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Is Beatles VI Really My All-Time Favorite Album?

Is Beatles VI really my all-time favorite album? Yes it is, yes it is, yes it is, oh yes it is. Yeah. More or less. Lemme ‘splain.

My favorite body of work in all of pop music remains the stuff The Beatles released from 1964 through 1966, basically A Hard Day’s Night through Revolver, that monolithic opening chord through the hypnotic fadeout of “Tomorrow Never Knows.” I adore the Fabness that preceded this period, and I do love Sgt. Pepper and beyond, too. But The Beatles, ’64 to ’66? There’s just something about that run that knocks me out, without fail, without apology. Of course there’s other great music I want to hear alongside that–I want to hear Pet SoundsThe RamonesChuck BerryWilson PickettThe KinksP. P. ArnoldThe MonkeesBig StarThe Isley BrothersThe FlashcubesThe Sex PistolsKISSBowieLuluLittle RichardDusty SpringfieldPrinceThe Bay City RollersThe JamFreddie and the DreamersABBAThe Four TopsSuzi Quatro, and…and…TURN IT UP!!

Where was I? Oh, right. Pop music. My point is that, for all the terrific, transcendent sounds I wanna hear again and again and again, if some chuckleheaded cosmic edict forced me to to limit myself to an endless loop of just one brief snippet of a rockin’ pop c.v., I would select John, Paul, George, and Ringo, after ’63, before ’67. Final answer.

There are specific points of division among Beatles fans. The White Album, for example. But Sgt. Pepper would seem to be the defining line of demarcation between advocates of exuberant Beatle pop and apostles of mature Beatle Rock (mit einem capital R). Abbey Road is in the latter group, Rubber Soul in the former, that album’s relative maturity notwithstanding. I love the latter group; I worship the former.

There are still lines within lines. Among those who may favor The Beatles’ work before Sgt. Pepper, the emphasis is often on 1966. And man, it’s difficult to argue with that. Rubber Soul was released at the very end of 1965, so it’s really a 1966 album by most consideration. Beatles ’66 includes both Rubber Soul and Revolver, two perennial candidates for Best Album Ever. 1966 is the natural habitat of “Nowhere Man” and the non-LP “Paperback Writer,” irresistible singles that further the argument on behalf of ’66; a 45 B-side, “Rain,” is The Greatest Record Ever Made. With Rubber SoulRevolver, “Nowhere Man,” “Paperback Writer,” and “Rain,” it is perhaps understandable that 1966 dominates the discussion of The Beatles before Sgt. Pepper taught the band to play.

Few will speak as fervently on behalf of the group’s output prior to Rubber Soul. The work isn’t dismissed outright–that would be dumb–but it’s not held in as high regard as the perceived masterpieces of 1966, or ’67, et cetera. But me? Although I adamantly include 1966 within my toppermost/poppermost, I insist that the wonder of ’64 and ’65 belongs right up there with it.

I confess that I’m tempted to go back even further, to include the 1963 releases. I’m happy to exclude the 1962 debut single, “Love Me Do,” which is fine but nothing really special. “Please Please Me” invents power pop in ’63, and the immediate, incandescent rush of Beatlemania–“I Saw Her Standing There,” “Twist And Shout,” “She Loves You,” “I Want To Hold Your Hand,” “All My Loving”–is a palpable thrill from that second forward. There are days when I believe “Please Please Me” or “Thank You, Girl” (in its 1964 U.S. Capitol mix) must be The Greatest Record Ever Made, a title which an infinite number of the very finest records can claim, as long as they take turns.

But no: 1964. A Hard Day’s Night. The music The Beatles crafted for their feature film debut is a quantum leap beyond, embracing the moptopped frenzy of utter global domination and running into an open field with a triumphant exclamation. We’re out! Top of the world, lads. A few of the songs on the soundtrack–“A Hard Day’s Night,” “I Should Have Known Better,” “If I Fell,” “And I Love Her”–already exude an unexpected maturity within a pure pop framework, and the same could be said of “You Can’t Do That” and “I’ll Cry Instead,” written and recorded contemporary to the movie, but not used therein. This is not to slight the other soundtrack tunes; ain’t nothing wrong with “Can’t Buy Me Love,” the Dave Clark Five pastiche “Tell Me Why,” or the infectious “I’m Happy Just To Dance With You,” which are (at worst) part and parcel of the transition from Great to GREAT, and even that sells ’em short. Your drive-my-car mileage may vary. As 1964 careens into ’65, our Fab Four work with producer George Martin to become something…other. Something greater. To me, this is the very essence of the best of The Beatles. The tracks on the Help! soundtrack in 1965 are just incredible, as is the “We Can Work It Out”/”Day Tripper” 45. Moving to ’66 again, the American hodgepodge LP Yesterday And Today (released between Rubber Soul and Revolver) is mostly scrumptious leftovers from ’65 and ’66 (including “Day Tripper,” “We Can Work It Out,” and “Nowhere Man,” George’s Byrds-like “If I Needed Someone,” and Paul’s obscure ditty “Yesterday”). Honestly, I can’t imagine a more riveting collection of pop music than what The Beatles did in this magic span of ’64 to ’66.

And we’ve deliberately skipped past a couple of albums that are at the heart of it all for me, two crass commercial repackages slapped together by Capitol Records in ’64 and ’65, a pair of nearly-sequential releases (separated by The Early Beatles, itself a repackage of ’62-’63 Beatles tracks Capitol had once rejected) that are my All-Time Top Two: Beatles ’65 and Beatles VI.

