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Hold On! It’s NORMAN’S NORMANS!

It’s like The Rutles, except for Herman’s Hermits instead of The Beatles
Boppin’ (Like The Hip Folks Do) supporter Dave Murray

Ripped! is an independent flick from 2013, written and directed by Rod Bingaman, and you risk no loss of film-fan status if you admit you’ve never heard of it. Hardly anyone’s heard of it. I stumbled across a listing for it on Amazon some time back, thought the concept seemed cute (and certainly unique), and I finally got around to watching it a few weeks ago. Ripped! can rightly claim one all-time accolade as its very own:

It is the Citizen Kane of Herman’s Hermits pastiche movies.

Sure, it’s also the Plan 9 From Outer Space of Herman’s Hermits pastiche movies, the Ishtar of Herman’s Hermits pastiche movies, the Heaven’s Gate of Herman’s Hermits pastiche movies, the ZardozWest Side StoryShowgirls, and Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein of Herman’s Hermits pastiche movies. Not a really crowded field, those Herman’s Hermits pastiche movies. But Ripped! is indeed one enjoyable, unassuming little hoot of a Herman’s Hermits pastiche movie, and I enjoyed it a lot more than I enjoy any actual Herman’s Hermits movie.

A little bit o’ background here: I love Herman’s Hermits, and none of the seeming snark above should lead you to forget that fact. I love many of the Hermits’ records, especially “No Milk Today” and “A Must To Avoid,” but also including all of their big hits and many of their lesser-known tracks. I saw a bar-band line up of Herman’s Hermits (minus Peter Noone) at a nightclub in 1978 (right in the same time frame that I was seeing The Ramones and The RunawaysThe KinksElvis Costello & the Attractions, and The Flashcubes), and I thought they put on an impressive British Invasion rock ‘n’ roll show. I saw Peter Noone with his new wave band The Tremblers in 1981 or ’92, and saw Noone and his current collection o’ Hermits about two years ago, and those were both terrific concerts, too. I have nothing negative to say about ol’ Herm, Derek LeckenbyKarl GreenKeith Hopwood, and Barry Whitwam, nor about their records.

Their movies? Different story. Herman’s Hermits made awful movies.

My thoughts were different when I was a lad of six in 1967, and I went with my sister to see Herman and his Hermits in Hold On! I’m sure I loved it then, and I loved the soundtrack LP when I scored a used copy of it about a decade later. But when I tried to watch Hold On! again as an adult, I couldn’t bear to finish it. Same story when I tried to watch Mrs. Brown You’ve Got A Lovely Daughter, nor could I muster up much interest for Herman’s Hermits’ supporting role in the bland When The Boys Meet The Girls. I love jukebox musicals, from The Girl Can’t Help It through A Hard Day’s NightElvis Presley in Loving You through That Thing You Do! (The Greatest Movie Ever Made), The Ramones in Rock ‘n’ Roll High SchoolThe Monkees in Head, even much-maligned vehicles like The Dave Clark Five‘s Having A Wild Weekend and Sonny & Cher‘s Good Times, maybe Bloodstone‘s Train Ride To Hollywood. Hell, I’ll cop to a frequent fondness of Frankie & Annette beach flicks–ya can’t beat Harvey Lembeck, man–and I dig American Hot Wax enough that I forgive its approach of fantastical fiction masquerading as fact. I’ve even come up with fanciful li’l pipe dreams of my own jukebox musicals Jukebox ExpressLet’s Go Out Tonight, and The Bay City Rollers in Catch Us If You Can. But Herman’s Hermits movies? No. The Lord says love the singers, hate the singers’ films.

So the idea of a 2013 parody of 1967’s Hold On!, starring fictional Brits Norman’s Normans in place of Herm and the lads, was not a sure thing. The trailer and description seemed intriguing, but my expectations were very, very low. I figured it would be either condescending or dumb, possibly both, and inevitably a pointless waste of time.

But it was fun!

I mean, it was dumb, if willfully so; it’s difficult to make a movie about a fictional ’60s British pop group accidentally rocketed to a planet inhabited solely by women–a planet at war with the estranged men of their neighboring world–where the music of Norman’s Normans conquers all and makes everything gear and free, luv…well, it’s kinda hard to try to pull all that off without risking a few extraneous brain cells. “Dumb” would seem the smart path to take here. The ending is rushed and anticlimactic, the result of filmmakers rashly deciding Right, that’s enough! when the ready supply of time, money, motivation, and/or patience evaporates before the story’s been finished. Ripped!‘s virtues outweigh its shortcomings. I can’t explain how the makers of Ripped! were able to maintain just the right tone throughout. It’s not really camp, nor does it seem to be slumming. It believes in itself, in the moment. It’s not smug, and it embraces its own ludicrous identity with casual but undeniable pride. I was expecting parody. Instead, I was rewarded with a loving pastiche of a silly little pop movie I saw when I was seven years old. The pastiche, miraculously, feels more sincere and real than the borderline-cynical B-movie that inspired it.

The music’s cool, too. Going back to the Rutles comparison, the beauty of the music from that 1978 Beatles parody All You Need Is Cash is that The Rutles’ tracks sound like perfectly swell pop music, even apart from their corresponding on-screen hijinks. Norman’s Normans sound similarly fab, and Ripped!‘s opening number “9-9-9!” has already found a place on our weekly This Is Rock ‘n’ Roll Radio playlists. A band doesn’t have to actually exist to make decent pop records. I bought Norman’s Normans’ six-song Music From Ripped! as a download from normansnormans.bandcamp.com“9-9-9!” and “Down On My Knees” are the Fave Rave Top Gear Picks T’Click, but “(I’m In Love With) The Queen Mother” and–of course!–“Mr. Brown” are snappy like Mr. White’s boys The Wonders, and “Man In The Moon” and “Come With Me (Beam Trip)” add appropriate atmosphere. I realize that Norman’s Normans aren’t, y’know, real, but it wouldn’t break my heart to hear more from whoever crafted their peppy little tunes.

