Categories
Boppin'

THE EVERLASTING FIRST: Quick Takes For C

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.

CAPTAIN MARVEL (MAR-VELL)

Yeah, the the original Captain Marvel was long gone by 1967, but continued pop culture references kept that fabled name in the public eye nonetheless. The good folks at Marvel Comics recognized the potential value of that name; realizing the name was not protected by any prevailing copyright, Marvel created its own Captain Marvel, an interstellar warrior named Mar-Vell. Mar-Vell’s alien race the Kree planned to invade Earth, and Captain Mar-Vell was sent to our big blue marble to prepare the planet for Kree conquest. Mar-Vell ultimately rebelled against his own kind, and helped Earth to resist domination by the Kree. This Captain Marvel debuted in two issues of a comic book called Marvel Super-Heroes in ’67 and ’68; I first saw him in Captain Marvel # 1 (May 1968).

THE CHALLENGERS OF THE UNKNOWN

I confess that my main attachment to the Challs is that I think they make a really cool name for a trivia team. I also think they would have been a natural for a radio drama series: Four adventurers who cheated death! Four men living on borrowed time! These are THE CHALLENGERS OF THE UNKNOWN!! In the early ’70s, I picked up a coverless DC giant that reprinted some early Challs stories drawn by the King, Jack Kirby, and those were cool. But I first saw the Challs face arch-enemy Villo in “Two Are Dead–Two To Go!” in Challengers Of The Unknown # 52 (October-November 1966). (Pop music bonus reference: the Challs are name-checked in the song “Challengers” by The New Pornographers.)

THE DAVE CLARK FIVE

One of my siblings owned a copy of the “Bits And Pieces” 45, so my Tottenham Sound adventure starts there. We also had some kind of DC5/VO5 tie-in, a cardboard Dave Clark Five record promoting VO5 shampoo, but I can’t remember anything about it. (Well, other than the fact that li’l me, at four or five years old, would look at this record and point at the first three members of the DC5, reading left to right, and insist, “That’s Dave, that’s Clark, that’s Five;” I think I was joking.)

I remembered the product as VO5 rather than Pond’s, but this looks about right.

THE CLASH

A 1978 (?) issue of New York Rocker was probably my first exposure to The Clash. At a Flashcubes show that summer, I was chatting with Penny Poser (alias Diane Lesniewski), and she told me her favorite bands were The Who and The Clash. I bought The Clash’s “Remote Control”/”London’s Burning” import single…and, um, wasn’t really all that impressed. The B-side grew on me, though, and I later picked up the “Tommy Gun”/”1-2 Crush On You” 45, and eventually got the domestic versions of The Clash’s first three albums. I came to like The Clash quite a bit, but never quite felt the level of worship for them that I reserved for the likes of The Ramones and The Jam.

THE CREATION

This mid-’60s British Mod group was mentioned in Bomp! magazine’s 1978 power pop issue, with The Creation’s “Making Time,””Painter Man,” and “Biff Bang Pow” cited as prime examples of power pop. So, y’know, I wanted to hear this stuff! But good luck with that effort. I started with a DJ at Tip-A-Few, an oldies bar in Syracuse’s Eastwood section, but he’d never heard of Creation, and even if he had, he wasn’t gonna play anything that was never a hit record in America. I finally found an import 7″ reissue 45, combining “Making Time” and “Painter Man.” It was at Desert Shore Records up on the Syracuse University hill; Arty Lenin, guitarist from The Flashcubes, was workin’ the Desert Shore counter that day, so I bought my first Creation record from him.

THE CREEPER

Beware! THE CREEPER! Oooo–scary! The Creeper’s debut appearance in Showcase # 73 was among a small stack of comics my parents bought for me to take along on my summer travels in 1968. I didn’t know comics creators when I was eight years old, but I’m sure I’d seen DC’s ads promoting this new work by Steve Ditko (along with Ditko’s The Hawk And The Dove); I’m equally sure I didn’t connect this Ditko guy to work I’d seen on Marvel’s Dr. Strange in the pages of Strange Tales, nor Spider-Man reprints in Marvel Collectors’ Item Classics, nor Charlton’s Blue Beetle (the latter of which I didn’t see until after The Creeper’s debut anyway). Still found it all very, very cool.

