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Boppin'

THE EVERLASTING FIRST: The Easybeats

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

This was originally posted as part of a longer piece covering both pop music and comic book characters. It’s separated here for convenience.

Building upon our influences plays a large role in shaping who we are, and what we become. As a kid in the ’60s, and as a teenager in the ’70s, my personality, and my likes and dislikes, were molded in part by the pop culture I absorbed via TV, comic books, movies, and AM radio. A Hard Day’s Night. BatmanThe Monkees. Pulp paperbacks. Jukeboxes. DC ComicsMarvel ComicsGold Key Comics, all kinds comics. WNDR-and WOLF-AM in Syracuse. Throw in some baseball, some random 45s, some more TV (from Gilligan’s Island to The Guns Of Will Sonnett to Star Trek to Supersonic), some books on World War II, some DisneyMarx Brothers, and Jerry Lewis flicks, and some surreptitious glances at Lorrie Menconi and Barbi Benton in Playboy, and you have a partial portrait of the blogger as a young man.

Y’know, it ain’t polite to stare, mister!

And throw in some rock ‘n’ roll magazines, too. I’ve already written at length about the importance of the ’70s tabloid Phonograph Record Magazine, and I will still have more to write about PRM in future posts. I saw an issue of Circus some time in the mid-’70s, and I fell in love with Suzi Quatro when I saw her on the cover of the Rolling Stone. Later on, I’d immerse myself in Trouser PressCreemNew York RockerRock ScenePunkThe Pig Paper, and also a little thing called Goldmine, for which I freelanced for almost twenty years. But the most important single issue of any rock mag I ever read? No contest; that was the February 1978 issue Bomp! magazine: the power pop issue.

The way I read and re-read and re-re-read that issue, it’s a miracle its cover is still attached. I was 18. I was a fan of The BeatlesThe MonkeesThe KinksThe Raspberries, and The Ramones. I’d just seen The Flashcubes for the first time, so I was already a fan of theirs, too. The power pop issue of Bomp! was Heaven-sent, a manifesto for what I already believed, but couldn’t yet articulate. And its pages contained scores of recommendations for more acts I should check out as a nascent power pop acolyte, bands like The Flamin’ Groovies (whom I’d already heard, but needed to hear more), The CreationThe Dwight Twilley Band, and The Nerves; and there was quite a bit of coverage of some band called Big Star, and some group from the ’60s: an Australian band named The Easybeats.

Greg Shaw and Gary Sperrazza!, the auteurs behind Bomp!‘s power pop extravaganza, cited The Easybeats alongside The Kinks and The Who as power pop’s founding fathers. That’s pretty heady company to keep, so I certainly wanted to learn more about The Easybeats. If there were any Easybeats records in print in the U.S. in ’78, I wasn’t aware of them; I don’t think I could even find an Oldies 45 reissue of the group’s lone American hit, “Friday On My Mind.” So Easy Fever had to be deferred for me.

It may seem odd in retrospect that I’d never heard “Friday On My Mind,” but I don’t think I had. I finally heard it in–I think–the summer of ’78. Tip-A-Few, a bar on James Street in Eastwood, specialized in playing oldies while thirsty patrons tipped a few (or, sometimes, more than a few). The DJs at Tip-A-Few were armed with a massive collection of 45s–no need for LPs, because they would only play hit oldies–and I was there with decent frequency, tippin’ a few while requesting singles by Gene Pitney, The Beau BrummelsThe Knickerbockers, and The Fireballs. And, one night, I requested “Friday On My Mind” by The Easybeats.

I liked it, of course, It wasn’t immediately revelatory, but it was catchy rock ‘n’ roll music, and that was fine by me. That fall, I picked up a used copy of David Bowie‘s covers album, Pin Ups, which contained the former Mr. Jones’ take on “Friday On My Mind.” That track was, in fact, the very thing that prompted me to buy my first Bowie album, so yes indeed, thank you, Easybeats! I did eventually score an Oldies 45 of The Easybeats’ “Friday On My Mind,” a record which I grew to love more and more with each easy spin.

It took me a while to expand my Easybeats stash beyond that one 7″ single. In the mid-’80s, Rhino Records‘ The Best Of The Easybeats rewarded me with a glimpse into the true and enduring greatness of The Easybeats. “Friday On My Mind” was their only Stateside hit, and on some days I’ll agree it was their best track. But most days, I’ll dig in my heels, and I’ll insist, Yeah, “Friday On My Mind” is great, but “Sorry” is better!  “Sorry” struck me as the perfect melding of The Monkees and the early Who, so sign me up for a new religion based on those Australian pop gods, The Easybeats. “Good Times.” “Made My Bed (Gonna Lie In It).” “St. Louis.” “She’s So Fine.” “Sorry.” “Friday On My Mind.” Scripture. Chapter. Verse. Easy!

