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The Greatest Record Ever Made: “Life On Mars”?

An infinite number of songs can each be THE greatest record ever made, as long as they take turns. Today, this is THE GREATEST RECORD EVER MADE!

DAVID BOWIE: “Life On Mars?”
Dear David:
I am sorry that I’ve never written to you before. I’m sorry that I never took pen to paper to scribble a fan letter, and I regret that I didn’t write about you at all during the decades I spent writing about pop music. I wrote about Gary Glitter. I wrote about Toni Basil. I wrote about Stars On 45, for cryin’ out loud. How silly does that seem now?


The thing is, I always considered myself just a casual David Bowie fan. I mean no offense when I say that you were never one of my very favorite artists. Because, casual or not, I was still a fan. I heard “Changes” on the radio, and had to own the 45. I delved a bit deeper when I got to college, starting (perhaps incongruously) with a used copy of Pinups, and falling hard shortly thereafter for “Suffragette City” and your magnificent Ziggy Stardust album. I knew a couple of other disaffected teenagers who were big Bowie fans; one was a high school pal who adored the sense of alienation conveyed in the lyrics of “All The Madmen” on The Man Who Sold The World, and the other was a college acquaintance into hard rock, metal, and David Bowie. The high school pal killed himself in 1979; the college acquaintance was a kleptomaniac with a heart of gold, and I betrayed his trust in a manner I still regret, almost 40 years later. Let me collect dust. Memories….


But if I was just a casual Bowie fan, why am I so sad that you’re gone? The news was a true shock, delivered to me in an email from my friend Gretta, under the subject heading “Bowie Departs.” I have even found my eyes stinging, watering–just a little–in memory of this artist, of whom I was just a casual fan.


And I think I’m starting to understand the reasons why.
More than any other artist, performer, or public figure I can think of, you made it okay to be different. You made it okay to be weird, or strange, or left-of-center. You made it okay to be gay, or straight, or neither, or both. You made it okay for anyone to be whomever his or her inner muse wanted to be. Sometimes it was a struggle, and sometimes our efforts would fail, but you made it okay for us to try our own way. Maybe you even made it okay to be a lonely, chubby teenager from the suburbs of Syracuse. Casual fan? I loved your music more than I even knew. I still have my copies of your ‘70s LPs; they have survived every drastic purge of my record collection, over a span of many, many years. Although I stopped buying your albums after 1979’s Lodger–casual fan, that’s me!–I had a chance to see you in concert in 1983, and you were terrific. I’ve been listening to your stuff again all week, including a few things I never really played much before. You influenced so many other artists I love, and you made wonderful, timeless music that will live on and on and on.


I took you for granted. I miss you now.


Many of us believe in forever. In your new digs, I’m sure you’ve already had a chance to re-connect with Mick Ronson, with old friends like John Lennon and Klaus Nomi, maybe Freddie Mercury, Lou Reed, or Andy Warhol, perhaps Bing Crosby…because, why not? I bet you’ve chatted with Salvador Dali and Arthur Rimbaud, and with Einstein, too. I hope you’ll have a chance to meet Buddy Holly, and James Jamerson, and Elvis, maybe play with all of them. You can play with Miles Davis, and Count Basie, and Hank Williams, and Bob Marley, and Antonio Carlos Jobim, and Caruso, and Leonard Bernstein–that would be really, really cool, and each would consider you a peer. Lemmy’s probably got it all set. Heaven must indeed have one hell of a music scene. We wish we could hear it down here.


But now, there’s a Starman waiting in the sky. Our minds have already been blown. And we mere mortals can only gaze upward, and note that the stars look very different today. Planet Earth is blue, and there’s nothing I can do.
There is one thing you were wrong about. Unlike the spat-upon children you mention in “Changes,” I was not quite aware of what I was going through. I know better now. And I wanted to write you, just to say thanks. Thank you, David. Thank you for everything.
Sincerely,
Your fan


I didn’t see it coming.

David Bowie’s death in January of 2016 had far more impact on me than I would have ever thought likely. There were external factors in play; my daughter had just begun a semester in London, and it would be, by far, the longest time I would ever go without seeing her. I felt fragile, mortal. I felt sad, my pride in her accomplishments and delight in her opportunities not quite sufficient to ease the ache inside. Bowie died. I wasn’t even all that much of a fan. Yet his passing hit me harder than any celebrity death since losing Joey Ramone on Easter Sunday in 2001.


I needed to release the feeling. Somehow. I wrote this open letter to David Bowie, intending to use it as commentary for the posted playlist of our This Is Rock’n’ Roll Radio tribute to Bowie, which played on January 17th of ’16. My 56th birthday. Look at that caveman go.
It wasn’t enough. I couldn’t email the playlist out and just let it go. I needed more. I started my blog on January 18th, with this letter to Bowie as my inaugural post. It had been ten years since I gave up freelancing; it hadn’t been fun anymore. I promised myself I would post something, however slight, every single day. Every. Goddamned. Day. No excuses. I had largely stopped writing. I needed to get back to writing. Immediately.

