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https://bradkyle.substack.com/p/raspberries-surprise-your-fave-rock

 

  Front Row & Backstage

Raspberries, Surprise! Your Fave Rock Stars Love the 1970s Power Pop Kings!

Lennon, The Boss, Axl Rose, and Dave Edmunds; even metal maven, Eddie Trunk, sing the praises of the oft-maligned power pop proponents.

BRAD KYLE

JUN 19, 2023

The rare picture sleeve to the 1972 single. It used to be in my collection. Massive thanks to Andres Celati of The Vinyl Room for finding this photo of it! 

One of These Things is Not Like the Other

As a teenager, former That Metal Show VH1 Classic host, Eddie Trunk (and current host of Sirius XM Radio’s Faction Talk and Hair Nation), became a fan of Kiss, Raspberries, and other bands including Aerosmith, Rush, UFO and Black Sabbath. 

I’m sorry………what?! It’s right there, on his Wikipedia page! Plus, I heard him say it on the air about two years ago, waxing all fanboy on that little ole band from Cleveland!

So, if you listen, and are a huge fan of, those other bands, and went “Huh?!?” when that first “R” band came up, you’ll want to stick around to see just what it is about The Raspberries that has “those other bands” paraphrasing The Producers in ‘81 (yes, like The ‘Berries, a power pop outfit! And, that purple box should read, “What’s He Got?”): 

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From 1973, the original line-up (l-r) Wally Bryson, Jim Bonfanti, Eric Carmen, Dave Smalley.

There’s a (bleep)ing chord for every word!—Dave Edmunds

Raspberries lead singer, Eric Carmen, in a 2007 interview: “Some of our biggest fans are musicians, which you would have thought in 1972 that the musicians would have really been big fans of Jethro Tull (instead), not these lightweight Raspberries,” he marvels. 

“When I was on tour with Ringo [All-Starr Band], we had Jack Bruce, the bass player/singer of Cream, who was their head songwriter; we had Simon Kirke on drums, who was from Bad Company and Free; the great rock guitarist Dave Edmunds, and Ringo and me. 

“Whose songs were hardest to learn?” an interviewer asked the All-Starr Band. “And without a second beat,” Carmen said, “the entire band wheeled around and pointed at me: ‘Eric’s!’ I think Dave Edmunds said, ‘There’s a (bleep)ing chord for every word!’ He’d never seen anything like that when I tried to show him ‘Go All the Way’ [written by Carmen, it got to #5 for The Raspberries in 1972]. ‘I’ve got to sing and play all these chords and remember all this stuff?’”

Could Springsteen Cover “Go All the Way”? Would He? Please?

From that same Dan MacIntosh interview referenced above: “These days, the Raspberries are viewed as a groundbreaking band. The music they made, along with Big Star and Badfinger, inspired oodles of great modern acts. 

“But while the critics picked up on this quartet’s rare beauty - as did Bruce Springsteen, who wore out his Raspberries cassette tape - the wider public did not.

“It was easy for people to be derisive about our music because they saw what we were doing as retro,” Carmen says. “But we were like barbarians trying to crash the gates of the bloated progressive rock that we despised [Ed. note: A similar “punk ethos” was perpetrated by The Ramones, The Sex Pistols, et al, just a year or two later, claiming themselves to be the “Roto-Rooter” through the rock dross of the day]. 

“A lot of people just didn't get it. But over the years, it seems like they (began to) get it. Sometimes it takes a while, but now there’s a whole different kind of reverence for what we're doing, which didn’t happen at the time.”

Power Pop: Pete Townshend coined the phrase to define what The Who did, Carmen says. For some reason, it didn’t stick to The Who, but it did stick to these groups that came out in the ‘70s that played kind of melodic songs with crunchy guitars and some wild drumming. It just kind of stuck to us like glue, and that was OK with us because The Who were among our highest role models. We absolutely loved The Who.

Proof:

The Raspberries, featuring Eric Carmen (who would later write a song, “All By Myself,” that Céline Dion would take to the top in 1997) were, in the early ‘70s, one of the first truly out’n’proud purveyors of Beatles-urgent “jangle-pop.” 

Their guitars rang like like the bell on the last day of school, their tunes were chiseled out of the purest of memorable, melodic marble, with harmonies that fairly drizzled around it all like maple syrup on a fluffy stack.

In Short, Whatever Defines Power Pop Today, Started With Carmen & Company Yesterday

Power pop has always been one of those slippery sub-genres in the jumbled quarry of rock genres and subs. I’ve seen some fans online take their misguided stabs at bands/artists whom they think qualify: Journey? Uh, no. The Eagles? Ooh, no, but thanks for playing!

The uninformed seem to take the word “pop,” and think, in this instance, it means popular. And, while we could debate either above band’s alleged “power,” they certainly qualify as “popular” aka pop, I suppose. 

Generally speaking, Funk & Wagnall’s defines power pop as featuring short-ish, catchy, jangly, easily-hummable tunes, punctuated by shimmering harmonies, few to no guitar solos (heaven forfend!), and certainly no drum solos!

