Want A Hit Record Yeah (11th November 1972)

The Raspberries, a quartet from Cleveland, Ohio, had two records in the lower reaches of the Cash Box album chart, those listed between 101 – 150, from 50 years ago this week. Their eponymous debut had been released in April 1972 & “Go All The Way”, the second 45 taken from it, made the US Top 5 boosting interest in & sales of the album. After a peak of #51 it was now slipping down the list to #103 but the Raspberries were not hanging about & the next collection “Fresh” was a new entry at #107. Like their first, “Fresh” opened with a rush & a push, something that sounded good on the radio, a hit record yeah.

Power Pop is a term coined by Pete Townshend to describe his own group’s music back when he was writing killer three minute singles rather than rock operas. Even though some of my favourite bands, Big Star, Flamin’ Groovies, are regarded as such I’m not about to get definitive about such a nebulous classification, it’s enough to say that Raspberries merit a more than honourable mention in any discussion about Power Pop. Formed by members of two teenage groups from Cleveland, Ohio they found themselves a deal with a major label & a promotion budget that stretched to a “scratch n sniff” sticker on the cover of their debut album. It’s a record that owes a lot to the mid-60s Beatles, not a bad thing, good short tunes with strong choruses are always welcome though some of the more obvious steals from the Fabs are a bit cheeky. In 1972 Retro was not yet a thing but Raspberries took the best of all of six years ago & made a fine record. “Fresh”, with more consistency through the album, is even better.

Eric Carmen wrote & sang lead on the hit records, “I Wanna Be With You” made the US Top 20, while guitarists Doug Smalley & Wally Bryson had their songs to contribute. Eric liked those Mcartney-esque melodies & silly love songs – OK, romantic ballads – but the guitars added crunch to the caramel though neither Doug nor Wally were John to Eric’s Paul. Perhaps unfairly regarded as mainstream at a time when “progressive” was the thing, Raspberries well-crafted Pop was ahead of the game & still sounds good. “Side 3” (1973) had more Power than Pop but band tensions led to the departure of Smalley & drummer Jim Bonfanti & the reduced promotion meant reduced sales. With new members “Starting Over” (1974) had more ambition & the epic “Overnight Sensation” returned the group to the singles chart before Carmen decided that he should be all by himself & went solo. That’s four good Raspberries’ records, ones that plenty of young bands listened to & thought that they would like to make that kind of noise.

Clean as country water, wild as mountain dew, that’s those Nashville Cats & at #150 this week was one of the “A Team” of the session men behind the countless hits created in Music City. Charlie McCoy started out in Miami with a 50 cent harmonica & played guitar in a teenage Rock & Roll band dismissed as a little too modern in Nashville & by the faculty at Miami University. Undeterred he returned to Tennessee where, missing out on a gig as a guitarist with a band who also needed a drummer, he bought himself a kit & got the job. In 1961 he joined an all-star studio band & added a prominent harmonica part to Roy Orbison’s “Candy Man”, an international hit. Charlie thought that $49 for three hours work was good getting for a 20 year old & with the endorsement of producers Chet Atkins & Owen Bradley he would be playing over 400 sessions a year. On a 1965 visit to the New York World’s Fair he was contacted by Bob Johnston, an old friend & Bob Dylan’s producer, & was handed a guitar to play on “Desolation Row”. When Johnston & Dylan wanted to record in Nashville Charlie was asked to get the band together for the “Blonde On Blonde” sessions. There’s a story that he played bass one-handed, a trumpet in the other, on “Most Likely You Go Your Way & I’ll Go Mine”! In 1967, on the more restrained sublime “John Wesley Harding” Charlie kept both hands on the bass, playing on all the tracks.

Charlie McCoy played with all the Country greats & the stars who followed Dylan to Nashville. It’s a very long list including a whole lot of Elvis Presley, both versions of “Jackson” (Nancy Sinatra, Johnny Cash & June Carter) & with Area Code 615, his Nashville friends, on “Stone Fox Chase”, known in the UK as the theme tune to Rock TV show “The Old Grey Whistle Test”. His current, eponymous album is, like the other three collections issued in 72/3, a mix of Country classics & contemporary Pop hits all rather faithfully covered & arranged to feature Charlie’s crystal clear harmonica backed by elite studio men. The listening can be easy, these guys were used to completing four tracks in a session because they knew what went where & how it goes. The result is pleasant & proved to be popular, all four albums reaching the Country Top 10. Charlie added harp & vibes to Elvis’ version of “I Really Don’t Want To Know”, a 1953 hit for Les Paul & Mary Ford. Often covered, the song is in my collection by both Gene Clark & Jason & the Scorchers. There’s thirteen hundred and fifty two guitar pickers in Nashville, but if you needed a harmonica then you called up Charlie McCoy.

In August 1967 Columbia Records issued “The Byrds’ Greatest Hits”11 singles, from four LPs released between April 1965 & March 1967. Music that had heard the Beatles & answered the British Invasion with Folk-Rock, Space-Rock & Raga-Rock. The assemblage became the group’s biggest selling album, a Gold record within the year, but the times they were a changing in the Summer of Love, the audience that had grown up listening to the Byrds were looking further out & farther along. Losing group members had caused disruption but this was by no means the end of the Byrds’ artistic achievement & innovation though they no longer were the shock of the new & never as commercially successful. By 1972 Roger McGuinn was the last original Byrd standing, the new cohort, Gene Parsons (drums), Skip Battin (bass) & master guitar string bender Clarence White had been together since late 69. The opening two sides of the double album “Untitled” (1970) & other recordings confirm that the group were a great live act but their last studio record, “Farther Along” (1971), had failed to trouble the compilers of the Top 150 albums chart. Their contract with Columbia was coming to an end, a rumoured reunion of the original 5 members was causing a stir & “The Best of the Byrds: Greatest Hits Volume II”,#151 on the chart, was pushing it a bit.

Volume II spans the years 1968-71 & the highest chart ranking I can find for any of these 11 “greatest hits” is #65 for “The Ballad of Easy Rider”, the title track of a 1969 album. Apparently curated with the input of McGuinn only one track from each of “Notorious Byrd Brothers” (“Get To You”) & “Sweetheart of the Rodeo” (You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere”), both records now rightly appreciated as ground-breaking classics, are included. The three tracks from “The Ballad of…” are good though there is no “Gunga Din” or “Deportee”. “Nashville West”, “Lover of the Bayou”, “Bugler” & “Lazy Water” would all be alternate & better choices for inclusion. I’ll go with “Drug Store Truck Drivin’ Man”, a song left over from Gram Parsons’ brief one-album stint as a Byrd, about Nashville DJ Ralph Emory who disapproved of all these longhairs playing Country music. In May 1973 “History of the Byrds”, a double album was released in the UK & Europe. Compiled by John Tobler, with a family tree by Pete Frame, two aficionados & champions of the group, it was a much more sympathetic appreciation of the latter part of the Byrds’ output. “History…” included the track “Lady Friend”, a blink & you missed it US 45 pretty much unknown on this side of the Atlantic at the time. If you have never heard “Lady Friend”, a David Crosby classic, then maybe it’s time you did.