Ripped! will never be anyone’s favorite film. But it’s gentle, confident, and gawkily charming, at home in its own distinct skin. It’s the movie equivalent of the best Herman’s Hermits songs. At long last, there is a movie worthy of Herman’s Hermits. Even if Herman’s Hermits aren’t actually in it.

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THE BEST OF EVERYTHING: Best Of The Bobby Fuller Four

Sometimes only the best will do. The Best Of Everything looks back on specific greatest-hits and best-of LPs and what they meant to me.

THE BOBBY FULLER FOUR: Best Of The Bobby Fuller Four (Rhino, 1981)

In 1966, my brother Art had a red Alfa Romeo. I’m told it was kind of a crappy car, really, and I remember its ignominious final days in his possession: a scarlet husk parked, prone, lying in state beyond the shed at the end of our back yard. Collecting dust, collecting rust. A tow truck ultimately came to whisk this luckless red Alfa Romeo to the promised land.

But my prevailing principle memory of this doomed vehicle is a happy one. I believe the memory involves the consumption of Royal Crown Cola, or possibly a root beer and Teen Burger at the nearby A & W Drive-In. The memory absolutely involves the car’s one true immortal virtue: its radio.

That radio? When I was six years old, I may have thought that radio was magic.

I mean, it must have been magic. There were songs I heard on that car’s radio that I never seemed to hear anywhere else. I should ask Art if he listened to Syracuse’s 1260 WNDR in ’66, or if it was WOLF instead, or even the less-fabled WFBL. Whatever it was, it played “I Like It Like That” by The Dave Clark Five, a record that–to me–only existed on the AM dial of Art’s star-crossed Alfa Romeo. Even better, it played–often!–another irresistible exclusive: “I Fought The Law” by The Bobby Fuller Four. To this day, more than five decades later, my visceral memory of that terrific song is inextricably linked to those moments in my brother’s Alfa Romeo, of drums, guitars, and a singer bemoaning his fate of Breakin’ rocks in the hot sun, allpouring forth from the little car’s speakers as my big brother cruised suburban streets with his pesky kid brother on board. It’s indelible, and I embrace and cherish its vivid image.

A decade and change passed. In 1978, I was finishing my freshman year in college, and immersing myself in the rockin’ pop of the ’60s and the then-contemporary sounds of punk, new wave, and power pop. It was all one big ol’ ball of pop music to me, from The Monkees to The Sex PistolsThe Romantics to The Beau BrummelsThe Ramones  to Joey Ramone‘s fave raves The Who and Herman’s Hermits. Oh, and The Kinks to The Kinks, “You Really Got Me” to “Rock And Roll Fantasy.” In this joyous crucible of discovery and rediscovery, “I Fought The Law” was ripe to reclaim. I think I found an oldies 45 reissue, but I found something lacking in its sound–couldn’t match the magic of the Alfa Romeo, lemme tell ya! I bought a various-artists LP called 15 Original Rock N’ Roll Biggies Vol. 2, an oddball set that gave me “I Fought The Law,” familiar old gold from The Platters and Little Anthony & the Imperials (and, incongruously, “Day By Day” from Godspell), and some archival stuff that was brand-new to me, by names like The StandellsThe E-Types, and Chocolate Watchband. I played “I Fought The Law” and the two Standells tracks–“Why Pick On Me” and “Sometimes Good Guys Don’t Wear White”–a lot in that music-filled summer of ’78.

I don’t know if it occurred to me that The Bobby Fuller Four might have had more than just one great song. Hell, my “I Fought The Law” 45 had only contained one BF4 track, its flip occupied by The Seeds‘ “Pushin’ Too Hard.” Nor did I know that Bobby Fuller himself was dead, and I certainly didn’t know anything at all about the suspicious circumstances surrounding his demise. The opportunity to learn about all of this would not present itself until after I graduated from college in 1980.

The specific sequence of events is cluttered and imprecise in my recollection. In 1981, my girlfriend and I were living in an apartment in Brockport. She would graduate that spring, and I’d already leveraged my Bachelor of Arts degree into full-time employment at McDonald’s–success! And rent money, as well as cash for beer and food and beer, and to keep buying music at Main Street Records. At Main Street, my dovetailing interests in punk and pop led me to Pebbles, the essential Nuggets-inspired series of possibly-not-fully-authorized compilations of ’60s garage and psych. I started with Pebbles‘ second volume, which introduced me to The Choir‘s “It’s Cold Outside” and The Moving Sidewalks‘ “99th Floor,” and to The Electric Prunes‘ unforgettable commercial for Vox wah-wah pedals. It’s the NOW sound! It’s what’s happening!

Pebbles, Volume 2 also offered my first exposure to a Bobby Fuller song that was not about robbing people with a WHOMP-WHOMP-WHOMP six-gun: the relatively nondescript “Wine Wine Wine.” Fuller remained a one-hit wonder to me for just a little bit longer.

Within this same time frame, Phil Seymour (formerly of The Dwight Twilley Band, and a collaborator with ace combos like Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers and 20/20) released his first solo album. My favorite track on Phil Seymour was his version of “Let Her Dance,” an incredible pop confection first recorded by–you guessed it!–The Bobby Fuller Four. Something nagging at the edges of my memory insists that I did hear the original version before hearing Seymour’s cover, but I can’t imagine where I heard it. Either way, I loved the song. I was ready and eager to dive more deeply into Fuller’s c.v.

I probably snapped up Rhino Records‘ Best Of The Bobby Fuller Four the first time I saw it on the shelf at Main Street; if not, it wasn’t long thereafter. I knew, at best, two songs. It was high time to know more.

The album begins with the lone hit, Sonny Curtis‘ “I Fought The Law,” originally recorded by The Crickets, later covered successfully by The Clash. I’ve always considered The Bobby Fuller’s version to be definitive. I still do. By the early ’80s, I would have been more than skeptical of the idea that it could ever be demoted to something like my fourth or even fifth favorite BF4 track. But that revelation was mere grooves away.

