Without a Doubt, Raspberries’ ‘Pop Art Live’ Is My Favorite Special Release of 2017
By Scott Keller
Howdy folks! I know I said that I would not be back here for the rest of 2017, but I did not expect to receive an awesome Christmas from my long-time buddy Bondo. Back on Black Friday Record Store Day, I had called him to see if he could find the new Cheap Trick Christmas album that had been released on vinyl for that special day. My record store had only received one copy, and some young lady had pilfered the copy before I could get my hands on it. Of course, the whole situation was quite assuming to my two adult boys. Anyway, Bondo, who is always up for these kind of escapades, kindly visited his local record store and picked up a copy of said Yuletide Cheap Trick album. But, while on the phone, Bondo asked me if I bought a copy of the Raspberries’ vinyl version their Pop Art Live CD that I loved so much. I told him that it was too expensive for my pocketbook. So, unbeknownst to me, he purchased a copy of the album for me.
So, when I opened the package Bondo sent me, I was totally expecting to find my vinyl copy of Cheap Trick’s Christmas Christmas album. And, when I looked closely, I noticed a second vinyl album wrapped in bubble wrap with Cheap Trick. When I separated the two albums, much to my surprise was a triple 180g colored vinyl album version of my beloved Raspberries’ Pop Art Live. Now, the vinyl album contains two extra songs not found on the CD version, plus the songs are in a completely different order than they were on the double CD release. Now, instead of the CD ending with the band’s biggest hit song, “Go All the Way”, the album ends with the two songs unavailable on the CD version, “Drivin’ Around/Cruisin’ Music” and “I Don’t Know What I Want”. Each record is a different color, as each side holds five songs. Record A is translucent red vinyl, Record B is translucent blue vinyl, and Record C is translucent orange vinyl, though it was advertised as being yellow.
Both the CD and vinyl versions were released by Omnivore Recordings, a record company who has built its reputation by releasing excellent music by critically-acclaimed artists who were not the biggest sellers on the planet. The company has taken much care with each and every released that I have purchased, such as their brilliant triple-double album set commemorating Big Star’s Third album, in addition to others.
Now, this Raspberries vinyl version of Pop Art Live is a revelation when compared to the CD version. Now, I am discovering the power pop forefather band not only prospered from the excellent songwriting of frontman Eric Carmen, this band is not short of excellent musicians. But, it is their undoctored vocal harmonies that most jumps out at me. It’s as though this band has copped the live playing ability of the latter-day Beatles and combined it with Beach Boys- or Hollies-like harmonies, the reckless rocking abandon of early The Who and the terrific pop songsmiths of the Beatles or Motown. The world really missed out on a talented band when they ignored the Raspberries between 1972 and 1974.
If you listen to this live album, their influence on such seminal power poppers as The Knack, Cheap Trick, Jellyfish, Material Issue and the Velvet Crush becomes clearer upon multiple listens. In the live setting, the band’s songs not have that magical pop that may have been missing a bit in their studio albums from the Seventies. Sure, the subject matter is strictly for the teen-angst sufferers and survivors alike, but it is the depth at which Carmen attacks the lyrics that separates the Raspberries from the other so-called teen idols of the Seventies like David Cassidy and Donnie Osmond. Once again, this is due to the brilliant literary mind of Eric Carmen. And whenever one of the other band members, such as “classic lineup” Raspberries Wally Bryson (lead guitar and vocals), David Smalley (bass and vocals) and Jim Bonfanti (drums), or latter-day members like Scott McCarl (guitar and vocals) and Michael McBride (drums), becomes involved in the songwriting, the band never misfires. Every one of their songs sounds as if they were written during the classic days of the Sixties.
Raspberries, unfortunately, arrived on the scene when it was cool to be a rock band with the ability to extend their playing to new-found lengths and improvised heights. Today, many of those bands would be lumped with Phish into a category known as the jam bands. From Skynyrd to Zeppelin, Allmans to Zappa, everyone was jamming back then. Then, slowly, these artists who were more taken with the pop sounds of mid-Sixties artists like The Beatles, the Hollies, Beach Boys, The Who and The Kinks, to list a few, began to take their favorite aspects of each band and mixing those attributes from each band into their own sounds. And, thus the beginnings of the sound of Power Pop, of which Raspberries were one of the first practitioners.
On Pop Art Live, Raspberries deftly intersperse cover versions of songs by The Beatles (“No Reply” and “Ticket to Ride”) and The Who (“I Can’t Explain”) with their own originals with nary a drop in the quality of the basic songwriting. And, never once, while listening to all six sides of music did I ever bore. The energy level of the band was maintained at a level that most twenty-somethings would have difficulty. Let’s just say that the four members of Raspberries have ripened individually, as well as a unit, even though the band had taken a thirty-year break.
Now that I have played this album several times in the past couple of weeks, I hope the Raspberries will re-form in order to create some new music. Who cares if the public buys it! Hell, few did back in their heyday. But, at least I now have their definitive version of their last hit song “Overnite Sensation (Hit Record)”. Sure, that plea has been unfulfilled for now over 40 years, but at least the band could show the up and coming Power Pop bands what a REAL Power Pop band sounds like.
If this is the last gasp of a once great band, then Pop Art Live will stand the test of time as an excellent introduction to the world of Raspberries.
—If My Records Could Talk, December 28, 2017