My first rock ‘n’ roll posters were hand-me-downs, but they were choice hand-me-downs. When my sister went off to college in 1970, I assumed possession of her Beatles posters. These painted portraits of your John, your Paul, your George, and your Ringo remained on my wall while I was in middle school and high school, and left North Syracuse with me when I commenced my own rock ‘n’ roll matriculatin’ in the fall of ’77. The posters served me well on one occasion in ’76 or so, when WOLF-AM‘s Beatles Weekend offered a free Beatles LP to the first caller who could correctly identify the color of George Harrison’s eyes. A glance at the poster, a sprint to the phone in the kitchen, a hastily-dialed call to The Big 15 so I could blurt out BROWN!, and a copy of the Help! album was mine.
I also remember my sister having a Dylan poster–my first conscious exposure to Bashful Bobby Dylan’s name–but I think she must have taken that one with her on her journey to higher education. ‘Sfunny, because I remember much later mentioning Mr. Dylan to one of the guys in my dorm suite in the Spring of ’78; my suitemate glanced up at my Beatles portraits, and asked me which one was Dylan.
Although I plastered my walls with graven images in high school and college, I had relatively few commercial posters. In college, my cherished Beatles posters shared wall space with LP inserts (from the White Album, from The Beach Boys‘ Endless Summer, from a collection of movie sound bites by The Marx Brothers, and from records by The Heartbreakers, The Runaways, etc.), promo materials, maybe some comics art, Flashcubes gig flyers, magazine pages (including a poster ripped from a Bay City Rollers fan mag), a Molson Golden Ale poster, and a few Playboy centerfolds. The promo items–posters and flats–mostly came from Brockport’s Main Street Records, which offered such bonus bounty in its handy-dandy Free With Purchase! bin. Decorating was easy!
And I did pick up a few commercial posters along the way. I believe I got my KISS poster from my college friend Fred, who had outgrown KISS and wanted nothing further to do with the group. I bought a couple of posters upstairs at Syracuse’s Economy Bookstore, one featuring my boys The Sex Pistols and one starring my presumed future spouse Suzi Quatro. There was an awesome Batman poster I wanted, but never quite got around to buying. I did get a Suzanne Somers poster at Gerber Music; that was sorta puzzling, because although she was certainly cute, I didn’t have any particular thing for her, nor for her sitcom Three’s Company. Why a Suzanne poster, instead of, say, a Farrah Fawcett? No idea.
After college, I don’t recall ever putting up many posters in my apartments. I really wanted to get a poster of The Monkees circa the time of resurgent Monkeemania in ’86, but never saw one I thought appropriate. Now, decades later, I have but a few posters on my wall. There’s a Frank Miller The Dark Knight Returns poster framed in my office, staring down a great framed Ramones poster I received as a gift. But that’s it, other than the framed two-page spread from my Goldmine interview with Joan Jett (autographed by Ms. Jett herself) and the framed artwork from Rhino Records‘ Poptopia! CDs, which Rhino gave me as a thank-you bonus for writing the liner notes to the ’90s Poptopia! disc, plus a few small items (a picture of Syracuse University basketball great Gerry McNamara, an autographed picture of Red Grammer, my Ramones wall clock, and a wall hanging my sister gave me decades ago, which reads A Creative Mind Is Rarely Tidy). That’s the sum total of wall decorations in my office at home.
I still have those same Beatles posters. They’re a bit tattered now, certainly worn, rolled up in a drawer because there’s no longer any point in even trying to flatten them or do a better job of preserving them. George Harrison’s eyes are still brown. The Pistols, KISS, and Suzanne Somers sheets are long gone; even Suzi Q has moved on. The Beatles remain. John. Paul. George. Ringo. Dylan must have been on holiday that day.
You can support this blog by becoming a patron on Patreon: Fund me, baby!Our new compilation CD This Is Rock ‘n’ Roll Radio, Volume 4 is now available from Kool Kat Musik! 29 tracks of irresistible rockin’ pop, starring Pop Co-Op, Ray Paul, Circe Link & Christian Nesmith, Vegas With Randolph Featuring Lannie Flowers, The Slapbacks, P. Hux, Irene Peña, Michael Oliver & the Sacred Band Featuring Dave Merritt, The Rubinoos, Stepford Knives, The Grip Weeds, Popdudes, Ronnie Dark, The Flashcubes,Chris von Sneidern, The Bottle Kids, 1.4.5., The Smithereens, Paul Collins’ Beat, The Hit Squad, The Rulers, The Legal Matters, Maura & the Bright Lights, Lisa Mychols, and Mr. Encrypto & the Cyphers. You gotta have it, so order it here.
