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Eight-Track Mind

My veteran stereo receiver recently reached the end of its days. My needs are simple, but I wasn’t taken with any of the immediate replacement options. A friend offered to give me an old Yamaha receiver, so I took him up on it. It’s cool and old-school, without the surround-sound pizzazz that would have been extraneous for my use, but with a sufficient number of inputs. I need inputs for phono, CD, TV, cassette, and mini-disc. I hooked the whole magilla up Tuesday morning, and tested the respective inputs with a Peter & Gordon LP, a power pop compilation CD, a Veronica Mars blu-ray, a B.D. Love cassette, and a back-and-forth mini-disc run-through of playing The Flashcubes and recording the previously-noted Peter & Gordon LP. All systems GO!, and my rock ‘n’ roll capabilities have now been duly restored.

While I had everything disassembled and about to be put back together, I tested one other piece of equipment, something I’ve never had hooked up on any permanent basis. I connected my eight-track player, and listened to a minute of my only eight-track tape, Dedication by The Bay City Rollers.

Although all but 16 days of my teen years were contained within that garish decade called the 1970s, eight-tracks were never my thing. I was primarily a vinyl guy, LPs and 45s alike. My first tape recorder was a reel-to-reel, and I moved from there to cassettes. The reel-to-reel was exclusively a plaything for recording–I never owned a prerecorded reel-to-reel product–and my cassette players were mostly for recording, too. I had a few cassettes, though the only one I remember owning in the ’70s was my copy of the Billy Jack soundtrack. GO AHEAD AND HATE YOUR NEIGHBOR, GO AHEAD AND CHEAT A FRIEND..!  Oops–sorry! ’70s flashback there. I also recall listening to my cousin Mark’s Deep Purple cassettes during our summer vacations in Missouri. To this day, a spin of “Highway Star” calls those happy days to the forefront of my memories. 

But really, my cassette deck was mostly used for creating mixtapes, accomplished by placing the little gizmo right next to one of the speakers at our home stereo, putting the needle on a BeatlesElton John, or Three Dog Night record, and trying to press RECORD on the deck before the music started. Fidelity? Not my main interest. I also tried to record my own comedy bits, either solo or with Mark. Not much fidelity there, either.

It must have been around 1977 or so that we got a new family stereo, with turntable, AM/FM tuner, and…eight-track? Awrighty. The eight-track never got much attention from me; I have a vague recollection of trying and failing to use the eight-track to record…something. God knows what. Still, knowing there was an eight-track player at my disposal, I bought exactly one budget eight-track tape: a collection of early sides by Paul Revere & the Raiders. That eight-track contained material predating the Raiders’ more successful run with Columbia Records, and it included stuff like their instrumental hit “Like, Long Hair.” I chiefly remember a song called “Sharon,” because I was keepin’ company at the time with a girl named Sharon, whom I’d met that fall ’77 semester at college. Sharon wasn’t in the picture with me for very long, making it really easy to pinpoint the approximate date of that stereo and its underused eight-track.

For dramatic purposes, the part of my ex-girlfriend Sharon shall be played by my vintage 1977 poster of actress Suzanne Somers

That stereo is, of course, long gone, and so is my Paul Revere & the Raiders eight-track. And, um, Sharon, too; she was gone by the end of ’77. I never gave much thought to eight-tracks again until, believe it or not, the ’90s, courtesy of my radio co-host Dana. Some time in between the death of our first radio show We’re Your Friends For Now in 1991 and the dawn of the inexplicably long-lived This Is Rock ‘n’ Roll Radio at the end of ’98, Dana surprised me with the gift of an old eight-track player, and the above-mentioned Bay City Rollers tape. 

It still works, or at least it works as well as an eight-track player should be expected to work. I’ve often thought about hooking it up and leaving it hooked up, just because, but I could never spare an input for it. 

Until now. 

My freshly-installed Yamaha has enough open jacks for me to leave the eight-track player in place, and be free to re-live the ’70s Bay City Rollers eight-track experience at will. If I could find ’em cheaply, I could even expand my eight-track collection with tapes by The RamonesThe Flamin’ GrooviesThe Isley BrothersThe Raspberries, and…and….

No.

Over these past few years, I’ve begun a conscious effort to curtail my natural packrat ways. I’m not going to stop accumulating books–let’s not get crazy–but I sold nearly two-thirds of my comic book collection. I still buy new comic books, but I only keep a few of them. I rarely buy vinyl, and I try to keep my CD purchases within range of my ability to store them. I’m trying to cut back on tchotchkes. I don’t need to add eight-tracks to my vast accumulation of stuff.

So, with some reluctance, I disconnected the eight-track player and put it back in storage. If I ever really want to, I could hook it back up should the mood strike me, whenever, subject to the whims of my eight-track mind. Push and play. I feel younger already.

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THE GREATEST RECORD EVER MADE: Rock And Roll love Letter

An infinite number of rockin’ pop records can be the greatest record ever made, as long as they take turns. Today, this is THE GREATEST RECORD EVER MADE!

THE BAY CITY ROLLERS: “Rock And Roll Love Letter”
The next Beatles.

No one believed that particular bit of hype. I don’t recall the phrase “boy band” as part of the pop music lexicon in 1975, but it would have fit The Bay City Rollers like a Tartan glove. I was initially indifferent to them. As a discerning ‘n’ worldly 15-year-old Beatles fan, I thought the very notion of these Scottish wannabes, with their chanted S! A! T-U-R! D-A-Y! NIGHT!!,ever becoming a John, Paul, George, and Ringo just ludicrous. I dismissed them on that basis.