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Boppin'

Give Me A Head With Hair, Long Quarantine Hair

As quarantine restrictions ease, I am still not in the merest hurry to get a haircut. My hair is now longer than it’s been since the mid ’80s, when I was managing a record store. Actually, it may even be longer than it was back then. If not, it’s close. It’s bushy and cascading, curly, voluminous. I’m still just about bald on top, mind you, but I have an increasingly lengthy mane nonetheless.

My reluctance to have someone go all Delilah on li’l ol’ Samson me has less to do with COVID concerns and much more to do with my…well, I guess with my satisfaction with my current shaggy ‘do. It feels good to have hair, the follically-challenged part of my North 40 notwithstanding. In times like these, any little trifle that can make us feel better is welcome, no matter how superficial that feeling may be.

As a boy in the 1960s, my hair was short. Every boy’s hair was short. Longer hair was for girls, unless you were either The Beatles or The Mighty Thor; the former was a pretty exclusive club, and the latter wasn’t from around here. As The Rolling StonesThe Monkees, and the male contingent within The Jefferson Airplane further modeled and popularized the idea of lengthier locks for the older boys (and The Monkees probably did more for that cause than anyone else, just via the mainstreaming familiarity of starring on a weekly TV show), those of us still in elementary school retained our exposed ears and close-to-the-head styling, and I doubt many (maybe any) of my peers objected. I never had a buzz-cut, but regular trips to the barber were routine, expected. Normal. The thought of having longer hair never even occurred to me.

(That said, I hated going to the barber. Sitting still was not what I did best, but my regular barber got the job done. I remember visiting a different guy exactly once, and he kept getting annoyed with me, and he kept forcefully jerking my head into position. Bastard. A session with any barber, including my regular guy, left my neck and shoulders itchy, as stray bits of short ‘n’ sharp debris nestled under my collar and under my shirt. On the bright side, my regular barber had comic books for me to read while I awaited my turn to be shorn. And afterward, I liked to run my hand against the grain of the hair just above the nape of my neck, the bristly light resistance providing a unique and fulfilling closure to the process of a haircut.)

Things changed in the ’70s. I was still as four-cornered as they come, but even a square such as I wasn’t immune to a shift in prevailing fashion, as longer hair become more and more common for guys. My barber became a hair stylist, a transformation no less remarkable than Clark Kent entering a nearby phonebooth and emerging as Superman. Dad was still not gonna allow me to start looking like a hippie or a rock star, but the accepted look of male grooming evolved anyway. By eighth grade, I decided that I would have long hair and a beard when I grew up. By high school, while still beardless and not much shaggier than Paul McCartney circa ten years prior, I was using a blow dryer regularly. 
Punk rock hit as I transitioned from high school to college. The Ramones had long hair, but the prevailing image for most of the young punks was the short and spiky hairdo. Over time, this replaced my ’70s notion of stylin’ like Haight-Ashbury. I never quite got to looking like Sid Vicious, and settled instead for a power-pop hybrid that aped the pre-1967 Beatles. It always comes back to The Beatles, man.

The jobs I had from 1978 to 1984 did not favor tresses hanging much over my ears. The record store job was different. My hair grew to the point that customers remarked that I looked like Neil Diamond. That ended in 1986 when I got a job in retail sales, which is still what I do today. That gig required shorter locks. The length of my hair has varied in the ensuing decades (as the hair on top gradually vanished), while rarely getting too long before a supervisor reminds me of my need to visit a barber. Stylist.


Until now. New York state has allowed salons to reopen within appropriate guidelines, but I’ve come to dig having my hair longer. My bosses have mentioned a preference for me to return to a somewhat less hirsute style. Still, there’s been no hassle, and my stated intent to remain the walking, talking embodiment of a song by The Cowsills is understood and accepted, at least for now. It’s getting wild, but it’s clean, and it’s mine. I don’t even mind the miles of gray streaked throughout. I run my hands through it, and the feeling is as validating now as it was when I rubbed the back of my head when I was six or seven. Give me a head with hair. Long, beautiful hair. Shining, streaming, gleaming, waxen, flaxen. Here baby, there Mama, everywhere Daddy Daddy. HAIR!

TIP THE BLOGGER: CC’s Tip Jar!

