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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.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Teenage Wasteland

A recent popular Facebook thread posed the challenge for folks to list ten albums that had a lasting impact on them as teenagers, with a limit of one album per artist. Cool!, I thought, so I dutifully listed my teenage Ten:

The Monkees: Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn & Jones, Ltd.
The Beatles: Beatles VI
The Ramones: Ramones
Sweet: Desolation Boulevard
The Dave Clark Five: Having A Wild Weekend
The Raspberries: Best
Various Artists: Nuggets
The Kinks: The Kink Kronikles
The Who: Meaty Beaty Big And Bouncy
The Rolling Stones: Big Hits (High Tide And Green Grass)


(I normally eschew greatest-hits sets and various-artists collections when slappin' together lists like this, but the ones cited above had such a pervasive and prevailing effect on me, I had to include them. I later amended my Beatles selection to Revolver; even though I really got into Beatles VI as a teen, I had actually heard it [and Beatles '65] when I was younger, whereas Revolver was more of a fresh discovery for me when I was around thirteen or fourteen.)

This is a fairly representative list of albums I liked as a teen that I still like now, records that shaped me and influenced me. I was (and remain) more of a single-song kinda guy, but these seem to me to be the LPs that meant the most to me from then to now.

And then...oh, the pushback!

The pushback was more general--I don't think anyone really questioned my list--expressing a vast suspicion that people were retroactively airbrushing their teen taste in tunes to make themselves seem like cooler 'n' hipper kids than they actually were. As my pal Scott "King" Cornish put it, "Most of my friends are trying to convince me they were into [The Stooges'] Funhouse when they were teenagers. Right, Archie's TV Funhouse, maybe."

Scott, I love ya like a distant cousin, but I'm not sure whether or not such cynicism is warranted. (Though I definitely wasn't into Funhouse as a teen, and I'm still not into it; gimme danger, and gimme Raw Power any day. Though I didn't hear Raw Power or any Stooges until I was 21 or so.) You may be right to question the authenticity of some of these lists, but...I dunno. The teen years are such a time of exploration and discovery, it seems reasonable to accept that a lot of our friends did fall hard for The Velvet Underground or The Sex Pistols in those freewheelin' days and nights before we pocketed our college diplomas and set off in search of truth, justice, and American cheeseburgers.

But I can only speak for myself. And so, I will.

I turned 13 in January of 1973, so my teen years were '73 to the end of '79, the middle of eighth grade through the fall semester of my senior year in college. Though some folks limited their lists to high school, the original challenge's parameters were the teen years, so I'm including that broader scope within my reminiscence.

Nonetheless, let's start with the period before college, eighth grade through the summer preceding the commencement of dorm life, higher learning, and keggers. I listened to AM radio, but added Utica's WOUR-FM to my audio regimen circa '76 or so. I read the occasional hand-me-down rock magazine, including Circus (which meant nothing to me) and Rolling Stone (whose early 1975 cover feature on Suzi Quatro sparked my eternal state of smitten, man! for the divine Ms. Q), and I immersed myself in the few issues of Phonograph Record Magazine I grabbed in 1977. I watched American Bandstand, Midnight Special, ABC's In Concert, and Don Kirshner's Rock Concert sporadically, and caught episodes of the British TV show Supersonic via cable from New York's WPIX. Because I read Playboy and Penthouse for the articles--why else?--I caught random rock 'n' roll pieces there, as well. (The naked women? A mere bonus, I assure you.)

KISS article
Patti Smith interview
Mighta been something about The Bay City Rollers. Maybe.

As noted, I've always been a song guy rather than an album guy. The music of my teen years would be more accurately depicted if we ignore albums entirely, and just think of all the pop acts I was enjoying in short-form exposure: Badfinger (my favorite band on the radio in eighth grade), Alice Cooper, Slade, Elf, Gladys Knight & the Pips, The Rubettes, Mott the Hoople, Stealers Wheel, Bowie, Seals & Crofts, Olivia Newton-John, The Hollies, Jim Croce, Graham Parker, The J. Geils Band, The Rubinoos, KISS, The Isley Brothers, Johnny Nash, Three Dog Night, WarThe Charlie Daniels BandNazareth, Kansas, Deep Purple, Heart, Rufus, Chicago, Jethro Tull, Isaac Hayes, The Four Tops, The Bay City Rollers, Curtis Mayfield, The Faces, Linda Ronstadt, The Eagles, Black Sabbath, Uriah Heep, Major LanceYes, Supertramp, Smokey Robinson & the Miracles, The Moody Blues, Nick Lowe, The Carpenters, and...well, we could be here all night. I'd always loved The Beatles and The Monkees, and my appreciation of oldies expanded exponentially in the '70s; I discovered Buddy Holly and Chuck Berry, plus Paul Revere & the Raiders, Buffalo Springfield, The Yardbirds, The Shangri-Las, The Byrds, The Zombies, The Lovin' Spoonful, et al,, and rediscovered acts like The Dave Clark FiveJefferson Airplane, The Turtles, and Herman's Hermits, all of whom I remembered from the '60s.