It may be a tiny bit disingenuous to refer to a B-side by The Ramones as being “the other side of the hit.” The Ramoneswere a pop band, but they were a pop band without any hit records. They never broke into the Top 40, nor did they receive much airplay to speak of. The Ramones somehow pummeled their way into the lower half of Billboard‘s Hot 100 chart with three consecutive singles in 1977 and ’78. “Sheena Is A Punk Rocker” made it to # 81. “Rockaway Beach” was the relative breakout, peaking at # 66. “Do You Wanna Dance” was The Ramones’ third and final shot at the top of the pops, and its shot stalled at # 86. The Ramones would never again darken the singles chart with their uncouth presence. Somewhere, Casey Kasem breathed a sigh of relief. And up one from last week, swapping spots with Swedish supergroup ABBA, we have those Forest Hills punk rockers The Ramones with “Teenage Lobotomy.”
Nonetheless: They were all hits to me.
My road to The Ramones wasn’t exactly circuitous, but nor was it necessarily as direct as one might expect. I read about The Ramones in magazines, primarily in the tabloid Phonograph Record Magazine. I had never heard them–as noted, they weren’t quite tearin’ up the airwaves on AM or FM in Syracuse in 1977–but I was intrigued by what I read. Frankly, they scared me, but they didn’t scare me enough to kill my growing sense of curiosity about this elusive, unheard…noise. Noise, perhaps, but potentially transcendent noise. I ached to hear its secret sound.
If you’re a younger music fan in this fantastic world of the 21st century, the very idea of any kind of music, or any conceivable sort of pop commodity, being elusive or unheard is as alien and archaic as stone tablets or immobile, wired entertainment. In the fall of ’77, I heard my first Ramones record–“Blitzkrieg Bop”–by requesting RAMONES!!!! at my college campus radio station. I bought the “Sheena” 45 before I’d even heard the damned thing, and my transformation into a fully-invested Ramones fan was complete. It might not have been as convenient as YouTube or Spotify, but I got there.
By the spring of ’78, I’d added the “Rockaway Beach” single and the Ramones LP to my vinyl library, and I saw a live Ramones show over Easter break. In Bomp! magazine, writers Greg Shaw and Gary Sperrazza! had waxed rhapsodic about The Ramones as a power pop band, listing “Sheena” and “Rockaway Beach” among the all-time great power pop tracks. Shaw was further knocked out by a ballad–a ballad!–called “Here Today Gone Tomorrow” on the Rocket To Russia album, and The Ramones’ then-unreleased cover of The Searchers‘ “Needles And Pins.” I heard “Here Today Gone Tomorrow” played live, pined to hear da brudders warble about needles and pins-za, and reveled in the giddy euphoria of falling in love with a pop band.
None of which really prepared me for “Babysitter.”
As a cash-strapped college lad, I preferred to buy Rocket To Russia on the installment plan, one 45 at a time. Looking back, I’m not 100 % certain whether I purchased the “Do You Wanna Dance” single before or after my introduction to live Ramones. The A-side was just ace, probably my favorite cover track ever, streamlining and energizing the familiar pop classic while remaining essentially faithful to previous templates by Bobby Freeman and The Beach Boys. This is the one, I thought. This is the one that’s gonna get The Ramones on the radio. THIS is the hit! The B-sides of the “Sheena” and “Rockaway Beach” singles had been Rocket To Russia album tracks (“I Don’t Care” and “Locket Love” respectively). This third single from the album had a non-LP track, “Babysitter.” It was a ballad, The Ramones’ second ballad as far as I was aware. It freakin’ blew me away.
I guess Greg Shaw’s mention of The Ramones covering “Needles And Pins” should have prepped me for “Babysitter.” It did not. When I heard the song for the first time, I wrote My GAWD, The Searchers live on! “Babysitter”certainly shares beaucoup DNA with “Needles And Pins,” its folk-rock riff drawn from the same gene pool that gave us The Byrds and The Beau Brummels, albeit messier, grungier, more exuberant. The scowling countenances of Joey, Johnny, Dee Dee, and Tommy notwithstanding, “Babysitter”‘s tale of late-night kissin’ and canoodlin’ with a babysittin’ chickfriend is inherently more upbeat than The Searchers’ lover’s lament. It’s a more leisurely-paced companion to The Ramones’ earlier “Oh Oh I Love Her So,” a joyous and straight-faced celebration of over-the-top, hormonal teen romance. It signifies The Ramones fully embracing a presumed identity as an unabashed, unashamed pop act, America’s rockin’ response to The Bay City Rollers.
