Before mp3, CD, and cassette singles, a hit record was always a 45. The A-Side had the hit. The B-Side? Sometimes it was a throwaway. Sometimes it was something more.
THE GO-GO’S: “Surfing And Spying”IRS, 1981; A-SIDE: “Our Lips Are Sealed”I don’t really consider myself a collector. I know, I know–there is an abundance of evidence to suggest I’m delusional when I say that. I have stacks and stacks of records (LPs and 45s, CDs, cassettes, some flexi-discs, one Bay City Rollers eight-track), books, comic books, magazines, DVDs, VHS tapes, and probably some other miscellaneous ephemera I’ve forgotten in the moment. I like stuff, cool stuff. Nonetheless, I’m generally more into the heady experience such stuff intrinsically supplies–the sound of the music, the thrill of the word, the rush of images on screen, the BAM-SMASH-POW!! of the comics page–than I’m concerned with accumulating multiple variant copies of the same thing over and over. Yeah, I bought all four variant covers of the Archie Meets Ramones comic book–I am as God made me–but that’s an exception. Usually, if I buy a CD reissue of an LP I already have, I ditch the LP; if I buy a later expanded CD reissue of a disc I already have, the earlier CD goes out the door. It’s a rule of thumb, its application varies, but more often than not, if I have one copy of some great thing, I don’t feel a need to keep two copies of that same great thing. This was always true of my 45s. Well, sorta–I didn’t really ditch those singles even when I later bought the LP. But if I was going to get the LP, I needed a reason to also buy the single. I needed a non-album B-side. There were a lot of those, justifying my purchases of singles by artists ranging from The Beatles and The Monkees through The Ramones, R.E.M., The Records, and Joan Jett & the Blackhearts. One of my favorites was a surf instrumental called “Surfing And Spying,” the B-side of “Our Lips Are Sealed” by The Go-Go’s.
The first Go-Go’s album Beauty And The Beat knocked me out, a near-perfect confection of confident, irresistible pop music. I heard “We Got The Beat” in 1981 (possibly the original import single version) on a Sunday night alternative-rock radio show, I heard the live version on a 2-LP various-artists soundtrack album called Urgh! A Music War, and I was a spontaneously-generated Go-Go’s fan. Other than Urgh, I think my first Go-Go’s purchase was the Beauty And The Beat album, followed by the “Our Lips Are Sealed” single. I needed that B-side.
The early ’80s represented a continuation of my ongoing education in the wonders of pop music. I describe the years 1976-78 as the crucible that forged my tastes, as I expanded from a 16-year-old who worshipped The Beatles (as I still do today) into an avid fan of punk, power pop, and new wave, but still always with an eye and ear out for the beguiling sounds of the past. Post-crucible, a college graduate in 1980, I became enthralled with the guitar-bass-drums appeal of the legendary instrumental combo The Ventures. The Ventures’ “Walk–Don’t Run” knocked me out on oldies radio, prompting an essential purchase of The Very Best Of The Ventures. Somewhere, probably in the pages of the fine rock ‘n’ roll magazine Trouser Press, I learned that Go-Go’s guitarist Charlotte Caffey wrote a song for The Ventures. Well! Had to have that, didn’t I? There was no ready option for me to buy “Surfing And Spying” by The Ventures, but I cowabunga’d and hung ten for the chance to own a version by its author’s own rockin’ band. (If pressed, I would concede the possibility that I mighta maybe had a little crush on all of the individual members of The Go-Go’s, particularly bassist Kathy Valentine. Sorry, Ventures, but ya just can’t compete with that.)
Even considered apart from my prerequisite girl-pop swooning, The Go-Go’s did a helluva job crafting and capturing a Ventures-type song. I loved the record, and played it often. I don’t understand why it was omitted from the expanded CD reissue of Beauty And The Beat, nor why its only CD appearance seems to be on the two-disc Return To The Valley Of The Go-Go’s anthology set. It’s an important song for me, and it was important for the growth of my awareness and appreciation of ’60s instrumental rock. Before “Surfing And Spying,” I had my Ventures best-of and the 45 of “Beatnik Fly” by Johnny & the Hurricanes; after The Go-Go’s, my scope expanded to include latter-day instrumental groups like The Raybeats and Jon & the Nightriders, and classics like “Mr. Moto” by The Belairs, “Penetration” by The Pyramids, “Pipeline” by The Chantays, and the incredible “Miserlou” by Dick Dale & his Del-Tones. In later years, I’d learn of Link Wray, and of British instrumental gods The Shadows. It was all music simply too good for words.
I saw The Ventures play live at a club show in the late ’80s. I never did have a chance to see The Go-Go’s. I don’t remember whether or not The Ventures’ amazing live set included “Surfing And Spying,” but if it didn’t, it should have. It’s a great song, and it deserves to be considered right alongside recognized Ventures essentials like “Walk–Don’t Run,” “Hawaii Five-O,” and “Slaughter On Tenth Avenue.” And honestly, I think Beauty And The Beat would have been perfect (rather than just near-perfect) if “Surfing And Spying” had replaced “Automatic” on the original LP. SURF! SPY…! Some records are just plain meant for the collector in me.
There is really no such thing as a guilty pleasure in pop music. Unless you happen to love neo-Nazi ditties or glorifications of hatred or violence, I’d say it’s okay for you to dig whatever you wanna dig. Yes, even the hits of The Eagles. Why? BECAUSE THEY’RE POP SONGS! Guilt-Free Pleasures (A Defense Against The Dark Arts) celebrates pop songs. The guilty need not apply.
THE MONKEES: “I Never Thought It Peculiar” I never thought it peculiarThat you never gave me a smileI wasn’t socially suitedTo make it worth your whileOh, no…. Our own paths through the landscape of pop culture are directed by quirks and idiosyncrasies. We may have points of common ground–a hit movie or TV show everyone within our peer group saw, a top record we all heard on the radio in heavy rotation–but there are also less-shiny pop artifacts only some of us know, experienced in less-than-universal circumstances. There are TV shows we loved as kids that no one else seems to even remember much, if at all. There are records our memories insist must have been ubiquitous mega-smashes, because we remember ’em, in spite of the fact that they never occupied a second of AM or FM airspace on any radio known to boy or girl. They are the flowers in the dustbin (as The Sex Pistols would say). The world at large may be indifferent to their charm, but they matter to us. And I never thought it peculiarThat my heart always beat like a drumEach time I would see you walk by meYou were as pretty as they come Within the cavalcade of memory and impression I recall from being a kid in the ’60s and into the early ’70s, it seems to me that The Monkees had more hits than Billboard chart histories insist. Wasn’t “(Theme From) The Monkees” a hit? Howzabout “She?” “Papa Gene’s Blues?” “Gonna Buy Me A Dog?” C’mon, “(Look Out) Here Comes Tomorrow” must have been huge; how could it not have been…?! But these weren’t hits, nor were they even singles. They were LP tracks I heard on my brother Art’s copies of the first two Monkees albums in 1966 and ’67, catchy ditties I likely also heard on The Monkees television series. Their everyday familiarity to me fooled my brain into thinking they were chart-toppers like “Last Train To Clarksville” and “I’m A Believer.” They were not. Yet I loved them as if they were. Ain’t that peculiar? As popular as The Monkees had been in the ’60s, the rock establishment in the ’70s was determined to toss the group and its legacy lock, stock, and little red maracas into the dustbin as well. By the time people tried to tell me that I couldn’t possibly like The Monkees, I already loved The Monkees, and I’d already determined that nobody could ever dictate what I could or couldn’t like. I’ve told that story elsewhere, notably in my account of seeing The Monkees live and of wishing to induct them into The Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame. The Monkees transcend my concepts of the guilty or even guilt-free pleasure.
n The Monkees’ canon, a clunky little number called “I Never Thought It Peculiar” is the closest thing I have to an exception. Yeah, there aren’t an awful lot of folks who love this one. “I Never Thought It Peculiar” was written by Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart, the ace tunesmiths who created a number of classic songs for The Monkees, from the TV show’s theme through “Last Train To Clarksville,” “(I’m Not Your) Steppin’ Stone,” “She,” “Words,” and “Valleri,” among many others. As performers, Boyce & Hart appeared on the TV shows Bewitched and I Dream Of Jeannie, released a bunch of singles and albums, and scored a # 8 hit in 1967 with “I Wonder What She’s Doing Tonight.”
“I Never Thought It Peculiar” was something of a throwaway. It had been written and recorded during sessions for second album More Of The Monkees, and relegated to the vaults, unreleased. The track had no discernible sense of cool. As sung by heartthrob Davy Jones, it was guileless pop fodder, music hall, the sort of chirpy but forgettable dreamy-eyed luv song a teen-idol pinup could sing sweetly to his smitten little Tiger Beat girl (and vice versa). It didn’t appear on a record until it was unceremoniously exhumed to fill dead space at the end of Changes, the 1970 Micky Dolenz-Davy Jones vehicle that was the final album released under the Monkees brand name, after Peter Tork and Michael Nesmith had already left Monkeeshines behind them. It was not a hit record by any definition.