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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. 

Categories
Pop-A-Looza TV

The Dave Clark Five / Glad All Over

My All-Time Top 40 Favorite Tracks

 What are my all-time Top 40 favorite tracks?

It’s a separate discussion from my usual ranting on behalf of my long-threatened book The Greatest Record Ever Made! (Volume 1). The book at least attempts a long view, albeit still a long view shaped by my own taste. The tracks listed here today are tracks I just really, really like. A lot.

The only restriction I placed on this list was a limit of just one track per artist. And I excluded the Beatles; my favorite song is pretty much everything the Beatles released from 1964 through ’66, A Hard Day’s Night through Revolver. If I tried to pick one Beatles selection, it might be the American mix of “Thank You, Girl,” or it might be “No Reply,” or “Rain,” or “The Night Before,” or…see, this is why I’m not pickin’ one. The Fab Four exist outside the parameters of this exercise.

And I’m not ranking my picks; they’re arranged alphabetically by artist. My all-time # 1 is probably Badfinger‘s “Baby Blue,” but everything’s listed here as equals.  Ladies and gentlemen…my all-time Top 40 favorite tracks.

EMERITUS STATUS: THE BEATLES: [1964-1966]

1. THE 13th FLOOR ELEVATORS: You’re Gonna Miss Me

2. THE ANIMALS: It’s My Life

3. P. P. ARNOLD: The First Cut Is The Deepest

4. BADFINGER: Baby Blue

5. THE BAY CITY ROLLERS: Rock And Roll Love Letter

6. THE BEAU BRUMMELS: Laugh Laugh

7. THE BEVIS FROND: He’d Be A Diamond

8. CHUCK BERRY: Promised Land

9. BIG STAR: September Gurls

10. THE DAVE CLARK FIVE: Any Way You Want It

11. THE COCKTAIL SLIPPERS: St. Valentine’s Day Massacre

12. NEIL DIAMOND: Solitary Man

13. THE DRIFTERS: On Broadway

14. EDDIE AND THE HOT RODS: Do Anything You  Wanna Do

15. THE FLAMIN’ GROOVIES: Shake Some Action

16. THE FLASHCUBES: No Promise

17. THE FOUR TOPS: It’s The Same Old Song

18. FREDDIE AND THE DREAMERS: Do The Freddie

19. THE KINKS: You Really Got Me

20. KISS: Shout It Out Loud

21. THE KNICKERBOCKERS: Lies

22. MARY LOU LORD: Aim Low

23. MANNIX: Highway Lines

24. MATERIAL ISSUE: Kim The Waitress

25. EYTAN MIRSKY: This Year’s Gonna Be Our Year

26. THE MONKEES: Porpoise Song (Theme From Head)

27. THE RAMONES: Sheena Is A Punk Rocker

28. THE RARE BREED: Beg, Borrow And Steal

29. SMOKEY ROBINSON AND THE MIRACLES: The Tears Of A Clown

30. TODD RUNDGREN: Couldn’t I Just Tell You

31. DUSTY SPRINGFIELD: I Only Want To Be With You

32. BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN: Girls In Their Summer Clothes

33. THE T-BONES: No Matter What Shape (Your Stomach’s In)

34. THE TEARJERKERS: Syracuse Summer

35. THE TOYS: May My Heart Be Cast Into Stone

36. TRANSLATOR: Everywhere That I’m Not

37. THE VOGUES: Five O’Clock World

38. THE YARDBIRDS: Heart Full Of Soul

39. THE WHO: I Can’t Explain

40. STEVIE WONDER: Uptight (Everything’s Alright)

And yeah, of course the list would look different if I did it tomorrow. Obviously.