If ever a post-1960s record deserved to be a double A-side chart and radio smash, “Do You Wanna Dance”/”Babysitter” would qualify to join the hallowed ranks of “I Get Around”/”Don’t Worry Baby,” “I’m A Believer”/”(I’m Not Your) Steppin’ Stone,” and a short stack o’ Beatles 45s. I could not believe it when that pop dream failed to materialize. Stupid real world.
Throughout the rest of the ’70s and all through the ’80s, I never gave up hope that The Ramones would break big, that they’d start selling records in the gaudily massive quantity I felt was their just due. It was important to me. I wanted the world at large to appreciate The Ramones like I appreciated The Ramones; I wanted them to appear on Solid Gold and Entertainment Tonight, to make a delightful blockbuster sequel to their sole film Rock ‘n’ Roll High School, to be household names, to be respected and idolized. I wanted to hear The Ramones on the goddamned radio. They had to die before that would happen. Stupid, stupid real world.
It should have been different. If nothing else, The Ramones should have scored big with an incredible cover of “Do You Wanna Dance,” a distillation of pure bliss that deserved to rule radio and the planet by divine right. Its B-side was an irresistible confection called “Babysitter:” the other side of the hit that never was.
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Our new compilation CD This Is Rock ‘n’ Roll Radio, Volume 4 is now available from Kool Kat Musik! 29 tracks of irresistible rockin’ pop, starring Pop Co-Op, Ray Paul, Circe Link & Christian Nesmith, Vegas With Randolph Featuring Lannie Flowers, The Slapbacks, P. Hux, Irene Peña, Michael Oliver & the Sacred Band Featuring Dave Merritt, The Rubinoos, Stepford Knives, The Grip Weeds, Popdudes, Ronnie Dark, The Flashcubes,Chris von Sneidern, The Bottle Kids, 1.4.5., The Smithereens, Paul Collins’ Beat, The Hit Squad, The Rulers, The Legal Matters, Maura & the Bright Lights, Lisa Mychols, and Mr. Encrypto & the Cyphers. You gotta have it, so order it here.
My introduction to the concept of bootleg records was an ad in the tabloid pages of The Buyer’s Guide To Comics Fandom around 1976 or so. Before that, I may have known that bootlegs existed, but this was the first time I’d ever encountered concrete evidence of that. The very idea that there might be practical availability of unreleased recordings by The Beatles intrigued me and enticed me beyond all reason.
But it took me a while to actually get a bootleg to call my own. The first one I recall seeing was a Beatles boot I spied on the rack at a record store in a Cleveland mall over Christmas break in late ’77/early ’78. I have no recollection whatsoever of what the Beatleg was nor what it contained; my funds were limited, so I bought a couple of 45s instead (“Father Christmas” by The Kinks and “(It’s Gonna Be A) Punk Rock Xmas” by The Ravers). My first bootleg acquisition was a different Beatles boot, The Deccagone Sessions, which was a mix of Decca audition tapes, BBC tracks, and things like the audio track from the “Revolution” video and “Some Other Guy” live ‘n’ distorted at The Cavern. I bought it at (I think) Syracuse’s Desert Shore Records in the late spring or summer of ’78.
My next bootleg was either a live Beatles boot called Youngblood or The Sex Pistols‘ Spunk, an ace collection of the Pistols’ demos. There was an Elvis Costello & the Attractions bootleg called 50,000,000 Elvis Fans Can’t Be Wrong, and a New York Dolls boot called Dallas ’74. In the early ’80s, I snagged a copy of Tails Of The Monkees, a picture disc that purported to be a collection of live Monkees recordings but really contained in-concert performances by Dolenz, Jones, Boyce & Hart. A subsequent Monkees boot called Monkeeshines served up some TV performances, 33 1/3 Revolutions Per Monkee vinylized the group’s little-seen TV special, and an awful bootleg called Live In Los Angeles attempted to preserve the on-stage reunion of Michael Nesmith with his former prime mates Micky Dolenz, Davy Jones, and Peter Tork in simply wretched, inaudible sound quality.
I never really accumulated all that many bootlegs, but I had a few. I had a handful of titles of (at best) questionable legitimacy by The Sex Pistols and The Flamin’ Groovies, plus a boot of The Beatles’ almost-released Sessions. I had some live boots by The Ramones, and my favorite among those was Blitzkrieg ’76, a Boston live radio performance that included the fab song “Babysitter;” other than a mention of “Babysitter” in an issue of Creem, this was the only evidence I ever encountered that The Ramones used to include “Babysitter” in their live shows. A 1989 visit to Berkeley netted me used copies of The Beatles’ Christmas Album and Paul McCartney‘s Back In The USSR, both of which I presumed were bootlegs, though I suppose it’s possible that one or the other could have been legit (and underpriced).