Making my own way through the ’70s, I discovered over time that The Monkees had released more albums than the mere two I remembered. There wasn’t much information readily available regarding The Monkees’ discography, but watching reruns of the TV show proved there were more Monkees songs out there. Through flea markets and friends, I filled in a lot of the gaps. I had never seen nor heard a copy of Changes until the fall of my freshman year at college in Brockport, NY, late 1977. I was interested in joining the campus radio station WBSU–because, y’know, playing records–and took a tour of the studio. It was there that I saw this Monkees album I didn’t know. Changes.
It was the only Monkees album the station had. I looked it over, but didn’t recognize the songs. I figured (correctly) that “Oh My My” probably wasn’t the Ringo Starr hit with the same name. I scanned these unfamiliar titles, “I Love You Better” and “99 Pounds” and “Midnight Train,” and settled my gaze on the album’s final track: “I Never Thought It Peculiar.” And I began to sing that song to myself. I remembered the song from…hey, where the hell could I have remembered that song from…?! I knew I’d never listened to Changes. I was pretty certain the song hadn’t been played on the radio, and I was likewise sure it wasn’t among the few Monkees records I’d cut off the backs of specially-marked boxes of Post Honey Combs cereal. But I knew the song! I did! Over the next few weeks, I pestered WBSU DJs with request after request, mixing urgent pleas for oldies by The Dave Clark Five and Paul Revere and the Raiders with fevered demands for the punk/new wave sounds of The Ramones and Blondie. And I often requested “I Never Thought It Peculiar.” The first time I heard that on WBSU confirmed my memory of it, from whatever secret place that memory was spawned. (My taste in rockin’ pop was decidedly out of sync with most of my fellow students, including most of the jocks at WBSU. There were exceptions, but most of ’em disliked my oldies, and really disliked my punk. And they hated The Monkees more than they hated any of the rest.)
Hating The Monkees. I’m sorry, I could never understand how anyone could hate a sound that made me feel so happy. But I did have to concede that “I Never Thought It Peculiar” wasn’t particularly hip. It was gawky, square, as awkward as unrequited love. I wrote its goopy lyrics in my notebooks, fighting for space alongside the words from lovelorn gems by The Rubinoos and Freddie and the Dreamers, the presumed soundtrack of an earnest love affair yet to be: a college girl whose eye I would catch, whose hand I would hold, whose lips I would kiss, a girl whose heart would beat next to mine. Peculiar? Infatuation’s like that. Love’s for damned sure like that, too. So I sent some flowers to your doorstepAnd wrote on the card, “I love you”I don’t know whyBut I do know that IHad a feeling that you liked me, too
Her favorite Monkees song is “Oh My My,” from Changes. Peculiar together!
Changes isn’t much of an album, but it has its moments. “Oh My My” is a fantastic little chunk of strutting hard pop with a bubbly soul, Dolenz’s breathy vocals delivering an AM-ready juggernaut that should have been a hit. “I Love You Better” is agreeably reminiscent of Neil Diamond. The rest is marginal, culminating in the terminally uncool but somehow engaging trifle “I Never Thought It Peculiar,” the song that I knew somewhere. I wouldn’t figure out the mystery of my forgotten introduction to “I Never Thought It Peculiar” until a few years later. Although I was old enough (if barely) to watch The Monkees’ TV series during its original 1966-68 prime time run, my true immersion in the Monkees experience came when the show was rerun on Saturday mornings from 1969 to 1973. Around 1970, when Changes was released, suits at Colgems Records hoped to capitalize on this TV exposure to spur sales for new Monkees product, so tracks from Changes replaced some of the older tracks previously heard playing behind Monkees romps on individual episodes. One of those freshly-inserted songs was, of course, “I Never Thought It Peculiar.” The song sunk its gummy hooks deeply into my ten-year-old psyche, and slumbered there until jolted awake when I was in college. So I never thought it peculiarWhen you stopped to ask me the timeAnd I don’t think it’s terribly peculiarThat now, little girl, you are mine There are no guilty pleasures in pop music. It’s pop music ferchrissakes. As I approach my 60th birthday, I’m still the boy who loved The Monkees, the boy who fell in love with girls, the boy who learned that love is defined by those who love, not by those who look on. I’m still a bit peculiar myself, and adamantly unlikely to change. My path remains quirky and idiosyncratic, and I’m still fascinated by flowers in the dustbin. The Sex Pistols wound up covering The Monkees, by the way. These flowers still bloom, for all who care to see. Peculiar? Proudly so. VERDICT: Innocent, not guilty.
Be sure to circle September 4th on your calendar because that’s the day Marshall Holland’s long awaited fifth studio album, Paper Airplane, will be available. Not only has the San Francisco-based singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist already issued a pair of singles from the forthcoming set to whet hungry appetites, but yours truly has been fortunate enough to be treated to a sneak preview of the whole album.
The title track has been tapped as the first single from the album. Bathed in a hypnotic light, Paper Airplane floats with ease to Marshall’s soothing purr that emotes the joy of being greeted by a sunny morning, making a paper airplane and imagining climbing on board and flying high in the sky. The dreamy flower pop mellowness of the song is pierced with a run of hard-hitting licks, and subsequently cops a trick or two from The Fifth Dimension’s 1967 chart-topper, Up, Up And Away. Also selected as a single is the beautifully performed and arranged Waiting For That Peace & Love, which imparts optimism in this challenging and confusing time we currently live in. Gushing with classically-attuned piano work, the contemplatively-conceived sentiment affirms Marshall’s gift for playing and composing music that touches the heart and the soul.
Marshall’s warm and polished vocals, complemented by the orderly construction and melodic metaphysics of his material, frequently echo the kind of soft rock sounds that were so prominent on AM radio during the early seventies. Songs like When The Rain Comes and Look Into My Eyes further reflect the tone and technicalities of the genre Marshall primarily mines.
While the influence of bands such as Bread, America and Seals and Croft do dominate the proceedings on Paper Airplane, a jangly country folk tenor fires I’m Checkin’ Out, which was authored by co-producer Michael Brooks. Then there’s the sassy power pop of Don’t Do It that could possibly be The Monkees in disguise, where She Buys A Dress kicks off to a rush of frenzied surf styled drumming before detouring into a new wave realm populated with nervous rhythms, nail-biting hooks and bouncy keyboard drills.
Fashioned of songs that evoke a variety of thoughts and feelings, Paper Airplane is a rewarding effort from a very talented fellow who knows how to mold his art into something special. Those with a sweet tooth for ultra-catchy pop songs are advised to take an audio ride on Paper Airplane and prepare for a harmonious flight.
Sugar Sugar – The Complete Albums Collection (Cleopatra Records)
The story of The Archies dates back to 1942, when they began life as comic strip characters. Based in a town called Riverdale, Archie Andrews and a core group of friends – Betty Cooper, Jughead Jones, Veronica Lodge and Reggie Mantle – were teenagers involved in various dramas and adventures where good clean fun was always the name of the game.
Flash forward to 1968, when The Archies were granted a Saturday morning cartoon show. Not only were the kids now television stars, but Don Kirschner – the man behind the phenomenal success of The Monkees – turned them into rock stars. Rather than hiring a “real” band to do the job, he employed a crew of studio musicians and songwriters that would focus strictly on recording.
The folks Don Kirschner selected to masquerade as The Archies were experienced professionals with credible reputations. Jeff Barry, Ron Dante, Joey Levine, Andy Kim, Toni Wine, Hugh McCracken and Bobby Bloom were among the talent responsible for the music of The Archies.
During their heyday, The Archies delivered five albums, which are included on Sugar Sugar – The Complete Albums Collection as individual compact discs. Frequently criticized for their fictional existence and bubblegummy sound and image, The Archies actually produced a wealth of incredibly well-crafted material that seriously ranks as some of the best pop rock of the era, or any era for that matter.
The band’s first album, The Archies, featured their introductory single, Bang-Shang-A-Lang, which reached number twenty-two on the charts in the autumn of 1968. Pronounced by a big and bouncy chorus aligned with a foot-stomping beat, Bang-Shang-A-Lang announced the arrival of The Archies in ear pleasing splendor. Those who purchased The Archies on the basis of the single would encounter further nifty nuggets, particularly Truck Driver and Hide And Seek, which were both cut of a robust garage rock fiber, and You Make Me Wanna Dance, a fast-paced floor shaker.
