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1. MEGHAN JEAN CAFARELLI: "Perseverance"
My daughter Meghan was eight years old (possibly as young as seven) when Dana and I began work on our first compilation CD, This Is Rock 'n' Roll Radio, Volume One. Meghan was nine by the time the CD was released by JAM Recordings in 2004, and I don't remember how far in advance she recorded her track. She sounds so, so young on that CD, excitedly announcing This is rock 'n' roll radio! Come on, let's rock and roll with Dana and Carl!, then adding, I like that one a lot!
How did all of that time go by so fast? How is it possible that this little, little girl grew up, and just graduated from college in May of 2017? I don't remember growing older; when did she?
Sniff. Gimme a second, folks.
I'm sure that Meghan doesn't remember a time before her dear ol' Dad had a radio show. In December of 1999, on the first anniversary of This Is Rock 'n' Roll Radio with Dana & Carl, my lovely wife Brenda brought four-year-old Meghan to the studio to help us celebrate the unlikely milestone of this silly little mutant radio show somehow hanging on for a whole entire year. Meghan wound up sitting in with Eric Strattman (whom she described as "a very nice boy"), host of the terrific show that at that time preceded TIRnRR on Sunday nights, Unsupervised, I Hit My Head. Eric interviewed Meghan on air, and she serenaded him with a quick rendition of "Ruby Tuesday" by The Rolling Stones. And yes, I do indeed still have a recording of that.
So it seemed natural to include Meghan on the first TIRnRR CD. When we did a second CD in (I think) 2006 or whenever it was, we enlisted Meghan's services again (We're back, with more POWER POP!). By the time we got around to This Is Rock 'n' Roll Radio, Volume Three in 2013, Meghan was a high school senior, about to matriculate her way outta Syracuse for undergraduate life at Ithaca College. With the sass of an experienced teenager, she opened Volume 3 declaring Third time's a charm! And boy, could these guys use some charm! But the charm was all hers.
Another four years passed, seemingly in less time than it takes to type it. Dean's Lists. Honor Societies. Additional scholarships. A semester in London. Ten days in Israel. Praise. Accolades. Experience. And finally, a piece of paper that proclaims Summa cum laude. I like that one a lot.
And now, Meghan's back in Syracuse, pondering her next move. It is nearly inevitable that, whatever that next move will be, it will eventually lead her away from Syracuse. My heart aches. But it has to be. Sunrise, sunset.
But while she's still here, we asked her to record one more intro for This Is Rock 'n' Roll Radio, and it opens our new CD: I've been putting up with these guys my whole life. Now it's your turn! This IS Rock 'n' Roll Radio with Dana & Carl.
Thank you, little pearl. And now it's your turn.
2. THE SPONGETONES: "(Our Guys) Dana & Carl"
Where and from whom did I first hear about The Spongetones? My gut and aging memory both claim I learned about the fabulous 'Tones online from my friend Greg Ogarrio in the early '90s. Greg was among a handful of power pop pals I met via Prodigy, an online service that flourished briefly and then disappeared entirely. Prodigy was my introduction to the wonder of the internet, and it was through Prodigy's auspices that I find myself within a small pop community, talking about things like Big Star and The Raspberries, trading mix tapes, and trying to turn new friends on to personal fave raves. I introduced Greg to the music of The Flashcubes. Greg introduced me to the music of The Spongetones. We both did pretty well in that exchange.
While Greg was (I think) the first to try to school me in all things Spongetone, I'm not sure if I finally heard them for the first time via his cassette mix (which included "Have You Ever Been Torn Apart?" and "Stupid Heart") or via the then-new Spongetones CD Oh Yeah! I special-ordered at Mainly Disc in Syracuse in 1991. Regardless of which exposure came first, the two sources combined to make me a Spongetones fan immediately.
Armed with Oh Yeah! and aware of at least a couple of great tracks that preceded it, I set myself the task of puttin' together a complete Spongetones library stat. I ordered their earlier vinyl records (Beat Music and Torn Apart) via an ad in Goldmine, and another online chum, Keith Klingensmith, supplied me with a copy of The Spongetones' then-elusive Where-Ever-Land CD. As a freelance writer, I horned in on contributing to a CD buyer's guide book called MusicHound Rock, and writing about The Spongetones' catalog o' wonder was among the assignments I snagged:
The early Beatles reborn, or merely an incredible re-creation (or maybe Klaatu in disguise)? Dismissed by some as too slavishly derivative of The Fab Four, The Spongetones have delighted discerning pop fans with avowedly Beatlesque hooks and harmonies. The group's earliest efforts were engaging pastiches of Beatles '65--much like The Rutles played straight--with each tune a familiar-sounding rummage through the British Invasion songbook. While it's certainly fun playing Name That Tune, the appeal of The Spongetones' recordings lies not in where the group nicks it hooks and melodies, but in the self-assured manner in which it assembles such thefts into appealing new pop confections. Later recordings have downplayed the Mersey factor but have generally retained an unspoiled, irresistible pop charm.
The Spongetones did indeed leave overt Beatlemania behind, but they never stopped making great pop records. Somewhere along the way, I started corresponding with guitarist Jamie Hoover, and later with bassist Steve Stoeckel, and we'll be discussing each of them (and that Keith Klingensmith guy) in due time. Jamie collaborated with Bill Lloyd on a track included on our first TIRnRR compilation in 2004, The Spongetones themselves appeared on Volume 2, and Steve Stoeckel even let us call him and some music-makin' buddies Steve Stoeckel and His This Is Rock 'n' Roll Radio All Stars on a track he gave us for Volume 3. See, there's a guy with a secure sense of self. Steve's also done about a million way-fab promos for TIRnRR, and this is one of 'em: The Spongetones introducing themselves individually, as "(My Girl) Maryanne"--my favorite Spongetones song!--plays in the background. Cheekily retitled "(Our Guys) Dana & Carl," we couldn't resist including it on This Is Rock 'n' Roll Radio, Volume 4.
And for all that, it's still the least of three Spongetones-related tracks on TIRnRR # 4. We'll talk about Jamie's track in just a bit; we'll talk about Steve's next.
3. POP CO-OP: "You Don't Love Me Anymore"
We're told that This Is Rock 'n' Roll Radio with Dana & Carl played some small role in the genesis of the group Pop Co-Op. If true, then Dana & I have a message for all pop fans: You're welcome.
But some specific thanks are also due to Elizabeth Racz, the TIRnRR fan we usually just call "Baby" (because I got tired of mispronouncing her name). Among her many contributions to whatever the hell it is we do each week, Baby's the one who set up our Facebook group TIR'N'RR, which has become an online meeting place for listeners to kibitz and carouse as the show streams live on Sunday nights. Like The Beatles' Liverpool and Batman's Gotham City, the Facebook TIR'N'RR chat group was part of the origin of Pop Co-Op.
And I can't detail it much more beyond that. The chronology gets tangled, the inter-relationships crossed, connected, and re-connected. Pop Co-Op guitarist Joel Tinnel said the other day that I hipped him to the music of The Spongetones; I had no idea we did that, but that's an important thread in getting Joel into a band alongside Spongetones (and now Pop Co-Op) bassist Steve Stoeckel. I presume the chat group is also where Joel (and maybe Steve) met our long-time listener Bruce Gordon, the auteur of the pristine pop of Mr. Encrypto, and now a member of Pop Co-Op as well. And Pop Co-Op drummer Stacy Carson came to us after the fact, introduced to TIRnRR following the release of Pop Co-Op's debut album, Four State Solution (aka, Your Favorite Record of 2017). Full circle. And the circle's tangents include other listeners, like Rich and Kathy Firestone, who (I think) brought Joel and his wife Laura Sessions Tinnel into the TIRnRR fold via their shared love of the music of The Smithereens (and whom I definitely hooked on The Spongetones). Plus Baby. And others. The beat goes on!
Another plank on the path to Pop Co-Op bears our name, even though TIRnRR really had nothing to do with it. Steve Stoeckel is something of a creative dynamo, always playing and concocting...something. A few years back, Steve decided to try to write a new pop song as a collaboration with a bunch of folks on Facebook, putting the lyrics together line by line based on suggestions from these individuals. The result was a lovely confection called "I Could Be Good For You," which Steve then recorded, and we then played an awful lot on the show. We loved the song so much we asked Steve if we could include it on our This Is Rock 'n' Roll Radio, Volume 3 compilation in 2013. He agreed, and even let us bill it as Steve Stoeckel and His This Is Rock 'n' Roll Radio All Stars. If it were possible for Dana and I to feel humbled, that woulda done the trick right there.
The ad hoc All Stars recorded a few more tracks, including "You Don't Love Me Anymore," which-- like "I Could Be Good For You"--was written by Steve's co-writin' committee (Brenda Trent Dillon, Loyd Dillon, Laura Sessions Tinnel, Joel Tinnel, Elizabeth Racz, Kathy Jackson Firestone, and that Steve Stoeckel). Pop Co-Op didn't necessarily come directly out of the All Stars, but the combo did emerge out of that same infectious sense of community, camaraderie, and collaboration. Joel, Steve, Bruce, and Stacy have never all been in the same room at the same time. Their album title Four State Solution refers to the disparate stomping grounds of the group's membership, with each player crafting his individual part in his own home town, the parts uniting via the modern technological miracle of MAGIC to form a cohesive whole. If Dana and I had any part whatsoever in inspiring that, then dammit, I think we are humbled after all.
When Four State Solution came out in early 2017, and Dana and I were starting the quiet work of assembling the then-secret This Is Rock 'n' Roll Radio, Volume 4, I contacted Steve to see if we could use the All Stars' still-unreleased "You Don't Love Me Anymore," and bill it as a Pop Co-Op track. Steve was fine with that, but with one condition: he wanted to turn it into a bona fide Pop Co-Op track, so he called in the lads, across four states, to make it so.
The resulting final Pop Co-Op version of "You Don't Love Me Anymore" is an exquisite lament, a shimmering application of broken heart to shiny sleeve. We didn't write it. We didn't play on it. We had nothing to do with its creation. But we're happy to play it on the radio, and we're delighted to claim it as part of TIRnRR's expanding community. Yes. You're welcome, indeed.
4. RAY PAUL: "I Need Your Love Tonight"
Folks often equate pure pop music with a presumed innocence, a longing for true love manifested in holding hands while walking along the sand. But much of power pop is built upon a big brass bedrock of urgent, earthy desire. The Raspberries. The Knack. Even seemingly pristine pleas like The Beach Boys' "Wouldn't It Be Nice" can use images of wedded bliss and everlasting love to (partially) cloak an earnest intent to shake the sheets. Wouldn't it be nice? Oh, yes....
Ray Paul knows his pop music. He knows its history, and he knows how it's done. And he knows that even an everlasting love has to start with the spark of one single night.
We've been corresponding with Ray since the earliest days of This Is Rock 'n' Roll Radio, when Ray was living in Southern California, running a fab record label called Permanent Press. I recall receiving a message from Ray about TIRnRR, raving about our show, lamenting that even though he lived in the biggest media hub in the world, there was no one out there doing anything like what Dana and I were doing for three hours on the radio every week.
We were fans of Ray, as well; Permanent Press was a solid label, releasing both new and archival essentials from the likes of Badfinger, The Carpet Frogs, The Breetles, Walter Clevenger, and, of course, Ray Paul himself. In 2000, Ray's CD The Charles Beat collected his work from the late '70s and early '80s alongside a new collaboration with Emitt Rhodes. The Charles Beat included Ray's 1981 single "How Do You Know?," which became one of TIRnRR's all-time most-played tracks. Ray has appeared as a guest on TIRnRR twice, and I interviewed him for a feature in Yeah Yeah Yeah magazine. As a publicist, he continues to send great new stuff our way, from The Grip Weeds to Richard X. Heyman. His own 2016 release Whimsicality has been a consistent source of cool tunes for airplay on our little mutant radio show.
Until now, though, Ray has never appeared on a This Is Rock 'n' Roll Radio compilation. He wanted to, and we wanted him to, but the timing never worked out to make it happen. So when Dana and I were in the first, secret stages of assembling TIRnRR # 4, Ray was one of the first acts we approached.