If I’d been born in the U.K. rather than the U.S.A., it’s likely my view on specific Fave Rave Beatles albums would be at least slightly different. I was raised on the American LPs, which are not the same as even their nearest British equivalents. My pal Rich Firestone has asked me if I could consider the British Beatles For Sale album my favorite, since it contains almost all of the best material from both Beatles ’65 and Beatles VI. He’s right, of course–Rich is right a lot of the time–and objectively Beatles For Sale ought to be my favorite Beatles album. But I can’t quite relinquish the history and emotional attachment I have to those two American hatchet-jobs. I love ’em. I love ’em in all their mutant, misbegotten, glorious splendor. And Beatles For Sale doesn’t have the Larry Williams covers, “Dizzy Miss Lizzy” and “Bad Boy.”

British pop LPs at the time offered a more generous number of tracks per album than a stingy American record company would care to match. The Beatles native label Parlophone was no exception, and Capitol was likewise as stingy as any other Yank label. U.K. albums with fourteen tracks routinely became American albums with eleven tracks. Combining this creative shuffling with various single sides that were non-LP in England allowed Capitol to streeeeeeetch its Beatles supply into more product. Beatles For Sale was The Beatles’ fourth album; its U.S. counterpart Beatles ’65 was Capitol’s fifth Beatles album (counting the documentary cash-in The Beatles’ Story), and Capitol by that point hadn’t yet released any version of the group’s debut LP Please Please Me. By the time Help! was released in England as The Beatles’ fifth album, the American version (which was half Beatles, half Ken Thorne soundtrack music) was Capitol’s eighth Beatles album. Take that, Colonials!

Although I give the edge to Beatles VI in my fave album coronation, I do regard Beatles ’65 as part of that album’s story and glory. Side One of Beatles ’65 duplicates the sequence of the first six songs on Beatles For Sale: the incredible “No Reply,” followed by “I’m A Loser,” “Baby’s In Black,” Chuck Berry’s “Rock And Roll Music” (the first Chuck Berry song I ever heard), “I’ll Follow The Sun,” and the much-maligned Dr. Feelgood cover “Mr. Moonlight.” That is one hell of a great rock ‘n’ roll album side, even if Capitol did cut and save the final song on Beatles For Sale‘s first side (The Beatles’ take on “Kansas City”) for Beatles VI. And even if so many people seem to think “Mr. Moonlight” was the worst track The Beatles ever released; like it! Side Two of Beatles ’65 grabs two Carl Perkins covers from Beatles For Sale (“Honey Don’t” and “Everybody’s Trying To Be My Baby”) with both sides of the “I Feel Fine”/”She’s A Woman” single and “I’ll Be Back” from the British version of A Hard Day’s Night.

Beatles ’65 is great. Beatles VI is greater. This album is just flawless, from its performances to the compelling rockin’ pop ambiance of its sequencing. The album opens with “Kansas City” (later re-titled “Kansas City/Hey-Hey-Hey-Hey!” to reflect that it’s a cover of Little Richard’s medley of the two songs); it closes with the majestic “Every Little Thing,” as pure and uplifting a pop track as The Beatles ever did. It takes all of the remaining six tracks from Beatles For Sale–“Kansas City,” “Eight Days A Week,” a sublime reading of Buddy Holly‘s “Words Of Love” (first Buddy Holly song I ever heard), “Every Little Thing,” “I Don’t Want To Spoil The Party,” and “What You’re Doing”–adds a couple of songs from the British version of Help! (“Dizzy Miss Lizzy” and “Tell Me What You See”), the first appearance anywhere of The Beatles’ romp through “Bad Boy,” and the “Ticket To Ride” B-side “Yes It Is.”

While this could all be a Philistine’s recipe for artless background music, it is somehow perfect anyway. Each track is precisely where it should be. “Kansas City” bops with sure foot and steady gaze into the breezy AM sound of “Eight Days A Week,” the casual confidence of “You Like Me Too Much,” the raucous rave of “Bad Boy,” the unforgettable assimilation of everything The Everly Brothers knew remade by Lennon and McCartney as “I Don’t Want To Spoil The Party,” and the sheer magic of “Words Of Love,” one of the two finest Holly covers ever done. (Before you ask: The Rolling Stones‘ “Not Fade Away.”) Side Two continues the victory lap, with the snappin’ “What You’re Doing,” the nearly crooning “Yes It Is,” the incandescent “Dizzy Miss Lizzy,” and finally the pristine eins-zwei pop sweetness of “Tell Me What You See” and “Every Little Thing.”

Goosebumps. Even more than five decades later, now and forevermore: goosebumps.

I know that this period of The Beatles’ recorded legacy is not in the highest favor. Beatles For Sale is considered a lesser effort, an exercise in exhaustion manufactured on corporate demand as The Beatles did everything they could to avoid crumpling under the pressure of the mania they’d generated. The two American LPs it spawned are held in even greater disregard. I still insist they deserve better recognition.

Is Beatles VI really my all-time favorite album? Essentially, it is. I fudge the answer a bit by also talking about Beatles ’65, and my ultimate imaginary 2-LP Beatles album would likely be a combination of the two that also includes the Beatle tracks from the U.S. version of Help!–I needs me some “You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away” and “The Night Before,” too. If Beatles VI were a 14-track British single LP, I’d shoehorn in ’65 For Sale‘s “No Reply,” “I’ll Follow The Sun,” and “Rock And Roll Music” to make a perfect album perfecter. In reality, I’ll just keep on listening to everything The Beatles did from 1964 through 1966. But if I gotta pick one real-world LP, then Beatles VI it is. Honestly, there just isn’t any album I love more than that one.

