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Rolling Stone's 500 Worst Reviews of All Time (work in progress) A list by schmidtt

Lew Bundles

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Side 3 (1973)

Rating: 2 Stars
"The Raspberries are either underrated or overrated...The albums bottom out quickly after the singles. And a penchant for saccharine balladry – Eric Carmen's tragic flaw – surfaces on cuts like 'Don't Want to Say Goodbye'." (Mark Coleman, 1992 RS Album Guide)

Like Badfinger, the Raspberries were unabashed purveyors of Beatlesque pop at a time when short, mellifluous pop songs were out of style. (Unlike Badfinger, the band wasn't bankrolled by Apple Records, and Sir Paul himself didn't write their debut single or produce their first album.) The band's music was a rejoinder to progressive groups like Jethro Tull, King Crimson and Yes. "By the end of the '60s it was all about bands like Jethro Tull noodling on flutes, or inferior guitarists playing ten minute solos under the delusion that they were as good as Jimi Hendrix," Eric Carmen recalled in 2006. "We reacted against that by writing melodic three-minute songs."

'Metal' Mike Saunders compared the Raspberries to "early Badfinger" in his review of the band's eponymous debut, which ran in the 7/6/72 issue of Rolling Stone. Only six months before, Saunders had trashed Badfinger's Straight Upalbum in Rolling Stone, but he was quite enthusiastic about Raspberries, writing "this is the one any true light-weight rock fan shouldn't be without for an instant."

I'm not sure I would go so far to say that you need to take the Raspberries first LP everywhere you go, but this was, nevertheless, a damn good pop record at a time when good pop records were in short supply. The album's second single, 'Go All the Way', was a top five hit in the summer of '72, and continues to be the song most associated with this group.

Sadly, 'Go All the Way' would represent the peak of the Raspberries success. In an era when progressive rock and singer-songwriters reigned supreme, many observers viewed the Raspberries as regressive rip-off artists who were hampering the art form. The fact that this gaggle of dweebs from Cleveland in goofy suits decided to put a scratch-and-sniff sticker on the cover of their first record was more than enough reason to reject them out of hand. Some critics even referred to them derisively as "the new Monkees."

Take, for example, Lester Bangs' caustic appraisal of the Raspberries' second album, Fresh, which he reviewed in the 1/4/73 issue of Rolling Stone:

"Maybe it's just that the Seventies haven't really begun yet, and we might as well sit this gruel out. Just think: on their fifth album the Raspberries may even burn their guitars! On their tenth album they'll jam the blues for 45 minutes! On their 33rd album they'll turn up digging spuds in Marin! On their 45th album they'll turn all the way up, hit a bass chord, take too many downers and die! Patience, patience."

Lucky for him, Bangs wouldn't have to suffer through 43 more Raspberries albums – they only cut four. Meanwhile, the generally glib Mark Shipper wrote an impassioned defense of the Raspberries' second album in the December '72 issue of Phonograph Record:

"Well, time marches on and things progress, and maybe an argument could be put forth that nobody ever made a law saying that rock 'n' roll was the exclusive province of adolescents. I'll go along with that, but the kids of the sixties who are now the young adults of the seventies have been so goddamn greedy with the stuff, so insistent that it conform to their own refined level of taste that they've practically cut off the supply of music that today's junior high kid can relate to...

"There are two schools of thought when it comes to the Raspberries' music. One side sees them as blatant Beatle imitators and simply writes them off on a lack of originality basis, while another side views the Beatles' music of the mid-'60's as a distinct style of rock 'n' roll, a form which the Raspberries and Badfinger, as the most advanced practitioners, are extending. Once seen as a definite rock form, the vocal similarity to Paul McCartney is no longer surprising since the followers in any prominent genre almost always assume the vocal characteristics of its creator. Nearly all rockabilly singers sounded amazingly like Elvis, punk-rockers like Mick Jagger, and so on...

"I can only report that I honestly find this to be the most impressive new album I've heard in years and one that you're going to enjoy immensely if you dig the Raspberries' singles and the middle 60's Beach Boys/Beatles sound as much as I do."

Nine months later, the Raspberries released their third, and finest LP, Side 3. Mike Saunders once again reviewed the record in Rolling Stone. "Strong guitar tracks and powerful drumming dominate the album, the group apparently itching to prove they can record in other veins besides the lightweight pop of their first two LPs," he wrote in the 10/11/73 issue. "The Raspberries should prove one of the most entertaining pop bands of the Seventies..."

Unfortunately, none of the singles from Side 3managed to crack the top forty, and the album languished in the lower reaches of the U.S. charts. The Raspberries' bassist and drummer abruptly left the group. A reconstituted band issued one more album, with the unfortunate title of Starting Over, in 1974. "The Raspberries have at last realized their potential" Ken Barnes crowed in the 10/24/74 issue of Rolling Stone. Potential now realized (at last), the band split apart soon after this review.

Dave Marsh wrote a surprisingly tender assessment of Starting Over for the London-based magazine Let It Rock in April 1975. He was especially taken with the opening track, 'Overnight Sensation (Hit Record)', the Raspberries' last charting single. "The song becomes an astonishing melange of pop styles – the Stones, Beatles, Who, Beach Boys, Presley, and somewhere in the background, a honking sax – a catalogue of rock, like AM radio itself," he wrote. "But none of the groups they cite could have made this song, though some of them might wish they could. The Raspberries have had just enough success to know how much they haven't had. Only someone stuck in a jerkwater town like Cleveland – where they still live – can know how much they want the rest."

Four years later, the Raspberries seemed like a distant memory. Indeed, all four of the band's records were out of print. Dave Marsh wrote their entry in the first edition of the record guide. "Such romanticism and nostalgia had no great depth, but it was great entertainment," he wrote. Marsh awarded a budget compilation of the band's hits four stars, without rating any of their studio albums. This entry was repeated in the second edition of the record guide.

Mark Coleman graded each of the Raspberries' first three albums two or two-and-a-half stars in the third edition of the album guide, asserting that none of them were worth investigating beyond the singles. He gave Starting Over three-and-a-half stars.

Today, this band that was frequently dismissed as mere Beatles copyists in their own time, and who were almost completely forgotten only a few years after they broke up, are now widely credited with founding the power-pop genre. Michael Baker summed up their oeuvre in an excellent Perfect Sound Forever retrospective published in 2004:

"The first album is the prettiest, the second the most grandly poppy, the fourth shows some tired wings by the second side; it is the third record, Side 3, that shows the Raspberries at their most dramatic: languid and lush vocals, songs moving freely from the solo aria mode into recitative choruses, with quickening rhythmic urgency that constantly burns away Cleveland's summer haze. Side 3 triumphantly remains something of a curiosity. It invokes so deeply the British Invasion with Midwest grit that it seems unlikely to gain converts to its cause, but that would be a mistake – imagine anthemic odes and theatrical creations that sound like a hypothetical Big Star second album had it been recorded with Chris Bell, the formidable Chilton instead seeking meaning from the Alps and the cosmos...This is tingling music, simultaneously sumptuous and austere, with no wimpy ballads, no rip-offs from the lads from Liverpool. It is one of the best albums of the 1970s, from either side of the Atlantic."

The Raspberries were omitted from the fourth edition of the album guide.  

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