I also had a few bootleg live cassettes: The Flashcubes (my only long-form Flashcubes document for a very long time), KISS, The Bangles, The Replacements, The Rolling Stones, Johnny Thunders, The Flamin’ Groovies, perhaps some others that I’ve forgotten. There were some Beatles sessions on cassette, too. On CD, I had The Beatles’ Get Back and another copy of The Beatles’ Christmas Album, and a Pandoras disc of dubious legality.
Nowadays, of course, there’s no challenge in getting most of this formerly-illicit material. What was once the stuff of bootlegs can be found on legitimate releases as bonus tracks, or on vault-raids like The Beatles’ Anthology sets and The Monkees’ Missing Links. And everything’s all on YouTube anyway. But I still remember the allure of bootlegs, the thrill of scoring secret music you couldn’t get just anywhere. You couldn’t beat the bootlegs.
Continuing a look back at my first exposure to a number of rock ‘n’ roll acts and superheroes (or other denizens of print or periodical publication), some of which were passing fancies, and some of which I went on to kinda like. They say you never forget your first time; that may be true, but it’s the subsequent visits–the second time, the fourth time, the twentieth time, the hundredth time–that define our relationships with the things we cherish. Ultimately, the first meeting is less important than what comes after that. But every love story still needs to begin with that first kiss.
A tabloid called Phonograph Record Magazine was a starting-point for a lot of my rock ‘n’ roll revelations in the ’70s, and it’s where I first heard of Cheap Trick. Flo & Eddie (aka Mark Volman and Howard Kaylan, formerly of The Turtles) had a regular PRM column called “Blind Date,” which featured our happy-together heroes reviewing new releases without being told upfront what the hell they were reviewing. For one 1977 “Blind Date,” they were given the eponymous debut album from Cheap Trick, and offered the clue that the band’s name was like an inexpensive subterfuge. That was my introduction to Cheap Trick. It seems likely that I must have heard Cheap Trick on WOUR-FM a time or several in ’77, but I have no recollection of that. As was the case with many other new rockin’ pop discoveries for me in 1977, my first conscious memory of hearing Cheap Trick came in the fall of ’77, when I was a freshman at the State University College at Brockport. Most of the new music I heard then was courtesy of the campus station WBSU–“The station where we BS you!”–but Cheap Trick first filled my ears on a commercial station in nearby Rochester, either WCMF-FM, or maybe even the usually-lame Magic 92. The song was “So Good To See You,” a track from the second Cheap Trick album, In Color. I think the cut got a little bit of subsequent radio play as well, though it wasn’t really a hit. In my mind, I hear it alongside “See Forever Eyes,” a then-contemporary prog-pop song by a group called Prism. I liked both “So Good To See You” and “See Forever Eyes,” though neither was specifically at the toppermost of my poppermost.
So I can’t claim to have been ahead of the curve in adoring Cheap Trick. I caught on to the irresistible appeal of Rockford’s Phenomenal Pop Combo about the same time everyone else did: with the track “Surrender” on their third album, Heaven Tonight, in 1978, and full-tilt Cheap Trick mania with Cheap Trick At Budokan, released as an import in late ’78 and–by overwhelming popular demand–domestically in 1979. There was a brief period there were everyone seemed to like Cheap Trick. For once, I was in the mainstream! The “everyone” in this example included my lovely girlfriend (and now lovely wife) Brenda. We each bought our own copy of Cheap Trick At Budokan–me, to play with my Ramones and Jam records, and her to play with her Santana and Earth, Wind & Fire (plus the Buddy Holly, Rolling Stones, and Who LPs she’d “liberated” from my collection; she also bought a copy of The Kinks‘ Greatest Hits at the flea market, so her horizons were already expanding). Harmonic convergence!
I eventually acquired all of Cheap Trick’s early catalog–Cheap Trick, In Color, Heaven Tonight, Budokan, and Dream Police–and loved ’em all. When The Ramones’ fab flick Rock ‘n’ Roll High School played on campus in 1980 (the second time I’d seen the film), it was accompanied by a cool video promo for Dream Police; fitting, since Cheap Trick had been an early choice to star in that film (some time after director Allan Arkush convinced producer Roger Corman that the film shouldn’t be called Disco High, but before Johnny, Joey, Dee Dee, and Marky were cast). I have to confess I lost interest in Cheap Trick after Dream Police. I didn’t care for the George Martin-produced All Shook Up in 1980, and it would be a while before I was interested in any new Cheap Trick albums. Turns out I missed some pretty cool stuff in that period. But I got back on board the Cheap Trick bandwagon with 1997’s underratedCheap Trick album on the Red Ant label. I had a chance to finally catch the Trick live on that club tour.