Circa 1980: Influencer before the word had a purpose, Greg Shaw (who passed away in 2004 at 55) stands front and center between two who carried the torch: Frank Secich (l), founding member of early ‘70s Youngstown, OH power poppers, Blue Ash, and Stiv Bators (r), lead singer of Sire Records’ Cleveland-area-based punkers, Dead Boys (for 2 albums, 1977 and ‘78). From 1979-1981, Secich was guitarist and bassist for Bators’ solo band (the occasion for this particular post-gig photo). Secich then played in the Cleveland-based group, Club Wow, with Dead Boys guitarist Jimmy Zero from 1982 to 1985. It was Zero who told me (when he and I were hanging out in his Houston hotel room ca. ‘78 after a gig), “I want to BE Eric Carmen!” The power of pop.📸Theresa K. 

As the late Greg Shaw (founder of BOMP! Records, retail store, and fanzine, and legendary promoter, personal friend, and power pop ally and apologist) once said, “A few hand claps and la-la’s won’t kill you,” reminding us of more musically apt arrows carefully placed in power pop’s creative quiver. 

Identifiable instrument of choice? The Rickenbacker….6- or 12-string….treble turned to 11, bass knob all but completely removed, thankyouverymuch. 

George, the standard-bearer: 

What Paul’s Höfner 500/1 Violin Bass and Ringo’s Ludwig drumkit were as signature axes for those two Beatles, so was George’s landmark Rick, the guitar that launched a genre, a million power pop bands, and more than likely, the word, earworm!

For my money, and after sitting a foot away from the set, watching The Beatles make their U.S. debut on The Ed Sullivan Show on February 9, 1964, the point of lift-off was “She Loves You” (a bit of a cheat here, as good-quality clips from the Sullivan Theater/CBS 2/9/64 show are hard to find): 

This, a week later, still the Sullivan Show, but recorded before 2,000 fans in a Miami hotel ballroom; equipment note: John is playing a Rick, while George, for this song, is playing his 1962 Gretsch 6122 Country Gentleman:

This, from Beatlesebooks.com, on the unusual intensity first felt upon hearing the song: “Young Geoff Emerick, a teenager at the time, was privileged to be secured as second engineer for this [July 1963 recording] session. 

“He describes his first impression of ‘She Loves You’ as ‘a fantastic song, with a powerhouse beat and a relentless hook. [EMI Studio 2 Engineer] Norman (Smith) and I immediately agreed that it was destined to be a hit, for sure. But there was also a level of intensity in the performance that I had not heard before.” 

The power of pop.

The Pop of Power

Fast-forward, now, to Cleveland, 1967. The Raspberries formed out of two popular, power pop-leaning bands, The Choir and Cyrus Erie. The latter, after Eric Carmen joined as lead singer (and became the bigger local draw), signed with Epic Records [Carmen, as producer, would see Epic again in a decade for another project, The Euclid Beach Band and the 1978 “There’s No Surf in Cleveland” 45 and resultant 1979 album] for a single, “Get the Message,” written by Carmen, and guitarist, Wally Bryson, who’d follow Carmen to The Raspberries:

Still, The Choir were gathering most of the regional hits, particularly this #1-in-Cleveland, “It’s Cold Outside” (below). Picked up by Roulette Records for national release, it found its way to #68 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1967. 

The Choir, who disbanded in 1970, originally called The Mods and featuring Dann Klawon, Bryson, Dave Burke, eventual Raspberries rhythm guitarist, Dave Smalley, and Raspberries drummer, Jim Bonfanti, had a more extensive repertoire of original songs:

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The first lineup for The Raspberries was Eric Carmen (rhythm guitar, vocals, piano), Jim Bonfanti (drums), Wally Bryson (lead guitar, vocals) and Dave Smalley (rhythm guitar, vocals), just back from Vietnam. He became the fourth member of the original recording lineup with Carmen moving to bass. 

The Raspberries’ demo tape got to the desk of producer Jimmy Ienner, for whom Carmen had previously done session work. After a major-label bidding war, the band signed to Capitol Records, the original U.S. home of The Beatles. Ienner produced all four Raspberries albums for Capitol, through 1974’s Starting Over. 