And Ray had just the right song in mind.
It wasn't finished. It hadn't been recorded. He wouldn't even tell us the title at first. All he said was that it channeled Cheap Trick, and that it would be perfect for us. And man, was he ever right.
"I Need Your Love Tonight" is an irresistible explosion of primal, churning physical need, dressed in pretty pop clothing that it can't wait to strip out of. It's so good, and it revels in its own playfulness like a confident rockin' pop tune oughtta. While Ray was working on the track with Terry Draper of Klaatu, Terry asked Ray, "Are you sure you wanna give this song away...?!"
HA! It's ours now! But we're willing to share. While the track will, I'm sure, eventually appear on another new Ray Paul album someday, right now it's part of This Is Rock 'n' Roll Radio, Volume 4. And it's looking for some action, ladies. Love. I need a love. I want your love. I need a la-la-la-la-love. Take us all the way to everlasting love.
5. CIRCE LINK & CHRISTIAN NESMITH: "I'm On Your Side"
This Is Rock 'n' Roll Radio with Dana & Carl would like to thank Mr. Mark Zuckerberg for his invaluable and essential contributions to the making of This Is Rock 'n' Roll Radio, Volume 4.
You think I'm joking? Well...maybe you're right. But it's nonetheless true that Zuckerberg's baby Facebook introduced me (in roundabout fashion) to the magic of Circe Link & Christian Nesmith. And this compilation is much stronger because of that.
I'm not exactly sure when I first became aware of this particular dynamic duo. Dana and I saw Christian play live as a member of The Monkees' touring band in 2012, one of the best concerts I've ever witnessed. Some time later, my jaw dropped when I saw a video of Circe, Christian, and company backing up Micky Dolenz on a live medley of "Porpoise Song" and The Beatles' "Good Morning, Good Morning."Chills. Clearly, there was some amazing talent at work here.
You know how Facebook works. Zuckerberg's machine constantly suggests new friends to add to your own social network, based on mutual interests and acquaintances. So when Facebook recommended I add Circe Link to my cyber circle (probably based on our shared friendship with Keith Klingensmith), I said yeah yeah yeah even faster'n Micky sings no no no in "Last Train To Clarksville." Because why not?
It was a passive friendship, as many Facebook friendships are. Still, when Circe posted a note about a popular Facebook challenge to quote the fifth sentence on the 56th page of whatever book happened to be the nearest to you at the moment, I responded with a link to a blog I'd just written on that very subject. Circe was amused, and suggested she and Christian come on our show some time to chat about books and music.
Wow. Did Zuckerberg himself just turn on that light bulb over my head? Possibly. I just knew that now I wanted Circe and Christian on the next This Is Rock 'n' Roll Radio compilation.
I already knew a little of Circe's recorded work, and some YouTube videos of covers that she and Christian had done. I went to circelink.com for a deeper catalog dive, and was absolutely smitten with a limited-edition release called The Pop EP. My God, this stuff was terrific! I ordered a CD copy immediately, and I contacted Circe to beg for permission to use a Pop EP track called "I'm On Your Side" on TIRnRR # 4. After an exchange of questions and assurances (and a much-needed, much-appreciated reference from Keith Klingensmith, just to indicate to Circe that Dana and I were sorta kinda legit), Circe was indeed on our side.
Circe and Christian are much more well-known than Dana & Carl, our hype notwithstanding. It's likely that they won't benefit much (if at all) from the exposure of appearing on this compilation. But I betcha there are still some folks out there who haven't yet experienced the delight and wonder of their work. I know that at least a couple of TIRnRR listeners purchased Circe's latest album Enchanted Objects And Ordinary Things because we played the sublime "Yellow Dress" a time or several on the show. Both "Yellow Dress" and "I'm On Your Side" seem virtual shoo-ins for our annual year-end countdown show. We spread the word of this incredible music made by our Facebook friends. That's what friends are for. Thanks, Mr. Zuckerberg. Thank you, Keith. And thank you, Circe and Christian. We're on your side, too.
6. VEGAS WITH RANDOLPH FEATURING LANNIE FLOWERS: "The Weekend's Coming"
As a life-long fan of comic books, I very much appreciate the idea of two separate favorites joining forces as one. Superman and Batman! Spider-Man and Red Sonja! Wonder Woman and Jerry Lewis! The list goes on and on, from Mary Marvel and Bulletgirl to KISS and Vampirella, Archie and The Ramones. Your two fave raves in one adventure--who can resist that?
So Dana and I feel like the power pop equivalent of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby as we announce this epic team-up of Vegas With Randolph and Lannie Flowers. Face front, True Believers--this one's got it all!
Given our comic-book motif today, it's fitting to note that one of Vegas With Randolph's past picks t' click on TIRnRR was a wonderful song called "Supergirl." VWR has released a ton of great stuff over a span of years, and their Bandcamp page is loaded with pretty pop tunes that you've just gotta have. For all that, I don't think we've played VWR anywhere near as much as we'd like to, nor anywhere near as much as they deserve. But we love Vegas With Randolph. When we began the quiet, undercover process of assembling this compilation, we contacted VWR's Eric Kern to see if they'd be willing to contribute a track to TIRnRR # 4, and we reacted with predictably giddy glee when they agreed.
Shortly thereafter, the VWR family suffered a loss with the passing of bassist and founding member Dan Aylestock. You know what's the one idea that unites right and left equally? Cancer sucks. The members of the group paused the process of recording their fourth album, and took time to mourn their friend. Dana and I would have understood if they chose to defer participation in any This Is Rock 'n' Roll Radio compilations until some future volume; as important as pop music is to all of us, our real lives and loved ones take precedence. But Eric said no. In fact, he said they were set to return to work on a brand new track that was not only letter-perfect for us, but a track that would also feature another long-time TIRnRR stalwart, Lannie Flowers.
Lannie, bless 'im, seems to like TIRnRR almost as much as TIRnRR likes him. We've been playing Lannie's stuff for quite some time, including both his solo material and his recordings with a cool combo called The Pengwins. Lannie gave us a superswell song called "Everything A Man Could Want" for our last TIRnRR collection, and he's consistently preached on our behalf, too. So, given an opportunity to hear a new song by both Vegas With Randolph and Lannie Flowers--and not just to hear it, but to claim it as part of our own project--well, I think we agreed to that even faster than Clark Kent can outrace a speeding bullet.
"The Weekend's Coming" lives up to our sky-high expectations, leaping over tall buildings with superheroic dispatch. Listen: we like party songs. We dig party songs by KISS and Chuck Berry and Prince and so many others. As members of the rock 'n' roll proletariat, we're likewise enthused about workin' class anthems by The Easybeats and The Vogues and The Nerves. That makes "The Weekend's Coming" a natural for all of us who wanna clock out and get down, with fists and voices raised.
But there's a specific subtle something extra in the song's final verse that lifts it even further. The basics of a weekend party tune are simple: it's Friday night or thereabouts, so let hi-jinks ensue. The execution and atmosphere are what can make it transcend the perfunctory likes of, say, Loverboy, and this song has no worries on that score. Beyond the bacchanalia, though, that final verse gives us two wage slaves seeking and acquiring a different path to Saturday and Sunday satisfaction: the guy beating traffic to just escape the city for a while, and the gal intent on getting home to curl up with "a good book and a great Cabernet." And with that, Vegas With Randolph and Lannie Flowers convey the weekend's appeal even to those of us not flocking to bars and discos: We all need it in our own way, but we need it just the same.
See, celebrations of the weekend don't have to be about just the Happy Hours and the nights on the town. Those are potential parts of the festivities, and the weekend reveler is free to find his or her own preferred mix of disco dancing, family events, punk shows, film festivals, poker tournaments, baseball games, open mics, picnics, fine dining, pizza, ice cream cones, TV shows, poetry slams, musical theater, karaoke, trivia contests, limbo contests, long naps, long walks, long conga lines, big parties, small gatherings, art galleries, swap meets, casinos, museums, romance, camaraderie, solitude--time with others, and time alone. All in our own way, all needed just the same. Even for folks like me, who have worked most weekends for the entirety of our adult lives, the weekend still means something, even if it doesn't precisely match what the calendar says. On behalf of Vegas With Randolph Featuring Lannie Flowers, This Is Rock 'n' Roll Radio with Dana & Carl is pleased to offer you this universal weekend anthem, your soundtrack regardless of whether you want to grab a beer and join some Attractive Approachable in a Twist-a-thon or grab a cup of tea and settle in with a thrift-store paperback novel.
Or, for that matter, with a comic book. 'Nuff said. Excelsior!
7. THE SLAPBACKS: "Make Something Happen"
If you engage in any aspect of creativity or even simple entertainment over a significant span of time, you will inevitably generate specific moments that you look upon with a sense of glowing inner fulfillment. And yes, that's even true of just being a DJ. I have enjoyed many such moments as the co-host of This Is Rock 'n' Roll Radio with Dana & Carl, but over all of this time--over the course of more than eighteen years, nearly 900 shows, four compilation CDs, thousands of songs, and tens...no, hundreds of thousands of words spoken or written--one thing stands out as the single greatest pride of my long, mutant radio career: I finally got someone to record a Flashcubes cover.
Oh, I tried before. Lord, I tried. That would be Mary Lou Lord to start. Many years ago, when Mary Lou asked Dana and me to suggest material for a covers album she was considering, I bought her a copy of The Flashcubes' Bright Lights CD, and supplemented it with a CD-R that included even more Flashcubes material. I told Seth Gordon that his group The Mockers should record 'Cubes guitarist Paul Armstrong's "A Face In The Crowd." As recently as last year, I was trying to get 'Cubes bassist Gary Frenay's sublime "Make Something Happen" to Andrew Sandoval, figuring the tune would be a natural for The Monkees to record for their incredible 2016 album Good Times! But alas...all to no avail.
"Make Something Happen" in particular always seemed to me like a big hit just waiting to...um, happen. Mary Lou Lord. The Monkees. Marshall Crenshaw. The Gin Blossoms. Somebody. This song was made for radio. Someone needed to record it and get it out there for mass consumption. I shared the song with friends and fellow pop fans. I talked about maybe wanting to spearhead a Flashcubes tribute album (which is still a mighty fine idea). It was idle fantasy, but the idea of a Flashcubes tribute album planted one very important seed: if it ever did happen, Keith Klingensmith wanted to call dibs on "Make Something Happen."
Keith's name comes up a lot in the discussion of This Is Rock 'n' Roll Radio. Keith is one of TIRnRR's best friends; as a fan, as a listener, as a supporter, as a facilitator (Keith's on-line label Futureman Records curates the digital release of our TIRnRR compilations), and as a performer, Keith has been one of us from the get-go. Yet Keith had never been on a TIRnRR compilation; his musical co-hort Chris Richards was on Volume 1, but although there's always been mutual interest, the timing's never worked out for us to claim a track by any of Keith's combos, from The Phenomenal Cats to The Legal Matters. We were determined to get Keith on Volume 4.
The sequence that followed was a happy, serendipitous toppling of dominoes. Conrad, The Legal Matters' 2016 release on Omnivore Recordings, gathered deserved buzz in the pure pop world, so we wanted them represented on TIRnRR # 4. The group--Keith, Chris, and Andy Reed--didn't have any new tracks to spare, so we were gonna go with either a fresh, unique radio edit of "Short Term Memory" from Conrad or a new live-in-the-studio rendition of that song. That didn't work out. Keith suggested we use one of the cover tunes The Legal Matters had previously recorded for digital release. I countered that maybe, at long last, it was time for Keith to cash in his dibs from years ago: it was time for The Legal Matters to cover "Make Something Happen."
That also didn't work out.
Within the time restraints of compiling TIRnRR # 4, Andy Reed would simply be unable to tear himself away from other pressing commitments to record anything new before our deadline. We found another exquisite, pre-existing Legal Matters track for our compilation.