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This Is Rock ‘n’ Roll Radio with Dana & Carl airs Sunday nights from 9 to Midnight Eastern, on the air in Syracuse at SPARK! WSPJ 103.3 and 93.7 FM, and on the web at http://sparksyracuse.org/ You can read about our history here.

I’m on Twitter @CafarelliCarl

Categories
Boppin'

THE EVERLASTING FIRST: The Beach Boys

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

This was originally posted as part of a longer piece covering both pop music and comic book characters. It’s separated here for convenience.

As I’ve said before, it took me a little while to become a Beach Boys fan.  But there was a Beach Boys LP in the family library when I was a kid: Surfer Girl. As hard as it may be to believe, the title track from that album is the only Beach Boys song I remember contemporaneously. I know, I know–I was there (in my role as me), and I have difficulty buying the idea that I wasn’t aware of “In My Room” or “Surfin’ USA” or “Help Me, Rhonda” or “I Get Around” or “Our Car Club.” Well, okay, maybe that last mental omission is understandable. But how could I have missed the entirety of The Beach Boys’ ’60s output in the ’60s? Beats me. All I can tell you is that I didn’t start listening to The Beach Boys at all until the mid-’70s, and I didn’t become a big fan until much later.

But I got there. As a teen, I borrowed my cousin Maryann’s Beach Boys records (along with her Dave Clark Five, SearchersBeatlesAnimals, and Rolling Stones collection). I got a copy of the cultural prerequisite 2-LP set Endless Summer via the RCA Record Club, and I figured I was permanently set with all the Beach Boys I’d ever need. Probably more than I’d ever need–the only track missing (in my view at the time) was “Good Vibrations,” and I could live without that if I had to.

(I think I may have been surprised to learn that “In My Room,” a track included on Endless Summer, had originally been done by The Beach Boys. I knew it as an early ’70s single by local singer Nanci Hammond, whose cover of the song received significant AM radio airplay in Syracuse. It was the follow-up to her earlier local hit, “You Were Made Just For Me,” and I confess that I preferred “You Were Made Just For Me” to “In My Room.” At the time, man, at the time!)

In high school, I knew a guy named Larry Siedentop. Larry was a big fan of The Beach Boys, probably the only one of my peers who was really, really into them (though I do recall that another friend, Mary Saur, also liked The Beach Boys, but not as fervently as ol’ Larry did). Larry spoke of The Beatles and The Beach Boys with equal reverence, and to me, that was just crazy, freakin’ nuts. Those square, decidedly outta-fashion California beach bums on a par with the brilliance of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band? That was like telling me that Up With People! was a peer to Bob Dylan. Sure, even my self-conscious efforts to make myself into a cooler-than-thou proto-hipster couldn’t deny the pop savvy of The Beach Boys’ best hit singles, but c’mon!

But now, even a slow-to-the-epiphany guy like me can look back and recognize how right Larry Siedentop was. Forty years later, I prefer Pet Sounds to Sgt. Pepper; that’s a turnaround in opinion that would have been inconceivable to me in 1976. I finally appreciate the greatness of The Beach Boys. Hell, I’m even okay with “Kokomo,” which makes me uncool, but I don’t care. And I got to see Brian Wilson play Pet Sounds in 2016! So much for first impressions, I guess, or even some subsequent impressions, too. Sometimes it takes me a while to catch on, and it certainly took me a while to catch a wave.

And I like “Surfer Girl” now. I love “Surfer Girl” now. I mean–look at her!

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You can support this blog by becoming a patron on Patreon: Fund me, baby! 

Our new compilation CD This Is Rock ‘n’ Roll Radio, Volume 4 is now available from Kool Kat Musik! 29 tracks of irresistible rockin’ pop, starring Pop Co-OpRay PaulCirce Link & Christian NesmithVegas With Randolph Featuring Lannie FlowersThe SlapbacksP. HuxIrene PeñaMichael Oliver & the Sacred Band Featuring Dave MerrittThe RubinoosStepford KnivesThe Grip WeedsPopdudesRonnie DarkThe Flashcubes,Chris von SneidernThe Bottle Kids1.4.5.The SmithereensPaul Collins’ BeatThe Hit SquadThe RulersThe Legal MattersMaura & the Bright LightsLisa Mychols, and Mr. Encrypto & the Cyphers. You gotta have it, so order it here. 