In the summer of 2016, our daughter Meghan accompanied Brenda and me to see Cheap Trick at an outdoor concert in Syracuse, and that was an even rarer harmonic convergence right there. Mommy’s all right, Daddy’s all right, we just seem a little weird. An inexpensive subterfuge? Cheap f***ingTrick! TIP THE BLOGGER: CC’s Tip Jar! You can support this blog by becoming a patron on Patreon: Fund me, baby!
Here’s another chapter from my eventual book The Greatest Record Ever Made! (Volume 1). An infinite number of rockin’ pop records can be the greatest record ever made, as long as they take turns. Today, this is THE GREATEST RECORD EVER MADE!
DUSTY SPRINGFIELD: I Only Want To Be With You
Written by Mike Hawker and Ivor Raymonde
Produced by Johnny Franz
Single, Philips Records [U.K.] single, 1963
There is a persistent temptation (and corresponding peril) in attempting to apply contemporary context to past events. It’s revisionist history, a sparkly thing that’s difficult to resist, even as we just chat about the pop songs that enrich our lives. Please forgive me for the premeditated sin I’m about to commit. Because as I look back, I can’t help but wonder what singing a song called “I Only Want To Be With You” may have meant to a closeted bisexual woman named Dusty Springfield. It’s plausible to counter that she didn’t even think about the connection between the lyrics of her first big hit record and the love she had to hide away. We look back on the ’60s as a time of cultural revolution, an expansion of civil rights, social conscience, a slow dawning of recognition of the disenfranchised at society’s margins. Gay rights weren’t really seen as part of that at the time. Maybe it started to change, incrementally, with the Stonewall riots in 1969, which served as the flashpoint for the gay rights movement as the ’70s beckoned. But in 1963? The closet. The closet was where one stayed if one was gay in ’63.
British singer Dusty Springfield (born Mary Isobel Catherine Bernadette O’Brien) was a member of a folk trio called The Springfields. Presaging The Ramones, the members of The Springfields (which included Dusty’s brother Tom) took the group’s name as a surname; combining this with a nickname she’d gained as a soccer-loving tomboy in her youth, Mary O’Brien became Dusty Springfield. Dusty left The Springfields in 1963, and began her solo career with a single: “I Only Want To Be With You.”I don’t know what it is that makes me love you soI only know I never want to let you go’Cause you started somethingCan’t you see?That ever since we met you’ve had a hold on meIt happens to be trueI only want to be with you A decade later, writer Greg Shaw would note that Dusty Springfield’s “I Only Want To Be With You” explodes with as much pure pop noise as any Dave Clark Five record. The horns propel, the strings soar, the girl-group spirit celebrates, the music leans forward the way a rockin’ pop song outta. Miss Dusty Springfield presides over all of it, dancing by herself at the microphone, singing sweetly of her love, her happiness, her contented fulfillment in the arms of her chosen one. Her only wish, only ambition, is to be with the object of her desire. It can–we hope–really be as simple as that.
Falling in love is an experience. In our pop music, we prefer it to be a giddy, blissful experience, free of the heartache and doubt that may often threaten us in our real-world affairs. Pop songs do recognize that love’s path may lead through temptation, betrayal, misery, to tests of faith and failures in spite of good initial intent, a path that might reach redemption or fall prey to the hazards that cause us to crash, broken and beaten, before we get to that magic place we so wanted to claim as home. Pop songs can reflect the complications and compromises we may face day to day, every day. But both pop music and love itself can offer the promise of something sweeter to believe in. Joni Mitchell described the love’s illusions she recalled as The dizzy dancing way you feel. Neil Diamond (via Micky Dolenz) saw a face that made him a believer. The Temptations had sunshine on a cloudy day, and so many others have used music to express sacred hopes for new love. Wouldn’t it be nice to be together? I’ve just seen a face, I can’t forget the time or place. No matter what you are, I will always be with you. Hey hey, you you, I wanna be your boyfriend. Nothing has ever embodied that hope and celebration with greater authority than Dusty Springfield and “I Only Want To Be With You.” The song is love, new love, everlasting love. It radiates with the sheer delight of falling in love. Even listening to it again now, you still believe Dusty as she sings about the only thing she really wants.