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

Hey! If you buy from Amazon, consider making your purchases through links at Pop-A-Looza. A portion of your purchase there will go to support Boppin’ (Like The Hip Folks Do). Thinking Amazon? Think Pop-A-Looza.

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

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

Volume 1: download
Volume 2: CD or download
Volume 3: download
Volume 4: CD or download
Waterloo Sunset–Benefit For This Is Rock ‘n’ Roll Radio:  CD or 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).

Categories
Boppin'

FAKE BANDS! Professional (and also amateur) Liar Creates Rock ‘n’ Roll Groups

For someone who can’t sing, write songs, produce records, or play any instruments, I’ve created a fair number of musical acts. I’m not talking about fantasy air guitar combos–though I have a bunch of those, too–but fictional musicians I’ve used or intended to use in stuff I write. Yeah, I’m a regular Raybert (and only Monkees fans will get that reference). Here are a few of the musicmakers I’ve created: 

GUITARS VS. RAYGUNS

After decades of nonfiction freelancing, my first fiction sale was my short story “Guitars Vs. Rayguns,” purchased and published by the good folks at AHOY Comics. The story namechecks a number of real-life acts, from Chuck Berry to the Ramones, but the planet-hopping group at the center of it all is never identified. Well, folks, they call themselves Guitars Vs. Rayguns. Obviously. This was intended as a one-off story, until an AHOY fan wrote a letter to the editor wishing for more. So, I’m working on it. I’ve had no discussions with AHOY about this yet, and I may never get around to writing it. Keep watching the skies.

COPPER 

Other than (presumed) shared reference points, my character of Copper has nothing to do with this Jaime Hernandez illustration from the great Love And Rockets comics.

Copper is a 17-year-old punk bassist in the mid 1980s, and she’s the star of my most recent short story sale, “Chaos At The Copperhead Club.”  That story has been purchased but not yet published by AHOY, and is in the same shared continuity as my previous stories “The Last Ride Of The Copperhead Kid,” “The Copperhead Strikes!,” and “The Copperhead Affair.” Copper’s band is not named in the story, so let’s name ’em now: please welcome to the stage Copper and the Pit Vipers!

THE DUST BUNNYS

Fabricated power pop group the Dust Bunnys kicked bassist Jenny Woo out of the band–and through the window of a high-rise building–at the start of Eternity Man!, my proposed rock ‘n’ roll time travel superhero novel. Don’t worry! She’s one of the stars of the novel, so it’s no spoiler to say that she’s immediately saved by Eternity Man himself. I wrote the first five chapters of Eternity Man! before setting it aside. It’s not necessarily abandoned, as I often sketch out ideas, leave them alone, and then return to them weeks, months, or years later. Hell, Eternity Man!‘s fourth chapter includes my first public mention of the Copperhead Kid, long before I wrote and sold “The Last Ride Of The Copperhead Kid.” Some ideas have an expiration date; some do not.

In that first chapter of Eternity Man!, our Jenny mentions previous stints in some other fictional combos: Elegant Cream Vehiclethe Lemming PipersAttica’s Finch, and Warriors of Romance. A friend of mine came up with the name “Elegant Cream Vehicle,” and I came up with the others. 

Elegant Cream Vehicle and Daddy’s Soul Donut (a name also suggested by a friend, taken from an episode of The Simpsons) turned up (alongside Archie’s Band, who were from  Queens, not Riverdale) in this trifle. And Warriors of Romance well predate Eternity Man! What was the action-packed, pulse-pounding origin of Warriors of Romance? Face Front, True Believer:

WARRIORS OF ROMANCE

In the ’80s, when I was scrambling to try to write professionally, one of my many, many stillborn concepts was Marvel Girl, intended as a new character with a familiar name. Marvel Comics‘ original Marvel Girl had been Jean Grey, a founding member of the uncanny X-Men; Jean had been upgraded to a new identity as Phoenix, so I figured Marvel might need a new Marvel Girl to retain its trademark. Helpful? That’s me! I also tried to concoct a new Supergirl for DC Comics for the same reason. Neither notion even got as far as a draft proposal, both existing only as figures in my sketch book.

Marvel Girl would have been Debbie McCullagh, aka Debbie Mack, drummer for a struggling psychedelic group called (you guessed it) Warriors of Romance. Memory suggests I intended her to have Superman level powers, but with the powers only manifesting either as needed or sporadically (a notion possibly inspired by the Hulk or the original SHAZAM!-shouting Captain Marvel). The idea was not thought through, and was never executed. ‘Nuff said.