Dismissed them. I didn’t hate them. I dismissed them.

TV personality Howard Cosell took the hype seriously (though I betcha he didn’t really believe it either). In ’75, Cosell was launching a new live variety show called Saturday Night Livenot the famous one–patterned after The Ed Sullivan Show. Given Cosell’s goal to be the next Ed Sullivan, he wanted to introduce the next Beatles to the U.S. The Bay City Rollers made their American television debut on Howard Cosell’s Saturday Night Live. Again, not the famous one.

But slowly–and then more quickly–my indifference and dismissal began to yield to curiosity and burgeoning interest. I liked the idea of rockin’ pop teen sensations, The Beatles, The Dave Clark FiveHerman’s HermitsThe Monkees, even (one could argue) The Raspberries. I liked rockin’ pop songs meant to be played on the radio, from Badfinger to Johnny Nash to KISS. “Saturday Night” wasn’t a bad record; as I gave it a fair listen, it turned out to be a decent record. The Rollers’ second U.S. hit “Money Honey” was even better. And their third U.S. hit…well, we’re getting ahead of ourselves.

By the time The Bay City Rollers invaded America, they had already been stars in the UK. The group formed as The Saxons in 1966, with original members including lead singer “Nobby” Clark, bassist Alan Longmuir, and drummer Derek Longmuir, Alan’s brother. The Saxons became The Bay City Rollers, and had a UK hit with a cover of The Gentrys‘ “Keep On Dancing” in 1971. Follow-up singles, including a little something called “Saturday Night,” did not match the success of “Keep On Dancing.” The line-up evolved, as guitarist Eric Faulkner became a Roller, and “Remember (Sha La La)” returned the group to the UK Top Ten. Clark split, replaced by new lead singer Les McKeown, and guitarist (later bassist) Stuart “Woody” Wood joined. McKeown, Faulkner, Wood, and the Longmuir brothers became the  Rollers we know, and British stardom ensued. Hit singles. TV shows. Teen magazines. The Bay City Rollers were the idols of young lasses across the British Isles in 1974 and ’75. In late ’75, the colonies beckoned. Howard Cosell. “The next British phenomenon.” “Saturday Night,” a # 1 hit in America with a new version of a song that had never even charted back home. Success. International success.

Success, and immediate, everlasting scorn. That’s the price of being called the next Beatles. That’s also the price of actively courting an audience of adolescent females, young girls who’ll swear to love you forever, and plaster their bedrooms with craven images of their idols, only to outgrow you and move on. Ask David Cassidy, or Davy Jones before him. The Bay City Rollers’ music was not–and would never be–taken seriously.

Some of it deserved better.

I’m not trying to make a case for The Bay City Rollers’ induction into The Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame. But I will insist there are true gems within the Rollers canon. “Rock And Roll Love Letter” is one such gem.

“Rock And Roll Love Letter” was written by Tim Moore, who recorded the original version for his 1975 album Behind The Eyes. It was a perfectly fine pop ditty. Its simple charm was transformed into something greater in the unlikely hands of The Bay City Rollers. The Rollers discarded extraneous lyrics about being crazy to express themselves this way, revamping and renovating the song’s basic structure. They replaced the easygoing sway of Moore’s instrumental opening with a quick rat-tat of drums, guitars then taking over to assume command of your heart, your soul, and your radio. It was louder. It was pop. It was a manifesto. I feel an ancient rhythm in a man’s genetic code/I’m gonna keep on rock ‘n’ rollin’ ’til my genes explode.

A rock and roll love letter.

Few would ever give The Bay City Rollers the credit they deserved. Boy bandPop stars. A guy I knew once referenced the great British group The Records and their own subsequent cover of “Rock And Roll Love Letter,” hailing The Records for rescuing the tune from the crass, clueless clutches of the deplorable, disposable Rollers. The comment made my blood boil. Now, The Records were a fantastic group; “Starry Eyes” is also The Greatest Record Ever Made, and it’s not even my favorite Records record (which would be “Hearts Will Be Broken”). The Records’ version of “Rock And Roll Love Letter” is lovely.

It does not surpass the Rollers.

Without recognition from critics and pundits, The Bay City Rollers comforted themselves with the cool lucre of continued chart success for a little while longer. The American Rock And Roll Love Letter LP included a fabulous, group-written power pop song called “Wouldn’t You Like It,” which shoulda been a single, shoulda been a hit. Alan Longmuir left the group, replaced initially by Ian Mitchell, who was replaced briefly by Pat McGlynn, and then replaced by no one as The Bay City Rollers became the next Fab Four, in number anyway. In the U.S., there were still a few more hits: a cover of Dusty Springfield‘s “I Only Want To Be With You,” the dynamic “Yesterday’s Hero” (originally an Australian hit for Paul Young, written by Harry Vanda and George Young of The Easybeats), “You Made Me Believe In Magic,” and “The Way I Feel Tonight.” Their star faded. Tick-tock. Such is the finite shelf life of teen mania. Alan Longmuir returned. A 1978-79 Saturday morning kiddie TV show with Sid and Marty Krofft served as the epitaph for their career. Les McKeown split, acrimoniously. Faulkner, Wood, and the Longmuirs regrouped under the truncated name The Rollers (with new lead singer Duncan Faure, ex of South African group Rabbitt) and made some outstanding records that did not sell. The next Beatles had reached the end of their short and winding road.