But I did own albums, too. Prior to departing for college in August of 1977, my LP collection included The Beatles (hand-me-downs of Beatles VI, Beatles '65, and Revolver, plus my own copies of the White Album, Sgt. Pepper, Abbey Road, Let It Be, Rubber Soul, Introducing The Beatles, 1967-1970, The Beatles At The Hollywood Bowl, Help!, and The Beatles Featuring Tony Sheridan), The Monkees (the first five albums), Fleetwood Mac (Rumours), Boston, Suzi Quatro, The Rubinoos, The James Montgomery Band, Sweet's Desolation Boulevard, KISS (Rock And Roll Over), Badfinger (No Dice) The Bay City Rollers (Dedication and possibly It's A Game), The Dave Clark Five (Glad All Over, Having A Wild Weekend, and Greatest Hits), the Raiders (Just Like Us! and Greatest Hits), The Cowsills (The Cowsills In Concert), The Animals (The Best Of The Animals and Before We Were So Rudely Interrupted), The Rolling Stones (Got LIVE If You Want It! and Through The Past Darkly), The Kinks (Kinks-Size, Sleepwalker and The Kink Kronikles), The Beach Boys (Endless Summer), Neil Young (Harvest and After The Gold Rush), Blue Oyster Cult (Agents Of Fortune), The Blues Magoos (Psychedelic Lollipop), Electric Light Orchestra (New World Record), Paul McCartney (McCartney), John Lennon (Plastic Ono Band), Ringo Starr (Ringo), best-of sets from Jim Croce, Elton John, The Hollies, and The Raspberries, various-artists sets like Dick Clark 20 Years Of Rock N' Roll, Heavy Metal, Do It Now!, and 20 Heavy Hits, and the soundtrack to Tommy. Oh, and a cassette of the Billy Jack soundtrack, too.

While I was still in high school, I started to learn about punk rock via the pages of Phonograph Record Magazine, and I developed a burgeoning ache to find out more about this strange, unheard music by The Ramones, Blondie, and The Dictators. In the summer between pickin' up the ol' cap 'n' gown at high school and packin' up the ol' books 'n' records to cart off to college, I heard "God Save The Queen" by The Sex Pistols on WOUR, and my curiosity was piqued even further.

And once I got to college? Campus radio! I heard those Ramones, Blondie, and Dictators records I'd read about, plus Television, The Runaways, The Adverts, The Jam, The Flamin' Groovies (whose Shake Some Action album shoulda been on my original list of ten), and more. All of this should also be rightly considered as part of the music of my teen years.

By the time of my 20th birthday, I had witnessed live performances by KISS, Uriah Heep, The Winters Brothers Band, The Charlie Daniels Band, The Flashcubes, Willie Alexander & the Boom Boom Band, Elvis Costello & the Attractions, The Runaways, The Ramones, Charlie, The Kinks, The Fast, New Math, Bob Dylan, David Johansen, The Joe Jackson Band, The Poptarts, The Ohms, Dress Code, Buddy Love & the Tearjerkers, The Most, The Records, Herman's Hermits, 999, The Dead Ducks, The Todd Hobin Band, and New Riders Of The Purple Sage. Probably a few others, too. Since leaving high school, I'd acquired stacks and stacks of additional albums, including more from familiar faves (KISS, Monkees, DC5, Raiders, Rollers, Kinks, Stones), begun my punk/new wave LP collection (Ramones, Pistols, Runaways, Blondie, Dictators, Television, Jam, Groovies, Costello), and added newer recruits like Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, Radio BirdmanThe Romantics, The Scruffs, Johnny ThundersCheap Trick, and Eddie & the Hot Rods. It was a world of music, man; why not live in that world?

I guess I don't really know if others are fudging the stats in their recollections of what albums impacted their teens. But I remember my impossible years, my '70s soundtrack, with crystal clarity. No, I didn't listen to Big Star or The Velvet Underground until after I hit the big 2-0, and yes--emphatically yes--I enjoyed a lot of what may be deemed uncool in retrospect, from Kansas and Boston to Emerson, Lake & Palmer and Charlie freakin' Daniels. I've never been the coolest kid in the room; I wasn't cool then, and I'm not cool now. But I know what I like. And no one has ever succeeded in trying to tell me differently.

