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Pop Sunday

Dan Markell / Zoom In

Dan Markell

Zoom In (Fermada Nowhere Music 2021)

 The last time we heard from Dan Markell was this past holiday season, when “Comin’ Up On Christmas” filled our solemn social-distancing hearts with holly jolly joy. The Southern California vocalist, tunesmith and multi-instrumentalist has now returned to the front lines with yet another supreme single. 

Braiding reggae rhythms with new wave sensibilities, “Zoom In” sounds like the Police joining forces with the Talking Heads and Devo. Propelled by a choppy clip and twitchy hooks, the perpetually catchy song revisits early eighties cutting.edge imagery with dead on precision. Hurl a danceable beat and a sing-a-long chorus of major proportions into the pie, and you’ve got a surefire smash.

 
As if you didn’t already know, Dan has quite an interesting background. Not only has he released a couple of great studio albums – “Big Ideas” and “Eleven Shades Of Dan Markell” – but has also worked with esteemed artists such as guitarist Jeff Healey, former Wings drummer Denny Seiwell and members of the Romantics, Blondie and the Standells. Film and television production further completes Dan’s portfolio. 

It is always a treat to hear music from Dan, and the rock steady skinny tie pop of “Zoom In”  proves to be a natural extension of his stellar track record. 

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Rock ‘N’ Roll On TV

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Carl Cafarelli

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THE BEST OF EVERYTHING: Best Of The Bobby Fuller Four

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But Side Two…!

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

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

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

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

Right.

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

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

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

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

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Didn’t Hear THAT Coming! (Unexpected Covers In Concert): THE BANGLES, “7 And 7 Is”

Didn’t Hear THAT Coming! (Unexpected Covers In Concert) discusses songs I was surprised to hear covered in a live show by an act I’d gone to see.
Cover songs can add zip and spark to a rock ‘n’ roll group’s live repertoire. In their earliest gigs, most groups start out playing covers, and integrate more of their own original material into their sets as they play more dates, develop more of an identity, and attract more fans with an interest beyond just hearing bar-band interpretations of songs associated with other acts. It’s a basic long-term strategy for groups hoping to get noticed, to get somewhere; there’s a reason The Rolling Stones cut back on Chuck Berry songs and started writing their own material.

Still, a well-placed cover tune can enhance a live set, while the wrong choice can result in irritating a fan who doesn’t want to hear a fave rave act pandering to a lower common denominator. Whether it works or falls flat, the unexpected cover prompts us to say, “Wow–didn’t hear THAT coming!”


THE BANGLES: 7 And 7 Is [Love]

The hit 1980s group The Bangles. The broad Nuggets niche of 1960s garage, punk, and psychedelia. Never the twain shall meet.

Those of us with even a perfunctory knowledge of pop history know the above statement is nonsense. The Bangles drew significant and obvious inspiration from the sounds of the ‘60s, notably from The Beatles and from the decade’s Laurel Canyon axis of SoCal pop music, from The Byrds to Buffalo Springfield to The Mamas and the Papas. The Bangles were originally part of L.A.’s Paisley Underground, one of many Los Angeles acts in the early ‘80s professing and practicing a devout, pervasive connection to a vibrant rock ‘n’ roll scene that came nearly two decades before them. Maybe much of the general public couldn’t automatically draw a line from ‘60s touchstones like Pandora’s Box or Riot On The Sunset Strip to this distaff Fab Four mugging through “Walk Like An Egyptian” on MTV. Fine. But you and me? We know better. The Bangles had more in common with The Standells and The Electric Prunes than with virtually any of their Reagan era Top 40 contemporaries.

The Bangles’ eponymous 1982 EP included four originals, plus one cover, “How Is The Air Up There?,” a ’60s obscurity originally done by The Changin’ Times in ’65, and later recorded by The La De Das, for whom it was a hit in their native New Zealand in 1966. The Bangles at that time were guitarists Vicki Peterson and Susanna Hoffs, bassist Annette Zalinskas, and drummer Debbi Peterson, Vicki’s sister. The Bangles wore their ’60s loyalties like a badge of honor.