WILLINGTON BLUE, SKIP KELLER

Willington Blue and Skip Keller were characters in my unsold short story “Home Of The Hits” (formerly “Hitcore”). I had high hopes for this one, and I was surprised that it was rejected. The story references a previous group that included auteur Blue, and songwriter/record label contractor Keller is mentioned as having been in a boy band, but neither act is named.  

THE SHAMBLES

Yeah, I’m aware that there is a terrific real-life recording act called the Shambles, but I hope Bart Mendoza will forgive me for coming up with the same name independently in 1979. My set o’ Shambles was concocted for a lackluster entry in the journal I kept for a college class called Fantasy And Science Fiction. It was terrible. The actual Shambles are much, much better.

BEN ARNOLD AND THE TURNCOATS

Aw, this one never had any chance in hell of happening, but I wish it did. Ben Arnold and the Turncoats were the mid ’60s American rock ‘n’ roll group at the heart of The Beat And The Sting, my idea for a comic book mini-series based on the 1966 TV version of The Green Hornet. I particularly like Kato‘s line that the Turncoats’ hit “You Won’t Get Me” is derivative of the Kinks, and Britt Reid‘s preference for being more of an Al Hirt man. I posted a blurb for the idea, and the first few script pages, but it doesn’t make sense for me to continue it as fanfic. Another challenge for the Green Hornet? Sadly, not this time.

AND THE REST!

Those are the ones I’ve used in…something. There are others attached to projects too embryonic to discuss here: the Frantiksthe Ragtagsthe Limey FruitsButterscotch Peacemongersthe Terry Legendthe Broken ThingsRock Lobster, and Bright Lights. Those all require more rehearsal and woodshedding before they hit the stage. If they ever hit the stage.

And a-one, and a-two…!

TIP THE BLOGGER: CC’s Tip Jar!

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

Hey! If you buy from Amazon, consider making your purchases through links at Pop-A-Looza. A portion of your purchase there will go to support Boppin’ (Like The Hip Folks Do). Thinking Amazon? Think Pop-A-Looza.

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

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

Volume 1: download
Volume 2: CD or download
Volume 3: download
Volume 4: CD or download
Waterloo Sunset–Benefit For This Is Rock ‘n’ Roll Radio:  CD or download

I’m on Twitter @CafarelliCarl.

Categories
Boppin'

THE EVERLASTING FIRST: The Monkees

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

This was originally posted as part of a longer piece. It’s separated here for convenience.
I was six years old when The Monkees TV series debuted in September of 1966. That was a big year for television, since it saw the debuts of the three TV series that would have the most lasting effect on my personal pop culture cosmology: The MonkeesStar Trek, and (biggest of all) Batman. I didn’t really start watching Star Trek until reruns in the ’70s, but I was a Batman fan almost from the start. Batman began in January of ’66; The Monkees started walking down the street, getting the funniest looks from everyone they’d meet, in September. As I’ve written previously, my sister Denise sold me on The Monkees by hyping it as like Batman, but with singing, and with a guitar instead of a bat for scene transitions. Sold!

My experience of The Monkees was limited in the ’60s. I don’t remember which episodes of the show I saw on first run, but I at least knew who Davy Jones was, and I probably knew Micky DolenzPeter Tork, and Mike Nesmith as well, I betcha. I wasn’t exactly a stranger to the hijinks a young rock ‘n’ roll group could encounter; I’d seen The Beatles in A Hard Day’s Night when I was 4, I’d watched their Saturday morning cartoon show (and owned a toy guitar merchandised as a tie-in to that cartoon), and I’d also watched a cartoon series called The Beagles, starring a pair of anthropomorphic canine rock ‘n’ rollers. Roughly contemporaneous to the debut of The Monkees, I was watching a new Saturday morning superhero cartoon called Frankenstein Jr. And The Impossibles, which offered separate adventures of the super-robot Frankie andthe costumed superhero pop band The Impossibles. Superheroes and rock ‘n’ roll?! One would expect The Impossibles to have been the cathode-ray combo that meant the most to me. A super-power trio!

But no, it was clearly The Monkees that mattered. The Monkees were real, like The Beatles. The behind-the-curtain machinations of fabricating a made-for-TV rock group were unknown, unconsidered. The question of The Monkees’ authenticity may or not have concerned me if I’d known about it; by the time I finally heard the whining about The Monkees as a manufactured product that didn’t really play, I’d already become enough of a fan that I wouldn’t have cared if they’d been crafted by the devil himself. I also learned in short order that The Monkees transcended their plastic roots anyway, and became a flesh-and-blood group that played live concerts, made records, lived, breathed, dreamed, fought, created, and, y’know, mingled earthily with groupies ‘n’ stuff. Cheer up, sleepy Jean!