Cruisin’ Music

I listen to music while I’m driving. The car is my favorite place to listen to music; it’s also frequently almost my only place to listen to music, but it’s not merely my favorite by default. As a former pop journalist, I should try to propagate an image of sophistication and deliberation, retiring to my study, brandy in hand, intent on contemplating the splendor of a virgin vinyl Pet Sounds played through a 5.1 surround stereo system that cost more than I made in twenty years of freelancing for Goldmine. And…no. To be fair, there are decent meals that cost more than I made freelancing for Goldmine, but that’s irrelevant. Pop music was meant to be listened to on cheap speakers, loud and distorted, as you’re movin’ down the highway at 500 miles an hour. 

(This example is intended as hyperbole. Always obey posted speed limits, even when The Ramones are on.)

And I won’t apologize for it. The unique experience of listening to rockin’ pop music in the car is magic, nearly an out-of-body rapture. It was true when I was a little kid, hearing The BeatlesThe Dave Clark Five, and The Bobby Fuller Four blastin’ outta WNDR-AM in my brother’s fragile Alfa Romeo. It was true much later, when my Dad gave me his ’69 Impala, and early ’80s AM Top 40 on Buffalo’s 14 Rock gave me Tracey UllmanToni BasilPrince, and Paul McCartney. It was true when the FM radio in my otherwise-crappy ’78 Bobcat allowed me to achieve my dream of hearing The Ramones on a car radio–thank you, WBNY-FM! It was true when cassette decks granted me the opportunity to customize my motorized listening, and when car CD players let me immediately immerse myself in an album I’d just purchased, right then and there on the drive home from the record store. Radio. Mix Tapes. Mini-discs (plugged in via a car kit). CDs. Satellite radio. My intrepid iPod. The wide world of pop music lives in my car. 

None of this is intended to downplay the impact and enjoyment I have felt in other listening environments. I would not have become the giddy, contented pop fan I am without all of the joyful hours spent listening to radio in my room, from Smokey Robinson & the Miracles and Badfinger through The Sex PistolsThe Go-Go’s, and…well, everyone. I can never forget the sheer thrill of the first time I heard “Porpoise Song” by The Monkees, courtesy of a girl in high school who let me borrow her copy of the Head LP. I retain the sense of transcendent inspiration from a neighbor playing Otis Redding‘s Live In Europe, or friends hooking me on stuff by David BowieThe O’JaysFingerprintz, and Anny Celsi, or hearing a Nada Surf CD playing in a record store and saying to the clerk GIMME!, or boppin’ around my dorm room or apartment or suburban house, exulting in the sweet sounds of Fools FaceChuck BerryGladys Knight & the PipsThe KinksThe FlashcubesThe Isley BrothersP. P. ArnoldThe Barracudas, a crunchy James Brown 45, a Bay City Rollers eight-track, a Gretchen’s Wheel mp3, all playing back on whatever home stereo equipment was/is available at the time. I wouldn’t surrender a second of any of that.

Still: music in the car. Irreplaceable. Windows down (or air conditioner up) in the summer, snow tires barreling forward in the winter, the music turned up LOUD. It’s a solitary experience, a communion; it’s not quite the same when there’s a passenger. When The Monkees released the digital single “She Makes Me Laugh,” the first tease from the 2016 album Good Times!, I was disappointed with it…until I listened to it in the car. Then I got it, and I loved it. Pop music is made for the car. Driving in nearly any weather, give me my tunes, and I’ll get there. The wind, the rain, the sun, and the snow are no match for the power of my music. Sunglasses on. Car stereo on. Let’s go.

Atomic batteries to power. Turbines to ROCK ‘N’ ROLL…!

