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The Greatest Record Ever Made : Lies


Jimmy Walker
 of The Knickerbockers passed away last week. This is a chapter from my forthcoming book The Greatest Record Ever Made! (Volume 1).
An infinite number of songs can each be THE greatest record ever made, as long as they take turns. Today, 
this is THE GREATEST RECORD EVER MADE!

THE KNICKERBOCKERS: “Lies”Imitation and inspiration are two very different things. We generally have less regard for the former, but recognize that nothing worthwhile can be sparked without the latter. And some imitations are inspired. Many Beatles fans adore The Rutles, and also Utopia‘s Deface The Music, both of which are able and engaging tributes, copying familiar Beatles songs, rewriting them, and reframing them as something almost new. The result is sincere flattery, but compellingand interesting sincere flattery. 
The Beatles inspired more than just imitation, though. The Beatles certainly drew from their own gumbo of influences–Chuck BerryLittle RichardBuddy HollyCarl PerkinsThe Everly BrothersThe ShirellesArthur Alexander–and evolved from imitation to divine inspiration. Some acts set out to imitate The Beatles in some way and became inspired to be more than imitation: to become The Byrds, to craft the sublime majesty of Pet Sounds, to invent ’70s punk rock as simply as a rapid-fire count-off of 1-2-3-4!  Let’s be The Beatles, lads. And then let’s be something we can call our own.
Most would think of “Lies” by The Knickerbockers as imitation, a greed-driven attempt to recreate the sound of The Beatles, maybe even to fool the gullible into thinking it is The Beatles. When I first heard it, my immediate reaction was that it sounded more like The Beatles than The Beatles did. So yeah (yeah yeah), I guess it is imitation. But it’s imitation with a vision, and it is still so much more than just that.

At first glance, The Knickerbockers would seem an unlikely source for rockin’ pop transcendence. I don’t mean to be disrespectful when I say that The Knickerbockers never looked cool, because–let’s face it!–I’ve never looked cool either. The group started out in Bergenfield, New Jersey in 1962, and they were not in any way ahead of their time. They were a cover band. They imitated. They got people to dance, which is good, but they could make no claim to greatness. 
Until, suddenly, they could make that claim.

Founding members Beau Charles and John Charles–brothers, on guitar and bass respectively–were joined by newer Knicks Buddy Randell (sax) and Jimmy Walker (drums) in 1964. They were still primarily a covers act. Their first two albums, Lloyd Thaxton Presents The Knickerbockers and Jerk And Twine Time (both from ’64), were without distinction. Either or both could be erased from history without affecting the time-space continuum in the slightest.
Given that: where the hell did “Lies” come from…?!

