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THE EVERLASTING FIRST: The Romantics

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

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

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

That’s how I discovered The Romantics.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Boppin'

Main Street Records, Brockport, NY

For every moment of celebration or heartbreak, there has always been a song.  There was an artist to create the song.  There was a DJ to play the song, and a pop journalist to tell us about the song.  And, if we were lucky, there was a kind, knowing soul at the record store to sell us the song, so we could take it home and listen to it over and over again.  In that role, there were no kinder souls than Bill and Carol Yerger, and there was no safer haven than Main Street Records in Brockport, New York.

When I went off to college in Brockport in August of 1977, Main Street Records did not yet exist.  I was already a vinyl hound, with a little stack of records scored at flea markets and retail outlets in Syracuse and Cleveland (where my sister lived).  I needed music, in any shape or form.  There were two record stores in Brockport in ’77, both on Main Street:  the tiny Vinyl Jungle, which did not survive through 1978, and the larger (but hipper) Record Grove, which was managed by Bill Yerger.  My first Record Grove purchase was a pair of 45s:  “God Save The Queen” by The Sex Pistols, and a record I’d read about in Phonograph Record Magazine but had not yet heard, “Sheena Is A Punk Rocker” by The Ramones.  SWOON!  My life changed as soon as I played it the first time.  And there would be much more of that to come.

When Bill left The Record Grove to start Main Street Records in 1979 (with his wife Carol, an elementary school teacher fond of Bruce Springsteen, The Kinks and The Beach Boys), my allegiance followed him to his new digs.  Without Bill Yerger, The Record Grove lost its groove.  Though a smaller store, Main Street Records was cool beyond compare.

What did I get from the Yergers?  Man…dozens and dozens and dozens of albums, with titles like Marquee Moon, Raw PowerImagineMr. Tambourine ManDamn The TorpedoesL.A.M.F., and Pure Pop For Now People; various-artists sets like Hard Up HeroesEar Piercing Punk,The Motown StoryBattle Of The GaragesWanna Buy A Bridge? and Beatlesongs!; LPs and singles by Blondie, Cheap Trick, Little Richard, Love, Radio Birdman, The Chesterfield Kings, The B-52’s, The Left Banke, Devo, Them, The Five Americans, Joe “King” Carrasco & the Crowns,  Herman’s Hermits, The Tremblers, The Damned, The Village People, Hendrix, Boston, Billy Joel, The Bongos, Earth, Wind and Fire, Led Zeppelin, Josie Cotton, Public Image, Stars On 45, Joy Division, The Laughing Dogs, The Boomtown Rats, Robin Lane & the Chartbusters, Blue Oyster Cult, The Crawdaddys, Dave Edmunds, Elvis Costello, Elvis Presley, The Knack, The Holy Sisters Of The Gaga Dada, The Doors, 20/20, The Cucumbers, Queen, Quincy, Blotto, Dylan, Phil Seymour, The Revillos, The Searchers, Graham Parker & the Rumour, Holly & Joey, The Rattlers, Great Buildings, Shrapnel, Gary Lewis & the Playboys, The Dead Boys, The Lords of the New Church, Roxy Music, Cherry Vanilla, Tommy Tutone, The Vapors, Kansas, Blue Angel, The Hypstrz, The Fast, Pete Shelley, The Quick, Soft Cell, Pat Benatar, The Cars, Gary Numan, Mott the Hoople, The Dictators, Squire, AC/DC, Kim Wilde, The Invictas, Alice Cooper, The Outsiders, The Music Explosion, and then all of the records listed on the playlist below.  And then still more stuff, and more after that.   I was voracious.  And I was satisfied.

Any clerk can sell you a damn record.  Bill and Carol could help you find the record you didn’t even know you needed.  They could–and would–make recommendations:  “You’ll like this.  I don’t think you’ll like that.  This one might be good.  Have you heard this?” Direction transcended the verbal; maybe it wasn’t all that unusual to find a magazine like Trouser Press at a record store, but how many small shops in small towns also carried Bomp! magazine, or The Pig Paper?  How many little village stores had such a wealth of popular favorites and obscure nuggets available in such great supply, whether new releases, cutouts or used LPs (often from Bill’s own collection)?   Main Street Records was a business, and it needed to turn a profit, but Bill and Carol had loftier goals alongside the necessity of making a buck.  “Carl,” Bill told me, “we’re gonna make a Beach Boys fan out of you yet.”  Carol asked me what my favorite Beach Boys song was; when I answered “Sloop John B,” she was appalled, and muttered as she turned away, “Who’s favorite Beach Boys song is ‘Sloop John B’…?!”  I had a lot to learn.  I loved every minute of learning it.

(As a further illustration of how much I owe the Yergers, consider my cherished Flashcubes live tape.  The Flashcubes were my favorite power pop group; if you think it’s silly that my three all-time fave raves are The Beatles, The Ramones, and The Flashcubes, then go get your own radio show.  But The Flashcubes only released two 45s before imploding in 1980, and that certainly wasn’t enough to sustain me.  I borrowed a cassette of a 1978 Flashcubes live show from a pal, I brought it to Main Street Records, and I asked Bill to copy it for me.  He did so, and that tape was the only long-form Flashcubes document I had for years and years.  It wasn’t something Bill had to do, but he did it anyway.  To me, that was the most important cassette I ever owned, a tape I only had because of Bill’s kindness.)

I moved out of Brockport in the summer of 1982, though I still visited sporadically for a couple of years thereafter, always making sure to stop at Main Street Records and add to my collection.  The very last time was in the summer of 1988.  Our friends Brian and Lisa were visiting my wife Brenda and me in Syracuse; on a whim, we decided to hit the highway and visit Brockport for the day.  Naturally, we had to check in at Main Street Records.

Bill recognized us immediately, and we chatted as if we were still regulars there.  Brenda talked about her apprehension in starting a new job as a preschool teacher, and Bill offered words of encouragement, just as teacher Carol had offered Brenda similar encouragement years before.  The talk turned to The Monkees, and I mentioned that I had never seen the group’s then-rare 1969 TV special, 33 1/3 Revolutions Per Monkee.  Well, Bill owned a copy of it, and he promised to make a dub and mail it to me in Syracuse.  We chatted a bit further, we made our purchases–okay, MY purchases–and we said our goodbyes.

The VHS tape of 33 1/3 Revolutions Per Monkee arrived in the mail some time thereafter, filled out with miscellaneous clips from Shindig and Hullabaloo, plus The Monkees’ 1970 promo clip for the single “Oh My My,” a fave track of Brenda’s.  I still have the tape, and I still have the note that Bill sent with it:

“Dear Carl & Brenda,
Here’s a tape full of hits–but I got carried away and the “Oh My My” clip isn’t totally complete.  Anyway, someday I’ll put it on another tape in full for you.  Okay?
Brenda, for what it’s worth–I think you’d make a GREAT teacher, and I can speak with some authority on it because I’ve been married to a great teacher for years!
Anyway, I hope you both had a nice day in Brockport.  Your friend, Bill”

I only corresponded with Bill a couple of more times after that, via e-mail in the ’90s.  He told me that he had sold Main Street Records because it wasn’t fun any more.  I told him that, if nothing else, his long-ago efforts had finally paid off, for I was now a huge Beach Boys fan.  When I wrote a history of power pop for Goldmine magazine in 1996, I acknowledged Bill & Carol Yerger, and Main Street Records, among my primary inspirations; Bill e-mailed me his appreciation, and signed his note “Fuzz Bass Willy.”

 It was the last contact I ever had with Bill Yerger; he passed away not very long after that.  He was younger then than I am now.  It’s too late to mourn, but I still feel sad.  And I’ve grown so weary of feeling sad.
There are places I remember all my life. That line itself comes from one of Bill Yerger’s favorite songs.  There has been a song for every place and every face, for each lonely teardrop, for each smile that’s ever bust out at full speed.  Bill Yerger was the man who sold me records; he was a friend, and he was a mentor.  I learned so much about pop music just from shopping at Main Street Records, and that is one of the foundations upon which this show is built, the foundation upon which my brief career as a pop journalist was built.  It is a debt I can never fully repay.  But I believe that I do pay it back, just a little, whenever I play records…especially when I play records for someone else.  It was Bill Yerger’s gift to me, and it’s my own lasting legacy of the best little record store there ever was.