Late summer 1969 saw The Archies score a transatlantic number one hit with Sugar Sugar. Mixing bubblegum bliss with a nip of a soul-studded swagger, the insanely catchy tune appeared on the band’s second album, Everything’s Archie. While Sugar Sugar stands as the crowning achievement, the album offers a brace other tasty treats. For example, there’s the snarky bite of Don’t Touch My Guitar and You Little Angel You is a dandy doo-wop delight. A rather melancholic mood houses Circle Of Blue, and the perpetually peppy Feelin’ So Good (S.K.O.O.B.Y. D.O.O.) refers to having a picnic in the grass with Mama Cass.
The third Archies album, Jingle Jangle, birthed a winner in the form of the title track that peaked at the number ten spot in the final weeks of 1969. Juicy bubblegum flavorings, aided by soulful vocals and a super-sized choir of la la la la la la la’s were the intoxicating ingredients couched in the song. Devised of crunchy George Harrisonesque chords, You Know I Love You, the countrified spunk of Look Before You Leap and the smartly-structured pop rock zing of She’s Putting Me Thru Changes sail in as subsequent picks to click on the Jingle Jangle album.
Surfacing in June 1970, Sunshine marked the fourth Archies’ album, which was not as bubblegum oriented as previous efforts. No major hits emerged from the album, except for A Summer Prayer For Peace, that climbed to number one in South Africa. Draped in droning instrumentation, the chant-like dialogue listed countries throughout the world, urging all to practice peace. The ecology-minded Mr. Factory favored a bluesy pitch and Who’s Your Baby brandished a funky groove. Incorporating bits and bobs of The Kingsmen’sLouie Louie with A Little Bit ‘O Soul by The Music Explosion, Over And Over dialed in as a neat slice of bubblegum garage pop, and the equally fetching Waldo P. Emerson Jones paid homage to a cool cat who attended the Woodstock Festival and counted The Beatles, Jimmy Page and Simon and Garfunkel as buddies.
Issued early 1971, This Is Love was pressed in limited quantities and vanished quickly from the shelves, making it a mighty rare speciman. By far the band’s strongest album, This Is Love can easily be considered an obscure classic. Be it the rollicking romp of Little Green Jacket, the sparkling mid-tempo ballad, This Is The Night, the plucky punch of Don’t Need No Bad Girl or the firm grip of Carousel Man, the album posts as a perfectly realized pop rock affair. Even the peculiar What Goes On – which possesses a jazzy San Francisco hippy jam vibe shaped of twirling rhythms, funky brass arrangements and the whistling whirr of a flute – seems right at home on the album.
So there you have it – Sugar Sugar – The Complete Albums Collection – in bright and shiny glory. Airtight with electrifying energy, helmed by herds of happy harmonies and solid gold hooks, the box set documents the pop rock precision of The Archies with impressive effects. Armed with ace construction and composition skills, not to mention great singing and playing, the band was never placed in the same category as their contemporary heavyweights, yet it is no exaggeration to say a lot of their work is just as worthy as choice creations from artists such as The Beach Boys, The Hollies and The Turtles. Those acquainted only with the hit singles of The Archies are sure to enjoy the many similarly-inclined gems strewn across these discs.
It all started with a jukebox. Don’t you wish more stories started with a jukebox?
The jukebox in question was a beat-up Wurlitzer that used to blast out the hits of the day at Pop’s Chock’lit Shoppe, a popular teen hangout in the small Midwestern town of Riverdale back in the 1960s. One snowy afternoon in December of 1966, a couple of pretty teen-aged girls, Betty Cooper and Veronica Lodge, were at Pop’s, giggling and dancing to the brand new 45 by their favorite singing group, The Monkees. “I’m A Believer” was just beginning its short journey to the top of the pop charts, but it was already # 1 with a sugar-coated bullet as far as Betty and Ronnie were concerned. And they played it over and over and over again. The activity at the jukebox did not go unnoticed by the boys at Pop’s, particularly Archie Andrews and Reggie Mantle. These two boys and two girls had known each other since childhood, and they had a tangled relationship. Archie and Reggie were frequent rivals for Veronica’s affection, while Betty was head-over-heels infatuated with Archie, and therefore Veronica’s de facto rival; Archie, for his part, could never seem to decide between Betty and Ronnie. Yet the rivalries never tore them apart; Betty and Veronica remained always the best of friends, and while Archie and Reggie certainly got on each other’s nerves, they generally stayed on somewhat friendly terms, at least. And on this particular afternoon at Pop’s, the two jealous boys were cooking up a scheme together. If the girls seem so interested in a rock ‘n’ roll group, they reasoned, why not form a group of our own? Bet that’ll get the girls intrigued, for sure! But what began as a simple (okay, make that convoluted) ploy to impress the opposite sex led to the formation of one of the most fondly-recalled pop bands of the late ‘60s, The Archies. It was an inauspicious beginning; neither Archie nor Reggie was really a musician, but Archie did have a battered folk guitar (a left-over from an earlier summer camp escapade) and was able to fumble a few chords, and hyper-active Reggie attempted to flail away on the drums. Archie brought in his best pal, Forsythe “Jughead” Jones, to try his hands at the keyboards, and this embryonic version of The Archies was born.
And they were terrible. An inept garage band with no chops to speak of, all they had going for them was the exuberance (and, dare we say, arrogance) of youth. Still, that’s often all you need in rock ‘n’ roll, and as they kept at it, thrashing their way through covers of the hits of the day, they got a little tighter, a tiny bit better. The girls were impressed with The Archies’ efforts, but not in quite the way the boys had imagined. Before long, Betty and Veronica were members of the band, both singing and banging on tambourines (“The only kind of banging either of ‘em did back then,” Reggie would later recall wryly.) While the instrumental roles were perhaps oddly chosen–Veronica had played piano since grade school, and would have certainly been better on keyboards than Jughead, while Betty was a more than competent guitarist—it’s likely that the girls were initially relegated to vocalist/percussionist positions simply because it was deemed more ladylike in pre-Women’s Liberation Riverdale. Nonetheless, the addition of their singing voices transformed The Archies immediately, from a fledgling garage band to…well, a fledgling garage band with killer harmonies, the kind of harmonies you can’t get outside of a group of people that have sung together their whole lives. Still, The Archies remained just another one of hundreds of garage bands toiling in obscurity across America, and their story might well have ended right then and there, if not for a concerned, protective father and a spurned music mogul, and the weird way their paths collided. Veronica’s father, wealthy industrialist Hiram Lodge, had never been terribly fond of Archie, and always felt his daughter was wasting her time with him. Now that she was frittering away her ambitions by being in–ugh!—a rock band with that Andrews boy, things had gone too far. Lodge was not an unkind man, nor an unwise one, but he knew there had to be a way to show Veronica that The Archies would never amount to anything. To do that, he contacted an old acquaintance: Don Kirshner. Kirshner, an ultra-successful music executive, had just parted ways with what was probably his most successful project ever, The Monkees. Originally hired as The Monkees’ musical supervisor, Kirshner had helped the band become the most popular rock ‘n’ roll group in America. But The Monkees bristled under Kirshner’s tight control, and eventually rebelled, dismissing Kirshner from his duties. Furious, Kirshner vowed to find another band to supervise, one that wouldn’t question his authority. Like, maybe, a band of teenaged amateurs from Riverdale. Hiram Lodge arranged for Kirshner to hear The Archies play, figuring that Kirshner would make them see that they had no real future in the music biz. But Kirshner loved The Archies—not because they were a great band (Lord knows!), but because he saw potential in their look, their image. “America’s typical teens!,” thought Kirshner. With The Archies under his aegis, Kirshner was sure he could make the world forget The Monkees had ever existed. The Archies were ecstatic—who wouldn’t be, in such a dizzying environment? Although they certainly wouldn’t be playing on their records, they would provide all the vocals. Kirshner did (wisely) suggest some changes in their instrumentation, as Reggie moved to bass, Jughead became the drummer, and Veronica settled in at the keyboard; Betty was still stuck with a tambourine for the time being. The Archies increased their concert schedule, and began recording their first album, The Archies, which was released in 1968. Unfortunately, The Archies’ initial chart action was unlikely to make The Monkees quake in their Thom McCann’s. The first single, “Bang-Shang-A-Lang,” made it to respectable (if unspectacular) # 22, but the album never got past a pathetic # 88. Sensing that perhaps his time-tested formula might finally be ready for some tweaking, Kirshner did what would have been unthinkable for him when he was supervising The Monkees: he let the band have a bit more involvement in the recordings. Such a simple thing, such a big difference. The Archies had become a pretty good combo by now, and Betty was even finally allowed to fatten the group’s sound with her own guitar playing. The next single, “Feelin’ So Good (S.K.O.O.B.Y.