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Rock and Roll in the Seventies


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Thoughts on Rock and Roll in the Seventies (Part II)

By Bryan Price

blogcritics.org

March 13, 2007

One was from San Francisco, another came from Memphis, Tennessee, and the other was from Cleveland, Ohio. And by the time the late sixties drew to a dark and foreboding close, they had very little in common aside from an affinity for rock and roll, and a revulsion to it’s widening array of structures, sounds, and forms.

They were all, in a term, rock-classicists, and in their own varying ways practitioners of a dying art form. Though they all lovingly looked toward the past, they would be no mere copyists and not yet revivalists. In fact, all three were innovators whose narrow path would soon widen but by that time neither would be on it anymore.

When the following decade came to yet another worrisome close, two of the bands were miserably shattered, and the other was mounting a slow descent into the shadows. For a while in the Seventies however, they were all three blazing one of the last trails for guitar-based pop and setting a musical high water mark in American Music. Most of it though, fell on the deaf and unknowing ears of a listening populace in the throes of a musical recession.

The Flamin’ Groovies, Big Star, and The Raspberries were directly rooted in the fertile soil of American rock and roll in the sixties. The Flamin’ Groovies — power pop’s elder statesmen — had been a famously unwelcome fixture in San Francisco throughout the mid to late sixties. In 1968, while the boho-hippies were eating acid and noodling endlessly on their guitars, The Groovies released a backward looking roots-rock record Supersnazz.

Alex Chilton, guitarist, vocalist and co-founder of Memphis’ Big Star, had been the babyish singer for blue-eyed soul bubble-gummers The Boxtops, and the whole of The Raspberries, aside from lead singer Eric Carmen (who was in a group called Cyrus Erie) had played in a legendary Cleveland garage group called The Choir.

By the time the seventies were in its dark twilight, these iconoclasts had barely scratched the surface and were on the fade. Though American power pop would soon have its day on the charts (Cheap Trick, The Knack, The Romantics), in the early to mid seventies these three bands made very few commercial ripples aside from the relatively small blast of billboard love The Raspberries conjured for their first single, “Go All the Way.” (The Raspberries charted 7 singles, but only “Go All the Way” climbed higher than 16 on the Billboard Chart). They still though, in my eyes, remain the holy trinity of Power Pop.

The Flamin’ Groovies chronologically came together first as a band, but the truth is a bit murkier. The Groovies in their early incarnation were for the most part a rootsy, bluesy, proto-punk band under the auspicious leadership of Roy Loney. Once he left to pursue a solo career, The Groovies wandered and drifted for years, before regrouping across the Atlantic under the tutelage of ex-Love Sculpture and future Rockpile guitarist Dave Edmunds.

After a handful of years of fine-tuning their signature new sound — that nodded toward the garage-rock revivalism that would soon be in full bloom, while at the same time incorporating swaths of luminous Beatlesque harmonic structures and guitar-punk ferocity — The Flamin’ Groovies, under the helm of producer Dave Edmunds released the classic Shake Some Action LP in 1976 on Sire Records.

Though the Flamin’ Groovies place in the power pop triumvirate may be disputed by jealous and majoritarian Badfinger fans — who, incidentally think that four good songs (“Come and Get It,” “No Matter What,” “Without You,” and “Day After Day”) a great career make — they certainly could not dispute the validity of a Memphis quartet who turned rock on its head in the early seventies; only to find that no one was listening.

While The Flamin’ Groovies were a workingman’s band that happened to be remarkable and voluminous songwriters, Big Star were technicians who sweated out a rock and roll transformation in the studio, groping for the perfect sound, while hardly ever touring.

In 1970, an increasingly precocious Alex Chilton became frustrated with his stultifying role in The Box Tops and quit the band to record a clutch of demos at Ardent studios in Memphis, Tennessee that he intended as a solo album.

Though Chilton’s hoped for solo record never came to proper fruition, (Ardent Records eventually released these recordings in 1996 under the title 1970) Chilton became acquainted with future band mate, songwriting and sparring partner, who hung out in a state of pseudo apprenticeship at the studio: Chris Bell.

Over the late winter of 1971, and early 1972, Big Star recorded the phenomenally influential #1 Record at Ardent; a classic that effortlessly combined Beatlesque pop, Memphis soul, youthful restlessness, and country melancholia but was a spectacular commercial failure.

By the end of the year, terribly depressed and upset over both the failure of his record to sell, and the insalubrious business practices of Stax Records (Ardent’s parent company), not to mention creeping frustration over the extra attention the extroverted Alex Chilton received, Bell left the band in a state of suicidal despair.

Northeast of Memphis, in Cleveland, Ohio, a decidedly blue-collar town on the shores of Lake Erie, The Raspberries emerged just as the portentousness of the seventies began to become palpable.