The EP was my introduction to The Bangles. I don’t recall if I read about them in the rock press or heard them on Buffalo’s WBNY-FM before I bought the record, but I was an instant fan. I remained a fan as Zalinskas moved on, as Michael Steele replaced her on the four-string, and as the group signed with Columbia Records for their first full-length album, 1984’s All Over The Place.

My God, I loved All Over The Place. The original songs were fantastic, the two covers (of The Merry-Go-Round‘s “Live” and Katrina and the Waves‘ “Going Down To Liverpool) were sufficiently obscure that I thought they were both originals, and the album will always be among my all-time favorites. The group’s tour in support of The Continental brought them to Buffalo for a show at left-of-the-dial nightclub All Over The Place, and I can testify that The Bangles were a solid live act. I don’t remember a lot of specifics, but I know I enjoyed it, and I know they covered Mose Allison‘s “I’m Not Talking,” with Michael Steele taking the lead vocal. I knew the song from The Yardbirds, and I guess that would qualify as an unexpected cover in concert.

But it wasn’t as unexpected as hearing The Bangles cover “7 And 7 Is,” a song written by Arthur Lee and originally recorded in 1966 by Lee’s band Love.

I had discovered the music of Arthur Lee‘s group Love in the early ’80s. I’d read about them somewhere, and snagged a used copy of their eponymous debut album literally off the floor at Brockport’s Main Street Records around, I dunno, ’82 or so. I picked up a greatest-hits set called Love Revisited after moving to Buffalo, and became enthralled by this furious, fascinating proto-punk tune called “7 And 7 Is.” 

If I don’t start cryin’ it’s because that I have got no eyes
My father’s in the fireplace and my dog lies hypnotized
Through a crack of light I was unable to find my way
Trapped inside a night
But I’m a day and I go
Oop-ip-ip, oop-ip-ip
YEAH!

Yeah, I had no idea what the hell it was about, and I woulda sworn that list bit above was an eloquent Batman-inspired Boom-biff-biff, Boom-biff-biff YEAH! rather than some [chuckle] non-sensical “oop-ip-ip” jazz. Obviously. But it didn’t matter what the words were or what the song meant. It was a freakin’ force of nature, it demanded high volume, and I played that damned track with manic devotion. I wasn’t using the phrase yet in the ’80s, but damn, this was clearly The Greatest Record Ever Made.


And now, live in 1985, The Bangles were performing on stage, right before my eyes. My jaw dropped. My fist raised itself without needing me to will it so. The Bangles. Love. “7 And 7 Is.” It was unexpected. And it was awesome!

Looking back, it shouldn’t have been all that unexpected. I knew of The Bangles’ roots in ’60s nuggets, and I wasn’t exactly shocked that they chose to cover Love. It was still a surprise, a pleasant surprise. That night, The Bangles said their version of “7 And 7 Is” would be on their next album. I regret that did not come to pass.

The Bangles’ commercial status took a dramatic upturn with their second album, 1986’s Different Light. The album’s first single “Manic Monday,” written by Prince (under the pseudonym “Christopher,” I guess because “Bernard Webb” was already spoken for), became the group’s first hit, a # 2 smash. Different Light is a very good record, but it seemed slicker and less exuberant than All Over The Place. It was an ’80s album. All Over The Place had felt timeless. Nonetheless, I cheered as this band I loved invaded the pop charts and Top 40 radio. Their success was deserved.

When The Bangles’ Different Light tour brought them back to Buffalo again, their higher profile had allowed them to graduate to a larger venue, The Rooftop in South Buffalo. Alas, I got my wires crossed about when The Bangles were scheduled to go on, and they had finished more than half of their set before I strolled in. Damn it.