-D.O.O.)” had already been recorded by session musicians, and it missed the Top 40 entirely. But The Archies’ third single would feature singing and playing by Riverdale’s Finest. And, to further Kirshner’s revenge, it would be a song previously rejected by The Monkees, an irresistible pop confection called “Sugar, Sugar.” Words can’t express how huge the “Sugar, Sugar” single was. # 1 for four weeks, and by some accounts the biggest record of 1969, “Sugar, Sugar” made The Archies into superstars. The concert tours became bigger, the TV appearances more frequent, the dollar signs written larger in bright lights and starry eyes. Briefly, brilliantly, The Archies were on top of the world. As is so often the case, such giddy success sowed the seeds of its own demise. These five teenagers had been so close for so long, and that’s likely the only thing that kept them stable in the eye of this hurricane. Because they were together now all the time—in planes, hotels, recording studios, everywhere—and all the old complications became even more magnified. Archie and Reggie argued constantly, and the Archie-Betty-Veronica love triangle remained unresolved. Jughead was content to keep the beat and scarf down an endless supply of hamburgers (his relatively benign vice of choice), but the band was in imminent danger of imploding. The Archies were unable to translate their singles success into album sales. The awesome “Jingle, Jangle” single (featuring Betty on a shared lead vocal, the first time Archie hadn’t sung all the leads on an Archies single) made it to # 10, but the album of the same name—as brilliant a pop record as anything released in 1970—languished at an utterly shameful # 125. The end was at hand. By the time of The Archies’ fourth album, 1970’s Sunshine, the long-simmering rivalry between Archie and Reggie had reached a boiling point. Reggie was particularly unhappy; he was stung by criticism that the group hadn’t played on its earliest records, and was now seething with jealousy as one of The Archies’ old opening acts, Led Zeppelin, was fast becoming one of the hottest groups around. Reggie was done, and he announced his intention to leave The Archies and form his own hard rock group, Old Man Weatherbee (flippantly named for an administrator at Riverdale High School). Archie had already tested the solo waters with a country single, “I Need Something Stronger Than A Chock’lit Malt,” and was likewise ready to move on. However, in a final show of solidarity, The Archies rallied to make their last record a great one. Sunshine is a sublime rockin’ pop album, a fitting farewell from this often-misunderstood band. The highlight of Sunshine was undeniably “Who’s Gonna Love Me” an exuberant track that inspired Andrews to give his most soulful, commanding vocal ever. Ultimately, after all the bickering, The Archies parted as friends. Archie went on to his solo career (though his solo debut,This Is Love, was credited to The Archies, to fulfill a contractual obligation, and a legal issue prompted him to use the pseudonym Ron Dante for his second album, Ron Dante Brings You Up); he eventually moved into artist management, and even wound up as the publisher of the highbrow literary magazine The Paris Review. Reggie moved to England and remained a fixture on the hard rock circuit for years to come; he produced Spinal Tap’s Shark Sandwich LP, and is rumored to be the bassist on KISS’s 1979 disco hit “I Was Made For Lovin’ You.” Jughead became an in-demand session player, Veronica began a film career, and Betty retired from show business entirely. For years, The Archies repeatedly turned down multi-million dollar offers for a reunion tour, though they did agree to a touching, emotional on-stage reunion at Live Aid. That reunion was temporary for the band, but far more permanent in a matter of the heart: Archie and Betty rekindled their relationship, and were married in 1987. Veronica was the maid of honor, Jughead was the best man, and Reggie, bless ‘im, presented the happy couple with a voucher for unlimited studio time at his recording complex south of London—just in case they were ever taken with an urge to get back into the game. In 2005, all five of The Archies returned to Riverdale for a retirement ceremony honoring Pop Tate, whose teen bistro Pop’s Chock’lit Shoppe had been the start of everything for them. The same jukebox was still there. Sure, the records had been updated and changed many times over the years—and each of The Archies’ singles had earned a permanent spot on the jukebox—but THE record was still there. Giggling like the teens they once were—and, in many ways, would always be—Betty and Veronica rocked the coin right into the slot, and the decades melted away as Micky Dolenz again testified that he was a believer. Sometimes just believing is its own greatest reward.
Some time in the early ’70s–probably circa 1973 or ’74, when I was 13 to 14 years old–I decided I wanted to be a writer. I’ve never made much money in that endeavor, but there hasn’t been any extended period in the past four-decades-plus where I haven’t at least dabbled in writing… something.
So, while still a teen, I started filling notebooks with ideas for things I might want to write. “Ideas” inflates their worth and weight; these weren’t ideas, but little notions, germs of ideas, usually no more than a title or a vague concept at best. Most of these notions were for comic-book stories (like The Undersea World Of Mr. Freeze, my recently-completed Batman pulp story), but I also imagined things I could write for movies, magazines, TV, radio, and paperback novels.
In this open-ended series of Notebook Notions, I’ll be looking back at some of these half-baked, quarter-baked, sixteenth-baked, and damn-this-thing’s-still raw! almost-ideas that I jotted down in my notebooks. If any of the notebooks themselves still survive, I hope to unearth ’em someday. For now, this is all from memory; long before I became a middle-aged wannabe, I was a teen-aged wannabe, and I had a few notions, I did…. The Bay City Rollers in Catch Us If You Can
I’ve written a lot over the years about The Bay City Rollers; Scotland’s phenomenal pop combo was the subject of my first article for Goldmine in 1987 (later updated here), and even my blog bio mentions my interest in writing the liner notes to a Bay City Rollers anthology. But I wasn’t really all that big a fan of them initially. I thought their claim to be the next Beatles was absurd, but I liked their first two U.S. singles–“Saturday Night” and “Money Honey”–well enough, I guess, and I loved their third hit, “Rock And Roll Love Letter.” Go ahead and have another listen to that one; I’ll wait here.
Yeah, still good.
So maybe I was a fan after all. As silly as the Beatles comparison was, I’m sure the idea of a Scottish Fab Five intrigued this British Invasion zealot, and it surely fed my interest in them. If The Bay City Rollers couldn’t be the next Beatles, perhaps they could be the next Dave Clark Five, or the next Herman’s Hermits, and that would be fine by me. And if that were the case, the Rollers would need to do what The Beatles, Dave Clark Five, and Herman’s Hermits had all done before them: The Bay City Rollers would need to make a movie.
It’s further illustration of what an out-of-time square peg I’ve always been: in 1976, when pop music was at the awkward melting point of disco, metal, mellow, hard rock, prog, skyrockets in flight, and the early rude, loud stirrings of punk, I thought there would be commercial prospects for the razzafrazzin’ Bay City Rollers to star in a latter-day update of A Hard Day’s Night. See, this is why I didn’t have a girlfriend.
But a notebook notion is a notebook notion. At 16, A Hard Day’s Night was already my all-time favorite film. I’d seen all of The Beatles’ movies: A Hard Day’s Night on its first run at The North Drive-In in Cicero in 1964 (and on many a TV rerun thereafter), Help! on Channel 3’s weekday afternoon matinee, Yellow Submarine on network TV, and both Magical Mystery Tour and Let It Be in a weekend matinee double-bill at The Hollywood Theater in Mattydale. I had also seen Herman’s Hermits’ dreadful Hold On! at the Hollywood, and I think I’d seen The Monkees’ Head on the CBS late movie. I had not yet seen The Dave Clark Five’s Having A Wild Weekend, but I loved its companion album (not exactly a soundtrack LP), and I loved seeing that film’s stills on the LP’s cover. And I figured, that’s the kind of movie The Bay City Rollers should make. And that’s the kind of thing I should write, to further my sinister end game of becoming rich, famous, influential, irresistible to gurls, and ultimately married to hot actress Valerie Perrine.
One of my favorite songs at the time was The Dave Clark Five’s “Catch Us If You Can,” a song I’d heard on the radio and declared The Greatest Record Ever Made. I didn’t realize that Catch Us If You Can had been the actual title of The Dave Clark Five’s 1965 feature film, re-titled Having A Wild Weekend for us dim Yanks here in the Colonies. So my thought was that the Rollers should cover it as the title theme for their own breakout, career-defining feature film debut.
