The Go-Go’s do not get anywhere near the level of respect they deserve. A self-contained rockin’ pop combo that wrote nearly all of their own material, The Go-Go’s scored hits in the early ’80s, and released three fantastic albums before splintering in the acrimony that claims many a great group. They’ve reunited a few times since then for concerts and additional fine recordings. They should have been a shoo-in for induction into The Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame years ago. They have never even been nominated.
Their debut album Beauty And The Beat was my favorite new album in 1981. Nearly four decades later, I remain as fond of it now as I was then. It is very nearly a perfect album, with the cold-sounding, dispassionate new wave number “Automatic” the only track I don’t like. The rest? “How Much More,” “Lust To Love,” “Skidmarks On My Heart,” “This Town,” “Fading Fast,” “You Can’t Walk In Your Sleep (If You Can’t Sleep),” “Can’t Stop The World,” and “Tonight” are all engaging as hell. The first single “Our Lips Are Sealed” was one of the two best things on the radio in ’81; the other best thing on the radio that year was also by The Go-Go’s, also from Beauty And The Beat, and it was their signature tune “We Got The Beat,” a magnificent single that earns its own entry in my book The Greatest Record Ever Made! (Volume 1). Gotta respect The Go-Go’s. HERMAN’S HERMITS: Hold On!
Although I did indeed see Herman’s Hermits in their 1966 movie Hold On! when it was still in theaters, let’s forget about that. And believe me, it’s an easy movie to forget. Instead, let’s move ahead by a decade and change, to when I was an 18-year-old college freshman in 1978. That’s when I scored a truly beat-up copy of the Hold On! soundtrack LP, a record that was a lot more interesting than the cinematic trifle that spawned it.
One may be tempted to likewise dismiss the album as a trifle, but it was at least an interesting trifle; I loved some of it, and I wasn’t much put off by the rest. If I could take or leave (mostly leave) “The George And Dragon,” “Leaning On A Lamp Post,” and Shelley Fabares‘ “Make Me Happy” (which skipped on my copy anyway), I had more enthusiasm for “Hold On!,” “Wild Love,” “All The Things I Do For You Baby,” and “Gotta Get Away.” My biggest go-to tracks on Hold On! were “Got A Feeling,” “Where Were You When I Need You” (which I heard and loved here before discovering that it had later been a hit for The Grass Roots), and “A Must To Avoid.” “A Must To Avoid” quickly became my favorite Herman’s Hermits (at least until I heard “No Milk Today”). My local heroes The Flashcubesused to cover “A Must To Avoid” in their live sets, and that was okay by me.
The sharp-eyed among you will notice some scribbling near the photos on my LP cover. The Herman-less Hermits played a bar called The Gin Mill in Liverpool, NY that very same summer of ’78, and you’re damned right I was there. The Hermits put on a swell show, after which I solicited autographs from bassist Karl Green, guitarist Derek Leckenby, and drummer Barry Whitwam, plus guitarist Frank Renshaw, who had replaced Keith Hopwood in Hermitdom. I saw original Herman’s Hermits lead singer Peter Noone on several subsequent occasions, including one show with his fab early ’80s new wave group The Tremblers, but have never had an opportunity to get him to add his signature alongside those of his erstwhile co-workers. THE KINKS: The Great Lost Kinks Album
About a year before The Who‘s vault-raidin’ 1974 compilation Odds And Sods, The Kinks‘ by-then-former American label Reprise issued The Great Lost Kinks Album, a collection of 1966-1970 recordings that The Kinks would have preferred to leave as lost. Gentlemen, start your lawyers!
I associate this album with The Vinyl Jungle, a small and short-lived record shop in my college town of Brockport in the fall of ’77. I remember seeing the album for sale at The Vinyl Jungle, but I passed on it and instead bought a Kinks compilation called The Pye History Of British Pop Music. I didn’t get my copy of The Great Lost Kinks Album until many years later, when I was considering (and finally deciding against) writing a book about the 500 definitive albums of the ’70s. This LP wouldn’t have been among the records discussed in That Great Lost Carl Book, but I scooped it up at the same time I was grabbing cheap-cheap-cheap vinyl by Lynyrd Skynyrd, Foghat, ZZ Top, et al. for research. Far out, dude. The Great Lost Kinks Album was of much more interest to me anyway, and I especially fell for “This Man He Weeps Tonight.” All of its once-rare tracks are now readily available, the lawyers all paid and satisfied.
THE RUTLES: The Rutles
My introduction to the fictional Prefab Four The Rutles came when Eric Idle of Monty Python’s Flying Circus hosted Saturday Night Live (then still called NBC’s Saturday Night) in October of 1976, when I was a high school senior. Idle played a clip of his faux Beatles mugging through “I Must Be In Love,” and I was hooked. When The Rutles’ TV special All You Need Is Cash appeared in March of 1978, I was all in. I reveled in the promo clip of “Ouch!” that was shown on Midnight Special the week before All You Need Is Cash, and was one of several floormates crammed into the dorm room across from mine to watch the TV special itself when it aired.
Alas, I was the only one among my group who dug it.
Undeterred, I bought the 45 of “I Must Be In Love”/”Doubleback Alley,” and gratefully accepted a gift of the companion album The Rutles, brought home from England by my sister Denise. Number one, number one…! VARIOUS ARTISTS: The Motown Sound Vol. 6
My very first Motown record? Could be, though my lovely wife Brenda thinks this was her LP rather than mine. If only we’d kept better track of stuff prior to the matrimonial merging of our collections. Either way, I do remember that we picked it up on a visit to the weekly flea market at Syracuse’s Regional Market, probably in 1979. It would have been around the same time (if not the same weekend) that Brenda snagged her flea-market copy of The Kinks’ Greatest Hits!, and/or when I got my 35-cent copy of The Who’s Meaty Beaty Big And Bouncy. We were frugal shoppers. In spite of many, many cullings of the collection over the years, all three of these LPs still remain in our vinyl library.
And it certainly could have been either one of us who grabbed this Motown sampler. Brenda had grown up listening to soul and R & B on the radio, and this would have been a natural thing to add to her personal stash. I was just beginning to appreciate how great all that stuff was, and would have been drawn to my favorite Supremes song “Stop! In The Name Of Love,” my favorite Four Tops song “It’s The Same Old Song,” and my favorite Stevie Wonder song “Uptight (Everything’s Alright),” and probably to The Miracles‘ “Going To A Go Go.” The rest would have been a history lesson waiting to happen. So: Brenda’s record? My record?
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: downloadVolume 2: CD or downloadVolume 3: downloadVolume 4: CD or downloadWaterloo Sunset–Benefit For This Is Rock ‘n’ Roll Radio:CD or download Carl’s writin’ a book! The Greatest Record Ever Made! (Volume 1) will contain 155 essays about 155 tracks, 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).
My first rock ‘n’ roll posters were hand-me-downs, but they were choice hand-me-downs. When my sister went off to college in 1970, I assumed possession of her Beatles posters. These painted portraits of your John, your Paul, your George, and your Ringo remained on my wall while I was in middle school and high school, and left North Syracuse with me when I commenced my own rock ‘n’ roll matriculatin’ in the fall of ’77. The posters served me well on one occasion in ’76 or so, when WOLF-AM‘s Beatles Weekend offered a free Beatles LP to the first caller who could correctly identify the color of George Harrison’s eyes. A glance at the poster, a sprint to the phone in the kitchen, a hastily-dialed call to The Big 15 so I could blurt out BROWN!, and a copy of the Help! album was mine.
I also remember my sister having a Dylan poster–my first conscious exposure to Bashful Bobby Dylan’s name–but I think she must have taken that one with her on her journey to higher education. ‘Sfunny, because I remember much later mentioning Mr. Dylan to one of the guys in my dorm suite in the Spring of ’78; my suitemate glanced up at my Beatles portraits, and asked me which one was Dylan.