Some may regard “I Only Want To Be With You” as a relatively minor part of Dusty Springfield’s career. It was her first single and her first hit (# 4 in the UK, # 12 in the States), but “Wishin’ And Hopin'” and “You Don’t Have To Say You Love Me” were bigger hits in America. “Son Of A Preacher Man” didn’t match the chart performance of any of those, but it’s likely considered the definitive Dusty single, from the definitive Dusty LP Dusty In Memphis. The Bay City Rollers‘ 1976 cover of “I Only Want To Be With You” precisely matched the UK and US chart peaks of Dusty’s original version, and some will speak on behalf of another subsequent cover by The Tourists (with Annie Lennox and Dave Stewart, who remained together as Eurythmics). I’m fond of the Rollers and Tourists records, too; however, neither of ’em is The Greatest Record Ever Made. No. Today that honor belongs to a former tomboy named Mary, who remade herself with glamour and taste into a pop icon called Dusty. We don’t know who, if anyone, she had in mind as she sang “I Only Want To Be With You.” Dusty’s life was not as happy as the infectious exuberance of her song. She did not remain closeted, though she bristled at being labeled gay, claiming that she liked sex with men and women equally. But she drank too much. She suffered from emotional problems. She hurt herself. She was (unofficially) married briefly, to a woman, in a relationship marred by physical conflict and injuries. Cancer took her in 1999, a mere two weeks before she was inducted into The Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame. We honor Dusty Springfield by remembering the wonder of her music: the pain of her heartbreak songs, the soul of her performances, the visceral thrill of her artistry. Most of all, I remember the transcendent joy of “I Only Want To Be With You,” a triumphant dedication of love and devotion to the only one with whom she wished to be. Whomever that happened to be.
“I Only Want To Be With You” written by Mike Hawker and Ivor Raymonde, Unichappell Music, Inc. TIP THE BLOGGER: CC’s Tip Jar!You can support this blog by becoming a patron on Patreon: Fund me, baby!
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.
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! This post was originally published privately, for Boppin’ (Like The Hip Folks Do) subscribers only, on January 4th, 2017. This is its first public appearance. For as little as $2 a month, supporters of Boppin’ (Like The Hip Folks Do) on Patreon receive one exclusive bonus post each month: Fund me, baby!
THE KINKS: “You Really Got Me” The record had no precedent.
Link Wray was the closest thing it had to a prototype; the growling, cantankerous power chords of Wray’s “Rumble” sounded like a force of nature, a monolithic, lumbering whamwhamWHAM! pouncing through cheap speakers to devour unsuspecting radio listeners in 1958. “Rumble” influenced anything loud and threatening that was ever played at 45 rpm from that second forward. And one imagines it must have influenced The Kinks, as well. Nonetheless, even six years later in 1964, there had still never been another record quite like “You Really Got Me.”
It’s not just a matter of velocity; “You Really Got Me” seems faster than it really is, and attempts to play it too fast or (worse) too heavy–like Van Halen‘s meatball cover in the late ’70s, or even The Kinks’ own live renditions in the ’80s–feel insincere, wrong. No, the song is methodical, deliberate, but still pounding with desire and passionate, right-now insistence. Its implied speed, its breakneck illusion, makes it all the more powerful, menacing, like a cobra poised to strike and rob you of your last breath. It’s a punk song, even a proto-metal song, but it has a groove. It has a soul. It has a heart.
And it seethes with the frustration from which it was born.
The Kinks had released two previous singles: a perfunctory cover of Little Richard‘s “Long Tall Sally” (backed by a great beat raver, “I Took My Baby Home”) and a lovely Britpop number called “You Still Want Me.” The former had sold respectably (but unspectacularly) in the UK, and the latter had been a relative stiff. The song’s composer, Ray Davies, is said to have pounded out “You Really Got Me”‘s bluesey creation at home, on his parents’ piano. Frustrated. His frequently estranged brother, Kinks guitarist Dave Davies, couldn’t get the dirty, gritty six-string sound he wanted on the song–Frustrated!–and wound up slashing his amp with a razor blade just to get the guttural effect he could only hear in his head. Ray Davies thought the first recording too polite, too polished, too smooth. FRUSTRATED!! He begged the record label to let them have another go at getting it right.
And they did. Release! Girl, you really got me goin’. Cigarette?