It’s time for some songs.

This edition of THIS IS ROCK ‘N’ ROLL RADIO with Dana & Carl is a tribute to Bill and Carol Yerger.  Every one of the tracks we played this week, including the 27 song-snippets heard in our opening medley, is a tune I got from the Yergers at either The Record Grove or Main Street Records.  It could have been a thirteen-hour show.  Bill and Carol, I thank you for the days.  And I turn it up loud, so that everyone can hear.

THIS IS ROCK ‘N’ ROLL RADIO with Dana & Carl streams live every Sunday night from 9 to Midnight Eastern, exclusively at www.westcottradio.org.

TIRnRR # 634, 6/17/12:  A Tribute To Main Street Records

*MAIN STREET MEDLEY:
*THE RAMONES:  “Do You Remember Rock ‘n’ Roll Radio?” (Sire, End Of The Century)
*THE NEW YORK DOLLS:  “Babylon” (Mercury, Too Much Too Soon)
*THE ROMANTICS:  “What I Like About You” (Nemperor, The Romantics)
*BLUE CHEER:  “Summertime Blues” (Philips, Vincebus Eruptum)
*THE ROLLING STONES:  “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking” (Atlantic, Sticky Fingers)
*RICK JAMES:  “Give It To Me Baby” (Motown, VA:  25 # 1 Hits From 25 Years)
*CAST OF ROCKY HORROR:  “The Time Warp” (Epic, The Rocky Horror Picture Show OST)
*BOW WOW WOW:  “C30, C60, C90, Go!” (EMI, single)
*BRAM TCHAIKOVSKY:  “Girl Of My Dreams” (Polydor, Strange Man, Changed Man)
*THE BEAT:  “Rock And Roll Girl” (Columbia, The Beat)
*NIKKI & THE CORVETTES:  “Just What I Need” (Bomp!, Nikki & the Corvettes)
*THE VELVET UNDERGROUND:  “Rock And Roll” (Cotillion, Loaded)
*JOAN JETT & THE BLACKHEARTS:  “I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll” (Boardwalk, I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll)
*R.E.M.:  “Radio Free Europe” (IRS, single)
*CHUCK BERRY:  “Roll Over Beethoven” (Chess, Chuck Berry’s Greatest Hits)
*DAVID BOWIE:  “DJ” (RCA, Lodger)
*DAVID JOHANSEN:  “Frenchette” (Blue Sky, David Johansen)
*GEN X:  “Dancing With Myself” (Chrysalis, single)
*THE MODERN LOVERS:  “Roadrunner” (Beserkley, The Modern Lovers)
*JOE JACKSON:  “On Your Radio” (A & M, I’m The Man)
*DONNA SUMMER:  “On The Radio” (Casablanca, On The Radio:  Greatest Hits)
*KISS:  “Rock And Roll All Nite” (Casablanca, Dressed To Kill)
*JOAN JETT:  “Bad Reputation” (Boardwalk, Bad Reputation)
*SLADE:  “Mama Weer All Crazee Now” (Polydor, Sladest)
*THE GO-GO’S:  “We Got The Beat” (IRS, Beauty And The Beat)
*THE JAM:  “In The City” (Polydor, single)
*THE BEATLES:  “Penny Lane” (Capitol, Rarities)

THE RAMONES:  “Sheena Is A Punk Rocker” (Sire, single)
THE ROLLERS:  “Roxy Lady” (Epic, Ricochet)
THE RUNAWAYS:  “School Days” (Mercury, Waitin’ For The Night)
THE DAVE CLARK FIVE:  “Nineteen Days” (Epic, 5 By 5)
THE PLEASERS:  “The Kids Are Alright” (Arista, single)
SPLIT ENZ:  “I Got You” (A & M, True Colours)

THE ROMANTICS:  “Little White Lies” (Spider, single)
SHOES:  “Tomorrow Night” (Elektra, Present Tense)
THE ROLLING STONES:  “Happy” (Atlantic, Exile On Main Street)
UTOPIA:  “Silly Boy” (Bearsville, Deface The Music)
MARSHALL CRENSHAW:  “Cynical Girl” (Warner Brothers, Marshall Crenshaw)
THE MOVING SIDEWALKS:  “99th Floor” (BFD, VA:  Pebbles Volume 2)

THE 13th FLOOR ELEVATORS:  “You’re Gonna Miss Me” (Sire, VA:  Nuggets)
THE GREG KIHN BAND:  “The Breakup Song (They Don’t Write ‘Em)” (Beserkley, single)
PAUL COLLINS:  “Walking Out On Love” (Bomp!, VA:  Waves, Vol. 1)
THE FLAMIN’ GROOVIES:  “Shake Some Action” (Sire, Shake Some Action)
THE BOBBY FULLER FOUR:  “Another Sad And Lonely Night” (Rhino, The Best Of The Bobby Fuller Four)
THE VELVET UNDERGROUND:  “I’ll Be Your Mirror” (Verve, The Velvet Underground & Nico)

THE MONKEES:  “Love To Love” (Arista, Monkeemania)
DOLENZ, JONES, BOYCE & HART:  “You Didn’t Feel That Way Last Night (Don’t You Remember?)” (Capitol, Dolenz, Jones, Boyce & Hart)
THE SCRUFFS:  “She Say Yea” (Power Play, Wanna’ Meet The Scruffs?)
THE RAMONES:  “All’s Quiet On The Eastern Front” (Sire, Pleasant Dreams)
THE REAL KIDS:  “Now You Know” (Bomp!, VA:  Experiments In Destiny)
THE BEACH BOYS:  “God Only Knows” (Capitol, Pet Sounds)

BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN:  “The Ties That Bind” (Columbia, The River)
THE NOW:  “He’s Takin’ You To The Movies” (Midsong, The Now)
DAVID WERNER:  “Too Late To Try” (Epic, David Werner)
EDDIE COCHRAN:  “Nervous Breakdown” (United Artists, The Very Best Of Eddie Cochran)
STIV BATORS:  “It’s Cold Outside” (Bomp!, single)
THE GO-GO’S:  “Vacation” (IRS, Vacation)

BIG STAR:  “September Gurls” (Ardent, Radio City)
THE RAMONES:  “Blitzkrieg Bop” (Sire, Ramones)
NEW MATH:  “Die Trying” (Reliable, single)
THE KINKS:  “Animal Farm” (Reprise, The Village Green Preservation Society)
THE PRETENDERS:  “Stop Your Sobbing” (Sire, Pretenders)
THE JAM:  “That’s Entertainment” (Polydor, Sound Affects)

THE SEX PISTOLS:  “God Save The Queen” (Virgin, single)
THE WHO:  “The Punk Meets The Godfather” (MCA, Quadrophenia)
THE BARRACUDAS:  “I Wish It Could Be 1965 Again” (Voxx, Drop Out With The Barracudas)
THE CLASH:  “Spanish Bombs” (Epic, London Calling)
THE UNDERTONES:  “Teenage Kicks” (Sire, The Undertones)
DAVID JOHANSEN & ROBIN JOHNSON:  “Flowers In The City” (RSO, VA:  Times Square OST)

THE MONKEES:  “Naked Persimmon” (from 33 1/3 REVOLUTIONS PER MONKEE)
THE BEACH BOYS:  “Our Prayer” (Capitol, 20/20)
JOHNNY THUNDERS:  “You Can’t Put Your Arms Around A Memory” (Sire, So Alone)
THE RAMONES:  “I Want You Around” (Sire, VA:  Rock ‘n’ Roll High School OST)
THE RECORDS:  “Hearts Will Be Broken” (Virgin, Crashes)
THE FOUR TOPS:  “Reach Out (I’ll Be There)” (Motown, Greatest Hits)
THE FLESHTONES:  “Let’s See The Sun” (IRS, Roman Gods)
THE ZONES:  “New Life” (Arista, VA:  That Summer! OST)
DIRTY LOOKS:  “Let Go” (Stiff/Epic, Dirty Looks)
THE KINKS:  “Better Things” (Arista, Give The People What They Want)
EDDIE & THE HOT RODS:  “Do Anything You Wanna Do” (Island, single)
THE VENTURES:  “Walk–Don’t Run” (Liberty, The Very Best Of The Ventures)
THE BEACH BOYS:  “Pet Sounds” (Capitol, Pet Sounds)

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Boppin'

10 SONGS / THE KINKS

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

This special 12-song edition of 10 Songs collects previous 10 Songs entries celebrating the music of THE KINKS!

