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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.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

A BRIGHTER LIGHT IN MY MIND # 4: THE FLASHCUBES, Nothing Really Matters When You're Young (An Imaginary LP From 1981)

Barreling ahead with my alternate-world imaginin' of what could have happened if The Flashcubes had been signed to a record deal in 1978. How did we get here? Meet The Flashcubes, 1978Wait Till Next Week, 1979, and A Face In The Crowd, 1980. And now...THE FLASHCUBES!

The Flashcubes
Nothing Really Matters When You're Young
Sire 1981

Side One

Sound Of The Radio (Frenay)
She Couldn't Say No (Armstrong)
There's No Place Like Work (Lenin)
The Boy From Shaker Heights (Frenay)

Side Two

Fourth Of July (Frenay)
Sorry Wrong Number (Armstrong)
Best Seller (Lenin)
Born To Cry (Frenay)
Below The Belt (Armstrong)
Nothing Really Matters When You're Young (Lenin)

Tommy Allen: drums, percussion, vocals
Paul Armstrong: guitar, vocals
Gary Frenay: bass, guitar, vocals
Arty Lenin: guitar, vocals
The Poptarts (Gael, Meegan, Kathy, Margie, Sheena): backing vocals
Eric Carmen: backing vocals on "Sound Of The Radio"
Dave Davies: additional guitar, backing vocals on "Sorry Wrong Number"
Jimmy Destri: keyboards
Mark Doyle: additional guitar on "The Boy From Shaker Heights"
Musketeer Gripweed: backing vocals on "The Boy From Shaker Heights"
Jerry Harrison: keyboards on "The Boy From Shaker Heights"

Produced by The Flashcubes.

The boy was only five years old. And The Flashcubes were his favorite band in the whole world.

Because his Daddy had been a musician, everyone just assumed the child had been immersed in music his whole life. But that wasn't the case. One couldn't describe his days as quiet--what five-year-old's days are quiet?--but music wasn't a big component. There was laughter, and games, and stories, and silliness, and walks in the park, and always, always the love of his ever-present Daddy. Mommy was often busy working; Daddy called her the breadwinner, which confused the boy, since he and Daddy baked all of the bread themselves. Adults made no sense sometimes. But Daddy was with him, all day, every day.

Until Daddy decided he wanted to be a musician again. Until Daddy decided he had to go to work--every day! Intolerable. The boy sulked a bit, even though Daddy always made time for him when he did finally get home from work each night. One day, he asked his father a question:

"Do you know what I want to be when I grow up?"

Amused, the father replied: "What do you want to be when you grow up, Sean?"

"Just a Daddy!"

John Lennon winced. But he would try to make it up to his son as best he could.

Sean's half-brother Julian had given Sean some cassettes to listen to. Julian was more taken with The Sex Pistols than Sean was, though both enjoyed The B-52's. But it was The Flashcubes that really caught Sean's interest. They seemed so...so bubbly and fun, while still remaining serious and cool. Little Sean wore out his Wait Till Next Week and A Face In The Crowd tapes in short order. Daddy replaced both cassettes, and added a home-made cassette of Meet The Flashcubes!, which had not been issued in that format. The family rarely, if ever, watched television, but when The Flashcubes appeared on Saturday Night Live in December of 1980, Mommy and Daddy allowed Sean to stay up and watch his heroes rip through "You're Not The Police" and--Sean's favorite!--"I'm Not The Liar." The elder Lennon observed Sean's pop mania, and he knew exactly how to redeem himself in his son's eyes.

It would be something of an understatement to say that John Lennon knew some people. Phone calls were made, a few stunned Are you shittin' me?!s were tossed about, and arrangements were set. Just. Like. That. Lennon had recently released a new album, Double Fantasy, and was already at work on a follow-up. On Monday, after the day's recording sessions had ended, John beloved wife Yoko Ono brought Sean to The Hit Factory for a private concert by The Flashcubes.

The Flashcubes were as giddy as Sean was. Any rock 'n' roll musician their age who claimed he wasn't influenced by The Beatles was a goddamned fibber. They opened their set with a Beatles tune, "Thank You, Girl," and played as if they were hoping to pass the audition. At Sean's request, they played "I'm Not The Liar" three times, with Yoko joining members of The Poptarts on backing vocals. When an exhausted Sean finally conceded that it was time for bed, Ono whisked him home, while a grateful John Lennon whipped out his acoustic guitar and joined the dizzy, delirious Flashcubes in renditions of Beatles numbers and '50s rock 'n' roll classics into the wee, wee hours, beginning and ending with "I Don't Want To Spoil The Party." It was the most memorable night of The Flashcubes' career.