Granted, nothing else on Side 1 of Best Of The Bobby Fuller Four really threatens to challenge the primacy of “I Fought The Law.” “King Of The Wheels,” the LP’s second track, is its weakest, an amiable but unremarkable car tune. The rest of the side is pretty damned good, with the pure pop likes of “The Magic Touch,” “It’s Love, Come What May, “Only When I Dream,” “Don’t Let Me Know,” and Buddy Holly‘s “Love’s Made A Fool Of You” combining to build the case that maybe these one-hit wonders deserved greater notoriety than the one hit that defined them. In particular, “Don’t Let Me Know” seems like it should have at least been a hit single, perhaps capable of cracking the lower end of the Top 20 while never quite matching the Top 10 status of “I Fought The Law.”

But Side Two…!

Side Two opens with “Let Her Dance,” a bona fide gem later covered by Marshall Crenshaw, and I don’t think I’ve ever heard a bad version of it. The BF4’s original is the equal of “I Fought The Law,” perhaps its superior. “Another Sad And Lonely Night” is even better, a lovelorn lament that all too few recognize as the essential classic it is. “My True Love,” “I’m A Lucky Guy,” and the Eddie Cochran ripof…er, tribute “Saturday Night” keep things moving at a mere-mortal (but terrific!) level. By this point, Best Of The Bobby Fuller Four has already proven the group to be worthy of repeated play beyond just its best-known song.

“Fool Of Love” is the icing on this cake, a cruel-love compatriot to “Another Sad And Lonely Night,” both of them simultaneously shiny and devastating in their resigned, boppin’ acceptance of the heart’s tear-stained pursuit of an elusive happiness. The two tracks politely take turns as my all-time top Bobby Fuller Four track. The haunting “Never To Be Forgotten” brings the program proper to a close, the heart’s quest yet unfulfilled, but its lonely plight comforted by the warmth of the stereo. An unlisted bonus track–the group’s radio spot for The Big Kahuna, a popular DJon L.A.’s KHJ-AM, sung to the tune of “I Fought The Law”–finally ends the LP on a gloriously exuberant note.

I was 21 years old in 1981. I lived inside my pop music. I was also living in the (overrated) real world for the first time, trying to reconcile the frequently conflicting promise of art and the demands of responsibility, adulthood. It can be a difficult line to tread, an ongoing balancing act between the dreams we dream and the clocks we punch. Doing what we have to keeps things going; doing what we want to keeps us going.

Bobby Fuller wasn’t much older than that when he died in the summer of ’66, a pop star three months shy of his twenty-fourth birthday, a West Texas kid who hit the big time, a rockin’ pop success story with a Billboard smash on his resumé and the world at his feet. The liner notes to Best Of The Bobby Fuller Four offered my first hint of his tragic story. Bobby had talent. Bobby had good looks. Bobby had a string of pretty young things on his arm. And on July 18th, 1966, Bobby’s body was found slumped in his car outside his apartment in Hollywood. He had been beaten. He had been doused with gasoline. The authorities ruled his death a suicide (later amended to “accidental”).

Right.

The record business is big and brutal. And wherever there’s money, there are criminals, and there is often the mob. Ask Tommy James. Or ask Miriam Linna, co-author (with Bobby’s brother Randell Fuller) of the book I Fought The Law: The Life And Strange Death Of Bobby Fuller. Linna and Fuller believe Bobby was murdered by the mob. Sound crazy? Really, crazier than suicide by beating oneself and bathing in gasoline? I’m not one for conspiracy theories. Elvis is dead. Paul is alive. Neil Armstrong did indeed walk on the moon. Oswald may well have acted alone. I find tinfoil hats unbecoming. And I also believe that the mob killed Bobby Fuller, whether over business (likely) or for revenge on Bobby for dallying with a pretty young thing whose dallying allegiance was presumed to already belong exclusively to an underworld boss. The latter scenario was, as I recall, favored in the liner notes of Best Of The Bobby Fuller Four. Whatever actually happened to Fuller, it’s a safe bet it wasn’t self-inflicted.

The sordid tale of Fuller’s end, as sad and frustrating as it remains, can’t dilute the prevailing appeal of his music. Listening to Best Of The Bobby Fuller Four was my first real evidence that there could be more–much more–to an act that show biz writes off as a one-hit wonder. I no longer own my copy of that LP; it was replaced many years ago by a CD that contained even more great Bobby Fuller tracks, and that CD was replaced by the five discs of Bobby Fuller material that now sit proudly on my shelf at home. Fool of love. Another sad and lonely night. Let her dance all night long.

My road to appreciating the bounty of The Bobby Fuller Four began in earnest with Best Of The Bobby Fuller Four in 1981. But the road truly began on the road, literally, back in ’66: when the magic radio in my brother’s unreliable but intrepid red Alfa Romeo played a song I could never hear anywhere else. The law didn’t win this one, I fear. But the music plays on. Never to be forgotten.

(And, for a fictional take inspired by Bobby Fuller’s murder, check out the blurb for my story idea The Beat And The Sting.)

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He Buys Every Rock ‘n’ Roll Book On The Magazine Stands, Part 2: Carl, Meet Punk. Punk, Carl.

My first issue of Phonograph Record Magazine. Tattered and torn, but still mine.

I don’t understand why no one ever talks about Phonograph Record Magazine, a rock tabloid that ran from 1970 to 1978. The magazine seems to be nearly forgotten, and you don’t see it mentioned alongside your Rolling Stone or your Creem, your Crawdaddy or Circus, or even your Trouser Press as one of the great rock rags of the ’70s. But it was. For me, in fact, it was more important than any those, even more than my beloved Creem. Because PRM was my first. Not my first rock magazine; I’d flirted with a couple before that. But Phonograph Record Magazine was the first to make me fall in love with rock ‘n’ roll journalism, both as a fan and as a potential practitioner. Maybe I would have wound up writin’ about the big beat even without PRM‘s influence. It’s possible, maybe probable. Either way, though, it was in fact Phonograph Record Magazine that provided that nudge. I remain grateful, and I remain a fan.