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My Top Ten Power Pop Acts

Jari Mäkeläinen asked me to contribute a sidebar piece to be used in Manifesti, a fanzine published in Finland. The challenge posed to sidebar contributors: name your all-time top ten power pop acts.

In the words of Micky Dolenz: okay, I will.

MY TOP TEN POWER POP ACTS

by Carl Cafarelli

For me, the challenge of naming my all-time top ten power pop acts is in deciding what parameters of power pop I wanna play within. While many view power pop as strictly a post-Beatles phenomenon, I agree with the view expressed by writers Greg Shaw and Gary Sperrazza! in Bomp! magazine’s epic 1978 power pop issue: power pop began in the ’60s. Greg ‘n’ Gary traced power pop back to the early Who, while I go a little bit further back to the Beatles’ “Please Please Me” in 1963. I’ve begun to entertain the notion that power pop predates even that; I don’t think the music of Buddy Hollythe Beach Boys, or the Everly Brothers is quite power pop, but it’s difficult to dismiss the power pop gravitas of some of Eddie Cochran‘s singles, especially “Somethin’ Else” and “Nervous Breakdown.”

But I wouldn’t list the Beatles or the Kinks among my all-time Fave Rave power pop acts, if only because so much of their work falls outside my idea of power pop. The Who were 100 % power pop until Tommy, and really not power pop after that. 

So my power pop Top Ten doesn’t go back to the ’60s. By default, and for different reasons, I wind up agreeing with those who won’t move power pop’s Ground Zero to any date before John, Paul, George, and Ringo settled on separate and individual long and winding roads. I’ve also come to accept the idea that power pop isn’t so much a genre as it an approach, which means relatively few acts are strictly power pop all of the time. With all that said, this list offers ten dynamic rock ‘n’ roll combos I’m comfortable referring to as power pop acts.

THE WHO

Yeah, I was lying. Upon further review, you can’t talk about power pop without talking about the early Who, “I Can’t Explain” through The Who Sell Out. It’s not just because Pete Townshend coined the phrase; it’s because he and his band embodied it. Everything the Who did before Tommy is at least peripheral to power pop, and much of it is the power pop Gospel.

THE FLASHCUBES

Power pop on the radio, where it belongs. The horny singles–“Go All The Way,” “I Wanna Be With You,” “Tonight,” and “Ecstasy”–plus the dreamy “Let’s Pretend” (also covered by the Bay City Rollers) and album track “Play On” combine for a compact summary of the Raspberries’ power pop c.v.

THE RAMONES

A consistently controversial choice for a power pop list, but I side with the Bomp! writers who considered the Ramones an essential part of the power pop story. The first four albums tell the tale: RamonesLeave HomeRocket To Russia, and Road To Ruin, with a little extra oomph provided by the irresistible in-concert document It’s Alive!

BADFINGER

This gets back to the idea that some (many, most) power pop bands aren’t power pop all of the time. Badfinger certainly wasn’t, but then I’ve also gotta get back to that idea of power pop on the radio, where it belongs. “Baby Blue” may be my all-time # 1 favorite track by anybody.

THE ROMANTICS

On the other hand, the Romantics are generally power pop regardless of their intent. It’s their DNA. They tried to make a hard rock album, Strictly Personal, but it came out as hard-rockin’ power pop, and I mean that as a compliment. If you do just one Romantics album, you’ve gotta go with the eponymous debut, which includes “What I Like About You” and “When I Look In Your Eyes.” Their early indie singles are likewise essential, especially “Little White Lies”/”I Can’t Tell You Anything.”

THE GO-GO’S

I continuously waffle on the question of whether or not the Go-Go’s can be considered a power pop act. Their debut album Beauty And The Beat comes close at the very least, and its power remains undiminished forty years on. It’s not just that album’s great singles “We Got The Beat” and “Our Lips Are Sealed,” but also album tracks like “Can’t Stop The World” and “This Town” that make the case on behalf of the Go-Go’s. Add in subsequent tracks from “Vacation” to “Head Over Heels” to “The Whole World Lost Its Head” to “La La Land,” and it’s difficult to deny the truth that this is pop with power.

THE NERVES

Cheating, but I don’t care. The Nerves’ eponymous 1976 EP inspired Blondie with “Hanging On The Telephone” (written by the Nerves’ Jack Lee), but Lee’s fellow Nerves Paul Collins and Peter Case went on to have significant and prevailing impact on power pop with their post-Nerves work in Paul Collins’ Beat and the Plimsouls, respectively.

BIG STAR

Big Star’s story also sprawls, spills, and bleeds beyond power pop territory, and I’m sympathetic to those who claim the group’s records didn’t have the pure power one would expect from power pop. Nonetheless: “Back Of A Car” delivers, and “September Gurls” transcends our silly little labels to assume the description a rock journalist bestowed upon it decades ago: “Innocent, but deadly.” First two albums, # 1 Record and Radio CityThird, however, is most definitely not power pop.

THE SPONGETONES

North Carolina’s phenomenal pop combo the Spongetones have always taken their love of rock and pop and Beatles and British Invasion and channeled it into something unerringly Fab. You know that can’t be bad.

With a limit of ten acts in this exercise, I can’t go on to tell you about the RubinoosPezbandHolly and the Italiansthe Flamin’ Grooviesthe RecordsShoesthe BuzzcocksGeneration XDirty Looksthe Shivversthe ScruffsSorrowsArtful DodgerBlue Ashthe Knack, and dozens more, then and now. Good thing that, in real life, we’re not limited to just ten favorite power pop acts, right? Play on.

