Back in the mid-1980s my friend Mitchell’s new job came with a van which he got to keep when he wasn’t punching the clock. As a non-driver I really didn’t mind public transport (OK, the cold, wasted hours at bus stops could be irksome) but looking at the world’s greatest city through a windshield, cruising with your best buddy & the correct sounds playing made life a little better. Our music of choice was a cassette of the soundtrack of “The Big Chill” (1983) Lawrence Kasdan’s poignant Baby Boomer ensemble drama. Not all of the classic tracks from the 1960s used in the movie made it on to the album, it was mostly Motown & Atlantic Soul. One track, probably the one we knew the least, caught the moment, raised our energy, went straight to rewind & repeat.
“Good Lovin'”, a 2 minutes 28 seconds rush was the 2nd single to be released by Atlantic’s blue-eyed Soul boys the Young Rascals. Originally recorded by Lemme B Snell, the Rascals had probably come across the version by the Olympics. Their first eponymous LP, a recreation of their exciting live shows at the Barge, Long Island, which first attracted the label, was packed with cover versions, just one of their own compositions. Under the tutelage of future label Veep Arif Mardin & expert engineer Tom Dowd the group produced themselves. The songs written by organist Felix Cavaliere & singer Eddie Brigati didn’t match the #1 success of “Good Lovin'” but were good, getting better & kept them in the frame as one of the most popular groups around.
The Rascals became “Young” to avoid legal dealings with an established variety act. Onstage their knickerbockers & Peter Pan collars gave them an overgrown schoolboy look. They were good-looking men & over here we saw them as US teen idols who, like Paul Revere & the Raiders, relied a little too much on a visual gimmick. In the mid-Sixties the UK’s Pop Art was our biggest export. We were busy in Carnaby St, had our own take on R&B, our own new young sensations coming up. The Young Rascals were closer to the dynamic Mitch Ryder & the Detroit Wheels. We pretty much ignored that great group too.
It was “Groovin'” (1967), you know it, carefree, the feelgood hit of the Summer of Love, a better anthem than Scott McKenzie’s “San Francisco, which finally registered in the UK. They came over to tour with Traffic & Vanilla Fudge (who, I think, blew the tour out after just one date) & that sounds like a good night. The “Groovin'” LP was packed with hit singles. “A Girl Like You” was a Rascals’ rhythm rocker, “How Can I Be Sure”, with Eddie on lead vocal, was a baroque waltzing delight. It sure sounded like a hit to me (it was in the US) & I bought the 45, on the red Atlantic label, but not many other Brits did. It sounded like a hit again when Dusty Springfield released a version that missed out. In 1972 David Cassidy did take the song to the #1 spot but I wasn’t really listening.
The group had ditched the school uniforms & the cover of the “Once Upon A Dream” LP (1968) confirmed that the Rascals were no longer “Young”. “Sergeant Pepper’s…” had set a new standard for Pop music & classically trained Felix Cavaliere was up for the challenge. With its sound effects, spoken word,. whistles, bells & sitars, the LP certainly embraced the new spirit of inventiveness & imagination. The one hit 45 “It’s Wonderful” is just that. At times the simple, soulful melodicism of the group loses out to orchestration & arrangement but “Once Upon Dream” is a very interesting record which doesn’t get the love or attention it deserves when American music of the time is remembered. Whether the world & their audience were ready for the Psychedelic Rascals was another matter. Later in the year “Time Peace”, a greatest hits collection, reached #1 in the album charts. Perhaps people, preferring those optimistic, energetic, well-made tunes, still regarded the Rascals as a great singles band. They could still do them.
In the late 1960s music was changing & so was America. The Rascals, New Jersey boys raised on R&B, affected by the assassinations of Bobby Kennedy & Martin Luther King, insisted on playing on integrated bills before non-segregated audiences. The group spent a little more time on their next LP. Previously they had pretty much recorded & released everything they had written. “People Got To Be Free”, a taster for “Freedom Suite”, was another irresistible anthem which gave the Rascals their third #1 US hit. “Freedom Suite”, like many double albums, would have made a great single LP. It’s been remiss of me not check for Dino Danelli. The space offered by playing in a 3-piece band showed Dino to be a great Rock drummer but a 13 minute drum solo, acceptable from Ginger Baker of Atlantic’s new Rock act Cream, was a little indulgent. The 15 minute long track taking up the whole of Side 4 was a bit much too.
By 1970 Atlantic had signed Led Zeppelin & Crosby, Stills & Nash. The Rascals were no longer their headline, hit-making act. There were 2 more LPs on Atlantic, more songs solely written by Cavaliere, less promotion reflected by less success. There’s fine music across both records but Eddie Brigati left during the recording of “Search & Nearness” (1971) then guitarist Gene Cornish followed soon after. The Rascals who released “Peaceful World”, their first LP for Columbia, just 2 months later were Felix, Dino & two new members. Again, despite the quality of the music, Jazz Improvisation Rascals failed to find a sizeable audience.
The Rascals were inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame by Steve Van Zandt off of the E Street Band & the Sopranos. His endorsement & affection for fellow Jersey Boys inspired a concert/theatrical combo, the first full reunion for 40 years, which was warmly received. The Rascals’ love of Rhythm & Blues got them started & the energy & enthusiasm they injected into their version of it was unmatched (see above). They changed with the times & made LPs that will reward investigation if you’re not already on them. Back when we were young & they were “Young” their hopeful, optimistic even innocent music caught the moment as well as just about anyone around.