But Keith still wanted to do "Make Something Happen" nearly as much as I wanted him to do it. So he called on some other music-makin' buddies to make it so. Keith's also a member of The Slapbacks, an informal combo that exists to craft cover tunes for various projects; The Slapbacks have a terrific version of "That's What The Little Girls Do" on Not The Knack, a forthcoming 2-CD tribute to The Knack from the good folks at Zero Hour Records. Keith assembled his Slapbacks--my old bud John Borack of Popdudes and Goldmine magazine, Herb Eimerman of The Nerk Twins and The Britannicas, Torbjörn Petersson of Tor Guides, Keith himself singing lead, plus Karen Basset of The Pandoras on backing vocals--and Keith made something happen. Man, did he ever make something happen!
The result is just gorgeous, glorious. I think everyone knows that I'm possibly the world's most insistent Flashcubes fan. The Flashcubes are my favorite power pop band, they rank with The Beatles and The Ramones in the troika of my top rock 'n' roll groups, and I've long wished they enjoyed the sort of mass notoriety and adulation I think they deserve. "Make Something Happen" was first recorded by Gary Frenay's post-Flashcubes band Screen Test in the '80s, then recorded again by the reunited 'Cubes for their 2003 album Brilliant. It's a hit record, no matter how few the number of people who've heard it. Thanks to Keith Klingensmith, and thanks to The Slapbacks, more people will get to hear it now. Proud? Yeah. Damned straight, I'm proud.
Now: someone get in touch with The Monkees.
8. P. HUX: "Better Than Good"
Falling in love.
If we can believe pop songs--and what kind of world would this be if we couldn't believe pop songs?--then we don't edge cautiously into love; we don't dip our toe into love's metaphorical pool to see if the water is as cold as ice, and willing to sacrifice...well, never mind that comparison. But the point remains that we don't try to gently acclimate ourselves to love's tentative reward, at least in pop songs. We fall. We fall deeply, deliriously, deliciously, desperately, divinely. We fall face-first, heart stapled to sleeve, and hope for the best. And we can all live happily ever after, at least for the 3:12 duration of a decent pop song.
Parthenon Huxley should be a household name, like Ellen Degeneres or General Electric. His 1988 album Sunny Nights is an underappreciated pop classic, and it includes a superb track called "Double Our Numbers" that is occasionally The Greatest Record Ever Made. (An infinite number of terrific tracks can each be The Greatest Record Ever Made, as long as they take turns.) I caught up with the LP some time a bit after the fact, but I've been a fan ever since. Parthenon subsequently formed a group called P. Hux, and also joined Electric Light Orchestra II (later The Orchestra). Under all of these names, Parthenon has continued to release decent pop songs to delight lovers and would-be lovers alike.
Parthenon's participation in This Is Rock 'n' Roll Radio, Volume 4 is the result of happy happenstance, just like falling in love should be. Mr. Huxley was among the many fine pop acts interviewed by our buddy Ken Sharp for Ken's most recent power pop history Play On! Power Pop Heroes Volume 4, and Parthenon suggested that Dana and I oughtta play all of the acts in the book on one of our weekly editions of TIRnRR. We did; but of equal importance, Parthenon's idea also inspired us to beg for his participation in our new compilation CD. The negotiations were brutal:
DANA & CARL: Hey Parthenon! Ya wanna be on our CD?
Or something like that.
Parthenon granted us the pick of any track from his post-Sunny Nights career. That gave us a lot of worthy options. But as we went through the back catalog, my often-fickle gaze was transfixed by a song called "Better Than Good" (from the 2007 P. Hux album Kiss The Monster), a stunner that just knocked us out like the sweetest, perfect figure amidst a sweet and pretty crowd. Falling. The song was irresistible, and all the more remarkable because it is such a magnificent track, yet it's not one of Parthenon's better-known cuts. It should be. It should be on the radio, in your collection, on your iPod, seared into emotion and memory like the one true love we all crave. And it needed to be on This Is Rock 'n' Roll Radio, Volume 4.
It would be unfair to say that real life is no fun. The fantasy world of pop music intersects with the mortal, physical world we know, each influencing the other on an ongoing basis. In reality, we know that it's sometimes prudent to wait, to review, to weigh the pros and cons of action versus inaction. But in pop songs, we believe, and we act. Sometimes. Even in song, there are tales of regret over missed opportunities, and in our lives there are true stories of love at first sight. I'm certain that it happens all the time.
"Better Than Good" buzzes with the optimism of love on sunny nights. Good things come to those who wait, I know/I would wait if I thought I could/But I can't wait another day, 'cause you're better than good. And that's it, isn't? That's not just the appeal of a pop song, but the core quality of what love's unfolding promise can mean to us, how it can motivate us, why we want it, the vital importance of reaching for it in its precise, fleeting moment. We fall. For our own good, or own detriment, we fall because that's the only way to get where we want to be. And that's much better than good.
9. IRENE PEÑA: "Must've Been Good"
Irene Peña is a sweetie. Her songs are sweet (even when they imply mature grit beneath the sweet veneer), and her public persona is sweet (even as her dedication to her craft remains determined and steadfast). Our recognition of Irene's overall sweet-as-cake demeanor derives from our interactions with her, especially when we play her music on This Is Rock 'n' Roll Radio with Dana & Carl. She seems surprised. She seems delighted. She is, one suspects, fully as sweet as she seems.
Irene's debut album Nothing To Do With You was released in 2011, but we didn't get hip to her sweet pop magic until late last year, when our friend John Borack informed us that he'd been drumming on some of Irene's new recordings, and we should maybe oughtta check 'em out. The first track we heard was "Must've Been Good," a mesmerizing number that immediately grooved its lithe and winning way onto our playlist. It was the first teaser track for Irene's 2017 EP Trying Not To Smile, and we dutifully and happily played subsequent tracks as they became available.
I became a patron of Irene on Patreon, the same crowdsourcing platform used by Boppin' (Like The Hip Folks Do). John and Irene followed "Must've Been Good" with more from Trying Not To Smile: "Pieces Of You." "Not From Around Here." "Ridiculous." All great. We asked Irene to be on our next This Is Rock 'n' Roll Radio compilation, and she sweetly granted us permission. With that, This Is Rock 'n' Roll Radio, Volume 4 was all set to include Irene Peña's superb track "Not From Around Here."
Wait. What...? That ain't "Must've Been Good!"
I don't remember if we ever announced "Not From Around Here" as part of TIRnRR # 4. It was one of a few instances on the compilation where we originally selected one track by an artist, and then switched to a different track by the same artist. My original thinking in this case was that the more uptempo "Not From Around Here" would be a better fit for a (nominally) power pop collection. It's a swell track, and it did indeed hold its own alongside other rockin' TIRnRR # 4 tracks.
But as I was listening to a (very) early playlist for the CD, my lovely wife Brenda mentioned that sure, it all sounded good, but there didn't seem to be much variety. This wasn't supposed to be a spotlight for ballads or dirges, mind you, but shouldn't there be, like, an overall vibe that goes together but allows each track some individuality?
Well. Yeah. Damn it, yeah.
Brenda's casual observation unlocked our perception of what this compilation should be. And the key to this revelation was replacing "Not From Around Here" with the simply gorgeous, hypnotic appeal of "Must've Been Good." It is not an exaggeration to say that this substitution altered the course of TIRnRR # 4, and altered it for the better. The change precipitated a couple of other track changes, and dictated how the album should be sequenced. This Is Rock 'n' Roll Radio, Volume 4 is ultimately an even better album than it would have been, thanks to Irene Peña's "Must've Been Good."
Dana and I have a fairly simple concept of what This Is Rock 'n' Roll Radio compilations should be. Yes, they should be collections of great songs, and each track should be outstanding on its own. The tracks also have to flow together, so that a fan will want to listen to the whole album, start to finish, and be reluctant to skip any individual track. We're Pet Sounds crossed with a K-Tel record, Rubber Soul meets Ronco, The Ramones and friends on Adam VIII. E pluribus unum, motherlovers. I think we finally achieved that goal on 2013's Volume 3, and perfected it on Volume 4.
Irene Peña is a sweetie. On a recent edition of TIRnRR, we opened a set with "Must've Been Good," and then played "Not From Around Here" two songs later (bookending a George Jones track, because that's what we do). Intrepid TIRnRR listener Jeffrey Raskin posted in our chat group, "Was listening while driving in 104 degree heat through the Central Valley. ["Must've Been Good"] came on and it instantly cooled down. Great song, awesome voice." Irene was also in the chat, and expressed amazement that someone would say such nice things about one of her songs. Jeffrey added, "Absolutely! Then 'Not From Around Here' came on, and I thought 'There's that voice again!'"
I believe Irene may have blushed. Her humility and glee were palpable, even when filtered through Facebook comments. "Y'all can just make a girl smiiiiile!" Sweet.
10. MICHAEL OLIVER & THE SACRED BAND FEATURING DAVE MERRITT: "You Won't Do"
Credit the assist on this one to Ms. Elizabeth Racz. She may be surprised to learn that she earned it.
Elizabeth--aka "Baby"--was officially listed as our A & R Gal on our previous compilation, 2013's This Is Rock 'n' Roll Radio, Volume 3. On TIRnRR # 3, Elizabeth helped us get (or just flat-out dragged in all on her own) Uncle Green, Stephen Lawrenson, The Sun Sawed In 1/2, The Connection, Kurt Baker, and Sounds Like Digging, and those are just the ones I remember specifically. She also got us Graham Alexander, though a last-minute complication prevented him from appearing on the finished CD. Baby was a whirlwind presence in the making of that CD, and we couldn't have done it without her.
During the construction of TIRnRR # 3, Baby suggested at least a few other possibilities for us to consider, and one of those possibilities was Michael Oliver. Michael was no stranger to TIRnRR; Pop And Circumstances, the 1999 album by Buffalo's Phenomenal Pop Combo Michael Oliver and Go, Dog, Go!, was a consistent fave rave in the early days of this show, and we likewise fell hard for "Love While It Lasted," a gem from the 2011 album Yin & Yanxiety by Michael Oliver & the Sacred Band. Baby said Michael would love to be on our compilation. Well, Baby, we'd love to have him!
Unfortanately, although we reached out to Michael immediately, the timing was against us; he didn't have a track we could use within our deadline. That was a shame. I don't recall ever seeing any of Michael's tracks appear on anyone's compilation CD, and we woulda loved to have been the first. Or the third. Or the hundredth. Michael makes great records, and any comp is lucky to have him, whenever whatever.
Due to purely logistical reasons, Baby hasn't been directly involved in the creation of our current project, This Is Rock 'n' Roll Radio, Volume 4. It's been a busy year, Baby people, though the lovely 'n' vivacious Ms. Racz did suggest a few possibilities for us (Lisa Mychols, for one). But we also remembered her petition on behalf of Michael Oliver in 2013, so we got back in touch with him. He replied that yeah, he did have a couple of tracks he was working on, and he could get us something within a few weeks.
He sent us a song the next day.
He sent us a song the next day, and it was produced by Ducky Carlisle.
Lemme give you a baseball analogy: I felt like a major league pitcher, with a batting average of .006, stepping to the plate in the bottom of the ninth and hitting a grand slam. Rounding third he was headin' for home, he was a brown-eyed handsome man.
Ducky Carlisle is The Mark Of Quality to us, from his days as drummer for local heroes The Ohms, through his sterling work as producer and occasional deputy member of The Flashcubes, and his ongoing mastery of studio wizardry on roughly a gazillion fine pop albums. This song came with a pedigree! An unexpected pedigree, even.
But Ducky's participation wasn't the best part. My jaw dropped the first time I listened to this new song called "You Won't Do." Oh. My. God! As great as Michael's previous work had been, "You Won't Do" reached a whole new level of sheer pop transcendence. This was a hit single. If no else ever heard it, it would be a crime, but it would still sound like a big hit single. I contacted Dana and Kool Kat Musik's Ray Gianchetti and effectively said, Fellas, we just received a track that single-handedly justifies the existence of This Is Rock 'n' Roll Radio, Volume 4.
I was not exaggerating. I meant every syllable, and I still do.
If you're not familiar with Michael Oliver's music, we humbly but firmly recommend you check out everything he's done in the past, and keep your ears perked for anything he does in the future. Credit the assist to Baby. Credit the pedigree to Ducky. Credit the magic to Michael and his crew. It will do just fine, thanks. It will do just fine.