I was a senior in high school in the spring of 1977. Although I’d been a devoted AM Top 40 radio listener for all of my young life, the increasingly banal fare on former Syracuse airwave Fave Rave WOLF-AM had largely driven me to FM–specifically, to nearby Utica’s WOUR-FM, “The Rock Of Central New York.” OUR had some of the negative aspects of ’70s FM rock stations, the laid-back atmosphere, the consciousness of its own perceived hipness, the almost smug feeling of superiority over those frivolous, uncouth Top 40 outlets. BUT! The station compensated for all of that by simply being more adventurous than any other commercial station in the area. I betcha Syracuse University‘s WAER-FM was probably at least the equal of WOUR, but I never heard AER at the time. It was okay, though. WOUR rewarded my interest by playing The Kinks (I became a huge fan of The Kinks’ Schoolboys In Disgrace LP track “No More Looking Back” via airplay on WOUR), Graham ParkerGreg KihnMichael NesmithNick Lowe, and The Rubinoos. WOUR had a killer Friday night oldies show, but one could often also find essential ’60s gems by The AnimalsThe RascalsThe Dave Clark Five, and The Beatles airing alongside the station’s contemporary music choices. The following summer, I wasn’t surprised to hear vintage Elvis Presley on WOUR a few days before his scheduled Syracuse concert. Hearing a number of Presley tracks back-to-back, however, was my first clue that The King would not be keeping that Syracuse date. Elvis had left the building.

I digress. The point is that WOUR was a great radio station that helped to expose me to more and more music. Hell, I first heard The Yardbirds on OUR, and later on, it was OUR that allowed me my first dose of The Sex Pistols. Let AM radio have its disco and its swill and its “Undercover Angel;” WOUR-FM was playing the stuff I needed to hear.

And, in that spring of 1977, WOUR offered me a chance to read all about it, too.

I doubt that I had heard of Phonograph Record Magazine before that, though it’s certainly possible that an earlier issue crossed the periphery of my vision while I was divin’ through Hollies and Suzi Quatro LPs in the cutout bins at Gerber Music. But the April 1977 issue of PRM was different; it was free! The magazine had deals with radio stations in many markets (WMMS-FM in Cleveland, for example), with the stations presumably underwriting the cost to distribute PRM as promotional giveaways. WOUR instructed local rock ‘n’ roll fans to head on down to any Gerber Music location to pick up a free copy of the latest Phonograph Record Magazine. Well, I had my orders. Duty called! Rendezvous at Gerber Music! FALL IN, you battle-happy Joes!

Target acquired. And I was immediately rewarded with entry into a fresh vista of pure rock ‘n’ roll wonderPhonograph Record Magazine blew my freakin’ mind.

More than forty years later, in this ever-changing world in which we live in, it’s just impossible to properly convey the feeling of discovery, the liberating sense of possibility, that blanketed me with the turn of each pulpy tabloid page. What, transcendent revelation from a razzafrazzin’ rock magazine?! Oh yes. Emphatically yes. This was a whole new world. This was the Promised Land! And it had a good beat. If one could dance, one would surely dance to that beat.

There was something indescribably exciting about Phonograph Record Magazine, a palpable thrill I never got from previous perusals of Circus or Rolling StonePRM‘s writers seemed engaged. tapped into the music they were covering. You might presume it was legendary rock writer Lester Bangs who dazzled me here, but I don’t even remember his Nils Lofgren piece from this issue. No, I was enticed by Ken Barnes, by Greg Shaw (in the May issue), by Rodney Bingenheimer, by Flo & Eddie, and by the proud, delirious silliness of Mark Shipper. Furthermore, I was intrigued by all of these mysterious, elusive rock acts I’d never heard about before. I’d read news reports of the controversial punk group The Sex Pistols, but this was my real introduction to the concept of punk rock. I instantly wanted to know more, so much more. Punk? Hey, that’s for ME! Between this issue and its May 1977 follow-up (with Eric Carmen on the cover), I saw a truckload of rock ‘n’ roll names that were brand-new to me. Iggy PopBlondieThe DictatorsCheap TrickElvis CostelloThe New York DollsTom Petty and the HeartbreakersEddie and the Hot RodsChris Spedding and the VibratorsThe DamnedMilk ‘n CookiesThe Ramones.

The Ramones.
THE RAMONES!!!
Oh, the notion of The Ramones just transfixed me. What could they possibly sound like? Were they really that loud, that fast, that violent, that incredible, that irresistible? Were they really as dangerous and depraved as they seemed? Did it matter? I was a closet Ramones fan before I’d heard even one of their famous three chords, all thanks to Phonograph Record Magazine.

Alas, I saw but one more issue of PRM, with the familiar face of The Raspberries‘ former lead singer Eric Carmen as its poster boy. I don’t know if WOUR’s deal with PRM ended, but I presume that was so. And it left me hanging. The May issue’s edition of Flo & Eddie’s Blind Date column had featured our erstwhile Turtles wrestling uncomfortably with British punk, with a promise of an all-American punk Blind Date to follow in June. I never saw it. And Lord, I wanted to! But it was not to be, at least for me. I found an older, WMMS-sponsored issue of PRM while visiting my sister in Cleveland that summer. I never saw another issue anywhere.

By the time I was in Cleveland that August of 1977, I had heard The Sex Pistols explode my radio with “God Save The Queen,” courtesy of WOUR. And then I was off to college, where I would finally hear more of that punk rock Phonograph Record Magazine had made me crave. I would read more about it, thanks to a (frankly, dumb) one-shot ripoff called Punk Rock or somesuch, teasing, enticing bits in the hallowed pages of a new discovery called Rock Scene, as well as in the otherwise-stuffy Rolling Stone. I would get into Creem and Trouser Press before long, and into John Holmstrom‘s Punk magazine, all as I developed a near-insatiable need to read rock ‘n’ roll magazines. And I developed a need to write about rock ‘n’ roll, which manifested in My First Rock Journalism: “Groovin’ (Like The Hip Folks Do),” an emeritus contribution to my high school newspaper The NorthCaster. My piece was influenced by Phonograph Record Magazine in much the same way George Harrison‘s “My Sweet Lord” was “influenced” by The Chiffons. I had to start somewhere. PRM provided my template.

