Outside of the Boston area, Ray Paul’s greatest musical accomplishment was the founding of Permanent Press Records. Toward the end of the ‘90s, the label released debut albums from the Brown Eyed Susans, the Carpet Frogs, Chewy Marble, Maple Mars, the Supers, the Van De Leckis, William Pears, and Yogi, reissued albums by the Spongetones, Segarini, Klaatu, and Badfinger, and kept artists like Walter Clevenger, Richard X. Heyman, and Terry Draper in the public eye.
And, given that it was Ray Paul’s label, it probably shouldn’t come as any real surprise that Permanent Press also released The Charles Beat: The Best of the Boston Years 1977-1981 and Now, by none other than… Ray Paul.
In 1980, What’s Up, a Boston-based magazine, said of Paul that he “has a McCartney-esque talent for melody,” adding that he and his band, RPM, “sound like they truly respect pop. There’s no new wave pretension, no ‘80s cynicism, just the energetic goodwill that made groups like the Grass Roots and the Raspberries so great.” The music on The Charles Beat backs up this opinion handily.
Permanent Press closed its doors as a label some time back, but Ray Paul still maintains its name to release his own material, and, as a video companion to The Charles Beat, Paul has now produced a two-DVD set entitled Performance Reel.
At first glance, those who aren’t particularly familiar with Paul’s work will undoubtedly think, “Geez, two full DVDs worth of live performances? What kind of ego trip is this guy on?” And given that the guy’s putting out the DVDs of his own stuff on his own label, well, you can kind of see where they’d be coming from with such an opinion.
What needs to be kept in perspective, however, is that, if your favorite hometown pop hero put out two DVDs of live performances, you’d be all over it, whether the folks in Podunk knew who he was or not. And that’s why the folks who worshipped at Paul’s altar in Boston in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s are no doubt drooling over this release.
Even if you didn’t live in Boston, though, this is a fascinating artifact of the power pop sound of that era, as well as of the sort of TV shows bands were appearing on back then. Nightscene and Boston Live, two shows on which Ray Paul and RPM made appearances, are the sort of thing that you used to see on television before syndicated programs and cable wiped out so much of the local TV programming that used to exist. These were the shows on which bands had to play in the dark, pre-MTV days.
Fans of late ‘60s pop will be fascinated by the appearances from Emmit Rhodes, who made his mark as frontman for the Merry-Go-Round before going solo. Rhodes had been a virtual recluse from the concert scene, but Paul managed to get him on stage for brief performances at International Pop Overthrow in both 1997 and 2000.
Unfortunately, despite great music and fine performances, what cannot be ignored is the wildly varying video quality of the various gigs. Chalk this up to age and the fact that many, perhaps most, of the items on the two discs were probably transferred onto DVD from well-worn tapes sitting in the Paul family video library. The result of this, however, is that some portions of the older performances are almost impossible to watch.
There remains another caveat emptor as well. Although the discs do note on their cases that, “due to the age and sources of some material, the quality of portions of the video content presented here may at times vary,” they do not note that both volumes of Performance Reel are DVD-R’s rather than professionally-produced DVDs. As a result, they will not play on everyone’s DVD player; in fact, to be painfully honest, they didn’t play properly on mine, which resulted in a real struggle to offer a review of the discs in their entirety.
That having been said, if you’ve got a better DVD player than mine and you’re a fan of the power pop genre, these two discs provide a fascinating trip into the history of a guy who never managed to be quite the pop star he should’ve been. It doesn’t solve the mystery as to why he never broke out beyond Boston, but it provides some fine music nonetheless.