The notion never got all that much more specific than that. My idea was heavily influenced (possibly to the point of outright thievery) by the film Good Times, a Sonny and Cher vehicle I had recently seen on TV. In that movie, pop stars Sonny and Cher struggle with corporate entertainment-biz weasels for control of their own name-above-the-title flick. I thought a similar plot would work for a Bay City Rollers movie: The Man tries to treat Les, Derek, Eric, Alan, and Woody like puppets in the music business’ plastic cookie-cutter pop assembly line, and our heroes struggle with the gaudy temptations of success: women, fame, women, wealth, women, adoration, women, and, y’know…groupies ‘n’ stuff. The allure of such enticing prizes seems too much for five simple Scottish lads to resist, and individually they could well succumb to these sinful pleasures of greed, lust, and hedonism, but at the cost of their souls. But standing together, The Bay City Rollers are too strong, too true to their own working-class roots, to be fooled by empty promises. The group rebels, refusing to play the game, even if it costs them their fame, their fortune, and their future; for even without all of that, The Bay City Rollers would still have their music, and their tartan-clad friendship. In a climactic showdown with the suits and the moneymen, The Bay City Rollers walk away from it all, gleefully, triumphantly, to the tune of “Catch Us If You Can.” Their boldness resonates with youth across the globe, and The Bay City Rollers become bigger than ever, with no Big Company ever again telling them what they could or couldn’t do. Catch this if you can, suckers!
Plus, they get to hang on to the women. Finders keepers, man.
The bare-bones nonsense detailed above was farther than I ever got with Catch Us If You Can, and it still leaves such banal trivialities as plot, motivation, dialogue, pacing, and common sense to be tossed in some time down the road, I guess. Even in my most starry-eyed flights of fancy, even as a more-naive-than-most 16-year-old, I knew this picture wasn’t gonna happen, ever. If one could pretend for a second that I had the talent and drive to work up a complete project proposal for this–a bona fide synopsis, some sample script pages, something more concrete than a scrawled notebook entry that read The Bay City Rollers: CATCH US IF YOU CAN [movie]–that leap of faith would still plummet into the murky depths of a Scottish loch, me laddies and lassies. This was a fantasy. And it was fun to imagine.
While I had the minimal intelligence necessary to discard the notion of The Bay City Rollers in Catch Us If You Can, I ultimately became a bigger fan of the group. They were never my favorite, but I was never ashamed to proclaim my approval of the Rollers’ best power pop tracks, particularly “Rock And Roll Love Letter,””Wouldn’t You Like It” (which I somehow convinced The Flashcubes to cover for a Bay City Rollers tribute CD), and “Yesterday’s Hero,” among others. In college, I had a BCR poster in my dorm room as an act of defiance, right alongside my KISS, Sex Pistols, and Suzi Quatro posters–a heady stance to take in the Southern Rock/Deadhead hotbed that was my college campus. I pestered my friend Jane Gach to play “Wouldn’t You Like It” on her radio show; she protested, she refused, she told me to go to Hell…but she finally played it just to shut me up. Surprise! She loved the song, and said so on the air. Just like at the climax of Catch Us If You Can: the music of The Bay City Rollers transcended differences, and provided its own happy ending. Roll credits!
(And, although Valerie Perrine never did deign to notice my existence, I met a girl named Brenda in college. On an early pizza date, listening to oldies on the restaurant’s radio, we discovered a mutual affection for a song I didn’t think anyone else my age knew about: “Catch Us If You Can” by The Dave Clark Five. Bonding! Brenda and I have been together ever since. Maybe my notebook notion of a song to further my sinister end game wasn’t as far off course as I’d thought.)
In the novel Glimpses by Lewis Shiner, the protagonist develops the power of time travel, but a very specific sort of time travel: he is able to travel back in rock ‘n’ roll history, and he tries to help artists like The Beatles, Jimi Hendrix, and The Doors complete works that were left unfinished in the real-world timeline. Our hero’s crowning achievement is shepherding Brian Wilson through the completion of The Beach Boys’ unrealized 1967 masterpiece Smile; returning back from ’67 to the novel’s present-day setting, the now-completed Smile is released, and is embraced by fans worldwide as an unexpected, enduring source of pure joy and happiness.
Don’t worry: no one’s going to compare Good Times!, the new 50th anniversary reunion album by The Monkees, to the mythical 1967 Smile, nor even to Brian Wilson’s 21st-century version. But the above scenario is pertinent to today’s discussion, for one simple reason: just as Smile caused pop fans in the novel to rejoice, The Monkees’ new album likewise inspires a delighted grin, a smile that grows wider and wider upon repeated listening. Good Times! Never has an album been more aptly named.
It’s a gift we may not have really anticipated.
Many of us know this story by heart: The Monkees were formed in the mid-’60s by neophyte TV producers Bob Rafelson and Bert Schneider, who cast singin’ actors Micky Dolenz and Davy Jones alongside singin’ musicians Michael Nesmith and Peter Tork as the titular struggling rock ‘n’ roll combo in a new weekly television series; the series debuted September 12, 1966 on NBC. Music mogul Don Kirshner was brought in to make Monkee music, bringing with him songwriters and session players, and directing the TV show’s four young stars to sing, Monkees, sing! The records sold. And sold. And how! A # 1 single, “Last Train To Clarksville.” A # 1 album, The Monkees. Another # 1 single, “I’m A Believer.” Another # 1 album, More Of The Monkees. Buoyed by success, but chafing under Kirshner’s control, The Monkees sought a more active role in their musical efforts, and were allowed to play on their recordings, and given a (somewhat) larger say in their fortunes. More great and even greater records followed, but the TV show ran its course; after the dismal box office failure of The Monkees’ bitter, brilliant feature film Head, The Monkees’ pop success faded. Tork left. Nesmith left. In 1970, Dolenz and Jones killed the lights on their way out, too. The TV show’s two seasons were rerun again and again, across the course of generations. There was a partial reunion (without Nesmith) in the late ’80s, and all four regrouped in 1996 for a new album, TV special, and a brief UK tour; both reunions ended in a flurry of bickering. Dolenz, Jones, and Tork returned for an acclaimed 2011 tour that embraced The Monkees’ vast recorded legacy as never before. Jones passed away in 2012. To the surprise of…well, everyone, Nesmith rejoined Dolenz and Tork for a fantastic reunion tour in 2012-13. Nesmith eventually withdrew from touring again, leaving Dolenz and Tork as The Last Monkees Standing (and Touring).
This was the state of Monkee affairs when word of a 50th anniversary reunion album leaked in February of 2016. The questions came unbidden: Would Nesmith participate? Hell, would Tork? Would it be a glorified Micky Dolenz solo album? Would it be any damned good at all? And how could these blasphemers presume to do this without the late Davy Jones?!
The answers arrived in a slow-cooked stew of guerilla hype and sly rumors let slip. By the time of its release, we knew that Good Times! would be prepared under the auspices of Monkees superfan Andrew Sandoval and producer Adam Schlesinger (of Fountains Of Wayne and That Thing You Do! fame). The album would be a mix of new recordings–including songs written by each of the surviving Monkees, as well as songwriting submissions from XTC’s Andy Partridge, Weezer’s Rivers Cuomo, Death Cab For Cutie’s Ben Hibbard, and the Britpop Modgasm pairing of Noel Gallagher and Paul Weller–with unfinished (and now finished!) ’60s stuff from the vaults. Micky, Peter, and Michael were involved; Davy would be represented by a remixed 1967 recording, with new backing vocals from Micky and Peter.
This could have been a recipe for a big ol’ mess. Instead, Good Times! has a good shot at being the best pop album of 2016.
Good Times! starts and ends with explicit exhortations of good times to be had and good times to be remembered. The album opens with a title track written by the late Harry Nilsson; the track is actually Nilsson’s 1968 demo of the song, with Nilsson’s 1968 voice dueting with present-day Dolenz, a potentially scary prospect that avoids being ghoulish by just being so much freewheeling fun. You can feel Dolenz’s affection for his departed friend in every loose ‘n’ swingin’ hoot and holler. The album closer, “I Was There (And I’m Told I Had A Good Time),” co-written by Dolenz and Schlesinger (based on Dolenz’s oft-told anecdote of being at a bacchanalia with The Beatles), likewise swaggers with satisfied pride in all the gusto grabbed along the way. It’s not strictly essential, but it’s not a throwaway, either. Perhaps that’s the nature of good times.
And in between those two tracks? Oh Lordy–Good Times! is just magic.
Micky Dolenz–one of the most underrated pop singers of the rock ‘n’ roll era–is given three brand-new pop confections, all made with real sugar, and they’re irresistible. Andy Partridge’s “You Bring The Summer,” Rivers Cuomo’s “She Makes Me Laugh,” and Adam Schlesinger’s “Our Own World” are light and sunshiney in all the right ways, as if More Of The Monkees had been made in 2016, and someone found a way to beam its tracks directly into the radio that plays inside your head. “Radio-ready” is one of this blog’s favorite phrases, describing perfect pop music that is so pure as to be undeniable, the stuff you wish you were listening to right now on a car radio turned up way too loud. Man, pop tunes don’t come any more radio-ready than these. Speaking of More Of The Monkees, Dolenz also gets to sing two songs that date back to that 1967 album: the Jeff Barry/Joey Levine “Gotta Give It Time” is a sturdy garage-pop nugget, its backing track completed in 1967 by the Kirshner hit machine, now with newly-added vocals by Dolenz (and uncredited backing vocals by Nesmith); Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart’s “Whatever’s Right” was also submitted for The Monkees in ’67, but this is an all-new recording (with Hart himself joining in on vocals). At 71, Dolenz can still bend a pop tune to his will like no other can, and all five of these tracks (plus the two “Good Times” celebrations) give him ample opportunity to do so.