A rock magazine mention of The Monkees, and it wasn’t condescending? Another reason to love PRM!

No one talks about Phonograph Record Magazine. There’s no hardcover retrospective, no proposed behind-the-scenes documentary, no comprehensive, dedicated on-line archive. The magazine that meant so much to me is now a mirage, a memory that few recall. But I remember. If I ever write anything that can come close to connecting with a rock ‘n’ roll fan with even a fraction of the blissful, electric bond I felt with PRM, then my so-called writing career has succeeded. I am not exaggerating when I say that Phonograph Record Magazine was ultimately as important to me as any rock ‘n’ roll act this side of The Beatles. Seriously. Because I don’t get to The Ramones or The Flashcubes–and I don’t get to writing for Goldmine–without PRM pushing me in the right direction.That way, kid. Head to the light!

In the spring of ’78, about a year after communion with my first Phonograph Record Magazine, I was an eighteen-year-old punk of the world. I’d seen punk shows. I’d developed an occasional ability to seem pruriently interesting to gurls. In my mind, I was feverishly linking the punk of the Pistols and Ramones with the Beatles and Kinks records I loved, and with my favorite never-forgotten AM radio sounds of The Raspberries, Badfinger, and Sweet. I found a magazine that articulated that link, a magazine written in part by PRM‘s Greg Shaw, and in part by a visionary named Gary Sperrazza! They were writing about something called powerpop. Their magazine was called Bomp! It was pretty important to me, too.

TO BE CONTINUED!

This could be the start of something BIG!

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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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5 GREAT MOVIE SONGS! (From films I either didn’t like or never saw)

Rock ‘n’ roll as we know it might not even exist if not for the movies. That may be an overstatement, but it’s certainly true that rock’s first crossover success came via Hollywood. When the film The Blackboard Jungle appeared in 1955, its opening credits sequence propelled a novelty fox trot called “Rock Around The Clock” to the top of the pops, making the seemingly unlikely figures of Bill Haley and his Comets the world’s first rock ‘n’ roll stars. The ongoing sheet-shakin’ between rock and film has been consummated again and again over the ensuing decades, from Jailhouse Rockthrough A Hard Day’s NightThe Monkees in HeadThe Ramones in Rock ‘n’ Roll High School, and the fictional Oneders in That Thing You Do!, plus whatever more recent iterations have occurred since I grew too old to keep up with what you crazy kids are up to. Just stay off of my lawn already.

The sheer abundance of great rock ‘n’ pop tracks that have appeared in movies makes the prospect of selecting my all-time Top 5 movie songs too daunting to consider. Honestly, I doubt I could even narrow down a list of my five favorite Beatles movie songs, and I’d still need room for at least two tracks from The Dave Clark Five‘s Having A Wild Weekend, The Monkees’ “Porpoise Song (Theme From ‘Head’),” Little Richard‘s title tune from The Girl Can’t Help It, the museum outings montage version of Lulu‘s “To Sir, With Love,” and Paul McCartney and Wings‘ license to thrill “Live And Let Die.” Among others. Among a lot of others! “Light Of Day” by Joan Jett & the Blackhearts, fercryinoutloud!

So, as an alternative, I figured I’d list five great movie songs from films I either didn’t really like or have never actually seen. That narrows things down to a more manageable field. By arbitrarily discarding any song used as a film’s title tune–buh-bye “Don’t Make Waves” by The Byrds and “They Ran For Their Lives” by The Knickerbockers–I came up with a quintet of popcorn-ready tracks that mean more to me than the films that delivered ’em. Dim the room. Kill your phones. And keep your trap shut until the closing credits roll. Lights! Camera! GUITARS!!

THE CRAWLING KINGSNAKES: “Philadelphia Baby” (from Porky’s Revenge).

The only Porky’s film I ever saw in its entirety was the first one, and I did not care for it. I mean, c’mon–it’s not like it was The Hollywood Knights or something. But one of its sequels, 1985’s Porky’s Revenge, had a killer soundtrack, consisting mostly of oldies covered by acts like Jeff BeckWillie NelsonClarence ClemonsThe Fabulous Thunderbirds, and Dave Edmunds, plus Carl Perkins performing a new version of his own “Blue Suede Shoes” with two out of three Stray Cats. The soundtrack also includes George Harrison‘s otherwise-unavailable take on Bob Dylan‘s “I Don’t Want To Do It,” and Edmunds (who was in charge of the soundtrack) turns in an incredible original called “High School Nights.” But the highlight is this cover of Charlie Rich‘s “Philadelphia Baby” by The Crawling Kingsnakes. Who da Kingsnakes? None other than Robert Plant, with Edmunds, Paul Martinez, and Phil Collins. That’s a pretty impressive line-up for a no-account flick like Porky’s Revenge.

THE FOUR TOPS: “Are You Man Enough” (from Shaft In Africa).

Another sequel. I don’t remember whether or not I’ve ever seen the original Shaft, but I certainly knew Isaac Hayes‘ title theme song. I did see some episodes of the TV series that eventually followed. And everybody knew that Richard Roundtree was badass in the role of the man that would risk his neck for his brother, man. 1973’s Shaft In Africa brought “Are You Man Enough” to AM radio, and it was my de facto introduction to The Four Tops. I retroactively discovered the group’s fantastic ’60s catalog, but it all started for me with this song from Shaft In Africa. Can you dig it?

HERMAN’S HERMITS: “A Must To Avoid” (from Hold On!)