Although I plastered my walls with graven images in high school and college, I had relatively few commercial posters. In college, my cherished Beatles posters shared wall space with LP inserts (from the White Album, from The Beach Boys‘ Endless Summer, from a collection of movie sound bites by The Marx Brothers, and from records by The Heartbreakers, The Runaways, etc.), promo materials, maybe some comics art, Flashcubes gig flyers, magazine pages (including a poster ripped from a Bay City Rollers fan mag), a Molson Golden Ale poster, and a few Playboy centerfolds. The promo items–posters and flats–mostly came from Brockport’s Main Street Records, which offered such bonus bounty in its handy-dandy Free With Purchase! bin. Decorating was easy!
And I did pick up a few commercial posters along the way. I believe I got my KISS poster from my college friend Fred, who had outgrown KISS and wanted nothing further to do with the group. I bought a couple of posters upstairs at Syracuse’s Economy Bookstore, one featuring my boys The Sex Pistols and one starring my presumed future spouse Suzi Quatro. There was an awesome Batman poster I wanted, but never quite got around to buying. I did get a Suzanne Somers poster at Gerber Music; that was sorta puzzling, because although she was certainly cute, I didn’t have any particular thing for her, nor for her sitcom Three’s Company. Why a Suzanne poster, instead of, say, a Farrah Fawcett? No idea.
After college, I don’t recall ever putting up many posters in my apartments. I really wanted to get a poster of The Monkees circa the time of resurgent Monkeemania in ’86, but never saw one I thought appropriate. Now, decades later, I have but a few posters on my wall. There’s a Frank Miller The Dark Knight Returns poster framed in my office, staring down a great framed Ramones poster I received as a gift. But that’s it, other than the framed two-page spread from my Goldmine interview with Joan Jett (autographed by Ms. Jett herself) and the framed artwork from Rhino Records‘ Poptopia! CDs, which Rhino gave me as a thank-you bonus for writing the liner notes to the ’90s Poptopia! disc, plus a few small items (a picture of Syracuse University basketball great Gerry McNamara, an autographed picture of Red Grammer, my Ramones wall clock, and a wall hanging my sister gave me decades ago, which reads A Creative Mind Is Rarely Tidy). That’s the sum total of wall decorations in my office at home.
I still have those same Beatles posters. They’re a bit tattered now, certainly worn, rolled up in a drawer because there’s no longer any point in even trying to flatten them or do a better job of preserving them. George Harrison’s eyes are still brown. The Pistols, KISS, and Suzanne Somers sheets are long gone; even Suzi Q has moved on. The Beatles remain. John. Paul. George. Ringo. Dylan must have been on holiday that day.
You can support this blog by becoming a patron on Patreon: Fund me, baby!Our new compilation CD This Is Rock ‘n’ Roll Radio, Volume 4 is now available from Kool Kat Musik! 29 tracks of irresistible rockin’ pop, starring Pop Co-Op, Ray Paul, Circe Link & Christian Nesmith, Vegas With Randolph Featuring Lannie Flowers, The Slapbacks, P. Hux, Irene Peña, Michael Oliver & the Sacred Band Featuring Dave Merritt, The Rubinoos, Stepford Knives, The Grip Weeds, Popdudes, Ronnie Dark, The Flashcubes,Chris von Sneidern, The Bottle Kids, 1.4.5., The Smithereens, Paul Collins’ Beat, The Hit Squad, The Rulers, The Legal Matters, Maura & the Bright Lights, Lisa Mychols, and Mr. Encrypto & the Cyphers. You gotta have it, so order it here.
An early version of this was originally distributed privately to patrons of Boppin’ (Like The Hip Folks Do). This is its first public appearance. For as little as $2 a month, supporters of this blog receive one bonus private post each month. You can get in on this action with Patreon: Fund me, baby!
Virtual Ticket Stub Gallery is a series of extended reminiscences of my in-concert memories. This is the first (and probably only) fictional entry in this series. The events detailed herein take place in the same make-believe universe as a previous story I wrote about The Flashcubes, A Brighter Light In My Mind.
It was John Lennon‘s idea.
Of the four former members of The Beatles, Lennon often seemed the most publicly opposed to the idea of getting the old band back together. Although The Beatles broke up in 1970, it seemed that hardly a day could go by without someone–a fan, a pundit, a reporter, a fellow rock star, even a freaking head of state–asking when this fabbest of fours would regroup. Would you want to go back to high school?, Lennon would reply, apparently dismissive of the very idea of ever wanting to get back to where he once belonged. Paul McCartney would insist that one couldn’t reheat a souffle; George Harrison‘s disdain for the notion rivaled Lennon’s; one suspected that Ringo Starr would have been fine with a reunion if it were to occur, but he warned all and sundry that it would only happen if and when it happened, if it happened at all. So the chances of a Beatles reunion appeared to be somewhere far south of slim, barely north of none.
So everyone–including Paul, George, and Ringo–was flabbergasted in 1976 to hear John effectively saying, Hey, lads! Let’s put on a SHOW! But that’s pretty much what Lennon did.
John Lennon was 35 years old, and he’d packed a lot into those years. His father had been absent, his parents ultimately estranged, leaving John to be raised by his Aunt Mimi; Lennon remained devoted to his mother, and was devastated by her death in 1958, when Lennon was not yet 18 years old. Lennon was creative, artistic, musical, mercurial, temperamental, a joker, a troublemaker. He was in a rock ‘n’ roll group. The group was a failure that became a greater success than any other group in history. He got a girl named Cynthia pregnant. He married her, and they had a son named Julian. John was as absent a father as his own father had been before him. John fell, hard, for an exotic, artistic woman named Yoko. One marriage ended, another began, standing in the dock at Southampton. His band broke up. He became more politically aware, more engaged on behalf of social justice. His antiwar activities drew the ire of the established, entrenched power structure. He wasn’t paranoid; they really were out to get him. The U.S. Government tried to deport him, and was nearly successful in that effort. He fought back, waging war on the battlefield of public opinion. He and Yoko separated. He had a famed, debauched Lost Weekend, spanning eighteen months from 1973 to early ’75. He reunited with Yoko; the separation didn’t work out. Their son Sean was born on John’s 35th birthday, October 9th of 1975. This time, John would not be an absent father. This time, he would do things right.
Yeah. So how much did you do in your life before you turned 36?
John settled into a delighted domesticity. He took care of Sean, he baked bread, and he was just Daddy. The infant Sean was perhaps too young to be fully aware of his father’s devotion, but awareness and appreciation would come in time. Life, after all, is what happens when you’re busy making other plans.
In 1976, Paul McCartney occasionally dropped by Lennon’s apartment at The Dakota in Manhattan. John kind of wished Paul would call before showing up, but their friendship was old and resilient. Over the years, they had bickered and competed, as friends sometimes do; success and recognition magnify the cracks and faults that would appear anyway, so an argument can often become a lawsuit. Sue me, sue you their younger partner George had quipped. Tempers flared, cooler heads prevailed over time. They were friends. The complicated legal knot that had once been The Beatles would take a long, long time to untangle. The friendship would endure.
John and Paul had played together at an abortive studio jam session in Burbank in March of 1974, during John’s Lost Weekend, along with Stevie Wonder, Harry Nilsson, saxophonist Bobby Keys, and Paul’s wife, the lovely Linda McCartney. The hazy, drug-fueled session was emblematic of John’s excess at the time. In Paul’s visits to The Dakota, the musical collaborations were no more serious, but far more sedate.
On April 24th, 1976, Paul was with John at The Dakota. They’d had some drinks, played some songs, and were settled in front of the TV to watch a new episode of NBC’s Saturday Night, a late-night ensemble comedy sketch show enjoying great success in its first season. The show was hipper than hip. This should be a hoot.
But the former Beatles were wholly unprepared when the producer of Saturday Night began speaking directly to them, as they watched him on the TV screen.
