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THE GREATEST RECORD EVER MADE: Rock And Roll love Letter

An infinite number of rockin’ pop records can be the greatest record ever made, as long as they take turns. Today, this is THE GREATEST RECORD EVER MADE!

THE BAY CITY ROLLERS: “Rock And Roll Love Letter”
The next Beatles.

No one believed that particular bit of hype. I don’t recall the phrase “boy band” as part of the pop music lexicon in 1975, but it would have fit The Bay City Rollers like a Tartan glove. I was initially indifferent to them. As a discerning ‘n’ worldly 15-year-old Beatles fan, I thought the very notion of these Scottish wannabes, with their chanted S! A! T-U-R! D-A-Y! NIGHT!!,ever becoming a John, Paul, George, and Ringo just ludicrous. I dismissed them on that basis.

Dismissed them. I didn’t hate them. I dismissed them.

TV personality Howard Cosell took the hype seriously (though I betcha he didn’t really believe it either). In ’75, Cosell was launching a new live variety show called Saturday Night Livenot the famous one–patterned after The Ed Sullivan Show. Given Cosell’s goal to be the next Ed Sullivan, he wanted to introduce the next Beatles to the U.S. The Bay City Rollers made their American television debut on Howard Cosell’s Saturday Night Live. Again, not the famous one.

But slowly–and then more quickly–my indifference and dismissal began to yield to curiosity and burgeoning interest. I liked the idea of rockin’ pop teen sensations, The Beatles, The Dave Clark FiveHerman’s HermitsThe Monkees, even (one could argue) The Raspberries. I liked rockin’ pop songs meant to be played on the radio, from Badfinger to Johnny Nash to KISS. “Saturday Night” wasn’t a bad record; as I gave it a fair listen, it turned out to be a decent record. The Rollers’ second U.S. hit “Money Honey” was even better. And their third U.S. hit…well, we’re getting ahead of ourselves.

By the time The Bay City Rollers invaded America, they had already been stars in the UK. The group formed as The Saxons in 1966, with original members including lead singer “Nobby” Clark, bassist Alan Longmuir, and drummer Derek Longmuir, Alan’s brother. The Saxons became The Bay City Rollers, and had a UK hit with a cover of The Gentrys‘ “Keep On Dancing” in 1971. Follow-up singles, including a little something called “Saturday Night,” did not match the success of “Keep On Dancing.” The line-up evolved, as guitarist Eric Faulkner became a Roller, and “Remember (Sha La La)” returned the group to the UK Top Ten. Clark split, replaced by new lead singer Les McKeown, and guitarist (later bassist) Stuart “Woody” Wood joined. McKeown, Faulkner, Wood, and the Longmuir brothers became the  Rollers we know, and British stardom ensued. Hit singles. TV shows. Teen magazines. The Bay City Rollers were the idols of young lasses across the British Isles in 1974 and ’75. In late ’75, the colonies beckoned. Howard Cosell. “The next British phenomenon.” “Saturday Night,” a # 1 hit in America with a new version of a song that had never even charted back home. Success. International success.

Success, and immediate, everlasting scorn. That’s the price of being called the next Beatles. That’s also the price of actively courting an audience of adolescent females, young girls who’ll swear to love you forever, and plaster their bedrooms with craven images of their idols, only to outgrow you and move on. Ask David Cassidy, or Davy Jones before him. The Bay City Rollers’ music was not–and would never be–taken seriously.

Some of it deserved better.

I’m not trying to make a case for The Bay City Rollers’ induction into The Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame. But I will insist there are true gems within the Rollers canon. “Rock And Roll Love Letter” is one such gem.

“Rock And Roll Love Letter” was written by Tim Moore, who recorded the original version for his 1975 album Behind The Eyes. It was a perfectly fine pop ditty. Its simple charm was transformed into something greater in the unlikely hands of The Bay City Rollers. The Rollers discarded extraneous lyrics about being crazy to express themselves this way, revamping and renovating the song’s basic structure. They replaced the easygoing sway of Moore’s instrumental opening with a quick rat-tat of drums, guitars then taking over to assume command of your heart, your soul, and your radio. It was louder. It was pop. It was a manifesto. I feel an ancient rhythm in a man’s genetic code/I’m gonna keep on rock ‘n’ rollin’ ’til my genes explode.

A rock and roll love letter.

Few would ever give The Bay City Rollers the credit they deserved. Boy bandPop stars. A guy I knew once referenced the great British group The Records and their own subsequent cover of “Rock And Roll Love Letter,” hailing The Records for rescuing the tune from the crass, clueless clutches of the deplorable, disposable Rollers. The comment made my blood boil. Now, The Records were a fantastic group; “Starry Eyes” is also The Greatest Record Ever Made, and it’s not even my favorite Records record (which would be “Hearts Will Be Broken”). The Records’ version of “Rock And Roll Love Letter” is lovely.

It does not surpass the Rollers.

Without recognition from critics and pundits, The Bay City Rollers comforted themselves with the cool lucre of continued chart success for a little while longer. The American Rock And Roll Love Letter LP included a fabulous, group-written power pop song called “Wouldn’t You Like It,” which shoulda been a single, shoulda been a hit. Alan Longmuir left the group, replaced initially by Ian Mitchell, who was replaced briefly by Pat McGlynn, and then replaced by no one as The Bay City Rollers became the next Fab Four, in number anyway. In the U.S., there were still a few more hits: a cover of Dusty Springfield‘s “I Only Want To Be With You,” the dynamic “Yesterday’s Hero” (originally an Australian hit for Paul Young, written by Harry Vanda and George Young of The Easybeats), “You Made Me Believe In Magic,” and “The Way I Feel Tonight.” Their star faded. Tick-tock. Such is the finite shelf life of teen mania. Alan Longmuir returned. A 1978-79 Saturday morning kiddie TV show with Sid and Marty Krofft served as the epitaph for their career. Les McKeown split, acrimoniously. Faulkner, Wood, and the Longmuirs regrouped under the truncated name The Rollers (with new lead singer Duncan Faure, ex of South African group Rabbitt) and made some outstanding records that did not sell. The next Beatles had reached the end of their short and winding road.

That’s sales. That’s popularity. That’s the broader equivalent of the schoolyard milieu we hope to outgrow someday. Cliques. Crushes. Notes passed in class, clandestine fantasies of holding hands and meeting at the lips, adolescent wishes for the rapture of romance. The pre-teen dream. The fact that The Bay City Rollers catered specifically to that fantasy doesn’t negate the occasional moments when they transcended it. Hey sister poet, dear brother poet, too.  “Rock And Roll Love Letter” exploded from the radio like an effervescent communique from an alternate world ruled by the virtues of pure pop. But I need to spend my body, I’m a music-makin’ man/And no page can release it like this amplifier can.

The little girls still understand. Older and wiser, maybe we can all understand it. too. It is what it promised it would be: a rock and roll love letter. The words are true, and meant for you. Gonna sign it, gonna seal it, gonna mail it away.

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GUILT-FREE PLEASURES (A Defense Against The Dark Arts): “Freedom” by Wham!

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.


WHAM!: “Freedom”

It has never been cool to like George Michael. He sold something like, I dunno, a billion gazillion records, both solo and as the front face of Wham! (the latter alongside cohort Andrew Ridgely), so somebody must have thought he was okay. Critics grew to like him, too. 

But rock ‘n’ rollers hated him. I’m a rock ‘n’ roller. I think I’m supposed to hate him; loathing of teen-idol pop stars is listed in the rock ‘n’ roller’s job description, right between hoping to die before we get old and yelling for punters to get off of our cloud. Nonetheless, George Michael’s records never bothered me. I’d stop short of saying I was a fan, but nor were his songs an automatic prompt for me to change the station. It was, at worst, a peaceful co-existence; at best, it’s possible I may have tapped my toes a time or two.

My first awareness of Wham!–then referred to as “Wham! U.K.” here in the States–came in a Joey Ramone interview I read in some rock rag circa…1983? Maybe earlier. Joey dismissed Wham! as the sort of crap kids were listening to when they shoulda been diggin’ the rock ‘n’ roll. My loyalty to The Ramones was (and is) unshakable, so I had no reason to question Bruddah # 1’s distaste for this Wham thing, whatever it was. The first Wham! song I ever heard was “Wham Rap (Enjoy What You Do),” an inoffensive, slight 1982 single that I probably didn’t hear until ’83. I didn’t hate it, Joey’s admonishment notwithstanding. 

In late 1984, I started a job at a record store. Wham! became suddenly ubiquitous, with the # 1 smash single “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go” and the mega-selling album Make It Big. “Careless Whisper” gave the group its second U.S. # 1, and would eventually be named the top single of 1985. 

I objected to none of it, not the bubbly confection “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go,” not even the slick ballad “Careless Whisper,” with its much-mocked line “Guilty feet ain’t got no rhythm.” It was pop music, and to my ears it was better radio fare than a number of Wham!’s contemporaries. I mean, there were certainly dozens of other 1985 hits (and non-hits) that I preferred to Wham!, from The Bangles and Prince to Los Lobos and The Long Ryders. I remained neither acolyte nor dissident. Wham! was Wham!, and there were plenty of other things more worthy of my devotion or my derision, whichever one applied.

In the summer of ’85, I decided I needed to supplement my record store paycheck with part-time employment at McDonald’s. At the ripened age of 25, I was the oldest cook on the crew, but still energetic enough to work retail all day, work a closing fast-food shift three nights a week, and hit the bars after midnight before going home, showering, napping, and heading back to retail in the morning.