THE KINKS: All Day And All Of The Night

It’s important to note the significance of “All Day And All Of The Night” in the story of how I became a fan of The Kinks. “Lola” was the first Kinks song I ever knew. My sister’s copy of The Live Kinks was the first Kinks album I ever saw. But “All Day And All Of The Night” was the first Kinks track I ever owned, contained on the 2-LP compilation History Of British Rock Vol. 2 I received as a Christmas present in 1976, less than a month prior to my 17th birthday. Essential. And loud! The track was also on my first Kinks LP, Kinks-Size, purchased early in ’77. 

When discussing the monolithic 1-2 punch of The Kinks‘ first two U.S. hits, “You Really Got Me” tends to grab all of the loud ‘n’ grungy glory. It is, after all, the greatest record ever made. But its follow-up “All Day And All Of The Night” is even more savage and relentless, and if it lacks a tiny bit of “You Really Got Me”‘s mesmerizing single-mindedness, it compensates with its sheer combustibility. “All Day And All Of The Night” sounds like it’s ’bout to explode, and it sounds loud (if never quite loud enough) at even the lowest volume. As revealed in my Everlasting First piece about how I discovered the group, “All Day And All Of The Night” was the first Kinks track I ever owned. There would be many, many more to follow.

THE KINKS: Dedicated Follower Of Fashion

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

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

THE KINKS: I Took My Baby Home

For a very brief flash of time, “I Took My Baby Home” was the most exciting track that The Kinks ever released. It didn’t have a lot of competition for that title, since it was the B-side of the very first Kinks single, and much more distinctive and interesting than the perfunctory cover of Little Richard‘s “Long Tall Sally” on its A-side. The Kinks’ second single, “You Still Want Me”/”You Do Something To Me,” paired a couple of fine beat numbers, though I’d say “I Took My Baby Home” was still the pick of this four-song run.

The Kinks’ third single was the greatest record ever made, and its release ended the short reign of “I Took My Baby Home” as the best of The Kinks.

Nonetheless, “I Took My Baby Home” remains a superb rock ‘n’ roll track, with its strutting harmonica come-on and its euphoric tale of a helpless chap gleefully seduced by his girl (whose high-powered kisses really knock him out, they knock him oh-oh-over). 

And it was one of the songs I acquired in my first year as a Kinks fan. I started with “All Day And All Of The Night” on a various-artists LP at Christmas of 1976, added “You Really Got Me,” the Kinks-Size LP and maybe Sleepwalker before heading off to college the following August, and scored my first Kinks compilation album during the fall semester. This Kinks volume of The Pye History Of British Rock introduced me to “I Took My Baby Home,” right alongside “Dedicated Follower Of Fashion,” “Sunny Afternoon,” “I’m Not Like Everybody Else,” “Where Have All The Good Times Gone,” and “Till The End Of The Day.” I knew “I Took My Baby Home” before I knew “Waterloo Sunset,” though I would discover that one soon enough. Not a bad way to get to know The Kinks, I say.

(And I still mentally change the song’s line “And she put her hands on my chest” to “And she put my hands on her chest.” Aggressive girl. I bet her name was Lola.) 

THE KINKS: Muswell Hillbilly

I have a black t-shirt emblazoned in white letters with The Kinks‘ classic ’60s logo. It’s my favorite t-shirt. When I wear it, some random stranger will often notice it and express approval (even from a socially-distanced vantage point). I’ve had people insist I’m too young to even know who The Kinks are (which means I’m either older than I look, or that I wasted my money on those three Kinks concerts I attended; I enjoyed those shows, so I don’t feel like I coulda been too young to know The Kinks at the time).

Yes, I DO wear this shirt all day and all of the night!

It’s not unusual for the sight of my Kinks shirt to inspire strangers to want to chat, however briefly, about these well-respected men. Recently, a gentleman just over six feet away from me admired my shirt, and mentioned his favorite Kinks album: 1971’s Muswell Hillbillies.

This is not the first Kinks record that most passers-by will cite in reaction to my dedicated follower of fashion choice of wardrobe. “Lola.” “You Really Got Me.” One guy said “Come Dancing.” Muswell Hillbillies isn’t exactly an obscure record, but it doesn’t usually come up in casual conversation out in the real world, the vast playground beyond our own shared but insular rockin’ pop universe. I was pleased. And I made sure to play the album’s title track on this week’s TIRnRR

THE KINKS: Set Me Free

I’m not 100% sure where I first heard The Kinks‘ 1965 single “See My Friends.” I initially knew “See My Friends” from the great British group The Records, who included their version in an all-covers EP that came with the purchase of The Records’ debut LP in 1979. My first exposure to The Kinks’ original must have been Golden Hour Of The Kinks, a 1977 compilation I picked up as a budget cassette release in the mid ’80s. With the possible exception of my bootleg live Flashcubes tape, Golden Hour Of The Kinks was my favorite cassette, even more so than the (then-) contemporary garage sampler Garage Sale. I listened to Golden Hour Of The Kinks over and over on the boom box my Uncle Carl gave Brenda and I as a wedding gift in 1984, with only a couple of Beatles tapes (Help! and Beatles For Sale) challenging its boom-box sovereignty. Golden Hour Of The Kinks hooked me on “Animal Farm,” reinforced my adoration of “Days,” “Dedicated Follower Of Fashion,” “Till The End Of The Day,” “Waterloo Sunset,” “Dead End Street,” “Shangri-La,” and “You Really Got Me,” and it introduced me to the original “See My Friends.” Best cassette ever? A contender at the very least.

THE KINKS: Set Me Free

1977: I was just 17, if you know what I mean. And my girlfriend and I were moving way too fast. It was almost entirely my fault, maybe even my fault alone. But I had to stop it.Over the course of ’77, I had become a fan of The Kinks. In August, I went off to college with the tentative beginning of a Kinks collection, which included the Kinks-SizedSleepwalker, and possibly Schoolboys In Disgrace LPs. I was still learning about this great band and its cavalcade of wonder. Late in that fall semester of my freshman year, I picked up a Kinks compilation, The Pye History Of British Rock. That revelatory set included just two Kinks tracks I already owned (“You Really Got Me” and “I Gotta Move”), and introduced me to “I’m Not Like Everybody Else,” “Dedicated Follower Of Fashion,” “Where Have All The Good Times Gone,” “Till The End Of The Day,” “Sunny Afternoon,” “The World Keeps Going Round,” “So Mystifying,” “Long Tall Shorty,” and a superb, rockin’ B-side called “I Took My Baby Home.” Fantastic stuff, and an essential plank on my path to greater Kinks devotion.
And it included a song called “Set Me Free.”
Set me free, little girlAll you gotta do is set me free, little girlYou know you can do it if you tryAll you gotta do is set me free, free….
It wasn’t her fault. It was mine. Yeah, probably all mine. I was 17. That’s explanation, not excuse. I listened to the song playing on my roommate’s stereo in our dorm room, looking at my girlfriend, feeling guilty for what I was thinking. But I was beginning to realize what had to happen.
We lasted until Christmas break. I wrote her a letter. It hurt her, and I regret my actions that made that seem necessary. Damn me. But it was time. Set me free.

This was my first Kinks LP. Though my copy was considerably more beat-up than this one.