These revelations were all far in the future for me in ’66 and ’67. I saw The Monkees romping on TV and singing songs, and I just loved ’em. I saw Peter Tork and Davy Jones parody Batman and Robin the Boy Wonder as Frogman and Ruben the Tadpole, and I saw all four Monkees take to the sky as Monkeemen. So, there’s your rock ‘n’ roll superhero mashup right there. Monkeeman, AWAY!

I’m a believer. I believe I can FLY…!

The Monkees’ music was real, too. I don’t think any pop music by anyone at any time is better than what The Beatles were releasing from 1964 through 1966, but The Monkees’ records also hold up quite well (and better than, say, The Beagles’ “Sharing Wishes” or The Impossibles’ “Hey You [Hiddy Hiddy Hoo],” though I would buy either of those in a heartbeat right now). My brother Art had the first two Monkees albums, The Monkees and More Of The Monkees, and there were Monkees songs on the radio, so I had plenty of opportunity to hear Micky, Davy, Peter, and Michael sing and play, even if they weren’t really playing until the records they made after that.

As a kid, the Monkees songs that were immediate parts of my world included “(Theme From) The Monkees,” the goofy “Gonna Buy Me A Dog,” “I’m A Believer,” “Saturday’s Child,” “Look Out (Here Comes Tomorrow),” “Papa Gene’s Blues,” probably “Last Train To Clarksville” and “(I’m Not Your) Steppin’ Stone),” and most definitely the righteous stomper “She.” I remember being in a doctor’s waiting room, cooling heels with Art and with one of Art’s friends, who was there with his little daughter. The toddler wanted to be held, and would screech whenever she was set on the floor, prompting Art to chuckle and say, “Thy feet shall not touch the ground!” This instantly brought the lyrics of “She” into my mind–She needs someone to walk on so her feet don’t touch the ground–and that memory remains indelible, roughly five decades later.

Both Batman and The Monkees were cancelled in 1968, though neither series ever really went away. Batman returned in syndicated reruns, and The Monkees returned on a network, switching from new episodes at 7:30, 6:30 Central time Monday nights on NBC to reruns at noon Saturdays on CBS. I first learned of those Saturday afternoon reruns of The Monkees in a two-page comic book ad for the network’s new Saturday lineup, and I wondered if The Monkees were returning as cartoons. I may have been initially disappointed that it wasn’t a cartoon, but I disavow that now. Reruns of The Monkees on CBS solidified my Monkees fandom from that point forward.

I also saw The Monkees in new commercials for Kool Aid, and acquired Monkees records off specially-marked boxes of Post Honey Combs cereal. And I was puzzled by both: One Monkee, two Monkees, three Monkees…only three Monkees? Hadn’t there been four of them? I thought it was a mistake. I had no idea that Peter Tork had left the group, leaving Micky, Davy, and Michael in sole charge of any ongoing Monkeeshines. Nor did I know when Nesmith split soon thereafter, or that Dolenz and Jones released an album (Changes) as a Monkee duo in 1970. And I didn’t know that The Monkees finally ended as a group–such as it was by then–after the dismal sales of Changes. On TV, there were still four Monkees, too busy singing to put anybody down. Hey. hey.

I did hear at least one song from Changes. The CBS reruns dubbed in songs from newer Monkees records, hoping to spur sales to this slightly newer breed of the young generation. I don’t really remember any of them except “I Never Thought It Peculiar,” a clunky and determinedly uncool Davy Jones vehicle from Changes. Few will speak on behalf of that track, but in my mind, it was a hit like “Last Train To Clarksville” and “I’m  Believer,” and I’ll always have affection for it. I don’t believe in guilty pleasures–you either like a song or you don’t like a song–and I remain unbowed in my attachment to “I Never Thought It Peculiar.” In college at Brockport in 1977, the campus radio station WBSU had a copy of Changes in its LP library, and I requested it–begged for it, by God!–from indifferent or hostile student DJs who weren’t about to play anything by the goddamned Monkees. Frustrating.

As steel is forged in the crucible, so my belief in The Monkees was hardened the more people tried to convince me they were no good, plastic, lesser. Bullshit. I know what I hear, I know what I see, and I know what I like. The Monkees TV series helped to form my sense of comedy, right alongside the droll British humor–humour–of The Beatles’ movies, the broad schtick of Jerry Lewis and The Three Stooges, and the brilliance of The Marx Brothers. The Monkees’ records were terrific. If they’d all been assembled in a laboratory by Dr. Frankenstein and Don Kirshner, they’d still be great records. The fact that Michael, Peter, Micky, and Davy also took some measure of control, and became a band rather than just playing one on TV, just enhances the richness of the Monkees story. The Monkees are one of my favorite groups, and they always will be.