Peter Tork was never The Monkees’ key singer, but he acquits himself quite well on his two tracks. The first is “Little Girl,” a song Tork originally wrote as a follow-up to “I Wanna Be Free,” a popular Davy Jones-sung ballad from The Monkees’ eponymous debut in 1966. While Jones never quite got around to recording a version of “Little Girl,” Tork’s all-new rendition is amiable and likable. But Tork’s lead on the Carole King/Gerry Goffin “Wasn’t Born To Follow”–a track begun in the studio in 1968, with added vocal by Tork in 2016–is an understated triumph, one of the best performances that Tork has ever given on record.
Still, it’s Michael Nesmith who ultimately puts Good Times! over the top. His own song “I Know What I Know” is disarming, quietly mesmerizing, uncluttered, and fascinating–yet it’s still somehow the least among the three tracks with Nesmith lead vocals. Ben Gibbard’s “Me & Magdalena,” with harmony and counterpoint vocals from Dolenz, isfull of hope and/or heartbreak–one is never quite sure which–but the song just aches with love’s promise and life’s compromise; regardless of whether the song reflects the heart’s ongoing victory or an imminent, devastating loss, it is unforgettable. The album’s tour de force is the Noel Gallagher/Paul Weller “Birth Of An Accidental Hipster,” where Nesmith’s co-lead vocals are again complemented by Mr. Mick. This track certainly calls to mind Gallagher’s old band Oasis, but it sounds equally like THE Great Lost Monkees track. It would have fit in well on 1968’s The Birds, The Bees & The Monkees album; it would have fit in well on the soundtrack of Head. It’s a freakin’ psychedelic pop masterpiece, and it may be one of the all-time greatest tracks to ever bear The Monkees’ brand name. Make no mistake: if Good Times! had been completed without this track, it would still be a terrific album, maybe a great one; the inclusion of “Birth Of An Accidental Hipster” tosses that “maybe” away, and ensures that yes, Virginia (and Sandra, and Mary, and Valleri, and Fern), The Monkees have indeed made a great album in 2016.
The late Davy Jones is represented on Good Times! by Neil Diamond’s superb pop song “Love To Love,” which was recorded in 1967 but unreleased until the ’80s. Its inclusion here is curious; it’s certainly a wonderful track, one of Jones’ best, but it’s hardly a rarity. Although this is its first appearance on a proper Monkees album, the track has been on compilations and repackages galore. It is slightly remixed for Good Times!, with Davy’s original double-tracked lead vocal stripped to a single track, and with new Micky and Peter backing vocals on the chorus. So yeah, an odd choice. Still, a great song’s a great song. “Love To Love” had a circuitous path to get here, but it’s a nice remix, and none should complain about it finally taking its rightful place on an actual Monkees album.
As a 50th anniversary celebration, Good Times! was specifically designed to include key figures from The Monkees’ history. There are The Monkees themselves, of course (including Davy), plus songwriters Boyce & Hart, King & Goffin, Neil Diamond, Harry Nilsson, and “I’m A Believer” producer Jeff Barry, the late “Fast” Eddie Hoh (drummer on much of The Monkees’ best album, 1967’s Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn & Jones, Ltd.), and even Don Kirshner is sorta represented by the 1967 studio musicians performing on “Love To Love” and “Gotta Give It Time.” Notable MIAs would be songwriters Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil (who wrote “Shades Of Gray” and “Love Is Only Sleeping”), and especially Chip Douglas, who produced both of The Monkees’ best ’60s albums, Headquarters and Pisces, and played on them as well. Douglas played an enormous role in The Monkees’ emancipation in ’67, and it would have been a kick to see him involved in here somehow.
Reunion albums are tricky, especially if it’s a reunion of a group you loved a long, long time ago. There have been a handful of interesting reunion records by ’60s groups–The Animals’ 1977 album Before We Were So Rudely Interrupted comes to mind, as well as The Beau Brummels in ’75, and The Beach Boys’ more recent That’s Why God Made The Radio–but you’d be hard-pressed to find many reunion albums that could truly stand shoulder-to-shoulder among any group’s best-loved work. Hell, until now, you’d be hard-pressed to find one. But Good Times! pulls it off–unexpectedly, miraculously, and convincingly–and can be considered right alongside the much-loved records The Monkees made in the ’60s. Even its sequencing evokes the arc of The Monkees’ original recording career, from the prefab, peerless pop of the earliest tracks, skipping the self-contained hey-hey-we’re a-rock-band of Headquarters, but running full-force into a contemporary Pisces, Birds & Bees, and Head, even subtly suggesting a post-1968 version of The Monkees if Tork had stayed in the fold.
With its mix of studio hotshots (particularly Schlesinger, guitarist Mike Viola, and drummer Brian Young on the new Dolenz-sung tracks) and bona fide contributions from The Monkees themselves, the album’s approach recalls the heyday of the Pisces record, mixed with a bit of the ol’ Golden-Eared Kirshner More Of The Monkees method on Dolenz’s sugarpop tracks. “Birth Of An Accidental Hipster” then builds a bridge to the psychedelic heights of Head, and the whole damned thing should just make you gleefully, willfully giddy. If this is The Monkees’ swan song, they’ll go out on top. If they do more in the future…well, that would be welcome, welcome news. Good times? GREAT times.
Oh, and next stop? The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. What on God’s green earth is there still left for The Monkees to prove? We’re believers, anyway.
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.
The Beatles / No Reply
I wrote a piece some time back asking the rhetorical question “Is Beatles VI Really My All-Time Favorite Album?” And it is, especially if we could combine it as a two-in-one with its predecessor Beatles ’65, creating a compilation of two American record company cash-grabs. Beatles ’65 and Beatles VI were Capitol Records hatchet jobs, scarfing up tracks from the British Beatles For Sale along with scattered single sides, mods, rockers, and mockers. But they were glorious hatchet jobs, and they were how I (like most Americans at the time) came to know and cherish this material. Pretty much everything The Beatles released from 1964 through 1966 forms my collective touchstone of what pop music can be. That is not likely to change, ever. And I was introduced to all of it via Capitol’s Philistine patchworks.
From Beatles ’65, or from Beatles For Sale if you must, “No Reply” is staggering, just irresistible in its majesty and mastery of pop form. It’s one of my 25 favorite Beatles tracks, and its middle eight may be the single best bridge ever accomplished by anyone. Its main competition for that title is also by The Beatles: “I Don’t Want To Spoil The Party,” from Beatles VI (or from Beatles For Sale, if you must). I will never tire of hearing this stuff. Even sitting here just thinking about this music, with the stereo off, makes me smile. I saw the light. I saw that light a long, long time ago. It shines for me still.
Culture Club / Church Of The Poison Mind
Culture Club may seem one of the odder entries in my concert-goin’ ticket-stub gallery, but my then-fiancee Brenda and I did indeed see Boy George and his cohorts in 1984 at the Aud in Buffalo. My most distinctive memory of the show is the young girls going batty over the members of the group, as one such female fan squealed with delight, Oh my God, she touched him…! I thought that sequence of events was amusing, but not in a condescending or (worse) hipper-than-thou way; I was in favor of pop mania, from The Beatles to, I dunno, Duran Duran, so I approved of such teen idolatry.
Why were we there? Why not? We couldn’t afford to go to many concerts, but this must have come along at the right moment, we liked Culture Club’s radio hits, so yeah, why the hell not? Maybe I wouldn’t have gone for it just on the basis of “Do You Really Want To Hurt Me” or “Time (Clock Of The Heart),” or even “Karma Chameleon.” “Church Of The Poison Mind” was a different story.
“Church Of The Poison Mind” was one of my favorite songs on the radio in ’83. I’m not sure if I heard it first on the AM Top 40 station 14 Rock or on the engagingly eclectic WUWU-FM, but I found the song pleasingly reminiscent of Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, and I adored it.