Although I had always liked the track “Life On Mars?,” particularly when I saw Bowie perform it in concert, it had never been one of my top Bowie tracks. “Rebel Rebel,” “Panic In Detroit,” and “Suffragette City” had been my go-to Bowie tunes. That changed in 2016, as I found myself listening to “Life On Mars?” obsessively, clinging to its…what? Its artiness? Its desperation? The smoke and mirror of its implied depth, the verve of its execution, the simple beauty of its being? Yes. And Yes keyboardist Rick Wakeman, tickling the ivories so expressively on that recording. Sailors fighting in the dancehall, a lawman beating up the wrong guy. The song felt like a connection to what was lost, to what could still be recovered, to what could always be remembered.


The drumbeat of mortality seemed just incessant in 2016. Prince’s death in June felt like the last straw, but it wasn’t. Trump’s election was a vicious blow. On election night, Meghan texted me from college, looking in vain for reassurance as we both watched the electoral results with growing dread and horror. Jesus, 2016 wasn’t even two weeks old when Bowie died. We should have taken that as a sign to return the damned year to sender, postage due.


We survived. Not intact, not good as new, but…survived. As I mourned David Bowie here, my daughter was in England mourning actor Alan Rickman, so beloved by her for his role as Severus Snape in the Harry Potter movies. We commiserated with each other’s loss. She wrote Rickman a touching thank-you note, which she placed at Charing Cross Station in his memory. I wrote a letter to David Bowie, and I started a blog. I cried. I wrote. I wrote more in 2016 than in any single year before that.


And I played a song called “Life On Mars?” Is there life on Mars? Is there life anywhere? The ache we feel is part of it. Talking about it helps. Writing about it helps. It’s about to be writ again. It’s a God-awful small affair. That’s life.

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You can support this blog by becoming a patron on Patreon: Fund me, baby! 
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 download
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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The Greatest Record Ever Made: “This Year’s Gonna Be Our Year”

“Columnist Carl Cafarelli originally posted this on his 59th birthday in 2019, and it will be included in his book The Greatest Record Ever Made! (Volume 1). The sentiment seems appropriate as we prepare to kick 2020 to the curb. Here’s to 2021 being our year.”

EYTAN MIRSKY: “This Year’s Gonna Be Our Year”
Annus mirabilus. The ideal of the miracle year is intriguing, enticing, yet elusive, and damned near unattainable. We touch it sometimes, briefly. Our favorite sports team exceeds expectations. Our favorite performer delivers a brand new masterpiece, a film or novel or record that thrills our ever-fannish spirits. We connect with the one we love the most, and our hearts rise to a higher horizon. Something great happens to friends or family, or something great happens directly to us, and we feel the elation of miracle. This year…!
That euphoria is short-lived. Setbacks temper our optimism. We win, we lose, we remain precariously steady in place, all with varying and unequal proportion. People leave our lives, whether through death or distance, sudden discord, changes in goals, or a simple freakin’ fork in the road. Time. See what’s become of us.

But as we reach the calendar’s final crumpled page, and we crawl from the rubble of the preceding twelve months’ accumulated yin and yang, we still hope for something better beginning. Our new year’s resolution may be survive and advance. But more than that, no matter how much past experience insists we should expect neither miracles nor miracle years, some resilient spark within us may still whisper, This year’s gonna be our year.

In pop music–a cherished refuge for fragile hopes and unsteady ambition–the feeling is expressed elegantly by The Zombies in their delicate wonder “This Will Be Our Year.” It’s my favorite Zombies track, which is saying something when we’re talking about the group that did “She’s Not There,” “Time Of The Season,” “Care Of Cell 44,” “A Rose For Emily,” and so many more perfect, polished gems. For all that, though, the ultimate reconciliation of facing long, crushing odds and forging ahead anyway has gotta be “This Year’s Gonna Be Our Year” by singer-songwriter Eytan Mirsky.

Do you know Eytan? He’s had some success as a song-seller for film soundtracks, crafting tunes for The Tao Of Steve (“[I Just Want To Be] Your Steve McQueen,” sung by Eytan), Happiness (the title song, sung in the film by actress Jane Adams and during the credits by Michael Stipe and Rain Phoenix), and American Splendor (the title song, sung by Eytan on screen). He’s released six albums from 1996 through 2016, with a new one on the way, and he’s recorded a number of additional tracks for various compilations and tribute albums. His public persona is a snarky Everyman, and he’s made a lot of really good music. If you’re a rockin’ pop fan, you should get to know Eytan Mirsky. You should most especially get to know “This Year’s Gonna Be Our Year,” the lead track on Eytan’s 2012 album Year Of The Mouse

Do you remember
Way back in January
The way we had it all worked out?
Knew what we wanted
Knew what to do to get it
If there was ever any doubt
Then we’d say
This year’s gonna be our year
Don’t you know it’s gonna be our year now
Much better than last year
Which wasn’t good at all

Confidence. Forward! This year’s the year. I know it. I think I know it.

But it so rarely works out that way.
Do you remember
The way we felt in August
When nothing seemed to go as planned?
We didn’t waver
We never hesitated
‘Cause it was time to make a stand
And we said
This year’s gonna be our year…

At what point do we give up? When is it time to concede, to surrender?

Today is my 59th birthday. It’s a number neither great nor small, not ancient, not new. My brain thinks I’m a teenager. There are days when my body’s aches and my mind’s troubles seem like even more than just under six decades of dead weight. There’s so much to do. Sometimes, I don’t want to do any of it. 

