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Reopening The Book On THE GREATEST RECORD EVER MADE!

With current work completed on my forthcoming [REDACTED] book, I’ve started turning my attention back to my long-threatened other book, The Greatest Record Ever Made! (Volume 1). My first order of business really ought to be finding a new agent; I haven’t even started looking for new representation since parting company (reluctantly but amicably) with my previous agent. But working on the book itself is something I can do in the here and now. 

In the past two and a half weeks, I’ve completed GREM! chapters about Tracey UllmanBob DylanOtis ReddingArthur Conleythe Dixie CupsIke and Tina TurnerEddie and the Hot RodsMarykate O’Neil, and the Beatles‘ “Revolution,” restored previously-completed Love and Yoko Ono chapters, worked a little bit more on a still-unfinished chapter about the O’Jays, and tweaked the Linda Ronstadt chapter from a completed piece about the Stone Poneys‘ “Different Drum” into a completed piece about Ronstadt’s “You’re No Good” instead. 

As of my last public GREM! update in September, the Dixie Cups, Yoko Ono, Love, and Arthur Conley chapters were not part of the book’s Table of Contents; they are now. I’ve removed previously-planned chapters about the Policethe Shocking BlueTelevision, and Peter, Paul and Mary. I almost restored my chapter about the Romantics, but it’s not in the book’s current blueprint. Completed chapters about the Buzzcocksthe Raspberriesthe Dandy Warholsthe CastawaysDeep Purplethe Only OnesNick LoweWanda Jackson, and Al Hirt that were already out of the book’s TOC remain out of the book now, though any one (or more) of ’em could still be taken off the bench and placed into the line-up. Everything’s in play until the book’s done. 

Yeah, maybe even still in play after I think the book’s done. I tweak therefore I am. Here’s what my working Table of Contents looks like today:

THE GREATEST RECORD EVER MADE! (VOLUME 1) 

Table of Contents

FOREWORD

DISCLAIMERS AND DECLARATIONS (A User’s Guide To The Greatest Record Ever Made!)A Fistful Of 45s

OVERTURE THE RAMONES: Do You Remember Rock ‘n’ Roll Radio?