So. Let's look at an expanded list of albums that impacted me as a teen, and remained impactful after that.

The Monkees: Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn & Jones, Ltd.

I'd been a first-generation Monkees fan since my sister introduced me to the TV show in 1966, and '70s reruns of the show kept that interest alive. My brother Art left his copies of The Monkees and More Of The Monkees with me when he get married, and I added flea-market purchases of Headquarters and The Birds, The Bees & The Monkees. But the revelation came when my pal Linda McLaren brought her copy of the Pisces album to school one day, along with her copies of Head and The Monkees Present. Mind blown. My favorite Monkees album, and one of my all-time favorite albums, period.

The Beatles: Beatles VI

A collection of lovely, unerringly crafted pop songs by the greatest pop group that ever was. I rediscovered this album in the mid-'70s, and it may still be my favorite album ever. As a teen, I went through periods where I thought Sgt. Pepper was the greatest album ever made, or where Abbey Road deserved that title, where Revolver and Rubber Soul ruled, or where it didn't matter because I was just listening to "Thank You, Girl" (from The Beatles' Second Album) over and over anyway. But I've always come back to Beatles VI as my favorite.

The Ramones: Ramones

Rocket To Russia was my favorite Ramones album for, like, ever, but the debut was the one that hit first, hid hardest, and left the most indelible mark. We have not yet created a language that can adequately convey the sheer, visceral thrill of that precise second when I realized The Ramones were...perfect. Just perfect. Punk? Sure, yeah. Rock 'n' roll? Oh God, yes. But also power pop, bubblegum, every great song ever played on any AM radio ever conceived on Earth or above, all distilled into this massive, physical presence that's simultaneously as heavy as a truncheon and as light as helium candy. Pop music, played loud, played fast, and played for keeps, our hearts sustained by its velocity, our souls redeemed by its purity, our faith in the transcendent power of music restored by forceful melody. And it's all accomplished as easily as 1-2-3-4.

Sweet: Desolation Boulevard

After Sweet first hit the US with "Little Willy," I get the impression that the group kinda fell off the radar in America for a while after that (though "Blockbuster" was an AM hit in Syracuse, at least). Sweet came roaring back with Desolation Boulevard, propelled by the irresistible singles "Ballroom Blitz" and "Fox On The Run." I played this constantly.

The Dave Clark Five: Having A Wild Weekend

I remembered "Bits And Pieces" from 1964 because one of my siblings had the 45 when I was four. When I became obsessed with the British Invasion in high school, my cousin Maryann lent me her Glad All Over and The Dave Clark Five Return! albums to feed my Anglomania. WOUR played "Catch Us If You Can" a couple of times, and I was hooked. "Catch Us If You Can" was on Having A Wild Weekend, the soundtrack album to the DC5's only movie, and I scored a copy of that LP at the flea market. Heaven! I would later discover that many DC5 albums suffered from a few too many lackluster filler tracks, but this one was loaded with brooding, moody winners like "Don't You Realize" and "Don't Be Taken In."

The Raspberries: Best

Before I'd ever heard the term "power pop," I was drawn to a few incandescent radio hits that embodied the phrase: "Baby Blue" by Badfinger, and "Go All The Way" and "I Wanna Be With You" by Cleveland's phenomenal pop combo The Raspberries. The 'Berries' "Tonight" was also an AM hit in Syracuse, so this collection was near the top of my Christmas wish list in '76. Good boy that I was, my wish came true. Naughty boy that I was, I usually only played Side One--the four tracks dubbed "the horny singles"--and ignored the ballads that just took up space (and I wondered why the furious "I'm A Rocker," which I owned on a 45, wasn't included in this collection of The Raspberries' "best"). Ballads?! I was ready for punk.

Various Artists: Nuggets

I bought the Sire reissue of this seminal 2-LP '60s garage compilation outta the cutout bin at Brockport's Main Street Records in 1979. I'd never heard of the album, but I was dyin' to get a copy of "Lies" by The Knickerbockers, the set was budget-priced, and so it became mine. I had no inkling of the new vistas I was about to embrace, from The Electric Prunes to The 13th Floor Elevators. The most important, the most influential, and the most engaging various-artists compilation ever released.