Out of the ashes of two of Cleveland’s favorite local rock bands — the aforementioned Choir, and lead singer Eric Carmen’s outfit, Cyrus Erie — rose The Raspberries, a bunch of oversexed boys in flashy white suits, who were one part Who-power, one part angelic Beach Boys harmonic structure, and one part lascivious, high-kicking theatrics. A potent combo, they were power pop indeed.

The Raspberries were surprisingly virtuosic, and could pleasantly shift sounds, evidenced by the Latin-tinged “Come Around and See Me,” and the mid-tempo pop ballad “Last Dance” that morphs strange and effortlessly into country hoedown mode, before quickly turning back. They were strongest though at visceral and plaintively sexual songs like “Go All the Way” and the spine-tingling “Tonight.”

In April of 1975 The Raspberries broke up, and lead singer Eric Carmen pursued a solo career that could be characterized as either syrupy or vomit inducing depending on how much you like the Dirty Dancing soundtrack. Like almost every band that felt they did not receive their just deserts, The Raspberries reformed as old men. The results were unspectacular and Eric Carmen wisely declined.

After recording a handful of songs in Europe, Chris Bell returned to Memphis, Tennessee to help manage his father’s fast food chain. Two days after Christmas 1978, Chris Bell’s Triumph slammed into a light pole, killing him instantly. His solo recordings are collected on the majestic I Am The Cosmos.

Alex Chilton, Andy Hummel and Jody Stephens recorded a second Big Star record, the brilliant and more muscular Radio City. Then Chilton and Stephens along with a host of Memphis players recorded a weirdly sad third Big Star album. This third effort is spotty at times, but Third/Sister Lovers remains a cult masterpiece nonetheless.

Chilton has gone on to an odd and sometimes baffling career as a sometimes rock deconstructionist, and at other times a pop-fluff interpreter. He broke my heart and put an inferior version of Big Star together after seeming like the last guy on earth who would do such a thing.

The Flamin’ Groovies released two more power pop albums before the seventies closed and then began to slide into obscurity. They continued to work and released a record in 1992 with frightening cover art but a few pop gems. It had the unfortunate title of Rock Juice.

I acknowledge that it may seem hypocritical to accept the latter-day work of The Groovies while rejecting the others, but in a way it seems different. They were a working band from a different era, and they didn’t continually insult their own work the way Alex Chilton did in reference to his Big Star material.

On July 4, 1976 — the two hundred year anniversary of America's declaration of independence from the British and the subsequent militaristic British invasion — another invasion was occurring in reverse. At the Roundhouse in London, two American rock and roll bands were planting the seeds of future revolt. John Lydon, Michael Jones, and Paul Simonon were all in attendance, but The Clash and Sex Pistols had yet to form. That night The Ramones opened for label mates The Flamin’ Groovies.

The rest is history.

- - - -

This guy gets it. It's amazing how many SERIOUS FANS missed last year's reunion shows. Oh well, there's always THIS year (fingers crossed!)

Bernie

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This guy gets it. It's amazing how many SERIOUS FANS missed last year's reunion shows.

Bernie [/QB]

yeah... this article would have a different take on Eric's current status... which really was revelatory for power pop in ways that will never happen again... unless, of course they play again...

wierd how writer's feel the need to "omit" bands or try to reshape the "debate"....

but Badfinger really are part of the early '70s holy trinity.... and the too often overlooked Dwight Twilley Band... they hold equal footing w/ The Groovies (if not more)... the 'Berries and Big Star are the gods for me....

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Thoughts on Rock and Roll in the Seventies (Part II)

By Bryan Price

..jealous and majoritarian Badfinger fans — who, incidentally think that four good songs (“Come and Get It,†“No Matter What,†“Without You,†and “Day After Dayâ€) a great career make...

...he forgot to mention amnesia-addled rock critics who somehow completely overlooked "Baby Blue," "Dennis," "We're For the Dark," "Lonely You," "Midnight Caller," "Know One Knows," "Just a Chance," MIss You" and many more...

And this guy never mentions exactly what these Badfinger fans would be "jealous" of...but you gotta admit, "majoritarian" is a five-dollar word.

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One more thing...I know there are plenty of Flamin Groovies fans here...there has to be...No way were The Groovies Power Pop when Loney was the main cog....they rocked pretty damn good and gems like 'Teenage Head' and 'Slow Death' are classics...BUT it was with Jordan running things and Edmunds at the helm that they were Power Pop the way The Berries Badfinger and Big Star were.Jumpin In The Night' is a great Groovies album long out of print that most would like. I assume almost everyone here owns 'Shake Some Action'. If you don't...shame on you.

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'Jumpin In The Night' is a great Groovies album long out of print that most would like. I assume almost everyone here owns 'Shake Some Action'. If you don't...shame on you.

Actually, "Jumpin' in the Night" is now back in print on CD, along with the Groovies' two other late '70s Sire releases. They are available seperately, or as a three-disc box set. I agree - great stuff!
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"...Like almost every band that felt they did not receive their just deserts, The Raspberries reformed as old men. The results were unspectacular and Eric Carmen wisely declined."