The public mania for a Beatles reunion had reached peak silliness by ’76. There had been million-dollar offers–multi-million!–just to somehow get John, Paul, George, and Ringo on stage together again before a live audience. The preposterous truckloads of money could be paid to The Beatles themselves, to their favorite charities, to agencies fighting world hunger, even to failed Apple Corps projects The Fool and Magic Alex, for all any of the would-be promoters cared. Just GET BACK, Beatles! LET IT BE! ALL YOU NEED IS LOVE!! Money was not what The Beatles wanted. They wanted people to stop asking them to reBeatle. You want a new Beatles record? Take a few tracks each off Walls And Bridges, Venus And Mars, Extra Texture, and Goodnight Vienna, put ’em on a cassette, and PRESTO! Instant Beatles album! You wanna see The Beatles in concert? Take a time machine back to The Star-Club or The Cavern, before all the screaming drowned us out. That time is gone. The Beatles are no more.
Lorne Michaels, the producer of NBC’s Saturday Night, saw the humor in these desperate, clawing, failed attempts to reunite The Beatles. And, where there’s already inherent humor present, well, a comedy sketch just writes itself.
John and Paul stared at the TV screen, their jaws dropping like acid in 1967. Hi. I’m Lorne Michaels, the producer of Saturday Night. Right now, we’re being seen by approximately 22 million viewers, but please allow me, if I may, to address myself to just four very special people: John, Paul, George, and Ringo, The Beatles. Sitting there in The Dakota, their smiles growing wider, Lennon and McCartney watched with glee as Michaels detailed his mock offer to entice The Beatles to appear on Saturday Night. Michaels said he’d heard that maybe the group simply hadn’t yet been offered enough money to give any serious consideration to a reunion. Well, Michaels assured everyone, money wouldn’t be a problem for NBC. And to prove it, Michaels displayed a check from NBC, made out to The Beatles, in the princely amount of three thousand dollars.
McCartney spit out his beer, laughing. Lennon guffawed loudly, amused and engaged. But then he stopped laughing. And he turned to his old partner Paul and said:
We should do it! At first, Paul thought John was daft. But he also saw the appeal of this crazy idea. Alas, it was a crazy, impractical idea. John said they should head right to the NBC studio, just the two of them, and accept half of the $3000 offer as a joke. But it was late. They were tired. And the moment passed.
A few days later, John was still capering to himself a bit, thinking of that moment. And he started to wonder: had the moment really passed?
Lennon considered. He was determined to be an ever-present part of his new son’s life. He’d put music on hold, and would keep it on hold until he felt Sean was old enough to understand. But Sean was still just a baby, six months old–perhaps this was the right time for John to play one more show before devoting himself exclusively to full-time daddyhood.
John thought back to his last live performance: Madison Square Garden, November 28th, 1974. He’d lost a bet with Elton John, and had to join Elton and his boys in concert. He only did three songs: his own “Whatever Gets You Thru The Night,” The Beatles’ “Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds” (itself a recent hit for Elton), and “I Saw Her Standing There,” a song John introduced on stage as “a number by an old estranged fiance of mine called Paul.” So Lennon’s last concert performance to date had been singing a Paul McCartney song. Heh, Lennon chuckled aloud, That will never do! He’d been terrified to appear on stage with Elton that night; he’d been away from the spotlight too long, he thought. But it was fun. Exhilarating. Maybe he should consider doing one whole show.
Oh, the hell with it–maybe he should consider doing the one show everyone had been after him to do.
John went to the phone. One by one, he dialed each of his three mates. Paul? George? Ringo? I have an idea….
All three of the others were immediately skeptical, though both Paul and Ringo accepted the idea in short order. George was more resistant. Even when The Beatles were still together, he’d felt like a junior member rather than an equal. And he’d chafed under that feeling of confinement, restriction. He had not missed being a Beatle. He saw no compelling reason to become a Beatle again.
One thinks that should have been the end of this absurd idea of a Beatles reunion. John Lennon certainly wasn’t going to beg George, and nor were the others any more apt to persuade or coax him back into the fold. Nice idea. Let’s forget about it now.
On the other hand, Bob Dylan was perfectly willing to intercede.
For years, no one knew for sure how Dylan even found out about this potential reunion. Decades later, we learned that Yoko Ono had contacted Linda McCartney with the idea, and Linda got in touch with Bashful Bobby Dylan. Yoko was concerned that canceling this reunion would have been a disappointment to John. Her motives were perhaps not 100% altruistic–John had promised to be a stay-at-home father to Sean, and a disappointed John could lead to a wandering John, yet again–but nor were they purely mercenary, either. She wanted John to be able to do this; she wanted John to be happy. On top of all that, Yoko felt that she owed a debt of gratitude to the McCartneys; Paul and Linda had played an understated but undeniable role in getting John and Yoko back together after John’s long Lost Weekend. Furthermore, Yoko knew that Paul also wanted to be a Beatle again, even if just for one night, at least as much as John did. John and Paul were brothers–sometimes bickering, sometime infuriating, but brothers. They needed this…closure.
The idea of enlisting Dylan was simply brilliant. Dylan loved the idea of a Beatles show, so he certainly didn’t mind calling his friend George. George respected Dylan’s opinion, shrugged, and went along with the idea of temporarily–temporarily!–becoming a Beatle again. A reluctant Beatle, sure, but a Beatle nonetheless!
Beatles have people. Lots of people. None of us has ever, or will ever, had any freaking idea of what it’s like to be a member of that exclusive club of four. And part of being a Beatle meant that if you wanted something done, then snap! It was done. Emissaries handled logistics. Snap! Madison Square Garden was booked–quietly–and I still have no idea how they pulled that one off. Snap! Backing musicians were secured; Al Kooper would play keyboards, and the live sound would be further fattened by the addition of The Memphis Horns. Snap! And John, Paul, George, and Ringo found themselves at a secure location on Long Island–far from the madding crowd, far from prying eyes and ears–preparing to make music together for the first time in nearly seven years.
For their first day in the ol’ woodshed, The Beatles wanted to start without sidemen, just the four of them, getting reacquainted, learning again how to play with and to each other. There was no agenda that day; just icebreakers, joking, and jamming. Old friends. Guitars. Bass. Piano. Drums. That first day was more party than woodshed, as the once-and-future mates played random favorites as the thought occurred to them, riffing through Arthur Alexander, Carl Perkins, The Everly Brothers, Chan Romero, Richie Barrett, Little Richard, Ray Charles, Buddy Holly, James Ray, Wanda Jackson, Elvis, The Miracles, The Impressions, “Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door,” “Without You,” even “(Theme From) The Monkees.” They tried their hands at Beatle numbers, too, from “Love Me Do” to “For You Blue.” Paul earned loud snorts of laughter by singing a bit of John’s “How Do You Sleep?,” while John countered with Paul’s “Let Me Roll It.” (John’s attempt at The Chiffons‘ “He’s So Fine” prompted George to roll his eyes, but John made up for it by duetting with George on a heavenly rendition of “My Sweet Lord.”) The proceedings were chaotic, disorganized, start-and-stop…and wonderful. Old friends.
Business resumed in earnest on the second day, as Kooper arrived; The Memphis Horns arrived on the following day. There would be just over a week of rehearsals before The Beatles’ still-secret gig at Madison Square Garden. They needed to figure some things out in a hurry.
Amazingly, there was actually quite a bit of agreement among The Beatles about what they didn’t want. They didn’t want to be a nostalgia act; they didn’t want to do any kind of chronological representation of The Beatles’ story–they were The Beatles, for cryinoutloud, not bloody Beatlemania. They didn’t want to do a smooth, slick Greatest Hits show. They didn’t want to take anyone back to some imaginary glory days of yesteryear. They wanted to play, in the here and now.
At the same time, they also knew they needed to play Beatle songs. It was a delicate balancing act. If you just give the audience what it wants, you’re a whore; if you don’t give ’em anything they want, you’re a prima donna. The four of them agreed they wouldn’t want to go see, say, Roy Orbison, and not hear “Only The Lonely.” Nor would they care to see (or perform) a show played by the numbers. Balance. They came up with a list of about fifty songs, and started going through them. “Yesterday” didn’t work. Early bubblegum material felt wrong. “Hey Bulldog” was awesome, but fell victim to inevitable cuts in the set list, elimination choices which also claimed “I’ve Just Seen A Face,” “Yer Blues,” “A Hard Day’s Night,” “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,” “Savoy Truffle,” and an ace cover of Buddy Holly’s “Peggy Sue.” Rehearsals went on. The set list gelled. The band got tighter. All that time spent apart melted away.