But things get done. Bills are paid, responsibilities met. Goodbyes. Hellos renewed. Laughter gives way to tears, but laughter returns. I still know delight and wonder. I have my superhero comic books. I listen to my invigorating pop music, my loud rock ‘n’ roll. I read, I watch TV, I follow the ups and downs of my basketball team. I like food. I enjoy a cup of coffee in the morning more than I ever enjoyed a beer at night. I still enjoy a beer at night. I love, family and friends. I write. I look at my wife, and randomly say to her, “You’re pretty;” every mundane task we do together, I call a date. Hugs and kisses. I clear the snow from my driveway, and set my car’s radio to magnetic North. 

And now we’ve reached December
And it’s been so disappointing
That we’re glad this sorry year’s about to end
But in just a little while
We’ll be back in January
And you know we’re gonna start it all again
And we’ll say
This year’s gonna be our year
Don’t you know it’s gonna be our year now
Much better than last year
And the year before
Guitars and drums. Harmony. Purpose. Eytan sings, and we know he’s right.

Every year, and every moment of every year, we will discover that our path has been blocked. We will overcome the obstacles, until the day comes that we can no longer overcome them. Today isn’t that day. Not now. Not yet. We haven’t quite exhausted our supply of miracles. Like freedom fighters, abolitionists, and suffragettes before us. Like Tom Joad moving his family west, or Green Lantern vowing to shed his light over dark evil, for the dark things cannot stand the light. Allen Ginsberg putting his queer shoulder to the wheel. ElvisChuck BerryRosa ParksThe Beatles aiming for the toppermost of the poppermost. Lesley Gore singing “You Don’t Own Me.” The miracle MetsBarack Obama insisting Yes, we can. Malala. Anyone who’s ever looked ahead and seen the promise of possibility, the odds against us be damned. Win or lose. This year. Annus mirabilus. This year’s gonna be our year. 

It must be true. I have a song that says so. This year, man. This year.

“This Year’s Gonna Be Our Year” written by Eytan Mirsky, Mirsky Mouse Music BMI
You can hear the song hereand order music from Eytan here.

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You can support this blog by becoming a patron on Patreon: Fund me, baby! 
Our new compilation CD This Is Rock ‘n’ Roll Radio, Volume 4 is now available from Kool Kat Musik! 29 tracks of irresistible rockin’ pop, starring Pop Co-OpRay PaulCirce Link & Christian NesmithVegas With Randolph Featuring Lannie FlowersThe SlapbacksP. HuxIrene PeñaMichael Oliver & the Sacred Band Featuring Dave MerrittThe RubinoosStepford KnivesThe Grip WeedsPopdudesRonnie DarkThe Flashcubes,Chris von SneidernThe Bottle Kids1.4.5.The SmithereensPaul Collins’ BeatThe Hit SquadThe RulersThe Legal MattersMaura & the Bright LightsLisa Mychols, and Mr. Encrypto & the Cyphers. You gotta have it, so order it here. A digital download version (minus The Smithereens’ track) is also available from Futureman Records.

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THE GREATEST RECORD EVER MADE: I Don’t Want To Grow Up

This was intended to be a chapter in my theoretically forthcoming book The Greatest Record Ever Made! (Volume 1). It was originally added to the book’s Table of Contents because I thought my abiding love of The Ramones wasn’t sufficiently conveyed in the preexisting chapter on “Sheena Is A Punk Rocker,” and also because–let’s face it–The Ramones’ “I Don’t Want To Grow Up” IS The Greatest Record Ever Made.

But ultimately, although I like this chapter a lot, I don’t think it fits the book. So I’m going back to fortify the “Sheena” chapter, to let it more fully illustrate why I regard “Sheena Is A Punk Rocker” as the record that changed my life. And we’re freeing up this chapter for public viewing. (My paid patrons have already seen it, but since it’s now being posted publicly so much earlier than planned, they’re also getting the as-yet-unseen 
Sly and the Family Stone chapter as a bonus private post.)

An infinite number of songs can each be THE greatest record ever made, as long as they take turns. Today, THIS is THE GREATEST RECORD EVER MADE!

