The Raspberries: An Appreciation

April 10, 1972…the release date for the first Raspberries album. If you weren’t there. or were too young to remember that time, there are a few pieces of the puzzle that need to be put in place before the full impact of this band becomes clear.

1972…the Internet didn’t exist. No YouTube, Spotify, iTunes, Pandora. Cable TV didn’t really start taking off, on a national level, until the eighties. Most of us had the same three ABC, NBC, and CBS stations that we grew up with, and possibly a few extra channels.

“Radio” was in its pre-satellite prime. Most people had a favorite local AM and/or FM station.

We played “records” on “stereos.” The size and magnificence depended on an individual budget, but the average system consisted of a receiver, a turntable, speakers, and headphones.

Music, at the time, had to be produced in order to sound “good” in the full range between the average home stereo system and the cheapest “transistor” or car radio on the market.

Enter The Raspberries, and producer Jimmy Ienner, who had worked with Three Dog Night, Grand Funk Railroad, and Blood, Sweat and Tears.

The Raspberries had an aura that was similar to The Rascals. The Rascals released sweet, tuneful 60s anthems like “Groovin'” and “It’s A Beautiful Morning,” but you always had the feeling that if they were called upon to throw down, they would throw down. It’s no mystery as to why Steven Van Zandt delivered their induction speech at the Rock & Roll Hall of fame. And, to keep connecting the dots, it was that speech that caught the fancy of David Chase, and inspired him to cast Steven as Silvio Dante in The Sopranos. To pull the thread a little further, when the Raspberries called it a day, guitarist Wally Bryson formed Fotomaker with former Rascals Gene Cornish and Dino Danelli.

The circle of rock and roll life was complete.

In 1972, I was in the early days of the single greatest culture shock of my life. Born and raised in a small Massachusetts town, my family had moved to what would later be known as Silicon Valley, California. I was a Junior in High School. I could write an entire book about what it was like to be a sixteen year old male in California in the early 70s, especially one who had just landed. Suffice it to say that Brian Wilson was right, on so many levels. I was spring-loaded 24 hours a day, meeting musicians, playing in bands and doing solo shows.

A major part of the soundtrack to those days arrived in the form of the first Raspberries album. The opening track, “Go All The Way”…there was nothing that prepared the collective ears of 1972 for that song. It begins with a dynamic that would normally be found in the middle of most songs, after a build-up, but there was no buildup…no “zero to sixty,” it comes IN at 60 MPH.

We didn’t know that we were hearing the birth of a “sound.” We didn’t listen to the album and say Eric Carmen is the GODFATHER of Power Pop,” because the term didn’t exist. It was only in the years that followed, after legions of bands who had also heard that first album and took what they heard and ran with it that we understood when we first dropped the needle in its grooves. We knew it was new, we knew it was unprecedented, we just couldn’t see into the crystal ball and the Renaissance of “Power Pop,” with a rabid and devoted following.

But make no mistake about it. Eric Carmen was, and is, The Godfather of Power Pop.

“Go All The Way” had those precision slashes of ringing, chiming, electric guitar, a bass and drum sound straight out of The Who, and…what the effortlessly glides into a harmony-laced, melodic, McCartney-eque passage, as Carmen croons “Please, gooooooooo all the way,” and he just as effortlessly slips back into Who mode, back and forth, and when the song draws to a close, America has been ridden hard and put away wet.

And that was only the first damned track on the first damned album, folks. Over the course of the next few years, three more albums…“Fresh,” “Side Three,” and “Starting Over”…would be released before the band said goodbye. With the first album, Eric has succeeded in convincing America to go all the way with him…each new album and single was an eagerly-awaited event, and the band always delivered.

“Starting Over”…the ironically named final album, even though it wasn’t intended as such during its recording…saw the departures of original members Jim Bonfanti and Dave Smalley and the arrival of Michael McBride and Scott McCarl. Two songs on the album provided a fitting coda for the band, and summed up their influence as readily as “Go All The Way.”

“Overnight Sensation”…Eric was a kid who wanted to make hit records, and he wrote a song about a kid who wanted to write hit records. It was as honest and innocent and “confessional” / autobiographical as anything written by Brian Wilson, and it had that big, full orchestral sound the band had perfected, while being another tip of the hat to the Who’s “big ballad” tracks like “Love, Reign O’er Me.”

“I Don’t Know What I Want”…introduced onstage by Eric as “My love letter to the Who,” is exactly that. Hordes of bands snagged what they believed to be the sound of the band, and most of them missed one of the most critical ingredients…the inner workings of Pete Townshend’s mind. The “Mods versus Rockers” tension, the prospect of a future where nothing is certain, all of the anger and angst and built-up frustration…their cover of Mose Allison’sYoung Man Blues,” “A young man ain’t got nothin’ in the world these days, he’s got nothin’, he’s got sweeeeeeet f*ck all…”

Eric got it…he got it all, he became a conduit for the music and the attitude and it all came out.

And it spoke to me, that 16 year old kid, because I was living and breathing and feeling everything in those songs. I was a teenage rock & roll Lothario, set loose in Paradise, where the sun always shined and the beach was 45 minutes away.

This was my soundtrack.

In 1972, this was America’s soundtrack.

I have faith that, eventually, justice will prevail in America, and that The Raspberries will be inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, and Eric Carmen will be honored as a solo artist.

Until that day comes, know this…The Raspberries changed the game, opened a blank page, and wrote their story. The paper hasn’t yellowed and the ink hasn’t faded. almost a half-century later. A Hall of Fame ceremony is held in America, and around the world, seven days a week, as dreamers strap on their guitars and strive for a big hit record of their own.

Thank you, Eric. You did become a sensation, and decades later, neither that star nor your influence has diminished.