11. THE RUBINOOS: "Nowheresville"
Think back to high school.
Charles Dickens might have described it as the best of times and the worst of times, if he had been an American teenager instead of being, y'know...Dickens. It's a time of crushes, lust, bravado, insecurity, promise, doubt, achievement, failure, secrets, lies, hope, futility, stolen kisses, broken hearts, acceptance, rejection, and exams filled in with a # 2 pencil. It is life in microcosm, all its inherent drama heightened by the fact that you're 17. You're a big man on campus. You're a square peg that fits in precisely nowhere. In with the in crowd, out with the outsiders--either way, this is your life. The best of times. The worst of times.
The music we listen to as teens can resonate throughout our lives, etched in memory alongside every eternal snub and accolade. In 1977, I was a seventeen-year-old senior at a high school in Syracuse's northern suburbs. I liked oldies better than most then-current music--The Beatles, The Monkees, The Dave Clark Five, The Animals, and my recent discovery, The Kinks--but I was also looking for new. I liked KISS. I liked "Cherry Baby" by Starz, and "Isn't It Time" by The Babys, "Carry On Wayward Son" by Kansas, Boston's debut LP, Sweet's Desolation Boulevard, and Rumours by Fleetwood Mac. Spurred by intriguing things I read in Phonograph Record Magazine, I would become a fan of The Ramones, The Sex Pistols, and Blondie before the end of the year, as this high school senior transformed into college freshman. But before The Ramones, or the Pistols, or my nascent hormonal devotion to Blondie's Debbie Harry, one group stood as the great teen hope. That group was The Rubinoos.
The Rubinoos were young, not much older than I was. They were on the radio, with a hit cover of Tommy James & the Shondells' "I Think We're Alone Now," and (on freer-form WOUR-FM) with a delectable album track called "Wouldn't It Be Nice." They were on TV, lip-syncing "I Think We're Alone Now" and "Rock And Roll Is Dead" on American Bandstand. They were revered in the pages of Phonograph Record Magazine, and they were one of the subjects of My First Rock Journalism. Their eponymous debut album was an absolutely essential purchase for me. God, I loved this band. That has never changed over the ensuing crashing and passing of four freakin' decades. I love The Rubinoos. I will always love The Rubinoos.
The Rubinoos only lasted long enough to release two full-length albums in the '70s; their second, Back To The Drawing Board!, included the all-time power pop classic "I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend," the # 1 Top O' The Pops Blockbuster Hit Single that paradoxically failed to chart at all. But The Rubinoos returned in later years, as strong as ever, the spark of youth undimmed by time, fortified by the certainty of experience, yet still connected to an exuberance that can surely mature, but need never age. They are still boys who fall in love with girls. Girls still break their hearts. The boys still fall in love again.
For about as long as we've been doing This Is Rock 'n' Roll Radio compilations, The Rubinoos have been near the top of our wish list. We could not connect on previous attempts. Then suddenly, I received a message from Rubes guitarist Tommy Dunbar (which ranks on my spectrum of pleasant surprises up there with the day in 1994 when I got an unexpected phone call from Joey Ramone). Looking at TIRnRR playlists, Tommy had noticed we were using what he felt was an incorrectly-mastered source for the group's '70s recordings; preferring the best of times to the worst of times, Tommy sent me the boxed set Everything You Always Wanted To Know About The Rubinoos, and that has been the show's resource for vintage Rubinoos ever since.
As noted, though, latter-day Rubinoos is just as good as Me Decade Rubinoos. So I asked Tommy for some of that latter-day Rubinoos mojo for a new TIRnRR compilation, pretty please. He responded that they didn't really have anything new or exclusive, but granted permission for us to sift through the existing catalog and pick out what we wanted.
The sheer volume of A-list choices was dizzying. We didn't even consider any of their '70s-era gems, figuring that most pop fans worth the stars in their eyes had to already own at least some of that. Perhaps something from Automatic Toaster? That album's wonderful "I Pity The Fool" had made our year-end countdown of most-played songs in the not-too-distant past. Paleophonic? Twist Pop Sin? Biff-Bop-Boing? 45? Finally, we elected to snag something from the 2013 This Is The Rubinoos EP. Although available digitally, that set had only been issued on CD as a limited-edition Spanish release. To many of our listeners, any track from that EP would almost be like brand-new.
From This Is The Rubinoos, we initially selected a track called "This Is Good," a frothy li'l pop tune whose title provides its own spot-on review. But another song on the EP kept haunting the ol' consciousness. "Nowheresville" can best be described as pop noir, a shotgun marriage--well, more like a .45 automatic marriage--between a hardboiled crime paperback and Tiger Beat, Mickey Spillane meets Shaun Cassidy. And even that sells it short. It is a fully-realized slice of pure pulp, made pretty in spite of itself by the talent of The Rubinoos. Jon Rubin's unmistakable, irresistible voice soars, Tommy Dunbar's guitar twirls tastefully, while the lyrics could serve as a summary of something published by Gold Medal Books in the '50s or Hard Case Crime today. The one they call Honey was slurring her words/"Oh, why should we have to cut this thing in thirds?/I know the perfect patsy/Yeah, a pretty little bird/Who better to take the fall in Nowheresville?" Man, I would read that book, battered cover to battered cover, right now.
The juxtaposition of these extremes is somehow natural and flawless. How did The Rubinoos pull this off? In the words of Mike Hammer in Spillane's I, The Jury: it was easy. And it was an easy decision for us to replace "This Is Good" with "Nowheresville" on This Is Rock 'n' Roll Radio, Volume 4.
I recently attended my 40th anniversary high school reunion. I have not generally looked back at those years with much fondness, but my attitude and my awareness are evolving, and evolving for the better. There were friendships that have lasted, positive memories that have endured, even through the crucible of teen miasma and all that followed. High school may not have been the nowheresville I once insisted it was. The best of times, the worst of times. Then and now, The Rubinoos remain a cherished part of the best of times. Who better to catch our fall in Nowheresville?
12. STEPFORD KNIVES: "Her Reputation"
As noted previously, Jamie Hoover was the first member of The Spongetones with whom I ever had any contact. This was probably in the mid-'90s, during the period between the sudden demise of the short-lived first Dana & Carl radio series We're Your Friends For Now in 1992 and the kickstarting of whatever the hell it is we've been doing on This Is Rock 'n' Roll Radio since the end of '98. (What the hell are we doing here anyway? Where are my damned glasses? And why doesn't any radio station play The Ramones and George Jones and The Spinners and The Partridge Family? Oh, wait--that is what we're doing. Carry on....)
I think Jamie and I were in some sort of communication before or after the release of Letters From The Desk Of Count S. Van DeLecki, the debut release by The Van DeLecki's, which was Jamie with Bryan Shumate, and which was really, really good. By the time we got around to doing This Is Rock 'n' Roll Radio compilations in 2004, Jamie was working with Bill Lloyd, and they gave us a track ("Screen Time") from their joint effort Paparazzi to use on TIRnRR # 1.
We've continued to play Jamie's various combos and incarnations on the show, from The Spongetones through Jamie & Steve (with fellow 'Tone Steve Stoeckel) and solo projects. Jamie's most recent nom du bop is Stepford Knives, a partnership between Jamie and Otis Hughes. They've only released one song so far, a winnin' little number called "I Don't Want Her (Anymore)," but we jumped on it immediately for airplay on TIRnRR.
As we went through the process of slappin' together TIRnRR # 4, with very few slots remaining, we decided we wanted Stepford Knives on the album. We contacted Jamie, with the presumption that we would use "I Don't Want Her (Anymore)." However, use of that track was complicated by a question about the publishing--the song was written by the late David Enloe, with whom Jamie had played in a band called The Woods--so we needed an alternative.
Jamie had another Stepford Knives track, "Her Reputation," which he co-wrote with Otis. Jamie warned us that it was "more FM in nature. It may or may not fit." It was indeed a bit different from the pop-rush stuff we often favor, but it had a groove, a style. It had possibilities.
Remember a few entries back, when we said how the decision to switch from Irene Peña's uptempo "Not From Around Here" to the slower, more seductive sound of her track "Must've Been Good" changed the course of this compilation? "Her Reputation" follows that change in direction. The track wouldn't really have worked in the context of our original plan. But now? Man, it sings. We'll talk later about the importance and meaning of specific sequencing in building a better pop compilation, but I'll tell ya now: the thought of moving from Irene's sad but luxurious "Must've Been Good" into Michael Oliver's swoon-worthy "You Won't Do," The Rubinoos' crime drama "Nowheresville," and the simmering, despondent desperation of Stepford Knives' "Her Reputation," and then flowing into the jangly catharsis of The Grip Weeds' "Strange Bird"...!
Well, thinking of that sequence just made me giddy. We had to have "Her Reputation" in that precise place. Book it, lads--Stepford Knives are on This Is Rock 'n' Roll Radio, Volume 4 .
I confess that I was not at all familiar with Jamie's partner Otis Hughes. His credits apparently include a stint as bassist for a metal grunge group called Animal Bag, and more recently with M4 Messenger (a group which deserves props for writing a song called "The Da Vinci Co-Ed"). An eclectic mix, combing this c.v. with that of a Spongetone? Awrighty. It works out just fine, and Otis' simultaneously impassioned and world-weary lead vocal on "Her Reputation" delivers this sumptuous tale of sin and elusive salvation. On June 4th of 2017, This Is Rock 'n' Roll Radio became the first radio station anywhere to play "Her Reputation," and we're proud to have it on TIRnRR # 4. You other stations? Get on the ball now. Your reputation's at stake.
13. THE GRIP WEEDS: "Strange Bird"
The Grip Weeds have certainly been a long-standing, consistent favorite on This Is Rock 'n' Roll Radio for many years now. This is their second appearance on a TIRnRR compilation, but I also heard the group for the first time via a different compilation. Credit for that goes to legendary power pop performer (and fellow TIRnRR # 4 participant) Paul Collins.
Collins' connection was tangential, really. A label called Wagon Wheel Records was formed in the early '90s by Collins and Rick Wagner, and Wagon Wheel released The Paul Collins Band's From Town To Town CD in 1993, and subsequently also reissued Collins' first two classic Beat albums. Wagon Wheel's final CD release (I think) before shutting down in the late '90s was a 1995 pop compilation called Pop Matters. Pop Matters served as my introduction to the music of Jeremy (whose own label JAM Recordings would eventually put out the first two TIRnRR comps), The Tearaways, Big Hello, The Rockinghams, and The Hippycrickets, and my first Cockeyed Ghost CD track (that group's Adam Marsland had already treated me to some prime Cockeyed Ghost material on mix tapes). Pop Matters opened with a song called "Salad Days," and that was the first time I heard The Grip Weeds.
Beyond that, the chronology of my rapid and total indoctrination into the blissful Grip of Weedsmania blurs. I may have become more interested via the group's connection with The Rooks, another of the great pop bands of the '90s. Rooks guitarist Kristin Pinell was (and is) also in The Grip Weeds. Kristin's husband Kurt Reil was (and is) the drummer and lead singer for The Grip Weeds, and he played with The Rooks, too. I don't know whether or not guitarist Rick Reil also served any Rooks time, but either way: The Grip Weeds seemed like a band I oughtta know.
And getting to know The Grip Weeds was its own sweet reward.
The Grip Weeds made their TIRnRR debut on our third show, 1/10/99, with a spin of "Out Of Today" from their debut album House Of Vibes. That was also the Grip Weeds track that later appeared on This Is Rock 'n' Roll Radio, Volume 2. We've never really ceased playing them since then. Why should we? Why would we? Across a span of great Grip Weeds albums--The Sound Is In You, Summer Of A Thousand Years, Giant On The Beach, Strange Change Machine, How I Won The War, the best-of set Infinite Soul, the holiday offering Under The Influence Of Christmas, the in-concert Speed Of Live, the rarities collection Inner Grooves--the group has given us a wealth of rockin' pop treasure to play with, and to just plain play. "Every Minute." "I Believe." "Save My Life." "Rainbow Quartz." An ace cover of The Knickerbockers' "Lies." "It Ain't No Big Thing, Babe" (a particular favorite of Dana's). Two different versions of "Rainy Day." "Truth (Is Hard To Take)." These are but a handful of the terrific Grip Weeds tracks that have earned repeated berths on TIRnRR playlists.