There would be no hit records. The road to ruin reached its predetermined end. 
In 2002, Spin magazine ranked The Ramones second on its list of the 50 greatest bands of all time, with only The Beatles perched above them. Writer Marc Spitz explained the rationale of placing this seemingly misfit Carbona Quartet just a step below that other Fab Four:
“Punk rock exists because of the false assumption that The Ramones can be imitated. ‘1-2-3-4!’ Three chords. ‘Second verse, same as the first.’ Technically speaking, it’s simple. Legend has it that in every city where The Ramones played in support of their 1976 debut, a handful of punk kids started up bands, thinking that they could do it, too. But The Ramones’ loud-fast style masked a pop genius. Slow their tempos, and you’ve got Beach Boys harmonies. Replace lyrics about sniffin’ glue and eatin’ refried beans, and you’ve got The Ronettes. Give everyone matching leather jackets, and you’ve got the punk rock Beatles. Just four lads from Queens who birthed thousands of bands, then blew each one away.”
I believe I may have dropped the magazine at that point just so I could give it a standing ovation.
We have not yet created a language that can adequately convey the sheer, visceral thrill of that precise second when I realized The Ramones were…perfect. Just perfect. Punk? Sure, yeah. Rock ‘n’ roll? Oh God, yes. But also power pop, bubblegum, every great song ever played on any AM radio ever conceived on Earth or above, all distilled into this massive, physical presence that’s simultaneously as heavy as a truncheon and as light as helium candy. Pop music, played loud, played fast, and played for keeps, our hearts sustained by its velocity, our souls redeemed by its purity, our faith in the transcendent power of music restored by forceful melody, accomplished as easily as the above-cited count of 1-2-3-4.
And for all that, The Ramones never had a goddamned hit record. Not in America anyway. “Sheena Is A Punk Rocker” charted. “Rockaway Beach” made it all the way up to # 66 in Billboard, and a cover of “Do You Wanna Dance” wrote finis to The Ramones’ brief three-part invasion of the lower half of The Hot 100, all accomplished in 1977-78. Like the immortal “Blitzkrieg Bop” before it, “I Wanna Be Sedated” did not chart. “Do You Remember Rock ‘n’ Roll Radio?” did not chart. “Rock ‘n’ Roll High School” did not chart. Radio’s ears were closed to The Ramones. Retail declared them niche, cult…lesser. MTV all but ignored them. 
The Ramones pretended not to care. They insisted that hit records never mattered to them. Their practiced scowls hid the fact that they were lying through their teeth. 
Of course The Ramones wanted hit records! They’d come of age in a time when the greatest records were hits, from Del Shannon to The Dixie Cups, James Brown to The Beatles. They never outgrew the quaint notion that the best stuff could be the most popular stuff, the most popular stuff the best stuff. They didn’t want to grow up. They couldn’t.
When I’m lyin’ in my bed at nightI don’t want to grow upNothing ever seems to turn out rightAnd I don’t want to grow up
The Ramones’ final studio album was 1995’s Adios Amigos!, its stated intent to be the Ramones’ farewell effort tacitly understood to carry an asterisk: the final album* (*unless this one’s a hit). It was not. But Jesus, it should have been.
The album opens with a supercharged Ramonesified reading of Tom Waits’s “I Don’t Want To Grow Up,” a triumphant bludgeoning that plants its feet and establishes one last Rockaway Beachhead. There would be no hit records. That 2002 Spin piece concluded, “Like sharks, The Ramones never evolved. They didn’t have to.” But growin’ up is for squares, man. The Ramones weren’t gonna do it. We don’t have to do it either.

“I Don’t Want To Grow Up” written by Tom Waits/Kathleen Brennan, Jalma Music ASCAP

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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.
(And you can still get our 2017 compilation This Is Rock ‘n’ Roll Radio, Volume 4, on CD from Kool Kat Musik and as a download from Futureman Records.)

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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THIS PEN FOR HIRE! My Guest Appearances In Other Writers’ Books

 Writing a book has been one of my dreams for nearly as long as I can remember. I’m working on my first book, The Greatest Record Ever Made! (Volume 1), a project which I hope will turn that dream into reality.

But although GREM! will be my first book, it won’t be the first time my work has appeared in a book. It won’t even be my third or fourth time. My book resumé is still a little thin, mind you, but it’s a start.

To begin, it’s worth mentioning two books that predate the first time any of my stuff actually appeared in a book. In 1991, my friend Dave Murray wrote a book called House-Training Your VCR, subtitled “A Help Manual For Humans.” The book was illustrated by Joe Congel (who is himself a talented writer), it was a clever and effective precursor to the …For Dummies books that came along later, and it’s an overlooked gem of a book. I had nothing whatsoever to do with its creation. BUT! Dave did ask me to proofread the manuscript for style. His publisher was insisting that the plural of VCR had to be spelled with an apostrophe, and that is, of course, batshit crazy. I told Dave so, he agreed, and he held his ground on the all-important issue of ¡VCRs SÍ! ¡VCR’S NO! The publisher conceded the point. Autographing my copy of House-Training Your VCR, Dave wrote, Thanks for all your input and support. Without you, there’d be 2161 “VCR’s” in here. We do what we can, Dave! We do what we can.

My second peripheral book appearance was the pleasant shock of seeing my work quoted (with attribution) in another writer’s book. Cult Rockers by Wayne Jancik and Tad Lathrop was published in 1995, a collection of 150 profiles of artists in The Strange And Wild World Of Cult Rockers! Awright! I spotted Cult Rockers on the shelf at Media Play one evening. Intrigued by its promise of celebrating cult acts both famous and obscure, from The Grateful Dead to The Dead Kennedys, I flipped through the book. And I was surprised that the opening paragraph of the chapter discussing The Flamin’ Groovies was…well, me

“They have been and remain the very picture of a cult band, ignored by the world at large, but positively revered by a small but discerning group of loyal fans,” wrote rock critic Carl Cafarelli.

That, my friends, was a HOLY SHIT! moment. The quote came from my introduction to a 1992 Goldmine interview with the Groovies’ Cyril Jordan, and the next paragraph quoted Jordan himself from the same interview. I was flattered and preening, and within minutes I was also the proud owner of my very own copy of Cult Rockers. Flattery will get you any damned thing you want.

In between the publication of House-Training Your VCR and Cult Rockers, I made an attempt to do my own book. Shake Some Action would have been my power pop book; in 1993, I got as far as submitting a book proposal to a prospective publisher, but the publisher passed. 

My first actual book work was for MusicHound Rock: The Essential Album Guide in 1996. This was essentially a CD buyer’s guide to rock history, presenting A-Z entries for individual acts and proclaiming which CDs were essential and which were, um…not. It was a paying market, so I wrote as many as I was allowed to. The book was updated in 1999, and I made enough off that project to pay for my wife and daughter’s round-trip airfares to Florida. Big-time writer? That’s me!