With “You Really Got Me,” The Kinks had their first big hit, and not just in the UK. That simple, ferocious riff echoed across the Atlantic, and The Kinks were suddenly part of a British Invasion, an insurrection armed with guitars, bass, and drums, a rock ‘n’ roll police action that reclaimed the colonies for Her Majesty. Yes, of course, The Beatles were the shaggy-headed faces of this unexpected Britmania, and those Liverpudlians’ wit and style and sheer pop brilliance were the driving force of that scene and its sound. But no other rock ‘n’ roll group was more British than The Kinks, and no song ever summed up the British Invasion as well as “You Really Got Me.”
The Rolling Stones tried to surpass it, tried to make a record that could beat the overwhelming, transcendent urgency of “You Really Got Me.” And while the Stones created a lot of terrific singles in the process, they couldn’t match The Kinks. Nor could The Who, nor The Sex Pistols, nor even The Ramones, though Forest Hills’ Finest likely came the closest. The Kinks also tried; their follow-up single “All Day And All Of The Night” was arguably even better, a steamrollin’ refinement of “You Really Got Me”‘s primal attack. But “better” isn’t the same as Greatest. In the visceral realm of pop music, of rock ‘n’ roll, immediacy can be immortal. God save the greatest. And God save The Kinks.
10 Songs is a weekly list of ten songs that happen to be on my mind at the moment. Given my intention to usually write these on Mondays, the lists are often dominated by songs played on the previous night’s edition of This Is Rock ‘n’ Roll Radio with Dana & Carl. The idea was inspired by Don Valentine of the essential blog I Don’t Hear A Single.
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.
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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YOKO ONO: “Kiss Kiss Kiss” Geffen, 1980; A-Side: JOHN LENNON: “(Just Like) Starting Over” Some called her a Dragon Lady. To John Lennon, she was probably the one true love of his life.
A lot of rock ‘n’ rollers never understood Yoko Ono, and likely never will. I don’t exempt myself from that; I’m not a fan of her music, either with John or the material she made after his murder. But I don’t think I ever fell into the trap of demonizing her, or wishing she were out of John’s life, or blaming her for The Beatles’ breakup. Honestly, I think Yoko saved John’s life; I have a hard time believing that the rudderless Lennon of the mid ’60s could have survived into the ’70s had he not met Ono. His 18-month “lost weekend” without her in 1973-75 could serve as evidence for or against that idea; he looked back on that time with regret, and he clearly drank and partied too much, but he also seemed happy in the moment with girlfriend May Pang, and he worked prolifically as a recording artist (three albums in that short span o’ months), producer, and musical collaborator. Still, ultimately John needed Yoko. The separation didn’t work out.
My respect for Yoko One as a person need not have any bearing on my appreciation of her work. In general, her music just isn’t for me. There was, however, one instance where I preferred Yoko’s music to a contemporaneous song by John. That was Yoko’s “Kiss Kiss Kiss,” the B-side of John’s “(Just Like) Starting Over” in 1980.
For me, the summer of 1980 marked three years since I’d first heard The Sex Pistols and The Ramones. I graduated from college in May of ’80, moved into an apartment with my girlfriend, and became a professional burger-flipper at the mighty Golden Arches. I still loved The Beatles, but felt punk and new wave pulling me away from most post-’67 Beatles–no power on Earth could ever hope to separate me from Beatles ’62-’66–and I was increasingly disinterested in contemporary releases by former Beatles. I thought George Harrison and Ringo Starr had become boring. I liked some of Paul McCartney‘s recent stuff, particularly “Coming Up” and 1979’s “Getting Closer,” but found him unreliable, and I actively disliked “Arrow Through Me” and “Goodnight Tonight.”
And John? John was MIA. After his lost weekend ran its course in ’75, he realized he needed to be with Yoko. Yoko wasn’t so sure. But when Lennon appeared as Elton John‘s special guest, singing a few songs with The Elton John Band at the conclusion of their 1975 Madison Square Garden show, Yoko met John backstage, and the reconciliation commenced. One wonders if John thought of the lyrics to the song he’d just performed–a song he introduced as “by an old estranged fiancé of mine called Paul,” a Beatles oldie John had never sung before, and the last song that John Lennon would ever sing in concert:
Well my heart went boom When I crossed that room And I held her hand in mine Oh, we danced through the night And we held each other tight And before too long I fell in love with her Now I’ll never dance with another Oh, when I saw her standing there That’s the legend, anyway. Real life, real love, isn’t quite as simple or uncomplicated, but the end result was the same: John & Yoko. Together, man. They had a son, Sean, and John became a devoted father, retiring from public life for five years. He baked bread. He was Daddy. He was there.