1. BADFINGER: Baby Blue

2. CHUCK BERRY: Promised Land

3. DUSTY SPRINGFIELD: I Only Want To Be With You

4. THE SEX PISTOLS: God Save The Queen

5. ELVIS PRESLEY: Heartbreak Hotel

6. WILLIE MAE “BIG MAMA” THORNTON: Hound Dog

7. PATTI SMITH: Gloria

8. LITTLE RICHARD: The Girl Can’t Help It

9. NEIL DIAMOND: Brother Love’s Traveling Salvation Show

10. CRAZY ELEPHANT: Gimme Gimme Good Lovin’ 

11. WILSON PICKETT: In The Midnight Hour

12. THE HOLLIES: I Can’t Let Go

13. MELANIE WITH THE EDWIN HAWKINS SINGERS: Lay Down (Candles In The Rain)

14. SAM COOKE: Chain Gang

15. PETULA CLARK: Downtown

16. ARTHUR ALEXANDER: Soldier Of Love

17. TRANSLATOR: Everywhere That I’m Not

18. LESLEY GORE: You Don’t Own Me

19. THE SHANGRI-LAS: Leader Of The Pack

20. THE SHIRELLES: Will You Love Me Tomorrow

21. THE RAMONES: Sheena Is A Punk Rocker

22. AMY RIGBY: Dancing With Joey Ramone

23. PINK FLOYD: Wish You Were Here

24. GLADYS KNIGHT AND THE PIPS: Midnight Train To Georgia

25.THE BOBBY FULLER FOUR: I Fought The Law

26. MERLE HAGGARD: Mama Tried

27. THE TEMPTATIONS: Papa Was A Rollin’ Stone

28. BUDDY HOLLY: Peggy Sue/Everyday

29. JOHNNY NASH: I Can See Clearly Now

30. ELTON JOHN: Saturday Night’s Alright For Fightin’

31. SUZI QUATRO: I May Be Too Young

32. ALICE COOPER: School’s Out

33. THE RARE BREED/THE OHIO EXPRESS: Beg, Borrow And Steal

34. THE DIXIE CUPS: Iko Iko

35. ARTHUR CONLEY: Sweet Soul Music

 36. OTIS REDDING: (Sittin’ On) The Dock Of The Bay

37. ARETHA FRANKLIN: Respect

INTERLUDE The Monkees Play Their Own Instruments

38. THE MONKEES: Porpoise Song (Theme From Head)

39. PRINCE: When You Were Mine

40. THE 13th FLOOR ELEVATORS: You’re Gonna Miss Me

41. THE ROLLING STONES: Get Off Of My Cloud

42. PAUL REVERE AND THE RAIDERS: Just Like Me

43. BOB DYLAN: Like A Rolling Stone

44. THE KINGSMEN: Louie, Louie

45. BARON DAEMON AND THE VAMPIRES: The Transylvania Twist

46. NELSON RIDDLE: The Batman Theme

47. THE MARVELETTES: I’ll Keep Holding On

48. THE CREATION: Making Time

49. THE WHO: I Can’t Explain

50. TODD RUNDGREN: Couldn’t I Just Tell You

51. SHOES: Tomorrow Night

52. THE FLASHCUBES: No Promise

53. DONNA SUMMER: I Feel Love

54. SMOKEY ROBINSON AND THE MIRACLES: The Tears Of A Clown

55. LOVE: 7 And 7 Is

56. JUDAS PRIEST: Heading Out To The Highway

57. ABBA: Dancing Queen

58. THE NEW YORK DOLLS: Personality Crisis

59. MILLIE SMALL: My Boy Lollipop

60. THE EASYBEATS: Friday On My Mind

61. IKE AND TINA TURNER: River Deep Mountain High

62. THE RONETTES: Be My Baby

63. RONNIE SPECTOR AND THE E STREET BAND: Say Goodbye To Hollywood

64. BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN: Girls In Their Summer Clothes

65. KISS: Shout It Out Loud

66. THE LEFT BANKE: Walk Away, Renee

67. THE BAY CITY ROLLERS: Rock And Roll Love Letter

68. THE KNICKERBOCKERS: Lies

69. THE WONDERS: That Thing You Do!

70. THE GO-GO’S: We Got The Beat

71. THE LOVIN’ SPOONFUL: Summer In The City

72. VAN HALEN: Dance The Night Away

73. PEGGY LEE: FeverINTERLUDE The Tottenham Sound Of…The Beatles?!

74. THE DAVE CLARK FIVE: Any Way You Want It

75. JAMES BROWN: Please, Please, Please

76. GRAND FUNK: We’re An American Band

77. THE VELVELETTES: He Was Really Sayin’ Somethin’

78. WAR: Low Rider

79. THE FIRST CLASS: Beach Baby

80. THE ISLEY BROTHERS: Summer Breeze

81. THE RUBINOOS: I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend

82. THE PANDORAS: It’s About Time

83. P. P. ARNOLD: The First Cut Is The Deepest

84. BIG STAR: September Gurls

85. SAMMY AMBROSE: This Diamond Ring

86. PAUL COLLINS: Walking Out On Love

87. LINDA RONSTADT: You’re No Good

88. THE DAVE BRUBECK QUARTET: Take Five

ENTR’ACTE THE BEATLES: Yesterday

89. THE BEATLES: Revolution

90. THE MC5: Kick Out The Jams

91. THE CHAMBERS BROTHERS: Time Has Come Today

92. MARVIN GAYE: I Heard It Through The Grapevine

93. RAY CHARLES: Hit The Road Jack

94. THE MUFFS: Saying Goodbye

95. YOKO ONO: Kiss Kiss Kiss

96. THE FLAMIN’ GROOVIES: Shake Some Action

97. THE CARPENTERS: Only Yesterday

98. MATERIAL ISSUE: Kim The Waitress

99. THE 5TH DIMENSION: Aquarius/Let The Sun Shine In (The Flesh Failures)

100. THE JACKSON FIVE: I’ll Be There

101. SLY AND THE FAMILY STONE: Everybody Is A Star

102. JUDY COLLINS: Both Sides Now

103. EMITT RHODES: Fresh As A Daisy

104. THE BANGLES: Live

105. THE SEARCHERS: Hearts In Her Eyes

106. THE HUMAN SWITCHBOARD: (Say No To) Saturday’s Girl

107. THE BYRDS: I’ll Feel A Whole Lot Better

INTERLUDE Rick James! Neil Young! Motown Sensations THE MYNAH BIRDS!