Bubblegum Music Is The Naked Truth followed in 2001. My involvement in this book grew out of the history of bubblegum music I wrote for Goldmine in 1997. I don’t think that Scram magazine/Bubblegum Music Is The Naked Truth editors Kim Cooper and David Smay saw my piece and said to themselves We need that guy!, and I don’t think either of them had even seen the piece prior to me sending it to them. But by whatever sequence o’ Bazookas, I did send them the bubblegum issue of Goldmine, and they agreed to run a shorter version of that history in Bubblegum Music Is The Naked Truth. To fatten the book’s essential CC content, Gary Pig Gold and I collaborated on “Good Clean Fun,” a debate about whether or not The Monkees were ever really a bubblegum group, and I updated an appreciation of The Bay City Rollers that had originally been my first-ever feature article for Goldmine back in 1987. There was very little money in this, but it was such an enjoyable experience. I went to the book release party in New York City, and I was later interviewed about bubblegum by a radio station in the Hudson Valley. I’m proud to have been a part of Bubblegum Music Is The Naked Truth.

I also participated in another book edited by Cooper and Smay, 2005’s Lost In The Grooves. Billed as “Scram‘s capricious guide to the music you missed,” Lost In The Grooves gathered essays by various pop pundits waxing rhapsodic about some of our favorite lesser-known albums. The book included my appreciations of Subterranean Jungle by The Ramones and Tell America by Fools Face, but the editors declined my offer to extoll the virtues of Elevator by The [bay city] Rollers

After that, I finally did get to write at least part of a power pop book called Shake Some Action; it just wasn’t my once-proposed power pop book called Shake Some Action. This Shake Some Action was assembled by my former Goldmine colleague John M. Borack, and John gave me the opportunity to update an extensive history of power pop I’d written for Goldmine in 1996. Gary Pig Gold and I also reunited for a discussion about the secret origin of power pop, but that was ultimately not included in the published book.

For John Borack’s 2010 book John Lennon: Life Is What Happens, John asked a bunch of his music-lovin’ friends to provide personal reminiscences of our experiences as fans of Lennon and The Beatles. I was delighted to comply.

Finally, Ken Sharp (another former Goldmine colleague) asked me for permission to use portions of my 1994 Goldmine interviews with The Ramones in his own massive ‘n’ irresistible Play On! Power Pop Heroes book series. Those quotes appear in 2015’s Play On! Power Pop Heroes Volume 2, with a plug for my own eventual goal of reprinting the interviews in a hypothetical book to be called Gabba Gabba Hey: Conversations With The Ramones. Anyone know a publisher?

So yeah, I’ve done a few things for other people’s books. I’ve been honored to do so, and I’ve had a pretty good blast all along the way. Now, it’s high time I did my own book. The Greatest Record Ever Made! (Volume 1). It’s getting there. Book it.

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

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 download
Carl’s writin’ a book! The Greatest Record Ever Made! (Volume 1)will contain 165 essays about 165 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).

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THE GREATEST RECORD EVER MADE: America

This piece is planned to appear as a chapter in my book-in-progress The Greatest Record Ever Made! (Volume 1). Parts of it have appeared previously in different settings. 
An infinite number of rockin’ pop records can be the greatest record ever made, as long as they take turns. Today, this is THE GREATEST RECORD EVER MADE!

FIRST AID KIT: America
Written by Paul Simon
Produced by Mike Mogis
From the EP America, Columbia Records, 2014

My daughter Meghan knew about First Aid Kit well before I did, and she played their Emmylou Harris tribute song “Emmylou” during one of her guest DJ stints on This Is Rock ‘n’ Roll Radio. First Aid Kit were among the final musical guests on Late Night With David Letterman in May of 2015, which was where and when they floored me with their sublime cover of Simon & Garfunkel’s “America.” 

As a teen, I was a Simon & Garfunkel fan, ranking them up in my pop pantheon not all that far below The Beatles. I never stopped being a fan, though I did listen to them with decreasing frequency. My introduction to the song “America” came via the incongruous means of a comic book letters column in the early ’70s, wherein a reader closed his missive about the (then) topically-relevant Green Lantern/Green Arrow series by quoting the song’s line, And we walked off to look for America. You can scoff if you wanna, and maybe you should, but that seemingly innocuous tag line has stuck with me for decades. I was 12 or 13. I was on a bus going to or from visiting my grandparents in Missouri. Not knowing the song itself yet, I had no idea how very appropriate it was to learn of its existence while traveling on a Greyhound.

Relevance. We search for it in our entertainment and in our art, a connection to what we feel, to what we desire, to where we think we are and what this place looks like today. Relevance. Meaning. Sometimes we imagine a meaning an artist did not intend, but that’s fine. That’s how art becomes a part of our lives.

First Aid Kit is from Sweden, consisting of sisters Klara and Johanna Söderberg. In their rendition of “America,” First Aid Kit’s reading of Paul Simon’s lyrics takes on a shimmering, gossamer quality that not even Paul and Artie’s delicate harmonies could match. 