In my oft-told story about how I became a fan of The Kinks, 1964’s “Tired Of Waiting For You” represents the tipping point, the seismic event when I heard the song on the radio in 1977 and knew, just knew before the DJ said, that it was The Kinks. The Kinks’ primal oldies “All Day And All Of The Night” and “You Really Got Me” had only recently taken my fancy hostage, a mere decade and change after the fact. Radio introduced me to The Kinks with “Lola” in 1970, my burgeoning interest in the mid-’60s British Invasion prompted a deeper dive into Sire‘s History Of British Rock collections, and radio came back to seal the deal with a spin of “Tired Of Waiting For You.” It’s not an oversimplification; that really was the precise moment when I became a die-hard Kinks fan. It’s your life, and you can do what you want. And I want to listen to The Kinks.

THE KINKS: War Is Over

Last week on his SPARK! radio show Radio Deer Camp, the above-cited Rich Firestone played The Kinks‘ “To The Bone,” a cut that has never been played on This Is Rock ‘n’ Roll Radio. And we’ve played a lot of Kinks songs over the past 22 years! The song is the title track from a 1996 2-CD US version of a live Kinks album released as a single disc in the UK in ’94. The US version adds several tracks, but omits “Waterloo Sunset” and “Autumn Almanac,” forcing fans (like me) to buy both versions. The US set also adds the two studio tracks that are the final Kinks recordings issued to date; Rich just played “To The Bone” on Radio Deer Camp, and we played the other studio track (“Animal”) on TIRnRR some time ago.
We still haven’t played “To The Bone,” but we did want to try to program a Kinks song that we hadn’t played before. We picked “War Is Over,” from 1989’s UK Jive, which is my least favorite Kinks album. The song’s fine. The album….
I was able to see The Kinks on the UK Jive tour. It was the third and final time I saw The Kinks in concert, and oddly enough the show occurred in the same week that I saw my first Rolling Stones concert. Kinks and Stones in a single week? Awrighty! 
My first Kinks show was in 1978, and it was awesome; I told that story here. Seeing them a second time at a mid ’80s arena show in Buffalo was less special, but still The Kinks. The 1989 show was weird. It was staged in a gym at the State University of New York at Oswego; the arena show felt impersonal, and this felt, I dunno, somewhere in between, but still almost haphazardly disconnected. 
The show was sparsely attended, so lovely wife Brenda and I were able to get THISCLOSE to the stage where The Kinks–THE KINKS!!!–were playing. But it was the UK Jive tour. I have little memory of it. I can’t believe I saw The Kinks at such close proximity, but that a combination of off-putting venue and a set list emphasizing a lesser album made the whole event seem so forgettable.
But it was THE KINKS…!

THE KINKS: Waterloo Sunset

“Waterloo Sunset” is one of two songs by The Kinks given its own chapter in my book The Greatest Record Ever Made! (Volume 1), where it immediately precedes The Kinks’ “You Really Got Me” and Holly Golightly‘s version of “Time Will Tell” (itself also a song written by The Kinks’ Ray Davies). This is how the book’s discussion of “Waterloo Sunset” begins:
It’s one of the most beautiful depictions of burgeoning romance ever committed to song. And it’s told, not from the perspective of the young lovers themselves, but from the viewpoint of a benevolent onlooker, wishing them well as they cross over the river, where they feel safe and sound.
I wonder what that onlooker would have thought of me when I was 18….
Our connection with the pop music we love is personal, deeply personal. We know that the songs on our stereo, our radio, our iPod, or our Close-N-Play aren’t really about us, but we have license to incorporate them into our own experiences. We assign meaning. While The Kinks insisted elsewhere that it was only jukebox music, it is really so much more than that.
In the book, I place “Waterloo Sunset” directly after chapters about T. RexThe Runaways, and “Sister Golden Hair” by America, a little trilogy threaded together with the memory of my near-disastrous freshman year in college, 1977-78. “Waterloo Sunset” follows with the potential for catharsis. Every day I look at the world from my window…Waterloo sunset’s fine.It’s not the story Ray Davies intended to tell. It’s the story I hear nonetheless.

THE KINKS: Waterloo Sunset (worth a second entry!)

The Kinks have come to be known as TIRnRR‘s house band, perhaps for no real reason other than we all think it’s cool to celebrate the splendor of The Kinks whenever possible. The Kinks remain the only act to ever take over an entire episode of our radio show; in fact, we’ve done two all-Kinks shows. God save the house band!

“Waterloo Sunset” has two additional specific links to TIRnRR. In 2019, when a bunch of our friends and supporters decided to surprise us by recording a single to benefit our cash-strapped operation, these TIR’N’RR Allstars chose to do a cover of “Waterloo Sunset.” And we were in paradise. And some years back, when Dana was out of commission for a bit, I devoted a show to something I called “A Girl And A Boy: The Story So Far.” This was an attempt to create an extended song cycle to tell the story of a relationship, using preexisting songs and alternating female and male lead vocals to suggest a girl and boy looking back at their history together and apart. The boy’s name was Terry, the girl’s name was Julie, and as long as they gaze on Waterloo sunset, they are in paradise. It was a fun exercise, and intended as a tribute to one of my favorite songs. Sha-la-la….  


THE KINKS: (Wish I Could Fly Like) Superman

Bert Parks‘ greatest hit. Sort of.

The Kinks‘ 1979 album Low Budget brought the group a commercial resurgence in America, moving them from modest concert halls to arenas. Its release was preceded by the single “(Wish I Could Fly Like) Superman,” which was a seemingly incongruous mix of our dedicated followers of fashion with a disco beat. Faster than a speeding leisure suit, more powerful than a mirrored ball, able to leap over tall velvet ropes in a single bound, the record is flush with Ray Davies‘ characteristic cantankerousness, and it was accepted by rockers who would not have been caught dead with any kind of Saturday night fever. Disco? The Rolling Stones did it. KISS did it. Blondie had their first U.S. hit by doin’ it. Even the razzafrazzin’ Grateful Dead did it with “Shakedown Street,” though every Deadhead I knew denied the fact and the beat. So why shouldn’t The Kinks make a disco record? The Kinks pulled it off, and The Kinks got bigger.

And then…Bert Parks.

1979 was the final year that Parks would host the annual Miss America beauty pageant. He had been that show’s host since about, oh, the dawn of time, and he was about to be kicked aside and replaced by someone younger, if not exactly hipper. “Hipper” and “Miss America beauty pageant” were definitely not two great tastes that taste great together. Actor (and former TV TarzanRon Ely took over the job in 1980 and ’81.By ’79, I was not in the habit of watching the Miss America broadcast. Whatever interest I could have derived from seeing pretty girls on my TV screen was overshadowed by the sheer hokiness of such an emphatically four-cornered spectacle. But that year, my girlfriend asked me to be her plus-one at the wedding of one of her dearest friends, so I accompanied her out of town for the event. We had some down time one evening, and we found ourselves watching TV. 

Miss America.

Bert Parks.

The…Kinks…?!

No, Muswell Hill’s finest didn’t show up to warble “Theeeere she is, Miss America…!” That would have been odd, but interesting. Instead, Bert Parks himself lent his golden throat to a never-before, never-again, why-in-God’s-name-in-the-first-place performance of “(Wish I Could Fly Like) Superman.” Parks concluded the brief songlet by ripping open his shirt to reveal the Superman shield on his chest.

I was horrified. Transfixed, car-crash hypmotized, unable to turn away, scarred for life, damaged beyond repair, a gas-strike, oil-strike, lorry-strike, bread-strike pinned-in-place deer in the disco lights. Hey, girl. We gotta get out of this place.

You don’t believe me? Lord, I wish it had only been the hallucination it seemed. But no! It was real. Check out this YouTube clip, and go directly to the 38:08 mark…IF YOU DARE!

So. Bert Parks’ final gig as Miss America pageant host. Coincidence? Maybe. Or further evidence that you don’t tug on Superman’s cape. And, for God’s sake, you don’t mess with The Kinks. 

THE KINKS: You Can’t Stop The Music

God save The Kinks! From a previously-posted piece about my five favorite 1970s Kinks songs:Other than Schoolboys In Disgrace, I mostly missed out on The Kinks’ concept album phase. I saw Preservation Act 1Preservation Act 2, and The Kinks Present A Soap Opera in the bins at Gerber Music, but I didn’t hear any of that until many years later. And while I appreciate them and dig each of them in its own right, I can’t rank them alongside The Kinks’ 1960s album masterpieces like Face To FaceThe Village Green Preservation Society, or ArthurWith that said, “You Can’t Stop The Music” is (along with “[A] Face In The Crowd”) one of a couple of standout selections on Soap Opera. It serves as a de facto statement of intent, and a reminder of the resilience of the sounds we adore. 