Uhhhh...to paraphrase a couple of TV shows:

I don't think so, Bryan.

Bryan you ignorant slut.

College education:100 grand

MAC computer: 3 grand

Dictionary: 5 bucks

A reliable fact checker: PRICELESS!

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"...Like almost every band that felt they did not receive their just deserts, The Raspberries reformed as old men. The results were unspectacular and Eric Carmen wisely declined."

Uhhhh...to paraphrase a couple of TV shows:

I don't think so, Bryan.

Bryan you ignorant slut.

College education:100 grand

MAC computer: 3 grand

Dictionary: 5 bucks

A reliable fact checker: PRICELESS!

I suspect the author was referring the the "Elderberry" reunion with Scott, Dave, and Wally of a few years back... laugh
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Funny thing is that I have always preferred the "syrupy" solo ballads over any of the power pop stuff. But that's me. And while I would never use the words "vomit inducing" to describe any of Eric's music, "Hungry Eyes" is definitely not on my Eric Top 10 list :-)

I did find it curious that this guy (who would have obviously been in HEAVEN at any of the recent reiunion shows) had completely missed the boat on them! I mean, where was he hiding—under a rock?!?

I do like some his writing. He seems to have a GREAT respect for Raspberries. And I do enjoy reading those "five dollar" words!

Bernie

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Yikes insulting!! Moderator did you read this part???

I posted this specifically because it had some "scratch" to it. Some positive. Some negative. Some PATENTLY misguided. Right now (more than ever) this Board needs some not-so-serious distractions—controversial UNRELATED content for us to sink our teeth into—just to keep our minds off of recent sad events.

Now, about Patti Smith…

spin

Bernie

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Bernie - Thanks for that article!

Cyril Jordan himself would debate the author's opinion of Badfinger, a band which obviously belongs in this group. Cyril loves that band with a passion.

Hollies65 is correct about the Roy Loney era Groovies. While this version of the band put out two, IMO, classics in "Flamingo" and "Teenage Head", they're strongly Stones/MC5-influenced and definitely not power pop! Both Roy and Cyril have stated in interviews that seeing the MC5 and The Stooges in Detroit for the first time in '68 or '69 changed them musically from a Lovin' Spoonful-tinged, poppy band that covered Little Richard and Eddie Cochrane, to a much harder rocking group. Roy left after "Teenage Head," and took his rockabilly/roots rock influences with him, resurfacing several years later with The Phantom Movers, a band that had, at one point, ex-Groovies James Ferrell and Danny Mihm as well.

Cyril hired Chris Wilson as his new singer (formerly of Loose Gravel, with Mike Wilhelm, later a Groovie), and they set off trying to become the American version of The Beatles. Sadly, they never really sold too many records, although "Shake Some Action" is a power pop must-have, and both "Now" and "Jumpin' In The Night" have their moments. The latter two were panned by critics due to an over-reliance on covers (Beatles, Stones, Paul Revere & Raiders, Byrds)....a bit too soon after the originals, I suspect. Ultimately, they got taken to the cleaners by a crooked manager, who released several albums (One Night Stand, Step Up) on the Aussie AIM label, for which the band has never received a penny! "Rock Juice" is chock full of great power pop songs, but suffers a teensy bit from Cyril singing lead on everything. He's at his best when he has a strong lead singer as a foil...RJ is like a Stones album with Keef on all lead vocals. Not bad, but could be better...

Cyril, BTW, has had a new band for the past 3-4 years, called Magic Christian (speaking of Badfinger....), and they've put out one really good CD, and are on the verge of releasing a second later this year. Both Stones and Beatles-influenced, and yes, some great power pop songs are on their debut CD! (NOTE: They had a deal with Ryko around late 2005, but it somehow fell through...)

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Pierson...I agree with you all the way...Twilley is miles ahead of either Big Star and/or Flamin' Groovies...Badfinger is above Twilley...I always thought that Big Star was a band with demo sounding songs...Not a complete one in the bunch...And to listen to "Shake Some Action" and put that in the same sentence with "Tonight" or "Ecstacy", et al...I dont get it with either the Groovies or Big Star, let alone Pattie Smith...

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Big Star's first record.#1 Record is a classic..pure and simple...if the song 'Thirteen' was the only thing on the record it would be a classic.The Raspberries are my favorite power pop band...that said, the mighty 'Shake Some Action' can stand next to anything the Berries recorded.If you don't kie it..that's OK with me.BTW I recently revisited the first two Big Star records after really not listening to them for years....my respect for the group grew ALOT after the recent listenings.

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I liked some of the Flamin Groovies stuff, but I certainly wouldn't put them in the same category with Big Star and Raspberries. I would put Badfinger in there instead - No Matter What, Day After Day, Baby Blue, and the entire "Wish You Were Here" CD were as good, if not better, than anything else that was released during that same time period. That disc came out around the same time as "Starting Over" and they both remain in my personal top 10 - 33 years later.

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