I’ve seen all four of The Monkees live, but never all of them at the same time. I saw The Peter Tork Project at The Tralfamadore Cafe in Buffalo in…’83, I think. I saw The Monkees’ 20th Anniversary reunion tour with Micky, Davy, and Peter at the Chautauqua Institution in Western New York in 1986, and again at The Finger Lakes Performing Arts Center in ’87. I saw Micky at a car show in ’87, but he wasn’t singing (and plainly didn’t want to be there). The New York State Fair gave me Micky and Davy in 1996, and just Davy (on a Teen Idols tour with Peter Noone and Bobby Sherman) in the late ’90s. And I saw Micky, Peter, and Michael at Center For The Arts on the University of Buffalo campus in 2012, one of the best concerts I’ve ever seen.

Very partial list above–there have been many more Monkees releases in the ol’ CC collection!

I’ve owned VHS recordings of the TV series off cable, a VHS copy of The Monkees’ dark ‘n’ brilliant 1968 feature film Head as it aired on Cinemax, a bootleg of their 1969 TV special 33 1/3 Revolutions Per Monkee, an official Head VHS tape, an official Head DVD, the complete TV series on DVD, the complete TV series on Blu-ray (including Head and 33 1/3 Revolutions Per Monkee), my taped-off-the-TV VHS of the 1997 reunion special Hey, Hey, It’s The Monkees, the Heart And Soul VHS, the Justus VHS, all of their albums on CD (many in expanded form), some further repackages, bootlegs, and some solo material as well. Let the official record show that I like The Monkees.

I’m not positive, but I’m pretty sure that I’ve written more (here, and in Goldmine) about The Monkees over this span of decades than I’ve written about any other subject, including Batman, The Ramones, power pop, and The Flashcubes. I don’t think I’m quite done writing about them yet. I became a fan of The Monkees when I was six years old. There has never been any reason for that to change.

Wanna keep up with all things Monkees, new and old? Boppin’ (Like The Hip Folks Do) recommends Monkees Live Almanac and Zilch! A Monkees podcast. Also listen to This Is Rock ‘n’ Roll Radio with Dana & Carl Sunday nights 9 to Midnight Eastern at www.westcottradio.org; we’ve been known to play The Monkees now and again. And again. And again.

TIP THE BLOGGER: CC’s Tip Jar!
You can support this blog by becoming a patron on Patreon: Fund me, baby! 

Categories
Pop Sunday

Mike Browning / Class Act

Mike Browning

Class Act

https://mikebrowning.bandcamp.com/album/class-act

At an age when most people are preparing to retire, Mike Browning launched a new career – as a recording star! The North Carolina based singer, songwriter and multi-varied instrumentalist’s debut effort – a six track EP aptly called Never Too Late –  was released in 2020, ensued  by a single, Another Bite At The Apple. Both of these endeavors received rave receptions, which duly celebrated Mike’s indelible talent for composing, arranging and playing hook happy pop rock to the hilt. 

However, Mike’s current collection – Class Act – was not intended to be an album. The project was initially conceived back in 2018, when Mike was enrolled in a recording and production program taught by Jamie Hoover of the famed Spongetones. Students were assigned to pick tunes of their choice to record, and the numbers on Class Act are those Mike selected. 

Exclusively covers, the material basically sticks to the same structure and tempo of the original recordings. But Mike’s bubbly harmony-laden vocals, attended by his earnest passion for the music, stamps a fresh feel onto the songs. 

Considering The Beach Boys are one of Mike’s key inspirations, it is only appropriate that Class Act opens the session with the sunshine-soaked doo-wop of Do It Again. In fact, the album focuses heavily on the sounds of the sixties. 

The Beatles are saluted on Norwegian Wood, while Picture Book by The Kinks, and the Spencer Davis Group’s keyboard-driven Gimme Some Lovin’ are also revisited in fine form. 

As well, the garage rocking (I’m Not Your) Steppin’ Stone – which was popularized by The Monkees and Paul Revere and the Raiders – and Just Like Romeo And Juliet from The Reflections, appear on the album. 

Then there’s a couple of Bob Dylan essays, which are delivered in the manner mainly recognized by the versions by The Byrds. Among these songs are the countrified You Ain’t Going Nowhere and the ringing folk rock of My Back Pages.  Further folk rock pieces include the quirky nursery rhyme prose of The Little Black Egg (The Nightcrawlers) and the bright and beautiful I’ll Never Find Another You, that The Seekers scored a hit with in  1965. 