You could say it was a foolish slog. To me, it felt like a second shot at being a teenager. Freedom. And there just happened to be a song on the radio that bore that title.

“Freedom” was Wham!’s fourth single off Make It Big (“Everything She Wants” was the third), and the only one to miss the tippytop of the Billboard Hot 100, settling for a peak at # 3. Compared to the ’80s bubblechirp of “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go,” the mournful regret of “Careless Whisper,” and the relative anonymity of “Everything She Wants,” “Freedom” was something else again: it was pure, over-the-top, capital letters POP, almost (if not quite) bordering on power pop. Its giddy exuberance exploded from cheap speakers everywhere, demanding volume, delivering the irresistibly agreeable swoon of hooks and melody cranked to a deep-red, blissful saturation point. The Raspberries could have done this song. Smokey Robinson & the Miracles could have done this song. The Monkees should have done this song. Any of those prospects would have been intriguing. And I doubt that any of them would have surpassed Wham!’s incredible rendition.

It was product. Sure. It was disposable CHR fodder with no pretense of grit or substance. It was the 1980s in microcosm, and I’m not terribly fond of the ’80s. It is all these sins and more. And yet, there are moments when I think it’s The Greatest Record Ever Made. I confess this transgression without apology.

The song’s title contrasts with its story. The lyrics tell us that the singer is madly in love with a hinge-heeled girl who thinks relationships should be open and free, non-exclusive, and she laughs and tells our besotted hero he should go out and try it. But he doesn’t want that kind of freedom; he wants commitment, trust, stability, an everlasting and monogamous meeting of hearts. I don’t want your freedom/I don’t want to play around. All he wants right now is her, not some other floozy de nuit. He wants the true love promised in pop songs. 

It was also what I wanted, and I got it. In that summer of 1985, I celebrated my first wedding anniversary. Brenda and I have now been married for nearly 35 years. We’re still in love. Just like pop songs always said we could be. 

Wham! itself wasn’t built to last. George Michael went on to a successful and well-regarded solo career; he called his second album Listen Without Prejudice Vol. 1. Guilt-free pleasure, right? I never again embraced any of his work to anywhere near the degree I exulted in Wham!’s transcendent pop song “Freedom.” But I respected him. He was one of the many casualties of 2016, a year which took away so many of our pop idols, a year that seemed crueler than any other cruel, cruel year. 

Before Michael’s death, I had already reconnected with my delight in Wham!’s wonderful pop song “Freedom.” The track’s a bit too long–pop songs sound best with running times of two to three and a half minutes, not over five–but its charm remains, and I love it without reservation or shame. It sounds great with some Motown and some Badfinger, some Aretha FranklinKai DanzbergDusty SpringfieldSqueezeThe Isley BrothersLisa MycholsHerman’s Hermits, and yes, even alongside some Ramones. Joey Ramone was wrong, at least this one time. But you know that I’ll forgive you/Just this once, twice, forever. Forever. Let “Freedom” ring. 

VERDICT: Innocent, not guilty.

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Rock ‘N’ Roll On TV

Just as the 1966 debut of the Batman TV series wasn’t my introduction to superheroes on TV, neither was the debut of The Monkees later in ’66 my first televised rock ‘n’ roll experience. For that, we have to go back to at least February 9th, 1964; sure, I’d just turned four years old a little over three weeks before that, but trust me: that Sunday night, everyone saw The Beatles on The Ed Sullivan Show. Yeah, yeah, yeah!

Even before Smilin’ Ed introduced these four young men from Liverpool who called themselves The Beatles, I’m pretty sure I’d seen Chubby Checker twistin’ on TV when I was three, and I may (or may not) have seen The Four Seasons on some show, somewhere, singing “Big Girls Don’t Cry.”

Still, The Beatles’ TV debut was seismic. Every televised rock ‘n’ roll moment I saw after that, from The Monkees through Elvis Costello & the Attractions on Saturday Night Live, and all points in all directions, is filtered in my mind through a memory of John, Paul, George, and Ringo singing “All My Loving” for an American TV audience that felt its hair growing longer and its soul growing freer before that first song was through.

In between February ’64 and September ’66, my specific memories of rock on TV are limited and hazy, at best. Aside from one-off fictional combos like The Mosquitoes on Gilligan’s Island or the actual band The Standells on The Munsters (both of which I’m sure I saw in prime time, but really only remember from reruns in the ’70s), there was The Beatles Saturday morning cartoon series, and there was Dick Clark‘s rockin’ pop showcase Where The Action Is! on weekday afternoons. I know for a fact that I saw at least some episodes of Where The Action Is!, but while I remember watching it, I don’t remember what I saw and heard; I wouldn’t take note of the Where The Actions Is! house band–the fabulous Paul Revere & the Raiders–until rediscovering them in the ’70s. I must have seen American Bandstand, and Hullabaloo, and Shindig! in this time frame, but I can’t swear it’s so.

So The Monkees show was also seismic. The cultural impact of the show remains underrated, but The Monkees probably did more to bring long hair and the burgeoning youth movement into the American middle-class mainstream, into acceptance, than any other single source. Yeah, even more than The Beatles themselves. Throughout 1967 and into the time of the TV show’s cancellation in ’68, The Beatles were getting weird by middle American standards; they did drugs, LSD, and were no longer the cuddly moptops we’d seen running from screaming fans in A Hard Day’s Night (a 1964 movie which was televised on election night in 1968). But The Monkees? Couldn’t call ’em clean-cut exactly, but they weren’t perceived as a threat to the status quo: smilin’ and laughin’, too busy singing to put anybody down. Even with their long hair and their beads and peace signs, The Monkees seemed…normalThe Monkees was the most quietly, successfully subversive TV show on the air in 1967. And it got away with it.

The above is a mere tangent to today’s discussion. While Micky, Davy, Michael, and Peter were subtly moving the needle to the left, they were also an engaging rockin’ pop group, playing their great songs on TV, every week. You wanna talk about rock ‘n’ roll on TV? You’d better have a lot to say about The Monkees.

The only other rock-on-TV moment I can specifically recall from this ’66-’68 span is seeing The Jefferson Airplane sing “Somebody To Love” on American Bandstand.  When The Monkees faded to black in ’68, I didn’t really see much more rock ‘n’ roll on the telly for a while thereafter. I guess you could count the animated exploits of The Archies, whose agreeable bubblegum music was way better than anyone should have expected from a Saturday morning cartoon soundtrack, but Riverdale’s Phenomenal Pop Combo wasn’t quite the same as a flesh-and-blood combo, even an initially manufactured combo like The Monkees.

Things changed a bit in the ’70s. I was actively listening to AM Top 40 radio, and starting to see bands on TV. The bands had never gone away from the TV screen, of course; they were still making appearances on variety shows and talk shows, but I just didn’t see ’em. But I did see the TV special James Paul McCartney in 1973, I saw Wings‘ video for “Mary Had A Little Lamb” on The Flip Wilson Show, Smokey Robinson on The Sonny And Cher Comedy Hour, and the new late-night rock ‘n’ roll showcases Midnight SpecialABC In Concert, and Don Kirshner’s Rock Concert. Those three shows gave me opportunities to see artists ranging from The Rolling Stones to The Isley Brothers to The Bee Gees, and even ’60s acts like Herman’s Hermits.

Opportunities continued to broaden when I was in high school: The Bay City Rollers and The Patti Smith Group on The Mike Douglas ShowAlice Cooper on both The Smothers Brothers and The Snoop SistersThe Rubinoos and Fanny on American Bandstand. A British import called Supersonic offered me my first televised glimpse of my # 1 Pop Dream Suzi Quatro, as well as appearances by The HolliesThe Crazy World Of Arthur Brown, and that loathsome lizard Gary Glitter. NBC’s Saturday Night offered a Simon & Garfunkel reunion, and a one-off duo of Paul Simon and George Harrison, and–best of all!–THE KINKS!! Even more TV rock stars would appear during my college years: The RutlesTodd RundgrenDevoThe Sex PistolsBowieMichael NesmithKISSTom Petty & the HeartbreakersCheap TrickThe RecordsIggy PopThe Clash, yadda und yadda. In the early ’80s, my access to TV was limited, but there was Rick James and Fear on SNL, and The Ramones on, of all things, Sha Na Na. There was a video for Joey Wilson‘s sublime, elusive “If You Don’t Want My Love” on some long-forgotten video hits show. And then there was MTV, a rant for another day (if ever).

As home video became a thing, I acquired a lot of old rock ‘n’ roll favorites, to peruse again at my leisure. I have all of The Beatles’ appearances on The Ed Sullivan Show. I have a Blu-ray set collecting the entire series of The Monkees. I have officially-licensed Hullabaloo DVDs, a bootleg DVD set of the complete Shindig!, and an assortment of other televised rock ‘n’ roll goodies, both legit and less so, from The Raspberries to The Dave Clark Five. And it’s all on YouTube anyway, for anyone to click and view at a moment’s notice.

While I miss the feeling of rock ‘n’ roll on TV as a unique and special event, I can’t deny that I dig the convenience of being able to see a Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick & Tich or (especially!) Suzi Quatro clip online whenever I wish. Expedience trumps nostalgia. But that desire was built on a bedrock of memories, fond recollections of sprawling before the tube to witness The Beatles sing “I Want To Hold Your Hand,” and all that came after that. Thanks, Mr. Sullivan. Set your antenna. Turn it up. Watch the music, and let it rock.