When I think of rock ‘n’ roll movies, I don’t think of concert films or documentaries. I think of scripted flicks with some excuse for a plot (however slight), and pop idols singin’ their songs. I primarily think of star vehicles, like Sonny & Cher in Good Times or Bloodstone in Train Ride To Hollywood. As a kid growing up in the ’60s, I only saw two such films: the magnificent A Hard Day’s Night and the significantly less-great Hold On!, the latter starring Herman’s Hermits. I’m sure I liked Hold On! just fine when I was six or whatever; I tried to watch it as an adult, but could not get through it. On the other hand, the soundtrack LP has its moments, particularly this rousing pop put-down, a song spirited enough that my power pop Fave Raves The Flashcubes used to include it in their live sets circa ’78 or so.

DAVID JOHANSEN & ROBIN JOHNSON: “Flowers In The City” (from Times Square)

1980’s Robert Stigwood-produced Times Square was supposed to do for new wave music what Stigwood’s earlier success with Saturday Night Fever did for dat ole debbil disco: sell records, inspire pop culture, and generate a free flow of cold, hard cash. It did not do that. The few minutes of the film I’ve managed to catch in passing on TV support the prevailing opinion that Times Square was stuffy and overly serious in its tone. I think I’d still like to see it some day, and see what I think of it. The 2-LP soundtrack album is very good, comprised mostly of familiar gems by The Ramones,
Suzi QuatroTalking HeadsRoxy MusicThe PretendersJoe JacksonXTC, et al., all of which were available elsewhere, but which made an attractive purchase when bundled together in one pretty package. “Flowers In The City,” a duet between former New York Dolls frontman David Johansen and Times Square co-star Robin Johnson, is unique to the film’s soundtrack, and it’s terrific. It was released at the peak of my interest in Johansen, and it’s as great as nearly anything on his first two solo albums, and better than anything he did after that.

PAUL McCARTNEY: “Not Such A Bad Boy” (from Give My Regards To Broad Street)

Paul McCartney‘s Give My Regards To Broad Street may get a worse rap than it really deserves. It’s not bad, but it’s not in any way special, either. Well, let’s amend that a bit–even by itself, the presence of McCartney does make it sorta special. I should add this to the list of movies I oughtta watch again and re-assess. The soundtrack is mostly very nice, including a remake of “Ballroom Dancing” and the hit single “No More Lonely Nights.” The album approaches the transcendental with two of McCartney’s best tracks of the ’80s–“No Values” and “Not Such A Bad Boy”–which are not on any other album. Both tracks feature McCartney playing with an ace combo of Ringo StarrChris Spedding, and Porky’s Revenge wunderkind Dave Edmunds, and they’re just as solid as anything Sir Paul ever did after leaving the act you’ve known for all these years. In particular, “Not Such A Bad Boy” is such a confident rockin’ pop number, oozing with swagger and amiable panache. It’s aching for rediscovery as one of McCartney’s best.

Okay, the house lights are on. Clean up your concession-stand debris and head for the parking lot. And let’s pop in a rock ‘n’ roll movie soundtrack to accompany our drive home.

If you wanna read some half-baked notions of how I would have (in theory) slapped together a rock ‘n’ roll movie when I was younger, check out my proposed Bay City Rollers movie, or my quarter-baked fantasy of an ’80s update of The Girl Can’t Help It starring Bo Derek(the latter also featuring bonus discussion of a Dolenz, Jones, Boyce & Hart TV series and a star vehicle for Ireland’s phenomenal pop combo The Undertones. I could rule the world if I had money. And ambition. And talent. 
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THE ONE THAT GOT AWAY! The Dave Clark Five, Glad All Over Again!

The One That Got Away! looks back on records, comic books, and other cool things that I really, really wanted, but never got around to getting.

THE DAVE CLARK FIVE: Glad All Over AgainEpic Records, 1975
In the often narrow-minded rock ‘n’ roll atmosphere of the mid 1970s, digging the decade-old Tottenham Sound of The Dave Clark Five wasn’t the coolest thing one could do. It wasn’t quite as unhip as, say,  declaring allegiance to Paul Revere & the Raiders or The Monkees, but it was still an invitation to scorn and dismissal. I just happened to like all three of these acts anyway. That played a large part in how I learned not to give a damn about what other people thought I should or shouldn’t like.


I was 15 years old in 1975. I kinda remembered the DC5 a little from their hitmakin’ heyday in the ’60s; one of my older siblings (presumably my sister Denise) had the “Bits And Pieces” 45, and that lonely little 7″ slab o’ vinyl was still in the family record library at the Me Decade’s midpoint. It was around ’75 or so that my ongoing interest in The Beatles fueled a full-on obsession with the ’60s, especially with the music of the British Invasion. I borrowed a bunch of my cousin Maryann’s records–45s by The Rolling Stones and Yanks The Lovin’ Spoonful, LPs by The Beatles, The AnimalsThe Searchers, and The Beach Boys–and immersed myself in the sound of the ’60s.

Maryann’s stash included two Dave Clark Five albums, Glad All Over and The Dave Clark Five Return! The title of “Glad All Over” seemed familiar, and a spin of the record confirmed that it was indeed a song I remembered from somewhere. That was enough. I was now a DC5 fan.

Over the next couple of years, I slowly expanded my knowledge and appreciation of the DC5. I heard “Any Way You Want It” and “Catch Us If You Can” on oldies radio shows, and eventually scored a couple of Dave Clark Five albums at the flea market (a really beat-up Glad All Over and a pretty nice copy of Having A Wild Weekend). More would follow.

 don’t know when I became aware of Glad All Over Again, a double-album DC5 retrospective issued by Epic Records in 1975. I have no recollection of ever seeing it in a record store; I’m not 100% positive I’ve ever seen it at all, though I think I did, possibly in the library of the campus radio station WBSU when I got to college in the fall semester of ’77, or in the DJ booth at the on-campus Rathskeller during the weekly Oldies Night on Thursdays. I know that I did read a review of it in an old issue of CREEM magazine that came into my possession at that time. If I saw the record, or even if I only heard of it, I knew one thing for sure: I wanted it. I really wanted it.


