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Published on May 12th, 2014 | by Gerry Galipault

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Eric Carmen and ‘365 Days of Power Pop’

When Eric Carmen first heard The Byrds’ debut album, he knew his budding classical music career was over.

“I loved the Beatles, of course, but I actually liked the Rolling Stones better,” the Cleveland native says, “but it’s The Byrds that got me into rock ‘n’ roll. One day, I was listening to the radio and I clearly remember hearing ‘Mr. Tambourine Man’ for the first time and those harmonies and that 12-string Rickenbacker.

“Then I went home that same day and turned on the TV to see ‘The Lloyd Thaxton Show,’ and who was the musical guest? The Byrds. They did ‘Mr. Tambourine Man.’ That was it. It was all rock ‘n’ roll for me after that.”

The classically trained pianist bought a Beatles chord book and taught himself how to play the guitar. His goals were ambitious – he wanted to join The Choir, one of Cleveland’s biggest garage-rock bands in the 1960s. They had a huge regional hit with “It’s Cold Outside” in 1967, but it was only modestly successful nationwide.

“The Choir, they were my heroes, they were our Beatles,” Carmen says. “They were playing all the right chords, they knew how to deconstruct a song, they played like no one else in our area. And I felt like their guitarist, Wally Bryson, was the yang to my ying.”

Carmen managed to hold The Choir’s attention long enough for an audition, but they passed on him. He went home despondent but undeterred; he joined another local garage-rock group, Cyrus Erie.

As luck would have it, The Choir started to fall apart. Carmen recruited Bryson, and when Cyrus Erie dissolved, they teamed with Bryson’s former Choir bandmates Jim Bonfanti (drums) and Dave Smalley (guitar) to form … the Raspberries.

They would, along with Big Star, become the definitive power-pop band of the 1970s.

For four years (1970-74), they cornered the market on melodies and harmonies, prominent guitar riffs and three-minute, radio-friendly pop-rock gems like “Go All the Way,” “I Wanna Be With You,” “Tonight” and “Let’s Pretend.”

The Raspberries were exactly what they were intended to be: a return to the pop/rock basics of The Beatles, The Who and The Small Faces.

“I think I first heard the phrase ‘power pop’ back in the mid to late ’60s,” Carmen says. “I used to read Rave Magazine. I would read about The Who and The Small Faces, before they even made it big in the States. I was just as interested in their fashion sense as much as the music.

“Pete Townshend was interviewed in like ’67 and was asked to describe The Who’s music. He said they were a pop band but they were powerful. And that just stuck: power pop.”

Carmen theorizes that he, Alex Chilton (of Big Star) and Badfinger’s Pete Ham, without knowledge of each other, simultaneously got turned off by what radio was playing in the late ’60s.

“Instead of The Beatles and The Who, FM was playing Uriah Heep and Jethro Tull, playing 20-minute flute solos, and Traffic’s 12-minute keyboard solos,” he says, with a laugh. “I was bored by it. I longed for the days of Pete Townshend jumping 5 feet in the air and winding his arm around.

“We were guys that liked melodies and songs. Power pop became the name of the genre, but it’s very broad. It could encompass a lot of sounds.”

Carmen found his Townshend in Bryson, and together they sought to put the pop back in rock.

“Stoner music was starting to get big in the early ’70s, and everybody had long hair,” he says. “I wanted to do the opposite. We wanted to give people joy like the early Beatles records. ‘Beatles For Sale’ and the pre-‘Tommy’ Who, they were my test period.

“We wanted to play with the power of The Who but sing like the Beatles and the Beach Boys, but also have an image. We made Wally cut his hair twice before he joined the band. He was very unhappy about it. We wanted no jeans, no beards or mustaches. I hoped it would differentiate us from the others.”

It worked, mostly, up until they sported white suits on the cover of their second album, “Fresh” (1972).

“That was a nightmare,” Carmen says, laughing. “I just remember how miserable we were, wearing those suits and how hot it was that day. And the photos turned out terrible.

“And it didn’t help that Capitol Records didn’t understand who we were. They didn’t even understand our name. It was a twist on ‘blowing a raspberry,’ a Bronx cheer. We were sticking it to the eye of prog rock. Capitol thought, ‘What are they, the Osmonds?’ They marketed us to teen magazines, who were asking us questions like ‘What type of girls do you like?’ That’s exactly what you should not do if you want to be taken serious.”

By 1974, frustrations overflowed and the group disbanded, with “Overnight Sensation (Hit Record),” oddly enough, being its final chart hit.

Carmen went solo and his early classical influences surfaced in his first two hits, “All By Myself” and “Never Gonna Fall in Love Again.”

“When I was in the Raspberries, I wrote to tailor the strengths of the other guys,” he says. “When that was gone and there were no boundaries, it opened up a whole new world for me. I had my power-pop moments, but Arista wanted the ballads. They wanted the ‘Son of ‘All By Myself.’ “

The 1980s were lean for Carmen until 1987 when the Raspberries’ producer, Jimmy Ienner, asked him to sing “Hungry Eyes” for the “Dirty Dancing” soundtrack album. The movie’s sleeper success led to another Carmen hit, “Make Me Lose Control” (1988). Both went Top 5.

These days, it takes a lot to get the 64-year-old Carmen excited, but he’s genuinely elated about “The Essential Eric Carmen,” released on March 25. The two-CD, 30-song set covers his time in Cyrus Erie, Raspberries and on his own.