Carl Cafarelli

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The T-Shirts Of My Life

Don’t tell me that love hurts
I read the book, I saw the movie
Got the T-shirt
“T Shirt” by J. Imray (recorded by The Crickets)

Me in a Monkees T-shirt, my wife Brenda in normal adult clothes

I don’t wear plain Ts, of course; I favor some kind of design, usually a graphic from pop culture, whether it’s a rock group or a comic book character, whatever. I remember wearing a Batman T-shirt when I was six (circa the 1966 Batman TV series). I have no other recollection of what T-shirts (if any) I wore as a kid. (Though I should at least mention my Baron Daemon sweatshirt, proudly emblazoned with the black-and-white image of Syracuse’s favorite TV vampire, and stating, I’m a real cool ghoul.)

Even into high school, I don’t really remember what T-shirts I may have owned. The only one that specifically comes to mind is the Budweiser shirt I had when I was 15. I didn’t drink Budweiswer then, and I don’t drink it now, though the reason why has evolved; in 1975, I didn’t drink Budweiser because I didn’t drink beer, whereas nowadays I don’t drink Budweiser because I don’t regard it as a real beer. Gimme a Belgian, man.

Really, college was when I started getting more into identity-proclaiming T-shirts. I’m sure I wore a bunch of ’em freshman year, 1977-78, though I only remember my dorm T-shirt, my free local disco Club 2 On 2 T-shirt (which was definitely not identity-proclaiming, but it was free), and a White Rock T I won from Utica’s WOUR-FM. The White Rock shirt–which was connected to a ski movie scored by Rick Wakeman from Yes, not some stupid neo-Nazi thing–caused friction with my girlfriend’s roommate Rosanne; Ro also had a White Rock T-shirt, but hers went missing, and it was an uncommon enough item that I can’t blame her for being suspicious when she saw me wearing mine (especially given, as she put it, that I was hanging around her room so much). 

As college progressed, I started to get a few Ts more specifically reflective of my pop tastes. Christopher Reeve as SupermanKISSThe Sex PistolsThe Ramones. I recall a visit to a Syracuse University shop called Tops To Please, which at the time had an amazing selection of rock, punk, and new wave shirts, including a shirt emblazoned with the logo of my local heroes The Flashcubes. Alas, I was but a poor college student, and my budget didn’t allow me to purchase anything there. I never even got a Flashcubes T-shirt, at least not at the time. After the ‘Cubes broke up, and their T-shirts were no longer available, I went to a custom shirt place in Brockport, armed with a plain black T and my official membership button from when I joined The Flashcubes International Fan Club. I went to the shop’s counter, and told the clerk, “Make this shirt look like this button.” Yes, I’m guilty of commissioning the world’s first bootleg Flashcubes T-shirt. When the group reunited decades later and offered new shirts for sale, I made sure to buy one in penance for past sins.

For my 21st birthday in 1981, my girlfriend bought me a Monkees T-shirt. I loved that thing, and I wore it whenever I could. I wore it to a club show by a great British Invasion-influenced group called The Insiders. As the show went on, one of The Insiders told the crowd, “I hear there’s a guy here tonight in a Monkees T-shirt. Well, this is the song he came to hear,” and The Insiders played “(I’m Not Your) Steppin’ Stone.” I think they did “Last Train To Clarksville,” too.  Hey, hey…!

I remember once staring at a Yardbirds T-shirt for sale at Record Theatre in Rochester, wanting it, but reluctantly moving on because the store didn’t have one in my size. But the ’80s opened the floodgates for my fresh sea of Ts. Johnny Thunders! More Ramones! Batman! Um…Madonna. It was free. And, if memory serves, Ms. Ciccone wasn’t wearing a shirt herself in the image on the front, her strategically-placed arm securing the modicum of modesty necessary for one to wear the T-shirt in polite company.

’80s, ’90s, and into the 21st century. I had souvenir Ts from visits to Key West, Yosemite, Peel Pub in Montreal, and Malaga, several shirts depicting images of Batman and/or The Joker, shirts dressed with logos or likenesses of The Beach BoysThe Rolling StonesThe Wonders (from That Thing You Do!), The Cavern ClubGerber MusicThe BeatlesLannie FlowersThe Catholic GirlsCoca-ColaHarry PotterSyracuse University basketballSpider-Man…! Some I outgrew, some I replaced. I still wear ’em, from early, early spring to late, late fall.

My favorite T-shirt? The Kinks. People notice it pretty much every time I wear it, and I wear it often. Am I a dedicated follower of fashion? No, plainly not. I read the book, I saw the movie. Now just lemme have my T-shirts.

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Fans of pop music will want to check out Waterloo Sunset–Benefit For This Is Rock ‘n’ Roll Radio, a new pop compilation benefiting SPARK! Syracuse, the home of This Is Rock ‘n’ Roll Radio with Dana & CarlTIR’N’RR Allstars–Steve StoeckelBruce GordonJoel TinnelStacy CarsonEytan MirskyTeresa CowlesDan PavelichIrene Peña, Keith Klingensmith, and Rich Firestone–offer a fantastic new version of The Kinks’ classic “Waterloo Sunset.” That’s supplemented by eleven more tracks (plus a hidden bonus track), including previously-unreleased gems from The Click BeetlesEytan MirskyPop Co-OpIrene PeñaMichael Slawter (covering The Posies), and The Anderson Council (covering XTC), a new remix of “Infinite Soul” by The Grip Weeds, and familiar TIRnRR Fave Raves by Vegas With RandolphGretchen’s WheelThe Armoires, and Pacific Soul Ltd. Oh, and that mystery bonus track? It’s exquisite. You need this. You’re buying it from Futureman.

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Hold On! It’s NORMAN’S NORMANS!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But it was fun!

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

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

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

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THE BEST OF EVERYTHING: Best Of The Bobby Fuller Four

Sometimes only the best will do. The Best Of Everything looks back on specific greatest-hits and best-of LPs and what they meant to me.

THE BOBBY FULLER FOUR: Best Of The Bobby Fuller Four (Rhino, 1981)

In 1966, my brother Art had a red Alfa Romeo. I’m told it was kind of a crappy car, really, and I remember its ignominious final days in his possession: a scarlet husk parked, prone, lying in state beyond the shed at the end of our back yard. Collecting dust, collecting rust. A tow truck ultimately came to whisk this luckless red Alfa Romeo to the promised land.

But my prevailing principle memory of this doomed vehicle is a happy one. I believe the memory involves the consumption of Royal Crown Cola, or possibly a root beer and Teen Burger at the nearby A & W Drive-In. The memory absolutely involves the car’s one true immortal virtue: its radio.

That radio? When I was six years old, I may have thought that radio was magic.

I mean, it must have been magic. There were songs I heard on that car’s radio that I never seemed to hear anywhere else. I should ask Art if he listened to Syracuse’s 1260 WNDR in ’66, or if it was WOLF instead, or even the less-fabled WFBL. Whatever it was, it played “I Like It Like That” by The Dave Clark Five, a record that–to me–only existed on the AM dial of Art’s star-crossed Alfa Romeo. Even better, it played–often!–another irresistible exclusive: “I Fought The Law” by The Bobby Fuller Four. To this day, more than five decades later, my visceral memory of that terrific song is inextricably linked to those moments in my brother’s Alfa Romeo, of drums, guitars, and a singer bemoaning his fate of Breakin’ rocks in the hot sun, allpouring forth from the little car’s speakers as my big brother cruised suburban streets with his pesky kid brother on board. It’s indelible, and I embrace and cherish its vivid image.

A decade and change passed. In 1978, I was finishing my freshman year in college, and immersing myself in the rockin’ pop of the ’60s and the then-contemporary sounds of punk, new wave, and power pop. It was all one big ol’ ball of pop music to me, from The Monkees to The Sex PistolsThe Romantics to The Beau BrummelsThe Ramones  to Joey Ramone‘s fave raves The Who and Herman’s Hermits. Oh, and The Kinks to The Kinks, “You Really Got Me” to “Rock And Roll Fantasy.” In this joyous crucible of discovery and rediscovery, “I Fought The Law” was ripe to reclaim. I think I found an oldies 45 reissue, but I found something lacking in its sound–couldn’t match the magic of the Alfa Romeo, lemme tell ya! I bought a various-artists LP called 15 Original Rock N’ Roll Biggies Vol. 2, an oddball set that gave me “I Fought The Law,” familiar old gold from The Platters and Little Anthony & the Imperials (and, incongruously, “Day By Day” from Godspell), and some archival stuff that was brand-new to me, by names like The StandellsThe E-Types, and Chocolate Watchband. I played “I Fought The Law” and the two Standells tracks–“Why Pick On Me” and “Sometimes Good Guys Don’t Wear White”–a lot in that music-filled summer of ’78.

I don’t know if it occurred to me that The Bobby Fuller Four might have had more than just one great song. Hell, my “I Fought The Law” 45 had only contained one BF4 track, its flip occupied by The Seeds‘ “Pushin’ Too Hard.” Nor did I know that Bobby Fuller himself was dead, and I certainly didn’t know anything at all about the suspicious circumstances surrounding his demise. The opportunity to learn about all of this would not present itself until after I graduated from college in 1980.

The specific sequence of events is cluttered and imprecise in my recollection. In 1981, my girlfriend and I were living in an apartment in Brockport. She would graduate that spring, and I’d already leveraged my Bachelor of Arts degree into full-time employment at McDonald’s–success! And rent money, as well as cash for beer and food and beer, and to keep buying music at Main Street Records. At Main Street, my dovetailing interests in punk and pop led me to Pebbles, the essential Nuggets-inspired series of possibly-not-fully-authorized compilations of ’60s garage and psych. I started with Pebbles‘ second volume, which introduced me to The Choir‘s “It’s Cold Outside” and The Moving Sidewalks‘ “99th Floor,” and to The Electric Prunes‘ unforgettable commercial for Vox wah-wah pedals. It’s the NOW sound! It’s what’s happening!