(In an odd side note to the evening, they all later learned that police had questioned a suspicious-looking stranger loitering outside the Lennons' luxury apartment. When the cops discovered he was armed, the suspect was taken into custody. He killed himself in his holding cell, and no one ever even found out his name.)

1980 ended with some rare time off for The Flashcubes. As 1981 came in through the bathroom window, Seymour Stein reminded The Flashcubes that they still owed him one more album in their Sire contract. Back to work, 'Cubes!

Throughout 1980, The Flashcubes felt like they never had a chance to catch their breath. Frenay had continued to write songs for other artists; Shaun Cassidy rejuvenated his flagging popularity with a rendition of Frenay's "Boy Scout Pin-Up," Hall and Oates followed up their earlier "It's No Secret" success with "Tell Me It's Alright Now," and Marshall Crenshaw had his first Top 40 hit with "I Am Sincere." Meanwhile, an older Lenin tune called "One More Try" had been exhumed as a British # 1 for The English Beat, and Pat Benatar enjoyed massive radio play with a live cover of Armstrong's "I'm Not The Liar;" she would subsequently score a # 4 hit with a studio take of Armstrong's "Sold Your Heart." Tommy Allen had formed a production company, and was looking to discover and nurture new artists.

A new Flashcubes album, Seymour? Oh, all right....

Of course, the 'Cubes wanted John Lennon to produce their next album. He was interested, but it couldn't be worked out. (As a consolation prize, The Flashcubes accompanied Lennon on a short club tour, which included a stop at Red Creek in Rochester, NY.) A lot of names were floated as potential producers: Nick Lowe, Roger Bechirian, and Steve Lillywhite were discussed and mooted; George Martin declined. Ultimately, given the group's own studio experience--especially Tommy Allen's growing studio acumen--it was decided that The Flashcubes would produce their own album.

With the working title Inspired Humans Making Noise, The Flashcubes began studio sessions for their fourth album in April of 1981. Armstrong demoed a boppin' new song called "Let's Groove," but the 'Cubes couldn't quite get that groove, and the track was left unfinished. Lenin's quirky, herky-jerky "There's No Place Like Work" was likewise a challenge, but the group managed to complete an appropriate master of that one. Frenay came in with an ambitious, six-minute track called "The Boy From Shaker Heights;" The Flashcubes nailed the basic tracks for that in a day's work.

The recording process dragged on longer than The Flashcubes were used to. One would be tempted to blame this delay on the group's relative inexperience as producers; however, it was just as likely a byproduct of already having done so much in such an astonishingly short period of time. The Flashcubes had formed less than four years ago. They'd played their first gig just over three and a half years ago. In the space of no time at all, they had gone from being a bar band on the receiving end of projectiles tossed by drunken idiots to having smash hit records, pop idolatry, and hanging out with a freakin' Beatle.

The Flashcubes were tired. And they were still too caught up in their own whirlwind to realize how tired they were.

The exhaustion caught up with them in the studio. Tempers flared. Words were exchanged. The occasional apology, the ongoing awareness of perspective, kept things from truly spiraling out of control. The Flashcubes had been friends, and they'd been through an awful lot together, That common, shared experience may have been the only thing that kept fists from flying.

Finally, the album was done. The songs were still good, the performances still top-notch. But, if you listened closely enough, you could hear the weariness underneath it all. The LP, Nothing Really Matters When You're Young, took its title from a simply epic Arty Lenin rumination on alienation and the elusive nature of redemption. It was a million miles away from "Christi Girl."

Nothing Really Matters When You're Young was released at the beginning of August. The first single was Frenay's wonderful "Born To Cry," backed by Lenin's breezy "Best Seller." Armstrong pushed relentlessly for Sire to promote his song "She Couldn't Say No" to radio, but his pleas fell on deaf ears. The album was a more modest success than its predecessor, never quite cracking the Top 20; "Born To Cry," as lovely as it was, still missed the Top 40. The Frenay ballad "Fourth Of July" fared better, peaking at # 12. The Flashcubes were still stars. They just weren't as big as they'd been a year ago.

The Flashcubes had fulfilled their contract with Sire. The relatively disappointing sales of Nothing Really Matters When You're Young notwithstanding, Seymour Stein was keen to sign the 'Cubes to a new contract. But he wasn't the only interested party. There were a lot of labels eager to add The Flashcubes to their roster. The Flashcubes would soon record another album with a bigger label. There was still so much they could do.

But The Flashcubes would have to do it as a trio. Paul Armstrong wanted out.

COMING UP: The thrilling conclusion of A Brighter Light In My Mind.  BUT--you have to wait till next week! 

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