108. RICK JAMES: Super Freak

109. THE FLIRTATIONS: Nothing But A Heartache

110. THE SPINNERS: I’ll Be Around

111. TOM PETTY AND THE HEARTBREAKERS: American Girl

112. THE PARTRIDGE FAMILY: I Woke Up In Love This Morning

113. LED ZEPPELIN: Communication Breakdown

114. EDDIE COCHRAN: Somethin’ Else

115. THE BANDWAGON: Breakin’ Down The Walls Of Heartache

116. DON HENLEY: The Boys Of Summer

117. THE CLASH: Train In Vain (Stand By Me)

118. BEN E. KING: Stand By Me

119. GENE PITNEY: Twenty Four Hours From Tulsa

120. RUFUS: Tell Me Something Good

121. THE SPONGETONES: (My Girl) Maryanne

122. THE TRAMMPS: Disco Inferno

123. HAROLD MELVIN AND THE BLUE NOTES: Don’t Leave Me This Way

124. GRANDMASTER AND MELLE MEL: White Lines (Don’t Don’t Do It)

125. THE VELVET UNDERGROUND: I’ll Be Your Mirror

126. DEL SHANNON: Runaway

127. THE EVERLY BROTHERS: Gone, Gone, Gone

128. THE COCKTAIL SLIPPERS: St. Valentine’s Day Massacre

129. FREDDIE AND THE DREAMERS: Do The Freddie

130. SAM AND DAVE: Soul Man

131. BIG BROTHER AND THE HOLDING COMPANY: Piece Of My Heart

132. THE MAYTALS: Pressure Drop

 133. T. REX: 20th Century Boy

134. HEART: Kick It Out

135. THE RUNAWAYS: Cherry Bomb

136. AMERICA: Sister Golden Hair

137. THE KINKS: Waterloo Sunset 

138. THE KINKS: You Really Got Me

139. HOLLY GOLIGHTLY: Time Will Tell

140. THE SMITHEREENS: Behind The Wall Of Sleep

141. THE COWSILLS: She Said To Me

142. ELVIS COSTELLO AND THE ATTRACTIONS: (What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love And Understanding?

143. THE FOUR TOPS: Reach Out I’ll Be There

INTERLUDE Old Time Rock ‘n’ Roll

144. THE BOB SEGER SYSTEM: 2 + 2 = ?

145. THE JIVE FIVE: What Time Is It?

146. LULU: To Sir, With Love [Museum Outings Montage]

147. FREDA PAYNE: Band Of Gold

148. EARTH, WIND AND FIRE WITH THE EMOTIONS: Boogie Wonderland

149. THE CONTOURS: Do You Love Me

150. BLONDIE: (I’m Always Touched By Your) Presence, Dear

151. THE NEW PORNOGRAPHERS: All For Swinging You Around

152. WHAM!: Freedom

153. THE SUPREMES: You Keep Me Hangin’ On 

154. THE BEACH BOYS: God Only Knows

155. JOAN ARMATRADING: Me Myself I

156. THE SELECTER: On My Radio

157. TRACEY ULLMAN: They Don’t Know

158. MANNIX: Highway Line

159. THE DRIFTERS: On Broadway

160. FIRST AID KIT: America

161. THE FIVE STAIRSTEPS: O-o-h Child

162. SOLOMON BURKE: Everybody Needs Somebody To Love

163. THE JAM: That’s Entertainment

164. THE COASTERS: Yakety Yak

165. CHEAP TRICK: Surrender

166. DAVID BOWIE: Life On Mars?

167. THE O’JAYS: Put Your Hands Together

168. THE GRATEFUL DEAD: Uncle John’s Band

169. EDDIE AND THE HOT RODS: Do Anything You Wanna Do

170. THE PRETENDERS: Back On The Chain Gang

171. JOAN JETT: Bad Reputation

172. STEVIE WONDER: I Believe (When I Fall In Love It Will Be Forever)

173. MARYKATE O’NEIL: I’m Ready For My Luck To Turn Around

174. EYTAN MIRSKY: This Year’s Gonna Be Our Year

175. THE JAYHAWKS: I’m Gonna Make You Love Me

An Infinite Number

INTERLUDE

Underrating The Beatles

ENCORE! 

THE BEATLES: Rain

ENCORE!! 

THE T-BONES: No Matter What Shape (Your Stomach’s In)Cruisin’ Music

CODA 

THE RAMONES: Blitzkrieg Bop

AFTERWORD

An infinite number of songs can each be THE greatest record ever made, as long as they take turns. I’m feeling an increasing temptation to include a chapter about the Animals; we’ll see.

