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Nice article , other than title

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Remember The Raspberries?

BY Mitchell Cohen

The Raspberries came out of two snappy Ohio bands, the Choir and Cyrus Erie, and they were on a mission. They looked around, and couldn't help but notice—this is 1971-ish—that "rock" was becoming more ornate and pretentious, moving further and further away from the ideals that inspired kids to want to get together and make a racket. As the group's primary singer and songwriter Eric Carmen told an interviewer, "The Raspberries was formed as a kind of reaction to prog rock, which we didn't like. Let's bring some songwriting and harmonies back to music."

If you thought the apex of pop music was the era of the Who's I Can't Explainand the Beatles' Ticket to Ride (a case that could easily be made), if you were not one of the music aficionados who were under the spell of ELP's Tarkus and Yes's Fragile, then the Raspberries made perfect sense. Their music sounded as though it was constantly chasing Please Please Me as a platonic ideal of what a pop record should be. And there was a cadre of rock writers who subscribed to that philosophy. Raspberries could have been created in a laboratory to appeal to them: here was a band that asked the question, What if Paul McCartney was the lead singer of the Who, singing songs written by Brian Wilson, produced by Phil Spector?, and then answered with records that burst out of AM radio with irrepressible verve and moxie. What wasn't to love? Many rock writers saw the Raspberries as a validation of pop classicism, as confirmation that they weren't alone in wishing that rock would get back to traditional values. It was music as a declaration of ideals.

The critics swooned: writers like Greg Shaw, Ken Barnes, Metal Mike Saunders, Alan Betrock, Mark Shipper, Gene Sculatti (Robert Christgau lumped them together as the "Nostalgia Crowd," and found their affection for the Raspberries over the top). It was understandable, and not unjustified. Power pop, as it came to be called, was presented as a remedy, and the Raspberries' writer-fans weren't just praising the songs and the production they were endorsing the principle behind the songs. Making this music was a form of mutual flattery: the band was validating the critics' taste, and the critics reciprocated with praise for doing the noble thing.

Raspberries, like Big Star, the Flamin' Groovies, Blue Ash, Stories, felt like a necessary course-correction, except it wasn't. It was, at least in the first part of the '70s, a losing battle. Raspberries had the journalists sewn up, and they had pop hits, but as Carmen has frequently pointed out, the coalition of critics and kid-sisters wasn't enough. A lot of the serious-rock contingent never got on board. Maybe it was those suits. Maybe it was the faint aroma of bubblegum. Maybe just snobbery.

And maybe they had the wrong type of success. If they didn't have those few top 40 singles, it's possible that now Raspberries would be considered one of those cool shoulda-made-it bands like Big Star. If Eric Carmen didn't veer into a solo career that emphasized his tendency to schmaltz it up, if his songs didn't get adopted by Celine Dion and Shaun Cassidy, you could imagine him being ranked alongside Todd Rundgren, Emitt Rhodes and Michael Brown of the Left Banke as someone who executed a personal vision of smart, melodic pop-rock.

The Raspberries shouldn't be dismissed that cavalierly. Their records are combination of British pop and early glam, and they contain the seeds of hair-metal (Mötley Crüe cut a version of Carmen's Tonight that stayed in the vaults for a long time) and the second, more commercially viable, generation of power pop (Cheap Trick, The Knack, the Romantics). As Bruce Springsteen (who nicked a couple of song titles from Raspberries tunes, and kicked off Born to Runwith a Max Weinberg drum fanfare influenced by I Wanna Be With You) wrote in liner notes for a live Raspberries album, "Their best records are as fun and sound as fresh today as when they were released." Here is a Raspberries Top 10, along with a handful of Eric Carmen solo cuts that tell the rest of the story.

Music Afficionado, October 27, 2017


I guess you had to forget them to remember them. Early comments interesting from someone involved in the partial band early reunion stuff.

Interesting website worth checking out as well, still evolving but Bob Lefsetz, clearly a Raspberries/EC supporter, recommends.

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This writer clearly "gets it"!  Eric tweeted his delight with the review :) Raspberries will NOT be forgotten...

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I got to engineer the "MIA" recordings of the Raspberries, minus Carmen and Bonfanti. It was Dave Smalley, Wally Bryson and Scott McCarl. They came in the studio after not working together for 15 years and nailed harmonies and basically, delivered the goods. One could tell from those sessions that the Raspberries weren't all about Eric Carmen, the other guys could write and rock. I've always said Dave Smalley was the missing member of the Eagles. The sad thing was, I left before the mixing was... read more

Max Weinberg didn't play drums on the track Born to Run...Boom Boom Carter did but Max played on all other tracks on the LP.

Fantastic piece on a fantastic band! What a great read...

I loved the article and especially loved your point that "maybe they had the wrong type of success," i.e., that their legacy was tarnished by their and Eric's Top 40 success. As you point out, based upon the music, he deserves great respect. The comparison to Todd is particularly apt. 

Thanks for the article. I put up with a lot of heat in the early 70s for confessing I liked the Raspberries. My "rock" friends were very hard nosed. I suppose early influences from the Everly Brothers and then the Beatles and Beach Boys made good tight vocals a must for my tastes. And Eric Carmen delivered.

Omnivore Recordings just released a 2 CD set of the Raspberries historic 1st reunion concert from 2004, when the 4 original members gathered for the first time in over 30 years. It's called "Pop Art Live"... A 3-LP colored vinyl edition is being released in November for National Record Store Day. The band hadn't missed a beat, and they sound better than ever. This concert really rocks - check it out! 

These guys were a great, underappreciated band.

I lived in Cleveland in the late 60's. I got to see The Choir, Cyrus Erie and The James Gang at the Painesville Armory and the Mentor Hullabaloo Club, most weekends. I remember Wally coming to visit the "new" Mentor High and he walked through in his rock regalia with a bevy of young groupies hanging on him. Good times. 

I love(d) the Raspberries and the Flamin’ Groovies and ELP and Yes...maybe being a musician makes a difference...all too often critics and listeners alike seem to close themselves off to different styles of music and miss out on a lot of great material.

Correct. I've just seen Max play it countless times live, so it all got conflated in my head.

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