That’s sales. That’s popularity. That’s the broader equivalent of the schoolyard milieu we hope to outgrow someday. Cliques. Crushes. Notes passed in class, clandestine fantasies of holding hands and meeting at the lips, adolescent wishes for the rapture of romance. The pre-teen dream. The fact that The Bay City Rollers catered specifically to that fantasy doesn’t negate the occasional moments when they transcended it. Hey sister poet, dear brother poet, too.  “Rock And Roll Love Letter” exploded from the radio like an effervescent communique from an alternate world ruled by the virtues of pure pop. But I need to spend my body, I’m a music-makin’ man/And no page can release it like this amplifier can.

The little girls still understand. Older and wiser, maybe we can all understand it. too. It is what it promised it would be: a rock and roll love letter. The words are true, and meant for you. Gonna sign it, gonna seal it, gonna mail it away.

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He Buys Every Rock ‘n’ Roll Book On The Magazine Stands, Part 1: The Circus And The Stone

The first rock ‘n’ roll magazines I recall seeing were issues of Circus and Rolling Stone. I found them around the house, and I presume they belonged to one of my older siblings, probably my sister Denise. I am reasonably certain that neither of my parents would have been into either magazine. On the other hand, my Dad worked at the post office, so it’s equally plausible that these were dead-letter subscription copies that had been discarded, and that maybe Dad brought ’em home. Either way, these magazines made their way to our living room in North Syracuse.

Circus never meant much to me, and although I occasionally flipped through new issues on the magazine racks when looking for rock ‘n’ roll reading material in later years, it wasn’t something I cared about. Until a couple of days ago, I’d largely forgotten that Circus was my first, from 1973. I remembered that Carly Simon was on the cover, and a bit of Google sleuthing led me to the likely culprit pictured above.

I liked Simon at the time. I was an AM radio fanatic. I enjoyed her singles “Anticipation” and “You’re So Vain,” as well as “That’s The Way I’ve Always Heard It Should Be,” and I would continue to like a few more of her hits before I lost interest in the mid ’70s. I’m sure I read the Circus article about her, and I would imagine I at least glanced through the other cover-mentioned pieces about Deep PurpleYesBlack SabbathStevie WonderTommy, and Colombo‘s Peter Falk. But I remember virtually none of it. Not even the Uriah Heep calendar! Though it is fitting that my first rock magazine should presage my first live rock show: my first concert was KISS with opening act Uriah Heep on December 16th, 1976. A coincidence, sure, but a cool connection nonetheless.

My second rock magazine had a little more lasting impact: Suzi Quatro on the cover of the Rolling Stone, January 1975. Swoon! I was instantly smitten with Quatro, even though I’d never heard of her before seeing this magazine. I read the article about her, but didn’t get an opportunity to hear her music until much later. When I finally got to hear and see Suzi Q sing “I May Be Too Young” on the British TV show Supersonic in 1976, it verified the veracity of my smitten nature. Did I mention swoon? Thanks, Rolling Stone!

Most rock fans of my age or older had some affection for Rolling Stone at some point, and I was no exception to that. Other than a 1976 issue with The Beatles on its cover, I don’t think I read the magazine much (if at all) before starting college in 1977. But I devoured Charles M. Young‘s cover story about The Sex Pistols. My roommate Arthur had a subscription to Stone, despised punk, and eventually passed his copy of that Pistols issue to me (with the disdainful expression of one handing over a sack of poopy diapers). I bought Rolling Stone sporadically; I enjoyed “Bang The Head Slowly,” Timothy White‘s 1979 piece about The Ramones, but bemoaned the fact that The Ramones never rated an RS cover feature during their blitzkrieg-boppin’ lifetime.

I eventually subscribed to Rolling Stone, but I grew increasingly and frustratingly aware of the annoying polar opposites that characterized the magazine’s approach: one half rooted in a smug, condescending rote-hippie consciousness, the other not rooted at all, but embarrassingly eager to chase and embrace whatever shiny Next Big Thing mirage flits across pop culture’s short attention span. Come on–Rolling Stone‘s putz swine-in-chief Jann Wenner still insists on blocking The Monkees from The Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame, but he’s fine with cover-featuring Kardashians? Sorry, even introducing me to Suzi Quatro doesn’t earn sufficient gravitas to compensate for that. Rolling Stone and I parted company a long time ago.

But let’s get back to the ’70s. In spite of being initiated via Circus and Rolling Stone, I don’t really recall reading many rock mags during my high school years. I was certainly into the music. I mean, I listened to radio nearly all of the time, bought records when I could afford them, tried to catch rock ‘n’ roll on TV when the opportunity presented itself. But the meager spending cash I had for reading material went to comic books, pulp paperbacks, and the occasional Playboy or Penthouse. The latter resource did include a little bit of rock ‘n’ roll coverage amidst its more celebrated, y’know, uncoverage. I remember reading the lyrics to The Kinks‘ “Here Comes Yet Another Day” in a Penthouse article, at a time when I was just beginning to learn about The Kinks. Penthouse also published an extremely dismissive piece about The Bay City Rollers, and an interview with Patti Smith that was the first time I’d even heard of her.