Cathy, I’m lost, I said though I knew she was sleeping
And I’m empty and aching and I don’t know why

The American experiment is nearly two and a half centuries old. This experiment–a nation governed of the people, by the people, for the people, we the people–is ongoing. It has had successes, and it has had failures. There have been times when we’ve fallen far short of our goal of who we want to be. There have been times when our collective efforts have shined like a beacon of hope around the world.

We are not shining at the moment. A nation that could elevate a soulless charlatan like Trump to its highest office is a nation that has betrayed its own ideals. Snowflake pretend patriots who cry out in indignation about athletes taking a knee to protest institutionalized racism and police brutality do far more to dishonor the flag they pretend to revere. While proud know-nothings shrug off science and responsibility as fake news, and blithely and belligerently celebrate the thickness of their skulls in the midst of a pandemic, those who seek a fairer and brighter example of the American experiment may despair. 

We can do better. We can be better.

I still believe in this experiment. The experiment’s guiding principle isn’t unique–there are other nations that also embrace these concepts of freedom and possibility–but it is, and must remain, America’s defining quality. We can be better than we are. We can always seek to be better than we are. The American experiment can choose acceptance over exclusion, charity over greed, humility over arrogance, love over hate. We can. We will. We must. Our goal is written in our mission statement: a more perfect union. This experiment continues. 

All come to look for America.

The sound is sweet, the feeling electric and liberating. Let the word go forth. Let the torch be passed. 

And let freedom ring.

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The Greatest Record Ever Made; The Beatles’ “Rain”

THE BEATLES: “Rain”

If we weren’t there at the time, we can’t even imagine it.

It was 1966. Pop music was at a creative zenith, while still retaining its identity as pop music. The Beach Boys released Pet Sounds, arguably the single greatest album of all time. The Kinks released Face To FaceThe Rolling Stones released Aftermath. The # 1 spots on the U.S. pop chart were occupied by a series of mostly rock-solid singles; for every forgettable # 1 in ’66, for every “Winchester Cathedral” or “Ballad Of The Green Beret,” there was counterforce and then some, courtesy of The Young RascalsThe Mamas and the PapasThe Four TopsThe Lovin’ Spoonful? and the Mysterians, and a new made-for-TV group, The Monkees. Below the top spot, there was a wealth of pop treasures, from Otis ReddingThe Hollies, and The Temptations through The ByrdsThe Standells, and Paul Revere and the Raiders. It was a great, great year for music.

And a B-side was the greatest side of all.

It had already been two years since The Beatles’ initial conquest of America. The Beatles still ruled the pop world in ’66, with more hit singles and two–two!–of the greatest albums in pop history, Rubber Soul and Revolver. The Beatles were # 1. The Beatles were unstoppable. The Beatles were…

…The Beatles were tired.

Tired of fame? Maybe. Tired of touring? Definitely. Tired of the endless parade of rushing and waiting, and waiting, and waiting? Tired of square questions about their hair and how much longer they expected to last? Tired of people freaking out because John Lennon had pointed out that The Beatles were more popular than Jesus Christ? Yes, yes, and goddammit yes. I was six years old at the time; I don’t remember my Dad banning The Beatles in our house. I don’t remember the controversy and public distortions and contortions. Looking back, decades later, I can only observe the sort of people who were burning Beatles records, and declare that if The Ku Klux Klan hates you, you’re probably on the right side of history.

In this pressure cooker, The Beatles kept right on creating and excelling. They were focused more on albums than singles, but there was still one non-album Beatles single released at the end of May: “Paperback Writer.” It was a glorious burst of pop-art pop-rock, telling a cartoonish story of a punter who just wants to write paperback novels, a song delivered with all the shimmering, swooping pop pizazz one would expect from The Beatles at the top of their game. Another # 1 hit for The Fab Four!

An album of The Beatles’ B-sides would put most acts’ A-sides to shame. “I Saw Her Standing There” was a B-side. “I’m Down” and “Day Tripper” were B-sides. They weren’t the only act putting top-shelf material on their flip sides–there’s some choice stuff backing some of those Beach Boys and Rolling Stones hits, too–but The Beatles were so prolific and (nearly) peerless that they could afford to just throw away songs any other band would have killed to release themselves.

And now: imagine.

It’s 1966. You’ve bought your Capitol Records 45 of “Paperback Writer,” and of course you love it. It’s the freaking Beatles, for cryin’ out loud! And then, your thirst for pop already slaked, you turn the record over, just to see what the lads have plopped on the flip. And you hear “Rain” for the very first time.

Stop. You can’t imagine it. You can’t. I can’t either. If we weren’t there, right there at that precise right time, we can’t conceive of hearing “Rain” in 1966.

But what must it have been like? Did it seem like a new world of pop music opening instantly within the ears and mind, or was it brushed off as just another pop record? How could it be? Nothing had ever sounded like this before. It had no antecedents, no roots other than the common experience of everything from The Crickets to The Who, and sounding like nothing else but The Beatles. Once you had heard it for the first time, it always existed, retroactively. One could no longer conjure a memory of a world that didn’t include this song.

I’ve often said that 1965 was pop music’s best year ever. I think it’s difficult to dispute, given the sheer mass of terrific records that connected with a vast audience in ’65. There was likewise a slew of wonderful records in 1966, but its case is hampered by those few regrettable clunkers that also hit the top of the charts; the # 1 spot in ’65 was never sullied by crap like “The Ballad Of The Green Berets.”