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Boppin'

KISS

In the mid-’70s, I was a pop-obsessed teenager in love with my AM radio.  I was old enough to remember Beatlemania, and my affection for ’60s rockin’ pop remained undimmed:  The Beatles.  The Dave Clark Five.  The Animals.  The Monkees.  The Hollies.  Paul Revere & the Raiders.  Over time, those stalwarts had been joined (but never replaced) by irresistible ’70s radio fare by Badfinger, Alice Cooper, Slade, The Raspberries, The Sweet.  Somewhere in there, I developed an insatiable taste for The Kinks.  And in December of 1976, I went to my first rock concert.  I went to see KISS.

I was not all that much of a KISS fan at the time.  I knew a few songs from WOLF-AM in Syracuse–“Rock And Roll All Nite,””Beth,” “Shout It Out Loud,” maybe “Detroit Rock City”–and these were all certainly songs that I liked.  But the KISS concert experience made me a fan immediately.  I never quite joined the KISS Army, but I bought the KISS comic books from Marvel, and I received a copy of the Rock And Roll Over album as a high school graduation gift from my sister.  I was particularly taken with “Calling Dr. Love,” and wanted to march in for graduation to that tune rather than “Pomp And Circumstance.”  Man, I NEVER get my way…!

That period of late 1976 through the end of ’77 saw a huge transition in my musical tastes. Or did it?  As I bought more records, as I burrowed through used records stores and flea markets, as I learned about exciting new stuff in Phonograph Record Magazine, as free-form FM radio drew my attention away from the increasingly disco-dominated AM airwaves…as all this was going on, I still loved The Beatles.  And everything else I loved was an extension of that.
And that included KISS.  KISS was a pop band, and a very good pop band at that.  The best KISS records were infectious in a way Led Zeppelin wasn’t, accessible in a way Pink Floyd and ELP could never be, thrilling in a way that The Bee Gees would never even understand.  KISS, though certainly not a punk band, was also my gateway to punk, a whole new world that nonetheless still drew inspiration from the prevailing and pervasive appeal of 45 rpm records played loud and distorted over a tiny transistor radio speaker.  I saw KISS in December of ’76; a year later, I wrote my first-ever piece of rock criticism, an emeritus contribution to my high school newspaper, drawing a line forward from the greatness of The Beatles to the virtues of The Ramones, The Sex Pistols, Blondie, The Rubinoos…and KISS.  Punk.  Pop.  Rock ‘n’ roll.  For me, it was all part of the same continuum, and I loved it all.  I still do.

When KISS was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2014, I read through a lot of complaints that KISS was not deserving of this (or any) honor, and I became increasingly pissed off at such dismissals.  You don’t like KISS?  That is certainly your right.  You think KISS is untalented, insubstantial, too gimmicky?  You think the members of KISS (one member in particular!) are obnoxious jerks?  I guess that’s all fair game, too.  But KISS is important to me, and the band’s impact transcends the mere happenstance of being my first rock concert.  Loud, garish, celebratory, and as infectious as an arena cheer, KISS’s best records make me feel GREAT.  Awright!

The week of KISS’s Rock Hall induction, THIS IS ROCK ‘N’ ROLL RADIO attempted to put KISS in context, to play a few of the best KISS records alongside a bunch of other terrific pop tracks, and to prove that maybe KISS could be discussed with Badfinger, Big Star, The Raspberries, et al., as among the best rockin’ pop the ’70s had to offer.  “Strutter.”  “Comin’ Home.”  Anything For My Baby.”  “Calling Dr. Love.” “Detroit Rock City.”  “Shout It Out Loud.”  “Rock And Roll All Nite.”  These are pop songs, and they sound…well, awesome on rockin’ pop radio.  As one listener put it, “Stop giving me less reason to hate Gene Simmons!”  Turn it up.  Shout it out loud!  And if they tell you that there’s too much noise, they’re too old to understand….

Boppin’ Comes Alive!

Live albums can carry a special fascination for rockin’ pop fans. Though I generally prefer the finished pop product of a studio track (and my younger, purist rock ‘n’ roll self would likely strike me for thinking that), there’s something exciting about a document of rock ‘n’ roll played live. Sure, many–maybe most–of our cherished live albums have benefited from a little studio sweetening, but the live feel is there, and that’s what counts.