They were The Beatles once again.
Word finally leaked out a week before the show, and an official announcement was made: The Beatles would reunite for one single concert. It would be a slight exaggeration to say that the show sold out instantly. It took nearly twenty minutes to sell out. Arrangements were made to also carry a live feed of the concert in movie theaters throughout the country, around the world. A splendid time was guaranteed for all!
On the day of the concert, John was nervous, apprehensive, nauseous. George alternated between wondering if he’d made a mistake agreeing to take part in this circus and…well, looking forward to it. He found his dichotomy of emotion unexpected, but oddly calming. Paul and Ringo took it all in stride. John pulled himself together. Toppermost of the poppermost. It was time.
The massive crowd at Madison Square Garden was giddy, boisterous, and frankly, high as a kite. The lights went out. Gasps. Cheers. Anticipation. Palpable, tangible thrill.
Ladies and gentlemen…THE BEATLES!! Still in darkness, John counted off, “1-2-3!” The lights came on, brilliant and blinding, dazzling, dizzying, louder and more popular than Jesus. The grinding guitar consumed the arena, as Paul let out a scream and John began to sing:
You say you want a revolution, well you know We all want to change the world The Beatles charged through the opening verse and chorus of “Revolution,” Paul and George adding back-up shoo-be-do-wops to the subsequent verses. “Revolution” led into a furious, manic “Helter Skelter,” and The Beatles’ guarantee of a splendid time for all was already achieved.
“While My Guitar Gently Weeps.” “You Won’t See Me.” “No Reply.” The Beatles played an eclectic, electric selection of songs from their catalog of wonder. A new George Harrison song called “Crackerbox Palace” followed, and then flowed into the distinctive riff of “Ticket To Ride.” “Strawberry Fields Forever.” Ringo’s “It Don’t Come Easy.” “Come Together.””Here Comes The Sun.” “Penny Lane.”
There was little between-song patter; there was just an easy-going, amiable on-stage ambiance, incongruously tethered to a lit fuse and an ongoing explosion of buzzing musical delight. John told the fans that they all needed to pay tribute to the rock ‘n’ roll that got them there in the first place, and launched into an impassioned cover of Chuck Berry‘s “Johnny B. Goode.” Those guitars like ringin’ a bell segued into John’s “Whatever Gets You Thru The Night,” then Paul’s “Maybe I’m Amazed,” then “I Am The Walrus.” “Magical Mystery Tour.” “With A Little Help From My Friends.” “Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds.” George introduced “Something” as Frank Sinatra’s favorite Lennon and McCartney song. Thank you, Frank! John whooped out a Thanks, Frankie! in response. “Back In The USSR.” Ringo’s “Photograph.” “We Can Work It Out.” Day Tripper.” George’s “What Is Life.” “Let It Be.” “Don’t Pass Me By.”
It was a long show. These aging rock stars, all in their late thirties by now, should have been dragging, but still seemed energized, ignited, as if they were still that impossibly young bunch of punks tearin’ up the Reeperbahn in Hamburg those many years ago. The guitars gathered more volume, the air became thicker, as every inch of space at MSG gave way to the force and fury of “I Want You (She’s So Heavy).” Paul moved to the piano for a climactic “Hey Jude.” The show concluded with John and Paul singing “I Don’t Want To Spoil The Party,” The Nerk Twins, the British Everly Brothers. And The Beatles said good night.
During all their years of insane, unprecedented, hysterical popularity, The Beatles never performed an encore. No. They did their show, and they got out. So tonight would be history on top of history. The arena thundered with the eager noise of delirious fans wanting more!
Back on stage, soaking in the applause, beaming with pride and satisfaction (wait–wrong band!), The Beatles were ready to oblige.
Thank you, Beatle people. It says here we passed the audition! “Get Back.” “A Day In The Life.” “Eleanor Rigby.” And finally, Larry Williams‘ “Dizzy Miss Lizzy.” The clock struck eternity. The enchantment ended. This amazing, amazing night was over.
Record labels fell over each other trying to secure the rights to release a live album of The Beatles’ MSG show. Paul, George, and Ringo were each already under contract with competing labels, though John was a free agent. But it didn’t matter; the show was not officially recorded, and would forevermore be only the stuff of memories and bootlegs. Ob-la-di, ob-la-da, life goes on.
The Beatles would never again perform together before a live audience. The four discussed the comic merit of taking NBC’s Saturday Night up on its offer, but ultimately decided it wasn’t something they wanted to do. George Harrison did appear on Saturday Night with guest host Paul Simon; Harrison participated in an opening skit about trying to claim the $3000 the show offered for The Beatles to come on the show, as producer Lorne Michaels deadpanned that he thought it was clear the offer was for four people, not just one. Simon and Harrison then teamed up for lovely renditions of “Here Comes The Sun” and Simon and Garfunkel‘s “Homeward Bound.” John and Paul appeared together on a subsequent episode, carrying out John’s initial joke to demand $1500 for an appearance by two Beatles. The former Fabs played two acoustic sets on the show, without outside accompaniment: Eddie Cochran‘s “Twenty Flight Rock” (the first song Paul played for John when they met in 1957), “Norwegian Wood,”and “Blackbird,” then “In My Life” and “Yesterday.” The two harmonized on each song; notably, it was the first time Lennon had ever sung “Yesterday” in public. Later in the same show, John and Paul plugged in with the NBC house band for a blistering medley of “I Saw Her Standing There” and “Rain.”
And with that, John Lennon once again withdrew from the spotlight, making good on his vow to be Sean’s Daddy, nothing more, nothing less. Paul McCartney, George Harrison, and Ringo Starr returned to their own careers. The three of them performed together at Eric Clapton‘s wedding to George’s ex-wife Patti Boyd on May 19th, 1979.
John came out of retirement in 1980 for Double Fantasy, a new album with Yoko. He did a short small-venue tour in support of the album, and enlisted the members of his son’s favorite group The Flashcubes to play with him. Lennon had struck up a friendship with the ‘Cubes when he arranged for them to play for Sean at a private party on December 8, 1980, the same night police arrested an armed individual loitering outside The Dakota; the unidentified man killed himself while in custody, leaving many to shudder at the thought of what might have happened if the Lennons had returned home earlier. Paul joined Lennon and The Flashcubes on stage at Carnegie Hall for the encore of their final show in March of ’81.
Sadly, a rift developed between Lennon and Harrison. John felt that he’d been deliberately snubbed in George’s autobiography I Me Mine. Relations between the two were strained for quite some time thereafter, though they eventually made amends. Ringo generally remained on good terms with each of the other three, though even our little Richard occasionally grew tired of always being viewed as a Beatle, no matter what.
The Beatles declined an invitation to perform at Live Aid in 1985. The group’s 1988 induction into The Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame offered the seemingly certain prospect of a Beatles reunion, but Paul did not attend, citing the sticking point of still-lingering business disputes with his former co-workers.
Finally, the morass of The Beatles’ Sargasso Sea of legal complications and intricacies was navigated and left behind by the dawn of the ’90s. John, Paul, George, and Ringo cooperated and fully participated in the making of The Beatles Anthology, a comprehensive video history of the act you knew for all those years. Proposals for a new Beatles album or tour or one-off concert were ruled out immediately, but they performed several songs together on the Anthology video. Although this would be their final full collaboration, all four remained on cordial terms through George’s death in 2001. The others agreed to honor George’s memory by leaving The Beatles in the past. There would be no more public reunions of any kind. In the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make.