We've also played a song called "Strange Bird," which was on the second album, The Sound Is In You. The "Strange Bird" you hear now on TIRnRR # 4 is a different, unique version. Before The Grip Weeds recut the track for that 2003 album, "Strange Bird" was originally the B-side of a German single release of "She Brings The Rain," recorded before Kristin was even a member of the band; Tim Mesko was lead guitarist at the time. The original B-side has never appeared on CD...
...and it still hasn't! The version you hear on TIRnRR # 4 has been remixed, with additional instrumentation, to create a brand-new version that makes its interplanetary debut right here right now. Kurt says this version makes the song sound like he originally envisioned, and we're proud to offer the pop world this public service of lettin' you hear the damned thing.
The Grips Weeds are a treasure. They kick ass live, too; Dana and I had a chance to see 'em in Rochester on the How I Won The War tour (with special guest Ray Paul), and The Grip Weeds deliver, man. If you've never heard them, we firmly recommend you gather everything they've ever released directly from the band, and beg their forgiveness for taking so long to get hip. But it's okay. Music has no expiration date. I discovered Chuck Berry and Buddy Holly in the early '70s, and that music was as fresh to me then (and now) as it woulda been if I'd been spinning 45s in the fabulous '50s. We always say: right now is the best time ever to be a rockin' pop fan, because you have everything that came before, everything in the moment, and everything yet to come. Turn it up. That's what it's there for.
Of course, if you haven't heard The Grip Weeds, that means you haven't heard This Is Rock 'n' Roll Radio with Dana & Carl. We've missed you. Join us. These strange birds are taking flight.
14. POPDUDES: "She Is Funny (In That Way)"
Life is what happens when you're busy making other plans.
John M. Borack and I both started freelancing for Goldmine magazine at roughly the same time, in late 1986. In short order, we (along with Ken Sharp) became Goldmine's pop guys, then-editor Jeff Tamarkin's go-tos when he needed someone to write about Dwight Twilley or The Flamin' Groovies. John and I pestered Jeff for years to let us do an all-power pop issue of GM, a tabloid project which finally saw the light of day in the magazine's January 5, 1996 issue. We worked independently, and I betcha I can speak for John when I say that we were delighted with the final result. The issue sold well, letters of comment were positive and encouraging, and we took pride in a job well done.
(Few remember that John was, I'm pretty sure, the first writer to cover The Flashcubes in Goldmine, with a review of 'Cubes bassist Gary Frenay's cassette anthology The Gary Frenay Songbook. John reviewed the first Flashcubes CD Bright Lights after I recused myself from the task. In the late '90s, both of us were thinking of pitching a regular pure pop column to Goldmine, and we briefly discussed combining our efforts into a printed pop chat to be called The Jangling Conversation; the editor [Mike Metzger, I think?] expressed tentative interest, but he wasn't editor long enough for it to happen, and we let the matter drop.)
Me? I got a blog. What's it to ya?
John's also a drummer. A writin' drummer! Or a drummin' writer--I can never keep the billing straight. John's combo Popdudes features a revolving and evolving cast of ace players, and they've recorded tracks for a number of compilations over the years. Robbie Rist sang lead on the two Popdudes tracks that have appeared on previous TIRnRR collections ("Desperation Time" on Volume 1, "High" on Volume 3), and there really oughtta be a full-length Popdudes album already. I'm told there will be such a thing soon, and I recommend you buy that when it happens.
In the mean time, John offered us an unreleased track for This Is Rock 'n' Roll Radio, Volume 4. "She Is Funny (In That Way)" was written by guitarist and lead singer Torbjörn Petersson of the Swedish pop group Tor Guides, and originally recorded as a side project involving Tor, John, Karen Basset (of The Pandoras), and the lovably ubiquitous Keith Klingensmith. Man, YouTube gets all the great tracks! But that's a Popdudes kind of line-up right there, and John wisely deemed the track too essential to languish in anonymity. It will appear on the eventual Popdudes album, but we're thrilled to give it its first CD release right here.
With this track, John achieves what I believe to be an all-time TIRnRR disc MVP status, or really co-MVP with our Keith Klingensmith. I guess I'd have to check the records to really be sure, but what the hell fun is that? Hyperbole rules! John is the percussion stylist on three TIRnRR # 4 tracks, by The Slapbacks, Irene Peña, and Popdudes; Keith appears here with The Slapbacks, Popdudes, and The Legal Matters. So John and Keith are the first musicians to ever play on more than two tracks within a single TIRnRR disc. Yes, of course that's a milestone worthy of large bold type on their resumes--they're Popdudes! (If we count TIRnRR show bumpers, then John and Keith also need to share their virtual trophy with Bruce Gordon, who appears here with Pop Co-Op and Mr. Encrypto & the Cyphers, plus the "Harmony Cathedral" ID spot. I say they make Bruce an honorary Popdude--think of the great music that would come outta that!)
John still writes for Goldmine. I stopped in 2006, feeling frustrated and increasingly disinterested in continuing. This had nothing to do with anyone at Goldmine; I have only good wishes for the magazine that meant so much to my development as a writer. But I never felt as comfortable in my role after Jeff Tamarkin left. It wasn't fun anymore, so I stopped doing it. I nearly stopped writing altogether, really only bothering with TIRnRR and the occasional liner-notes project. When I realized how much I missed writing, I began Boppin' (Like The Hip Folks Do) in 2016. The blog fulfills that need for me just like Goldmine used to.
And John keeps fighting the good fight on behalf of pop music. He keeps writing. He keeps playing. He keeps the faith. He does all this while maintaining his more important duties as husband and father, brother, manager, pundit, and--for all I know--the finest swordsman in all of France. Okay, maybe not that last one. Though, y'know, maybe. He balances his responsibilities and his passions, and makes things better. Pop, dude. This dude is still at it, and he's still got it. Thanks, John. Life is what happens. It's funny in that way.
15. JOSEPH R. BALINT JR: "Civitas Romanas [TIRnRR ID]"
Somewhere, in a distant and exotic land, maybe there are community radio stations that don't perpetually teeter on the brink of financial oblivion. But that's not how it is in Syracuse.
Syracuse Community Radio was the original home of This Is Rock 'n' Roll Radio, a partnership that predates TIRnRR's first broadcast at the end of 1998. SCR operated WXXE-FM in rural Fenner, NY, where its weak signal was heard mostly by the local cattle (who, oddly enough, turned out to be big fans of both The Cowsills and The Dead Milkmen). Hoping to connect with a few human listeners, SCR scraped up loose change and empty promises to start a webcast. WXXE could no longer afford music programming, so it switched to an all-talk format, leaving the music shows as online options only. Financial woes scuttled the webcast in early 2007, prompting a divorce from SCR and the formation of TIRnRR's new streaming home on the independent Westcott Radio. We later reconciled with SCR, and have effectively joined hands as the new Spark Syracuse, which should commence FM broadcasting in Syracuse soon.
Our incessant, near-crushing need for cash flow means we have a tin cup in our hands as often as we hold a microphone. Community radio is, by definition, listener supported. We can't sell advertising time. Bake sales don't really cut it when we need to raise thousands of dollars, so we solicit donations from those who either love us, or are at least willing to sort of tolerate us. Trying to concoct a scheme to accumulate some coin, we emulated our heroes, The Monkees:
MICKY DOLENZ: I've got it!
OTHER MONKEES: What?
MICKY DOLENZ: A brilliant idea!
OTHER MONKEES: What is it?
MICKY DOLENZ: No, that's what we need, a brilliant idea!
Our brilliant idea was Who Needs Dana & Carl?, allowing listeners who donate $100 or more the opportunity to program the music for one three-hour radio show. And that, in roundabout fashion, is how we came to meet Mr. Joseph R. Balint Jr.
Joe arrived in Syracuse as plus-one on the arm of his charming wife, Eleanor Cook. I don't have any recollection whatsoever of how we first came into contact with North Carolina's phenomenal pop couple, but Eleanor's been listening to us for years, and she's been an active and enthusiastic participant in the show's Sunday night Facebook chat group. Eleanor donated to the first Who Needs Dana & Carl? promotion (whenever that was), and she submitted a mighty fine playlist for us to program in the studio. She donated again in 2013, and this time her travel plans already included a visit to, I think, the Buffalo area. Since she and Joe would be just one area code away from Syracuse anyway, a Sunday night side trip to Westcott Radio seemed in order.
On June 2nd, 2013, Dana and I got to meet Eleanor and Joe at the glorified closet we call a studio. Eleanor took over a mic and both CD players for an effervescent 'n' engaging edition of The Best Three Hours Of Radio On The Whole Friggin' Planet. Joe was mostly in the background, diggin' the tunes and the vibe. And, at one point late in the proceedings, Joe decided he wanted to take a brief, active role. In so doing, he entered the realm of TIRnRR history.
Eleanor said Joe wanted to do a show ID. Fine by us. Joe took the mic, and Joe testified:
Ladies and gentlemen! Friends and neighbors! Civitas Romanas! This is Rock 'n' Roll Radio! And, for the particular purpose on this particular planet, it is excellantum ... maximus ... friggamus!
We were stunned. I think I may have applauded. My high school Latin teacher mighta been horrified if he'd heard. We were simply tickled. We now play Joe's ID nearly every week. From seeming happenstance to joyous habit, it's now a welcome fixture on TIRnRR.
We used to say that community radio, particularly our community radio station, relies on the kindness of strangers, like a rock 'n' roll Blanche DuBois. But it's not true. We rely on the kindness of friends. We rely on friends like Eleanor and Joe. Excellantum. Maximus. Friggamus.
16. RONNIE DARK: "'70s Van"
I first met Ronnie Dark at a record show. Everyone who knows Ronnie at all will respond to that revelation with a heartfelt Duh. It's like saying you met Batman in Gotham City, or The Flintstones in Bedrock. A record show is the natural habitat of a vinyl hound like Ronnie Dark; of course we met at a record show.
I don't remember what year that was. But lovely wife Brenda and I had set up a table at the semi-annual record show in Liverpool, NY, and this younger guy came up and sifted through our LPs and 45s. His enthusiasm was palpable, his demeanor friendly and infectious. We chatted as he made his purchases--only thing I remember for sure among his selections was a 45 of "I May Be Too Young" by Suzi Quatro--and he introduced himself. Dark. Ronnie Dark. Somewhere, I'm sure, the guitar lick from Dr. No played.
Ronnie talked about his radio show, The Wax Museum with Ronnie Dark, which airs Sunday nights on WVOA-FM. I mentioned that I also co-hosted a Sunday night radio show called This Is Rock 'n' Roll Radio with Dana & Carl, and Ronnie said he'd heard of us. We exchanged contact information and mutual hype, and he hauled his new vinyl prizes away.
I subsequently tuned in to The Wax Museum to check things out. Whoa, whatta show! Ronnie and his co-hosts John "The Commander" Walsh and Mike "The Night Owl" Adams are righteously unrepentant music fans, and their love of records translates easily into an irresistible radio program. Ronnie's all-time favorite group is Paul Revere & the Raiders (with Styx a presumed runner-up), his favorite album is Portraits by The Buckinghams, and these sounds mix with surf, pop, prog, hard rock, R & B, rockabilly, garage, soul, new wave, country, bubblegum, and so-called "guilty pleasures" (even though there ain't no such thing) to create a simply intoxicating listening experience.
The Wax Museum and This Is Rock 'n' Roll Radio are technically in competition with each other, since we're both on Sunday nights, and overlap directly during the 9:00 hour. But we all regularly piddle on that silly notion with gleeful scorn. They do a great radio show, and we celebrate their accomplishments, just as they celebrate ours. We have crossed the shows over many times, with Dana and I visiting WVOA and Ronnie, John, and Mike squeezing into the palatial Westcott Radio hovel. Hell, Mike even does a show called The Record Farm on Westcott Radio, and John used to do one called Roscoe's Attic. Jeez, I wish Marvel and DC Comics got along together as well as we get along with the lads at The Wax Museum.