Their self-titled debut album was released in April 1972, followed by their sophomore effort, Fresh, released in November of that year. Upon release, Creem Magazine critic, Mike Saunders, called Fresh [which reached #36 on the U.S. albums chart, their highest charting LP] “the best album I’ve heard in a long time, and it looks like we have an important group on our hands.” The single, “I Wanna Be With You” (written by Carmen) reached #16 on the Billboard Hot 100:

Carmen’s “Let’s Pretend” followed “I Wanna Be With You” in March 1973, and topped out at #35 on the Billboard Hot 100. Carmen said (in the Raspberries Greatest 2005 liner notes) that it is one of the best melodies he has ever written, and that he reused part of it for his first solo hit, “All By Myself”:

The official video should be released soon, but from NBC’s The Midnight Special(Season 1, episode 15), here’s the band, performing “Let’s Pretend,” live on May 4, 1973:

Three Carmen solo-writes were singles off Side 3, released in September 1973. Clearly, with these two, Carmen is expressing the angst and urgent emotions of the every-teen, in progression. Also, the band’s Who obsession is fully evident, propelled by Jim Bonfanti’s manic Keith Moon-like kit-pounding (especially on “Ecstasy,” which didn’t chart, but “Tonight” reached #69): 

Mötley Crüe covered “Tonight” in 1981 for their Too Fast for Love album. Not managing to make the record’s final track listing, it ended up appearing on the 1999 Too Fast,and subsequent, reissues: 

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More Raspberries covers by a host of respected artists are featured here (including rare live video footage of ‘73 Raspberries!):

🌟GROW BIGGER EARS #17: Raspberries' Best-The Covers-

BRAD KYLE

·

JUN 28

Our recent peek into the several rockers, hair metal-ers, and otherwise, just plain “famous” rockn’n’rollers who have expressed their love of and inspiration from Eric Carmen’s ‘70s power pop progenitors, The Raspberries, has now whelped this Playlist of creative covers! That original article is here:

Read full story

The Raspberries’ fourth album, Starting Over, was released in September 1974, after it was recorded at New York City’s Record Plant, with Jimmy Ienner producing. This put the group in direct proximity to John Lennon’s Dakota Apartments’ Central Park location. 

At about the same time Carmen and company were recording Starting Over, Lennon was also at the Record Plant, recording Walls and Bridges (on Apple with Lennon producing), which was released on September 26, 1974, ten days after Capitol had released the Raspberries’ newest.

Lennon, already a Raspberries fan, particularly liked the song “Overnight Sensation,” which was the first single off Starting Over (and peaked at #18). Lennon was present for part of the recording of the Starting Over LP and, although not credited on the liner notes, is nonetheless rumored to have assisted producer Ienner with the mix, including for “Overnight Sensation,” according to Rickresource.com:

Eric Carmen, in fact (according to Rickresource), is said to have met John Lennon for the first time at the Record Plant during the band’s recording of  Starting Over: 

“It was quite the introduction, with Eric hitting John in the face with the men’s room door. Eric and Raspberries drummer Mike McBride were invited by Lennon to hand-clap in the background (and joining the Masked Alberts Kids Chorale as guests) for the Harry Nilsson track “Loop de Loop” (written by Ted Vann) on his Pussy Catsalbum (recorded at L.A.’s Burbank Studios and the NYC Record Plant, March thru May 1974, produced by Lennon):

The Raspberries even had a poster in their recording studio that Lennon painted over (including eyeglasses and other swirls of color), and signing it at the bottom. Surprisingly, none of the group members took the poster home from the studio and its current whereabouts remains unknown.

Bruce Springsteen’s longtime drummer, Max Weinberg (above), has said that he based his early drum style (particularly on the 1978 Darkness on the Edge of Town album) on Raspberries drummer Michael McBride’s work on Starting Over, according to the Let There Be Drums, Vol. 3 liner notes. Drummer Jim Bonfanti and bassist Dave Smalley left the band after the recording of Side 3. Scott McCarl plays bass on Starting Over.

Springsteen himself has also mentioned several times in live performances that the title track (written by Carmen) is one of the greatest pop songs ever written:

In fact, music journalist, Ken Sharp (in his Shake Some Action: The Ultimate Guide to Power Pop), rated this title track as the Raspberries’ 9th best song, describing it as “Raspberries do Elton, with sublime vocals.” 

Classic Rock History critic, Brian Kachejian, rated it as the band’s 4th best song, noting that the piano riff has some similarities to Elton John’s “Tiny Dancer.”

“Starting Over” was also Axl Rose’s (above) favorite Raspberries song (according to the Sharp book). Carmen said that he wrote it as a song about a relationship but it could be taken as a reference to the newly-revised band (with its new rhythm section) and a new beginning for it. Carmen also said that it had the best ending of any song he had written.

Critic Mark Deming of the All Music Guide praised the Starting Over album: “While there’s no arguing Starting Over was the work of a very smart and gifted band, anyone who had been listening to their work already knew that. A fine farewell from one of the best American pop bands of their era, though they didn’t know it would be their last album when they were making it.”

From 2007: The original lineup playing “Go All the Way” live at the Sunset Blvd. House of Blues:

In 2017, Omnivore Records released Pop Art Live, a recording of the band’s first Cleveland reunion show on November 26, 2004. It was their first show together in nearly 30 years. 

Featuring twenty-eight songs, including material by major Raspberries influences, The Beatles and The Who, the album received positive reviews from publications such as Allmusic, Paste, and Stereophile. 

Critic Mark Deming of Allmusic remarked that “the Raspberries merge the superb craftsmanship of their classic recordings with the sweat and muscle of a crack band having a great time”:

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