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The Raspberries Overrated?


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Why the Hype? 
The Raspberries are (gulp) overrated.
By Justin F. Farrar

Cleveland, you're gonna drink a traitor's blood and barbecue his ribs after reading the next sentence: The Raspberries, those local power-pop darlings from the '70s, are totally overrated.

From Big Star to Badfinger, a Beatlesesque group that fails commercially has always been one of the rock scribe's wettest dreams. And after the Raspberries' demise in 1975, this is precisely the myth that rock critics started weaving around the group, which has developed a rabid cult following in the last 30 years.

"The Raspberries cut through the epic pretensions and pomposity of '70s-era rock to proudly reclaim the spirit and simplicity of classic pop," the All Music Guide proclaims. But they were, the guide claims, "a band that . . . never quite lived up to its commercial promise."

With the recent release of Live on the Sunset, Rykodisc's CD/DVD documenting the Raspberries' 2005 reunion in Los Angeles, the label inflates the band's myth to epic proportions. It claims the band influenced Kiss, Nirvana, Mötley Crüe, and the Sex Pistols, and the set includes endorsements from other rock deities: a mid-'70s photo of John Lennon sporting a Raspberries sweatshirt and liner notes from the Boss.

"In the late '70s, I'd drive on Sunday nights to Asbury Park to sit in with Southside Johnny with 'The Raspberries Greatest Hits' firmly stuck in the cassette player," Springsteen writes. "Dismissed at the time of their chart dominance for having 'hits' (Fools!), they are THE great underrated power-pop masters."
The band's members -- Mentor natives Eric Carmen, Wally Bryson, Dave Smalley, and Jim Bonfanti -- have allowed the critical gush to go straight to their heads. On the Raspberries' official website (www.raspberriesonline.com), they now count themselves "among the most influential bands in rock-n-roll history."

From being seen as underdogs to possessing delusions of grandeur, the band and its legacy have completely severed themselves from truth. We need a double shot of ethanol, washed down with a tallboy of sodium pentothal.

Contrary to claims by Springsteen -- as well as scribes like those of the All Music Guide, who once described the band as "virtually unknown" -- the quartet was not underrated; it was actually pretty damn successful. Between '72 and '74, the Raspberries scored four top-40 singles, including the mega-classic "Go All the Way," which hit no. 5. And Capitol Records has released no fewer than five greatest-hits packages since 1976.

Most reasonable-minded rockers would label that success, but it never satisfied Capitol, the Raspberries, or their supporters in the music press. Just like Badfinger in the U.K., the band was expected to be the second coming of the Beatles. That's absurd in hindsight, but the Fab Four's breakup traumatized the pop world for years. In the early '70s, just about every label, including Capitol, the Beatles' American imprint, scoured the planet for the next John, Paul, George, and Ringo. Needless to say, the search never panned out.

First off, dudes sporting helmet perms and matching disco suits (see the cover of the Raspberries' 1973 LP Fresh) could never replace such snazzy dressers as the Fab Four.

More important, the Raspberries come off like a Vegas tribute to the British Invasion. On breezy, soft-focus pop like "Let's Pretend" and "I Wanna Be With You," Eric Carmen croons with all the hairy-chested schmaltz of a lounge singer; the dude magnifies the most saccharine tendencies of Paul McCartney's "Hello Goodbye."

The Raspberries did cultivate some chops. The layered harmonies on their best tune, the epic "Overnight Sensation (Hit Record)," are worthy of the Beach Boys. The riffage underpinning "Ecstasy" and "Tonight" hammers away like vintage Mod rave-ups from the Who.

But they're no "power-pop masters." They wrote only two kinds of tunes: sappy ballads about getting it on and anthemic rockers about rocking hard, driving cars, and getting it on. The band never possessed the songwriting depth and clever edge of Badfinger and Cheap Trick. And they sure as hell couldn't touch Big Star, a band that was as good as the Beatles.

In the end, the Raspberries' modest talents achieved the fame they deserved. The band, as Springsteen unwittingly implies, wrote decent pop, perfect for cranking in the car. That's it.

Chopping down a cherished band from a town in need of heroes is coldhearted -- no doubt about it. But saddling the Raspberries with an overblown rock and roll mythology goes against what the band represented: pure fun.

Cleveland Scene, Aug 15, 2007


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jnedley, unusual first post for this site, if you are indeed employed by Cleveland Scene.

Probably the quickest way to get at Cleveland Scene over that article is to contact their advertisers. Newspapers live by advertising, and unhappy Cleveland fans can make their opinion of Cleveland Scene known to the people who made that rant of an article possible --- the advertisers who live by the dollars spent by Cleveland fans of Eric and the band.