The 2014 archival CD collection Ladies And Gentlemen…The Bangles! preserves concrete evidence that The Bangles covered “7 And 7 Is” in live shows, proof positive in the form of a 1984 live recording of Love via The Bangles. While most folks recall The Bangles as frothy ’80s video divas, I remember them as music fans made good, playing songs they loved in whatever venue was available. Their 1987 cover of Simon and Garfunkel‘s “Hazy Shade Of Winter” was a bigger hit than the original. Even on New Year’s Eve of 2000, when The Bangles appeared on Dick Clark‘s New Year’s Eve TV bash, they still surprised by pulling out a cover of The Velvet Underground‘s “I’m Waiting For The Man.” The Bangles were nobody’s empty-calorie cupcakes.

The Ramones also covered “7 And 7 Is,” on their 1993 all-covers album Acid Eaters. When I interviewed The Ramones for Goldmine in 1994, I mentioned to C. J. Ramone that I’d seen The Bangles cover the song live in 1985, and that they’d intended to record it. He was surprised. “That’s wild!,” he said, clearly impressed with the notion that The Bangles did a song as cool as “7 And 7 Is.”

They did indeed, C. J. And yeah, it was unexpected, but it shouldn’t have been. The Bangles loved the ’60s. The Bangles loved Love. 

Oop-ip-ip, oop-ip-ip, YEAH!

WHEN DIDN’T HEAR THAT COMING! RETURNS: The Dark Return Of LET’S ACTIVE

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THE EVERLASTING FIRST: The Ohio Express

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.

In the ’70s, there was a persistent rock ‘n’ roll legend–not a true story, but a persistent one–that singer Rod Stewart had collapsed on stage during a concert, and had to be rushed to the hospital. In the ER, it was said that Stewart’s stomach was pumped, revealing that he had ingested 10cc of seminal fluid. And again, this absurd and homophobic story was not true. But when I first heard it, its nonsensical nature didn’t stop me from immediately quipping that Stewart went straight from the ER to the studio to record his cover of The Ohio Express‘ bubblegum hit, “Yummy Yummy Yummy (I Got Love In My Tummy).”

This was, of course, not where I first heard of The Ohio Express.

The Ohio Express were never going to be candidates for The Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame, no way, no how. They were less a band and more a means to an end, a vehicle, or really just a name for a vehicle Kasenetz-Katz–producers Jerry Kasenetz and Jeff Katz–could drive to the bank, a bubblemobile loaded with cash taken from eager adolescents in exchange for chewy-chewy catchy-catchy 45 rpm records to spin on Close-N-Plays across the USA. There was another vehicle called The 1910 Fruitgum Company, and other limited-use vehicles with names like Kasenetz-Katz Singing Orchestral CircusCrazy Elephant, and Lt. Garcia’s Magic Music Box. The whole fleet was built for speed, not durability, slapped together by an assembly line that valued a fast joy ride over safety, comfort, or aesthetics. But these were sweet rides nonetheless–sweeter than sugar. None was sweeter than The Ohio Express.

It’s a common misconception to say that The Ohio Express didn’t really exist, that they were strictly a fictional construct for Kasenetz & Katz’s to toil within as a DBA shell company. This is almost true, but not quite 100 % true. There was a band called The Ohio Express. It’s just that this band called The Ohio Express didn’t really have anything to do with most of the records credited to a “band” called The Ohio Express. This was certainly the case with the very first Ohio Express single, a stunning garage stomper called “Beg, Borrow And Steal.”

“Beg, Borrow And Steal” by The Ohio Express may be The Greatest Record Ever Made, and it will get its turn in that particular Boppin’ blog spotlight. After that single was released and starting to chart in 1967, Kasenetz & Katz recruited an Ohio band called Sir Timothy & the Royals to be The Ohio Express, playing live dates to promote this new single, even though Sir Timothy and company had nothing to do with the record. In fact, the record predates even the concept of The Ohio Express; “Beg, Borrow And Steal” had previously been a failed 1966 single credited to The Rare Breed on the Attack label, and that very same Rare Breed track became an Ohio Express single on Cameo Records. Lawyers, start your engines!

