the singer/songwriter who’d penned “Try It,” provided the scratch vocal for a demo of “Yummy Yummy Yummy,” a song he’d co-written with Artie Resnick, and which Jay & the Techniques had rejected as too juvenile. Yes, it was rejected as too juvenile by the group that hit big with “Apples, Peaches, Pumpkin Pie.” Holler Oy! By contrast, Kasenetz & Katz flipped out over the demo, and released it–scratch Levine vocal and all–as the next Ohio Express single in 1968. It was an international Top 10 hit, # 4 in the U.S., and far and away the best-selling record to ever bear the Ohio Express brand name. Levine never joined the band, but he became their de facto lead singer on subsequent singles “Down At Lulu’s,” “Sweeter Than Sugar,” “Mercy,” and “Chewy Chewy.” A later studio incarnation of The Ohio Express recorded a Graham Gouldman song called “Sausalito (Is The Place To Go);” that studio incarnation included Gouldman, Eric Stewart, Kevin Godley, and Lol Creme, a combo that would later be known as 10cc.
Um–don’t tell Rod Stewart about the 10cc/Ohio Express bit.
Me? I first heard The Ohio Express on AM radio, warblin’ about all that love they had in their tummies. Yummy! I may have heard it when it was a hit, or I may have caught up to it later on oldies radio in the ’70s. My first copy of the song came on a flea-market purchase, a sampler LP called 20 Heavy Hits. 20 Heavy Hits was a 1970 release on the Crystal Corporation label, though I snagged mine several years after that. I may have bought it just to get The Turtles‘ “She’d Rather Be With Me,” but it had a varied wealth of pop single tracks, from The Amboy Dukes‘ “Journey To The Center Of The Mind” to The Delfonics‘ “La La Means I Love You.” Among these was “Yummy Yummy Yummy,” but I was far more taken with the pumpin’ “Down At Lulu’s,” which I’d never heard before. Consider that track a plank on my path to punk and The Ramones.
I liked “Yummy Yummy Yummy” a little. I liked “Down At Lulu’s” a lot. But The Ohio Express, whether creation or contrivance, never meant much to me until one evening around 1983 or so. I was at a Buffalo, NY nightclub called The Continental, and the DJ was noted rock ‘n’ roll journalist (and key Boppin’ [Like The Hip Folks Do] inspiration) Gary Sperrazza! I don’t remember many specifics of what Gary played that night–if it was Buffalo in the ’80s, I was probably drinking–but one track stands out with crystal clarity: “Beg, Borrow And Steal” by The Ohio Express. I had never heard the song before. It was love at first spin.
Over time, I developed a bit more appreciation for The Ohio Express. “Down At Lulu’s” was the theme song for a great radio show of the same name, hosted in the mid ’80s by DJ Cal Zone on Buffalo’s WBNY-FM. In the ’90s, I interviewed Joey Levine for my massive Goldmine piece An Informal History Of Bubblegum, and became a big fan of the song “Sweeter Than Sugar.” Much later, I tracked down a beat-up copy of the Beg, Borrow & Steal LP, and played The Ohio Express’ version of “Try It” on This Is Rock ‘n’ Roll Radio. Then Mike McDowell of Blitz magazine said to me Sure, fine, “Try It,” great. But you should be playing “Had To Be Me.” I pulled out the LP, which I’d only purchased for “Beg, Borrow And Steal” and “Try It” before filing it away, and I gave “Had To Be Me” my first listen.
Damn. When Mike’s right, Mike’s right.
“Had To Be Me” went on to become one of the defining tracks of This Is Rock ‘n’ Roll Radio‘s long mutant existence; my pal Dave Murray chuckles at the notion of an Ohio Express album track receiving saturation airplay, but we all agree that the track deserves it. Yummy Yummy Yummy indeed. It had to be The Ohio Express.
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.
Some years back, my friend Gary Pig Gold solicited replies to this poll question: Should Pat Boone Be Inducted Into The Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame? Although there were a fair amount of replies from intelligent and otherwise-reasonable folks in favor of this preposterous notion, I fell firmly in the No, No, NO!!! camp. Still do. If you think it’s odd that I advocate the immediate induction of The Monkees but categorically snub Mr. Boone, then you may be reading the wrong blog.
(How strong is my opposition to Boone’s induction? I think Percy Sledge, Madonna, and Bon Jovi have much stronger RnRHOF resumes, even though I don’t care about Bon Jovi and I regard Sledge and Madonna as the least qualified among all of the acts already inducted into the Hall. And incidentally, I do understand the justification for rap artists in a Rock And Roll Hall of Fame; I certainly think Grandmaster Flash belongs more than Pat Boone would.)
You can still read Gary’s original poll results here. This is what I wrote:
No. I’m tempted to add “Absolutely not!,” but I’m aware of the arguments in Boone’s favor. Give ‘im his due: he did help to popularize many classic R & B tunes with his wretched, whitebread covers of “Tutti Frutti,” “Ain’t That a A Shame,” “Long Tall Sally,” et al. But his bloodless covers were hits at the expense of the vastly superior versions by the likes of Little Richard and Fats Domino.
Proponents for Boone’s induction into the Rock Hall claim that his covers of these great early rock ‘n’ roll records were pivotal, since segregated white radio stations would never have played the “race-music” originals; Boone’s versions therefore brought the songs to an audience that would otherwise never have heard that ol’ “A-wop-bop-a-loo-bop-a-lop-bam-boom!” The claim has some validity; I reject it nonetheless. Boone’s records were never intended to spread the gospel of rock ‘n’ roll or R & B–they were intended to dilute the music’s power, to make it safe for White America and, oh yeah, make a big pile of money while effectively shutting out the black guys who created this transcendent music to begin with.
Apartheid should not be rewarded. I don’t hold Boone personally responsible for the inherent racism of his early, ersatz rock ‘n’ roll success. But nor do I see any good reason to consider him a rock ‘n’ roll pioneer, nor even a rock ‘n’ roller of any description or distinction. And there’s certainly no good reason for him to be in the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame.
Pete Townshend was born on this day in 1945, in Chiswick, Middlesex, England. A founding member of The Who, whose classics “My Generation” and “Won’t Get Fooled Again” became anthems for a generation. Townshend’s rock operas Tommy and Quadropenia were both adapted for the big screen. He’s also a member of The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.