“It’s the best package I’ve ever been involved in,” he says. “I’ve never plugged any compilation before, but I’ve been telling everyone that this is the one to buy. Mark Wilder, who is a Grammy-winning engineer, did a magnificent job with it.

“I am my harshest critic, I always knew where all the mistakes were in the songs. But I can honestly say that whoever buys this set, they will feel that these songs sound brand new. And I have Mark Wilder to thank for that.”

 

365 Days of Power Pop: A Pauseandplay.com Playlist, Part 3

Back to our “365 Days of Power Pop.” See our first two editions here: Part 1 and Part 2. Here are 95 more, with 70 more to go. (Follow along with our Spotify playlist.)

201 Follow You Down, Gin Blossoms

202 I Don’t Mind At All, Bourgeois Tagg

203 There Goes the Fear, Doves

204 Come Back to the 5 & Dime, Larry Storch, Larry Storch, Splitsville

205 The Laundry, The Lilac Time

206 Down to London, Joe Jackson

207 Big Sur, The Thrills

208 Long Goodbye, The Hang Ups

209 Feed It, Candyskins

210 Vanishing Girl, The Dukes of Stratosphere

211 My Own Reality, Francis Dunnery

212 If You’ve Got the Time, The Babys

213 Until You Came Along, Golden Smog

214 So Sad About Us, The Jam

215 One of These Days, The Hang Ups

216 Crystal Clear, The Darling Buds

217 In Quintessence, Squeeze

218 Veronica, Elvis Costello

219 Heavenly Pop Hit, The Chills

220 Down On My Knees, Bread

221 Just What I Needed, The Cars

222 Sing, Travis

223 Pictures of Lily, The Who

224 Fell, Let’s Active

225 Where Have You Been All My Life, Fotomaker

226 Hard to Laugh, The Pursuit of Happiness

227 I’m Not Talking, AC Newman

228 Yesterday’s Love, Any Trouble

229 Hazy Shade of Winter, Bangles

230 Girl From Mars, Ash

231 Crybaby, Utopia

232 Time, Gregg Tripp

233 In a Big Country, Big Country

234 Feel, Big Star

235 Sugar & Spice, The Cryan’ Shames

236 Closer to Free, Bodeans

237 Girls Talk, Dave Edmunds

238 The Letter, The Box Tops

239 The Bulrushes, The Bongos

240 Listen to the Radio, Sloan

241 Flying on the Ground Is Wrong, Buffalo Springfield

242 Under the Milky Way, The Church

243 This Charming Man, The Smiths

244 ELT, Wilco

245 I Want Candy, The Strangeloves

246 All I Really Want to Do, The Byrds

247 Boys Don’t Cry, The Cure

248 Mayor of Simpleton, XTC

249 Something So Strong, Crowded House

250 That Thing You Do!, The Wonders

251 Greener Days, David Gates

252 1979, The Smashing Pumpkins

253 Glow Girl, The Who

254 Don’t Call Me Baby, Voice of the Beehive

255 Steady, Jules Shear

256 A Day Without Me, U2

257 Outside Chance, The Turtles

258 Deep Six Saturday, Tommy Keene

259 That Is Why, Jellyfish

260 Little Girl, The Syndicate of Sound

261 Cherry Baby, Starz

262 Streets of Your Town, The Go-Betweens

263 Needles and Pins, The Searchers

264 Fade Away, Todd Rundgren

265 Going Down to Liverpool, Katrina and the Waves

266 Big Bang Baby, Stone Temple Pilots

267 One More Time, Joe Jackson

268 Driver’s Seat, Sniff ‘N’ Tears

269 This Is How It Feels, Inspiral Carpets

270 Where the Colors Don’t Go, Sam Phillips

271 You Get What You Give, New Radicals

272 Add It Up, Violent Femmes

273 Metropolis, The Church

274 No Myth, Michael Penn

275 Obscurity Knocks, The Trash Can Sinatras

276 Cool Hearted Girl, The Spongetones

277 What I’m Looking For, Brendan Benson

278 I’m an Adult Now, The Pursuit of Happiness

279 There She Goes Again, Marshall Crenshaw

280 Staying Out for the Summer, Dodgy

281 Sons of 1984, Todd Rundgren

282 The Door, The Toms

283 Holding On to the Earth, Sam Phillips

284 Sodajerk, Buffalo Tom

285 Rock ‘N’ Roll, The Velvet Underground

286 On the Table, AC Newman

287 Wouldn’t You Like to Know Me, Paul Stanley

288 Time Won’t Let Me, The Outsiders

289 Fortified Grapes, Gordon

290 Caroline Knows, Splitsville

291 Don’t Show Me Heaven, Jason Falkner

292 Somebody Made For Me, Emitt Rhodes

293 Do You Love Me?, The Explorers Club

294 Say Hello to Another Goodbye, Linus of Hollywood

295 My Best Friend’s Girl, The Cars

Editor’s note: Eric Carmen photo taken by Alex Castino

Next Edition: 365 Days of Power Pop, Part 4

365 Days of Power Pop, Part 1 / 365 Days of Power Pop, Part 2

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About the Author

Gerry Galipault debuted Pause & Play online in October 1997. Since then, it has become the definitive place for CD-release dates — with a worldwide audience.



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