I did not know initially that Ronnie was also a musician. His father, Ron Lauback Sr., is a veteran of the Syracuse music scene, and long overdue for induction into our local music hall of fame. Ronnie is a singer and accomplished multi-instrumentalist; he plays with his Dad in the legendary Syracuse group Dan Elliott & the Monterays, as well as in his own hard rock group Darkroom. In the summer of 2016, Ronnie stood in for the late Norm Mattice, former lead singer of The Richards, in a rockin', emotional tribute to our fallen brother at the BRIGHT LIGHTS! live show hosted by Dana and me. It was quite a night.
In the first decade of this Tomorrowland we call the 21st century, Ronnie also recorded some solo albums. This is a nice batch of overlooked, largely unheard material, given only limited release under the titles Topanga Windows, Music From The Grey Room, and Irkville Rd. Someday, I hope someone has the good sense to reissue all of it. I was particularly taken with a delightful pure pop song called "Sarah," and we made absolutely certain to include that great track on our 2013 compilation This Is Rock 'n' Roll Radio, Volume 3. (Kool Kat Musik's exclusive bonus disc for that set included an additional Ronnie Dark track, "Stephanie Says," and the whole expanded release is now available to purchase as a digital download from the good folks at Futureman Records.)
As Dana and I were prepping this new TIRnRR # 4, Ronnie mentioned that he was remastering one of those older tracks, a flat-out rocker called "'70s Van." Our compilation was basically booked already, with little wiggle room. But man, this little number kicked, propelled by drummer Kevin Bennett's effective channeling of Mr. Keith Moon. We had to sweat out the running times for a few tracks we'd committed to using but hadn't received yet, and we had to sub out one artist's track for a slightly shorter alternate track, but we made room. Ronnie Dark is a full-fledged part of This Is Rock 'n' Roll Radio, Volume 4.
If you don't know Ronnie yet, I hope you will. Listen to the churning, but easy-going power of "'70s Van." Go back and listen to the shimmering goodtime vibe of "Sarah," the bop of "Stephanie Says." Listen to our radio shows. Turn it up. Dance. And maybe we'll see you at the record show.
17. THE FLASHCUBES: "No Promise [4 track]"
What is the inspiration that drives us to create?
There are many valid answers, but my preferred answer is that we create to correct something that our imagination and instinct deem incorrect. That's not right, our inner muse may whisper, sweetly or cruelly; You must make it right. So we apply our art and our artifice, our vision, our craft, our ambition, our faith, our bravado, our humility, our sense of elusive balance or seductive chaos, and we re-make what we see into what we think we should see. It's true of the flights of fancy that generate paintings, poetry, literature, music, theater, dance, comedy, sculpture, comics, oratory, and all manner of human artistic expression; it's true of architecture, it should be true of legislation, and it's true of something as prosaic as writing a blog. And, believe it or not, it can even be true of slappin' together a silly little radio show.
It's true of This Is Rock 'n' Roll Radio, anyway. Whether we succeed or whether we fail, TIRnRR manifests from the vague notion that radio--rock 'n' roll radio, hit radio--can be better. We believe this, and that belief drives us. When we started the precursor of TIRnRR in 1992, we believed that radio should be playing The Ramones. We believed that Little Richard, Phil Ochs, Wanda Jackson, Parliament, The Dixie Cups, and Big Star fit comfortably within a single pop format. And, perhaps more than anything else, we believed that Syracuse's own power pop powerhouses The Flashcubes should be international superstars.
And I'll add one more belief as a tangent to that: I believed that "No Promise" by The Flashcubes was The Greatest Record Ever Made.
In 1992, The Flashcubes were a memory, a local band from the late '70s that never quite made it, didn't even get signed, and broke up unknown in 1980. "No Promise" was a song from the group's unreleased demos, traded hand to hand, dream to dream, within a small circle of stubbornly devoted fans. It had recently been released for the first time on a cassette anthology called The Gary Frenay Songbook. Gary was the bassist for The Flashcubes, and he wrote the song as a direct evocation of The Raspberries, a realization of power pop's divine Forms. It was indeed a snappy li'l number. And it should have been a hit.
The Flashcubes were (and are again) Gary, guitarists Paul Armstrong and Arty Lenin, and drummer Tommy Allen. They were my favorite band, and not just in the sense of my favorite band playing bars and nightclubs in Syracuse when I was a teenager; in my pop pantheon, the 'Cubes rivaled The Ramones among then-current acts, and even The Beatles among the all-timers. I honestly don't care if you think that's ridiculous. It's my vision of how things should be.
I've written so much about The Flashcubes. I wrote "Bright Lights, Small City", a history of the 'Cubes that appeared in Goldmine magazine before becoming the liner notes for the group's 1997 anthology CD Bright Lights. I wrote a companion piece for their rarities set A Cellar Full Of Boys. I wrote a short 15th anniversary retrospective for The Syracuse New Times, culled from an interview I did with Paul and Gary. In 2014, I wrote and delivered a speech inducting The Flashcubes into The Syracuse Music Hall Of Fame. I wrote (with Gary) a press release for The Flashcubes' 40th Anniversary Show. And I wrote a fictional history of The Flashcubes, "A Brighter Light In My Mind," imagining a world where everyone knew and appreciated the 'Cubes like I do. We create to correct what is incorrect.
But, long before any of that, my first published piece about The Flashcubes was in 1992, a short song and dance called "Remembering The Flashcubes." I wrote it for Radiovision, the giveaway hype sheet for WNMA, the home of the pre-TIRnRR Dana & Carl show We're Your Friends For Now.
Armed with that recently-released Gary Frenay Songbook cassette in '92, The Flashcubes' "No Promise" was a recurring Fave Rave on We're Your Friends For Now. A few years later, "No Promise" was included on the Bright Lights CD, but it wasn't the same version; it was a subsequent version, originally recorded after Mick Walker had replaced Paul in 1979, but now with new guitar parts from the returning prodigal Paul. It's a great rendition, and it is considered The Flashcubes' official studio performance of "No Promise."
I still liked the first version better.
We create to correct. We wanted The Flashcubes on This Is Rock 'n' Roll Radio, Volume 4. We contacted Gary and asked if we could exhume that original, nearly-forgotten version of "No Promise." The Flashcubes agreed that we could use the track, but locating a suitable master was a challenge. This "No Promise" was a 4-track demo, and it never existed in any other form. Studio wizard Ducky Carlisle took several valiant stabs at cleaning and enhancing, but even his magic couldn't overcome the hiss and distortion permanently attached to the deteriorating master tape.
Finally, both Gary and I independently hit on the idea of mastering directly from the best available source: the cassette of The Gary Frenay Anthology. Even my inept home-made attempt at a new master was an improvement over what we had so far; Ducky, bless 'im, was able to do much, much better than that. Lo and behold: we had preserved the original 4-track of "No Promise" for fresh enjoyment.
As I write this in August of 2017, The Flashcubes' 40th anniversary show is a mere three weeks away on September 1st. The work of prepping TIRnRR # 4 has left me with little time to think about that show, but my God! THE FLASHCUBES' 40th ANNIVERSARY! I'd like to say that this is a thrill I never could have imagined way back when I saw the 'Cubes for the first time, when I was freshly 18 in January of 1978, and I was about to witness power pop transcendence.
But that would be a lie; I absolutely could have imagined it then, and it surely remains a thrill now. I always knew it would be a thrill. I always knew The Flashcubes would matter. No promise lasts forever, but I always knew The Flashcubes' music would last forever, at least as far as I was concerned.
It's the vision my imagination and instinct created. And it is correct.
18. CHRIS VON SNEIDERN: "Insomniac Summer"
The first time I saw Chris von Sneidern perform live was some time in the early '90s, at a Syracuse Songwriters Showcase at Club Zodiac in Syracuse's Armory Square. I hadn't heard any of his music before that night, and didn't really know much about him beyond the fact that he was an expatriate Central New Yorker with roots in the early '80s local pop and new wave scene I revered. Chris took the stage, and within seconds of the start of his first song, my friend Dave Murray turned to me and said, You like this guy, don't you?
Well, when Dave's right, he's right. I liked Chris von Sneidern from his first strummed chord.
In the early to mid '90s, I was a regular patron of what we called Napkin Night at the Zodiac. I think it happened every Wednesday, but whatever night it was, musicians Gary Frenay and Jon Notarthomas would hold court in the Zodiac's front bar. They'd play originals and covers, and if you wanted to make a request, you had to write in on a napkin and hand it to the performers. It may sound dire in its description, but it was a lot of fun. Eventually, it was Arty Lenin--Gary's once and future partner in The Flashcubes--playing instead of Jon. Or the other way around? The chronology is all messed up in my recollection (possibly, in part, because there was beer involved), but I remember with certainty that I just loved it, every week. Music. Man, ya can't beat music.
Among the other Napkin Night regulars were two women, Dawn and Sandy. I wound up chatting with them quite often. We were never close pals, but we were friendly, and we enjoyed the easygoing ambiance of this convivial weekly popfest. Dawn and Sandy were among the first people anywhere to read the early manuscript of "Bright Lights, Small City," my liner notes to a proposed Flashcubes anthology CD. Sandy was a bit older, and she mentioned her son, and asked if I was familiar with him. Her son's name was Chris. Chris von Sneidern.
Was this before I first saw CVS? After? After, I think. Yeah, pretty sure it was after. Anyway, Sandy brought me a copy of Chris' 1991 debut indie single, "Too Much To Do"/"On The Run." It was magnificent, and I still have it, a cherished treasure that is not for sale. Sandy was proud, and rightly so. Chris lived in California, and I only saw him perform one other time, at Tim's Supper Club. The place was packed, the food was fabulous, and CVS was just riveting. Gary Frenay even joined him for a rendition of Chris Bell's "You And Your Sister," and it was an electric moment (albeit performed acoustically).
Sandy also got me Chris' next single, an incredible thing of wonder called "Annalisa" backed with "Someday." Gush. CVS signed with Heyday Records in California, and his parade of pure pop bliss won wider and wider notoriety. Never enough notoriety--there's a reason a documentary about his career asks the titular question Why Isn't Chris von Sneidern Famous?--but he became a bona fide big deal among power pop fans. He should be famous, yes. He settled for just being great.
Chris and I corresponded a little bit, sporadically, over the years. He's a little younger than ol' CC, but we share similar roots in the small and cozy Syracuse scene, and we share many mutual acquaintances. He was in The U-Turns here in the early '80s. Later, after leaving the Salt City for new adventure, he played with Paul Collins for a bit, and with Flying Color before becoming a solo performer. He was among the first artists to ever record a promo ID for This Is Rock 'n' Roll Radio, and he gave us a terrific song called "Lonely Tonite" for the first TIRnRR compilation in 2004.
For a long time, a span of years, Sandy and/or Dawn (usually both, sometimes just Dawn) were among the folks I could always expect to see at a Gary Frenay show, or at the infrequent Flashcubes shows. Somewhere along the line, I stopped seeing them anywhere. I probably didn't attach much significance to that at the time. It wasn't until much, much later that I learned that Sandy had passed away. It seemed too long after the fact to send condolences to Chris, but I regret not ever saying...something.
I never saw or spoke with Dawn again, although we are friends (not close pals, but friendly) on Facebook. I've heard that Sandy appears in Why Isn't Chris von Sneidern Famous? I have yet to watch that. I just haven't gotten around to it; I'm not specifically putting it off. Honestly, I think seeing Sandy again, even just on my TV screen, would be more likely to make me smile than to make me sad. She was nice, and I liked her. And she gave the pop world a great gift with her son, Chris von Sneidern.