Pebbles, Volume 2 also offered my first exposure to a Bobby Fuller song that was not about robbing people with a WHOMP-WHOMP-WHOMP six-gun: the relatively nondescript “Wine Wine Wine.” Fuller remained a one-hit wonder to me for just a little bit longer.

Within this same time frame, Phil Seymour (formerly of The Dwight Twilley Band, and a collaborator with ace combos like Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers and 20/20) released his first solo album. My favorite track on Phil Seymour was his version of “Let Her Dance,” an incredible pop confection first recorded by–you guessed it!–The Bobby Fuller Four. Something nagging at the edges of my memory insists that I did hear the original version before hearing Seymour’s cover, but I can’t imagine where I heard it. Either way, I loved the song. I was ready and eager to dive more deeply into Fuller’s c.v.

I probably snapped up Rhino Records‘ Best Of The Bobby Fuller Four the first time I saw it on the shelf at Main Street; if not, it wasn’t long thereafter. I knew, at best, two songs. It was high time to know more.

The album begins with the lone hit, Sonny Curtis‘ “I Fought The Law,” originally recorded by The Crickets, later covered successfully by The Clash. I’ve always considered The Bobby Fuller’s version to be definitive. I still do. By the early ’80s, I would have been more than skeptical of the idea that it could ever be demoted to something like my fourth or even fifth favorite BF4 track. But that revelation was mere grooves away.

Granted, nothing else on Side 1 of Best Of The Bobby Fuller Four really threatens to challenge the primacy of “I Fought The Law.” “King Of The Wheels,” the LP’s second track, is its weakest, an amiable but unremarkable car tune. The rest of the side is pretty damned good, with the pure pop likes of “The Magic Touch,” “It’s Love, Come What May, “Only When I Dream,” “Don’t Let Me Know,” and Buddy Holly‘s “Love’s Made A Fool Of You” combining to build the case that maybe these one-hit wonders deserved greater notoriety than the one hit that defined them. In particular, “Don’t Let Me Know” seems like it should have at least been a hit single, perhaps capable of cracking the lower end of the Top 20 while never quite matching the Top 10 status of “I Fought The Law.”

But Side Two…!

Side Two opens with “Let Her Dance,” a bona fide gem later covered by Marshall Crenshaw, and I don’t think I’ve ever heard a bad version of it. The BF4’s original is the equal of “I Fought The Law,” perhaps its superior. “Another Sad And Lonely Night” is even better, a lovelorn lament that all too few recognize as the essential classic it is. “My True Love,” “I’m A Lucky Guy,” and the Eddie Cochran ripof…er, tribute “Saturday Night” keep things moving at a mere-mortal (but terrific!) level. By this point, Best Of The Bobby Fuller Four has already proven the group to be worthy of repeated play beyond just its best-known song.

“Fool Of Love” is the icing on this cake, a cruel-love compatriot to “Another Sad And Lonely Night,” both of them simultaneously shiny and devastating in their resigned, boppin’ acceptance of the heart’s tear-stained pursuit of an elusive happiness. The two tracks politely take turns as my all-time top Bobby Fuller Four track. The haunting “Never To Be Forgotten” brings the program proper to a close, the heart’s quest yet unfulfilled, but its lonely plight comforted by the warmth of the stereo. An unlisted bonus track–the group’s radio spot for The Big Kahuna, a popular DJon L.A.’s KHJ-AM, sung to the tune of “I Fought The Law”–finally ends the LP on a gloriously exuberant note.

I was 21 years old in 1981. I lived inside my pop music. I was also living in the (overrated) real world for the first time, trying to reconcile the frequently conflicting promise of art and the demands of responsibility, adulthood. It can be a difficult line to tread, an ongoing balancing act between the dreams we dream and the clocks we punch. Doing what we have to keeps things going; doing what we want to keeps us going.

Bobby Fuller wasn’t much older than that when he died in the summer of ’66, a pop star three months shy of his twenty-fourth birthday, a West Texas kid who hit the big time, a rockin’ pop success story with a Billboard smash on his resumé and the world at his feet. The liner notes to Best Of The Bobby Fuller Four offered my first hint of his tragic story. Bobby had talent. Bobby had good looks. Bobby had a string of pretty young things on his arm. And on July 18th, 1966, Bobby’s body was found slumped in his car outside his apartment in Hollywood. He had been beaten. He had been doused with gasoline. The authorities ruled his death a suicide (later amended to “accidental”).

Right.

The record business is big and brutal. And wherever there’s money, there are criminals, and there is often the mob. Ask Tommy James. Or ask Miriam Linna, co-author (with Bobby’s brother Randell Fuller) of the book I Fought The Law: The Life And Strange Death Of Bobby Fuller. Linna and Fuller believe Bobby was murdered by the mob. Sound crazy? Really, crazier than suicide by beating oneself and bathing in gasoline? I’m not one for conspiracy theories. Elvis is dead. Paul is alive. Neil Armstrong did indeed walk on the moon. Oswald may well have acted alone. I find tinfoil hats unbecoming. And I also believe that the mob killed Bobby Fuller, whether over business (likely) or for revenge on Bobby for dallying with a pretty young thing whose dallying allegiance was presumed to already belong exclusively to an underworld boss. The latter scenario was, as I recall, favored in the liner notes of Best Of The Bobby Fuller Four. Whatever actually happened to Fuller, it’s a safe bet it wasn’t self-inflicted.

The sordid tale of Fuller’s end, as sad and frustrating as it remains, can’t dilute the prevailing appeal of his music. Listening to Best Of The Bobby Fuller Four was my first real evidence that there could be more–much more–to an act that show biz writes off as a one-hit wonder. I no longer own my copy of that LP; it was replaced many years ago by a CD that contained even more great Bobby Fuller tracks, and that CD was replaced by the five discs of Bobby Fuller material that now sit proudly on my shelf at home. Fool of love. Another sad and lonely night. Let her dance all night long.

My road to appreciating the bounty of The Bobby Fuller Four began in earnest with Best Of The Bobby Fuller Four in 1981. But the road truly began on the road, literally, back in ’66: when the magic radio in my brother’s unreliable but intrepid red Alfa Romeo played a song I could never hear anywhere else. The law didn’t win this one, I fear. But the music plays on. Never to be forgotten.

(And, for a fictional take inspired by Bobby Fuller’s murder, check out the blurb for my story idea The Beat And The Sting.)

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Paperback Cover Cavalcade #1

In the wake of my recent slimming-down of my massive collection of books, this inaugural edition of Paperback Cover Cavalcade selects five books that survived the cut, books I’ve owned for years and years but have never quite gotten around to reading. 
Yet.

THE SKYLARK OF SPACE by Edward E. Smith

I started visiting the weekly flea market at Syracuse’s Regional Market in the mid ’70s. I was a teenager, and my main shopping goal was to score comics, books, and magazines; rock ‘n’ roll records would join that group of sought-after items in very short order. My first-ever flea market purchase was probably a now-forgotten issue of the 1930s pulp Dime Detective. I didn’t shop at the flea market every week, but I went as often as I could.

Among the regular dealers at the flea market were some science-fiction fans. My stubborn memory won’t surrender details or mental image, but I think it was two or three guys and maybe one girl, all college-age or just a little older. Their wares were science-fiction, fantasy, recent and vintage, books, magazines, fanzines. If they’d also had comic books, Monkees LPs, Playboy, and a corned beef on rye, I woulda found my teenage heaven right there. But close enough! I’m pretty sure they sold me my spiffy softbound trade reprint of two classic pulp adventures starring The Shadow, and they definitely sold me this beat-up paperback The Skylark Of Space by Edward E. Smith.

I had heard of Smith, aka E. E. “Doc” Smith, from…somewhere. Maybe Smith had been mentioned in Phillip José Farmer‘s own books Tarzan Alive and Doc Savage: His Apocalyptic Life, or maybe Steranko had brought up Smith in the pulp chapter of The Steranko History Of Comics. Wherever I had encountered Smith’s name, I knew he had written a seminal space-opera fantasy novel series called Lensman. And one Sunday, as I browsed through this s-f collective’s flea market offerings, one of the sellers asked if there was anything I had in mind. “Something with superheroes?,” I replied. The bookseller nodded, indicated that he knew exactly what I needed, snatched up a copy of The Skylark Of Space, and pressed it in my hand. Buy this, kid. Whether the order was spoken or implied, I obeyed and surrendered the appropriate amount of cash to assume ownership of this Skylark.

If memory serves, this same little collective of fans and purveyors was the driving force behind a science-fiction convention in Syracuse in (I think) early 1977. It was my second convention, following the Super DC Con that DC Comics staged in NYC in February of 1976. Wish I could remember the name of the s-f convention in Syracuse; I betcha I still have the program somewhere, buried deep within my big ol’ stack o’ stuff. There was, alas, no superhero or comics programming–a single comics-centric panel had been planned but canceled when its guest speaker was unable to attend–but I had a blast anyway. I don’t really remember the panels, but I remember scoring comic books (primarily Charltons, Flash Gordon and The Peacemaker) in the dealers’ room, watching the Sean Connery film Zardoz, and attending an after-party where no one was concerned with any need to prevent seventeen-year-old me from enjoying a beer or two. I enjoyed myself very well, thank you.