The Kinks: The Kink Kronikles

My sudden acceleration into full-blown Kinks fandom occurred with neither warning nor regret. I remembered "Lola" from AM radio, I discovered "All Day And All Of The Night" and (thanks to my sister) "You Really Got Me" on British Invasion collections, heard "Tired Of Waiting For You" on an oldies show, and then owned a used copy of the Kinks-Size album. But I still needed "Lola," dammit! The meager goal of acquiring a copy of "Lola" led me to this two-album set, initiating me into an undiscovered world of sunny afternoons, Waterloo sunsets, and a Village Green Preservation Society.  And God save the Village Green.

The Who: Meaty Beaty Big And Bouncy

Other than "Pinball Wizard," I never cared much about The Who until the mid-'70s. In 1977, a video clip of The Who performing "I Can't Explain" (from a mid-'60s episode of Shindig!) captivated me, and I dug my sister's copy of this best-of set out of the family music library. "I Can't Explain" is still my favorite Who track, but I became a much bigger Who fan in short order, and Meaty Beaty Big And Bouncy was my gateway.

The Rolling Stones: Big Hits (High Tide And Green Grass)

The Stones as a pop band, this collection of mid-'60s Stones tracks shimmers with menace and effervescence, nearly-equal parts swagger and bounce, a finger-snappin' cautionary tale. I already loved the (slightly) later Stones material on my Through The Past Darkly album, but this? This was satisfaction.

The Flamin' Groovies: Shake Some Action

A magic, mythic vision of the Beatles, Byrds, Beach Boys, and Stones heading into the studio for a session with Phil Spector.

Elton John: Greatest Hits

My affection for Elton John had faded before punk hit, but I was a big fan at one point. And for good reason; tracks like "Saturday Night's Alright For Fighting" and "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road" are essential pop songs, and "Your Song" offered me a go-to set of lovelorn lyrics when I was pining away for one or another of the supercute North Syracuse High School girls I worshipped from afar.

Various Artists: Geef Voor New Wave

This collection of scattered punk/new wave tracks served as my introduction to The Dwight Twilley Band, The MotorsMotorhead, X-Ray Spex, and Jonathan Richman, bolstered by more great stuff from Generation X, The Adverts, Eddie & the Hot Rods, The Rubinoos, The Sex Pistols, and Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers.

The Rubinoos: The Rubinoos

Just a perfect pop album, made by a perfect pop band of guys about my age. "I Think We're Alone Now" was the radio hit (so to speak), but "Wouldn't It Be Nice" (not the Beach Boys tune) was the one whose lyrics I scribbled in notebooks, dreaming of girls I hadn't yet met. Elton John hadn't done me a damned bit of good with these elusive ladies, but The Rubinoos...well, they also didn't do me a damned bit of good. How I ever started getting girls remains one of life's great mysteries.

The Beach Boys: Pet Sounds

Listed here only as an example of a record I didn't appreciate on first exposure. As a teenager, I thought The Beach Boys were uncool; even though I adored hits like "I Get Around" and "Good Vibrations," I could not be convinced that The Beach Boys were anything other than the squarest thing this side of Captain and Tennille. But I did like "Sloop John B" a lot, and "Wouldn't It Be Nice" was okay, so I bought a copy of Pet Sounds when I was a freshman in college. Nice little album, I guess. No big deal. I would come around eventually.

The Sex Pistols: Never Mind The Bollocks, Here's The Sex Pistols

"God Save The Queen" was the first punk song I ever heard, one of the first two punk singles I ever bought (along with The Ramones' "Sheena Is A Punk Rocker"), and Never Mind The Bollocks was my first punk LP. It was a Christmas gift from my girlfriend Theresa, who hated the Pistols but loved me. I broke up with her immediately thereafter. No future for us.

Suzi Quatro: Suzi Quatro

To be honest, the album didn't do much for me at the time. After falling in love with Suzi on the cover of Rolling Stone, and then seeing her on Supersonic, performing a great song called...well, I didn't know what it was called. Decades later, I discovered the song was "I May Be Too Young," and that it was never on any of Suzi Quatro's albums. It certainly wasn't on this one, so I was disappointed. It's only listed here because, let's face it: even if the music didn't have a lasting impact on me in my teens, Suzi Quatro herself sure as hell did. Swoon....


All this talk of the music of my teens, and we barely mentioned one of the groups that had the greatest impact on young CC: Syracuse's own power pop powerhouse The Flashcubes. The 'Cubes only released two singles in the '70s, but their incendiary live shows were as much a part of my rock 'n' roll DNA as your Beatles and Ramones. I wish there had been Flashcubes albums recorded and released at the time, but it was not so. I did get a live bootleg cassette of a 1978 Flashcubes show, and that tape meant as much to me as anything else I heard in the '70s, or since. Once a teen, always a teen. What good has growing up ever done...anyone?

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