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Boppin'

Boppin’ Comes Alive!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Boppin'

The Ramones: The Power Pop Hall Of Fame

Inducted into The Power Pop HallOf Fame in 2017, The Ramones!

The Ramones were one of the great power pop groups. They were also one of the great punk groups (of course), and one of the great bubblegum groups, and one of the great all-out rock ‘n’ roll groups. If these seem to be contradictory claims, I betcha Walt Whitman would have understood. The Ramones were large. The Ramones contained multitudes.

But the “power pop” part of that picture is dismissed far too often. Visually, The Ramones didn’t match any recognized notion of how a power pop band should look; they bore not even a superficial resemblance to The RaspberriesCheap Trick, or The Knack, nor to power pop progenitors like The BeatlesThe Kinks, and The Who. Their sound was rougher, less overtly melodic, lacking in harmonies, nearly bereft of jangle, lyrically more concerned with sniffing glue and beating on the brat with a baseball bat than with going all the way, wanting you to want them, or what the little girls do. Sharona is not a punk rocker. The Ramones were dirty–not leering-dirty like the salaciously horny approach of much power pop, but grungy, filthy punks. This is pop?

Well…yeah. Yeah, it’s pop. And it’s power pop.

Like much of the other power pop music we love, the music of The Ramones was rooted in the British Invasion, in hit singles played loud ‘n’ proud on transistor radios across the USA in the mid ’60s, in The Beatles and The Who and The Kinks and Herman’s Hermits. The Ramones added The StoogesThe MC5, and The New York Dolls to their blend of influences, but retained the 16 magazine appeal of fave raves and high-energy pop 45s. For their first single, they didn’t imitate Lou Reed or Bowie or Iggy; they tried to copy The Bay City Rollers, translating the “S! A! T-U-R! D-A-Y! Night!” of the Rollers’ first U.S. hit into the “Hey-Ho, Let’s Go!” chant of “Blitzkrieg Bop.” This was not coincidence; this was design and intent. The Ramones thought they were a bubblegum band. With their volume and ferocity, their bubblegum became power pop almost incidentally…but gloriously.

Listen to The Ramones’ early singles. “Blitzkrieg Bop.” “Swallow My Pride.” A cover of The Rivieras‘ “California Sun.” “Sheena Is A Punk Rocker.” “Rockaway Beach.” The perennial classic oldie “Do You Wanna Dance” (with its incredible B-side “Babysitter”). The supposedly country (but not hardly) “Don’t Come Close.” A cover of The Searchers‘ “Needles And Pins.” If these aren’t power pop, then power pop does not exist. This is the sound of an AM radio exuding sheer cool, radiating with both pimply hyperbole and rock ‘n’ roll swagger, its fist in the air, its heart on its sleeve, its volume set to MORE!! The kids are losing their minds. It may not seem so at first glance, but the kids are all right.

On This Is Rock ‘n’ Roll Radio (a power pop radio show named after a line in a Ramones song), we routinely refer to The Ramones as “The American Beatles.” This is certainly not a comparison of units shipped and sold–if The Ramones ever released a counterpart to The Beatles’ compilation 1, they’d have to use a negative number–but it’s an acknowledgement of the comparably fab impact that Johnny, Joey, Dee Dee, and Tommy (and Marky, and Richie, and C.J.) had on my life as a rockin’ pop fan. Hearing The Ramones when I was 17 was nearly as important as seeing A Hard Day’s Night when I was four. It was the sound of freedom, liberation, possibility…and it was catchy! When Bomp! magazine published its power pop manifesto issue in 1978, writers Greg Shaw and Gary Sperrazza! were savvy enough to realize that the power pop story stretched from the British Invasion through The Raspberries, Big StarThe Flamin’ Groovies, and The Dwight Twilley Band, and that it for damned sure included The Ramones. Even into the ’90s, when I talked with Shaw about power pop, he made a specific point of citing “Rockaway Beach” as one of power pop’s defining singles. And he was right.

Like The Beatles, The Who, The Kinks, and Cheap Trick, The Ramones built a musical legacy that encompasses power pop but is not exclusive to it. It’s easy to look at the leather jackets and leathery sneers, to read the twisted lyrics of “Glad To See You Go” or “Gimme Gimme Shock Treatment,” or experience the breakneck 1-2-3-4! pace of a Ramones concert and conclude that a belief in The Ramones as a power pop band is just the fevered result of huffin’ too much Carbona. But the evidence is there. It’s in the grooves, where it should be: playing back at 45 or 33 1/3, on tape or compact disc or digital download, AM or FM, in your head, under your skin, and in that forever-young heart you’ll listen to next time. The melody! My God, there is indeed melody–irresistible, undeniable melody–that no amount of bludgeoning can obscure. Melody that’s faster. Louder. Immediate. Unforgettable. Melody with a sense of menace, a feeling that everything could careen out of control at any second, yet all in its perfect place within the familiar parameters of a 7″ slab of vinyl. It’s still a thrill. It’s still worth swooning over. It’s still worth turning up. And it’s still power pop to me.

Take it, Dee Dee!

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Pop Sunday

Sorrows / Love Too Late…The Real Album

Sorrows

Love Too Late…The Real Album (Big Stir Records 2021) 

https://bigstirrecords.bandcamp.com/album/love-too-late-the-real-album

During the late seventies and early eighties, Sorrows held ground as one of the hottest bands on the hustling and bustling New York music scene. The group’s debut album – Teenage Heartbreak – chalked up gushing reviews, prompting a highly anticipated sequel. But forces beyond the band’s control drastically altered the intended sound and vision of Love Too Late, resulting in artistic and commercial disappointment. 