Ahem. THE GREATEST RECORD EVER MADE!!

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You can support this blog by becoming a patron on Patreon: Fund me, baby! Hey! If you buy from Amazon, consider making your purchases through links at Pop-A-Looza. A portion of your purchase there will go to support Boppin’ (Like The Hip Folks Do). Thinking Amazon? Think Pop-A-Looza.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.

The many fine This Is Rock ‘n’ Roll Radio compilation albums are still available, each full of that rockin’ pop sound you crave. A portion of all sales benefit our perpetually cash-strapped community radio project:

Volume 1: download
Volume 2: CD or download
Volume 3: download
Volume 4: CD or download
Waterloo Sunset–Benefit For This Is Rock ‘n’ Roll Radio:  CD or downloadI’m on Twitter @CafarelliCarl.

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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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Eight-Track Mind

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Until now. 

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

No.

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

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

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The T-Shirts Of My Life

Don’t tell me that love hurts
I read the book, I saw the movie
Got the T-shirt
“T Shirt” by J. Imray (recorded by The Crickets)

Me in a Monkees T-shirt, my wife Brenda in normal adult clothes

I don’t wear plain Ts, of course; I favor some kind of design, usually a graphic from pop culture, whether it’s a rock group or a comic book character, whatever. I remember wearing a Batman T-shirt when I was six (circa the 1966 Batman TV series). I have no other recollection of what T-shirts (if any) I wore as a kid. (Though I should at least mention my Baron Daemon sweatshirt, proudly emblazoned with the black-and-white image of Syracuse’s favorite TV vampire, and stating, I’m a real cool ghoul.)

Even into high school, I don’t really remember what T-shirts I may have owned. The only one that specifically comes to mind is the Budweiser shirt I had when I was 15. I didn’t drink Budweiswer then, and I don’t drink it now, though the reason why has evolved; in 1975, I didn’t drink Budweiser because I didn’t drink beer, whereas nowadays I don’t drink Budweiser because I don’t regard it as a real beer. Gimme a Belgian, man.

Really, college was when I started getting more into identity-proclaiming T-shirts. I’m sure I wore a bunch of ’em freshman year, 1977-78, though I only remember my dorm T-shirt, my free local disco Club 2 On 2 T-shirt (which was definitely not identity-proclaiming, but it was free), and a White Rock T I won from Utica’s WOUR-FM. The White Rock shirt–which was connected to a ski movie scored by Rick Wakeman from Yes, not some stupid neo-Nazi thing–caused friction with my girlfriend’s roommate Rosanne; Ro also had a White Rock T-shirt, but hers went missing, and it was an uncommon enough item that I can’t blame her for being suspicious when she saw me wearing mine (especially given, as she put it, that I was hanging around her room so much). 

As college progressed, I started to get a few Ts more specifically reflective of my pop tastes. Christopher Reeve as SupermanKISSThe Sex PistolsThe Ramones. I recall a visit to a Syracuse University shop called Tops To Please, which at the time had an amazing selection of rock, punk, and new wave shirts, including a shirt emblazoned with the logo of my local heroes The Flashcubes. Alas, I was but a poor college student, and my budget didn’t allow me to purchase anything there. I never even got a Flashcubes T-shirt, at least not at the time. After the ‘Cubes broke up, and their T-shirts were no longer available, I went to a custom shirt place in Brockport, armed with a plain black T and my official membership button from when I joined The Flashcubes International Fan Club. I went to the shop’s counter, and told the clerk, “Make this shirt look like this button.” Yes, I’m guilty of commissioning the world’s first bootleg Flashcubes T-shirt. When the group reunited decades later and offered new shirts for sale, I made sure to buy one in penance for past sins.

For my 21st birthday in 1981, my girlfriend bought me a Monkees T-shirt. I loved that thing, and I wore it whenever I could. I wore it to a club show by a great British Invasion-influenced group called The Insiders. As the show went on, one of The Insiders told the crowd, “I hear there’s a guy here tonight in a Monkees T-shirt. Well, this is the song he came to hear,” and The Insiders played “(I’m Not Your) Steppin’ Stone.” I think they did “Last Train To Clarksville,” too.  Hey, hey…!

I remember once staring at a Yardbirds T-shirt for sale at Record Theatre in Rochester, wanting it, but reluctantly moving on because the store didn’t have one in my size. But the ’80s opened the floodgates for my fresh sea of Ts. Johnny Thunders! More Ramones! Batman! Um…Madonna. It was free. And, if memory serves, Ms. Ciccone wasn’t wearing a shirt herself in the image on the front, her strategically-placed arm securing the modicum of modesty necessary for one to wear the T-shirt in polite company.

’80s, ’90s, and into the 21st century. I had souvenir Ts from visits to Key West, Yosemite, Peel Pub in Montreal, and Malaga, several shirts depicting images of Batman and/or The Joker, shirts dressed with logos or likenesses of The Beach BoysThe Rolling StonesThe Wonders (from That Thing You Do!), The Cavern ClubGerber MusicThe BeatlesLannie FlowersThe Catholic GirlsCoca-ColaHarry PotterSyracuse University basketballSpider-Man…! Some I outgrew, some I replaced. I still wear ’em, from early, early spring to late, late fall.

My favorite T-shirt? The Kinks. People notice it pretty much every time I wear it, and I wear it often. Am I a dedicated follower of fashion? No, plainly not. I read the book, I saw the movie. Now just lemme have my T-shirts.

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

Fans of pop music will want to check out Waterloo Sunset–Benefit For This Is Rock ‘n’ Roll Radio, a new pop compilation benefiting SPARK! Syracuse, the home of This Is Rock ‘n’ Roll Radio with Dana & CarlTIR’N’RR Allstars–Steve StoeckelBruce GordonJoel TinnelStacy CarsonEytan MirskyTeresa CowlesDan PavelichIrene Peña, Keith Klingensmith, and Rich Firestone–offer a fantastic new version of The Kinks’ classic “Waterloo Sunset.” That’s supplemented by eleven more tracks (plus a hidden bonus track), including previously-unreleased gems from The Click BeetlesEytan MirskyPop Co-OpIrene PeñaMichael Slawter (covering The Posies), and The Anderson Council (covering XTC), a new remix of “Infinite Soul” by The Grip Weeds, and familiar TIRnRR Fave Raves by Vegas With RandolphGretchen’s WheelThe Armoires, and Pacific Soul Ltd. Oh, and that mystery bonus track? It’s exquisite. You need this. You’re buying it from Futureman.

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My Guitars

An earlier version of this post appeared at Boppin’ (Like The Hip Folks Do) on March 24, 2018. It has been updated slightly, but is still prepared to string you along.

Meghan and my black guitar, though the date stamp is wrong.

Two of the guitars, the electric ones, stand virtually forgotten in a corner of my office at home. The older of the two–a red one I bought shortly after my fortieth birthday, more than twenty-one years ago–is in its hard case, missing a string, maybe two. It’s been missing strings before. A long time back, my then very young daughter Meghan had her Mom, my lovely wife Brenda, bring her to the music store, my red guitar in hand, to have its strings replaced as a gift for Dad. I was touched beyond description. I used to play it. Not very often, never well, nor even adequately. I had no talent, no technique, no musical acumen whatsoever. Still, I plugged in. I knew some chords, mangled as they were in my clumsy hands. I’d forgotten the notes I used to know, but I could still manage an inept G, an approximate C, the odd D, E, A, and D7, and I do mean odd. I turned up, and slammed. The result never quite sounded like “(I’m Not Your) Steppin’ Stone” or “Mr. Tambourine Man” or Lennon and McCartney’s “I’ll Be On My Way.” It was noise. But it was my noise.

And then I’d usually pop another string. So much for channeling Johnny Ramone.