XTC fans will rejoice when hearing Mike’s spot on treatment of the paisley-appareled Dear Madame Barnum, along with Tommy Tutone’s 867-5309/Jenny, which bounces to a cool new wave vibe.

It is a good thing Mike decided to make these cuts available. Lively and sparkling with enthusiasm, the album certainly deserves an A-plus. Class Act will tide us over until Mike’s next album of his own great songs rears its head. 

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Boppin'

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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The Monkees / That Was Then This Is Now

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Boppin'

Les McKeown (1955-2021): The Voice Of The Bay City Rollers

Former Bay City Rollers lead singer Les McKeown passed away in April of this year. This memorial piece originally ran at BOPPIN’ (LIKE THE HIP FOLKS DO) on April 23, 2021.

Les McKeown, lead singer for The Bay City Rollers during their 1970s hitmaking heyday, has died at the age of 65. I was and remain an unapologetic fan of the Rollers’ uptempo material; I like a lot of the stuff the Rollers did when McKeown was a member, and I like a lot of what they did after he split from the group in ’79. I don’t have a specific eulogy to offer for McKeown, but I find myself thinking back now on some of what I’ve previously said on this subject of The Bay City Rollers.

My first feature article for Goldmine was a Rollers retrospective called “Rollermania: A Hard D-A-Y’s Night.” The article was published in 1987, and much later updated for the 2001 book Bubblegum Music Is The Naked Truth  (as seen here). When I was in high school, I had a vague fantasy about trying to write a Bay City Rollers movie. More recently, I’ve had a slightly more concrete fantasy about trying to write a book called The Greatest Record Ever Made! (Volume 1), which would include a chapter about the Rollers’ “Rock And Roll Love Letter;” I also made a video about that chapter. 

For all that, I don’t feel that I have anything fresh to add now about McKeown’s life, career, and body of work. Here’s what I’ve had to say in the past about a few of The Bay City Rollers’ songs:


THE BAY CITY ROLLERS: Saturday Night

Never feel guilty for digging a pop song. I reject the ludicrous notion of guilty pleasures in music; you either like something or you don’t like something, and no amount of misplaced hipsterism should be allowed to alter that. Stand your freakin’ ground, and dig what you dig.

I dig The Bay City Rollers. I pretty much always have, at least once I got over the absurdity of them being hyped as the next Beatles. As a teen, I owned the Rollers’ “Rock And Roll Love Letter” and “Saturday Night” 45s. I did not care whether or not my peers approved of the choice. Guilty? Not me, man–your rules do not apply.

THE BAY CITY ROLLERS: Wouldn’t You Like It

When I was in college in the late ’70s, I had a friend named Jane, who was a DJ on the Brockport campus radio station. We hung out together a few times, including one night when I kibbitzed with her in the studio while she did her radio show. And I requested one specific song….

By the end of the Me Decade, former teen idols The Bay City Rollers were persona non grata to the buying public, an embarrassing relic of adolescence for those (mostly female) fans who’d outgrown their puppy-eyed crushes on this Tartan-clad combo. And most music lovers who identified as older, male, hipper, and/or more mature just despised the Rollers all along.

But not me. Once I learned to ignore that ludicrous “next Beatles” notion, I found that I liked some of the Rollers’ records just fine, thanks. I was especially taken with “Rock And Roll Love Letter” and “Yesterday’s Hero.” When I became aware of the notion of power pop, I was delighted to learn that the writers of Bomp! magazine included The Bay City Rollers as at least a tangent to that discussion.

I saw the Rollers lip-sync an album track called “Wouldn’t You Like It” on the Midnight Special TV show, and I was instantly captivated by its power-chord riffs, chugging rhythm, and sheer overall oomph. My interest in the Rollers wasn’t then sufficient to prompt me to buy many of their records, but my girlfriend’s pal Debi was an unrepentant Rollers fan; she had the Rock And Roll Love Letter album, and played “Wouldn’t You Like It” for me. Man, what a great track.

So some time later, when I was chilling with miamiga pequeña Jane as she did her radio show, I bugged Jane to play “Wouldn’t You Like It.” Bugged. Begged. Pestered. Pleaded. No, Carl!, she insisted, I’m not playing the freakin’ Bay City Rollers on my show! She finally relented just to shut me up. The song played…and, to her surprise, she liked it, and said so on the radio. Gotta give her credit for that. She went so far as to say that if the Rollers had just come along a couple of years later than they did, they would have been considered part of the new wave.

