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THE EVERLASTING FIRST: The Romantics

Continuing a look back at my first exposure to a number of rock ‘n’ roll acts and superheroes (or other denizens of print or periodical publication), some of which were passing fancies, and some of which I went on to kinda like. They say you never forget your first time; that may be true, but it’s the subsequent visits–the second time, the fourth time, the twentieth time, the hundredth time–that define our relationships with the things we cherish. Ultimately, the first meeting is less important than what comes after that. But every story still needs to begin with that first kiss.

Have you ever bought a record you had never previously heard, performed by an act you had never previously heard of?

I’m not talking about a record by a new act that includes a performer you’d experienced elsewhere (like when I recognized Paul Collins from The Nerves and scarfed up the debut LP by Collins’ then-new group The Beat), or a review you read somewhere prompting you to take a chance on the unfamiliar (like when Rolling Stone compared an act to BlondieThe Buzzcocks, and The Ramones, compelling me to purchase the debut album by The Darling Buds). No. I’m talkin’ tabula rasa, baby. You’ve never heard the music. You’ve never heard of the band. But money changes hands anyway, and this new music is now yours.

That’s how I discovered The Romantics.

My memory may be imprecise. I’ll concede the possibility that I read about The Romantics in Bomp! magazine before I bought my first Romantics record, but I’m pretty sure it was record first, write-up later. I do know that I can’t claim full credit for stumbling upon the record unassisted. The guy behind the counter at the record store pointed it for me.

It was in the spring of 1978. I was a freshman in college at Brockport, NY, and a budding power-pop punk with a musical mania for the 1960s, the British Invasion, The MonkeesThe Sex Pistols, and The Ramones. I’d recently discovered my Syracuse hometown heroes The Flashcubes, and I was constantly on the prowl for MORE! A cool place called The Record Grove was Brockport’s vinyl oasis, managed by a true believer named Bill Yerger. This was about a year or so before Bill opened his own emporium, Main Street Records, the best little record store there ever was. Bill was a huge fan of rockin’ pop music, he knew his stuff, and he knew how to steer kindred spirits toward the record we needed to own, even if we didn’t know it yet.

Although I was perpetually cash-strapped, I visited The Record Grove as often as I could, and bought what I could afford when I could afford it. Bill had a small display box of import and indie 45s for sale at the counter, the box from which I’d purchased my first Ramones and Sex Pistols records during the previous semester. On this particular spring ’78 visit, Bill recalled that I’d recently bought an EP by the British power pop act The Pleasers, a record I’d snapped up on impulse, drawn in by The Pleasers’ overtly Beatley image and the presence of a song called “Lies” (not The Knickerbockers‘ hit, I’m sorry to say). Bill asked me if I’d liked The Pleasers, and I said something like, Yeah, they weren’t bad. Not as good as The Knickerbockers, but I like ’em all right. Maybe Bill already had his next move planned, or maybe it was prompted by my mention of The Knickerbockers. Either way, he said, Well, if you liked that, I bet you’ll like this, too.
And Bill pulled out “Little White Lies”/”I Can’t Tell You Anything,” the debut single from Detroit’s Phenomenal Pop Combo, The Romantics. Awright, then. Just take my money, Bill. Just take it.

My roommate and I were increasingly at odds by this point, so I don’t know if he let me play my newest 7″ vinyl treasure on his stereo, or if I had to wait until a school break to hear the damned thing for the first time back home. Whatever whenever, I immediately dug both sides of this Romantics record, way more than I liked The Pleasers. “Little White Lies” just seemed to combust on the stereo, a pyrotechnic display of pure pop played fast ‘n’ swaggering. “I Can’t Tell You Anything” hijacked a Bo Diddley beat to craft a basic pounder that simultaneously (and incongruously) evoked both The Raspberries and The Rolling Stones. Magnificence times two, and I was duly hooked. When I finally did read about The Romantics in Bomp!, the write-up referenced “Can’t You See That She’s Mine” by my Tottenham Sound lads The Dave Clark Five. But of course.

I listened to a lot of music during the summer of 1978. My parents let me move my little stereo and my growing record collection into the living room; they were away for much of that summer, so I was able to play my rock ‘n’ roll platters with a bit more volume than might have otherwise been likely. I had a part-time job, I saw The Flashcubes as often as I could, and I let the records spin freely: KinksSeedsBobby Fuller FourThe JamGeneration XKISSHerman’s HermitsEddie & the Hot RodsRich KidsRunawaysStandellsBeau Brummels, Monkees, Beatles, Ramones, Pistols, Tom PettyBuddy Holly, Raspberries. The Pleasers, too–I did like them, just not as much as I liked The Romantics. Both sides of my Romantics 45 saw significant turntable time throughout that season.