The Beatles were pop music in ’64 and ’65. There were lots and lots of other great stuff happening, from James Brown to Paul Revere & the RaidersMotown to girl groups, Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass to Wilson PickettThe Rolling StonesThe KinksStax, and Louis Armstrong, even. But The Beatles ruled, by perception and acclaim, their fab reign and domain reflected in influence, imitation, and inspiration. Beatlemania inspired The Knickerbockers.
“Lies” was written by Buddy Randell and Beau Charles. The Knickerbockers’ previous records had been competent and bland, bordering on the anonymous. Coming after those forgettable works, “Lies” seemed to scream with moptopped frenzy, Let’s be The Beatles! Was it a conscious ambition? Man, it must have been.  What working rock or pop performer in 1965 didn’t want to be The Beatles? Maybe Quincy Jones didn’t want to be The Beatles. Everyone else did.
It’s one thing to want; it’s quite another to achieve. “Lies” magically distills everything–everything–great about Beatles ’65 into one single 45 side. Originally, it was the wrong 45 side; Challenge Records, The Knickerbockers’ demonstrably clueless label, stupidly relegated “Lies” to the B-side of “The Coming Generation,” an earnest and boring track not destined to ever trouble the Top 40. Clearer heads prevailed when DJs turned the record over. “Lies” was a hit. And you know that can’t be bad.
The track’s obvious debt to The Beatles makes it tempting to dismiss “Lies” as ersatz Merseybeat, a copy and nothing more. Except that it’s not a copy, and it is more. “Lies” is not a ripoff of any Beatle record. There are general elements taken from Lennon and McCartney, but really more in terms of a general feel, an accomplished and successful attempt to channel Meet The Beatles and A Hard Day’s Night and “Thank You, Girl” without resorting to thievery. It didn’t hurt that Beau Charles’ lead vocals were so damned convincingly reminiscent of John Lennon. “Lies” doesn’t sound like any one Beatles record. It sounds like all of them. Audaciously, triumphantly, a band from Jersey had pulled it off. For one shining moment, The Knickerbockers had effectively become The Beatles.
Released in late ’65–pop music’s best year ever–“Lies” should have been a # 1 smash. It peaked at # 20 in ’66, and it was The Knickerbockers’ only big hit. They deserved better. After the dull banality of their earliest records, The Knickerbockers willed themselves into becoming a dynamic beat combo, capable of having a rave-up and having a wild weekend eight days a week, right alongside the best of the British Invasion. In 1966, they released their third and final album Lies (credited to “The Fabulous Knickerbockers”). The album was schizophrenic. Side Two was awash with big balladry, a pseudo Righteous Brothers sequence that squandered the fab rush of “Lies” (and presaged Jimmy Walker’s subsequent departure from the Knickerbockers to replace Bill Medley in the actual Righteous Brothers). But Side One? “I Can Do It Better,” “Can’t You See I’m Trying,” “Please Don’t Fight It,” and especially “Just One Girl” demonstrated that The Knickerbockers should not have been merely one-hit wonders, their lack of follow-up chart success notwithstanding.

n 1994, I picked up a Knickerbockers compilation CD called A Rave Up With The Knickerbockers. I already owned a handful of Knickerbockers discs (including reissues of Lies and Jerk And Twine Time), but this was the first to really demand my attention. A Rave Up With The Knickerbockers eschewed the ballads, ignored the early covers, and concentrated on The Knickerbockers’ uptempo gems. Well, fine, it did include “Coming Generation,” but that was okay in context. I already knew and adored “Lies,” of course, as well as its terrific non-LP follow-up “One Track Mind,” a great cut called “She Said Goodbye,” and the other tracks from Side One of Lies. Putting all of that (minus the Lies track “Please Don’t Fight It”) on one disc, combined with unfamiliar treats like “My Feet Are Off The Ground,” “Rumors, Gossip, Words Untrue,” “High On Love,” and the flat-out amazing “They Ran For Their Lives,” served to provide a fresh revelation. Knickerbockermania!
“One-hit wonder” is often taken as a pejorative term. I never intend it that way. To me, it refers to a missed opportunity, a chance the public didn’t get or never took to hear more from a great act that dazzled the country once, and was probably capable of dazzling yet again. Some one-hit wonders merited much greater notoriety than they received, more praise, more adulation, more airplay, more hits. The Bobby Fuller Four should not have been just a one-hit wonder. The Knickerbockers shouldn’t have been that either. Still, even if “Lies” had been the only track The Knickerbockers ever recorded, its transcendent celebration of an American Beatlemania delivered on its own self-assured terms…well, that would be reason enough for idolatry, cause enough to worship the group that created this essential work of wonder. Someday I’m gonna be happy, but I don’t know when just now.Because it’s no lie: imitation can lead to inspiration. Inspiration is timeless. And it sounds fabulous.

A tip of the hat toBruce Gordon, whose own Let’s Be The Beatles studies have gone in far greater depth than I could ever manage.TIP THE BLOGGER: CC’s Tip Jar!
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Birthdays

Tommy Tedesco

Born on this day in 1930, in Niagara Falls, New York, guitarist Tommy Tedesco. As a member of the fabled Wrecking Crew of studio musicians, Tedesco played on hit records by The Beach Boys, The Ronettes, Elvis Presley, The Everly Brothers and more.

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Boppin'

I’m In Love With A Sound

By Carl Cafarelli

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

I have a sound in my head.

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

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

What do I really, really love about music?

Everything.

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

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

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

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