The only other rock-related magazines I remember from my North Syracuse High School days were Welcome Back Beatles, a series of fanciful scenarios detailing fictional Beatles reunions, and a Bay City Rollers one-shot fan magazine. Oh, and Marvel‘s KISS comic book. And there was still one more bona fide rock ‘n’ roll publication that did matter to me, and it mattered a lot. I only saw two issues of this during my senior year, plus one more back issue the following summer. Even so, the impact of those tabloid pages was far greater than any other rock read I’d experienced to that point.

This was something new. This was something different. This was Phonograph Record Magazine.

TO BE CONTINUED!

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THE OTHER SIDE OF THE HIT (B-Side Appreciation): Babysitter

THE RAMONES: “Babysitter”
Sire, 1978; A-SIDE: “Do You Wanna Dance”

It may be a tiny bit disingenuous to refer to a B-side by The Ramones as being “the other side of the hit.” The Ramoneswere a pop band, but they were a pop band without any hit records. They never broke into the Top 40, nor did they receive much airplay to speak of. The Ramones somehow pummeled their way into the lower half of Billboard‘s Hot 100 chart with three consecutive singles in 1977 and ’78. “Sheena Is A Punk Rocker” made it to # 81. “Rockaway Beach” was the relative breakout, peaking at # 66. “Do You Wanna Dance” was The Ramones’ third and final shot at the top of the pops, and its shot stalled at # 86. The Ramones would never again darken the singles chart with their uncouth presence. Somewhere, Casey Kasem breathed a sigh of relief. And up one from last week, swapping spots with Swedish supergroup ABBA, we have those Forest Hills punk rockers The Ramones with “Teenage Lobotomy.”

Nonetheless: They were all hits to me.

My road to The Ramones wasn’t exactly circuitous, but nor was it necessarily as direct as one might expect. I read about The Ramones in magazines, primarily in the tabloid Phonograph Record Magazine. I had never heard them–as noted, they weren’t quite tearin’ up the airwaves on AM or FM in Syracuse in 1977–but I was intrigued by what I read. Frankly, they scared me, but they didn’t scare me enough to kill my growing sense of curiosity about this elusive, unheard…noise. Noise, perhaps, but potentially transcendent noise. I ached to hear its secret sound.

If you’re a younger music fan in this fantastic world of the 21st century, the very idea of any kind of music, or any conceivable sort of pop commodity, being elusive or unheard is as alien and archaic as stone tablets or immobile, wired entertainment. In the fall of ’77, I heard my first Ramones record–“Blitzkrieg Bop”–by requesting RAMONES!!!! at my college campus radio station. I bought the “Sheena” 45 before I’d even heard the damned thing, and my transformation into a fully-invested Ramones fan was complete. It might not have been as convenient as YouTube or Spotify, but I got there.

By the spring of ’78, I’d added the “Rockaway Beach” single and the Ramones LP to my vinyl library, and I saw a live Ramones show over Easter break. In Bomp! magazine, writers Greg Shaw and Gary Sperrazza! had waxed rhapsodic about The Ramones as a power pop band, listing “Sheena” and “Rockaway Beach” among the all-time great power pop tracks. Shaw was further knocked out by a ballad–a ballad!–called “Here Today Gone Tomorrow” on the Rocket To Russia album, and The Ramones’ then-unreleased cover of The Searchers‘ “Needles And Pins.” I heard “Here Today Gone Tomorrow” played live, pined to hear da brudders warble about needles and pins-za, and reveled in the giddy euphoria of falling in love with a pop band.

None of which really prepared me for “Babysitter.”

As a cash-strapped college lad, I preferred to buy Rocket To Russia on the installment plan, one 45 at a time. Looking back, I’m not 100 % certain whether I purchased the “Do You Wanna Dance” single before or after my introduction to live Ramones. The A-side was just ace, probably my favorite cover track ever, streamlining and energizing the familiar pop classic while remaining essentially faithful to previous templates by Bobby Freeman and The Beach BoysThis is the one, I thought. This is the one that’s gonna get The Ramones on the radio. THIS is the hit!
The B-sides of the “Sheena” and “Rockaway Beach” singles had been Rocket To Russia album tracks (“I Don’t Care” and “Locket Love” respectively). This third single from the album had a non-LP track, “Babysitter.” It was a ballad, The Ramones’ second ballad as far as I was aware. It freakin’ blew me away.

I guess Greg Shaw’s mention of The Ramones covering “Needles And Pins” should have prepped me for “Babysitter.” It did not. When I heard the song for the first time, I wrote My GAWD, The Searchers live on! “Babysitter”certainly shares beaucoup DNA with “Needles And Pins,” its folk-rock riff drawn from the same gene pool that gave us The Byrds and The Beau Brummels, albeit messier, grungier, more exuberant. The scowling countenances of Joey, Johnny, Dee Dee, and Tommy notwithstanding, “Babysitter”‘s tale of late-night kissin’ and canoodlin’ with a babysittin’ chickfriend is inherently more upbeat than The Searchers’ lover’s lament. It’s a more leisurely-paced companion to The Ramones’ earlier “Oh Oh I Love Her So,” a joyous and straight-faced celebration of over-the-top, hormonal teen romance. It signifies The Ramones fully embracing a presumed identity as an unabashed, unashamed pop act, America’s rockin’ response to The Bay City Rollers.

If ever a post-1960s record deserved to be a double A-side chart and radio smash, “Do You Wanna Dance”/”Babysitter” would qualify to join the hallowed ranks of “I Get Around”/”Don’t Worry Baby,” “I’m A Believer”/”(I’m Not Your) Steppin’ Stone,” and a short stack o’ Beatles 45s. I could not believe it when that pop dream failed to materialize. Stupid real world.