As summer surrendered its space to my sophomore year at Brockport, I saw that The Romantics were coming to Syracuse for a show with The Flashcubes, and it would be at my favorite nightspot The Firebarn. It would also be my first week back at school, and there was no way I would be able to see that show. The Romantics played Syracuse dates with The Flashcubes on several occasions in this era (and the ‘Cubes also traveled to Detroit to return the favor), but always when I was away at school. I never did have an opportunity to see The Romantics play until decades later.

I remained a fan. I bought their second single, “Tell It To Carrie”/”First In Line,” mail-order from Bomp!, and I scored another Romantics track called “Let’s Swing” on the Bomp Records compilation album Waves Vol. 1 (an LP that also included “Christi Girl” by The Flashcubes). As my third and final year in college beckoned in August of 1979, local rock station 95X started playing “When I Look In Your Eyes,” an advance track from The Romantics’ forthcoming major label debut. That eponymous debut featured another new track, “What I Like About You.” Maybe you’ve heard of it…?

It cracks me up that so many folks think of The Romantics as a one-hit wonder for “What I Like About You.” The Romantics are so much more than one song, and that one song wasn’t even their biggest hit; that would be “Talking In Your Sleep” (# 3 in Billboard), and “One In A Million” also fared better chartwise (# 37) than “What I Like About You.” In fact, “What I Like About You” missed the Top 40 entirely (# 49), but it became a retroactive and enduring Fave Rave a few years after the fact, thanks to the power of a new, content-hungry entity called MTV. They were all hits in my mind anyway.

Sometimes, when a rock ‘n’ roll act you discovered ahead of the pack subsequently achieves mainstream success, you may feel a temptation to dismiss the more popular work, to sniff and insist that you liked ’em not only before they were famous, but before they, y’know, sold out, man! While it is true that, in my opinion, The Romantics’ major-label efforts never quite equaled the sheer punch of “Little White Lies”/”I Can’t Tell You Anything,” it is also true that I’ve loved The Romantics’ work across the span of their career. I love “When I Look In Your Eyes” and “What I Like About You,” I dig “One In A Million” and “Talking In Your Sleep” and “Rock You Up,” their incredible cover of the Richard & the Young Lions nugget “Open Up Your Door,” plus “Test Of Time,” “National Breakout,” and a fantastic, unreleased cover of The Spencer Davis Group‘s “Keep On Running.” Hell, I even like their 1981 hard rock album Strictly Personal–“In The Nighttime” just kicks, man!–and virtually nobody likes that record except me and Flashcubes guitarist Paul Armstrong

After years and years of missed opportunities, I finally saw The Romantics at an outdoor sports-bar show in the mid ’90s. Yeah, I would have preferred to see them at The Firebarn, but it was still a thrill. They opened with an authoritative cover of The Pretty Things‘ “Midnight To Six Man,” and I’m sure you can guess what song closed the show. I don’t believe that I will ever tire of hearing “What I Like About You,” nor will I tire of the lesser-known gems to be found throughout The Romantics’ stellar c.v. More than forty years ago, my friend Bill Yerger introduced me to the music of The Romantics, and they were but one of many pop treasures Bill pointed out for me. Bill Yerger passed away in the late ’90s. Bill, if you can read this across the veil that separates our world from yours, lemme tell ya: the inspiration you provided drives me to this day. That’s what I like about you.

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Categories
Got Any Singles?

Got Any Singles? The Grip Weeds, Old Town Crier, Stoeckel & Pena and Deadlights

The Grip Weeds

You’re So Good To Me

http://www.jemrecordings.com

From the Jem Records’ upcoming tribute to Brian Wilson disc, we get The Grip Weeds covering You’re So Good To Me. The Grip Weeds respectfully deliver their own brand of power pop, which, combined with Wilson’s genius, is the stuff that pop dreams are made of. This is music that will make you happy.

Old Town Crier

Don’t Go

https://oldtowncrier.bandcamp.com/

Old Town Crier is multi-instrumentalist Jim Lough, and Don’t Go hails from his most excellent e.p., I’m Longing For You Honey in Middleboro, Mass. With a rollicking feel akin to Old 97’s or Squirrel Nut Zippers, Lough effortlessly blends American music elements from the Civil War right on through to The Velvet Underground. Lough’s pleading vocal and hooky guitar riff make Don’t Go interesting and unforgettable.

Stoeckel & Pena

Why

https://bigstirrecords.bandcamp.com/album/why-big-stir-single-no-134

If somebody had told me that Why was written by Felice & Boudeleaux Bryant for Tom & Jerry or The Everly Brothers, I’d have believed it. Not much winsome pop music, simply arranged and sweetly sung, gets made these days, making this track just the breath of fresh air we need right now.

