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LC

In Hindsight: Raspberries' Starting Over (1974)

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LC   

I hate to leave things unfinished....

In 2012 and '13, I wrote a series of threads that took "hindsight" looks at Eric Carmen's solo albums and then the Raspberries' albums, except somehow, I never got to Starting Over. So, with time running out, I'm finishing. I'd hate for this bulletin board to be sitting in some archive down the road, get excavated by a 'berries fan of the future, and then have him wondering, "Hey, what about Starting Over?"

So, here's my "final analysis" of this power-pop classic, much of which is about making records, touring, and the life of a rock musician (as opposed to the love and love-lost songs of earlier albums). Starting Over found our heroes going out with a bang.

1. Overnight Sensation (Hit Record): A+
No songwriter has ever captured the rock'n'roller's ambitions—for success marked by a hit record—anywhere close to what Eric Carmen did back in 1974. All these years later, "Overnight Sensation" still sounds amazingly fresh, unique, and original. And, of course, this record is a production masterwork. It's easy to buy into the legend that John Lennon himself added a touch of magic to the track.

I've always been drawn to the lyrics, too. I love the lines "I fit the words to a good melody/Amazing how success has been ignoring me"—they reflect a confidence, even cockiness, that's appealing, not a put-off. The verse that follows backs up the confidence by encapsulating the sacrifice and dreaming that go into success: "I've used my bread making demos all day/Writing in the night while in my head I hear the record play, hear it play..." And that transistor-radio chorus that follows—it never gets old!

In the final analysis, Eric and the 'berries hit a creative peak with "Overnight Sensation." Besides the above highlights, there are so many little details that make you want to listen again and again. The opening piano melody. Eric's distinctive "HA" at 52 seconds. That tasty Wally Bryson guitar lick at 1:15. The sax at 2:00. Mike McBride's drum blasts throughout. All those prefect background vocals. Eric's "tag" vocals leading up to the "quiet" break at 4:18.... What a track! 

I can see why Bruce Springsteen gave this song major kudos in concert, as quoted in another thread by Bernie: 

The Raspberries had all those great hits. And they made this one record, "Overnight Sensation." It's one of the best little pop symphonies you'll ever hear. Go out and download—but pay for it. [laughs] Get "Overnight Sensation" by the Raspberries when you go home.

2. I Can Hardly Believe You're Mine: A+
Power ballads rarely have this much grit and fire. Written by Eric with Scott McCarl, "I Can Hardly Believe You're Mine" has such a cool intro, soft and sweet as it builds into the killer chorus. The writers cover a lot of ground in a short span, and the wide dynamics provide perfect tension for the steamy lyrics. And how about that bridge? And Wally's solo at 2:20? Such deft touches....

3. Starting Over: A+
Ah, a perfect album-closing ballad for an album loaded with tension, frustration, and  power. I love the rolling melody of "Starting Over," an anthem of sorts for eternal optimists among us. It's hard to believe Eric pulled off an F-bomb on such a sweet and optimistic love song, but he did it. He has said of this song: "Probably the very best ending of any song I've written. The record doesn't even do it justice because the piano got buried by some strings."

4. Play On: A
This rocker introduced us to Scott McCarl, who co-wrote it with Eric and sings the heck out of it. It's another paean to the life of a traveling rock'n'roller. Lots of hooks that grab you and keep driving ahead.

5. Party's Over: A
I love the way "Party's Over" picks up where "Play On" leaves off and, in the process, gives us a peek at a band in turmoil. A POed-sounding Wally tells the story of the mid-'70s music scene and how the 'berries fit (or didn't fit) in. His no-holds-barred vocal and killer solos are augmented by pounding piano, sturdy bass, and spot-on drumming. 

6. Cruisin' Music: A
It took me a little time to warm up to "Cruisin' Music," but it became one of my favorites. It's just pure fun—a sunny melody with jangly Wally guitars and a Beach Boys aura. It'll make everything all right....

7. I Don't Know What I Want: A
More cowbell, please! This blistering rocker really hit home when I heard it as a college freshman and, sadly, there are moments where it still hits home decades later! "Seems like nothing I can do is right/My mind is aching and I'm sick of feeling so uptight...." During the reunited Raspberries shows in the 2000s, Eric referred to "I Don't Know What I Want" as his "love letter to the Who"—a most fitting description. It's got lots of guitar crunch and Eric's best screams ever.

8. Rose-Coloured Glasses: B+
What a cool song! This Scott McCarl rock ballad showcases his Lennonesque voice and a melancholy mood but with some fire, too. "Rose-Coloured Glasses" is another example of how piano, electric guitars, and, and strings can combine to create power pop.

9. All Through the Night: B+
Yes, I dig this song. In fact, it's an awesome rocker. I know much has been made of the lyrics, attributed to Mike McBride, because of the cheesy pickup lines. But don't you see the humor in here? You can't take the lyrics any more seriously than, say, Paul McCartney's "Hi Hi HI" or Rod Stewart's "Da Ya Think I'm Sexy?" or the Rolling Stones' "Some Girls." (See also "Hands on You" below.) If my daughters encounter guys using these lines, well, I know they'd have the sense to send 'em packing. Ultimately, I don't think "All Through the Night" is meant to be a literal "how to" lesson for approaching or treating women—at least, I never took them that way. I just dug the guitar sound Wally got here, and the driving rhythm, and the rock'n'roll piano.  

10. Cry: B
Another Carmen/McCarl collaboration, this is a strong track with the type of musical changes that we came to appreciate in Raspberries songs—from the sweet verses to the raunchy choruses. It's one of the shorter tracks here at 2:41; I wish it were a little longer! 

11. Hands on You: B 
It may seem like a bit of a throwaway number, but "Hands on You" is nevertheless valuable because it shows us a looser quartet having a little fun. It always reminded me of a latter-day "Come Around and See Me"—just not as serious of a composition. 

 

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Kirk   

By far my favorite of their 4 studio albums, including 2 of my 3 favorite Raspberries tunes (Starting Over and Overnight Sensation).  Nice review, LC!

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I've told the story many times on here about how I discovered the Raspberries. Well, when we popped the cassette into my car player that night and headed home from the mall, I couldn't believe what I was hearing as each song played. Remember that I Wanna Be With You was the only Raspberries song that I had heard before that time. No one was saying a word as each song played....just listening. Go All The Way and Tonight played. Being blown away by these two, I remember thinking "can they keep this up?" Then Ecstasy and I Wanna Be With You. At that point if the rest of the album bombed, I still would have considered this a gold find. I Can Remember....very interesting. THEN it happened! Overnight Sensation! I knew I was hooked. That's the moment that I knew that I was buying the vinyl version of this asap and that I would find every Raspberries album. (I didn't know there were only 4) When Overnight Sensation finished, my friend Mike (there were two Mike's in my car that night) said from the backseat. "Holy crap! That was great!" We all agreed. I found all Of Eric's solo albums first, then the Raspberries first three. Starting Over was very hard to find. It took me a few years before finally finding an "unopened copy". It certainly didn't disappoint and was worth the wait. To me, it made the story of the Raspberries sadder...that they broke up after this masterpiece. I wish they that had continued just a little while longer with Scott in the group. Would have loved to see what he and Eric could have done together.

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