Creative branding aside, The Ohio Express did one album (Beg, Borrow & Steal) for Cameo, which included the title track, a couple of tracks by future superstar Joe Walsh, a charting cover of The Standells‘ salacious “Try It,” and a simply superb LP track called “Had To Be Me,” the latter written by Jim Pfayler of the Royals and the Express. Real success came when The Ohio Express moved on to the new Buddah Records label, and embraced a new marketing concept: bubblegum music.

Joey Levine, the singer/songwriter who’d penned “Try It,” provided the scratch vocal for a demo of “Yummy Yummy Yummy,” a song he’d co-written with Artie Resnick, and which Jay & the Techniques had rejected as too juvenile. Yes, it was rejected as too juvenile by the group that hit big with “Apples, Peaches, Pumpkin Pie.” Holler Oy! By contrast, Kasenetz & Katz flipped out over the demo, and released it–scratch Levine vocal and all–as the next Ohio Express single in 1968. It was an international Top 10 hit, # 4 in the U.S., and far and away the best-selling record to ever bear the Ohio Express brand name.  Levine never joined the band, but he became their de facto lead singer on subsequent singles “Down At Lulu’s,” “Sweeter Than Sugar,” “Mercy,” and “Chewy Chewy.” A later studio incarnation of The Ohio Express recorded a Graham Gouldman song called “Sausalito (Is The Place To Go);” that studio incarnation included Gouldman, Eric StewartKevin Godley, and Lol Creme, a combo that would later be known as 10cc.

I’m not in love. I don’t have love in my tummy. The things we do for love in my tummy!

Um–don’t tell Rod Stewart about the 10cc/Ohio Express bit.

Me? I first heard The Ohio Express on AM radio, warblin’ about all that love they had in their tummies. Yummy! I may have heard it when it was a hit, or I may have caught up to it later on oldies radio in the ’70s. My first copy of the song came on a flea-market purchase, a sampler LP called 20 Heavy Hits20 Heavy Hits was a 1970 release on the Crystal Corporation label, though I snagged mine several years after that. I may have bought it just to get The Turtles‘ “She’d Rather Be With Me,” but it had a varied wealth of pop single tracks, from The Amboy Dukes‘ “Journey To The Center Of The Mind” to The Delfonics‘ “La La Means I Love You.” Among these was “Yummy Yummy Yummy,” but I was far more taken with the pumpin’ “Down At Lulu’s,” which I’d never heard before. Consider that track a plank on my path to punk and The Ramones.

I liked “Yummy Yummy Yummy” a little. I liked “Down At Lulu’s” a lot. But The Ohio Express, whether creation or contrivance, never meant much to me until one evening around 1983 or so. I was at a Buffalo, NY nightclub called The Continental, and the DJ was noted rock ‘n’ roll journalist (and key Boppin’ [Like The Hip Folks Do] inspiration) Gary Sperrazza! I don’t remember many specifics of what Gary played that night–if it was Buffalo in the ’80s, I was probably drinking–but one track stands out with crystal clarity: “Beg, Borrow And Steal” by The Ohio Express. I had never heard the song before. It was love at first spin.

Over time, I developed a bit more appreciation for The Ohio Express. “Down At Lulu’s” was the theme song for a great radio show of the same name, hosted in the mid ’80s by DJ Cal Zone on Buffalo’s WBNY-FM. In the ’90s, I interviewed Joey Levine for my massive Goldmine piece An Informal History Of Bubblegum, and became a big fan of the song “Sweeter Than Sugar.” Much later, I tracked down a beat-up copy of the Beg, Borrow & Steal  LP, and played The Ohio Express’ version of “Try It” on This Is Rock ‘n’ Roll Radio. Then Mike McDowell of Blitz magazine said to me Sure, fine, “Try It,” great. But you should be playing “Had To Be Me.” I pulled out the LP, which I’d only purchased for “Beg, Borrow And Steal” and “Try It” before filing it away, and I gave “Had To Be Me” my first listen.

