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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.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

A BRIGHTER LIGHT IN MY MIND # 2: THE FLASHCUBES, Wait Till Next Week (An Imaginary LP From 1979)

Continuing my alternate-world fictional history of The Flashcubes, imagining what would have happened if they'd gotten a record deal in 1978. You'd best start with Part OneMeet The Flashcubes! 




THE FLASHCUBES
Wait Till Next Week
Sire 1979

Side One

Taking Inventory (Lenin)
Wait Till Next Week (Frenay)
Sold Your Heart (Armstrong)
No Promise (Frenay)
Misunderstanding (Armstrong)

Side Two

Soldier Of Love (Arthur Alexander)
Gone Too Far (Lenin)
Muscle Beach (Armstrong)
Suellen (Frenay)
Somethin' Else (Sheeley-Cochran)
Girl From Germany (Lenin)

Tommy Allen: drums, percussion, backing vocals
Paul Armstrong: guitar, vocals
Gary Frenay: bass, guitar, vocals
Arty Lenin: guitar, vocals

Produced by Ed Stasium

Acclaim. Great reviews. Street credibility. All nice things to have, but Seymour Stein didn't care about any of them anymore. Stein wanted some goddamned hits.

Stein's label, Sire Records, had invested heavily in punk, or new wave, or whatever the hell they were calling it this week. He'd signed The Ramones, and he didn't really regret that, even though the group's sales had come nowhere near the massive success he'd imagined. Still, he was spending a motherlovin' fortune on their next album, working with that putz Phil Spector in the hope of finally getting a Ramones record that would sell. Talking Heads had done okay, but most of these acts he'd acquired--The Flamin' Groovies, Radio Birdman, The Dead Boys--sold an accumulated total of roughly bupkis. Stein was sick of it. Sire needed a big, big hit, fer Chrissakes.

The Flashcubes had caught Stein's eye. He liked them, but might not have signed them on their own merit. However, they'd done remarkably well on Greg Shaw's label; a # 78 "hit" in Billboard wasn't earth-shaking by itself, but a # 78 hit on a little label like Bomp Records? There were possibilities. There was a buzz about The Flashcubes. With the right record, with the right push, Stein was certain The Flashcubes could deliver the hit Sire needed.

Stein gulped down an Alka-Seltzer. He hoped The Flashcubes could deliver the hit Sire needed.

Time was money. Stein wanted product on the street immediately, wishing to capitalize on The Flashcubes' success with "Stop! In The Name Of Love" on Bomp.  He pushed for a quick single release of the 'Cubes covering The Four Tops' "Standing In The Shadows Of Love," and was surprised when DJs flipped the record over to play its B-side instead: a Gary Frenay original called "Wait Till Next Week."

Cha-ching!

"Wait Till Next Week" was only a modest hit--it peaked at # 46 in late May of '79--but its relative success was encouraging. Hell, it was higher than The Ramones ever managed. The bonus good news of The Flashcubes connecting with an original song rather than another cover was not lost on Stein; that could bode very well for the group's commercial prospects. Finish that damned album, Flashcubes--time is money!

The album was originally to be titled The Flashcubes' Second Album, an homage to The Beatles' U.S. Capitol Records LP history, following the 'Cubes' own Meet The Flashcubes!; one presumes they would have altered this course before they got to Flashcubes '65. Paul Armstrong pushed for a Rolling Stones reference instead, insisting that the album should be called America's Newest Hitmakers. All of this was mooted when the "Wait Till Next Week" single made its chart ascent; Stein declared that the album would be called Wait Till Next Week, and have you finished the damned thing yet?

Stein's impatience was unwarranted, really; working with producer Ed Stasium, The Flashcubes completed Wait Till Next Week in less than two months, finishing work just before the single dropped out of the Hot 100. The album shipped to retail in July of '79, accompanied by a new single, Frenay's "No Promise" backed with Armstrong's "Muscle Beach."

To promote the single and album, The Flashcubes appeared on American Bandstand. The "Stop! In The Name Of Love" single had been featured the previous year on Bandstand's popular Rate-A-Record feature (though it earned a mere 77 out of 100 rating, and was indeed dismissed with the infamous snub of not having a good beat that one could dance to). But now, The Flashcubes had their first chance to appear on national TV, lip-syncing to both sides of their new single. In between the earnest, effervescent performance of "No Promise" and Armstrong's opportunity to mug his way through "Muscle Beach," The Flashcubes chatted briefly on-camera with Dick Clark about their shared Syracuse roots and their own pop aspirations. Teenaged girls swooned at the sight of Tommy Allen. This was pop music. This was success.

"No Promise" cracked the Top 40, and then the Top 20, bubbling its way to a power pop peak of # 17. The album did even better, briefly sneaking its way to almost the Top 10, stalling at a more-than-respectable # 12. A second single, the Arthur Alexander-via-The Beatles cover "Soldier Of Love" (backed by a non-LP Lenin song, "Angry Young Man") barely made it to the Top 40 at # 39, and the third single, "Gone Too Far"/"Misunderstanding," fared similarly (# 36). But a fourth and final single, "Suellen" backed by Eddie Cochran's "Somethin' Else," was a two-sided smash; both tracks received significant airplay, and "Suellen" became The Flashcubes' first Top 10 hit at # 8.

With success came more offers and opportunities. The Flashcubes spent November in England, jamming with Chris Spedding and playing shows with The Jam and Rockpile. "Girl From Germany" was selected for use in the soundtrack for an upcoming film called Times Square. And Seymour Stein, who'd signed The Flashcubes to a three-album deal, was anxious for another 'Cubes LP on Sire.

Stein looked at what had worked for The Flashcubes so far. After that first Bomp sorta-hit with a Supremes cover, the 'Cubes had experienced limited success with subsequent covers; "Somethin' Else" had done well enough, but--like "Stop! In The Name Of Love"--that was likely a right song-right time fluke. Singles written by Arty Lenin hadn't sold as much, and Stein regarded Armstrong's stuff as album tracks and B-sides only. But Gary Frenay...! Frenay's songs had sold, and sold increasingly well. As far as Stein was concerned, all future Flashcubes A-sides would need to be written by Gary Frenay. It was Stein's label, so that opinion had damned well better be the one that mattered.

In time, this edict would inflict permanent damage on the band. But, in the short term, it would also lead to The Flashcubes' first--and only--# 1 hit single.

WHEN A BRIGHTER LIGHT IN MY MIND RETURNS: A Face In The Crowd (Sire, 1980)

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