Here it is, forty years on, and the album in its initial form is finally seeing the light of day. Re-labeled Love Too Late…The Real Album,  the collection is available on both vinyl and compact disc. 
Had the album been released as originally recorded, there is no argument it would now be branded a classic of it punky power popping stripe. Each of the eleven cuts are tunefully-crafted and portray Sorrows as a young and hungry band firing on all circuits.

 The group’s kinetic energy is positively contagious, especially on numbers such as Play This Song (On The Radio), Street Punk Blues, What I Used To Know and Love Too Late, which are further emboldened by jabbing hooks and gripping choruses. And then there’s Christabelle, a tasty Merseybeat-inspired pop jewel strapped tight with crackling guitars, clicking breaks and vibrant melodies.

 A catchy reggae arrangement anchors Crying Time, The Kinks are given a shout-out on a tough and edgy cover of Tired Of Waiting For You and Breaking My Heart (Over You) is a big ballad slick with Badfinger aspirations.

 Zinging with excitement, Love Too Late…The Real Album plugs in as a quintessential piece of new wave-era pop rock. Sorrows sure had a good thing going, and although we can’t rewrite history, how wonderful it is the album that was supposed to be survived and is now accessible to hear and enjoy.

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Pop Sunday

Lannie Flowers / Home

Lannie Flowers

Home (Spyderpop Records/Big Stir Records 2021)

https://lannieflowers.bandcamp.com/album/home

 Originally released during the latter days of  2019, Home by Lannie Flowers has recently been given the reissue treatment by the newly-formed partnership of Spyderpop Records and Big Stir Records. Resurrecting the album was a great idea, because here’s a set of tunes pleading to be heard by as many people as possible.

 For those of you not hip to Lannie Flowers, the Texas-based singer, songwriter, guitarist and keyboardist staged his first serious musical move in 1976 with The Pengwins. The band remained together until the early nineties and are now regarded as cult heroes among the indie crowd. Lannie also led The Lannie Flowers Band and has an artistically rewarding solo career, with Home logging in as his third effort.

Sophisticated storytelling, compounded by row after row of intrepid melodies and ambitious arrangements pad every single song on the album. Delivered in Lannie’s rich and sturdy pipes, which are glazed with a roots rock accent, the material on Home crackles with raw emotions. Whether he is self-analyzing or sharing tales about characters who are lost and searching, Lannie makes his words and music come alive.

Triggered by pretty piano playing and yearning vocals, Missing You Tonight eventually thickens into an exhilarating exhibition of electrified instrumentation, topped with a blush of beautiful bluesy George Harrison styled guitar work, while the commanding Shine A Light proposes a similar epic quality. Devised of snappy hooks, a bounce per ounce and an adventurous break, Just Go To Sleep addresses insomnia, and It’s All Over growls and grinds to a fierce hard rocking pitch.

 Polished and catchy, Anyway shifts gears towards the end of the song and slings a shot of jazzy big band sounds into the mix, where Free To Dream is a John Mellencamp inspired slice of heartland rock centered on a girl who grew up too fast and is struggling to deal with the consequences. Shades of The Kinks and Mott The Hoople are cast upon the title track of the album, which sparkles with jumpy piano notes, a gripping rhythm and harmonious tones.

Balanced by power and sensitivity, Home observes Lannie riding high on both a musical and lyrical level. He nails it at all angles, resulting in an outstanding album that transcends time and space.  

Categories
Boppin'

10 SONGS / THE KINKS

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

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

THE KINKS: All Day And All Of The Night

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

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

THE KINKS: Dedicated Follower Of Fashion

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

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

THE KINKS: I Took My Baby Home

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

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

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

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

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

THE KINKS: Muswell Hillbilly

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

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

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

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

THE KINKS: Set Me Free

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

THE KINKS: Set Me Free

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

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

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

THE KINKS: War Is Over

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

THE KINKS: Waterloo Sunset

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

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

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

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


THE KINKS: (Wish I Could Fly Like) Superman

Bert Parks‘ greatest hit. Sort of.

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

And then…Bert Parks.

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

Miss America.

Bert Parks.

The…Kinks…?!

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

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

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

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

THE KINKS: You Can’t Stop The Music

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

Ahem. THE GREATEST RECORD EVER MADE!!

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Categories
Pop Sunday

The Bablers / Psychadilly Circus

The Bablers

Psychadilly Circus (Big Stir Records 2021)

https://bigstirrecords.bandcamp.com/album/psychadilly-circus


Formed in the late seventies as mere teenagers, The Bablers are best remembered for their 1980 debut album, What’s All About. The Finnish band carried on a few more years before going their separate ways. But music remained in their blood, and each member of band impressively claims at least one Finnish Grammy for their non-Bablers efforts. Yet the split proved to be only a mighty long sabbatical. Come 1998, the band cut a reunion album, Like The First Time, and are back in action once again with Psychadilly Circus, which reins in as another feather in their cap. 

Starring Arto Tamminen on vocals, guitar, bass, cello, drums and keyboards, Janne Haavisto on drums and vocals, Pekka Grohn on bass, keyboards and vocals, and Hannu Pikkarainen on guitar and vocals, The Bablers re-energize heritage pop rock values with care and clarity.