Damn. When Mike’s right, Mike’s right.

“Had To Be Me” went on to become one of the defining tracks of This Is Rock ‘n’ Roll Radio‘s long mutant existence; my pal Dave Murray chuckles at the notion of an Ohio Express album track receiving saturation airplay, but we all agree that the track deserves it. Yummy Yummy Yummy indeed. It had to be The Ohio Express.

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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-OpRay PaulCirce Link & Christian NesmithVegas With Randolph Featuring Lannie FlowersThe SlapbacksP. HuxIrene PeñaMichael Oliver & the Sacred Band Featuring Dave MerrittThe RubinoosStepford KnivesThe Grip WeedsPopdudesRonnie DarkThe Flashcubes,Chris von SneidernThe Bottle Kids1.4.5.The SmithereensPaul Collins’ BeatThe Hit SquadThe RulersThe Legal MattersMaura & the Bright LightsLisa Mychols, and Mr. Encrypto & the Cyphers. You gotta have it, so order it here.

Categories
Pop Sunday

Big Stir Singles / The Seventh Wave

Various Artists

Big Stir Singles: The Seventh Wave (Big Stir Records 2020)

https://bigstirrecords.bandcamp.com/album/big-stir-singles-the-seventh-wave


Stationed in Burbank, California, Big Stir Records is not only impressively prolific, but the quality of the label’s output remains consistently high. Along with releasing a never-ending stream of great discs by bands and solo artists, the banner regularly produces Big Stir Singles compilations, which contain both the A and B sides of digital singles recorded by acts from nearly every nook and cranny of the world.


The imprint’s most recent collection – Big Stir Singles: The Seventh Wave – offers an extra treat, as a number of these songs have never been aired until now. You’ll also notice that much of the material relates to the confusing and chaotic times we are presently experiencing. 


Stacked with storming riffs, a driving backbeat and a punchy chorus, Far Away from The Incurables cuts a dashing power pop pose, and The Ex-Quaranteens sign in with We’ll All Drink Alone Together, a mid-tempo crooner-type ballad rimmed with country-laden pedal steel guitar gestures. From Broken Arrows, there’s the anthemic folk rock of Worst Of The Rest, which is wrapped in a bundle of ringing and jingling six-string sensations. Anton Barbeau and Kenny’s Land Of Economy spins and soars to a dizzy display of daring melodies and surrealistic lyrics that resemble a curious coupling of 10CC and Robyn Hitchcock. 


A double shot of penetrating garage rock is provided by The Forty Nineteens in the form of Crocodile Tears and Late Night Radio, the latter which features legendary Standells guitarist Tony Valentino. The Vapour Trails make good with the atmospheric bluster of A Bit More Fire, where Strange moves to a grittier gait projecting in an early seventies underground rock vibe pockmarked with bluesy harmonica fills.

 
The Corner Laughers step up to the plate and hit a home run with the jaunty Calculating Boy, and Nick Frater unveils a spine-tingling showing of his amazing vocal prowess on Intro. The fast and frantic If Romance Is Dead Then I Want To Be Dead Too from Carol Pacer & The Honey Shakers teams hillbilly aspirations with reckless punk rock energy to exciting effects, while the band deposits a completely different demeanor on Love Does, a sweet and tender acoustic-based ballad.
Contributions from Rick Hromadka  include the big and bright harmony popfest of Searchlight that should send fans of The Beach Boys and Todd Rundgren into orbit, and Dreams Of A Hippy Summer, which floats and flutters with flowery psychedelic frequencies. Kai Danzberg and Dear Stella’s Let Him Go lets loose a lashing of trippy space-age soundscapes, and The Empty City Squares check in with History Rhymes, a hook-heavy slab of hypnotic pop-rock grandeur. 


Bumper to bumper with catchy tunes, Big Stir Singles: The Seventh Wave is the yardstick which all albums of its kind should be measured. Nothing but top picks here, my friends.