I don’t remember how much of this I knew at the time. On the one hand, I saw a photo of Lennon in Rolling Stone, and he looked…old. On the other hand, in my punk-fueled mind, John had been the rocker in The Beatles, the fast ‘n’ loud balance to Paul’s silly love songs. It was a fiction I believed. As disconcerted as I was by the image of a grandfatherly ex-Beatle, I was convinced that Lennon could still return and show ’em all how it was s’posed to be done.
So I was delighted to hear that John Lennon was working on a new album in 1980. Early hype was encouraging; John & Yoko were working with producer Jack Douglas, and recording with a little help from new friends Cheap Trick, the one band–really, the only band–that every rock ‘n’ roll fan seemed to like at the end of the ’70s. The album was Double Fantasy, and its cover depicted John & Yoko sharing an affectionate little kiss. John had shaved his scraggly grandfather beard, and cut his hair to a properly fab mid ’60s love-me ‘do. The first single, “(Just Like) Starting Over,” was released ahead of the LP, and I eagerly traded cash for vinyl at Brockport’s Main Street Recordsto own a copy of that 45.
And I was so disappointed with it.
My expectations were unfair. I wanted Revolver and Rocket To Russia and power pop and punk and new wave and jangle and buzz and harmonies and Rickenbackers and drums and yeah-yeah-YEAH! That wasn’t gonna happen, even if Cheap Trick had been involved; as it was, most of the Trick’s contributions were omitted from the official version of Double Fantasy. There was certainly no audible evidence of them on this single. Instead, “(Just Like) Starting Over” fell somewhere between pre-Beatles pop and Electric Light Orchestra, and I wasn’t at all impressed. It was…okay. That’s all. Okay.
John had the A-side; Yoko had the B-side. I surprised myself by liking “Kiss Kiss Kiss” immediately. It seemed an edgier track, its herky-jerky riddum reminiscent of Marianne Faithfull‘s Broken English, its vocal styling similar to what I heard on records by Public Image, Ltd. and avowed Yoko Ono acolytes The B-52’s. Plus, like, it sounded like the Lennons were shakin’ the sheets at the end of the song. “Kiss Kiss Kiss” popped for me in a way the A-Side couldn’t. Although I gradually developed some level of fondness for “(Just Like) Starting Over,” “Kiss Kiss Kiss” was the side I played, and I played it often.
I held off on getting Double Fantasy. I heard another song or two on the radio, definitely the Beatley “Woman” (which I thought nicked its riff from Argent‘s “Hold Your Head Up,” but which I liked nonetheless), and probably “Watching The Wheels,” Lennon’s statement of defiant domesticity. On December 8th of 1980, a nobody with a gun decided his pitiful craving for attention was more important than John Lennon’s right to live, Yoko’s right to a husband, Sean’s right to a father. The killer’s name will never be mentioned in anything I write.
The events that followed the album’s release made it impossible to assess Double Fantasy on its own merit. I still can’t. There was a rumor (and I betcha it’s true) that Rolling Stone had a negative review of Double Fantasy all set to run, but pulled at the last minute in the wake of Lennon’s murder, with a glowing and reflective review run in its place. I can’t say if that was the right thing to do. Probably. Maybe. I kinda doubt that I would have ever really embraced the album, but who knows? I sure don’t know. I can’t separate the album from that lingering memory of how bad I felt on the evening of December 8th.
We can grieve for people we’ve never met, losses that may not seem personal to onlookers, but losses that hurt, that ache, as if a vital part of our lives has been ripped from us. We shouldn’t commit the sin of comparing our feelings in the wake of John Lennon’s murder to what Yoko felt, what Sean felt, to the anguish of older son Julian, ex-wife Cynthia, Aunt Mimi, or Paul, George, and Ringo, or May Pang. It’s not the same, not even close. Still hurts anyway, though.
On the evening of the murder, John and Yoko had been in the studio, working on a new Yoko single, “Walking On Thin Ice.” Can’t separate that one from its circumstances either, and I’ve never been able to enjoy it. An album called Milk And Honey was eventually assembled from unused Double Fantasy sessions, and I wound up digging its focus tracks “Nobody Told Me” and “Living On Borrowed Time” more than I liked most of Double Fantasy. Different circumstances. Different expectations.
Nowadays, I don’t often listen to “Kiss Kiss Kiss.” Among solo Beatles, I’m generally more likely to spin some McCartney than a Lennon, Harrison, or Starr record. I never listen to Yoko Ono at all. Yet I’m still fond of “Kiss Kiss Kiss,” and I still recall with vivid immediacy the rush of realizing I liked the Yoko track better than I liked the John track. Honestly, I think John Lennon would have forgiven me. Yoko saved his life, for a while anyway. She was the one true love of his life. He just wanted us to appreciate her, too.