The first live album I remember at all was my sister’s copy of The Live Kinks, the only Kinks record in the household collection when I was a teenager. I didn’t pay much attention to it–the only Kinks song I knew was “Lola,” and The Live Kinks certainly predates that–but I did occasionally try to play The Kinks’ live version of “The Batman Theme,” because, y’know…Batman! That track was part of an in-concert medley on The Live Kinks, so it was tricky to isolate the track and ignore “Milk Cow Blues” and “Tired Of Waiting For You,” neither of which interested me at the time. (And yes, my contemporary self would surely strike pissant li’l young me for not recognizing the brilliance of “Tired Of Waiting For You” a bit earlier in the timeline.)

My sister also owned a copy of the second Woodstock collection, and a live Procol Harum record. I’ve been trying to remember the first live record that was specifically mine, and I think I have to go all the way up to senior year in high school, spring of ’77, and the release of The Beatles At The Hollywood Bowl. That album was the first time I ever rushed to the record store to buy an album on its release, and I loved that record. The Beatles live? Yeah. Yeah, I’m in. I haven’t yet heard the new CD reissue (re-titled Live At The Hollywood Bowl), though I’ve read the complaints that it’s just a straightforward, unvarnished reissue, not the remixed, re-vitalized concert document we were promised. I’ll get it soon anyway. Live Beatles!

My second live album was probably Got Live If You Want It! by The Rolling Stones, or perhaps The Cowsills‘ In Concert, both purchased used in that same spring of ’77 for fifty cents each at Mike’s Sound Center in North Syracuse. Later that year, I succumbed to (imaginary) peer pressure and joined the bazillions of people who owned a copy of Frampton Comes Alive! Even just typing that sentence bores me. I received KISS‘s Alive II as a Christmas gift that year (and my main interest was one of the studio tracks, a cover of “Any Way You Want It” by The Dave Clark Five). I subsequently picked up a used copy of its predecessor, Alive!, on a trip to Cleveland somewhere in there, too.

And my acquisition of live records is just a blur after that. My friend Tom turned me on to The Runaways‘ Live In Japan; the others that meant the most to me were The Ramones‘ It’s Alive!The Heartbreakers‘ Live At Max’s Kansas City ’79Cheap Trick At Budokan, and a bootleg cassette of The Flashcubes live in ’78. I had some bootlegs of live stuff by The Sex PistolsThe New York Dolls, and Elvis Costello & the Attractions, and two separate sets of neighbors in the ’80s turned me on to James Brown‘s Live At The Apollo and Otis Redding‘s Live In Europe.

The live album I wished for most was a live Monkees album; resurgent Monkeemania granted that wish in 1987, with the release of Live 1967, which I adored in all its rough ‘n’ ragged glory (and which I later upgraded to a 3-CD Rhino Handmade edition). Later in 1987, I attended a Monkees concert and discovered a new Monkees live album, 20th Anniversary Tour Live, recorded the previous year and sold only at concessions on the ’87 tour. In those days before social media, most people didn’t even know the album existed. In fact, when I reviewed the album for Goldmine, I had to prove its existence to editor Jeff Tamarkin before he would run the review! That’s the only time in twenty years as a Goldmine freelancer I ever had to do that.

My few remaining Holy Grail albums include one live record, a 2-LP set of The Bay City Rollers‘s mid-’80s reunion tour of Japan. I’d still love to hear that one, but I do already have a Rollers live album (also from a Japanese concert, but from the ’70s rather than the ’80s). That makes it a lot easier to live without the rare–and presumably pricey–’80s set.

I still get the occasional live CD–cool, relatively recent releases from The Grip Weeds and Lannie Flowers come to mind–and I’m sure there are many, many more to come. And I recently listened to Alive! and Alive II, the first two KISS live albums, for the first time in years. And they kick. I still love it live.

THE EVERLASTING FIRST: Artful Dodger

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.

