Raspberries are back in all their power (pop) and glory
It’s a little strange to hear Eric Carmen sing once again about teenage lust via songs like “I Wanna Be With You” and “Go All the Way”—especially after all these years. It’s been three-plus decades since the Raspberries last recorded together, and unlike many other classic rock bands from that era, this is only their first such reunion. But the good news is they don’t sound like they’ve aged at all.
Lead singer Carmen is backed by Wally Bryson on guitar, Jim Bonfanti at the drums, and Dave Smalley on bass. This live document contains 21 songs, most of which are original material. The group also covers the Who’s “I Can’t Explain” and the Searchers’ “Needles and Pins”. The band only released four CDs during its short half-decade together, so they had to throw in a few favorite outside songs just to keep their sanity.
Sadly, the Raspberries broke up because their power-pop sounds were quickly being drowned out by all the progressive junk released in the ‘70s. But Bruce Springsteen’s liner notes for this two-disc package reveal that musician-fans saw the group as more than just a lightweight power-pop outfit. Springsteen notes: “Soaring choruses, Beach Boy harmonies over crunchy Who guitars, lyrics simultaneously innocent, lascivious, and all about sex, sex, sex continue to make for an unbeatable combination.” Another fan at the time, John Lennon, is also pictured wearing a Raspberries sweatshirt. Had there been more average fans that got it, perhaps the Raspberries back catalogue for this reunion tour might have been much bigger. Such are the breaks.
It’s easy to lump the Raspberries in with other pioneering power-pop acts like Badfinger and Big Star. But unlike those two cult acts, the Raspberries experienced a brief life on the top of the charts. Still, power-pop fans don’t hold Raspberries’ big hits against them. The group combined memorable melodies with great rock guitar better than most. So they deserved to have hits, God bless ‘em.
I can remember loving “Go All the Way” back in junior high school, even though I didn’t really realize how sexual it was at the time. It was played on the school bus radio in between Elton John and Kiss songs. But there was an urgency, a passion to it; one that I would later also relate to in Clash and Springsteen songs. There was also that great Wally Bryson guitar riff that couldn’t be beat.
“Go All the Way” is included on Disc 2, along with the cream of the Raspberries’ crop. This second disc begins with “Overnight Sensation (Hit Record)”, which Carmen introduces by describing the transistor radio he listened to under his pillow as a child. “Overnight Sensation” features Carmen’s piano and layered vocals. It’s probably outlines a music fan’s dream, and every music journalist’s fantasy—let’s be honest—too. Ah, to hear your music on the radio.
With “Ecstasy”, also on this second CD, the Raspberries get all the inner Who out of their system. It features a Keith Moon-esque wild drum intro and a Pete Townshend riff. Rodger Daltrey will never sing nearly as smoothly as Carmen can, and that’s the one factor that keeps the tune from nearly being a Who imitation song. “I’m a Rocker” is a Stones-y, piano-colored boogie song, which sounds a little ironic out of Carmen’s mouth; especially since Mr. Carmen became famous for power ballads like “All By Myself” later in his solo career.
If you only own the Raspberries’ greatest hits CD, this new live CD might seem to be a long stretch of unfamiliar music. Only about half of these songs are recognizable to most average rock fans. But even so, Carmen sounds like he’s having a blast, and the band is clearly enjoying this experience of playing together again. So you may just learn to like a few new (to you) Raspberries songs.
When you compare “Go All The Way” with some of the sexed up stuff on modern radio, it sounds relatively innocent now. But there’s a reason why they call classic rock classic. It makes perfect sense that many of today’s teens are gobbling up AC/DC and Doors’ songs; they hold up extremely well over time. Let’s hope some of these retro teens also pick on the Raspberries because experiencing the ecstasy of “Go All The Way” all over again is simply heavenly.
// Notes from the Road
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