Dirty Looks / Let Go
Statement of intent. This Staten Island trio’s eponymous debut LP was released on the Stiff America label in 1980, and “Let Go” was an immediate fave rave on 97 Power Rock, a Sunday night alternative-rock showcase aired on Buffalo’s 97 Rock FM. Hmmm. A Sunday night rock ‘n’ roll radio show? I may have made note of that particular notion for possible future use. “Let Go” is a perfect post-punk radio pop song, fueled by new wave rock energy, rooted in catchy 1960s radio fare, and dead certain that The Ramones, The Who, Joe Jackson, and Paul Revere and the Raiders are Heaven-sent inspirations. It’s not easy to write a song about rock ‘n’ roll. It’s not. Too many attempts at rock anthems feel forced, or overly earnest, pompous, clueless, heavy-handed, and…blechh. With “Let Go,” Dirty Looks pull it off with style, and they make it seem like a cinch. Don’t you know that rock ‘n’ roll is still the best drug? The drumming is hyperactive, the bass pushy (in a good way), the guitar simple and authoritative, the vocals and harmonies steadfast, reflecting the confidence of a group secure in the knowledge that it has God on its side. All you gotta do, let go, let go, let GO! GO! GO! GO! Belief is infectious. And godDAMN, this sounds so exhilarating on the radio. It always has.
The Grip Weeds / For Pete’s Sake (Stay At Home)
The Grip Weeds are a great, great band. They’re a superb live band, they make fantastic records, they’re a bunch of nice folks, and we like ’em a lot. They’ve allowed us to use two of their tracks on TIRnRR compilation albums, and this is part of what I wrote about them when their “Strange Bird” appeared on This Is Rock ‘n’ Roll Radio, Volume 4:
...The chronology of my rapid and total indoctrination into the blissful Grip of Weedsmania blurs. I may have become more interested via the group’s connection with The Rooks, another of the great pop bands of the ’90s. Rooks guitarist Kristin Pinell was (and is) also in The Grip Weeds. Kristin’s husband Kurt Reil was (and is) the drummer and lead singer for The Grip Weeds, and he played with The Rooks, too. I don’t know whether or not guitarist Rick Reil also served any Rooks time, but either way: The Grip Weeds seemed like a band I oughtta know.
And getting to know The Grip Weeds was its own sweet reward… …The Grips Weeds are a treasure. They kick ass live, too; Dana and I had a chance to see ’em in Rochester on the How I Won The War tour (with special guest Ray Paul), and The Grip Weeds deliver, man. If you’ve never heard them, we firmly recommend you gather everything they’ve ever released directly from the band, and beg their forgiveness for taking so long to get hip. But it’s okay. Music has no expiration date. I discovered Chuck Berry and Buddy Holly in the early ’70s, and that music was as fresh to me then (and now) as it woulda been if I’d been spinning 45s in the fabulous ’50s. We always say: right now is the best time ever to be a rockin’ pop fan, because you have everything that came before, everything in the moment, and everything yet to come. Turn it up. That’s what it’s there for.
And right now–in this generation, in this loving time–The Grip Weeds have a brand new cover of The Monkees‘ shoulda-been-a-hit “For Pete’s Sake,” the song that used to close second-season episodes of The Monkees’ television series. We used The Grip Weeds’ version to open this week’s radio show. With its title altered slightly to “For Pete’s Sake (Stay At Home!)” for our quarantined times, there’s a fab YouTube video of the song, and the track may or may not find its way into the next Grip Weeds album. This is something we all need.
Mandy Moore / I Could Break Your Heart Any Day Of The Week
I don’t remember who it was that hipped me to “I Could Break Your Heart Any Day Of The Week,” an absolutely ace 2009 single by Mandy Moore. I may have read about it on a blog, but wherever I discovered it, I loved it at once.
Prior to that single, I didn’t know all that much about Moore. Other than her capable covers of some XTC and Joan Armatrading material (from her 2003 all-covers album Coverage, which John Borack had recommended), I don’t remember hearing any of Moore’s earlier records. I must have heard her on Radio Disney when my daughter was young, but I have no recollection of that. And I don’t think I’ve ever seen any of her movies; I do remember seeing her brief guest tenure on the TV sitcom Scrubs. I’ve never seen This Is Us or A Walk To Remember. I know who Mandy Moore is, but my awareness of her work doesn’t even rise to the level of perfunctory.
But this song, man. This song…!
“I Could Break Your Heart Any Day Of The Week” was co-written by Moore with Mike Viola of The Candy Butchers (and the voice of The Wonders‘ “That Thing You Do!”). It’s from her album Amanda Leigh, and while I’ve owned the digital single for more than a decade, I’ve just picked up a copy of the CD. It’s time I learned more about Mandy Moore. But meanwhile: this song, man. Any day of the week.
The Mynah Birds / It’s My Time
The Mynah Birds‘ story is one of pop music’s most intriguing almost/what-ifs. The group included both Rick James and Neil Young, and they were set to release a single of “It’s My Time”/”Go On And Cry” on Motown in 1966. We can debate genre labels, but I think The Mynah Birds would have been Motown’s first rock group. Instead, the single’s release was cancelled when James was arrested for being AWOL from the Navy. The Mynah Birds ended, Young and fellow group member Bruce Palmer wound up joining Buffalo Springfield, and Rick James went on to craft ’70s and ’80s punk funk of his own after leaving the hoosegow.
What might have been? “It’s My Time” is a strong pop single, and while there’s no guarantee it would have been a hit even if it had been released, one wonders how things could have played out differently. The handful of Mynah Birds tracks that surfaced decades after the fact are intriguing, and I wish we could have been enjoying those tracks, along with more that were never made, over all these years that have passed. I wouldn’t want to sacrifice Buffalo Springfield. But The Mynah Birds coulda been something.
The Partridge Family / I Woke Up In Love This Morning
I don’t care.
I don’t care that this is supposed to be teenybopper pop music, created as a TV sitcom soundtrack, marketed to a puppy-eyed Teen Beat demographic of adolescent girls staring with undefined intent at their David Cassidy pinup. I don’t care if it was created in a boardroom, a stockholders’ meeting, a business planning session, or on the island of Dr. Moreau. I don’t care if anyone thinks it’s uncool, because anyone who does think that way is wrong, period. This record rocks. That’s all I care about.
Like The Monkees before them, the music of The Partridge Family didn’t have to be good; it just had to be commercial. The fictional Partridges didn’t reach the effervescent zenith of the less-fictional Monkees, nor of the Partridges’ real-life inspiration The Cowsills, but their machinery was likewise well-constructed, and with Cassidy’s accomplished lead vocals backed by the studio magic of The Wrecking Crew, The Partridge Family were occasionally able to transcend their test-tube genesis. Unlike The Monkees or The Cowsills, The Partridge Family never existed. But their records did. Some of those records were actually pretty damned good, with debut LP tracks “Somebody Wants To Love You” and “Singing My Song” particularly worthy of a fresh and appreciative listen.
“I Woke Up In Love This Morning” is the truest gem. Drummer Hal Blaine is just a monster on this track, and David Cassidy once again proves he was so much more than just a face, with a voice so perfectly suited to deliver on the promise of pop music. The little girls understood. Maybe we should pay attention, too.
Prince / I Could Never Take The Place Of Your Man
We’d been playing Prince‘s “When Doves Cry” on This Is Rock ‘n’ Roll Radio a bit throughout the first few months of 2016, and I betcha it would have made our year-end countdown even if Prince had remained one of our greatest living rock stars into 2017. His death in April sealed the case for that year’s ongoing infamy, prompting me to post, “2016 is fired.”
“I Could Never Take The Place Of Your Man” was never a song I thought much about before–if I were going to play Prince, I’d be more likely to go with “When Doves Cry” or “When You Were Mine”–but a request for the song from TIRnRR listener Joel Tinnel prompted us to play it on the show the week after Prince died. And it just clicked with me, suddenly but unerringly. I’ve been playing it ever since.
Willie Mae “Big Mama” Thornton / Hound Dog
From this song’s chapter in my book The Greatest Record Ever Made! (Volume 1):
Where and when did rock ‘n’ roll start? There are a few key records that one could name as possibilities for the first rock ‘n’ roll record. “Rocket 88” by Jackie Brentson and his Delta Cats (1951, and really Ike Turner and his Kings of Rhythm) is the closest we have to a consensus choice, though some would point to “The Fat Man” by Fats Domino (1950). I would at least add Amos Milburn‘s “Down The Road Apiece” (1947) to the discussion, and no less an authority than Lenny and Squiggy (on TV’s Laverne And Shirley) spoke on behalf of “Call The Police,” a 1941 single Nat King Cole made with The King Cole Trio. There are other progenitors and trailblazers from across the heady mingling of jump blues, R & B, country, and swing that birthed this bastard child we call rock ‘n’ roll. What was the daddy of them all? Not even a blood test is going to make that determination… …Most of us know “Hound Dog” best from Elvis Presley‘s incredible 1956 hit rendition. But as much of a legitimate threat as King Elvis I represented to the straight-laced status quo in the ’50s, his version of “Hound Dog” is an agreeably goofy novelty tune, patterned after a sanitized 1955 cover by Freddie Bell and the Bell Boys rather than Big Mama Thornton‘s rude and salacious kiss-off. Elvis’ version is still great–it’s freakin’ Elvis in his prime, for cryin’ out loud–but not even the King could touch the sheer orneriness of Thornton kicking that ol’ hound dog out the door….