Chris is a busy guy. He plays, he records, and he's about to go on tour as bassist with The Flamin' Groovies--talk about a Central New York boy made good! In the midst of this hectic blur of rockin' pop activity, Chris carved out time to finish and record a new track for This Is Rock 'n' Roll Radio, Volume 4. The song is a love letter to our almost-shared roots, a panoramic snapshot of life in the Syracuse music scene as the '80s began: performers like Curtis Seals, The Penetrators, Distortion, Machine + Hummer, Screen Test, 1.4.5, and Dress Code, an evocative local single like The Tearjerkers' Gary Frenay-penned "Syracuse Summer," riding into town from the North country on the S & O (the Syracuse and Oswego bus service), and late, late nights at The Insomniac, an after-hours nightspot that offered live music into the first rude rumors of morning. The song knocked us out. It didn't have a title when Chris sent us an early working version of it; he said we should call it "Rock 'n' Roll Radio," but we suggested "Insomniac Summer" instead. It's a rock 'n' roll time capsule, a memento, a living, breathing document well worth staying up for.
The brief era documented in "Insomniac Summer" was after my time; I was out of Syracuse by 1980, and did not return to stay until 1987. I never went to The Insomniac. But I did see almost all of the acts that Chris cites in the song, and I feel a persistent connection to that scene based on my affection for (and participation in) the local late '70s milieu that preceded it. My sense of the whole of that scene--let's say 1977 through 1983 or so--thrives to this day, and will continue to affect the way I experience music until the grave finally kills my playlist. If then. I remain grateful to everyone who made that scene happen, performers and fans alike, and I'm grateful to Chris von Sneidern for giving that feeling a voice. I betcha Sandy is proud of him still.
The printed liner notes that accompany This Is Rock 'n' Roll Radio, Volume 4 mention that "Let Me In On This Action" by The Bottle Kids was a track we wanted on TIRnRR # 4 before we even knew there was gonna be a TIRnRR # 4. Lemme 'splain that a bit....
TIRnRR # 4 became a thing some time in late 2016, when Ray Gianchetti suggested we do another CD for his label Kool Kat Musik. Kool Kat had released Volume 3 in 2013, and we would have given Ray first right of refusal on a sequel if we were planning one. Dana always says there'll be another volume, no matter what, but the truth is we had no real plans to do Volume 4 at all. We weren't opposed to the idea; we just weren't doing anything with it.
So, while we were surprised and pleased by Ray's interest in TIRnRR # 4, we didn't have anything prepped for it. Like, at all. Nonetheless, I can't deny there's always some notion in the back of our minds about we would do if we did another CD. We knew Ray Paul would want to be on it. We still had a wish list of dream acts we'd never been able to get for past volumes. We knew some people that might be interested. We would have to build slowly and quietly, with no announcement of what we were doing. We didn't want, and never want, a stampede of submissions to sift through; we prefer to build these things brick by brick, track by track. And, if I had my druthers, one of those bricks would be "Let Me In On This Action."
The Bottle Kids are (is? am?) Eric Blakely, a one-man band on record. Eric is the band's Cute One and its Smart One and its Quiet One and its Secretly-An-International-Spy One. He's the oldest member and the newest member. He's the reason they stay together, and it would be his fault if they broke up. Berkeley native Blakely had previously been the leader of Eric Blakely and the Blame in the early '80s, and later enjoyed a successful career as a singin' and songwritin' roots-country solo artist. He played guitar on pop legend Paul Collins' 2010 release King Of Power Pop!, and released the first Bottle Kids album, the way-fab Such A Thrill, on Kool Kat in 2013.
Such A Thrill remains the only full-length Bottle Kids product available to date. In 2016, I received an email from Eric, stating that he was beginning work on a new Bottle Kids record, and wondering if TIRnRR would interested in playing this new track he'd completed. I played the track at home, and yeah. Yeah! Oh yeah, we're interested in playin' this!
"Let Me In On This Action" is such a great track, confident and assured, catchy as anything, and boppin' righteously like a hit single oughtta. We played it, of course, and I remember specifically thinking--perhaps even out loud--that I wished we were doing another TIRnRR disc, just so we could include "Let Me In On This Action."
Hey. Call me Nostradamus. Or Ishmael. Just call me awready.
Eric, mind you, knew nothing about any of this, even as we received the unexpected green light for TIRnRR # 4. For us, building a pop compilation is a deliberate process. We had previous commitments to honor, verbal debts to fulfill, before we could be sure of our ability to offer a spot to The Bottle Kids. I don't need to go too much into the back story here, but we are deathly afraid of overbooking a CD and having to withdraw an offer we made to an artist. This happened a long time ago, on one of our previous volumes, and it's not ever going to happen again.
With The Bottle Kids, it wasn't even a question of us offering the spot to another act; I had "Let Me In On This Action" penciled in nearly from the get-go, and desperately wanted to include it. Once we were certain that Ray didn't have any acts that he specifically wanted us to add, we were free to contact Eric and secure The Bottle Kids for TIRnRR # 4.
The point bears repeating: we take great, precise care in compiling the TIRnRR CDs. We select the artists and their tracks, we sequence them, and we don't let anyone hear the whole thing until it's exactly right. There was never any moment in the making of this CD that "Let Me In On This Action" wasn't a preferred part of the plan. Before there was even a TIRnRR # 4, there was "Let Me In On This Action"by The Bottle Kids. We're delighted that the track takes its rightful place on the finished product as well.
20. 1.4.5.: "Your Own World"
I've grown tired of recounting the sad circumstances of Norm Mattice's death, weary of once again detailing the same tragic story of a talented singer and musician, a beloved member of the Syracuse music community, dying from exposure--homeless and alone--in Onondaga Lake Park. A commemorative plaque on a bench in that same park marks the happier memory of what was. The cautionary tale of Norm's demise can be found elsewhere, in reports written by me and by others. In this space, we celebrate Norm's positive legacy instead. But we do repeat one familiar, relevant point:
Norm Mattice was a rock star.
And he was a rock star even though the mass o' millions neither heard him nor heard of him, never saw him perform, never listened to any of his all-too-few recordings. Some things are just intrinsically true, even if there aren't enough witnesses to testify: Rock star. Yeah, that was Norm all right.
I had the great fortune of seeing Norm's first band Dress Code a handful of times in the late '70s/early '80s. I saw him with 1.4.5. in the '80s, and I saw Norm and the lads a time or three after 1.4.5. changed its name to The Richards. I was a fan, and I still am. I think I owned every song Norm released, from Dress Code's Alone In The Crowd EP through The Richards' Over The Top album. Um--that's actually almost his entire discography, I think. There was also The Richards' magnificent track "Five Personalities," first heard on a Swedish compilation CD called Pop Under The Surface Volume One (and later reprised on our own This Is Rock 'n' Roll Radio, Volume 3), but I only know of one other release to feature Norm: Rhythm n' Booze, the stunningly good 1988 LP by 1.4.5.
1.4.5. originally formed in 1980, led by guitarist Paul Armstrong of The Flashcubes, initially with bassist Dave Anderson and drummer Ducky Carlisle. Paul, Dave, and Duck had all been in Paul's first post-'Cubes band The Most. 1.4.5.'s line-up evolved a bit; Tommy O'Riley, formerly of The Most, The Hit Squad, and The 4, also served in 1.4.5., and Paul Armstrong was the group's only constant member. Witnessing a Dress Code performance, both Paul and Ducky declared ROCK STAR! and poached Norm to front 1.4.5. This new version of 1.4.5. ditched Syracuse for fresh headquarters in Boston, where...
...well, where they didn't become stars. But they should have.
Rhythm n' Booze certainly makes that case. By 1988, 1.4.5. was Paul, Norm, and bassist John Fortunato, with (I think) Ducky still drumming on the album's tracks. Together, this mob slapped together an unknown rockin' pop gem, a confident LP that cries out for wider notoriety. Rhythm n' Booze includes an ace cover of Slade's "Do We Still Do It," and an agreeable run-through of the Chan Romero via The Swinging Blue Jeans perennial "Hippy Hippy Shake." But the group originals freakin' rule here, from the carpe diem of "Right Now" and the pretty pop of "Girl In A Window" through the rambunctious, rampagin' "Here Come The Cops." There's even a (presumably) playful jab at many of the band's former Syracuse associates, "Famous Local Hero." I remember seeing Paul and Norm perform that at an acoustic Syracuse Songwriters Showcase, both mugging to great comedic effect as they changed the names in the song; a lyric about Paul's once and future Flashcubes partner Gary Frenay became "Larry was the prince of passion...."
I really wish someone would reissue this, and I really wish everyone could hear it, now and forevermore. We're gonna do our part to preserve my favorite track from Rhythm n' Booze: in the emotional aftermath of Norm's death, "Your Own World" was far and away TIRnRR's # 1 most-played track in 2016. There are two entirely different versions of "Your Own World;" this first-recorded version with Norm appeared on Rhythm n' Booze, and it was later redone by the group's original line-up, with Paul on lead vocals. Both versions rock, but that original version, with Norm? My friends, that's a flat-out classic that no one knows about yet. The riff hammers. The drums snap and crackle. The bass pummels, and the guitar draws blood. And, over and above it all, a rock star belts out the vocal as only a rock star can.
I didn't know Norm. As I've said before, I'm not positive we ever even exchanged a greeting over the decades of shared nightclubs and setlists, me in the audience, Norm on stage. But I was a fan. I knew a rock star when I saw one, and I for damned sure knew a rock star when I heard one.
Listen to this track. You'll hear a rock star, too.
21. THE SMITHEREENS: "Got Me A Girl"
We've been trying to land this one for years.
This fourth volume of This Is Rock 'n' Roll Radio compilations finally allows Dana and me to cross off three of the four biggest prizes on our ongoing wish list for these things. We've been trying to get Paul Collins' Beat since we started work on Volume 2 over a decade ago, we pursued The Rubinoos for Volume 3 in 2013, and we're pleased and proud that both of those acts are now represented on Volume 4. The rest of our short top-of-the-pop wish list was two specific songs, both of which we've been tryin' to get forever. One was Michael Nesmith's "Rising In Love"--Michael! Call us!--and the other was "Got Me A Girl," a terrific forgotten track from the out-of-print 1980 EP Girls About Town. That EP was the debut release from a little band called The Smithereens.
You all know The Smithereens; I doubt there's anything I can tell you about them that you don't already know. Hell, I won't even try. They're great, you know they're great, so you understand implicitly why we've ached to have The Smithereens on a TIRnRR disc awready. We've been corresponding with the group's guitarist Jim Babjak for quite some time; Jim was on the second TIRnRR comp as a member of The B.A.R., which was Jim Babjak, Danny Adlerman, and The Grip Weeds' Kurt Reil. I'm pretty sure we came into contact with Jim through our friends and listeners Rich and Kathy Firestone--man, those Firestones sure do come up a lot in these chronicles, don't they?
Anyway, Jim's been a friendly and supportive guy. He was okay with the idea of us using a Smithereens track from the get-go, but we could never quite close the deal. Complicating matters a bit was the fact that anything new by The Smithereens was contractually tied to their record label. But we were fine with an older track; among the many shiny gems in The Smithereens' catalog o' glory, "Got Me A Girl" was always, always the one we wanted most.
I have never owned a copy of the Girls About Town EP. I don't think I'd even heard of The Smithereens in 1980, and I didn't really hear them until their classic "Behind The Wall Of Sleep" lit up the airwaves in 1986. I became a fan pretty damned quick at that point. I bought Especially For You, the album that included "Behind The Wall Of Sleep," and subsequently reached back for the Beauty And Sadness EP, and then the subsequent Green Thoughts LP, and Smithereens 11, and...you get the idea. "Sorry," the irresistible single from the group's amazing Smithereens 2011 album, tied with Mad Monster Party's "Can't Stop Loving You" as our # 1 most-played track in 2011. I saw The Smithereens live at Syracuse's Lost Horizon in the '90s, and I almost met drummer Dennis Diken in New York in 2001, when Dana and I attended a release party for Bubblegum Music Is The Naked Truth, a book to which I'd contributed; alas, I was too shy to introduce myself.