The title track of the album layers a chorus of trippy distorted vocals over a bounding rhythm, and the blindingly beautiful Love Is Everything proposes an explosive exposition of impassioned vocals, dashing piano arrangements and strong and steady drumming. I Hope It Wouldn’t Rain Tomorrow is assembled of chiming guitars and bracing breaks, while the casually-paced and pretty-patterned Love To Live is pricked with bluesy licks, and could easily pass as a prime John Lennon number.

 The apparition of Badfinger visits both the fetching power ballad All Because Of You and the breezy stride of Some Tears, where visions of The Kinks appear on Angry Young Man, which struts and prances to a foot-tapping dance hall beat.

Ringing and rolling guitar chords, combined with juicy melodies and radiant harmonies illuminate the perfectly poptastic When You Were Growing, and then there’s the waltzing tempo of the haunting and dramatic Queen Of Yesterday and the perenially punchy Walking On Sunny Beach that flickers with clicking hooks and glinted instrumentation.

The Bablers may be seasoned professionals, but Psychadilly Circus projects a solid sense of purity and wide-eyed enthusiasm. These folks know making music should be fun, and the songs on this album reflect such  intimate and earthy perspectives. Awash with top-line tunes, Psychadilly Circus is a bona fide keeper.  

Categories
Boppin'

Hold On! It’s NORMAN’S NORMANS!

It’s like The Rutles, except for Herman’s Hermits instead of The Beatles
Boppin’ (Like The Hip Folks Do) supporter Dave Murray

Ripped! is an independent flick from 2013, written and directed by Rod Bingaman, and you risk no loss of film-fan status if you admit you’ve never heard of it. Hardly anyone’s heard of it. I stumbled across a listing for it on Amazon some time back, thought the concept seemed cute (and certainly unique), and I finally got around to watching it a few weeks ago. Ripped! can rightly claim one all-time accolade as its very own:

It is the Citizen Kane of Herman’s Hermits pastiche movies.

Sure, it’s also the Plan 9 From Outer Space of Herman’s Hermits pastiche movies, the Ishtar of Herman’s Hermits pastiche movies, the Heaven’s Gate of Herman’s Hermits pastiche movies, the ZardozWest Side StoryShowgirls, and Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein of Herman’s Hermits pastiche movies. Not a really crowded field, those Herman’s Hermits pastiche movies. But Ripped! is indeed one enjoyable, unassuming little hoot of a Herman’s Hermits pastiche movie, and I enjoyed it a lot more than I enjoy any actual Herman’s Hermits movie.

A little bit o’ background here: I love Herman’s Hermits, and none of the seeming snark above should lead you to forget that fact. I love many of the Hermits’ records, especially “No Milk Today” and “A Must To Avoid,” but also including all of their big hits and many of their lesser-known tracks. I saw a bar-band line up of Herman’s Hermits (minus Peter Noone) at a nightclub in 1978 (right in the same time frame that I was seeing The Ramones and The RunawaysThe KinksElvis Costello & the Attractions, and The Flashcubes), and I thought they put on an impressive British Invasion rock ‘n’ roll show. I saw Peter Noone with his new wave band The Tremblers in 1981 or ’92, and saw Noone and his current collection o’ Hermits about two years ago, and those were both terrific concerts, too. I have nothing negative to say about ol’ Herm, Derek LeckenbyKarl GreenKeith Hopwood, and Barry Whitwam, nor about their records.

Their movies? Different story. Herman’s Hermits made awful movies.

My thoughts were different when I was a lad of six in 1967, and I went with my sister to see Herman and his Hermits in Hold On! I’m sure I loved it then, and I loved the soundtrack LP when I scored a used copy of it about a decade later. But when I tried to watch Hold On! again as an adult, I couldn’t bear to finish it. Same story when I tried to watch Mrs. Brown You’ve Got A Lovely Daughter, nor could I muster up much interest for Herman’s Hermits’ supporting role in the bland When The Boys Meet The Girls. I love jukebox musicals, from The Girl Can’t Help It through A Hard Day’s NightElvis Presley in Loving You through That Thing You Do! (The Greatest Movie Ever Made), The Ramones in Rock ‘n’ Roll High SchoolThe Monkees in Head, even much-maligned vehicles like The Dave Clark Five‘s Having A Wild Weekend and Sonny & Cher‘s Good Times, maybe Bloodstone‘s Train Ride To Hollywood. Hell, I’ll cop to a frequent fondness of Frankie & Annette beach flicks–ya can’t beat Harvey Lembeck, man–and I dig American Hot Wax enough that I forgive its approach of fantastical fiction masquerading as fact. I’ve even come up with fanciful li’l pipe dreams of my own jukebox musicals Jukebox ExpressLet’s Go Out Tonight, and The Bay City Rollers in Catch Us If You Can. But Herman’s Hermits movies? No. The Lord says love the singers, hate the singers’ films.

So the idea of a 2013 parody of 1967’s Hold On!, starring fictional Brits Norman’s Normans in place of Herm and the lads, was not a sure thing. The trailer and description seemed intriguing, but my expectations were very, very low. I figured it would be either condescending or dumb, possibly both, and inevitably a pointless waste of time.

But it was fun!

