If you have been reading this blog you probably know that I am a huge “power pop” fan. When first heard The Raspberries (a band out of Cleveland, Ohio consisting of Eric Carmen (vocalist/guitarist/bassist), Wally Bryson (guitarist), Jim Bonfanti (drummer), and Dave Smalley (guitarist/bassist)) on my car radio in 1972 I was instantly in love. The lead singers voice was great, the guitar sound was perfect, and the harmonies were amazing. Who could ask for more. Listen up and you can experience that moment I had in 1972…….
I bought the album the same day that I first heard Go All The Way and it was amazing. As an aside, the album came with a “scratch and sniff” sticker attached to the album cover that smelled just like Raspberries. I have had that album and the sticker for over forty years and guess what…..it still smells like Raspberries. Amazing!
Success was ensured and it wasn’t just me that thought so. Here is an excerpt from the May, 1972 Rolling Stone review of The Raspberries self titled first album.
Raspberries opens with the finest burst of lightweight English rock I’ve heard all year, a raunchy 16-bar guitar intro, and followed by a verse that sounds like a cross between “Reflections Of My Mind” and early Badfinger. The rest of the album is just as ephemeral, and just as good.
The funny thing is that the Raspberries aren’t English at all—they’re from Cleveland, Ohio. Just like the Wackers, though that hasn’t stopped them in cultivating a perfect three-part English group harmony, and the Raspberries go one further by even looking strikingly English. When you’re dealing with groups whose aim is to do energetic, melodic rock, nationality simply seems to be no deterrent.
What makes this album easy to recommend is the fact that there really isn’t a bad cut on it. With the exception of “Rock A Roll Mama,” an only slightly above-average rocker, and “With You In My Life” (a nice uptempo good-timey number), Raspberries is composed in toto of potential hit singles, all with excellent vocals and terrific production. Even the eight-minute piece “I Can Remember” works superbly, flowing through several sequences and ending with an irresistible chorus.
And if you’ve heard either of the Raspberries’ two singles on the radio, “Don’t Want To Say Goodbye” and the aforementioned album opener “Go All The Way,” you already know how infectious their music is. With the original material quite impressive, and the filler cuts all adequate, Raspberries is much more impressive than Badfinger’s debut album, and I find myself already looking forward to the group’s second.
Well……no matter what me and Rolling Stone thought the album topped out at #51 on the album charts. No where near the hit it deserved to be. Their second album, Fresh, continued to build on the best aspects of their first album. Let’s listen to I Wanna Be With You from Fresh……
Great…..right? Well it did a little better than the first album but still only reached #36 on the album charts. What the heck was going on? Here is how my old standby, Lillian Roxon’s Rock Encylopedia, explained it……
The Raspberries died an untimely and unnecessary death in the music business, a demise their talent did not deserve. It was all a matter of image, you see. It just wasn’t right for any band to be so overtly UNhip. None of these guys looked like Easy Rider outtakes when they started back in the early seventies. They also committed the sin of writing crisp, clean singles that didn’t deal with the doings of tragic anti-heroes. Hailing from the Cleveland area, the foursome (high school chums)demoed a few tunes that came to the attention of producer Jimmy Ienner. Jimm brought them to Capital Records and produced their first (and subsequent) album(s). THE RASPBERRIES was released in 1972 with some suggestion of hype. The band’s sound was pseudo-British, the execution flawless and their success almost immediate.
The boys in the band, fairly sophisticated in their idea of what success would bring, decided to play the image “goof” schtick to the hilt. They sounded so mid-sixties, they decided to dress it as well. It was all sort of humorous , you see. Of course, no thought it was funny.
The band was putting out killer pop music but the majority of the music music buying public just wasn’t interested. I don’t know that I buy that it was all in their marketing but no matter….. their lack of success was a tragedy (in my opinion). Things did not get better. The Raspberries third album, Side 3, showed continued artistic growth but market just wasn’t interested. Let’s listen to Ecstasy from that album……
Side 3 only reached #136 on the charts. The bands dreams were crashing around them and the lack of success was ripping the band apart. Jim Bonfanti and Dave Smalley left the band at this point. Eric Carmen and Wally Bryson decided to make one final push for success with Scott McCarl and Michael McBride replacing the departed members of the band.
This final push resulted in a fourth album, Starting Over, which to this day is one of one of the best pop albums of all time. Let’s listen to Overnight Sensation which is one of the best singles I have ever heard…..
You might be thinking that this story is headed for a happy ending but I am sorry to tell you that is not the case. Here is what happened as described in Eric Carmen in a 2007 interview on bullz-eye.com…
…..we did the Starting Over album, and Rolling Stone picked it as one of their seven best of the year in their annual writers and critics poll, and they picked “Overnight Sensation” as the best record of the year, and we subsequently sold the fewest number of copies of any of our records, and played every hole on the east coast for six or seven solid months of demoralizing gigging. And that was pretty much the end of it. We realized at some point that there was no way to climb out. What we had tried to do had been successful on one level, and a complete bust on another level. The rock critics got it, and the 16-year-old girls got it, but FM radio was just not about to play a band that sounded like they were making singles, and so it was kind of like beating your head against the wall at a certain point. It was time to move on and try something else.
I think the band knew that they were doomed while making the album. Listen to The Party’s Over another song from Starting Over and I think you might agree.
The Party’s Over
Life is funny. Sometimes your best efforts don’t pay off. Sometimes you don’t get the rewards that you deserve. It’s not fair but no ever promised it would be. If you didn’t know that before, The Raspberries are living proof. As always, let me know what you think.