But it was not to be. Lacking an opportunity to buy Glad All Over Again, I continued to build my DC5 collection as best I could. A 45 of “Red And Blue”/”Concentration Baby” (and I much preferred the B-side), and a slow process of acquiring albums one by one: Coast To CoastAmerican TourGreatest HitsYou Got What It Takes5 By 5I Like It Like ThatWeekend In LondonThe Dave Clark Five Return!More Greatest HitsTry Too Hard, and Satisfied With You, in that approximate order. Years later I scored a bootleg CD two-fer of The Dave Clark Five Play Good Old Rock & Roll and Dave Clark And Friends. I still have every one of these, plus a couple more bootleg CDs and the official CD best-of The History Of The Dave Clark Five, rent-money collection purges be damned. My Dave Clark Five collection isn’t complete, but it’s close.

It doesn’t include Glad All Over Again. That’s the one that got away.

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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.)

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Pop Sunday

British Invasion Top Ten

1) “I Want To Hold Your Hand” The Beatles – Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know “I Want To Hold Your Hand” is an obvious number one choice for this list. But aside from being a fantastic song, it was responsible for kicking off the British Invasion that dominated airwaves and record players everywhere from 1964 to 1965. Hooray for The Beatles for sparking the movement and opening the door for flurries of other fine bands from Jolly Old England.

2) “Needles And Pins” The Searchers – Glistening to a stunning synthesis of twinkling twelve-string guitars and choir boy harmonies, “Needles And Pins” proved to be as influential as “I Wanna Hold Your Hand.” Folk rock before the term even existed, the song seized the ears of future Beau Brummels and Byrds members, who popularized the style and gave it its name.

3)  “Heart Full Of Soul” The Yardbirds – Also inspiring and inventive, “Heart Full Of Soul” is underlined by Jeff Beck’s distorted fuzztone guitar work, giving the song an eerie edge that predates psychedelia. A left-field offering from a left-field band, but accessible enough to become a hit single.

4) “Glad All Over” The Dave Clark Five – Bursting forth with stomping rhythms and a monster-sized call and response chorus, “Glad All Over” represents the Dave Clark Five’s style through and through, which was dubbed “The Tottenham Sound.” The timelessly catchy song further captures the youthful exuberance of the British Invasion in all its giddy glory.

5) “House Of The Rising Sun” The Animals – Navigated by lead singer Eric Burdon’s bluesy growl and Alan Price’s menacing keyboard passages, “House Of The Rising Sun” exposed a “darker angle” of the British Invasion that additionally included the rebel cries of bands like The Rolling Stones and The Pretty Things, who not only sneered and snarled, but looked mighty sinister with their exceedingly long locks and scruffy threads.

6) “You Really Got Me” The Kinks – Quaking and shaking with a wild and frantic guitar solo, “You Really Got Me” sounds as revolutionary today as it did in 1964. Often considered the first genuine heavy metal song, “You Really Got Me” is further intensified by jolting hooks and a screaming chorus.

7) “She’s Not There” The Zombies – Possessing a breathtaking repertoire of ethereal vocals, gripping keyboard exercises and melting melodies, the jazzy “She’s Not There” teems with class and sophistication. The British Invasion produced a variety of musical hues, and here’s a song – not to mention a band – that certainly sported its own individual identity. 

8) “Look Through Any Window” The Hollies –  Praised for their poised and polished harmony prowess, The Hollies deliver the goods to maximum effects on “Look Through Any Window,” which subsequently entails enterprising arrangements and a sturdy backbeat. A high energy and high quality slice of pop rock magic, “Look Through Any Window” soars with color and light.

9) “A World Without Love” Peter and Gordon – Composed by John Lennon and Paul McCartney, “A World Without Love” steps in as a mid-paced ballad, pronounced by the yearning Everly Brothers-fashioned lilt of Peter Asher and Gordon Waller. Lushly textured and containing a spinning keyboard break, “A World Without Love” ripples with beauty and finesse.


10) “Concrete And Clay” Unit 4 Plus 2 – Fueled by a finger-snapping bossa nova cadence, the perpetually perky “Concrete And Clay” was quite a unique entry in the British Invasion sweepstakes. Crisp and crackling acoustic guitar licks, supported by folk-framed choruses and needling hooks furnish the tasty tune with a rather exotic touch. 

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Quick Spins

Gary Ritchie / Head On A Swivel

Gary Ritchie

Head On A Swivel 

garyritchie.bandcamp.com

When The Beatles broke big in America, American groups started cropping up everywhere, intent on capturing that same Beatles’ magic. Bands like The Knickerbockers and The Cyrkle were looking to do much more than most of the also-rans, though. Their aim, inspired by the lads from Liverpool, was to create something with the same level of enthusiasm and electricity.

Here, well-known popster Gary Ritchie continues that tradition, with a wink and a nod, and his heart in the right place. He is, after all, along with musical partner Jeff King, responsible for the cult-favorite release, Beat The Meatles.

“Maybe It’ll Be Tonight”, takes a post-punk stab at what might’ve been an early MTV hit, when power pop was really becoming a thing. The title track, reminiscent of The Dave Clark Five’s “Over and Over” is another winner, and gets seriously-close to that ’65 energy.

My fave of the set, however, is “Arms Around A Memory,” which boasts a catchy melody and jangly guitar sound that pop dreams are made of. In a perfect world, that’d be the A-side of Capitol Records vinyl single, spinning on the Dansette.

D.P.

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Boppin'

The Everlasting First: The Jam

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.


Anyone who knows me also knows who my favorite bands are: The BeatlesThe Ramones,The FlashcubesThe Monkees, and The Kinks. There are dozens and dozens of worthy acts that I love almost as much–I am proud to be a pop music fanatic and obsessive–but I think I’ve made it clear that this fantastic five sits permanently up there as my Top, my Coliseum, my Louvre Museum, et al.
The Jam used to be right up there with those Beatles and Ramones, too. While I certainly never stopped loving The Jam, they’re not as ever-present in my mind as they were a few decades ago. But in the late ’70s and early ’80s, The Jam rivaled The Ramones for the coveted title of Carl’s favorite rock ‘n’ roll group.