At this writing, the chapters still in need of a completed first draft are ABBAMillie SmallPeggy Leethe VelvelettesWarthe PandorasP. P. Arnoldthe Chambers BrothersRay Charlesthe Muffsthe 5th DimensionJudy Collinsthe BanglesDon HenleyBig Brother and the Holding Companythe Maytalsthe CowsillsEarth, Wind and Fire with the EmotionsBlondiethe New Pornographersthe SupremesCheap Trick, the O’Jays, and the Pretenders

The rest of it? Done, at least in draft form. Now, I need to finish the rest, and secure some representation for it, not necessarily in that order. It’s time to head back into the infinite.


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

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

Volume 1: download
Volume 2: CD or download
Volume 3: download
Volume 4: CD or download
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Archie Meets Ramones

The Ramones existed as a band from 1974 until 1996. The original members of this dysfunctional band o’ brudders–singer Joey Ramone (Jeffrey Hyman), guitarist Johnny Ramone (John Cummings), bassist Dee Dee Ramone (Douglas Colvin), and drummer Tommy Ramone (Tommy Erdelyi)–have all gone on to the great Bowery in the sky. But it’s not an exaggeration to say that the group has become legend, a universal pop-culture touchstone whose image and music are summoned as pervasive talismans in movies, print, TV shows, advertising–virtually everywhere except on the goddamned radio–and whose impact and influence are recognized by anyone and everyone who understands the history of rock ‘n’ roll.

Archie was created by cartoonist Bob Montana, and debuted in Pep Comics # 22 in 1941. The title character Archie Andrews has been described as “America’s typical teen,” and has bumbled and/or braved his way through 75 years of comic mishaps. The most common central conflict of Archie stories has been the unresolved love triangle of Archie and his would-be girlfriends, down-to-Earth Betty Cooper and pampered rich girl Veronica Lodge. Archie’s best bud Jughead Jones and rival Reggie Mantle complete the core cast of Archie; Archie and his pals and gals have starred in comic books, newspaper strips, a radio series, and TV cartoons, with a new, edgy live-action TV series called Riverdale on The CW in 2017. The fictional quintet has also performed in comics and cartoons as a rock group called The Archies, who crossed over to real-world chart success with the # 1 hit single “Sugar, Sugar” in 1969.

Archie and The Ramones. This does not seem like a match made in Heaven; what highway to Heaven could possibly lead through both the make-believe Riverdale and the all-too-real Forest Hills? And yet, the one-shot comic book Archie Meets Ramones is perfect. Lemme emphasize that again, with the sledgehammerin’ precision of New York’s Finest: Perfect. Perfect! PerfectPerfectPerfect!

When this book was announced, I heard complaints from some Ramones fans, whining that a crossover with the squeaky-clean Archies would be an insult to The Ramones’ memory, a whitewash of the group’s grungy, street-level depravity and inspiration. True, there was never any likelihood that a Ramones-Archies book would include glue-sniffing, heroin, violence, casual sex, male prostitute Dee Dee turning tricks, or Hilly Kristal‘s dog crapping on the floor at CBGB’s. These were all integral components of The Ramones’ formative years, and they have indeed been politely ignored in the pages of this comic book.

But if you think any of that is really what defines The Ramones, then I’m sorry to say that you don’t get it. At all.

You can protest, but I don’t care, I don’t care, I don’t care, etc. I don’t care if you’re the biggest Ramones fan this side of Riff Randall, I don’t care if you were there at CBGB’s or Arturo Vega‘s loft, and I don’t even care if you’re Danny Fields, The Ramones’ first manager (though I think Danny would get it–he was among the firstto really get The Ramones). If you believe that The Ramones are defined more by the seediness of their origins than by the brilliance of their pop music, then you need to check back with Miss Togar for some remedial sessions at Rock ‘n’ Roll High School.

Remember: The Ramones wanted to be a pop band. When I interviewed The Ramones in 1994, Johnny told me, “We started off, and I think we wanted to be a bubblegum band. At one point, The Bay City Rollers were becoming popular. They had written ‘Saturday Night,’ and we then sat down and said, ‘We have to write a song with a chant in it, like they have.’ So we wrote ‘Blitzkrieg Bop.’ Somehow, in our warped minds, I think we thought we were a bubblegum group.”