Still, I don't think I've ever seen a copy of Girls About Town. The only reason I've even heard it is because that Rich Firestone boy included it on a cassette he sent to me years ago (a cassette which also included the only known surviving copy of Blotto's "We Wanna See The Monkees," which we exhumed for This Is Rock 'n' Roll Radio, Volume 3). Of the EP's four tracks--"Girls About Town," "Got Me A Girl," "Girls Are Like That," and a cover of The Beach Boys' "Girl Don't Tell Me"--only the title track has ever been reissued, on the rarities set Attack Of The Smithereens (which also includes a live version of "Girl Don't Tell Me"). The other three? Gone. Not lost exactly, but not readily available for you to have and cherish forever, like the special someone who thrills your lovelorn heart the most.
We had to fix that, at least in part. Years ago, I proposed including "Girl Don't Tell Me" on New Wave Summer, a never-released compilation for the Music Club label. That project crashed. I love "Girls Are Like That," but I love "Got Me A Girl" even more. We have been aggressively pursuing that track for a long, long time.
And now, we've got it! I'm so happy 'cause now we got "Got Me A Girl!" I hope this serves as some inspiration for The Smithereens to reissue Girls About Town in its entirety--my cassette's gettin' a little worn--but in the mean time, TIRnRR is proud to perform this public service for rockin' pop fans everywhere. Ladies and gentlemen, for the first time since 1980, here are The Smithereens and "Got Me A Girl." Patience. Perseverance. Pop music! You got it.
22. PAUL COLLINS' BEAT: "She Doesn't Want To Hang Around With You"
In the late '70s, I hooked my best friend Jay Hammond on the music of Blondie. I betcha Jay had a crush on lead singer Debbie Harry--I know I certainly did!--and he became a big, big fan of the group. In late 1978, Jay picked up Blondie's Parallel Lines album well before I got around to it. Among the Parallel Lines tracks Jay raved about was its lead-off cut, "Hanging On The Telephone." It took me a minute to place its familiar pop sound, but then I realized and declared: Oh yeah! That's the song by The Nerves!
I first read about The Nerves--Jack Lee, Peter Case, and Paul Collins--in the pages of Bomp! magazine in '78. I picked up their EP The Nerves at Record Theater up on Marshall Street near Syracuse University, and played it a lot throughout that summer of '78. Two of the songs, "Hanging On The Telephone" and "Give Me Some Time," were written by Lee, and I liked 'em just fine. But I liked the other two tracks even more: "When You Find Out" by Peter Case, and "Working Too Hard" by Paul Collins.
The Nerves broke up. Jack Lee went off to brood and, I dunno, cash his checks from Blondie royalties. Peter Case formed The Plimsouls. And Paul Collins formed The Beat.
Even before The Beat, a simply soarin' power pop tune called "Walking Out On Love" appeared on a Bomp! Records compilation, Waves, Vol. 1 (which also included "Christi Girl" by The Flashcubes). Though credited as a Paul Collins solo track, "Walking Out On Love" was recorded by The Breakaways, a short-lived group Collins and Case formed after The Nerves' dissolution. Case split, and The Breakaways became The Beat.
I fumbled across The Beat's eponymous debut album at Main Street Records in Brockport; this was late '79. right as the LP was released. I hadn't heard anything about The Beat before that, but I recognized "Working Too Hard" and "Walking Out On Love" in the track listing, and knew I had to own it. I wasn't disappointed. The Beat is widely acknowledged as a power pop classic, one of the all-time essential power pop albums. "Rock And Roll Girl," "Don't Wait Up For Me," "You Won't Be Happy," "I Don't Fit In," "Let Me Into Your Life"--for pop fans like us, these songs have become a part of our being, our DNA, our way of life.
A U.K. band (and, granted, a great U.K. band) also laid claim to the Beat nom du bop, so the American group would henceforth be known as Paul Collins' Beat or some variation thereof, while the Brits were known here as The English Beat. Ultimately, Paul Collins' Beat never achieved its just commercial due, and the group sorta faded as the '80s droned on.
Collins continued to perform and record, as Paul Collins' Beat, as a solo artist, and as The Paul Collins Band. Expatriate Central New Yorker Chris von Sneidern played a bit with Collins before relocating to California, and the early '90s edition of The Paul Collins Band included Flashcubes guitarist Arty Lenin. Syracuse strong!
When we first began doing This Is Rock 'n' Roll Radio compilations circa 2004, Paul Collins was very high up on our wish list of artists to beg and cajole. Although Paul and I had corresponded very briefly in the '90s, when I was freelancing for Goldmine, he didn't really know who we were, and declined the invitation to appear on a TIRnRR CD. But in 2009, when Paul was doing a living room and small venue tour as an acoustic duo with John Wicks of The Records, our mutual acquaintance Rich Rossi arranged for Paul and John to visit TIRnRR.
Whatta blast! It was a Thursday night, June 11th, the night before the pair was scheduled to perform a show in nearby Cortland, NY. We commandeered a common area in the Westcott Community Center (outside the little closet we laughingly call a studio), invited a few friends to sit on folding chairs as a de facto live audience, and live streamed about an hour of music and conversation, chatting with the lads, listening to them tell stories, and lettin' 'em play. It was a magic moment in TIRnRR history. I wasn't able to attend the Cortland show the next night (due to a previous commitment and a quick trip to Urgent Care), but Dana was there. And he said that when Paul recognized Dana, he grabbed him in a bear hug, and declared that the TIRnRR mini-gig "was so much fuckin' fun!" We've all been pals ever since.
For This Is Rock 'n' Roll Radio, Volume 4, Paul Collins granted us our choice of anything from his catalog. That gave us a lot of outstanding stuff to consider, but we zeroed in on the 2008 Paul Collins' Beat album Ribbon Of Gold. Even that didn't really narrow things down all that much--Ribbon Of Gold is a terrific album!--and we vacillated between four tracks. "Hey DJ" seemed too obvious a choice. "Big Pop Song" was just as obvious, I guess, but we had it penciled in, until we replaced it with--ta da!--"Falling In Love With Her." Which, of course, we replaced late in the game with "She Doesn't Want To Hang Around With You." Any one of these would have been the right choice. But "She Doesn't Want To Hang Around With You" was the rightest choice, channeling 1970s punk-pop energy into what could almost be seen as a flip of "Walking Out On Love": she's walking out because she's tired of you!
I was a teenager when I first heard the music of Paul Collins.The Nerves. The Breakaways. The Beat. Collins has been a consistent part of my life's soundtrack since that time, nearly forty years later. I may still have the tiniest remnant of a crush on Debbie Harry, but I still prefer The Nerves' version of "Hanging On The Telephone" to Blondie's. And I do dig The Beat, man. I do dig The Beat.
23. THE HIT SQUAD: "Best Of Me"
"Best Of Me" by The Hit Squad has been on my all-time Hot Tracks list for years, but I bet most of you have never even heard of it. The track was recorded in 1980, and it makes its first-ever public appearance on This Is Rock 'n' Roll Radio, Volume 4. I want to tell you a little bit of the back story. As with many of my favorite little pop music stories, this one intersects with the sprawling history of my favorite power pop group, The Flashcubes.
The roots of The Hit Squad go back to Watertown, NY in the late '70s. Contemporary to the vibrant Syracuse punk/new wave/power pop scene spearheaded by The Flashcubes, a Watertown combo called The Upbeats was plying its own skinny-tie trade in the North Country. I think The Upbeats were mostly (if not entirely) a cover band, but a cover band with a left-of-the-dial focus. My grasp of the nuances and subtleties of The Upbeats' story is...well, non-existent. I never heard them, and I never saw them play. I almost saw them precisely once: on July 1st, 1979, at Dave Glavin's graduation party in his garage in Pulaski. It was the night following the morning I discovered that one of my best friends had chosen to end his life with a bullet. That story is told elsewhere on this blog (in posts about KISS, The Ramones, and The Flashcubes). I arrived at Dave's garage too late to witness The Upbeats, but in time to revel in an incendiary performance by The Flashcubes (a performance ended abruptly by local law enforcement).
One of The Flashcubes' biggest boosters at the time was Dian Zain, the diminutive girlfriend of 'Cubes guitarist Paul Armstrong. Dian was a polarizing figure in the Syracuse scene, but honestly, she was always nice to me, and we got along fine. Dian wanted to be a pop star herself, so she recorded a single, "Take A Chance"/"Do The Jumping Jack" (the latter tune an early Flashcubes number) for release on the 'Cubes' own little Northside Records label. On those tracks, Dian was backed by Paul and (I think) members of The Ohms, another all-time great Syracuse group. But, before the 45 was released, musical differences within The Flashcubes resulted in Paul no longer being a 'Cube. Dian had already formed a group of her own, with the intent of playing some live shows and pursuing rock 'n' roll glory. Paul joined that group immediately. The rest of this new band? Guitarist Derek Knott, drummer Judd Williams, and bassist Tommy O'Riley, all formerly of The Upbeats. With Dian and Paul, this new group was The Most.
"Take A Chance" was finally issued, with a new picture sleeve proclaiming it as a single by The Most (although the 45's label still credited it as a Dian Zain record). The Most debuted as a live act in August of '79, opening for The Records at Stage East in East Syracuse. I loved this band. And one of my bestest Fave Raves in their live set was a Tommy O'Riley tune called "Best Of Me." To me, this song sounded like Debbie Harry fronting The Heartbreakers, girl-pop vocals over Johnny Thunders-style guitar. Heaven!
The local press reported that "Best Of Me" would be The Most's second single, but it was not to be. If The Most ever got around to recording "Best Of Me"--and I would swear that they did--no one has been able to find that recording. The Most's original line-up split instead, as the erstwhile Upbeats sought their fortune elsewhere. Paul and Dian enlisted The Ohms as a temporary backing band for live shows, and eventually settled on bassist Dave Anderson and drummer Dick Hummer as The Most's new rhythm section. Ohms drummer Ducky Carlisle returned when Dick Hummer went off to pursue his solo goals as Machine + Hummer. The Most ended in August of 1980--roughly a year after their origin--when Paul, Dave, and Duck became 1.4.5., and Dian went on to front Zane Grey.
Quite a tangled web, eh?
Meanwhile, Tommy O'Riley and Derek Knott had joined a group called The Hit Squad, with drummer Tim Carr and singer Nancy O (Tommy's sister). The Hit Squad recorded "Best Of Me" in 1980, but it remained unreleased. The Hit Squad became The 4, with Upbeats/Most drummer Judd Williams replacing Carr. "Best Of Me" was a part of The 4's live repertoire, and an in-concert recording of that exists. Many years later, Tommy (now recording under the name Tommy Gunn) included a new rendition of the song on his 2001 release Endangered Species, finally giving "Best Of Me" its first official release in any version.
Somewhere along the way, a Syracuse Community Radio DJ--and I'm kicking myself for my inability to remember his name--gave me a CD-R of Derek Knott recordings, and that disc included "Best Of Me" by The Hit Squad. Man, to hear that song again, in an unfamiliar version that duplicated the arrangement of my still-vivid, cherished memory of The Most's version...! I was 19 again, my fist raised, my adrenaline pumping, cheap beer fueling my enthusiasm and my devotion to the rock 'n' roll experience. Time can stand still, and even reverse its crushing advance for a little while, when you listen to pop music.
The original line-up of The Most got back together for a live set at our first BRIGHT LIGHTS! Syracuse New Wave Rock 'n' Roll Reunion in 2014. I told Tommy how much I've always adored "Best Of Me," and he dedicated its live performance that night to me. And this year, he offered it to us for This Is Rock 'n' Roll Radio, Volume 4. We ruled out live takes from The Most and The 4, and also Tommy's solo version (because my memory demanded the song have female lead vocals). But The Hit Squad's version? That was perfect for us.
Now, at long last, you get to hear it, too. Imagine you're 19. You've just lost one of your best friends. Your future lays out before you, with all of its promise and all of its doubt. The band plays a sad song of regret, both casual and devastating, and the sound just makes you feel alive. The rush of feeling buoys you, keeps you moving, prods you to go on. I love you still/It doesn't matter/You're just another step/Up my ladder. It's not cynicism. It's optimism, tempered by the knowledge of all that can and may go wrong. It's hope. It's ambition. It's life itself.
It's the best of you. And it always will be.