My introduction to The Jam was inauspicious, to say the least. One afternoon in the Fall of 1977, I was lounging in my freshman dorm room, listening to Brockport’s campus radio station WBSU. I listened to WBSU, like, all of the time, constantly pestering the student jocks to play more of the new punk/new wave stuff I wanted to discover–BlondieThe DictatorsThe Runaways, and the above-mentioned Ramones brudders–and also more of the ’60s stuff I loved, from The Raiders (“Let Me!”) and The Dave Clark Five (“Any Way You Want It”) through The Monkees (the station owned the only copy of the group’s Changes LP I had ever seen, though some of the BSU jocks flatly refused to ever play anything by The Monkees).

But this particular afternoon was a singularly revelatory WBSU session, as I heard The Flamin’ Groovies (“Misery”), The Vogues (“Five O’Clock World”), and The Knickerbockers (“Lies”) for the first time. And the station also played a brand-new song by a punk group out of England, performing a cover of “The Batman Theme.” As I heard the song play, I wrote in my journal: “1977 and Batman’s a punk. Progress.”

And that was the first time I heard The Jam.

From small things mama, as Bossman Brucie would later say. If I seemed dismissive at the time, I think I was nonetheless intrigued. The Jam next crossed my consciousness in October, when TV’s The Tomorrow Show took a look at this punk rock thing that was driving some of these mixed-up kids crazy, with the pogo dancing and the safety pins and the anarchy and the use of impolite language. Tomorrow Show host Tom Snyder promised “a punk-rock jam,” but he was himself mixed-up; what he meant was that his guests would include The Jam’s Paul Weller, along with Joan Jett from The Runaways, and Kim Fowley, The Runaways’ former manager. I don’t remember much about this show, other than a sense of no love lost between Jett and Fowley, and the fact that I’d already developed a serious crush on our Joanie (“crush” in the sense that I wanted to hug her and squeeze her and call her Gorgeous; my girlfriend Sharon was neither impressed nor amused). I have a vague recollection that Weller was serious and focused, and that he knew what he was talking about, but the precise details are lost in the cluttered hallway of my memory. I really oughta at least try applying a feather duster to that place some time.

I’m not exactly sure of the sequence of events after that, of how I went from The Jam? to THE JAM!! I do know there were four specific songs involved: “In The City,” “I Need You (For Someone),” “The Modern World,” and “All Around The World.” I can’t tell you where or when I first heard any of these, but I can tell you that the first two were staples of The Flashcubes’ live set. I saw the ‘Cubes for the first time in January of ’78, and it was immediately clear that any songthey did was okay by me. I bought the U.S. Polydor 45 of “I Need You (For Someone)”/”In The City,” and played it often.  I picked up import singles of “The Modern World” (a track I think the ‘Cubes also used to cover) and “All Around The World” when I worked at Penn-Cann Mall in North Syracuse that summer. I was hooked. Guitarist Weller, bassist Bruce Foxton, and drummer Rick Buckler had created exactly the sort of modern world I wanted to inhabit.

I returned to Brockport for my sophomore year in the fall of 1978. By then, the previously-cited girlfriend Sharon was already three or four heartbreaks ago. In early October of that semester, I aced some test or paper or somesuch, and felt I deserved a reward; so it was down to The Record Grove, where I purchased a copy of The Jam’s second LP, This Is The Modern World. I went back to my dorm, and put it on my roommate’s stereo, the volume set somewhere north of lethal. God, I loved this record on first spin. Just about everyone considers it The Jam’s least-noteworthy effort, but it’s always gonna be special to me. “The Modern World.” “All Around The World.” “I Need You (For Someone).” Then on to the tracks I didn’t already know: “Standards.” “Life From A Window.” Wilson Pickett‘s “In The Midnight Hour.” I couldn’t play Side One loud enough.

My next-door neighbor, on the other hand, thought it was already a wee bit too noisy. I hadn’t even met this chick yet, but she pounded on our mutual bedroom wall, imploring me to turn that goddamned racket down already. I grumbled, cursed, but complied. Ever the gentleman, that’s me! I did eventually meet this girl next door later that month. Her name was Brenda. Wonder whatever became of her…?

(And yes, she still thinks I play that goddamned racket too loud.)

The Jam didn’t exactly fall beneath my radar after that, but I didn’t get their next album, All Mod Cons, until well after the fact. Someone–either my then-current roommate Tom or my future roommate Paul–played “Down In The Tube Station At Midnight” for me on his WBSU show in the spring of ’79; I liked it, I guess, though it didn’t have the exuberance, the immediacy of the Jam tunes I already loved. It was…mature. It would take some getting used to.

By the time I adjusted to the idea of a more grownup-sounding Jam, the group hit me with a new album, Setting Sons. What an amazing record this was! I rarely listen to whole albums nowadays, but I owe myself the pleasure of giving this another complete spin soon. Supposedly originally created as a concept album–a dirty phrase in the post-punk world of 1979-1980–Setting Sons succeeds as a stunning song cycle, simmering with the charred embers of shattered idealism, discarded friendships, wistful memory, and defiant hope. I regard Setting Sons as The Jam’s masterpiece.

The Jam’s follow-up album, Sound Affects, was nearly as good, highlighted by “That’s Entertainment,” an unforgettable number that Weller is said to have written following a pub crawl; the track would have been worthy of The Kinks. The “Going Underground” single was another winner, and The Jam were firmly ensconced near the Toppermost of my Poppermost.

And then they were gone. Another album (The Gift), and a pair of 1982 farewell singles, “The Bitterest Pill (I Ever Had To Swallow)” and “Beat Surrender,” and Weller pulled the plug. The Jam never caught on in the States at all, but they were huge stars in Great Britain, and they quit at the height of their success. I never had much interest in Weller’s next project, The Style Council, but I have to concede neither he nor the rest of The Jam owed me anything. They’d already shown me the modern world, and all around the world: in the city, down in the tube station at midnight, lost in a strange town, Eton rifles beneath a burning sky, gone underground to a town called Malice. That’s entertainment.