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My Personal Love-Affair With "Overnight Sensation"


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"Well I know it sounds funny, but I'm not in it for the money, no. I don't need no reputation, and I'm not in it for the show. I just want a hit record! Wanna hear it on the radio. Wanna big hit record. One that everybody's got to know" - "Overnight Sensation (Hit Record)" by Raspberries, written by Eric Carmen.

Popular music has had many songs that have spoken about the desire to attain musical success, to hit the top of the charts. Everything from the aspiration in "So You Want to Be A Rock And Roll Star" by the Byrds, "Don't Call Us (We'll Call You)" by Sugarloaf, "Jukebox Hero" by Foreigner, and "Rock And Roll Band" by Boston, to the hazards that can come from success, "Shooting Star" by Bad Company and "Rock And Roll Is A Vicious Game" by April Wine. Then there is "Overnight Sensation (Hit Record)" by Raspberries, a song so intense in its message and overpowering in its sound and delivery, making it in my opinion, the best song written about that yearning for success. Ironically, while "Overnight" spoke about hitting #1 on the charts, it never came close to that position (peak position #18 on Billboard Singles charts), nor has it had the impact or recognition factor that other tunes have had. It's a musical injustice that more people aren't aware of what they've been missing: "Overnight Sensation (Hit Record)" is a bonafide classic that needs to be re-discovered.

Think about the songs that have never been far from the radio airwaves, resting in your consciousness. Songs that have cemented their reputation as "classics" in the vernacular of Pop music, either by the critics or by the public. Songs such as "Good Vibrations", "Hey Jude", "Stairway To Heaven", to name three, are implanted in our brain and consistently rank high on those "Top Songs of All-Time" lists. Raspberries were best known for "Go All the Way" (Top 5 in 1972), and justifiably so. It was their most commercially-successful song, and their highest-ranking on the charts. While "GAtW" does occasionally show up on some of those "Top" lists, the reality for me is that for pure musicality, "Overnight" should be Raspberries' entry into the 'timeless' category. 

As a young musician and music listener in the 1970's, I was glued to AM radio and read magazines such as Billboard and Hit Parader voraciously. This was a time when you had to go to a brick and mortar record store and physically buy a song if you wanted it. Song success was based on sales and radio airplay. This was a time when hitting the #1 spot on the charts felt like a real accomplishment. Contrast that to today when downloading and social media have made any song readily available, making it comparatively easy to access any song and take it to the top. In any case, in the old days, I was enthralled by the weekly Album and Singles charts, and understood how tough it was for an artist to hit the top. There were many like-minded music listeners out there, and also many artists who strove to find their audience and to reap any success. It was within this environment and the struggles his own band was experiencing, that likely spurned Eric Carmen to write "Overnight", it was that yearning for people to want HIS song.

"Overnight" was the lead track off the band's fourth album,"Starting Over" in 1974. When I first heard the song, it took me by total surprise. First, it was rare to find a ballad opening an album, and second, right away I knew it was different from anything the band had done before. It was an attempt at a different sound and style, a brilliant concept. It hardly took one listen for me to be convinced that this was going to be a song that would be entrenched in peoples' musical minds. Or so I thought.

So what made the song so effective? Let's start with its lyrics. From the very first line (shown above), Eric makes it clear that the only thing that he wanted was to hear his song on the radio, wishing and hoping that it would get to the top of the charts. The mood, the depth of emotion is set right from the start with that very first line. Then when the intricate, layered vocal harmonies come in, it's an aural delight that has to be savoured. And just so that you don't think it's only the personal satisfaction of hearing your song on the radio that's important, there's also the sly reference to the potential of a financial windfall: "If you can get it in the 'A slot', it's just got to make a mint for you."  You hear the rush of emotions in Eric's voice. When he sings, "Want a big hit record! One that everybody's got to know," the hunger and desire is palpable. He makes the listener believe that right here, right now, a hit record is all that matters.

Next, the musical arrangement. This is the aspect that makes the song a masterpiece of musical construction. When "Good Vibrations" was released, the Beach Boys' publicist called it a "pocket symphony." In my opinion, the musical arrangement of "Overnight"  makes it Raspberries' "Good Vibrations." It has just the right blend of piano and guitar for texture, and then when you least expect it, a sax for additional color, and even castanets. The arrangement is a fuse, lit from the start: a slow-burning piano and intimate vocal that takes hold and then builds into a meteoric explosion of drums and guitars. Mesmerizing.

It's during the song's bridge where we really get a true appreciation for the arrangement and the concept. The piece-de-resistance is when Eric sings, "writing in the night while in my head I hear the record play,"  and lo and behold, there it is: "Overnight" is playing through what sounds like a transistor radio. Now those of you who can think back far enough like me will surely recall what it was like to listen to your favourite song on a little transistor radio. Whoever conceived this same idea for "Overnight", well it's a stroke of genius and it really completes the concept.

When we get to the end of the song, the only thing left now is to take it home to the final crescendo. As the coda is fading away, everything is brought back to life deliciously via Mike McBride's thundering drums, Wally Bryson's slashing guitar chords, Scott McCarl's melodic bass, and of course, those wonderful vocals. From start to finish, it's 5 1/2 minutes of perfection.

Going back to the song lyrics, similar stories have been written in other songs, but there is an indescribable dimension that exists in "Overnight", a power exuded that leaves the listener hanging on to every word and every note, wondering what is coming next. There is also a swagger that I think comes from the fact that Raspberries did not have much commercial succes, so you had to know that some of Eric's pent-up frustration and feelings went into the lyrics, undoubtedly very personal, and an internal longing for the struggles to end and success to finally take hold.

Bruce Springsteen once said about "Overnight", "it is one of the great mini-rock opera masterpieces of all-time." His words aren't far off the mark. I've always felt that it should be recognized not only as the best song ever written about dreaming of attaining the musical brass ring, but that it also should be on that "Top Songs Of All Time" list, implanted in your brain forever. Sometimes wishing, hoping and spreading the word CAN make it happen. So ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, and everyone who appreciates good music, I give you "Overnight Sensation (Hit Record)":

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Your review gave me chills and I'm also proud to be able to remember my own young life and experiences with holding that little transistor to my ear night after night...dreaming...

Makes me feel even more love for EC right now (if anybody could believe such a thing).  ;)

Reading your words was like a tiny arrow to the heart for me, but in such a good way.  So you were writing a love letter for "O.S." on your birthday?  All I can say is WOW!!  I wanna give you some big hugs Marvin my friend.

With much appreciation,
Mary Ellen

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Marv, another lustily written piece about Raspberries "Overnight Sensation", a song that critics have unanimously and universally praised over the years.  Great review!  My personal fave off my 'desert island' album.  Loved it!!

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  • 4 weeks later...

Great write up, Marvin. I agree with everything you said...it should be more highly regarded. 

Overnight Sensation will always be my favorite Raspberries song.

I love the Muppets video of Overnight Sensation that Kirk posted here years ago...it too is underappreciated...only 827 views in 4 years (I think half of them are mine).

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