Joey Ramone, Bowzer, and Marky Ramone mugging on TV’s Sha Na Na. Sometimes the stupid real world gets a few little things right here and there.

Throughout the rest of the ’70s and all through the ’80s, I never gave up hope that The Ramones would break big, that they’d start selling records in the gaudily massive quantity I felt was their just due. It was important to me. I wanted the world at large to appreciate The Ramones like I appreciated The Ramones; I wanted them to appear on Solid Gold and Entertainment Tonight, to make a delightful blockbuster sequel to their sole film Rock ‘n’ Roll High School, to be household names, to be respected and idolized. I wanted to hear The Ramones on the goddamned radio. They had to die before that would happen. Stupid, stupid real world.

It should have been different. If nothing else, The Ramones should have scored big with an incredible cover of “Do You Wanna Dance,” a distillation of pure bliss that deserved to rule radio and the planet by divine right. Its B-side was an irresistible confection called “Babysitter:” the other side of the hit that never was.

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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-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.

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THE GREATEST RECORD EVER MADE: I Only Want To Be With You

Here’s another chapter from my eventual book The Greatest Record Ever Made! (Volume 1)An infinite number of rockin’ pop records can be the greatest record ever made, as long as they take turns. Today, this is THE GREATEST RECORD EVER MADE!

DUSTY SPRINGFIELD: I Only Want To Be With You

Written by Mike Hawker and Ivor Raymonde

Produced by Johnny Franz

Single, Philips Records [U.K.] single, 1963


There is a persistent temptation (and corresponding peril) in attempting to apply contemporary context to past events. It’s revisionist history, a sparkly thing that’s difficult to resist, even as we just chat about the pop songs that enrich our lives. Please forgive me for the premeditated sin I’m about to commit. Because as I look back, I can’t help but wonder what singing a song called “I Only Want To Be With You” may have meant to a closeted bisexual woman named Dusty Springfield.
It’s plausible to counter that she didn’t even think about the connection between the lyrics of her first big hit record and the love she had to hide away. We look back on the ’60s as a time of cultural revolution, an expansion of civil rights, social conscience, a slow dawning of recognition of the disenfranchised at society’s margins. Gay rights weren’t really seen as part of that at the time. Maybe it started to change, incrementally, with the Stonewall riots in 1969, which served as the flashpoint for the gay rights movement as the ’70s beckoned. But in 1963? The closet. The closet was where one stayed if one was gay in ’63.

British singer Dusty Springfield (born Mary Isobel Catherine Bernadette O’Brien) was a member of a folk trio called The Springfields. Presaging The Ramones, the members of The Springfields (which included Dusty’s brother Tom) took the group’s name as a surname; combining this with a nickname she’d gained as a soccer-loving tomboy in her youth, Mary O’Brien became Dusty Springfield. Dusty left The Springfields in 1963, and began her solo career with a single: “I Only Want To Be With You.”I don’t know what it is that makes me love you soI only know I never want to let you go’Cause you started somethingCan’t you see?That ever since we met you’ve had a hold on meIt happens to be trueI only want to be with you
A decade later, writer Greg Shaw would note that Dusty Springfield’s “I Only Want To Be With You” explodes with as much pure pop noise as any Dave Clark Five record. The horns propel, the strings soar, the girl-group spirit celebrates, the music leans forward the way a rockin’ pop song outta. Miss Dusty Springfield presides over all of it, dancing by herself at the microphone, singing sweetly of her love, her happiness, her contented fulfillment in the arms of her chosen one. Her only wish, only ambition, is to be with the object of her desire. It can–we hope–really be as simple as that.

Falling in love is an experience. In our pop music, we prefer it to be a giddy, blissful experience, free of the heartache and doubt that may often threaten us in our real-world affairs. Pop songs do recognize that love’s path may lead through temptation, betrayal, misery, to tests of faith and failures in spite of good initial intent, a path that might reach redemption or fall prey to the hazards that cause us to crash, broken and beaten, before we get to that magic place we so wanted to claim as home. Pop songs can reflect the complications and compromises we may face day to day, every day.
But both pop music and love itself can offer the promise of something sweeter to believe in. Joni Mitchell described the love’s illusions she recalled as The dizzy dancing way you feelNeil Diamond (via Micky Dolenz) saw a face that made him a believer. The Temptations had sunshine on a cloudy day, and so many others have used music to express sacred hopes for new love. Wouldn’t it be nice to be together? I’ve just seen a face, I can’t forget the time or place. No matter what you are, I will always be with you. Hey hey, you you, I wanna be your boyfriend.
Nothing has ever embodied that hope and celebration with greater authority than Dusty Springfield and “I Only Want To Be With You.” The song is love, new love, everlasting love. It radiates with the sheer delight of falling in love. Even listening to it again now, you still believe Dusty as she sings about the only thing she really wants.