But still: 1966 gave us Pet Sounds. It gave us The Rolling Stones’ best album, one of The Kinks’ best albums, the debut of The Monkees, and so much more. It gave us Rubber Soul. It gave us Revolver. That’s a solid resume for any year. Nonetheless, the crowning achievement of pop music in 1966 was a B-side, an indispensable throwaway that just might tower over any other record, before or since. Shine!  The weather’s fine.

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THE GREATEST RECORD EVER MADE: I Only Want To Be With You

Here’s another chapter from my eventual book The Greatest Record Ever Made! (Volume 1)An infinite number of rockin’ pop records can be the greatest record ever made, as long as they take turns. Today, this is THE GREATEST RECORD EVER MADE!

DUSTY SPRINGFIELD: I Only Want To Be With You

Written by Mike Hawker and Ivor Raymonde

Produced by Johnny Franz

Single, Philips Records [U.K.] single, 1963


There is a persistent temptation (and corresponding peril) in attempting to apply contemporary context to past events. It’s revisionist history, a sparkly thing that’s difficult to resist, even as we just chat about the pop songs that enrich our lives. Please forgive me for the premeditated sin I’m about to commit. Because as I look back, I can’t help but wonder what singing a song called “I Only Want To Be With You” may have meant to a closeted bisexual woman named Dusty Springfield.
It’s plausible to counter that she didn’t even think about the connection between the lyrics of her first big hit record and the love she had to hide away. We look back on the ’60s as a time of cultural revolution, an expansion of civil rights, social conscience, a slow dawning of recognition of the disenfranchised at society’s margins. Gay rights weren’t really seen as part of that at the time. Maybe it started to change, incrementally, with the Stonewall riots in 1969, which served as the flashpoint for the gay rights movement as the ’70s beckoned. But in 1963? The closet. The closet was where one stayed if one was gay in ’63.

British singer Dusty Springfield (born Mary Isobel Catherine Bernadette O’Brien) was a member of a folk trio called The Springfields. Presaging The Ramones, the members of The Springfields (which included Dusty’s brother Tom) took the group’s name as a surname; combining this with a nickname she’d gained as a soccer-loving tomboy in her youth, Mary O’Brien became Dusty Springfield. Dusty left The Springfields in 1963, and began her solo career with a single: “I Only Want To Be With You.”I don’t know what it is that makes me love you soI only know I never want to let you go’Cause you started somethingCan’t you see?That ever since we met you’ve had a hold on meIt happens to be trueI only want to be with you
A decade later, writer Greg Shaw would note that Dusty Springfield’s “I Only Want To Be With You” explodes with as much pure pop noise as any Dave Clark Five record. The horns propel, the strings soar, the girl-group spirit celebrates, the music leans forward the way a rockin’ pop song outta. Miss Dusty Springfield presides over all of it, dancing by herself at the microphone, singing sweetly of her love, her happiness, her contented fulfillment in the arms of her chosen one. Her only wish, only ambition, is to be with the object of her desire. It can–we hope–really be as simple as that.

Falling in love is an experience. In our pop music, we prefer it to be a giddy, blissful experience, free of the heartache and doubt that may often threaten us in our real-world affairs. Pop songs do recognize that love’s path may lead through temptation, betrayal, misery, to tests of faith and failures in spite of good initial intent, a path that might reach redemption or fall prey to the hazards that cause us to crash, broken and beaten, before we get to that magic place we so wanted to claim as home. Pop songs can reflect the complications and compromises we may face day to day, every day.
But both pop music and love itself can offer the promise of something sweeter to believe in. Joni Mitchell described the love’s illusions she recalled as The dizzy dancing way you feelNeil Diamond (via Micky Dolenz) saw a face that made him a believer. The Temptations had sunshine on a cloudy day, and so many others have used music to express sacred hopes for new love. Wouldn’t it be nice to be together? I’ve just seen a face, I can’t forget the time or place. No matter what you are, I will always be with you. Hey hey, you you, I wanna be your boyfriend.
Nothing has ever embodied that hope and celebration with greater authority than Dusty Springfield and “I Only Want To Be With You.” The song is love, new love, everlasting love. It radiates with the sheer delight of falling in love. Even listening to it again now, you still believe Dusty as she sings about the only thing she really wants.

Some may regard “I Only Want To Be With You” as a relatively minor part of Dusty Springfield’s career. It was her first single and her first hit (# 4 in the UK, # 12 in the States), but “Wishin’ And Hopin'” and “You Don’t Have To Say You Love Me” were bigger hits in America. “Son Of A Preacher Man” didn’t match the chart performance of any of those, but it’s likely considered the definitive Dusty single, from the definitive Dusty LP Dusty In MemphisThe Bay City Rollers‘ 1976 cover of “I Only Want To Be With You” precisely matched the UK and US chart peaks of Dusty’s original version, and some will speak on behalf of another subsequent cover by The Tourists (with Annie Lennox and Dave Stewart, who remained together as Eurythmics). I’m fond of the Rollers and Tourists records, too; however, neither of ’em is The Greatest Record Ever Made.
No. Today that honor belongs to a former tomboy named Mary, who remade herself with glamour and taste into a pop icon called Dusty. We don’t know who, if anyone, she had in mind as she sang “I Only Want To Be With You.” Dusty’s life was not as happy as the infectious exuberance of her song. She did not remain closeted, though she bristled at being labeled gay, claiming that she liked sex with men and women equally. But she drank too much. She suffered from emotional problems. She hurt herself. She was (unofficially) married briefly, to a woman, in a relationship marred by physical conflict and injuries. Cancer took her in 1999, a mere two weeks before she was inducted into The Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame.
We honor Dusty Springfield by remembering the wonder of her music: the pain of her heartbreak songs, the soul of her performances, the visceral thrill of her artistry. Most of all, I remember the transcendent joy of “I Only Want To Be With You,” a triumphant dedication of love and devotion to the only one with whom she wished to be. Whomever that happened to be.