Deadlights

All We Love

https://deadlightssf.bandcamp.com/releases

Jeff Shelton’s music has always had a certain 1990’s-indie pop vibe, and here, he leans into that inspiration. Guest vocalist Lindsay Murray gives All We Love an otherworldly feel, going a long way to filling in the hole left by The Sundays, Mazzy Star and The Darling Buds. Absolutely gorgeous.

By Dan Pavelich

10 Songs

10 Songs is a weekly list of ten songs that happen to be on my mind at the moment. Given my intention to usually write these on Mondays, the lists are often dominated by songs played on the previous night’s edition of This Is Rock ‘n’ Roll Radio with Dana & Carl. The idea was inspired by Don Valentine of the essential blog I Don’t Hear A Single.

THE B-52’s: 52 Girls

When I was in college, there was a girl (whom I’ll call Roxy) from somewhere downstate in the dorm room kitty-corner from mine. Roxy felt her musical taste was jarringly outta step with that of our peers at our school. I felt her pain; I was roughly as much of a musical oddball as she was. Roxy liked punk and its anti-mainstream ilk, and she had no use for the prevailing Deadheadedness that was the preferred soundtrack of our fellow students. We weren’t exactly friends, but I was one of the very few sympathetics she encountered. I was impressed that she had seen Sid Vicious at Max’s Kansas City. And she was one of the first people I met who liked The B-52’s; in our dorm in 1979, before “Rock Lobster” became an alt-pop staple and long before “Love Shack” became a hit, Roxy, my roommate, and I seemed to be the only prospective members of any hypothetical Perry Hall B-52’s Fan Club. 

Even more than “Rock Lobster,” “52 Girls” was my early B-52’s favorite, a chugging milkshake of catchy, spastic pop. Roxy’s frustration with her four-cornered surroundings likely contributed to her decision to hightail it outta there; she didn’t finish the semester, and may have been gone within the first month. The following spring, my roommate and I helped to put on a successful Punk Night at a bar in town. Maybe Roxy shoulda tried to stick it out?

For dramatic purposes, the role of Roxy shall be played by singer and actress Debbie Gibson.

BLUE OYSTER CULT: This Ain’t The Summer Of Love

BOC’s best-known tracks are “Don’t Fear The Reaper” and (later on) “Burnin’ For You,” with maybe an honorable mention for “Godzilla.” My favorite remains “This Ain’t The Summer Of Love,” a lean and efficient LP track from Agents Of Fortune (the album that gave us “Don’t Fear The Reaper”). I learned of the song through my doomed high school pal Tom, prompting me to purchase my own battered, used copy of the album in time for college. During my freshman year, Side One of Agents Of Fortune was as much a go-to slab of vinyl as my Sex Pistols and Monkees records, and “This Ain’t The Summer Of Love” in particular fit well alongside my steady diet of RamonesTelevisionJam, and Dave Clark Five. My friend Ronnie Dark mentioned Agents Of Fortune last week, and that was sufficient motivation for me to play this great track once again.

THE DARLING BUDS: Let’s Go Round There

The Darling Buds’ 1989 debut Pop Said… is the only album I can recall buying just because Rolling Stone magazine told me to. A review of the record in RS name-checked The Ramones, The Buzzcocks, and Blondie in its attempt to describe the group’s sound, and I was sold on it, unheard, right then and there. I think I made the purchase before hearing “Let’s Go Round There” on MTV‘s 120 Minutes, a show I committed to VHS every Sunday night, and it certainly became my favorite Darling Buds track (edging out “The Other Night” and “Hit The Ground”).

THE JACKSON FIVE: I’ll Be There

Simply exquisite. This is such a magnificent pop single, and it rates a chapter in my (theoretically) eventual book The Greatest Record Ever Made! (Volume 1). Enjoying the innocent sound of the young Michael Jackson requires a disconnect with the (credible, I think) accusations of his crimes as an adult. If we can make and maintain that separation of art and artist, The J5’s “I’ll Be There” offers sheer, sweet joy. A friend advised me last week that it’s probably okay to make that separation, especially in this instance of records made decades before MJ’s alleged misdeeds. He’s probably right. Your mileage may vary.

THE KINKS: Dedicated Follower Of Fashion

When I was in the process of becoming a Kinks fan at the age of 16 and 17 (circa late ’76 and into ’77), “Dedicated Follower Of Fashion” was a mystery track. I had seen the title listed in reference works, but it wasn’t a Kinks song I knew, like “Lola” or “You Really Got Me,” “All Day And All Of The Night,” “Tired Of Waiting For You,” “A Well Respected Man,” or even “No More Looking Back” from Schoolboys In Disgrace.  I recall hearing Status Quo‘s “Pictures Of Matchstick Men” on the radio, and wondering (with no real-world justification) if that might be “Dedicated Follower Of Fashion.” I have no memory of where, when, or how I finally heard “Dedicated Follower Of Fashion,” but I do remember that I was initially underwhelmed by it. 