As a young band playing bars in Hamburg and Liverpool, The Beatles fantasized of becoming The Toppermost Of The Poppermost. It was a heady, unlikely dream for four ne’er-do-well punks from a rough-and-tumble seaport town. But the dream came true. Decades later, we dream on still.
The dream isn’t over. We do believe in Beatles. And you know that can’t be bad.
You can support this blog by becoming a patron on Patreon: Fund me, baby! THE BEATLES: LIVE AT MADISON SQUARE GARDEN 1976
Revolution Helter Skelter While My Guitar Gently Weeps You Won’t See Me No Reply Crackerbox Palace Ticket To Ride Strawberry Fields Forever It Don’t Come Easy Come Together Here Comes The Sun Penny Lane Johnny B. Goode Whatever Gets You Thru The Night Maybe I’m Amazed I Am The Walrus Magical Mystery Tour With A Little Help From My Friends Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds Something Back In The USSR Photograph We Can Work It Out Day Tripper What Is Life Let It Be Don’t Pass Me By I Want You (She’s So Heavy) Hey Jude I Don’t Want To Spoil The Party
My introduction to the concept of bootleg records was an ad in the tabloid pages of The Buyer’s Guide To Comics Fandom around 1976 or so. Before that, I may have known that bootlegs existed, but this was the first time I’d ever encountered concrete evidence of that. The very idea that there might be practical availability of unreleased recordings by The Beatles intrigued me and enticed me beyond all reason.
But it took me a while to actually get a bootleg to call my own. The first one I recall seeing was a Beatles boot I spied on the rack at a record store in a Cleveland mall over Christmas break in late ’77/early ’78. I have no recollection whatsoever of what the Beatleg was nor what it contained; my funds were limited, so I bought a couple of 45s instead (“Father Christmas” by The Kinks and “(It’s Gonna Be A) Punk Rock Xmas” by The Ravers). My first bootleg acquisition was a different Beatles boot, The Deccagone Sessions, which was a mix of Decca audition tapes, BBC tracks, and things like the audio track from the “Revolution” video and “Some Other Guy” live ‘n’ distorted at The Cavern. I bought it at (I think) Syracuse’s Desert Shore Records in the late spring or summer of ’78.
My next bootleg was either a live Beatles boot called Youngblood or The Sex Pistols‘ Spunk, an ace collection of the Pistols’ demos. There was an Elvis Costello & the Attractions bootleg called 50,000,000 Elvis Fans Can’t Be Wrong, and a New York Dolls boot called Dallas ’74. In the early ’80s, I snagged a copy of Tails Of The Monkees, a picture disc that purported to be a collection of live Monkees recordings but really contained in-concert performances by Dolenz, Jones, Boyce & Hart. A subsequent Monkees boot called Monkeeshines served up some TV performances, 33 1/3 Revolutions Per Monkee vinylized the group’s little-seen TV special, and an awful bootleg called Live In Los Angeles attempted to preserve the on-stage reunion of Michael Nesmith with his former prime mates Micky Dolenz, Davy Jones, and Peter Tork in simply wretched, inaudible sound quality.
I never really accumulated all that many bootlegs, but I had a few. I had a handful of titles of (at best) questionable legitimacy by The Sex Pistols and The Flamin’ Groovies, plus a boot of The Beatles’ almost-released Sessions. I had some live boots by The Ramones, and my favorite among those was Blitzkrieg ’76, a Boston live radio performance that included the fab song “Babysitter;” other than a mention of “Babysitter” in an issue of Creem, this was the only evidence I ever encountered that The Ramones used to include “Babysitter” in their live shows. A 1989 visit to Berkeley netted me used copies of The Beatles’ Christmas Album and Paul McCartney‘s Back In The USSR, both of which I presumed were bootlegs, though I suppose it’s possible that one or the other could have been legit (and underpriced).
I also had a few bootleg live cassettes: The Flashcubes (my only long-form Flashcubes document for a very long time), KISS, The Bangles, The Replacements, The Rolling Stones, Johnny Thunders, The Flamin’ Groovies, perhaps some others that I’ve forgotten. There were some Beatles sessions on cassette, too. On CD, I had The Beatles’ Get Back and another copy of The Beatles’ Christmas Album, and a Pandoras disc of dubious legality.
Nowadays, of course, there’s no challenge in getting most of this formerly-illicit material. What was once the stuff of bootlegs can be found on legitimate releases as bonus tracks, or on vault-raids like The Beatles’ Anthology sets and The Monkees’ Missing Links. And everything’s all on YouTube anyway. But I still remember the allure of bootlegs, the thrill of scoring secret music you couldn’t get just anywhere. You couldn’t beat the bootlegs.
I’ve been a freelance writer since 1984. I have never been a terribly successful freelance writer, but I wrote some stuff, made some sales, collected my meager paychecks, and got some notice. My widest notoriety was connected to my rockin’ pop journalism for Goldmine magazine 1986-2006, for Rhino Records‘ 1997 CD collection Poptopia! Power Pop Classics Of The ’90s, for contributions to books like Bubblegum Music Is The Naked Truth and Shake Some Action, and for my proudly biased proselytizin’ on behalf of The Flashcubes. Since 1998, I’ve co-hosted (and written weekly commentary for) This Is Rock ‘n’ Roll Radio with Dana & Carl. Since 2016, I’ve pursued the cockeyed notion of daily blogging right here at Boppin’ (Like The Hip Folks Do). I’m currently writing a book called The Greatest Record Ever Made! (Volume 1). I’m at least as active now as I’ve ever been.
But before I ever started getting money to write about rock ‘n’ roll, I was paid to write about comic books.
My very first freelance writing sale was to a magazine called Amazing Heroes. In 1984, AH editor David W. Olbrich bought my history of The Secret Six, a DC Comics title which had run for seven issues in 1968-69.
Success! MONEY! Nearly enough money to buy dinner for two, and a movie! Nearly. But the best thing was seeing my byline in Amazing Heroes # 58 (11/1/84), and knowing that whatever happened or didn’t happen next, I had been paid for writing. I really liked that idea.
I did a little more work for Amazing Heroes over the next couple of years, and branched out to Krause Publications with a 1985 retrospective of the 1960s Batman TV series for Krause’s Comics Collector magazine. Krause also published a music magazine called Goldmine. That history was told elsewhere, in a lengthy reminiscence called “The Road To Goldmine.”
My freelance writing story started here, with a fond look back at a 1960s comic book about five adventurers being blackmailed by the sixth member of their team. But none of them knew which teammate was doing the blackmailing. Until they figured that out, they were obliged to answer the call:
DC did eventually do a sequel series to The Secret Six, published in the late ’80s in the pages of Action Comics Weekly. The “Secret Six” title was later appropriated and repurposed for an unrelated group of DC super-villains, and while some of those stories have their moments, they weren’t about my Secret Six.
My Secret Six was important to me. I wrote about them. I sold what I wrote. And I kept writing after that.
In 2019, I sold four short stories to AHOY Comics. I’m working on my book. I’m blogging. I’m writing. And I’m not done writing just yet.
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:
Waterloo Sunset–Benefit For This Is Rock ‘n’ Roll Radio:CD or download Carl’s writin’ a book! The Greatest Record Ever Made! (Volume 1) will contain 155 essays about 155 tracks, 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).
This is a piece I wrote in 2016, right after Hamilton won its barrel full of Tonys. Thanks to Disney +, I’m finally set to enjoy my first view of Hamilton this month. And the opportunity prompts me to think back to when I first became aware of the play and its phenomenon, and its peripheral connection between me and and an old college friend.