BEHOLD THE MAN by Michael Moorcock

During that same time frame of my pilgrimages to the flea market, I was also burrowing through the new and used books and magazines at Economy Bookstore. Economy had two locations, one on Salina Street in downtown Syracuse and another in Shoppingtown Mall out in DeWitt. I loved both spots, and I was especially fond of the basement section in each, where the cheap second-hand and (illegal) stripped-cover merchandise dwelled. I recall scoring my cherished copy of Harlan Ellison‘s The Glass Teat in the Shoppingtown basement, and snapping up remaindered magazines downstairs at Salina Street.

It was either at the downtown Economy Bookstore or at North Syracuse’s World Of Books (another favorite spot) that I bought some back issues of Unknown Worlds Of Science Fiction, a black-and-white comics magazine published by Marvel. The only thing I remember about any of them now is a story in the sixth issue: writer Doug Moench and artist Alex Niño‘s adaptation of Michael Moorcock‘s book Behold The Man.

I knew Moench from his work on Marvel’s Master Of Kung Fu, and Niño from DC’s “Captain Fear” feature in Adventure Comics. “Behold The Man” knocked me out. I was a 16- or 17-year-old wannabe writer in a post-Watergate era, questioning authority, flirting with iconoclasm, an agnostic, skeptical of the existence of a deity, and only a short span of time away from falling facade-first for punk rock. “Behold The Man”‘s story of a time traveler who becomes ensnared in Biblical events transfixed me. 

It took me years to secure a copy of the Moorcock book itself. I don’t know where or when I finally got it, though I suspect it was in the late ’80s or early ’90s at Syracuse’s Book Warehouse. I wish I could have read it when I was still a teen, and I don’t know if it can possibly have the same effect on 60-year-old me as it might have had on my too-serious, thin-skinned, wide-eyed younger self. 

ONLY LOVERS LEFT ALIVE by Dave Wallis

By my teens, I was a big fan of 1960s rock ‘n’ roll, especially the British Invasion. That translated into a love of seeing rockin’ pop performers in the movies, or at least a curiosity about that. I’d seen all of The Beatles‘ movies, I’d seen The T.A.M.I. Show, and I was dying to see things like Having A Wild Weekend, starring The Dave Clark Five. I read music histories and biographies, desperate to learn more and more. 

It was in those non-fiction works that I discovered that The Rolling Stones had once intended to make a movie. The proposed movie’s title sounded intriguing: Only Lovers Left Alive. It obviously wasn’t supposed to be as (transcendently) frothy as Help! or A Hard Day’s Night. I eventually discovered that this movie would have been based on a dystopian science-fiction novel, written by Dave Wallis and published in 1964. 

Of course, the Stones never made that movie, nor did they star in the adaptation of A Clockwork Orange they were rumored to be mulling. (The 2013 vampire film Only Lovers Left Alive is unrelated to the Wallis novel, and also does not star The Rolling Stones; make up your own undead Keith Richards joke). That back-story of a movie The Rolling Stones thought of making was sufficient motivation for me to eventually grab a copy of the Wallis book, probably purchased at Book Warehouse.

THE POINT MAN by Stephen Englehart

Stephen Englehart–billed as just Steve Englehart for his work in Marvel and DC Comics–wrote a lot of comics that I liked, loved, or even worshipped. I was fond of his runs on The AvengersCaptain America,and The Defenders for Marvel, and his subsequent Justice League Of America and Mr. Miracle stories at DC, but it was his Batman work that really blew my mind. He scripted my all-time favorite single Batman story, 1974’s “Night Of The Stalker!” in Detective Comics # 439. He wrote what I consider the definitive run of Batman stories in Detective Comics # 469-476 (1977-78). I was so disappointed in any other Bat-writer’s attempt to follow Englehart that I wound up giving up on comic books entirely for a few years.

I returned to comics fandom a little while after graduating from college in 1980. When I moved to Buffalo in 1982, I began frequenting Queen City Bookstore and sweeping up deeply-discounted back issues of magazines about comics, primarily The Comics Journal and Comics Feature. In those magazines, I read articles about Englehart, and an extensive Englehart interview, which was where I learned that he’d written a novel called The Point Man.

Had to have that. It took me years to find it. Maybe I plucked it from the shelf of a great book shop in Melbourne, Florida while on vacation in 1994, or maybe I got it at one of the two great bookstores on James Street in Syracuse, or maybe even at Mike Paduana‘s late, lamented, and fantastic Metropolis Book Shoppe in North Syracuse. Wherever, whenever, however: mine, now!

SUPERHEROES, edited by Michel Parry

This one’s an oddity, and I am for damned sure hanging on to it. Superheroes is a 1978 British collection of short stories, each connected to the general titular theme. Several of the individual stories saw their first publication here, while others are reprints, some from the ’40s, some from the ’60s and early ’70s. It includes “Man Of Steel, Woman Of Kleenex,” Larry Niven‘s 1971 rumination on the unlikelihood of Lois Lane ever surviving a night of passionate bouncy-bouncy with Superman. I regret that it doesn’t contain Steven Utley‘s 1977 short “In Brightest Day, In Darkest Night” (a favorite from my Economy Bookstore sci-fi magazine hauls), but it does have Robert BlochGeorge E. ClarkDonald F. Glut (creator of The Occult Files Of Dr. Spektor), Norman Spinrad, and more.

I bought this in the early ’90s at a Syracuse bookstore on Salina near the corner of Bear Street, just a block or two from Book Warehouse. I think it was called Bear Street Books? It was one of my very few visits to that store, which closed not long thereafter when its owner fell ill and eventually passed. The only other thing I remember buying there was a back issue of Goldmine magazine from 1986. That issue contained my first published work in Goldmine, the start of a fruitful twenty-year freelance association with GM. I was between subscriptions (and between jobs) when it came out in ’86, and this was the first copy I’d managed to find.

From digging through the bins of every used bookstore I could find to pulling some of my very own work out a bookstore’s back room, I’d say that qualifies as full circle.

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THE EVERLASTING FIRST: Suzi Quatro

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.

It was love at first sight.

Teen idolatry–specifically, the sort of starry-eyed quasi-romantic longing that conjures adolescent yearning for long walks in the moonlight hand-in-hand with the teen heartthrob du joir–has been part of pop music for as long as there has been pop music. I mean, I can’t speak for the probability of giggling young girls once makin’ ga-ga noises over noted hottie Ludwig von Beethoven, but Frank Sinatra? King Elvis I? Paul McCartneyMark LindsayBobby Sherman, and the lads in One Direction? Girls swooned over posters and magazines, LP covers and 45 sleeves, and kissed Monkees bubblegum cards with earnest, whispered wishes to one day become Mrs. Davy JonesI’ll be true to you, yes I will.
That was the girls. Boys? Not so much.

That’s the image, anyway. In reality, kids won’t always follow the rigid scripts adults throw at them. There were girls who found this whole notion of getting wobbly-kneed over a pretty face just absurd. There were boys and girls whose pop dreams favored teen idols with whom they shared a gender. And there must have been boys dreaming of sweet pecks on the lips from Mary Weiss of The Shangri-Las, or Marianne Faithfull, or Chaka Khan. In North Syracuse in 1975, there was certainly one fifteen-year-old boy who saw Suzi Quatro on the cover of a magazine, and promptly fell in love. And yes, of course that boy was me.

Duh.

The divine Miss Suzi was not my first pop crush; that was probably Nancy Sinatra circa “These Boots Are Made For Walkin’,” or possibly Lesley Gore when she sang “California Nights.” Expanding beyond the chanteuses who caught my eye, my other pop crushes likely included every pretty actress I ever saw on TV, from Yvonne Craig and Bridget Hanley through Linda Evans and all the women who ever appeared in Star Trek reruns. And Lorrie MenconiPlayboy‘s Miss February 1969. Nor was Suzi my final pop crush, as Stevie NicksJoan JettP.J. Soles, and Vanity were still off in my future when the calendar read ’75. But fickle and fleeting as I may have been, Suzi Quatro always remained my # 1.

I can’t say for certain how that particular issue of Rolling Stone found its way into my living room. Both of my older brothers were married and gone from the household by ’75, so the RS probably belonged to my sister Denise. It could also have come from my Dad, who worked at the post office and occasionally brought home subscription magazines that had been discarded as undeliverable. However it arrived in my suburban home, it was the cover of the Rolling Stone, dated January 2, 1975, that introduced me to this unfamiliar rock ‘n’ roll chick named Suzi Quatro.

Smitten. Immediately, irrevocably smitten.

Why? Man, answering that would be like trying to tell a stranger about rock ‘n’ roll. Some would say she wasn’t conventionally pretty in the way you’d expect a pinup or poster girl to be, but I found her irresistibly cute. It wasn’t even like the pictures of her in Rolling Stone were overtly sexy or deliberately provocative (though the cover and one interior photo did show how her leather pants loved to hug her derriere). I wish I could claim I was a budding feminist at 15, engaged not by Quatro’s looks but by her intelligence and personality, and by her music…but I’d be lyin’. I’d never heard her music, and I don’t know how much of her wit and wisdom could be ascertained from a casual read of a rock rag piece where she discussed the pros and cons of getting a tattoo on her butt. No, I have to admit it was something about her look. I was fascinated. And I was in love with her, as surely as all those girls reading 16 and Tiger Beat were in love with Donny Osmond.