I mean, it was dumb, if willfully so; it’s difficult to make a movie about a fictional ’60s British pop group accidentally rocketed to a planet inhabited solely by women–a planet at war with the estranged men of their neighboring world–where the music of Norman’s Normans conquers all and makes everything gear and free, luv…well, it’s kinda hard to try to pull all that off without risking a few extraneous brain cells. “Dumb” would seem the smart path to take here. The ending is rushed and anticlimactic, the result of filmmakers rashly deciding Right, that’s enough! when the ready supply of time, money, motivation, and/or patience evaporates before the story’s been finished. Ripped!‘s virtues outweigh its shortcomings. I can’t explain how the makers of Ripped! were able to maintain just the right tone throughout. It’s not really camp, nor does it seem to be slumming. It believes in itself, in the moment. It’s not smug, and it embraces its own ludicrous identity with casual but undeniable pride. I was expecting parody. Instead, I was rewarded with a loving pastiche of a silly little pop movie I saw when I was seven years old. The pastiche, miraculously, feels more sincere and real than the borderline-cynical B-movie that inspired it.

The music’s cool, too. Going back to the Rutles comparison, the beauty of the music from that 1978 Beatles parody All You Need Is Cash is that The Rutles’ tracks sound like perfectly swell pop music, even apart from their corresponding on-screen hijinks. Norman’s Normans sound similarly fab, and Ripped!‘s opening number “9-9-9!” has already found a place on our weekly This Is Rock ‘n’ Roll Radio playlists. A band doesn’t have to actually exist to make decent pop records. I bought Norman’s Normans’ six-song Music From Ripped! as a download from normansnormans.bandcamp.com“9-9-9!” and “Down On My Knees” are the Fave Rave Top Gear Picks T’Click, but “(I’m In Love With) The Queen Mother” and–of course!–“Mr. Brown” are snappy like Mr. White’s boys The Wonders, and “Man In The Moon” and “Come With Me (Beam Trip)” add appropriate atmosphere. I realize that Norman’s Normans aren’t, y’know, real, but it wouldn’t break my heart to hear more from whoever crafted their peppy little tunes.

Ripped! will never be anyone’s favorite film. But it’s gentle, confident, and gawkily charming, at home in its own distinct skin. It’s the movie equivalent of the best Herman’s Hermits songs. At long last, there is a movie worthy of Herman’s Hermits. Even if Herman’s Hermits aren’t actually in it.

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THE GREATEST RECORD EVER MADE: Waterloo Sunset

THE KINKS: “Waterloo Sunset”

It’s one of the most beautiful depictions of burgeoning romance ever committed to song. And it’s told, not from the perspective of the young lovers themselves, but from the viewpoint of a benevolent onlooker, wishing them well as they cross over the river, where they feel safe and sound.I wonder what that onlooker would have thought of me when I was 18.


Dirty old river

Must you keep rolling

Flowing into the night

I was not exactly a schoolboy in disgrace. Not quite. But the school year could not end quickly enough to suit me.

It was May of 1978. My freshman year in college at Brockport was sputtering to its unremarkable conclusion. My roommate and I had been friends; now, we were barely speaking to each other. My grades weren’t terrible, but nor were they anything special. I was drinking and partying too much, while deriving little pleasure from the process. I was neither a dedicated follower of fashion nor a well-respected man. I was…well, I was nothing much. I wanted to be more than that.


People so busy

Make me feel dizzy

Taxi light shines so bright

Musically, at least, there was something to be said for 1978 up to that point. I had seen The Flashcubes–Syracuse’s own power pop powerhouse!–for the very first time that January, and that was special. I saw Elvis Costello & the Attractions on campus in February. Back home in Syracuse, I saw The Ramones and The Runaways (with The Flashcubes) over spring break. Before the year was done, I would see New Math, Herman’s Hermits, and Bob Dylan, plus a few more local acts, each of them as riveting in my mind as the internationally famous ones. Music provided me with something I may have otherwise lacked.

But I don’t feel afraid

As long as I gaze on Waterloo sunset

I am in paradise

And, in May of 1978, I was going to see The Kinks.

I had become a fan of The Kinks during my senior year in high school. A year later, my Kinks kollection was still inkomplete, perfunktory. I owned the Kinks-Size LP, Sleepwalker, probably Schoolboys In Disgrace, a Kinks compilation called The Pye History Of British Pop Music, the “Well Respected Man” 45, and “You Really Got Me” and “All Day And All Of The Night” on the first two volumes of Sire Records’ British Invasion anthology series The History Of British Rock.

The skimpy nature of my Kinks holdings up to this point would seem to contradict what is nonetheless true: I loved The Kinks. Wholeheartedly. I hadn’t yet acquired an understanding of The Kinks’ body of work, and I was still in the very early stages of building my own Kinks library. In the mean time, I sang along to “No More Looking Back,” “Juke Box Music,” and “Celluloid Heroes” on the radio, thrilled to see The Kinks on NBC’sSaturday Night in ’77, and mentally (if reluctantly) dedicated “Set Me Free” to my girlfriend Theresa at the end of ’77, recognizing that things were moving way, way too fast between us for immature and unprepared little me. When I auditioned to be the singer for a country rock band in the Fall of ’77, the band asked me what kind of music I liked to sing. The Kinks! was my immediate reply. This response was met with Ah, we don’t like The Kinks. They didn’t like me any better than they liked The Kinks. And the world kept going round.

Sha la la

Every day I look at the world from my window

Sha la la

Chilly chilly is the evening timeWaterloo sunset’s fine

I needed to see The Kinks.

Terry meets Julie at Waterloo Station

Every Friday night

But I am so lazy

Don’t want to wander

I stay at home at night

The venue was The Landmark Theater, a classic old movie house (originally Lowe’s State Theater, opened in 1928), then just recently saved from the wrecking ball that would have turned it into a parking lot. You can’t demolish a landmark. On May 28th of 1978, this Landmark played host to The Kinks.