This year, for the first time in many, many years, I watched the Tony Awards broadcast. I don’t watch a lot of awards shows. Neither the Oscars nor the Emmys hold any interest for me; I record the Grammys and the American Music Awards, but I fast-forward through the looooong stretches of each that bore me to tears–left to my own devices, I can watch a three-hour Grammy or AMA show in twenty to thirty minutes, maybe forty minutes, tops. Middle-aged power pop fans are just not the target demographic of these shows. But one of the things that did catch my interest on this year’s Grammys was the performance from the Broadway sensation Hamilton. Honest to God, I just thought it was captivating. So I tuned into this year’s Tony Awards show to try ‘n’ soak up a bit more of that Hamilton buzz; and, more specifically, my wife Brenda and I wanted to root for Leslie Odom, Jr., the actor who plays Aaron Burr in Hamilton. Now, we’ve never actually met Leslie; but–a very long time ago–we knew his Mom and his Dad. First, a bit of background about me and The Great White Way. I’ve spent a lot of time writing about rock ‘n’ roll, punk, bubblegum, pop, and power pop. It may surprise some to learn that someone like me–whose all-time favorite musical acts are The Beatles, The Ramones,The Flashcubes, The Kinks, and The Monkees–also loves Broadway. But there were always Original Broadway Cast albums around the house when I was a kid, so I was exposed to this music, immersed in it, since even before John, Paul, George, and Ringo paid that first visit to ol’ stoneface Ed Sullivan one Sunday night in ’64. As a toddler, I would accompany my parents on shopping trips to J.M. Fields or K-Mart, and I’d randomly sing snippets o’ show tunes while sitting in the shopping cart. This could border on the awkward and embarrassing, like when I would suddenly bellow, Here’s to the son of a B–tra la! from Carnival, or re-enact the domestic quarrel scene from Gypsy, concluding that I was gettin’ my kids and gettin’ out. Hello, Child Protection? Yeah, there’s this kid in the department store, and you won’t believe what’s comin’ outta his mouth…! West Side Story. The Music Man. Camelot. Funny Girl. Carousel. And, my favorite, Carnival. I heard all of these, and many more, and they were ultimately as much a part of my formative musical alchemy as the British Invasion and The Monkees. The lure of rock ‘n’ roll was ultimately too much competition for musical theater to withstand, but I never exactly stopped loving Broadway, either. I’ve never seen a play on Broadway, but I did see an Off-Broadway production of Jesus Christ Superstar in 1973, and I saw Wicked in London’s West End in 2010. I’ve seen many, many local theatrical productions, both professional and amateur; Brenda and I have even been known to attend high school musicals, and I mean high school musicals where we didn’t know any of the student performers–we were just there to enjoy the play.
This ongoing love of music and musicals also led me to a short-lived TV series called Smash. Smash ran for two seasons, from 2012 to 2013, and it was kind of a mess, really. But it had its moments, and I never missed an episode. And I noticed an actor who had a recurring role on Smash, and I called Brenda in while I watching him on the show. Hey, Bren. This actor’s name is Leslie Odom, Jr. It could be a coincidence, but damn–doesn’t he look a little like Les? I met Les Odom in college at Brockport, in Spring of 1979, I think. Les was friends with a couple of the guys I lived with, Truck Thacker and Ray Ramos, so I saw Les here and there in our dorm suite–partying, kibbitzing, listening to music (with The O’Jays‘ live “Wildflower” a particular favorite, as I recall). Les was from Queens, so he was on the school’s charter bus to New York City during Spring Break; I was also on that charter bus, accompanying Brenda back to Staten Island, where I would be meeting her parents for the first time (and, of course, also making a side trip to see The Flashcubes play on the Bowery). That bus trip was a bacchanalia on wheels, a mobile version of dorm life, and enough fun that I only minded a little when all these downstaters kept putting down my home town when the bus passed through Syracuse. You call this a city? Man, this ain’t even big enough to be a borough! (And this may be a case of my memory rearranging facts to suit my narrative, but I do believe it was Les who said, Naw, man–come on! It seems like a nice place. Leave CC be!) When I graduated from college in 1980, I decided to stay in Brockport while Brenda completed her studies. We got an apartment in the village, and were surprised to discover that Les and his girlfriend, Yvette Nixon, were also living in the same small complex, Villager Apartments. We were never really tight, but we renewed our friendship nonetheless, and spent some time hanging out over the course of that summer. I have a specific, vivid memory of Yvette making dinner for us in their apartment one night, and we spent a lovely evening drinking and partying, alternating between watching Ted Kennedy’s firebrand speech at the Democratic National Convention and listening to James Brown’s Live At The Apollo LP. I remember it as a happy, happy time. But Villager Apartments didn’t seem to remain a happy place for Les and Yvette. Brenda and I both remember them as a really cool, very nice couple, and we all got on quite well. But Villager’s manager, Pete–who lived next door to Brenda and I, and was also a friend of ours at the time–may not have shared our affection for Les and Yvette. It may have been racial (which is an easy stone to cast, even when it’s not true), or it may have been a simple matter of friction between tenants and an apartment manager. I didn’t see any of it. All I know is what Pete told me: that Les was banging on Pete’s door late one night, presumably to report a problem with Les and Yvette’s place, and Pete opened the door and pointed a gun at Les. Les shouted, No, Pete! It’s me–Les! No shots were fired, and no one was hurt, thank God. But Les and Yvette moved out not long after that. We never saw them again. When we saw this Leslie Odom, Jr. on Smash, we knew in our hearts he had to be Les’ son. Had to be. Odom’s a common name, but the resemblance was strong enough. Now, Les was a big guy, and Leslie, Jr. didn’t seem to be as physically large–well, on TV, anyway. But Yvette was of slighter build, so it was plausible. I did the Google Stalk thing that everyone does now: Leslie Odom, Jr. was born in August of 1981 in Queens–roughly a year after we’d last seen Les and Yvette, and in Les’ home town. But no matter how much we researched, we couldn’t confirm the identities of this actor’s parents. Well, yeah, we knew his father was Leslie Odom, Sr–we are indeed that well-versed in the time-honored art of deduction–but we didn’t know his mother’s name, and we couldn’t say with absolute certainty that his Dad was the Les we used to know. When we saw the performance from Hamilton on this year’s Grammys telecast, we noticed Leslie Odom, Jr. in a prominent role. The performance was intriguing; the idea of “a hip-hop musical” wasn’t intrinsically attractive to me, but this seemed so powerful, so well-executed, so goddamned irresistible, that it just knocked me out, man. My budget wasn’t likely to accommodate a trip to New York and Hamilton tickets any time soon, but I kept my eyes open for further TV glimpses. Everyone knew Hamilton was going to dominate the Tonys. And that meant Brenda and I were going to watch the Tonys. The awards show itself was amazing, actually. Host James Corden was fantastic, the comedy bits and musical numbers were endlessly engaging, and–unlike the Grammys or the AMAs–I never felt like fast-forwarding through anything except the commercials. It was a thoroughly enjoyable evening of television. Watching the scene from Hamilton, I found myself mesmerized; the only comparison I could think of was The Beach Boys‘ masterpiece Pet Sounds; not because Hamilton is in any way reminiscent of Pet Sounds, but simply because that’s what comes to mind when something is as good as it gets, nonpareil, a summit of achievement and accomplishment. Tough to make that pronouncement based on a couple of numbers seen on a 32″ TV screen, but screw objectivity anyway. There was a giddy joy in surrendering to the moment, and letting it sweep all cynicism away. When it came time to award the prize for Best Actor In A Musical, we knew that Leslie was up against Hamilton‘s creator and star, Lin-Manuel Miranda, and we figured Miranda was a lock. But Leslie won! We whooped and hollered as if he were one of our own. And, in the conclusion of his acceptance speech, Leslie, Jr. acknowledged, “Leslie Odom, Sr., Yvette Odom, and Elizabeth Odom taught me well as well.” And there it was. Confirmation! I’m not embarrassed to admit that Brenda and I both screeched like young teens at a One Direction show. And we’re pretty sure we saw Les–Les, Sr.–in the audience, pumping his fist in jubilation, proud of his son. It felt so damned good. They say the neon lights are bright on Broadway. Sometimes that harsh glow can be blinding, too much to take in; but sometimes, there really is magic in the air. That magic can manifest in music and art, and also in friendships long gone, but still remembered fondly. That glitter never rubs off. It never will.