Some may regard “I Only Want To Be With You” as a relatively minor part of Dusty Springfield’s career. It was her first single and her first hit (# 4 in the UK, # 12 in the States), but “Wishin’ And Hopin'” and “You Don’t Have To Say You Love Me” were bigger hits in America. “Son Of A Preacher Man” didn’t match the chart performance of any of those, but it’s likely considered the definitive Dusty single, from the definitive Dusty LP Dusty In MemphisThe Bay City Rollers‘ 1976 cover of “I Only Want To Be With You” precisely matched the UK and US chart peaks of Dusty’s original version, and some will speak on behalf of another subsequent cover by The Tourists (with Annie Lennox and Dave Stewart, who remained together as Eurythmics). I’m fond of the Rollers and Tourists records, too; however, neither of ’em is The Greatest Record Ever Made.
No. Today that honor belongs to a former tomboy named Mary, who remade herself with glamour and taste into a pop icon called Dusty. We don’t know who, if anyone, she had in mind as she sang “I Only Want To Be With You.” Dusty’s life was not as happy as the infectious exuberance of her song. She did not remain closeted, though she bristled at being labeled gay, claiming that she liked sex with men and women equally. But she drank too much. She suffered from emotional problems. She hurt herself. She was (unofficially) married briefly, to a woman, in a relationship marred by physical conflict and injuries. Cancer took her in 1999, a mere two weeks before she was inducted into The Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame.
We honor Dusty Springfield by remembering the wonder of her music: the pain of her heartbreak songs, the soul of her performances, the visceral thrill of her artistry. Most of all, I remember the transcendent joy of “I Only Want To Be With You,” a triumphant dedication of love and devotion to the only one with whom she wished to be. Whomever that happened to be.

“I Only Want To Be With You” written by Mike Hawker and Ivor Raymonde, Unichappell Music, Inc.
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Categories
Boppin'

Unfinished and Abandoned: The Notebook Notions, Part 1: The Bay City Rollers in Catch Us If You Can.

Some time in the early ’70s–probably circa 1973 or ’74, when I was 13 to 14 years old–I decided I wanted to be a writer.  I’ve never made much money in that endeavor, but there hasn’t been any extended period in the past four-decades-plus where I haven’t at least dabbled in writing… something.

So, while still a teen, I started filling notebooks with ideas for things I might want to write. “Ideas” inflates their worth and weight; these weren’t ideas, but little notions, germs of ideas, usually no more than a title or a vague concept at best.  Most of these notions were for comic-book stories (like The Undersea World Of Mr. Freeze, my recently-completed Batman pulp story), but I also imagined things I could write for movies, magazines, TV, radio, and paperback novels.

In this open-ended series of Notebook Notions, I’ll be looking back at some of these half-baked, quarter-baked, sixteenth-baked, and damn-this-thing’s-still raw! almost-ideas that I jotted down in my notebooks.  If any of the notebooks themselves still survive, I hope to unearth ’em someday.  For now, this is all from memory; long before I became a middle-aged wannabe, I was a teen-aged wannabe, and I had a few notions, I did….
The Bay City Rollers in Catch Us If You Can

I’ve written a lot over the years about The Bay City Rollers; Scotland’s phenomenal pop combo was the subject of my first article for Goldmine in 1987 (later updated here), and even my blog bio mentions my interest in writing the liner notes to a Bay City Rollers anthology.  But I wasn’t really all that big a fan of them initially.  I thought their claim to be the next Beatles was absurd, but I liked their first two U.S. singles–“Saturday Night” and “Money Honey”–well enough, I guess, and I loved their third hit, “Rock And Roll Love Letter.”  Go ahead and have another listen to that one; I’ll wait here.

Yeah, still good.

So maybe I was a fan after all.  As silly as the Beatles comparison was, I’m sure the idea of a Scottish Fab Five intrigued this British Invasion zealot, and it surely fed my interest in them.  If The Bay City Rollers couldn’t be the next Beatles, perhaps they could be the next Dave Clark Five, or the next Herman’s Hermits, and that would be fine by me.  And if that were the case, the Rollers would need to do what The Beatles, Dave Clark Five, and Herman’s Hermits had all done before them:  The Bay City Rollers would need to make a movie.

It’s further illustration of what an out-of-time square peg I’ve always been:  in 1976, when pop music was at the awkward melting point of disco, metal, mellow, hard rock, prog, skyrockets in flight, and the early rude, loud stirrings of punk, I thought there would be commercial prospects for the razzafrazzin’ Bay City Rollers to star in a latter-day update of A Hard Day’s Night.  See, this is why I didn’t have a girlfriend.

But a notebook notion is a notebook notion.  At 16, A Hard Day’s Night was already my all-time favorite film.  I’d seen all of The Beatles’ movies:  A Hard Day’s Night on its first run at The North Drive-In in Cicero in 1964 (and on many a TV rerun thereafter), Help! on Channel 3’s weekday afternoon matinee, Yellow Submarine on network TV, and both Magical Mystery Tour and Let It Be in a weekend matinee double-bill at The Hollywood Theater in Mattydale.  I had also seen Herman’s Hermits’ dreadful Hold On! at the Hollywood, and I think I’d seen The Monkees’ Head on the CBS late movie.  I had not yet seen The Dave Clark Five’s  Having A Wild Weekend, but I loved its companion album (not exactly a soundtrack LP), and I loved seeing that film’s stills on the LP’s cover.  And I figured, that’s the kind of movie The Bay City Rollers should make.  And that’s the kind of thing I should write, to further my sinister end game of becoming rich, famous, influential, irresistible to gurls, and ultimately married to hot actress Valerie Perrine.

One of my favorite songs at the time was The Dave Clark Five’s “Catch Us If You Can,” a song I’d heard on the radio and declared The Greatest Record Ever Made.  I didn’t realize that Catch Us If You Can had been the actual title of The Dave Clark Five’s 1965 feature film, re-titled Having A Wild Weekend for us dim Yanks here in the Colonies.  So my thought was that the Rollers should cover it as the title theme for their own breakout, career-defining feature film debut.