It was a love with no kindling to feed its fire. In the immediate aftermath of discovering her, I didn’t see any more articles about Suzi Quatro. I didn’t hear her music on the radio. I didn’t see her on TV. I’m not sure if I saw any of her records at Gerber Music, but even if I had, I didn’t yet have enough concrete motivation to make a purchase. I was in love with a face, and a body wrapped tightly in leather; I had no idea if that was enough to make me a fan of the Suzi Quatro sound.

On May 1st of 1975, Alice Cooper was scheduled to appear in Syracuse for a concert at the Onondaga County War Memorial…WITH SUZI QUATRO OPENING…?! Glorioski! I thought Alice Cooper was one of the coolest things on AM radio at the time, and with Suzi Quatro on the bill, I knew I had to be there. My parents did not agree with the inevitability of this rendezvous, and refused permission. Years later, I would realize that my Dad was concerned about my seemingly fragile machismo, and was not going to allow his son to see a guy named Alice, no way, no how. I don’t know if Dad would have felt differently if he suspected my potentially prurient interest in Suzi Quatro. I missed my chance to see Alice Cooper, and my initiation into the musical world of Suzi Quatro’s music was likewise deferred.

That initiation finally took place in either late ’75 or in 1976. I’m not sure of the precise time frame, nor the exact sequence of events. Somewhere in there, I found and purchased a cut-out copy of Suzi Quatro, her debut LP. I can’t remember if that was before or after I saw Suzi Quatro on TV. For the sake of the narrative, let’s presume it was after.

Supersonic was a British rock ‘n’ roll TV series, showcasing performers in a cheesy ’70s studio setting, lip-syncin’ their hits and wannabe hits. It was briefly carried on Saturday afternoons by WPIX in New York City, and available to cable subscribers in Syracuse’s suburbs. I watched it when I could, eager as I was for more and more rockin’ pop, whenever and wherever. I saw some familiar acts on Supersonic, from The Hollies to The Bay City Rollers to The Crazy World Of Arthur Brown. I saw that loathsome little bug Gary Glitter. I saw a number of other performers my memory won’t surrender. Supersonic looms largest in my legend for one thing only: showing me Suzi Quatro on TV.

There she was. One Saturday afternoon in the ’70s, the date long faded away, but the image still vivid in my mind. Suzi Quatro. She was beautiful. And hey, whaddaya know? She rocked!
I was transfixed. Hey, ya heard about Susie from Baton Rouge? She wasn’t asking me, but I shook my head, jaw agape, as she continued, Well, lemme tell you ’bout it! Guitars and drums, a churning ’70s bop, grinding forward, Suzi Quatro’s bass booming as she not-quite-sneered, not-quite-smiled her way through.

Awright. This deal was sealed as far as I could see. Marry me, Suzi!

It was the only time I saw Suzi on Supersonic, or anywhere else for a while thereafter. And I didn’t catch the damned title of the song! I spent years looking for something called “Little Susie From Baton Rouge,” or “I’m Just Waitin’ For You,” or, I dunno, “Suzi Quatro’s Love Theme From Supersonic,” all to no avail. I bought the above-mentioned eponymous Suzi Quatro album, either before or after seeing her on Supersonic, and that song was not on the album. And the album…aw, the album didn’t do all that much for me, dammit.

Suzi Quatro ain’t exactly a bad record. mind you. It contains not one, but two of her all-time signature tunes, “Can The Can” and “48 Crash,” plus “Glycerine Queen” and covers of Elvis’ “All Shook Up” and The Beatles‘ “I Wanna Be Your Man.” At the time, I only knew the latter as a track on Meet The Beatles, not realizing that John and Paul had originally written it for Mick, Keith, and Brian, or that it had been The Rolling Stones‘ first hit in the UK. At 16 or so, I was intrigued by the notion of a female singing about wanting to be someone’s man, though it really just meant that Quatro didn’t care enough about gender politics to be bothered; she just wanted to sing the song, you stupid boys. Kinda like Ringo singing The Shirelles‘ “Boys” on the first Beatles album. It wasn’t a statement; it was benign indifference.
I like the album more now than I did then, and I didn’t exactly dislike it then. But it never threatened to overtake the top of my pops, not like Sweet or The Raspberries, or like Suzi’s song on Supersonic might have. My Suzi Quatro fandom meandered after that. I picked up a used promo copy of her Your Mama Won’t Like Me album on a visit to Record Revolution or The Record Exchange in Cleveland Heights; other than a track called “Paralyzed,” most of the album’s hybrid hard rock/faux funk posturing left me unimpressed. In the summer of 1978, I purchased an import Suzi Quatro album called Aggro-Phobia; the LP was two years old by then, but I’d never seen it before, and rightly figured What the hell–why not? 

I’d never quite stopped searching for that elusive, unidentified Quatro song I’d heard on Supersonic. It didn’t seem to be on her second album Quatro, an album I wouldn’t hear until a few more years thereafter, and it didn’t seem to be anywhere. I’m sure I was hoping it would be on Aggro-Phobia, but it was not. However, Aggro-Phobia did include a track which seemed to be a companion piece, since its mention of “Louisiana Sue” was a direct reference to Little Susie from Baton Rouge. The Aggro-Phobia track was called “Tear Me Apart.”

I’ll make your legs start shakin’ every time you hear my name
There’ll be no heartbreakin’, and you know you’ll never be the same
Don’t talk to me about Louisiana Sue
‘Cause she can’t do the things that I can do
So tear me apart if you wanna win my heart

loved “Tear Me Apart,” a brash and confident rock ‘n’ roller that moved more fluidly and winningly than any other Quatro track I owned up to that point. Most of Aggro-Phobia was forgettable for me; “Tear Me Apart” was classic.

Although Quatro was originally from Detroit (where she and her sisters started a band called The Pleasure Seekers when she was 14), she found stardom in England, stardom that did not translate back in the colonies. In 1977, Quatro had begun appearing in a few episodes of TV’s Happy Days, playing anachronistic chick rocker Leather Tuscadero. I bought a Suzi Quatro poster at Economy Bookstore in Syracuse, and displayed it proudly in my dorm room alongside my KISS and Sex Pistols. 1979 brought Suzi’s belated American success: “Stumblin’ In,” a duet with Chris Norman, broke through the American Top 40 in early ’79, peaking at # 4. I was happy for her success, while remaining resolutely uninterested in any of it. I tried to get into her hit album If You Knew Suzi…, but it was a lost cause. In the midst of my embrace of punk and power pop, If You Knew Suzi… was, well…boring. I didn’t know Suzi, nor was I about to.

That said, 1980’s Rock Hard had some pretty damned good moments, and I wish I’d been more aware of them at the time. I knew the title track from its inclusion on the cool soundtrack album to Times Square, a film intended to do for new wave music what Saturday Night Fever had done for dat ole debbil disco. I liked that track just fine, but it wouldn’t be until years later that I discovered a couple of other cuts from Rock Hard–the peppy pop song “Love Is Ready” and the way-cool “Gloria” ripoff “Lipstick”–that I liked even better.

I did eventually identify that track I’d seen Suzi Quatro mime on Supersonic years before. I think it was in the early ’90s, rummaging through 45s at a great North Syracuse record store called Knuckleheads (Motto: We ain’t in no mall!), when I found a Quatro single called “I May Be Too Young.” Cash made it mine, and a spin on the ol’ home turntable verified that my search had finally reached its end.
I may be too young to fall in love
But I’m still hangin’ ’round
I’m waitin’ for you
I’m just waitin’ for you

You’re never too young to fall in love. I wasn’t too young to fall in love with Mary Rose Tamborelli when I was five, nor with Suzette Mauro when I was six, and they weren’t too young to fall in love with me. Temporarily. They got over me quickly–a little too quickly in Suzette’s case, if you ask me–but we weren’t too young to fall in the first place. You’re not too young to fall in love with people, whether as friends or potentially something more. You fall in love with all sorts of sparkly things. You fall in love with books and movies, cartoons, comics, favorite meals, art and artifice. You fall in love with stars. At 15, I fell in love in Suzi Quatro.

One Sunday afternoon around 1976 or ’77, I was chatting with another music fan at the flea market. The subject of Suzi Quatro came up, and he insisted that she’d posed for Penthouse, and that she’d released a live-in-Japan album called Naked Under Leather. I don’t know about the latter claim, but the Penthouse thing was nonsense. That was never Suzi Quatro’s image. She never pandered, never tried to be sexy or provocative in that way. She wanted to rock like the boys rocked. She wanted to be your man. It wasn’t a statement of sexuality; her gender was simply incidental to her, another label like black or white, Mod or rocker, DC or Marvel. She didn’t care. Have ya heard about Suzi from the Motor City? She was punk before we knew what punk was. She was Suzi Quatro. She’s still Suzi Quatro. Go, go, go, little Suzi.

“Tear Me Apart” and “I May Be Too Young” written by Mike Chapman and Nicky Chinn

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Comics And LP Cover Cavalcade Supplement # 1: Paperbacks And Rock Mags

Normally, this is a lightly-annotated but otherwise random collection of images of comic book and rock ‘n’ roll album covers. Today’s edition shifts just a little for a cavalcade of rock magazine and paperback covers instead. Consider me a Renaissance blogger.