Also remember: The Ramones were a pop band. Indisputably. Their songs were concise and catchy, immediately unforgettable, and made transcendent via velocity and force of will. But the songs are great songs at any speed, played in any style; I’ve heard elevator versions of Ramones songs, earnest acoustic versions of Ramones songs, surf instrumental versions of Ramones songs, and Y2K girlpop versions of Ramones song, and each disparate version has retained the spark and panache The Ramones bestowed upon the original version. The durability of this catalog suggests a band greater than the sum of its vices.

Moving on to The Ramones’ only feature film, Rock ‘n’ Roll High School, it’s worth pointing out that Johnny Ramone specifically and firmly nixed the idea of any scenes showing The Ramones doing drugs. Nein. Verboten! It was not the image The Ramones wished to project. No, in the film, pizza would be their stimulant of choice! 

After all the Carbona huffin’, and the chainsaws and the lobotomies and the beating on the brat with a baseball bat…The Ramones still wanted to be a bubblegum band. Johnny said they wanted to be The Bay City Rollers; it would have been just as appropriate for them to be The Archies.
Archie Meets Ramones suddenly makes a lot of sense in that context.  

The comic book’s story, “Rock ‘n’ Roll Riverdale!” (written by Alex Segura and Matthew Rosenberg, with simply gorgeous artwork by Gisele Lagace), begins with The Archies tanking at a high school battle of the bands. Frustrated and angry, The Archies are ready to give up this silly notion of being in a rock ‘n’ roll band, but things change with a gift from Archie’s friend Sabrina the Teenaged Witch: an enchanted copy of The Ramones’ debut LP from 1976. As Archie plays that record, as the sound of “Blitzkrieg Bop” washes over Riverdale, The Archies find themselves magically transported back to ’76, standing in front of the iconic club Max’s Kansas City, and face to to face with Joey, Johnny, Dee Dee, and Tommy.

The tale is breezy and energetic, full of love for The Ramones, and loaded with an endless barrage of Ramones references. Sure, you know how the story’s gonna end long before The Archies realize it, but just getting there is more fun than a barrel of Sheenas. And that’s a lot of fun! There’s even an uncredited cameo appearance by Talking Heads. The book is just pure joy, from start to finish, the kind of pure joy I already recognize from listening to The Ramones.

Joy. That may not be a word often associated with The Ramones, but we should use it more often. We know of the troubles the individual members of The Ramones faced, of their bickering and battles, Dee Dee’s addiction, Joey’s OCD, Johnny’s authoritarian prickishness, Tommy’s nervous breakdown; but that’s not what I hear when I listen to The Ramones. I hear joy. Pure, loud, rock ‘n’ roll joy. This comic book captures that joy completely. And to say that something’s as good as a Ramones record? I don’t know of a greater compliment I can give.

Take it, Betty! 1-2-3-4…!

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THE EVERLASTING FIRST: The Easybeats

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Give Me A Head With Hair, Long Quarantine Hair

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Volume 1: download
Volume 2: CD or download
Volume 3: download
Volume 4: CD or download
Waterloo Sunset–Benefit For This Is Rock ‘n’ Roll Radio:  CD or download
Carl’s writin’ a book! The Greatest Record Ever Made! (Volume 1)will contain 165 essays about 165 tracks, each one of ’em THE greatest record ever made. An infinite number of records can each be the greatest record ever made, as long as they take turns. Updated initial information can be seen here: THE GREATEST RECORD EVER MADE! (Volume 1).

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Boppin'

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

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

GUITARS VS. RAYGUNS

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

COPPER 

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

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

THE DUST BUNNYS

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

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

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

WARRIORS OF ROMANCE

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

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

WILLINGTON BLUE, SKIP KELLER

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

THE SHAMBLES

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

BEN ARNOLD AND THE TURNCOATS

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

AND THE REST!

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

And a-one, and a-two…!

TIP THE BLOGGER: CC’s Tip Jar!

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

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

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

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

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

I’m on Twitter @CafarelliCarl.

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Boppin'

THE GREATEST RECORD EVER MADE: Hey Jude

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!

For years and years, “Hey Jude” was regarded by many as The Beatles‘ crowning achievement among singles, the fabbest of the fab, the toppermost of the poppermost. No, wait–neither fab nor poppermost, for “Hey Jude” was far more mature and accomplished than that earlier yeah-yeah-yeah hold my hand stuff. It had depth! It had meaning! It had purpose! It had a big room full of people swayin’ and singin’ Na-na-na-NA-na-na-na!, as if they’d lost their way and forgotten the precise words to “The Batman Theme!”