 It’s been more than forty years. We were pals, and we parted as pals. I still think of Jane whenever I play that song, a Bay City Rollers album track that illustrated the transcendent value of ignoring prejudices, and embodied the enduring strength of friendship. And I dedicate the song once again, as I did on the radio just the other night, to an old comrade. This one goes out to my friend Jane, wherever she is. Thanks again, my friend.

THE BAY CITY ROLLERS: Sweet Virginia


By 1977, teen idols The Bay City Rollers were nearing the end of their hitmaking tenure, but not quite done yet. The It’s A Game album yielded the Tartan-clad group’s final American radio hits, “You Made Me Believe In Magic” and “The Way I Feel Tonight.” I recall my friend Dan Bacich being amazed that a group like the Rollers (whom he normally detested) was capable of making a record he liked as much as “You Made Me Believe In Magic.”

Me, I liked the Rollers’ earlier hits just fine, and thought the new stuff okay, too (if nowhere near as pleasingly exuberant as the previous year’s “Rock And Roll Love Letter”). The album as a whole seemed like an attempt to groom a slightly more mature BCR audience, though our Rollers may have been undecided about exactly what kind of mature audience to target. MOR? Disco? The rock crowd, via a cover of David Bowie‘s “Rebel Rebel?” Album track “Sweet Virginia”‘s tragic tale of a young lesbian taking her own life (Was it really such a crime, to be lovin’ your own kind?) is certainly grown-up in its subject matter, its sprightly, boppin’ arrangement providing an odd juxtaposition with its downbeat storyline.

The Bay City Rollers’ next album didn’t sell, and they wound up hosting a Saturday morning kiddie TV show. The mature audience didn’t materialize.

THE BAY CITY ROLLERS: Yesterday’s Hero

We want the Rollers! We want the Rollers!Released late in 1976, The Bay City Rollers’ single of “Yesterday’s Hero” did not match the American chart success of “Saturday Night,” “Money Honey,” “Rock And Roll Love Letter,” or “I Only Want To Be With You,” missing the Top 40 and peaking at a mere # 54 in Billboard. Nonetheless, I’d rate

“Yesterday’s Hero” with “Rock And Roll Love Letter” and an LP track called “Wouldn’t You Like It” as the best of The Bay City Rollers, vibrant proof that the Tartan-clad poster boys were capable of transcending their teenybop image and delivering genuine, exciting power pop. 

In ’76 and early ’77, I wasn’t aware of the phrase “power pop,” which had been coined by The Who‘s Pete Townshend in the ’60s but was not yet a part of the everyday rock ‘n’ roll lexicon. I heard “Yesterday’s Hero” on WOLF-AM in Syracuse, and I loved it. I was in a transitional period, just starting to transfer my allegiance from AM Top 40 to the wider rock ‘n’ roll vistas of album-rock WOUR-FM. I didn’t know that George Vanda and Harry Young, the authors of “Yesterday’s Hero,” had been members of 1960s Australian pop gods The Easybeats, nor that they had written The Easybeats’ signature hit “Friday On My Mind.” In fact, I didn’t know The Easybeats or “Friday On My Mind” at all; that knowledge would come later. I just knew there was a song on the radio that deserved to be on the radio, but that it disappeared from radio almost immediately.

 I was a senior in high school. Boys weren’t supposed to like The Bay City Rollers, and I don’t think that girls my age were much interested in the Rollers by that point; although the group would bounce back with two big hits in ’77 (“You Made Me Believe In Magic” and “The Way I Feel Tonight”), they were themselves about to become yesterday’s heroes.

We don’t wanna be yesterday’s hero.Not me. Not yet. As I turned 17 in January of ’77, I was already tired of people trying to tell me what I could or couldn’t, should or shouldn’t. Piss off. Whether it was superhero comics or oldies records, The Monkees or The Marx BrothersMarilyn Chambers or Suzi Quatro, if I was into something, the matter wasn’t up for debate. Dig what you dig. AM and FM influences would merge and converge. Catchy singles. Deeper cuts. Varying styles. Folk. Prog. Bubblegum. Metal. Soul. Punk. 
And power pop. We don’t wanna be yesterday’s hero. Haven’t I seen your face before? We want the airwaves. We want the Rollers. When we walk down the street, tomorrow’s gonna take yesterday along for the ride.

 It had better. If it knows what’s good for it.

Rest in peace, Leslie.


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Boppin'

THE EVERLASTING FIRST: The Romantics

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

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

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

That’s how I discovered The Romantics.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Main Street Records, Brockport, NY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s time for some songs.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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