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I'm the co-host of THIS IS ROCK 'N' ROLL RADIO with Dana & Carl (Sunday nights, 9 to Midnight Eastern, www.westcottradio.org).  As a freelance writer, I contributed to Goldmine magazine from 1986-2006, wrote liner notes for Rhino Records' compilation CD Poptopia!  Power Pop Classics Of The '90s, and for releases by The Flashcubes, The Finkers, Screen Test, 1.4.5., and Jack "Penetrator" Lipton.  I contributed to the books Bubblegum Music Is The Naked Truth, Shake Some Action, Lost In The Grooves, and MusicHound Rock, and to DISCoveries, Amazing Heroes, The Comics Buyer's Guide, Yeah Yeah Yeah, Comics Collector, The Buffalo News, and The Syracuse New Times.  I also wrote the liner notes for the four THIS IS ROCK 'N' ROLL RADIO compilation CDs, because, well, who could stop me?  My standing offer to write liner notes for a Bay City Rollers compilation has remained criminally ignored.  Still intend to write and sell a Batman story someday.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

A BRIGHTER LIGHT IN MY MIND # 1: THE FLASHCUBES, Meet The Flashcubes! (An Imaginary LP From 1978)

Anyone who has even a passing familiarity with my power pop proselytizin' over the last few decades is surely aware of my pervasive and prevailing affection for The Flashcubes. In my liner notes to The Flashcubes' archival CD A Cellarful Of Boys, I mention that "I wish The Flashcubes had been signed immediately, and that the group had released an album on Bomp! in 1978 and another on Sire in 1979, with many more to follow."

Y'know, what's the point of having your own blog if you can't indulge such random flights o' fancy?

A Brighter Light In My Mind will imagine a series of Flashcubes LPs that never existed, a brief run of 'Cubes albums from the late '70s to the early '80s. These albums weren't real...but they shoulda been. And we begin the series with The Flashcubes' imaginary debut album from 1978....

Meet The Flashcubes!
Bomp! 1978

Side One

Christi Girl (Lenin)
Social Mobility (Frenay)
She's Leaving (Armstrong)
I Can't Stop Wanting You (Lenin)
No More Lonely Nights (Frenay)
September Gurls (Alex Chilton)

Side Two

Tonite Is A Wonderful Time (To Fall In Love) (Goodwyn)
You're My Girl (Armstrong)
I Don't Want To Break Your Heart (Frenay)
Stop! In The Name Of Love (Holland-Dozier-Holland)
I Don't Want To Be A Human Being (Lenin)
Got No Mind (Armstrong)

Tommy Allen: drums, percussion, backing vocals, lead vocals on "Tonite Is A Wonderful Time"
Paul Armstrong: guitar, vocal
Gary Frenay: bass, acoustic guitar, vocals
Arty Lenin: guitar, vocals

Produced by Greg Shaw. "Christi Girl" produced by Bill Murphy and Randy Saex.

In The Flashcubes' real-world chronology, Bomp! Records maestro Greg Shaw was supposed to catch the 'Cubes live at a Spring 1978 show at The Brookside in Syracuse, when our local lads opened for The Runaways and The Ramones. Shaw wound up missing that performance, but did see the band at a later time. He liked the 'Cubes, and promised to write about them in Bomp! magazine; Shaw eventually included "Christi Girl," the A-side of the group's first self-released single, on a Bomp! Records compilation album called Waves, Volume 1.  Other than that, The Flashcubes never recorded for Bomp!

Now, let slip the butterflies: it's time-bendin' time.

Greg Shaw sees The Flashcubes opening for The Runaways and The Ramones in Syracuse in 1978, and goes out of his freakin' mind. This is it! he exclaims to the nubile on his arm. This is the sound I'm looking for! Shaw meets Tommy, Paul, Gary, and Arty, there is a mutual dance of dollar signs in five pairs of starry eyes, and a tentative deal is struck right then and there. The Flashcubes would join Bomp's Galaxy O' Stars.

The Flashcubes had already begun work on their first single, an Arty Lenin love song called "Christi Girl."  The recording was a Syracuse University student project, produced by Bill Murphy and Randy Saex. The 'Cubes completed work on that recording, but trashed plans to self-release the single when the Bomp! contract was finalized. Soon, The Flashcubes were off to California to record their debut album.

Shaw had a few demands. He wanted The Flashcubes to include at least three cover tunes, figuring some material already familiar to pop fans could only help sales. He also wanted to pick all of the songs that would be on the album, but the 'Cubes insisted that each of their three songwriters be represented equally. Compromises were struck, and all parties settled on a mix of 'Cubes originals and a trio of covers.

Arty was represented by two ballads, "Christi Girl" and "I Can't Stop Wanting You," plus the slightly edgier "I Don't Want To Be A Human Being." Gary chose three catchy pop songs, "Social Mobility," "No More Lonely Nights," and "Face To Face," but Shaw convinced the group to go with Gary's "I Don't Want To Break Your Heart" instead of "Face To Face;" "Face To Face" wound up as the non-album B-side of the "Stop! In The Name Of Love" single. Paul wanted to do some of his more aggressive songs--"Student Rape,""I Need Glue,""Damaged Beyond Repair"--but Shaw insisted on the uncharacteristically (for Paul) ultra-pop "You're My Girl," a song which New York Rocker magazine had savaged in a review of a Flashcubes live set at Max's Kansas City. The raucous, randy pop of Paul's "She's Leaving" was acceptable to everyone involved, and Shaw green-lit Paul's punk tour-de-force "Got No Mind" to close the album.

For the cover songs, The Flashcubes and Shaw agreed on the above-mentioned power pop version of The Supremes' "Stop! In The Name Of Love" and Big Star's then-obscure classic "September Gurls." A number of other covers were discussed and demoed: The Kinks' "I Need You," The Beatles' "Hold Me Tight," Herman's Hermits' "A Must To Avoid," a Sex Pistols medley, even dat ole standby "Louie, Louie."  Shaw lobbied long and hard for the 'Cubes to cover "I'd Rather You Leave Me," a forgotten '60s nugget originally recorded by The Choir, but the group decided on April Wine's "Tonite Is A Wonderful Time (To Fall In Love)," a wonderful song that Tommy had discovered (and initially led his bandmates into believing he'd written). The album was recorded quickly and cheaply, and released in September of 1978.

Although candy-coated dreams of stardom were inevitable in this heady environment, no one really expected much to come from the Bomp! deal. Both the album and the "Christi Girl"/"Guernica" single (its non-LP B-side a basement recording of a rare Frenay punk tune) sold respectably by Bomp! standards, prompting "Stop! In The Name Of Love"/"Face To Face" as a follow-up. But suddenly, unexpectedly, that second single just took off. "Stop! In The Name Of Love" caught the attention of college radio and some more adventurous FM radio programmers, and then even some of your standard-variety non-adventurous radio programmers. It wasn't a big hit by any means, but it scraped 'n' scrapped its way onto the bottom of Billboard's Hot 100. A short tour supporting Cheap Trick beckoned, followed by three nights at The Starwood in L.A. After a sold-out show at New York's Palladium (with The Romantics opening) in March of '79, Sire Records president Seymour Stein had seen enough. Seymour met the 'Cubes backstage with candy and treats (metaphorically speaking), contract in hand, and waving an advance check that was much larger than the notoriously miserly Stein was used to writing. Stein was determined. And Stein got his way. The Flashcubes were signed to Sire Records that night.

NEXT TIME IN A BRIGHTER LIGHT IN MY MIND: Wait Till Next Week (Sire, 1979)

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