And I loved it. Wholeheartedly.

“Hey Jude” was released in the summer of 1968, a double-barreled 45 with the raucous “Revolution” as its flip. The Beatles promoted it via a video clip aired by British TV host David Frost and subsequently in the U.S. on The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour. I missed all of this, and I don’t remember hearing it on the radio or anywhere until the early ’70s. That’s when I finally heard “Hey Jude,” as I was visiting my brother Rob in Albany, and listening intently to an oldies radio countdown of the all-time greatest songs. “Hey Jude” came in second, falling just short of the unstoppable juggernaut that was “Dizzy” by Tommy Roe. Or maybe it was the other around, but no matter. I adored both songs immediately.

There was never a time where I didn’t like The Beatles, at least no such time after Beatlemania hit the States in ’64, when I was mere lad of four. But the early ’70s was a huge period of discovery and rediscovery for me in terms of your John, Paul, George, and Ringo. I listened to the Beatles records I knew, sought out the Beatles records I didn’t know, saw the Beatles films I hadn’t seen, and re-watched the one I knew–A Hard Day’s Night–whenever it turned up on TV. The Beatley Badfinger was my favorite current group on the radio, and the Beatley Raspberries later became my favorite current group on the radio; in the period between Badfinger and The Raspberries, Paul McCartney & Wings was likely my favorite current group on the radio. But my all-time favorite group? There was never, ever any question about who that was. There still isn’t.

Granted, the onslaught of punk in the late ’70s prompted me to re-examine my ongoing allegiance to The Beatles. My newfound devotion to The Ramones rivaled my Beatlemania, but certainly didn’t replace it. I did grow tired of the solo careers of the former Beatles by that time, and even started writing a song urging them to never get back to where they once belonged (‘Cause you got a good reason/For staying apart just as long as you can/You got a good reason/All things must pass, you can’t do that again). I developed a distinct preference for The Beatles’ pre-1967 recordings, before they got too serious with the Sgt. Pepper and the “All You Need Is Love” and the goo goo ga joob. On the other hand: RevolverRubber SoulBeatles VI and Beatles ’65 and Meet The Beatles and the American mix of “Thank You, Girl” on The Beatles’ Second Album? Yeah, yeah, a thousand times yeah! 

In my 1980s Beatles milieu, “Hey Jude” was not here, nor there, nor everywhere. I still liked it, but it was no longer in my Top 100, not even close. Hell, when a rummage-sale dive at a church basement in Buffalo netted me an Atlantic 45 of Wilson Pickett testifyin’ his own take on “Hey Jude,” the Wicked, Wicked Pickett’s rendition instantly became the version in my mind. That remained the case for decades thereafter. And seeing Paul (now Sir Paul) haul the song out again and again for seemingly every TV appearance honoring The Beatles’ legacy eventually caused “Hey Jude” to grate on me. Na-na-na-NA-na-na-na. No. No-no-NO-no-no-no.

There was an exception to this recently. I don’t remember what show it was, what specific honor or accolade or day-in-the-life matter was at hand. But there was Paul McCartney, on my little 32″ TV screen, once again recommending that we take a sad song and make it better. I don’t know why. I can’t explain it. But after years of indifference, even disdain for this song…

…Well, all of a sudden “Hey Jude” clicked with me, for the first time in years. I may have even joined in with the na-na-nas, as I sat on my couch and remembered how large this song once loomed in my legend.

It would be difficult to name one track as the definitive Beatles track. I usually regard “Rain” as The Greatest Record Ever Made, but that doesn’t make it the definitive Beatles track. “Yesterday” is underrated in spite of its ubiquity, but it’s three Beatles shy of even being a Beatles record, let alone the definitive example. One could argue on behalf of the moptopped frenzy of “She Loves You” or “I Want To Hold Your Hand,” the mind-expansion of “A Day In The Life” or “Strawberry Fields Forever” or “I Am The Walrus,” the pathos of “Eleanor Rigby,” the elegance of “Penny Lane,” the sheer beauty of “We Can Work It Out,” the Utopian promise of “All You Need Is Love.”