While I was driving home from work the other day, my iPod shuffled its way to “I Need You” by The Kinks. “I Need You” was the lesser-known third entry of the early Kinks’ triumvirate of powerhouse riffs, following the big 1964 hits “You Really Got Me” and “All Day And All Of The Night.” Unlike those first two, “I Need You” wasn’t a hit; it was, in fact, merely the B-side of the ’65 single “Set Me Free.” Though more obscure than its big brudders, “I Need You” nearly equals the hypnotic ferocity of its predecessors.
But my introduction to the headbanging splendor of “I Need You” did not come via The Kinks. I first heard the song when The Flashcubes included it in their live sets in 1978. Love at first power chord!
It occurred to me that there were several Kinks songs which I discovered vicariously. Among my all-time favorite rock ‘n’ roll acts, The Kinks are the only one where my initial exposure to a number of their classic songs came when somebody else covered ’em. That’s certainly not true of any songs by The Flashcubes, The Ramones, or The Monkees. The only Beatles songs I remember first hearing second-hand were Anne Murray‘s “You Won’t See Me” and Rain‘s “Helter Skelter” (from the TV mini-series about Charles Manson). I knew Cliff Richard‘s “Blue Turns To Grey” before I knew The Rolling Stones‘ original. I heard Syracuse chanteuse Nanci Hammond‘s rendition of “In My Room” long before I even realized it was a Beach Boys song (which was odd, because we had the Surfer Girl LP in the family collection when I was a kid, but I didn’t notice it). Hell, it wasn’t until the 90s that I discovered The Hollies wrote and recorded the original “Have You Ever Loved Somebody,” which had been one of my Fave Raves by The Searchers. See, I never learn…!
The Kinks were a different story, and I don’t know why. Ultimately, I’m grateful for whatever twisting path brought me to Muswell Hill’s finest. I did become a Kinks fan before I heard any of these Kinks covers, but these well-respected men and women helped to enhance the journey.
As noted, Syracuse’s own power pop powerhouse The Flashcubes introduced me to The Kinks’ “I Need You.” It wasn’t the only Kinks song I heard the ‘Cubes do, but I knew “You Really Got Me,” “Where Have All The Good Times Gone” and “This Man He Weeps Tonight” well before I heard The Flashcubes cover them live. (Among other songs the ‘Cubes taught me were Big Star‘s “September Gurls,” The Jam‘s “In The City,” Eddie & the Hot Rods‘ “Do Anything You Wanna Do,” The New York Dolls‘ “Personality Crisis,” Chris Spedding‘s “Boogie City” and “Hey Miss Betty,” April Wine‘s “Tonight Is A Wonderful Time,” and Eddie Cochran‘s “Somethin’ Else.” I love The Flashcubes.) After hearing the ‘Cubes perform “I Need You,” I really wanted to hear The Kinks! However, The Kinks’ Kinkdom LP was outta print at the time, and a used copy at Desert Shore Records in Syracuse was stickered with a higher price than this po’ college student could afford. Finally snagged it on a budget compilation in the mid ’80s.
By far the most recent example on this list. When my nephew Tim co-hosted This Is Rock ‘n’ Roll Radio a few years back, his playlist included Holly Golightly’s covers of two Ray Davies songs, “Tell Me Now So I’ll Know” and “Time Will Tell,” both from her 2003 album Truly She Is None Other. I wasn’t immediately familiar with either song–The Kinks’ version of “Time Will Tell” was an unreleased demo track at the time–but they got my attention. Holly Golightly’s magnificent rendition of “Time Will Tell” is one of but three Kinks covers out there that I prefer to the original version.
I’m pretty sure I heard Herman’s Hermits’ hit cover of “Dandy” well before I heard The Kinks’ original. It may have been close, though; I don’t remember “Dandy” on the radio at all, not even on oldies shows, so I may not have heard it until I bought a used copy of the Hermits’ “Dandy” single in the late ’70s.
I once wrote in Goldmine that the great Boston group Lyres didn’t want to be like the early Kinks, they wanted to be the early Kinks. I meant it as a compliment, and Lyres’ On Fyre remains one of my very favorite albums of the ’80s. On Fyre includes a cover of The Kinks’ “Tired Of Waiting For You,” and I certainly knew that one already. But I didn’t know “Love Me Till The Sun Shines,” a Dave Davies song, and Lyres’ version just floored me. Another one of the three Kinks covers I prefer to the original.
Yeah, The Pretenders’ “Stop Your Sobbing” is the third of the three Kinks covers I prefer to the original. Whatta record! The Pretenders also introduced me to another obscure Kinks song, “I Go To Sleep” (also covered by Peggy Lee), but “Stop Your Sobbing” was the kingpin.
The Records’ 1979 eponymous debut album originally came with a 7″ EP of covers. Of the four EP songs, the only original I knew beforehand was The Rolling Stones’ “Have You Seen Your Mother Baby (Standing In The Shadows).” I don’t think I knew Spirit‘s “1984.” I definitely did not know Blue Ash‘s power pop classic “Abracadabra (Have You Seen Her).” Nor did I know The Kinks’ wonderful “See My Friends,” which is now one of my many favorite Kinks tracks, but which was introduced to me via a cover by The Records. Thanks, lads!
Nope. Just kidding. And once again: why do I love The Kinks? Because they’re The Kinks. And God save The Kinks.
You can support this blog by becoming a patron on Patreon: Fund me, baby!
Call me a bundle of nerves. Call me a frustrated Ringo Starr. Most people just call me annoying, because I can’t stop drumming. I don’t mean sitting at a drum kit, bashin’ away while a garage band of my peers stumbles through a gloriously inept approximation of “(I’m Not Your) Steppin’ Stone.” That would be great! No, the vehicles of my percussive assaults are counter tops, tables, even my own legs if I happen to be sitting down. Maybe there’s actually a song playing, as I attempt to keep time with it in my own inherently flawed fashion; often, it’s just an imaginary song in my head. Either way, I try to play along. Badly. And it pisses people off.
When did this start? Probably when I was a teenager, I guess, though maybe earlier. I did receive a set of bongos from my great grandmother’s husband in 1968, when I was eight years old, and I certainly enjoyed pounding those pagan skins. About a decade later, I would take those bongos with me to college and go on to become percussionist for internationally obscure jazz combo Bud Mackintaw & the Skeeters (but that’s another story).
I’ve generally drummed by hand–it’s the bongo player in me–but I’ve owned drumsticks, too. My first sticks were castoffs from real drummers playing live rock ‘n’ roll, projectiles that slipped through the grips of Tommy Allen of The Flashcubes, Barry Whitwam of Herman’s Hermits, or Martin Chambers of The Pretenders, among others. I also bought myself a pair of drumsticks somewhere in there because…I dunno. I just wanted to participate. I wanted to be a musician. A guitarist. A singer. Something. Drumming was the easiest thing to fake.
For all that, I’ve never even sat at a drum kit, not once, not ever. It almost happened one time in college, when my roommate Paul and I were working on a campus radio station commercial for a local chicken wing place called Munchies. Trust me, Munchies had the best Buffalo wings imaginable, and I wrote a radio commercial celebrating that rainbow of spice (from mild to abusive and even nuclear), all to the tune of “(Theme From) The Monkees:” Hey hey, we’re the Munchies! Clever? That’s me! There was a drum kit available for our use in producing the commercial, and Paul suggested I handle the percussion. I protested that I wasn’t really a drummer, but Paul said what the hell, I could keep time adequately when attacking a chair with my sticks to provide rhythmic accompaniment to Blondie‘s “Accidents Never Happen” back at the dorm, so, y’know, good enough. Well, fine by me! But scheduling complications and technical issues in the production room scuttled the whole thing.
My attempts at drumming have mostly been a source of tension and discord for those around me. The night before our wedding in 1984, my bride-to-be Brenda and I went out with a bunch of pals for drinks and merriment. There was fun! There was camaraderie! There was beer! There was music, which meant there was me, drummin’ on the table with manic glee. And there were the unaffiliated folks at the next table over, angrily insisting I cease that infernal pounding. Brenda thought it was hilarious.