One of the many prizes I scored in the dealers’ room at DC Comics‘ 1976 Super-DC Con in New York was this paperback novel from 1966. Produced as tie-in product for the immensely popular Batman TV series starring Adam WestBatman Vs. 3 Villains Of Doom is slightly less camp than the TV show, and seems a bit closer to its original comics inspiration. According to DC Wikia, the novel incorporates three Batman comic book stories from 1947-1950, and places them within a framing device of The JokerThe Penguin, and The Catwoman competing for the Tommy (as in Tommy gun), the underworld equivalent of an Oscar for, y’know, best–or worst–bad guy. Listen, criminals may be a superstitious and cowardly lot, but they crave validation just like regular folks do. You like me! You really like me! HA-HA-HA-HAAAA! Waughh! Meow! Ahem. I haven’t re-read this in many years, but I recall that it was a fun and entertaining pulp-lite superhero book. Credited author “Winston Lyon” is as fictional as Alfred and Commissioner Gordon; the novel was written by William Woolfolk, prolific veteran author of many novels, comic books, and screenplays. Batman Vs. 3 Villains Of Doom was only the second prose novel to star a DC Comics superhero, following George Lowther‘s The Adventures Of Superman in 1942.

Creem magazine was one of the all-time great rock ‘n’ roll rags, and it will be the subject of a near-future edition of my rock magazine reminiscence series He Buys Every Rock ‘n’ Roll Book On The Magazine Stands. (My series itself was inspired by a recent invitation from Devorah Ostrov and former Creem regular John Mendelssohn for me to contribute to Reet, a new online magazine in the proud and plowed Creem tradition.) This fairly reverent 1987 special Creem edition dedicated to The Monkees may seem an anomaly for the notoriously snarky Creem because…well, because it is an anomaly for the notoriously snarky Creem. But nor was it a unique anomaly, as the perpetrators of Creem weren’t exactly above chasin’ a quick buck by pandering to a perceived mass pop market. Hell, my first Creem mag was a 1977 spotlight on The Bay City Rollers, and I kinda wish I still had a copy of that. That said, I know that Bill HoldshipCreem‘s editor in 1987, was and remains a Monkees fan himself, and his guidance produced this lovely souvenir document of resurgent Monkeemania in the ’80s. This I still have, and I’m keepin’ it. One regrets The Monkees never did a Creem Profiles Boy Howdy! bit…did they?

Harlan Ellison was my favorite writer when I was a teenager, and no other author has ever really challenged his position at the top of my literary pantheon. Ellison was an enormous influence on my writing, and on my attitude toward writing. His essay collections (in particular The Glass Teat and The Other Glass Teat) were as essential to me as his fiction. I don’t remember how I started on my path to Ellison Wonderland. My first exposure to his work was the time-traveling Star Trek episode “The City On The Edge Of Forever,” which I adored (although Ellison despised the changes made to his work in the televised version). I saw his name in comic books, as co-writer (with Roy Thomas) of “Five Dooms To Save Tomorrow!” in The Avengers # 101, and as inspiration for a character called Harlequin Ellis in Justice League Of America # 89 (written by Mike Friedrich). My friend Bob Gray may have recommended I check out Ellison’s books. My first was Paingod And Other Delusions, a collection of short stories that included Ellison’s masterful “‘Repent, Harlequin!’ Said The Ticktockman.” I was hooked immediately, and set out to accumulate as many Ellison books as I could, as fast as I could. I saw Ellison speak at Syracuse University around 1976 or so, and I was riveted as he read his then-unpublished short story “Hitler Painted Roses.” After the lecture, Ellison autographed my copy of his No Doors, No Windows, and playfully tried to hook me up with the diminutive co-ed standing in line in front of me. Um…that’s not why Ellison’s my favorite writer. But it didn’t hurt.

Shortly after I left Buffalo to return to Syracuse in 1987, I suddenly became a bigger, more devoted fan of The Flamin’ Groovies. I don’t know exactly why, but it grew out of my increased attention to Goldmine, the bi-weekly tabloid for record collectors. I’d begun freelancing for Goldmine in late ’86, the start of what would be a twenty-year run as a GM stringer. I started ordering sundry delights from Midnight Records, one of Goldmine‘s regular advertisers. And again, I have no idea why I abruptly fixated on the Groovies at this time, though I think their track “First Plane Home” may have played a role in my Groovies revelation. It wasn’t like I didn’t already appreciate the group; I’d owned their Shake Some Action and Now albums for years, and absolutely loved them. Either just before or shortly after my move to Syracuse, I finally grabbed a copy of 1979’s Jumpin’ In The Night, the final Flamin’ Groovies LP released up to that point. “First Plane Home” freakin’ blew me away, just as “Shake Some Action” had done years before, so I guess I do know what sparked my 1987 embrace of the Groovies. And now I needed more! Midnight sold me an Australian fan magazine, Flamin’ Groovies Quarterly, a new (!!!) Groovies album called One Night Stand, a CD of live performances (Groove In), and an all-Groovies edition of one of my fave rave rock reads, Bucketfull Of BrainsBucketfull Of Groovies filled me in on the back story for what had become one of my all-time favorite bands. This was an invaluable resource when I interviewed the Groovies’ Cyril Jordan for Goldmine in 1992.

1970-’71. I hated sixth grade. Hated it. About the only good thing I can say about sixth grade is that it was slightly better than seventh grade, the way shingles is better than leprosy. The only other good thing about sixth grade was The Pigman, a novel by Paul Zindel. My reading teacher Mrs. Mott read the book to us in class; oddly enough, I don’t remember any of us ever having the book in front of us while she read, which seems strange for a reading class. I was already reading at a high school level, so I betcha I could have followed along acceptably. The book was fascinating, sad, emotional, unforgettable. I believe I had another class in a subsequent year that also studied The Pigman, and I read it on my own at that time. My original well-worn copy is long, long gone. I replaced it with a fresh copy a few years back, when my own daughter was entering high school. She declined the option of reading it herself. But I owe myself the pleasure of re-visiting it. (A pretty classmate named Diana was the third and final only good thing about sixth grade, but she never noticed me anyway.)

When I started my recent look back at rock mags of days gone by, a few friends mentioned Rock Scene as a favorite. I bought the occasional issue of Rock Scene in the late ’70s/early ’80s, and browsed through many more of ’em on the racks at The Liftbridge Bookstore in Brockport. But Rock Scene never meant as much to me as Creem or Bomp!Trouser Press or The Pig Paper, nor even the distrusted Rolling Stone. In retrospect, I probably should have dug Rock Scene more than I did. Really, the magazine was like a more specifically rock-oriented version of vintage 16 or Tiger Beat, focused far more on pictures than on text. There’s nothing wrong with that, and you’d think my uber-pop sensibilities would have taken to that like a High Times reader takes to chocolate chip cookies. I recall seeing an uncharacteristically snide remark within a Rock Scene piece about KISS that would have been right at home in Creem, and maybe there was more of that if I’d been paying attention. And Rock Scene did feature The Sex Pistols and The Ramones, and I was for damned sure in favor of that! I don’t think I kept any of my few Rock Scene purchases from the time, but I’ve picked up a couple of old issues at record shows in recent years. My Rock Scene fan friends were right; I was wrong.

Flea markets and used bookstores. From these fertile fields, I amassed a decent collection of paperback novels based on the ’60s TV spy show The Man From U.N.C.L.E. I don’t believe I ever saw the show when it originally aired, but I certainly knew of it and its protagonists, Napolean Solo and Illya Kuryakin. My first Man From U.N.C.L.E. adventure was a Big Little Book (The Calcutta Affair) ’roundabout fourth grade. In the mid ’70s, I saw a film called The Spy With My Face on CBS‘ late movie. The Spy With My Face was an episode of The Man From U.N.C.L.E., expanded with extra footage for a 1965 theatrical release. Hey, reduce, reuse, and recycle! I loved it. Although I started snagging the paperbacks soon thereafter, I confess I’ve yet to read one. But I still have them, and I’ll get to them one day. One of the many great things about books is that they have no expiration date. I’m told the Man From U.N.C.L.E. books also hold the distinction as the first resource to spell out the full name of U.N.C.L.E.’s evil adversary, THRUSH. We knew from the TV series about the United Network Command for Law Enforcement; it was the novels that suggested the bad guys were the Technological Hierarchy for the Removal of Undesirables and the Subjugation of Humanity. Hence, y’know, bad guys. I’ve since seen most (all?) of the TV series episodes as reruns. And I’d be remiss if I didn’t make a brief mention of actress Yvonne Craig, later to become TV’s Batgirl, steamin’ up the spy business on The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

Although Yvonne Craig did appear on The Man From U.N.C.L.E. series, this scene did not appear on the TV show. Somehow I sense you’re not surprised. This is from One Spy Too Many, a 1966 feature film expansion of a two-part episode of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. Craig was not even in the original TV two-parter, but was in an earlier episode. With her clothes on.

The first punk record I ever heard was “God Save The Queen” by The Sex Pistols. The Ramones would ultimately mean a great deal more to me, but the Pistols were also important, and I still enjoy blastin’ “God Save The Queen,” “Pretty Vacant,” “Holiday In The Sun,” and “No Feelings,” among others. Punk magazine’s document of the Pistols’ American tour and messy demise was the cover feature on either the first or second issue of Punk I ever owned; I think I picked this up before I purchased the previous issue, which cover-featured The Dictators. The Sex Pistols issue was Punk‘s first as a slick magazine, transitioning from its previous tabloid format. This issue earned bonus points with me for also covering The Bay City Rollers, though apparently many Punk readers were simply horrified to see the Rollers in a punk zine. I thought Punk was a terrific, terrific magazine, and I regret that I missed most of its run. I did snag an earlier issue (with a John Holmstrom drawing of Joey Ramone on the cover, and hilarious interviews with David Johansen and the hapless Dorian Zero contained therein), and a subsequent issue starring Joey Ramone and Debbie Harry in the magazine-length photo-funny “Mutant Monster Beach Party.” Punk was gone too soon. I own two different retrospectives of the magazine, one hardcover and one softcover, and neither gives me what I really want: a comprehensive reprinting of every single page of every single issue of PunkNOW!!!