The notion never got all that much more specific than that.  My idea was heavily influenced (possibly to the point of outright thievery) by the film Good Times, a Sonny and Cher vehicle I had recently seen on TV.  In that movie, pop stars Sonny and Cher struggle with corporate entertainment-biz weasels for control of their own name-above-the-title flick.  I thought a similar plot would work for a Bay City Rollers movie:  The Man tries to treat Les, Derek, Eric, Alan, and Woody like puppets in the music business’ plastic cookie-cutter pop assembly line, and our heroes struggle with the gaudy temptations of success:  women, fame, women, wealth, women, adoration, women, and, y’know…groupies ‘n’ stuff.  The allure of such enticing prizes seems too much for five simple Scottish lads to resist, and individually they could well succumb to these sinful pleasures of greed, lust, and hedonism, but at the cost of their souls.  But standing together, The Bay City Rollers are too strong, too true to their own working-class roots, to be fooled by empty promises.  The group rebels, refusing to play the game, even if it costs them their fame, their fortune, and their future; for even without all of that, The Bay City Rollers would still have their music, and their tartan-clad friendship.  In a climactic showdown with the suits and the moneymen, The Bay City Rollers walk away from it all, gleefully, triumphantly, to the tune of “Catch Us If You Can.”  Their boldness resonates with youth across the globe, and The Bay City Rollers become bigger than ever, with no Big Company ever again telling them what they could or couldn’t do.  Catch this if you can, suckers!

Plus, they get to hang on to the women.  Finders keepers, man.

The bare-bones nonsense detailed above was farther than I ever got with Catch Us If You Can, and it still leaves such banal trivialities as plot, motivation, dialogue, pacing, and common sense to be tossed in some time down the road, I guess.  Even in my most starry-eyed flights of fancy, even as a more-naive-than-most 16-year-old, I knew this picture wasn’t gonna happen, ever.  If one could pretend for a second that I had the talent and drive to work up a complete project proposal for this–a bona fide synopsis, some sample script pages, something more concrete than a scrawled notebook entry that read The Bay City Rollers:  CATCH US IF YOU CAN [movie]–that leap of faith would still plummet into the murky depths of a Scottish loch, me laddies and lassies.  This was a fantasy.  And it was fun to imagine.

While I had the minimal intelligence necessary to discard the notion of The Bay City Rollers in Catch Us If You Can, I ultimately became a bigger fan of the group.  They were never my favorite, but I was never ashamed to proclaim my approval of the Rollers’ best power pop tracks, particularly “Rock And Roll Love Letter,””Wouldn’t You Like It” (which I somehow convinced The Flashcubes to cover for a Bay City Rollers tribute CD), and “Yesterday’s Hero,” among others.  In college, I had a BCR poster in my dorm room as an act of defiance, right alongside my KISS, Sex Pistols, and Suzi Quatro posters–a heady stance to take in the Southern Rock/Deadhead hotbed that was my college campus.  I pestered my friend Jane Gach to play “Wouldn’t You Like It” on her radio show; she protested, she refused, she told me to go to Hell…but she finally played it just to shut me up.  Surprise!  She loved the song, and said so on the air.  Just like at the climax of Catch Us If You Can:  the music of The Bay City Rollers transcended differences, and provided its own happy ending.  Roll credits!

(And, although Valerie Perrine never did deign to notice my existence, I met a girl named Brenda in college. On an early pizza date, listening to oldies on the restaurant’s radio, we discovered a mutual affection for a song I didn’t think anyone else my age knew about:  “Catch Us If You Can” by The Dave Clark Five.  Bonding!  Brenda and I have been together ever since.  Maybe my notebook notion of a song to further my sinister end game wasn’t as far off course as I’d thought.)

Categories
Pop Sunday

10 Feel-Good Pop Songs!

It has been scientifically proven that music is a great healer. That said – especially now, when the world as we know it has literally collapsed – we need music more than ever to maintain a positive outlook. Here are ten pop songs that never fail to put a smile on my face, and are bound to  brighten your day as well. 

“And Your Bird Can Sing” (1966) The Beatles. Although the lyrics are cut of a cryptic nature, explosive harmonies, combined with chiming guitars spinning and tumbling with velocity, furnish “And Your Bird Can Sing” with a joyous tenor that grips the both the mind and the body.



“Precious To Me” (1980) Phil Seymour. From the sweet and shiny Buddy Holly influenced vocals to the clutching hooks to the neat and tidy instrumentation, “Precious To Me” not only serves as the quintessential pop song, but a superbly-articulated sonic sentiment. Precious indeed.

“Let’s Go To San Francisco” (1967) The Flower Pot Men. Lushly textured and bursting at the seams with dazzling Beach Boys styled vocal exercises, “Let’s Go To San Francisco”  checks in as a charming ode to the beautiful city by the Bay. Subtle drug references led the song to be banned from many American playlists, but topped the charts in England. 

“I Know You’re Out There Somewhere” (1988) The Moody Blues. Shimmering with spirituality, “I Know You’re Out There Somewhere” sends a telepathic SOS to a long lost love with the certanity they will meet again. Ethereal vocals, accompanied by sweeping synthesizer slopes and a nice mix of acoustic and electic guitars, supply the gorgeously-groomed song with equal amounts of yearning and hope.