Well, that reaction sure changed over time. In the summer of 1979, the first time I saw the fab local combo The Dead Ducks, my pal Joe Boudreau and I bellowed along with the Oh yes he IS! as the Ducks covered the song. Many, many years later, I have a specific memory of strolling through a shopping mall with my wife and daughter as “Dedicated Follower Of Fashion” came on the sound system. Just as I’d done as a teenager, I began to bellow along, Oh yes he IS! My then-teen daughter was mortified. Hmph. It’s as if she didn’t think her Dad was in fashion.

KISS: Anything For My Baby

“Anything For My Baby” is an LP track from the 1975 KISS album Dressed To Kill, the record that gave the world “Rock And Roll All Nite.” The song was written and sung by Paul Stanley, but for some reason Stanley all but disowns the tune. I’m unashamed in my continuing affection for some of KISS’s work, and “Anything For My Baby” would be a candidate for my all-time KISS Top 10.

THE MONKEES: For Pete’s Sake

From The Monkees’ 1967 album Headquarters, their third LP but the first where they were allowed to be the musicians in the studio. The song was co-written by Peter Tork and Joseph Richards, it was used as the closing theme during the second season of the group’s TV series, and it shoulda been a single. At this year’s GRAMMY telecast, a snippet of “For Pete’s Sake” played when Tork’s face appeared during the memorial segment honoring artists we lost during the previous year. We were born to love another, this is something we all need. Frankly, I’d expected the awards show to use a more familiar Monkees hit, either “I’m A Believer” or “Daydream Believer,” and I’m delighted that the producers made the right choice instead.

THE SOFT BOYS: I Wanna Destroy You

If I had heard The Soft Boys’ 1980 album Underwater Moonlight some time contemporary to its release, it would have been one of my favorite albums of that decade. Instead, I didn’t hear it until its CD reissue on the Matador label in 2001. I did hear the group’s classic Underwater Moonlight track “I Wanna Destroy You” somewhere in between, probably from Dana (who played it again on this week’s show). But my introduction to the song itself predates that spin, and is about as weird as it gets. In the ’90s, former teen pop star Debbie Gibson was said to be involved with the producer of Circle Jerks, the hardcore group perhaps best known for “Golden Shower Of Hits,” their thrashing covers medley of cheeseball blechh like “You’re Having My Baby.” Realizing a match made in Perdition, Gibson sang backup on Circle Jerks’ cover of “I Wanna Destroy You,” and even joined them on stage to perform the song at CBGB’s in 1995. Well, that all sounds ducky so far, right? I’m not sure if it was a one-off where she jumped on stage to join those Jerks in concert, or if it was staged as an MTV event, or what. But I learned about it in a report on MTV News, and I submit that no one else had a weirder introduction to this song than I had.

TIN TIN: Toast And Marmalade For Tea

A throwaway line in my Sunday hype for this week’s TIRnRR inspired a need to include this on the show. Some time back, when Dana and I were attending an acoustic show by The Flashcubes‘ Gary Frenay and Arty Lenin, Gary and Arty performed a cover of “Toast And Marmalade For Tea,” then defied us to name the original artist. In yet another stunning display of the boundless mastery of pop information that drives This Is Rock ‘n’ Roll Radio, we…yeah, we didn’t have a freakin’ clue. Heads will roll, my friends, heads will roll. Oops–eyes will roll. Sorry, I read that wrong. Man, it’s good thing Dana and I have tenure.

The palpable Bee Gees vibe of “Toast And Marmalade For Tea” is partially attributable to the fact that the record was produced by Maurice Gibb, who also plays bass on the track. But I’ve retroactively decided that it wasn’t Tin Tin at all; it was Debbie Gibson, using a time machine to go back and make a record before she was even born, disguising her voice so she sounds like two guys from Australia. Of course.

Toast and marmalade for tea…FROM THE FUTURE!

STEVIE WONDER: I Believe (When I Fall In Love It Will Be Forever)


This song comes from Stevie Wonder’s 1972 album Talking Book. My point of entry for this wonderful number comes via the 2000 film adaptation of Nick Hornby‘s High Fidelity. The song is used so effectively in the movie’s climactic scene, and it’s been lodged in my consciousness ever since. My entry for this song in The Greatest Record Ever Made! (Volume 1) likewise serves as the book’s climactic chapter. I hope you get to read it someday.

By Carl Cafarelli