But I don’t feel afraid

As long as I gaze on Waterloo sunset

I am in paradise

My life-long fixation on the music of the British Invasion remains undimmed. I was never going to see The Beatles in concert (though I would eventually see Paul McCartney, and attend a Ringo press conference). I wouldn’t see The Rolling Stones until 1989 (the same week I saw The Kinks for the third and final time). I never got around to seeing The Who. As noted above, I would see Herman’s Hermits (albeit without Peter Noone) in a bar that summer of 1978. In the ’80s, I would be fortunate enough to see The Searchers and The Animals on separate occasions in Buffalo. But my first British Invasion concert would be The Kinks.

The opening act was another British group, Charlie. Years later, my future This Is Rock ‘n’ Roll Radio co-host Dana Bonn would remember Charlie as a band that couldn’t decide whether it wanted to be Yes or Cheap Trick. Yeah, Dana also saw this Kinks show at The Landmark, though this was years before we actually met. My memory of Charlie jibes with Dana’s. Charlie did have a decent (if overly slick) pop tune called “She Loves To Be In Love,” and I liked their performance of that; I remember being turned off by the smug nature of a song called “Watching TV.” Charlie was not the band I was there to see.

Sha la la

In 1978, I did not yet know The Kinks’ repertoire well enough to identify each song in the group’s set. A new album called Misfits had just been released, and I doubt I’d heard much (if any) of that on the radio prior to the show. I didn’t know deep cuts. Hell, I didn’t know most of The Kinks’ classics beyond “You Really Got Me,” “All Day And All Of The Night,” “Tired Of Waiting For You,” “Well Respected Man,” and “Lola.” I may have known “I Need You” via a live cover by The Flashcubes. I knew “Sunny Afternoon,” “Till The End Of The Day,” “Where Have All The Good Times Gone,” and “Dedicated Follower Of Fashion” from my Pye History Of British Pop Music LP, and I knew “Dead End Street” from a Rock Of The ’60s video show I had seen at Syracuse University in 1977. As a result, I don’t have specific contemporaneous memories of much of what The Kinks played at The Landmark.

But there are some things I do remember.

If you’re a music fan with breath and a pulse, you know this: there are moments in our concert-going lives that stand out, moments that simply shimmer in our recollections, moments that seem to live eternally, above and beyond our cherished memories of the concert as a whole. Carl Wilson singing “God Only Knows” at a Beach Boys show. Micky Dolenz singing “As We Go Along” at a Monkees show. David Bowie singing “Life On Mars?” Paul McCartney singing…well, that would be the whole McCartney show, I guess.

One of those moments was at The Landmark in 1978, when The Kinks performed “Waterloo Sunset.”

Millions of people, swarming like flies ’round Waterloo underground

But Terry and Julie cross over the river

Where they feel safe and sound

I’m reasonably certain I’d never heard the song before. From that second forward, I would never forget it. A backdrop behind The Kinks displayed a projection simulating a sunset. The band played. Ray Davies sang. And we were in paradise.

The summer of ’78 beckoned. My friend Tom helped me get a part-time job as a janitor at Sears, so I had pocket money for movies, records, and rock ‘n’ roll shows. I saw The Flashcubes every chance I had. At Record Theatre up on the SU hill, I scored a double-LP set called The Kink Kronikles, which included “Lola” and “Waterloo Sunset,” and which filled me in on The Kinks’ essential mid-to-late ’60s output. Magic. More would follow in due time. God save The Kinks.

My parents were away in Missouri for part of the summer, so I had the house to myself. I was 18, but slightly more responsible than my history thus far would have implied. There were no wild parties. The occasional guests behaved themselves. I harbored an AWOL Marine. I sheltered a teenaged runaway girl. I did not date. A girl at work flirted lightly with me, and another girl tried to set me up on a blind date with a friend of hers. I played my records, my Bobby Fuller Four and my Generation X, my Sex Pistols, Jam, and Dave Clark Five, my Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers. My Kinks. I prepared to return to school. In the fall, I met a girl at school. Brenda. 

Something better beginning.

I saw The Kinks a total of three times, an impersonal arena show in Buffalo and an incongruous college gym show in Oswego both woefully unable to match the perfect memory of a perfect show at The Landmark in 1978. The Village Green Preservation Society became my favorite Kinks album, one of my favorite albums by anyone at any time. When my Dad died in 2012, I recited the lyrics to The Kinks’ “Days” as part of his eulogy. The Kinks are recognized as the de facto house band on This Is Rock ‘n’ Roll Radio with Dana & Carl. When I’m asked to name my favorite Kinks song, I can only narrow it down to two: “You Really Got Me” and “Waterloo Sunset.”

And they don’t need no friends

As long as they gaze on Waterloo sunset

They are in paradise

I have one more odd Kinks recollection to share. In 1983 or ’84, I was working at Mighty Taco in South Buffalo. Mighty Taco was open until 5 am to serve the bar crowd. This particular early morning, the store had been closed for the better part of an hour, and I was alone except for the overnight cleaning person. I had Buffalo’s 97 Rock on the store’s sound system to provide music as I finished my paperwork. I called the station and made a request. My request played.

The majestic sound of “Waterloo Sunset” boomed throughout the empty restaurant. But I don’t feel afraid. Here’s to all of you, my friends. I thank you for the days. And I hope you still gaze on the sunset. I hope you are in paradise.

Sha la la.

Waterloo sunset’s fine

Waterloo sunset’s fine

“Waterloo Sunset” by Ray Davies, Warner Chappell Music, Inc./Abkco Music, Inc.


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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.