“She Don’t Care About Time” (1965) The Byrds. Authored by Byrds founder, vocalist and tambourine man Gene Clark, “She Don’t Care About Time”  sparkles and swirls to the legendary band’s signature stance of jangling riffs and heavenly choruses. As the cherry on the sundae, the song adds a classical touch to the proceedings in the form of a Bach inspired passage.

“Not Alone Anymore” (1988) The Traveling Wilburys. Guided by Roy Orbison’s soaring lung power that invariably produces goosepimples from head to toe, “Not Alone Anymore” is a booming ballad, promising love, comfort and security. Fellow Traveling Wilburys George Harrison and Jeff Lynne also lend their assistance to the heart-swelling presentation.

“I Hear A Symphony” (1966) The Supremes. Stepping in as yet another solid gold hit from the Motown factory, “I Hear A Symphony” begins on a rather soft note before gradually ballooning into a super-sized symphony of bellowing brass arrangements, glossy melodies and supremely Supreme harmonies.

“Summerlove Sensation” (1974) The Bay City Rollers. Reflecting a cross between The Beach Boys and Raspberries, “Summerlove Sensation” smacks of carefree happiness. Sprinkled with twinkling sleigh bells, the invigorating song pours a premium on sunny singing and a bubbly beat all in the name of teen romance.  

“I Can Hear The Grass Grow” (1967) The Move. Designed of psychedelic impressions, “I Can Hear The Grass Grow” favors a quick and effective pace, humming with stirring licks, galloping rhythms, skyscraper choruses, pulsating percussion and bracing breaks. Hammering hard rock currents to pop sensibilities, the technicolor tune allows the imagination to run wild. The line – “My head’s attracted to a magnetic wave of sound” –  drives the point home.

“Here Comes That Rainy Day Feeling Again” (1971) The Fortunes. Despite the sad prose involving a guy who apparently only sees his girlfriend on Sunday, and therefore, dreads Monday, “Here Comes That Rainy Day Feeling Again” possesses a pretty and punchy tone that immediately energizes the soul. Smartly structured and  polished with precision, the tasty tune is doubly highlighted by the exceptional harmony prowess The Fortunes are recognized for.

Categories
Boppin'

I’m In Love With A Sound

By Carl Cafarelli

You love music. But what do you really, really love about music?

I have a sound in my head.

If you want to be highfalutin’, you could say it’s an audio equivalent of Plato’s Forms, an abstract ideal that represents the perfect sound, beyond human realization, just outside our mortal ability to craft and replicate in this mundane real world. If you prefer to remain grounded to the planet we inhabit, you can call this sound a mere (?!) joyous reflection of every song I’ve ever heard, every tune I’ve ever loved, and every fantasy I’ve ever entertained of the promise of pop music.

But it’s neither. It’s an AM radio, tuned to an imaginary station that never existed. It’s as real as dreams, as corporeal as passion, and as timeless as memory, experience, grace, hope, ambition, disappointment, and love. It kinda sounds like The Beatles in 1965. Also James Brown. The Ramones. The Bay City Rollers. Otis Redding. Chuck Berry. The Everly Brothers. The Sex Pistols. Paul Revere & the Raiders. Prince. The Go-Go’s. The Isley Brothers playing “Summer Breeze.” KISS singing “Shout It Out Loud.” The Monkees being The Monkees. The Flashcubes. God, The Flashcubes!

What do I really, really love about music?

Everything.

I can’t narrow it down more than that. I love the way music makes me feel, even when the feeling is melancholy, like how The Kinks’ “Days” reminds me that I recited the lyrics of that song at my Dad’s funeral, or when some random tune recalls past betrayals, lies, or heartbreak. Lyrics. Hooks. Harmonies. The drum, the bass, the guitars. “It’s My Life” by The Animals blows me away every time I hear it, its self-assured wall of melody unerringly prompting me to marvel at the precise, perfect placement of each note, each lick. Everything in its place. “Twenty-Four Hours From Tulsa.” “On Broadway.” Badfinger’s “Baby Blue.” Bowie’s “Life On Mars?” “God Only Knows,” and the entirety of Pet Sounds.  “In The Midnight Hour.” “Laugh, Laugh.” “Freedom” by Wham!, ferchrissakes. “I Only Want To Be With You.” “I Wanna Be With You.” “I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend.”

I’m writing a book called The Greatest Record Ever Made! (Volume 1). Notice the singular rather than the plural “records;” an infinite number of records can be The Greatest Record Ever Made, as long as they take turns. (“September Gurls.”) You live your life within each song as it plays. (“The Tears Of A Clown.”) Your faith is fully invested, without reservation, and your belief is rewarded with each never-ending spin. (“Kick Out The Jams,” muthas and bruthas.) The allegiance is eternal, immortal…at least, until the next song plays.

Do you believe in magic? I do. And that means I’m unable–unwilling–to dissect music’s appeal. That would be like trying to tell a stranger about rock ‘n’ roll. Well, actually, I’m eager to do that.  But my discourse will retain its reverence, its delight, its wonder, its awe. My cranial transistor is tuned to Sly Stone, Alice Cooper, Suzi Quatro, Rotary Connection, Patti Smith, Janis Joplin, The Shangri-Las, P.P. Arnold, The Smithereens, The Four Tops, and to a bunch of singers and groups I haven’t even heard yet. But I will. I’ll hear ’em all. What do I really, really love about music? My God, what is there not to love? And how would we even know how to love if we didn’t have it?

The beat’s cool, too. I do dig the beat.