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EC Interview 1988

Lew Bundles

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By DAVID WILD and Rolling Stone

South Florida Sun-Sentinel

July 08, 1988

Back in 1974, during the rocky, final days of his underappreciated band the Raspberries, Eric Carmen wrote a song 

"I feel vindicated," he says, as he leans back toward the mixing board. "I feel ... good."

As well he should. After all, for a musician with a devout pop sensibility, Carmen had a surprising amount of difficulty connecting with a mass audience. Part of the problem has been bad timing. The Raspberries -- now best remembered for classic singles like Go All the Way, Let's Pretend and I Wanna Be With You -- hit the scene with their clean-cut sound and image, inspired by the Beatles and The Beach Boys, in an era ruled by long hair, long jeans and long blues jams.

"Our audiences were always the most bizarre mix," Carmen says. "You'd have a thousand screaming girls in the front of the stage and then 10 very serious rock critics in the back of the room going, 'Uh-huh, I think we understand this.' And unfortunately, the great mass of pot-smoking 18-year- olds that bought albums and made you a substantial commodity in the great marketing world of records never took to us. It was not hip for people to like us because their little sister liked us."

Part of the problem was the way the band was promoted by Capitol, says Carmen. "They looked at us and couldn't figure out what the heck we were. 'No beards, no mustaches, no jeans. ... The Osmonds?' I remember our first interviews at the Capitol tower. These magazine people were asking us things like 'What's your favorite color?' and 'What do you like to do on a date?' I'd ask, 'Where are you from?' and they'd say, 'Fave' or 'Rave' or whatever. We wondered, 'When do the real writers get here?' It was irreparable damage at that point. We had been tagged as a teen band, and nobody was gonna take us seriously."

By 1974, when the Raspberries hit it big with their critically acclaimed album Starting Over, things were getting ugly within the band. "We attempted democracy, as it was the thing to do at the time," says Carmen. "But unfortunately, there's usually not an equal distribution of talent, brains or whatever. If something went wrong, I got blamed. If something went right, the band did it." Unsurprisingly, Carmen decided to go his own way.

Time has been kind to the Raspberries, who are now viewed as a precursor to the back-to-basics pop sound that would become an integral part of the new wave movement. "We're now the legendary Raspberries as opposed to the 'ha-ha' Raspberries of yesteryear," says Carmen, with only the slightest trace of bitterness in his voice. "People who were the right age to like the Raspberries then are now coming into positions of power, so now when I talk to program directors and music directors and rock writers, instead of laughing at the Raspberries, they're admitted fans.

Image problems have also hindered Carmen's solo career. After the tremendous success of All By Myself, from his first solo album, Carmen became tagged as a singer of heavy, romantic ballads by both the public and his new record company, Arista. According to Jimmy Ienner, who produced all of the Raspberries albums as well as Carmen's solo debut, "He started coming off like another Barry Manilow. And that's definitely not Eric. He's always been much harder, more of a rocker than that."

"I always wrote ballads, and I always wrote rockers," Carmen says in his own defense. "But the record company saw what hit first, and naturally they wanted more of the same. But it's been difficult. Half the people tell me, 'I love Go All the Way, but why do you have to write all those schlocky ballads.' And half say, 'I love All By Myself, but why do you waste your time with this rock 'n' roll stuff?' I'd like to think that I could do both."

After three more albums for Arista and one in 1985 for Geffen, Carmen found himself without a label. Last year, though, opportunity -- in the form of Jimmy Ienner -- knocked. Ienner called to say he was working on a sound track for a movie called Dirty Dancing and had a song that he thought would be perfect for Carmen. "It was a really bizarre-sounding demo," says Carmen, "obviously done in somebody's basement. But the song seemed to be there, so I said I'd do it. Who knew?"

Carmen says he was pleased by the prominent placement Hungry Eyes got in the final film. (He'd been less pleased with the placement of Almost Paradise, the smash he'd co-written for Ann Wilson and Mike Reno, in Footloose.) But Carmen, like so many others, is at a loss to explain the phenomenal popularity of the sound track album: "If I knew that, I would be making the next Dirty Dancing right now," he says.

To capitalize on the success of Hungry Eyes, Arista has rushed to release a Best of Eric Carmen package, and Carmen and Ienner recently reteamed to record Make Me Lose Control, a single that may eventually be added to the greatest-hits collection.

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