My addiction to superpulp paperbacks in the ’70s prompted me to pursue spinner-rack reprints of decades-old adventures starring the likes of The ShadowDoc SavageTarzanThe SpiderThe AvengerOperator 5Conan the BarbarianEllery Queen, and The Lone Ranger, plus novelizations of ’30s comic strips starring Flash Gordon. I wish there were even more, and I wish I’d picked up the then-new Vampirella novels a couple of years later. My favorite series was probably The Phantom. Like the Flash Gordon books, these were prose adaptations of old newspaper strips, and I consumed them with great delight. Their covers were perfectly prototypical ’70s era pulp paperback fare, colorful kindred spirits to the other willfully-garish drugstore potboilers, even with a costumed hero mixed in with the prerequisite sex and violence. The cover of The Veiled Lady is a prime example, as The Ghost Who Walks deals hot lead from his firearm while cradling and protecting a buxom damsel in distress. My favorite Phantom novel was the debut entry, The Story Of The Phantom, which seemed more complete and accomplished than its sequels, but I enjoyed every one I read. And I read a few: The Story Of The PhantomThe Slave Market Of MucarThe Scorpia MenaceThe Veiled LadyThe Mysterious AmbassadorThe Hydra Monster, and Killer’s Town, with The Goggle-Eyed Pirates a more recent internet purchase. For those who came in late.

I’m tempted to suggest that Hot Wacks Quarterly didn’t know whether it wanted to be a rock magazine or a girlie magazine, but I think its editors knew precisely what they were going for here. Hot Wacks specialized in coverage of bootleg recordings, but wasn’t above the use of rock-related cheesecake photos to help sales. Even so, the magazine never connected for me. I owned two or maybe three issues, realized my indifference, and moved on.

The inverse of Hot Wacks QuarterlyThe Beatles in Oui.

Hey, I had fun doing this! There will be more comics and LP covers to come, of course, but maybe we’ll look at some paperbacks and rock mags again, too.

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5 GREAT MOVIE SONGS! (From films I either didn’t like or never saw)

Rock ‘n’ roll as we know it might not even exist if not for the movies. That may be an overstatement, but it’s certainly true that rock’s first crossover success came via Hollywood. When the film The Blackboard Jungle appeared in 1955, its opening credits sequence propelled a novelty fox trot called “Rock Around The Clock” to the top of the pops, making the seemingly unlikely figures of Bill Haley and his Comets the world’s first rock ‘n’ roll stars. The ongoing sheet-shakin’ between rock and film has been consummated again and again over the ensuing decades, from Jailhouse Rockthrough A Hard Day’s NightThe Monkees in HeadThe Ramones in Rock ‘n’ Roll High School, and the fictional Oneders in That Thing You Do!, plus whatever more recent iterations have occurred since I grew too old to keep up with what you crazy kids are up to. Just stay off of my lawn already.

The sheer abundance of great rock ‘n’ pop tracks that have appeared in movies makes the prospect of selecting my all-time Top 5 movie songs too daunting to consider. Honestly, I doubt I could even narrow down a list of my five favorite Beatles movie songs, and I’d still need room for at least two tracks from The Dave Clark Five‘s Having A Wild Weekend, The Monkees’ “Porpoise Song (Theme From ‘Head’),” Little Richard‘s title tune from The Girl Can’t Help It, the museum outings montage version of Lulu‘s “To Sir, With Love,” and Paul McCartney and Wings‘ license to thrill “Live And Let Die.” Among others. Among a lot of others! “Light Of Day” by Joan Jett & the Blackhearts, fercryinoutloud!

So, as an alternative, I figured I’d list five great movie songs from films I either didn’t really like or have never actually seen. That narrows things down to a more manageable field. By arbitrarily discarding any song used as a film’s title tune–buh-bye “Don’t Make Waves” by The Byrds and “They Ran For Their Lives” by The Knickerbockers–I came up with a quintet of popcorn-ready tracks that mean more to me than the films that delivered ’em. Dim the room. Kill your phones. And keep your trap shut until the closing credits roll. Lights! Camera! GUITARS!!

THE CRAWLING KINGSNAKES: “Philadelphia Baby” (from Porky’s Revenge).

The only Porky’s film I ever saw in its entirety was the first one, and I did not care for it. I mean, c’mon–it’s not like it was The Hollywood Knights or something. But one of its sequels, 1985’s Porky’s Revenge, had a killer soundtrack, consisting mostly of oldies covered by acts like Jeff BeckWillie NelsonClarence ClemonsThe Fabulous Thunderbirds, and Dave Edmunds, plus Carl Perkins performing a new version of his own “Blue Suede Shoes” with two out of three Stray Cats. The soundtrack also includes George Harrison‘s otherwise-unavailable take on Bob Dylan‘s “I Don’t Want To Do It,” and Edmunds (who was in charge of the soundtrack) turns in an incredible original called “High School Nights.” But the highlight is this cover of Charlie Rich‘s “Philadelphia Baby” by The Crawling Kingsnakes. Who da Kingsnakes? None other than Robert Plant, with Edmunds, Paul Martinez, and Phil Collins. That’s a pretty impressive line-up for a no-account flick like Porky’s Revenge.

THE FOUR TOPS: “Are You Man Enough” (from Shaft In Africa).

Another sequel. I don’t remember whether or not I’ve ever seen the original Shaft, but I certainly knew Isaac Hayes‘ title theme song. I did see some episodes of the TV series that eventually followed. And everybody knew that Richard Roundtree was badass in the role of the man that would risk his neck for his brother, man. 1973’s Shaft In Africa brought “Are You Man Enough” to AM radio, and it was my de facto introduction to The Four Tops. I retroactively discovered the group’s fantastic ’60s catalog, but it all started for me with this song from Shaft In Africa. Can you dig it?

HERMAN’S HERMITS: “A Must To Avoid” (from Hold On!)

When I think of rock ‘n’ roll movies, I don’t think of concert films or documentaries. I think of scripted flicks with some excuse for a plot (however slight), and pop idols singin’ their songs. I primarily think of star vehicles, like Sonny & Cher in Good Times or Bloodstone in Train Ride To Hollywood. As a kid growing up in the ’60s, I only saw two such films: the magnificent A Hard Day’s Night and the significantly less-great Hold On!, the latter starring Herman’s Hermits. I’m sure I liked Hold On! just fine when I was six or whatever; I tried to watch it as an adult, but could not get through it. On the other hand, the soundtrack LP has its moments, particularly this rousing pop put-down, a song spirited enough that my power pop Fave Raves The Flashcubes used to include it in their live sets circa ’78 or so.

DAVID JOHANSEN & ROBIN JOHNSON: “Flowers In The City” (from Times Square)

1980’s Robert Stigwood-produced Times Square was supposed to do for new wave music what Stigwood’s earlier success with Saturday Night Fever did for dat ole debbil disco: sell records, inspire pop culture, and generate a free flow of cold, hard cash. It did not do that. The few minutes of the film I’ve managed to catch in passing on TV support the prevailing opinion that Times Square was stuffy and overly serious in its tone. I think I’d still like to see it some day, and see what I think of it. The 2-LP soundtrack album is very good, comprised mostly of familiar gems by The Ramones,
Suzi QuatroTalking HeadsRoxy MusicThe PretendersJoe JacksonXTC, et al., all of which were available elsewhere, but which made an attractive purchase when bundled together in one pretty package. “Flowers In The City,” a duet between former New York Dolls frontman David Johansen and Times Square co-star Robin Johnson, is unique to the film’s soundtrack, and it’s terrific. It was released at the peak of my interest in Johansen, and it’s as great as nearly anything on his first two solo albums, and better than anything he did after that.

PAUL McCARTNEY: “Not Such A Bad Boy” (from Give My Regards To Broad Street)

Paul McCartney‘s Give My Regards To Broad Street may get a worse rap than it really deserves. It’s not bad, but it’s not in any way special, either. Well, let’s amend that a bit–even by itself, the presence of McCartney does make it sorta special. I should add this to the list of movies I oughtta watch again and re-assess. The soundtrack is mostly very nice, including a remake of “Ballroom Dancing” and the hit single “No More Lonely Nights.” The album approaches the transcendental with two of McCartney’s best tracks of the ’80s–“No Values” and “Not Such A Bad Boy”–which are not on any other album. Both tracks feature McCartney playing with an ace combo of Ringo StarrChris Spedding, and Porky’s Revenge wunderkind Dave Edmunds, and they’re just as solid as anything Sir Paul ever did after leaving the act you’ve known for all these years. In particular, “Not Such A Bad Boy” is such a confident rockin’ pop number, oozing with swagger and amiable panache. It’s aching for rediscovery as one of McCartney’s best.

Okay, the house lights are on. Clean up your concession-stand debris and head for the parking lot. And let’s pop in a rock ‘n’ roll movie soundtrack to accompany our drive home.

If you wanna read some half-baked notions of how I would have (in theory) slapped together a rock ‘n’ roll movie when I was younger, check out my proposed Bay City Rollers movie, or my quarter-baked fantasy of an ’80s update of The Girl Can’t Help It starring Bo Derek(the latter also featuring bonus discussion of a Dolenz, Jones, Boyce & Hart TV series and a star vehicle for Ireland’s phenomenal pop combo The Undertones. I could rule the world if I had money. And ambition. And talent. 
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