The black guitar arrived in the mail in December of 2007, I think. It wasn’t a Christmas gift, just something I acquired via incentive points I needed to spend in a hurry. The memory is bittersweet. The day the guitar was delivered, I unpacked it and went upstairs to the office, where Meghan was at the computer with her cousin Stephanie, who was visiting Syracuse for the holidays. It was not the last time we would see Stephanie. She returned for a visit the following summer, when we took her to see The Flashcubes and to the New York State Fair. She was taken from us in October of 2008, the cruelest blow of our lives so far. Thinking of that black guitar makes me think of Stephanie, a pleasant memory that makes me cry, without fail.

The two acoustic guitars are in the garage, accumulating dust, both missing strings, neither played in years. All four guitars are out of tune. I can’t tune them properly, not even the black one with all six strings intact. I can’t play. I can’t make the music I wish I could make.

When I did try to play my guitars, there was a simple chord sequence I used to use, a G-A-D-G-A-D-G-E-A-G-C-A-D-G-A if I recall correctly. It was the presumed melody for a song in my head. The only lyrics it ever had have been with me for decades:

Sometimes in my dreams we still talk to each other
Although in real life I know we’re done with one another
I don’t know if I’d want you to return
I’d just feel better if I could learn
What became of you
Because I remember you

In my head, it was about the people who’d once been integral parts of my life before they slipped away. The high school confidante who killed himself. The teen co-conspirator who later severed her ties with me. The soulmate who was never really my girlfriend, though both of us wondered if we’d be married someday. The enigma who wanted to be my girlfriend, but I wasn’t ready for her. The college bud I discarded in anger. Pals and passersby. Lovers and friends I still can recall; some are dead, and some are living. Family. Regrets? I’ve had a few. I can’t say if they’re too few to mention.

Lovely wife Brenda, back in our guitar-lesson days

Yet I know I’ve been blessed as well. Brenda and I are still together. Meghan, no longer the little girl who dragged her Dad’s red guitar to the store for mending, graduated with highest honors from Ithaca College in 2017, and snagged a part-time job–in her field!–at Syracuse University Press. I acknowledge the bad. I embrace the good. And I try to keep on playing, in my own fashion.

My daily blog Boppin’ (Like The Hip Folks Do) debuted on January 18th, 2016, originally with the less-distinctive title CC Says. It took just under a year to accumulate 50,000 views, and just over another fourteen months to quadruple that figure. It’s over a half a million strong now–just like Woodstock! It’s a modest number still, but one I embrace as good. The road to relevance winds on. You’re welcome to travel along with me.

I can’t play. I can write. I’ll be here every day for as long as I can. Maybe I’ll pick up the black guitar for a bit, just to remember. And just to play, even though I can’t. But the noise I make remains my own.

(Oh, and for the full story of my life-long failed attempts to make music, I refer you to “I’ve Got The Music In Me [And That’s Where It’s Gonna Stay].” Many guitar strings were harmed in the making of this picture.)

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Boppin'

Personal Questions

Boppin’ Like The Hip Folks Do by Carl Cafarelli

As we all know, our online accounts require us to establish security questions, personal inquiries presumed to be sufficiently arcane that only we know our own secret answers. Each of the following security questions is accompanied by an answer that is technically true for me, at least on some level. They’re not the answers I’d use for any account, mind you, but they are real answers.

FIRST SURGERY

Birth. Really my Mom’s surgery, sure, but I was there. (True story: Mom fell and broke her leg while she was pregnant with your beloved future blogger. Which probably explains a lot.)

MAKE OF FIRST CAR

FIRST KISS

December 16th, 1976 at the Onondaga County War Memorial, with Uriah Heep opening. I wouldn’t get my first KISS record until the following June, when my sister gave me the Rock And Roll Over LP as a high school graduation gift.

WHERE YOU MET YOUR SIGNIFICANT OTHER

Oh, I just met lovely wife Brenda at a Mexican restaurant in North Syracuse for dinner after work on Tuesday night.

FIRST AIRPLANE TRIP

Started in one airport, ended in a different airport.

FAVORITE BOOK

Ron Glass. He was also the only actor to play the character of Book on the TV series Firefly and the subsequent movie Serenity.

FAVORITE TV SHOW

Radiovision by default; it’s the only TV show I ever did, co-hosted with my future This Is Rock ‘n’ Roll Radio partner Dana Bonn. You can read the story here, and even see the damned thing here. We also appeared as guests on local ABC affiliate talk show Bridge Street, I participated in some public access cable talk shows in high school, and I used to be interviewed at work every summer by TV reporters doing stories about people suddenly rushing to buy air conditioners when it’s hot–imagine that! But Radiovision remains my only TV show.

FAVORITE RECORD

The late John Wicks. Great talent, and a hell of a nice guy.

John Wicks, CC, Paul Collins, Dana Bonn, This Is Rock ‘n’ Roll Radio 6/11/09

FAVORITE MOVIE

“Movie” is an odd phrase to use in reference to fans of the fab ’60s British group The Move, but we’ll go with it. And it’s a four-way tie for my favorite Movie, as Gary FrenayPaul ArmstrongArty Lenin, and Tommy Allen–collectively, The Flashcubes–recorded Sportin’ Wood, a tribute album to The Move’s main man Roy Wood. Hello Suzie!

FAVORITE SPORTS TEAM

That answer’s evolved, but when I was a kid, we’d have to change the spelling a bit for the correct answer: I loved Teem soda. And I drank it at MacArthur Stadium while ignoring baseball games, so y’know, sports.

Later on, my favorite football team would be Huxley.

DREAM VACATION

FAVORITE MUSICIAN

Nah, with a few exceptions, I was never much for Musician. I was more of a Phonograph Record MagazineBomp!Trouser PressGoldmine, and CREEM guy. Among others!

NAME OF YOUR BEST FRIEND IN SCHOOL

In grade school? Batman. In middle school? WOLF-AM.

NAME OF FIRST PET

Sharon Bailey, May 1972. Took surreptitious glances at the smoke shop in White-Modell department store. Was smitten. Weird that no one ever asks “Name of first Playmate?”

Nancy McNeil, July 1969

TIP THE BLOGGER: CC’s Tip Jar!

You can support this blog by becoming a patron on Patreon: Fund me, baby! 
Fans of pop music will want to check out Waterloo Sunset–Benefit For This Is Rock ‘n’ Roll Radio, a new pop compilation benefiting SPARK! Syracuse, the home of This Is Rock ‘n’ Roll Radio with Dana & CarlTIR’N’RR Allstars–Steve StoeckelBruce GordonJoel TinnelStacy CarsonEytan MirskyTeresa CowlesDan PavelichIrene Peña, Keith Klingensmith, and Rich Firestone–offer a fantastic new version of The Kinks’ classic “Waterloo Sunset.” That’s supplemented by eleven more tracks (plus a hidden bonus track), including previously-unreleased gems from The Click BeetlesEytan MirskyPop Co-OpIrene PeñaMichael Slawter (covering The Posies), and The Anderson Council (covering XTC), a new remix of “Infinite Soul” by The Grip Weeds, and familiar TIRnRR Fave Raves by Vegas With RandolphGretchen’s WheelThe Armoires, and Pacific Soul Ltd. Oh, and that mystery bonus track? It’s exquisite. You need this. You’re buying it from Futureman.

Get MORE Carl! Check out the fourth and latest issue of the mighty Big Stir magazine at bigstirrecords.com/magazine
Hey, Carl’s writin’ a book! The Greatest Record Ever Made! (Volume 1) will contain 100 essays (and then some) about 100 tracks, plus two bonus instrumentals, each one of ’em THE greatest record ever made. An infinite number of records can each be the greatest record ever made, as long as they take turns. Updated initial information can be seen here: THE GREATEST RECORD EVER MADE! (Volume 1).

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Boppin'

He Buys Every Rock ‘n’ Roll Book On The Magazine Stands, Part 3: Power Pop Means Pop With POWER! (Not some whimpering simp in a Beatles haircut)

Continuing a look back at the rock magazines I used to read. Part 1 is here, Part 2 is here.

My favorite music had a name. I didn’t know that name until I was in college.