Don Krider :)

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Well, Don, I know for a fact that Mr. Nedley does work for Scene magazine and from his post it's clear that we were right that the once proud local Cleveland music pub has purposely written this negative article to raise a stink (and possibly raise interest in their sad little free newspaper)—only the smell seems to be sticking to them instead of their intended target.


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Raspbernie said:

Well, Don, I know for a fact that Mr. Nedley does work for Scene magazine and from his post it's clear that we were right that the once proud local Cleveland music pub has purposely written this negative article to raise a stink (and possibly raise interest in their sad little free newspaper)—only the smell seems to be sticking to them instead of their intended target.

That Cleveland Scene is trying to increase its FREE circulation is pretty darned obvious now. It says a lot about a newspaper when they have to give it away.

Well, Cleveland fans can tell advertisers of their displeasure and ask retailers that carry the publication to stop doing so. I imagine some of those retail outlets and advertisers in Cleveland include people who rocked to Raspberries, The Mods, The Choir, Cyrus Erie, The Quick, Fotomaker, Eric Carmen, Dynmaite, Windfall, The Wuclid Beach band and the other Raspberries-connected music the guys have made over the years.

Heck, after that article, I'll bet Bruce Springsteen won't be granting Cleveland Scene any interviews --- he doesn't need to, John Soeder at The Cleveland Plain Dealer (people pay money for that one) is a great supporter of the Cleveland music "scene."

Don Krider :)

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I urge everyone to feel free to leave comments on that article's "comments" section --- just above the first comment posted on that page (posted by Hollies65 I believe), after the article, there's a little button that says "write your comment," so let's GIVE 'EM THE RASPBERRIES folks!

Don Krider :)

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They have a new story:

Michael Stanley reads our Raspberries story, decides it sucks
Joe Tone

 Below is an actual letter -- yes, Mike, it's unedited -- from the great Michael Stanley. And above, in case you somehow blocked Stanley from your memory, is a little reminder of who he is, in the form of a a video promoting a musical about him that ran last year.

To whom it may concern ... Obviously I'd like you folks to print this letter but, if you're going to edit it, I'd rather you just forget it entirely. Justin Farrar's recent article ["Why the hype," August 15] on how The Raspberries are overrated was certainly a bi-polar bit of writing and another in the storied tradition of our town's music writer's continuing quest to disparage anything that doesn't happen to be called Pere Ubu. Were The Raspberries a "success" Let's see... First of all, The "Berries" could (and still did on their reunion tour and album) back it up live which, unfortunately, seems to have become a lost art. Four top forty singles, two top twenty singles, one top ten single, millions of albums sold and the ability to impress both Springsteen and John Lennon? That pretty much works for me! Were the matching suits a good idea? Not exactly my cup of tea but if you had to choose between those suits and wearing red plastic flowerpots on your head which way are you going? Years on the road have convinced me that the ladies tend to gravitate more toward the suits! Any guitar player worth his salt would kill to have played Wally Bryson's intro to "Go All The Way" (and any other number of great guitar parts!).?No guitar player I know owns the first eight bars of a song like Wally! Did they make great albums? Definitely not; too much filler. But back then it was all about "singles" and, in that regard, these guys were masters. "Tonight", "Ecstasy", "Let's Pretend" and "I Wanna Be With You" are almost perfect records and "Go All The Way" and "Overnight Sensation (Hit Record)" are! As music lovers (and I fully realize that we're into "to each his own" terrritory here) we ought to just be proud of the fact that Cleveland gave the world such a great "power-pop" group (a term that was lovingly coined by the strangely critic-proof Pete Townsend), one of the all-time great power trios, The James Gang and, in Eddie and the late Gerald Levert, two of the greatest R&B singers of all time. I never wanted to have The Raspberries pick out my wardrobe, tell me how to end the war, or mine my soul; I just wanted to turn 'em up and make the dashboard shake! That was more than enough for me and for that I thank them! And how did your band do? Michael Stanley Cleveland

Cleveland Scene, Aug 17, 2007




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Man, when I typed "Wuclid Beach Band" earlier I must have been smokin' some Cleveland Scene or something... I, of course, meant the great Euclid Beach Band.

It's a real shame the editorial board of Cleveland Scene decided to grab a skit video off TouTube of a guy in a Michael Stanley beard pretending to be Michael Stanley which was conceived on YouTube by a Cleveland act called Last Call Cleveland, and that Cleveland Scene then posted the video with Michael's letter online "to remind" people of who Michael Stanley is. What a jerk thing to do to yet another hometown hero.

And Michael Stanley, what a great guy! He's also a guy with the Top 40 cred of "He Can't Love You" (#33 in 1980-81).

I think Angelina has a cool idea there --- we could come up with our Top 10 (or Top 100, or Top 1000, by the time we get through with them) Uses For The Cleveland Scene...

Don Krider ;-)

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