“I Only Want To Be With You” written by Mike Hawker and Ivor Raymonde, Unichappell Music, Inc.
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The Greatest Record Ever Made : Lies


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

An infinite number of songs can each be the greatest record ever made, as long as they take turns. Today, THIS is THE GREATEST RECORD EVER MADE!

HE WONDERS: That Thing You Do!
Written by Adam Schlesinger (possibly with Mike Viola)
Produced by Adam Schlesinger and Mike Viola
From the soundtrack album That Thing You Do!, Play-Tone/Epic Records, 1996

Singer, songwriter, musician, and producer Adam Schlesinger was born on October 31st of 1967. He was too young to really remember the 1960s, on the scene too late to experience Beatlemania, the British Invasion, the debut of The Monkees, the effervescent zeitgeist of a pop music revolution that encompassed MotownThe Dave Clark FivePaul Revere and the RaidersLesley GoreThe Knickerbockers, girl groups, surf groups, and James Brown on The TAMI Show. He did not grow up watching Shindig! and Hullabaloo on TV, he would have only seen Batman and Star Trek in syndicated reruns. He wasn’t yet two years old when Neil Armstrong declared one small step for a man was one giant leap for mankind. He lived the first years of his life in the ’60s, but he could not possibly have retained any substantive memories of that defining decade.

And yet….

Somehow, Adam Schlesinger served the best pop legacies of the ’60s with greater grace and verve than anyone else you could name. He did it the only way a creative soul knows how to do it: instinctively, intuitively. Artfully. He didn’t experience the wonders of the ’60s first-hand. But when one of his projects called for it, he could conjure an effective flash of period verisimilitude untainted by mere nostalgia or bloodless hucksterism. It was just that thing he did.

All of the above kinda side-steps what most would consider Schlesinger’s greater body of work, with his groups Ivy and Fountains Of Wayne, and also the bulk of his voluminous film and television songwriting and production credits, from There’s Something About Mary through Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. I can’t even apologize for my tunnel-vision in that regard. Because Schlesinger was essential to two ’60s-related gems that have meant the world to me. In 2016, he produced The Monkees’ triumphant Good Times! album, a highlight in an otherwise-miserable year. a year that robbed us of Prince and David Bowie (among others) and exchanged them all for the awful reality of a President-Elect Trump. And in 1996, he channeled everything I loved about the ’60s into a magic, frothy concoction that served as the title theme for my favorite movie, That Thing You Do!

Well I have heard your record, Guy, and I like it. I like it a lot. “That Thing You Do!” You know, it’s…snappy!
Actor Tom Hanks made his directorial debut with this light-hearted little romantic comedy about The Wonders (formerly The One-ders), an unknown Erie, PA rock ‘n’ roll group that manages to score a big hit single in 1964. These fictional one-hit Wonders are a quartet of archetypes–the talent, the fool, the smart one, and the bass player–but the film executes the difficult task of making them seem plausible, real. There’s a scene when the members of The Wonders all hear their song “That Thing You Do!” on the radio for the first time, and that scene precisely nails the giddy rush of rockin’ pop music better than any other slip of celluloid I’ve ever seen. Yeah yeah yeah, even better than the entirety of A Hard Day’s Night, which had been my all-time favorite film right up until that night at a movie theater in Cicero, NY in 1996, when my eyes and ears opened wide with glee at Hollywood’s best-ever love letter to rock ‘n’ roll music.

And none of it would have or could have worked without the perfect song.

Mike Viola & Adam Schlesinger

Adam Schlesinger provided that perfect song. Mike Viola of The Candy Butchers co-produced and sang lead; some say Viola also co-wrote the song, but declined to take a songwriting credit. The combined talents of Schlesinger and Viola crafted a stunning confection that steers clear of the quagmire of pastiche or parody, and captures the essence of fab and gear radio-ready 1964. 

Schlesinger’s legacy is greater than one perfect song he built for a movie, and more than a fantastic album he made with the surviving members of The Monkees. I’ll let my many eloquent friends in the pop music community speak on behalf of Fountains Of Wayne, of Ivy, of Tinted Windows, and I’ve already heard testimonials to Schlesinger from many who met him, many who worked with him, many who feel this sudden loss as we all hear and try to process the awful news that Schlesinger has passed from complications related to goddamned COVID-19. Adam Schlesinger was 52 years old, too young to have remembered the ’60s. Too young to be eulogized. Too young, for God’s sake. Too young. 

Our sense of loss as fans pales beside the losses of his family and friends, his children. We can only reflect upon what his music meant to us, and mourn from afar.

I mourn with something snappy, something I heard in a movie more than two decades ago, a movie which took place within a cherished era three decades before that. Adam Schlesinger couldn’t have remembered that era. But he captured it. And I’ll always remember him for that thing he did. Rest in peace, Spartacus.