“Power pop” is a misunderstood genre, and there will never be a true consensus on its meaning and parameters. It’s my favorite music. It’s not my only favorite music–I adore so many sounds that fall outside my strict definition of power pop, even many that fall outside a broader, nebulous approximation–but it’s my primary boppin’ raison d’être. My awareness of power pop, my understanding of its meaning, began in 1978 with an incredible magazine called Bomp!

I’m not certain where I first heard this “power pop” phrase. It was coined in 1967 by Pete Townshend to describe his music with The Who: “Power pop is what we play–what The Small Faces used to play, and the kind of pop The Beach Boys played in the days of ‘Fun, Fun, Fun,’ which I preferred.” When the late night NBC talk show Tomorrow did a spotlight on punk rock in October of 1977 (with guests Joan Jett of The Runaways and Paul Weller of The Jam), host Tom Snyder prefaced the discussion by noting that, “This is called punk rock, and is also called new wave music, street rock, or power pop.” I betcha that was my introduction to the term. Roughly contemporary to that, a section in The Record Grove in Brockport (then managed by Bill Yerger, soon to open his own great store Main Street Records) was devoted to this strange noise, and the divider for that section said something like “PUNK, New Wave, Garage, Power Pop, Etc.” In January of 1978, I saw my first Flashcubes show; at the time, I thought The Flashcubes were punk, and I thought they were fantastic. I didn’t know they were power pop. I didn’t know what power pop was.

That specific revelation came in March of 1978.

Bomp! magazine was the brainchild of Greg Shaw, whose work I’d already seen in Phonograph Record Magazine (the rock tabloid that hooked me on the notion of punk rock to begin with), and in the sumptuous liner notes package for the way-fab 2-LP collection History Of British Rock Vol. 2. By ’78, Shaw was ably assisted on Bomp! by a writer named Gary Sperrazza! (always with the exclamation). Sperrazza! rarely gets the credit he deserves in the power pop story, but he was just as essential as Shaw in making Bomp! such a compelling and influential read. Nowhere was that impact more evident than in Bomp!‘s March ’78 issue. The eighteenth issue. The power pop issue.

As noted above: REVELATION!!
Jesus, this wasn’t a rock mag; it was a manifesto, pop advocacy journalism unlike anything I’d seen before. Shaw and Sperrazza! saw power pop (referred to in Bomp! as the single word “powerpop”) as a distinct genre, not a mere reaction or marketing term. They traced the origin of power pop squarely to The Who, and included other dynamic ’60s acts like The Kinks, Small Faces, and Creation (the latter a group I’d not heard of before that point). It continued into the ’70s, with The Raspberries (whom Gary ‘n’ Greg obviously considered the definitive power pop act), The Flamin’ GrooviesThe Dwight Twilley Band, some scattered tracks by The Bay City Rollers, and even into some of the then-current punk stuff like The RamonesEspecially The Ramones! Many years later, when I corresponded with Shaw, he reiterated his belief that you couldn’t conceive of something called “power pop” if it didn’t include “Rockaway Beach” by The Ramones.

Bomp!‘s view of the power pop equation was simple and evocative: the punk of The Sex Pistols plus the bubbly pop of teen idol Shaun Cassidy equals the power pop sound of the early Who. Shaw and Sperrazza!’s power pop timeline specifically excluded The Beatles and Eddie Cochran, whose records they felt lacked the prerequisite explosiveness, and The Rolling Stones, whose records were more plainly grown from R & B roots. The magazine also included coverage of British glam/glitter (seen as a complement to power pop), and a history of some group called Big Star. Hmmm. Never heard of them. But that would change. Man, would that ever change!

Around this time, “power pop” was also beginning to gather momentum as a marketing term, an opportunity for skittish record-label weasels to offer a diluted form of punk energy in an inoffensive package. It was a million miles away from what Bomp! was preaching. It manifested in bands like The Pleasers, a British combo that looked like a pub-tour version of Beatlemania! I liked The Pleasers, and their records deserve better than just being slagged for not being The Who, The Raspberries, or The Ramones. But they didn’t meet the dynamic ideal of Bomp!‘s power pop vision. Shaw and Sperrazza! pushed back at this co-opting of power pop, Sperrazza! sneering in a subsequent issue, “After all, power pop means pop with POWER! Not some whimpering simp in a Beatles haircut.”

Nonetheless, the moneychangers won this battle with the prophets. The moneychangers gave us The Knack, not that there’s anything wrong with that. The prophets moved on to other things.

Bomp! magazine predated the ’70s discussion of power pop. It had begun in 1970 as Who Put The Bomp, itself an outgrowth of an earlier Shaw zine called Mojo Navigator And Rock ‘n Roll NewsWho Put The Bomp evolved from fanzine format into a slick rock mag, and its focus shifted slightly from a longing look at rock’s past to a more active inclusion and appreciation of ’70s acts that likewise embraced the glory (and lessons) of the ’60s. The Flamin’ Groovies were the first then-contemporary group to grace the cover of Who Put The Bomp (for its thirteenth issue in ’75). Cherie Currie of The Runaways was on the cover of Who Put The Bomp # 15. The magazine’s name was shortened to Bomp! with issue # 16, showing Brian Wilson on the cover. Sperrazza! joined the crew in time for Bomp! # 17, which arrived with the glowering visage of The Sex Pistols’ Johnny Rotten grimacing from its face, a sign that evolution was becoming revolution.

The magazinedidn’t last much longer than its power pop manifesto in Bomp! # 18. Joey Ramone was on the cover of  # 19, but I missed it. I scrambled back to buy it via mail order when I discovered it had featured a short blurb about my Fave Raves The Flashcubes, and I hadda have that! Shaw, in fact, inspired The Flashcubes’ second single, Gary Frenay‘s “Wait Till Next Week.” Shaw had told the lads they would be mentioned in the next issue of Bomp! Time passed, and the issue did not appear, as Shaw kept promising “Wait ’til next week!” An alternate line in the song (as performed live, not on record) addressed that inspiration:

Greg Shaw writes about the music scene
Told us that he’d put us in his magazine
Three months later, it’s nowhere to be seen
He says, “Why don’t you call me next week?”

I was able to grab the next two issues at Main Street Records, content and engaged, still eager for more from what had clearly become my favorite rock rag. But that twentieth issue in 1979 was it; a planned Bomp! # 21 was never published. The beat would not go on.

Well, the beat wouldn’t go on in print, at least not in the pages of Bomp! However, Shaw had started an indie label, Bomp Records, a few years before that, commencing with a Flamin’ Groovies 45 in 1975. The label outlived the magazine, and released a number of incredible singles and LPs by the likes of The RomanticsThe LastNikki & the CorvettesStiv Bators, and The Plimsouls. Somewhat soured by the power pop implosion, Shaw’s interest moved to neo-’60s garage, an interest served by his new label, Voxx Records. By the time of my brief correspondences with Shaw in the ’90s, power pop had long since fallen off his radar. (My email interviews with him were an invaluable resource in crafting my history of power pop, The Kids Are Alright!) Shaw passed away in 2004. The Flashcubes happened to be playing a show that night. I informed them of Shaw’s death, and they played “Wait Till Next Week” as a tribute, its original line about Greg Shaw intact. One more time.

Greg Shaw did get a little bit of recognition for the influential work he did. I don’t believe Gary Sperrazza! ever received his just due. I met Gary when I lived in Buffalo in the mid ’80s (a tale told within a longer reminiscence called The Road To GOLDMINE). That seminal power pop issue of Bomp! had also detailed Gary’s pervasive interest in soul and funk, asking that musical question, “Where are the Sex Pistols of black music?” So it was no surprise when Gary opened a record store specializing in soul, funk, R & B, and hip-hop, Apollo Records on Elmwood Avenue in Buffalo. Apollo also had a back room well stocked with choice garage, rock, and pop platters, so I visited often. Gary died in that miserable year of 2016. I regret he never got the credit he deserved in the power pop story.

Greg Shaw
Gary Sperrazza

Bomp! magazine was about much more than just power pop. It’s an ongoing testament to the sheer prevailing whomp of that lone power pop issue of Bomp! that the magazine remains so umbilically connected to the discussion of all loud things that jangle, buzz, and chime. More than anyone else before or since, Greg Shaw and Gary Sperrazza! defined the parameters of power pop. Many others (me included) have tried to refine the subject, sharpen its definition (and expand it just enough to include The Beatles, ferchrissakes). But no one did it better than Bomp!