Among songs closely associated with Elvis, there aren’t very many that I would concede the heresy that someone else did it better than the King did. Wanda Jackson‘s “Let’s Have A Party” may be one exception. Big Mama Thornton’s “Hound Dog” definitely is another.
The Tweakers / Super Secret Bonus Track
I would like to tell you all about this track: its mysterious origin, the players hidden in the shadows, the mythic circumstances that sparked its creation. But I can’t. It’s not just a secret; it’s a super secret, just like its title insists. Rumor has it that the song was written and originally recorded by a left-handed bass player from England–Sir Prize, or Sir Plus, something along those lines–and that eventual TIRnRR singin’ star Rich Firestone is connected to it in some way. It’s currently only available on the digital download version of This Is Rock ‘n’ Roll Radio, Volume 3. I can say no more. Shhhh. It’s a secret.
Arriving on the scene in the late seventies, XTC proved to be a bit too quirky and clever for the general public. Yet the British band gained favor with the critics, developed a loyal fan base and have been cited as a prime influence by many musicians.
For those not acquainted with the genius of XTC, the band really can’t be categorized. Mainly inspired by the holy trinity of sixties pop, psychedelia and art rock, the band also regularly dipped dashes of punk and new wave into the bin for modernized measures. Courageously experimental, XTC still managed to flaunt a distinctive sound that allowed instant recognition. Novel songwriting and arranging skills, compounded by a natural and nervous energy, granted the band’s material with an equal balance of sophistication and primal instincts.
A double CD set, consisting of 32 tracks, Garden Of Earthly Delights features a smartly-selected cast of musicians from the indie community who are not only avid admirers of XTC, but render the band’s compositions with knowledge and respect. Not your average tribute album, Garden Of Earthly Delights avoids simply going through the motions as the artists telegraph their own personalities into the songs.
Considering the volume of songs, there is obviously a lot to digest here. But because each entry is so catchy and the sequencing is astutely-organized, Garden Of Earthly Delights reins in as an easy and enjoyable listen.
Attempting to pick the best of the bunch is impossible, but for starters, there’s Coke Belda and El Inquito Rogue’s take on the bippity boppity “Standing In For Joe,” and the comparably sunny spunk of “Everything’ll Be Alright” from The Corner Laughters. Chris Price lends a gentle acoustic touch to “The Ballad Of Peter Pumpkinhead” and Bebopolula’s “Vanishing Girl” retains the same Monkees-meets-Turtles flower power pop flourishes of the original recording, which XTC actually released under the pseudonym of Dukes of Stratospheare.
Gretchen Wheel’s emotive version of “The Last Balloon” is positively dazzling, while Randy Sky’s “Books Are Burning” carries a haunting feel, and Chris Church’s “Stupidily Happy” rings and rocks to a cool beat. Pete Donnelly turns in a terrific treatment of the robotic romp of “This Is Pop,” where The Kickstand Band’s “Life Begins At The Hop” wiggles with nifty squiggles.
Bottled tight with harmony and color, Garden Of Earthly Delights – An XTC Celebration stresses the inventive spirit of the band in full force. Wall-to-wall with credible covers, created with love and reverence, this collection effectively salutes XTC’s flair for mixing ambition with a fun factor. An exciting audio adventure is guaranteed!
While I was driving home from work the other day, my iPod shuffled its way to “I Need You” by The Kinks. “I Need You” was the lesser-known third entry of the early Kinks’ triumvirate of powerhouse riffs, following the big 1964 hits “You Really Got Me” and “All Day And All Of The Night.” Unlike those first two, “I Need You” wasn’t a hit; it was, in fact, merely the B-side of the ’65 single “Set Me Free.” Though more obscure than its big brudders, “I Need You” nearly equals the hypnotic ferocity of its predecessors.
But my introduction to the headbanging splendor of “I Need You” did not come via The Kinks. I first heard the song when The Flashcubes included it in their live sets in 1978. Love at first power chord!
It occurred to me that there were several Kinks songs which I discovered vicariously. Among my all-time favorite rock ‘n’ roll acts, The Kinks are the only one where my initial exposure to a number of their classic songs came when somebody else covered ’em. That’s certainly not true of any songs by The Flashcubes, The Ramones, or The Monkees. The only Beatles songs I remember first hearing second-hand were Anne Murray‘s “You Won’t See Me” and Rain‘s “Helter Skelter” (from the TV mini-series about Charles Manson). I knew Cliff Richard‘s “Blue Turns To Grey” before I knew The Rolling Stones‘ original. I heard Syracuse chanteuse Nanci Hammond‘s rendition of “In My Room” long before I even realized it was a Beach Boys song (which was odd, because we had the Surfer Girl LP in the family collection when I was a kid, but I didn’t notice it). Hell, it wasn’t until the 90s that I discovered The Hollies wrote and recorded the original “Have You Ever Loved Somebody,” which had been one of my Fave Raves by The Searchers. See, I never learn…!
The Kinks were a different story, and I don’t know why. Ultimately, I’m grateful for whatever twisting path brought me to Muswell Hill’s finest. I did become a Kinks fan before I heard any of these Kinks covers, but these well-respected men and women helped to enhance the journey.
As noted, Syracuse’s own power pop powerhouse The Flashcubes introduced me to The Kinks’ “I Need You.” It wasn’t the only Kinks song I heard the ‘Cubes do, but I knew “You Really Got Me,” “Where Have All The Good Times Gone” and “This Man He Weeps Tonight” well before I heard The Flashcubes cover them live. (Among other songs the ‘Cubes taught me were Big Star‘s “September Gurls,” The Jam‘s “In The City,” Eddie & the Hot Rods‘ “Do Anything You Wanna Do,” The New York Dolls‘ “Personality Crisis,” Chris Spedding‘s “Boogie City” and “Hey Miss Betty,” April Wine‘s “Tonight Is A Wonderful Time,” and Eddie Cochran‘s “Somethin’ Else.” I love The Flashcubes.) After hearing the ‘Cubes perform “I Need You,” I really wanted to hear The Kinks! However, The Kinks’ Kinkdom LP was outta print at the time, and a used copy at Desert Shore Records in Syracuse was stickered with a higher price than this po’ college student could afford. Finally snagged it on a budget compilation in the mid ’80s.
By far the most recent example on this list. When my nephew Tim co-hosted This Is Rock ‘n’ Roll Radio a few years back, his playlist included Holly Golightly’s covers of two Ray Davies songs, “Tell Me Now So I’ll Know” and “Time Will Tell,” both from her 2003 album Truly She Is None Other. I wasn’t immediately familiar with either song–The Kinks’ version of “Time Will Tell” was an unreleased demo track at the time–but they got my attention. Holly Golightly’s magnificent rendition of “Time Will Tell” is one of but three Kinks covers out there that I prefer to the original version.
I’m pretty sure I heard Herman’s Hermits’ hit cover of “Dandy” well before I heard The Kinks’ original. It may have been close, though; I don’t remember “Dandy” on the radio at all, not even on oldies shows, so I may not have heard it until I bought a used copy of the Hermits’ “Dandy” single in the late ’70s.
I once wrote in Goldmine that the great Boston group Lyres didn’t want to be like the early Kinks, they wanted to be the early Kinks. I meant it as a compliment, and Lyres’ On Fyre remains one of my very favorite albums of the ’80s. On Fyre includes a cover of The Kinks’ “Tired Of Waiting For You,” and I certainly knew that one already. But I didn’t know “Love Me Till The Sun Shines,” a Dave Davies song, and Lyres’ version just floored me. Another one of the three Kinks covers I prefer to the original.
Yeah, The Pretenders’ “Stop Your Sobbing” is the third of the three Kinks covers I prefer to the original. Whatta record! The Pretenders also introduced me to another obscure Kinks song, “I Go To Sleep” (also covered by Peggy Lee), but “Stop Your Sobbing” was the kingpin.
The Records’ 1979 eponymous debut album originally came with a 7″ EP of covers. Of the four EP songs, the only original I knew beforehand was The Rolling Stones’ “Have You Seen Your Mother Baby (Standing In The Shadows).” I don’t think I knew Spirit‘s “1984.” I definitely did not know Blue Ash‘s power pop classic “Abracadabra (Have You Seen Her).” Nor did I know The Kinks’ wonderful “See My Friends,” which is now one of my many favorite Kinks tracks, but which was introduced to me via a cover by The Records. Thanks, lads!
Nope. Just kidding. And once again: why do I love The Kinks? Because they’re The Kinks. And God save The Kinks.
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