I very, very much recommend you add a copy of this CD set to your collection.

This was originally posted as part of a longer piece covering both pop music and comic book characters. It’s separated here for convenience.

Was Fairfax, Virginia’s phenomenal pop combo Artful Dodger mentioned in Bomp! magazine’s epic 1978 power pop issue? Either way, the earliest memory of Artful Dodger I can summon would be from Cleveland Scene magazine, a tabloid I used to see sometimes when I visited my sister Denise in Cleveland Heights. I think it was a review of an Artful Dodger show (possibly at The Agora), and the review mentioned that Artful Dodger’s set included a cover of The Dave Clark Five‘s “Any Way You Want It.” Well! In 1978, one way to get my attention was to cover the DC5. But I don’t remember hearing any of Artful Dodger’s music anywhere, so I didn’t really pursue the matter.

In the summer of ’79, I got my first real six-string (bought it at the five-and-dime)…wait, wrong summer, and wrong performer reference. Artful Dodger came to town that summer for a show at Stage East in East Syracuse, with Syracuse’s own power pop powerhouse The Flashcubes opening. If I have the story straight, Artful Dodger played a sparsely-attended Stage East gig the previous week; after three albums that didn’t sell as well as anyone hoped, the band was nearing the end of its tenure with Columbia Records, but hadn’t quite given up on makin’ a grab for that damned elusive brass ring. A second Stage East gig was scheduled, with The Flashcubes (who had a large local following) added to the bill; as an added incentive, the first 100 ladies admitted would receive a copy of The Flashcubes’ most recent single, “Wait Till Next Week”/”Radio,” while the first 100 guys would receive an Artful Dodger EP.  The Flashcubes did radio commercials for the gig, with ‘Cubes drummer Tommy Allen referring to Artful Dodger as “one of the great pop-rock acts of our time.” The message: Get to Stage East to see Artful Dodger, you lot!

The gig itself hit a snag early on: with so much of the crowd drawn there specifically by The Flashcubes–and specifically there to see The Flashcubes–the fans were reluctant to let The Flashcubes finish their opening set and make way for the headliners. The ‘Cubes kept getting called back for encores, until our local lads finally put their collective foot down, announcing that they were done for the night. ‘Cubes bassist Gary Frenay all but pleaded with the crowd to get set for Artful Dodger, “a really great band!,” as the ‘Cubes were finally allowed to leave the stage.

By this time, I guess Artful Dodger had a lot to prove to a skeptical crowd. I wasn’t among the skeptical–I was eager to hear AD for the first time–but I was unprepared for the pinpoint accuracy of Tommy and Gary’s description of Artful Dodger: A really great band? One of the great pop-rock acts of our time? Yes. Oh God, yes!

Artful Dodger seemed like a perfect combination of the best aspects of The Faces and Badfinger, with lead singer Billy Paliselli‘s raspy vocals calling to mind Rod Stewart, and the band’s rockin’ crunch conjuring a meeting of Ron Wood‘s swagger and the power-pop dynamics of Pete Ham and Joey Molland.  I was mesmerized. Granted, I had a pretty good buzz on by now, after an evening at the bar with my pals, but the Artful Dodger boys delivered on their end of the bargain, with a ready ‘n’ steady supply of hook-filled rock ‘n’ roll music. They didn’t do any DC5 material–the only cover I remember from that night is Chuck Berry‘s “Sweet Little Rock ‘n’ Roller”–but they earned my allegiance with their original material. I was particularly captivated by “It’s Over,” a mid-tempo number, drawn out in its live incarnation by a hypmotizin’ extension of its musical intro. From that evening on, I consider myself at home as an Artful Dodger fan.

The next day, I played the Artful Dodger EP that my Y chromosome had awarded me at Stage East’s door: four songs from the group’s eponymous 1975 debut album: “It’s Over,””Wayside,””Think Think,” and my favorite, “Follow Me.”  I eventually acquired all four of Artful Dodger’s LPs, and re-acquired the first two in the CD format, but my Artful Dodger collection began with that EP.

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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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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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