There are certain songs you hear as you go through life, and time simply stands still.
For me, fortunate as I was to grow up in the musically rich, golden age of rock and roll in the sixties and seventies — there were more than a few such songs I heard during my adolescent years. "I Wanna Hold Your Hand," which signaled the arrival of The Beatles in 1964 was one of them. Dylan's "Like A Rolling Stone" was another, and Bruce Springsteen's "Born To Run" yet another one.
The thing is, with the exception of "Born To Run," I was probably too young to fully understand any of these songs when they first came out. I was seven when I saw The Beatles perform "I Wanna Hold Your Hand" on The Ed Sullivan Show. I was only a few years older when I first heard "Like A Rolling Stone." And although both songs changed my life forever, it wouldn't be until years later that I fully understood in just how many ways that was true.
Even "Born To Run," which I first heard just after high school, was a song placed just slightly out of time for me. If I'd heard it just one year earlier as a high school senior, I think the song would have resonated with me even more, than it did as such during my first year of so-called adulthood.
Then there was "Go All The Way."
I'm not sure exactly what year it was that I first heard the power pop classic by The Raspberries — I want to say it was the summer of '72. But I'm positive I was in high school. The Raspberries were only making records from 1972 to 1974, which happens to coincide exactly with my high school years.
I'm equally sure the first place I heard "Go All The Way" was on an AM car radio, which is exactly the place where this song should've been first heard. Because, if ever a song was created that was meant to be heard on an AM car radio during your high school years, "Go All The Way" was, and is, that song. With a crashing guitar riff somewhere slightly north of The Who's "Can't Explain," combined with harmonies crossing The Beach Boys and early Beatles, "Go All The Way," was an invitation to ecstasy.
You can view a video of the song played live on The Raspberries reunion tour (and a live performance of it from 1973 as well) by going here. But Bruce Springsteen (yes the Boss is a fan too) sums up the lyrics pretty well on the liner notes he wrote for their new Live On The Sunset Strip album, recorded at the House of Blues on October 21, 2005. Bruce describes this, and all of the Raspberries songs, as being "simultaneously innocent, lascivious, and all about sex, sex, sex."
Not much I can add to that.
But if "Go All The Way" is one of the greatest pure pop singles ever made — and it most surely is — its creators are equally one of the most misunderstood bands ever. With perfectly constructed three and four minute pop masterpieces that owed more to The Beatles and The Beach Boys than to the oh, so serious rock of the seventies, The Raspberries were like a band caught somewhere out of time.
The songs didn't end with "Go All The Way" either. For those two years between '72 and '74, The Raspberries racked up an impressive string of pop-rock gems, mostly penned by lead singer/songwriter Eric Carmen, who revealed himself to be a master of his craft. "Tonight," "I Wanna Be With You," "Ecstasy," and the brilliant (and very Brian Wilson-like) "Overnight Sensation (Hit Record)" are only the tip of the iceberg with these guys.
Carmen himself remains criminally under-appreciated as a great pop songwriter. He would later enjoy brief success when his record company briefly cast him as a Barry Manilow-styled pop songsmith for solo records like "All By Myself." Well, at least they got the pop part right.
Still, with New Wave and Power Pop bands ranging from The Ramones to Cheap Trick still a few years away, it would still be some time before the rock world caught up to The Raspberries, and recognized them as the true pop/rock pioneers they were.
All of the hits mentioned above and more are included on this album, which reunites Carmen with his original Raspberries bandmates Wally Bryson, Jim Bonfanti, and Dave Smalley for the first time in thirty years onstage. There are also some well-chosen covers here. What Raspberries gig would be complete without a raucous version of "Can't Explain" for example?
As the bonus DVD opens with the words "They said it couldn't be done. They were wrong,'' time seems to stand still as the band launches into "I Wanna Be With You." Well okay, time doesn't quite stop. The Raspberries are after all some thirty years older and at least one of them looks more like Sam Kinison here, than the foppishly dressed and stylishly coiffed lads we remember from the seventies.
But they still sound pretty damned good. On the hits like "Tonight" and "Ecstasy," they also rock quite convincingly. Most impressive are the way the intricate harmonies of "Go All The Way" and especially the more complex "Overnight Sensation" are recreated onstage (albeit with help from backing vocalists Jennifer Lee, Billy Sullivan, and Paul Sidoli).
The harmonies on "Overnight Sensation" are instantly reminiscent of several Beach Boys classics, and of "Good Vibrations" in particular. There is even a part where the harmonies come through an AM transistor radio placed onstage (you can see this on the bonus DVD), which is a clever touch. When Carmen intros the song, he makes direct reference to that transistor radio, tying it to the songs lyrics about "wanting a hit record, wanna hear it on the radio."
Carmen himself sounds great here, and still hits the notes the way he used to (well, most of the time anyway). Wally Bryson is as sharp as ever on guitar, and Smalley and Bonfanti anchor it all down on bass and drums respectively.
In its deluxe edition, Live On Sunset Strip includes the full concert on two CDs, with five songs ("I Wanna Be With You," "Tonight," "Overnight Sensation," "Ecstasy," and of course "Go All The Way"), showing up on the bonus DVD. There's also a booklet that contains Springsteen's liner notes (as well as additional notes by John Lennon's one-time girlfriend May Pang talking about Lennon's love of the band). Most noteworthily, this set gathers the lyrics to some of The Raspberries best songs — since they are all performed here — together in the booklet.
There's nothing terribly deep about most of these lyrics. Still, what spells "ecstasy" better than a line like this one:
"I never knew how complete love could be,
Till she kissed me and said
Baby, Please Go All The Way
Feels So Right,
Being with you here tonight."
The Raspberries Live On Sunset Strip will be released next Tuesday, July 31.