But if it’s gotta be just one, it’s “Hey Jude.” “Hey Jude” is the definitive Beatles track. It captures one moment among many, just another snippet of time when The Beatles ruled the world. It captures it perfectly, the movement we need right there on our shoulders. It’s The Beatles still playing as a band, the fractures in that foundation still bonded together in a way only four specific people would ever truly understand. It’s The Beatles with nothing to prove, already reigning o’er their domain by divine right, the four kings of EMI sitting stately on the floor. It’s The Beatles proving it anyway, because they’re the goddamn Beatles.

So let it out and let it in, hey Jude, begin. You were made to go out and get her. Tonight, I will see Paul McCartney in concert for the first time. He’ll play some songs I know and love, representing a body of work I cherish above all others. He’ll sing “Yesterday.” He’ll command us to “Let It Be.” He’ll channel James Bond with “Live And Let Die,” a license to thrill. And a splendid time will be guaranteed for all.

And he will sing “Hey Jude.” Where once I dreaded that notion, I now embrace it and anticipate it as a highlight. And I will sing along, full voice, with over 30,000 of my fabbest friends. Na-na-na-NA-na-na-na. For well you know that it’s a fool who plays it cool by making his world a little colder. Better, better, better, AH!

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Boppin'

THE EVERLASTING FIRST: The Monkees

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

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

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

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

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

I’m a believer. I believe I can FLY…!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Is Beatles VI Really My All-Time Favorite Album?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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My Top Ten Power Pop Acts

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

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

MY TOP TEN POWER POP ACTS

by Carl Cafarelli

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

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

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

THE WHO

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

THE FLASHCUBES

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

THE RAMONES

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

BADFINGER

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

THE ROMANTICS

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

THE GO-GO’S

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

THE NERVES

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

BIG STAR

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

THE SPONGETONES

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

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

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

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

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

I’m on Twitter @CafarelliCarl.

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The Ramones: It’s Alive!

THE RAMONES

It’s Alive!

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It’s about bloody time. It’s Alive!, the Ramones’ 1979 tour-de-force double-LP live album, has finally gotten a domestic release, a mere 16 years behind the rest of the free world. Everything that’s gone wrong with this country since then, from the Iranian hostage crisis to the O. J. Simpson trial, can no doubt be attributed to Americans’ lack of easy access to the one live album that could obliterate all of life’s nagging little problems in a 1-2-3-4! barrage of amphetamine-laced bubblegum, fueled by punk attitude, a twisted AM pop sensibility, and a stunning use of nearly three chords.

Okay, so we’re getting carried away here. But critical objectivity tends to fly out the window when it comes to the Ramones. Many still view the group as a joke, while a select few (very few) others regard the Ramones with near-religious devotion. And let there be no doubt which side of that argument this scribe favors: the Ramones rule, pal, It’s Alive! is the greatest live album ever recorded, and if you don’t agree, then there’s something fundamentally wrong with you. Plus you’ve got bad breath.

Seriously, although It’s Alive! may not convert many non-believers to da cause, it’s a bracing, invigorating slap of Carbona-strength Hai Karate for righteous pinheads everywhere. Recorded live in London on New Year’s Eve 1977, It’s Alive! offers 28 faster-than-sound samples of unfiltered Ramonesness, culled from the group’s first three albums.


This was also one of the last appearances of original drummer  Tommy Ramone, who’d already been replaced by Marky Ramone by the time of It’s Alive!‘s original release. Although Marky is undeniably a (much!) more accomplished drummer than Tommy, the Ramones lost something irretrievable when Tommy left. Marky is heavier and flashier, and he’s propelled the Ramones to faster and faster rhythms, but Tommy’s light touch added a buoyancy that the group has been unable to replicate since.

And the band is in absolute control throughout this disc. Compare the military precision and passionate urgency of It’s Alive! with the detached, throw-away performance on 1992’s Blitzkrieg-by-numbers Loco Live, and there can be no doubt which disc captures Forest Hills’ Finest at the peak of their in-concert skills.
Color photos from the original LP’s gatefold have been changed to black-and-white for the CD insert (presumably so you can still sort of make them out in this cursed reduced format). But the sonic buzz is still there, an ephemeral thrill made timeless, preserving a fleeting moment when it really seemed possible–inevitable–that four guys from Queens could save rock ‘n’ roll. My fellow Americans, everything’s gonna be all right now.

2021 POSTSCRIPT: my appreciation of Marky Ramone has continued to grow over the decades. What hasn’t changed? It’s Alive! remains my all-time favorite live album.


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