Nowadays, our weekly radio show This Is Rock ‘n’ Roll Radio with Dana &Carl  has a nominal power pop format, but we mix Motown and punk with our “September Gurls” and “Go All The Way.” As much as I love power pop, and as much as I want its definition to be clear and distinct, I have absolutely no interest in doing a strictly power pop show. What fun would that be? A more general rockin’ pop framework is way more interesting to me, with The Isley Brothers flowing into The RubinoosThe Velvet UndergroundP. P. ArnoldBadfinger, and KISS. Even though we don’t always remain within the criteria of power pop, we call ourselves a power pop show anyway.

Why? Because power pop means pop with powerBomp! said so. Don’t argue with Bomp!

Boppin’ says: BUY THIS BOOK!

WHEN WE RETURN: America’s ONLY Rock ‘n’ Roll Magazine!

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Didn’t Hear THAT Coming! (Unexpected Covers In Concert): DAVID JOHANSEN, “Hot Stuff”

Didn’t Hear THAT Coming! (Unexpected Covers In Concert) discusses songs I was surprised to hear covered in a live show by an act I’d gone to see.
Cover songs can add zip and spark to a rock ‘n’ roll group’s live repertoire. In their earliest gigs, most groups start out playing covers, and integrate more of their own original material into their sets as they play more dates, develop more of an identity, and attract more fans with an interest beyond just hearing bar-band interpretations of songs associated with other acts. It’s a basic long-term strategy for groups hoping to get noticed, to get somewhere; there’s a reason The Rolling Stones cut back on Chuck Berry songs and started writing their own material.

Still, a well-placed cover tune can enhance a live set, while the wrong choice can result in irritating a fan who doesn’t want to hear a fave rave act pandering to a lower common denominator. Whether it works or falls flat, the unexpected cover prompts us to say, “Wow–didn’t hear THAT coming!”

In the late ’70s, disco and punk were supposed to be at war with each other. As a self-professed punk rocker in that era, I can attest that, yeah, punks didn’t like disco, and the bumpin’-n-hustlin’ set was appalled by the loud and fast noise my people favored. Hatfields and Capulets, meet McCoys and Montagues. Never mind the fact that the mainstream rock crowd held both punk and disco in nearly equal disdain; this was war!
Except that it wasn’t. I’m skeptical of the notion that many of the Saturday Night Fevered ever took much interest in The Damned or The Dead Boys, but some among the new wave brigade did eventually allow their ears and minds to be a bit more open to non-pogo dance music, to the beat of dat ole debbil disco. Maybe it was just me, but I was a pop fan anyway; my intense dislike of disco music evolved into occasional tolerance, and tolerance evolved into a sporadic realization that some of the records weren’t bad. Plus, Donna Summer was gorgeous. I feel love.

At the age of 19 in 1979, my belated discovery and embrace of early ’70s proto-punks The New York Dolls was still at an early stage. My local Syracuse heroes The Flashcubes introduced me to the Dolls’ classic “Personality Crisis” via their own Cubic live cover in ’78. By the end of my spring ’79 semester at college in Brockport, I think I may have heard former Dolls lead singer David Johansen‘s solo track “Funky But Chic” on the Brockport campus radio station WBSU. I had heard a handful of Dolls tracks, “Personality Crisis,” “Who Are The Mystery Girls?,” and probably “Babylon,” and I was aware of the group’s importance at Ground Zero of my cherished punk movement. Given an opportunity to see ex-Doll David Johansen live, with The Flashcubes opening the show, I had just enough basic familiarity with the headliner (and abundant enthusiasm for the opening act) to declare there was no way in Hell I was missing that show.

The show took place at The Slide Inn in Syracuse. A quick check of Pete Murray’s Flashcubes timeline reveals that the date was 7/26/79. Prior to reconciliation and reunions in later years, it was the last time I saw the original line-up of the ‘Cubes, just a few days before guitarist Paul Armstrong parted company with the group, ejected over musical differences. With no knowledge of the tension within The Flashcubes at the time, I just thoroughly enjoyed their set, a set which included my first exposure to a trio of ‘Cubes originals: Paul’s “You’re Not The Liar,” Gary Frenay‘s “I Wanna Stay All Night,” and Arty Lenin‘s “Nothing Really Matters When You’re Young.”

The David Johansen Group were amazing. Johansen’s fellow former Doll Sylvain Sylvain was no longer in David’s group by the time I saw them, but it was an incredible show nonetheless. It didn’t matter at all that I didn’t know many of the songs; I knew ’em by the end of the show. “Frenchette,” in particular, floored me, and I immediately adored “Cool Metro” and “I’m A Lover,” all three of those gems turning out to be from Johansen’s eponymous debut solo album, an LP I purchased not long after hearing it played live at the Slide.

Johansen and company also did a little bit of Dolls material: “Babylon” and their Bo Diddley cover, “Pills.” The encore was “Personality Crisis.”

If you’re familiar with the Dolls’ original recording of “Personality Crisis,” you know there’s a pause in the song just before its two-minute mark, followed by Johansen whooping And you’re a prima ballerina on a spring afternoon!, the band returning as well with wolf-whistles and guitar grunge. In a live performance of the song, it’s a natural spot to throw in a snippet of a different song as a willful non sequitur, illustrating the schizophrenic nature of a personality crisis. In ’79, I think I’d read in Trouser Press that Johansen was doing “Personality Crisis” as an unlikely medley with Bonnie Tyler‘s “It’s A Heartache” (a song which channeled Rod Stewart so effectively that I thought Bonnie was Rod; she was, in fact, bigger than Rod). That night at the Slide, I’m sure I half-expected to hear “It’s A Heartache” in the middle of “Personality Crisis.”

But…no. The song’s pause came, and a familiar guitar riff suddenly filled the Slide, as patrons like me, with senses slowed by beer, struggled to mentally name that tune in…OH MY GOD, IT’S DONNA SUMMER!!

I guess the divine Miss S actually appearing at the Slide to duet with David Jo would have been a bigger surprise than just hearing him sing a Summer song, but maybe not by much. Sittin’ here eatin’ my heart out waitin’, waitin’ for some lover to call. “Hot Stuff.” Donna Summer. One could argue that Summer’s own version of “Hot Stuff” was already more of a rock song than it was a disco song. It certainly rocked in the capable hands of The David Johansen Group. 

The connection was monumental. We were punks and rockers, boppin’ with unironic intent to a song–a great song–by the reigning queen of disco. Johansen’s short cover was faithful and true, so we couldn’t claim he’d somehow redeemed the song. The song was already great; our own closed ears may have made us deaf to its charm. Until that instant.

This wasn’t my first realization that maybe some disco or disco-related music wasn’t necessarily awful. I already liked Donna Summer’s percolatin’ hit “I Feel Love,” and (as I’ve noted elsewhere) I’d already approved of “In The Navy” by The Village People, figuring that the sound of an openly gay group chanting They want you! They want you! They want you as a new recruit! on American Top 40 radio was more punk than The Sex Pistols.

But David Johansen singing Donna Summer, even if it was just an excerpt of one of her songs, performed and contained within a cantankerous classic by The New York Dolls, was an irresistible manifesto for a brokered peace between the battling factions of punk, disco, and rock ‘n’ roll. Cease fire. War is over if you want it.

Yeah, I know it wasn’t really that simple. Schisms remained, and would remain. But I saw. I heard. I wasn’t alone in that. By the ’80s, as punk and new wave had slid into new (later alternative) music and disco’s commercial day had passed for the time being, lines continued to blur. Much of the mainstream rock crowd still hated us, but that was okay. We were fighting the good fight. Looking for a lover who needs another, don’t want another night on my own. Fall in, troops. No sleep ’til victory. A New York Doll says Donna Summer’s here, and the time is right for dancing in the streets. 

WHEN DIDN’T HEAR THAT COMING! RETURNS: Love, The Bangles

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