After decades of complaints, I’ve grown tired of it all. Over the past few weeks, I’ve been making a conscious effort to curtail the drumming. It’s difficult, because the rhythmic impulse is ingrained within me, in spite of my lack of discernible prowess. But I’m trying. People hate to hear me pounding on counters, and I understand that. It’s a flaw in my character. I don’t think it’s quite as heinous as some character flaws I don’t exhibit, like smoking, or farting, or talking during a movie, or voting for Trump. But I have to grudgingly admit that it’s a character flaw nonetheless. I fall so far short of being who I wish I could be. I talk too fast. I don’t enunciate with sufficient clarity. I drum. But I’m trying to fit in better. I’m trying not to be an annoyance. I’m trying.
I’m not giving up air guitar, though. Let’s not get crazy. Some concessions are simply too much to ask.
Continuing a look back at my first exposure to a number of rock ‘n’ roll acts and superheroes (or other denizens of print or periodical publication), some of which were passing fancies, and some of which I went on to kinda like. They say you never forget your first time; that may be true, but it’s the subsequent visits–the second time, the fourth time, the twentieth time, the hundredth time–that define our relationships with the things we cherish. Ultimately, the first meeting is less important than what comes after that. But every love story still needs to begin with that first kiss.
Anyone who knows me also knows who my favorite bands are: The Beatles, The Ramones,The Flashcubes, The Monkees, and The Kinks. There are dozens and dozens of worthy acts that I love almost as much–I am proud to be a pop music fanatic and obsessive–but I think I’ve made it clear that this fantastic five sits permanently up there as my Top, my Coliseum, my Louvre Museum, et al. The Jam used to be right up there with those Beatles and Ramones, too. While I certainly never stopped loving The Jam, they’re not as ever-present in my mind as they were a few decades ago. But in the late ’70s and early ’80s, The Jam rivaled The Ramones for the coveted title of Carl’s favorite rock ‘n’ roll group.
My introduction to The Jam was inauspicious, to say the least. One afternoon in the Fall of 1977, I was lounging in my freshman dorm room, listening to Brockport’s campus radio station WBSU. I listened to WBSU, like, all of the time, constantly pestering the student jocks to play more of the new punk/new wave stuff I wanted to discover–Blondie, The Dictators, The Runaways, and the above-mentioned Ramones brudders–and also more of the ’60s stuff I loved, from The Raiders (“Let Me!”) and The Dave Clark Five (“Any Way You Want It”) through The Monkees (the station owned the only copy of the group’s Changes LP I had ever seen, though some of the BSU jocks flatly refused to ever play anything by The Monkees).
But this particular afternoon was a singularly revelatory WBSU session, as I heard The Flamin’ Groovies (“Misery”), The Vogues (“Five O’Clock World”), and The Knickerbockers (“Lies”) for the first time. And the station also played a brand-new song by a punk group out of England, performing a cover of “The Batman Theme.” As I heard the song play, I wrote in my journal: “1977 and Batman’s a punk. Progress.”
And that was the first time I heard The Jam.
From small things mama, as Bossman Brucie would later say. If I seemed dismissive at the time, I think I was nonetheless intrigued. The Jam next crossed my consciousness in October, when TV’s The Tomorrow Show took a look at this punk rock thing that was driving some of these mixed-up kids crazy, with the pogo dancing and the safety pins and the anarchy and the use of impolite language. Tomorrow Show host Tom Snyder promised “a punk-rock jam,” but he was himself mixed-up; what he meant was that his guests would include The Jam’s Paul Weller, along with Joan Jett from The Runaways, and Kim Fowley, The Runaways’ former manager. I don’t remember much about this show, other than a sense of no love lost between Jett and Fowley, and the fact that I’d already developed a serious crush on our Joanie (“crush” in the sense that I wanted to hug her and squeeze her and call her Gorgeous; my girlfriend Sharon was neither impressed nor amused). I have a vague recollection that Weller was serious and focused, and that he knew what he was talking about, but the precise details are lost in the cluttered hallway of my memory. I really oughta at least try applying a feather duster to that place some time.
I’m not exactly sure of the sequence of events after that, of how I went from The Jam? to THE JAM!! I do know there were four specific songs involved: “In The City,” “I Need You (For Someone),” “The Modern World,” and “All Around The World.” I can’t tell you where or when I first heard any of these, but I can tell you that the first two were staples of The Flashcubes’ live set. I saw the ‘Cubes for the first time in January of ’78, and it was immediately clear that any songthey did was okay by me. I bought the U.S. Polydor 45 of “I Need You (For Someone)”/”In The City,” and played it often. I picked up import singles of “The Modern World” (a track I think the ‘Cubes also used to cover) and “All Around The World” when I worked at Penn-Cann Mall in North Syracuse that summer. I was hooked. Guitarist Weller, bassist Bruce Foxton, and drummer Rick Buckler had created exactly the sort of modern world I wanted to inhabit.
I returned to Brockport for my sophomore year in the fall of 1978. By then, the previously-cited girlfriend Sharon was already three or four heartbreaks ago. In early October of that semester, I aced some test or paper or somesuch, and felt I deserved a reward; so it was down to The Record Grove, where I purchased a copy of The Jam’s second LP, This Is The Modern World. I went back to my dorm, and put it on my roommate’s stereo, the volume set somewhere north of lethal. God, I loved this record on first spin. Just about everyone considers it The Jam’s least-noteworthy effort, but it’s always gonna be special to me. “The Modern World.” “All Around The World.” “I Need You (For Someone).” Then on to the tracks I didn’t already know: “Standards.” “Life From A Window.” Wilson Pickett‘s “In The Midnight Hour.” I couldn’t play Side One loud enough.
My next-door neighbor, on the other hand, thought it was already a wee bit too noisy. I hadn’t even met this chick yet, but she pounded on our mutual bedroom wall, imploring me to turn that goddamned racket down already. I grumbled, cursed, but complied. Ever the gentleman, that’s me! I did eventually meet this girl next door later that month. Her name was Brenda. Wonder whatever became of her…?
(And yes, she still thinks I play that goddamned racket too loud.)
The Jam didn’t exactly fall beneath my radar after that, but I didn’t get their next album, All Mod Cons, until well after the fact. Someone–either my then-current roommate Tom or my future roommate Paul–played “Down In The Tube Station At Midnight” for me on his WBSU show in the spring of ’79; I liked it, I guess, though it didn’t have the exuberance, the immediacy of the Jam tunes I already loved. It was…mature. It would take some getting used to.
By the time I adjusted to the idea of a more grownup-sounding Jam, the group hit me with a new album, Setting Sons. What an amazing record this was! I rarely listen to whole albums nowadays, but I owe myself the pleasure of giving this another complete spin soon. Supposedly originally created as a concept album–a dirty phrase in the post-punk world of 1979-1980–Setting Sons succeeds as a stunning song cycle, simmering with the charred embers of shattered idealism, discarded friendships, wistful memory, and defiant hope. I regard Setting Sons as The Jam’s masterpiece.
The Jam’s follow-up album, Sound Affects, was nearly as good, highlighted by “That’s Entertainment,” an unforgettable number that Weller is said to have written following a pub crawl; the track would have been worthy of The Kinks. The “Going Underground” single was another winner, and The Jam were firmly ensconced near the Toppermost of my Poppermost.
And then they were gone. Another album (The Gift), and a pair of 1982 farewell singles, “The Bitterest Pill (I Ever Had To Swallow)” and “Beat Surrender,” and Weller pulled the plug. The Jam never caught on in the States at all, but they were huge stars in Great Britain, and they quit at the height of their success. I never had much interest in Weller’s next project, The Style Council, but I have to concede neither he nor the rest of The Jam owed me anything. They’d already shown me the modern world, and all around the world: in the city, down in the tube station at midnight, lost in a strange town, Eton rifles beneath a burning sky, gone underground to a town called Malice. That’s entertainment.
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?
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?