After I assembled the Straight Outta Cleveland collection in ’95, we tried to put together a concert to celebrate, but a Raspberries reunion was held to be essential to making the thing really go. I talked with Eric Carmen’s brother, who was managing him at the time, and we went back and forth at some length, at one point even having a tentative go-ahead. But in the end we weren’t able to put it together, much to my personal sorrow.
Nine years later, it appears that either Eric Carmen and Wally Bryson have let bygones be bygones in the interest of reigniting the artistic spark that once burned so synergistically between them; or they were both at total career dead-ends, had nothing to lose and perhaps something to gain after a 30-year hiatus from each other.
I will choose the former view because I love the Raspberries, one of the greatest power-pop bands of all time. As the Proprietor mentioned yesterday, the Raspberries are playing at the Cleveland House of Blues on November 26. I assume the lineup will be Carmen, Bryson, Dave Smalley, and Scott McCarl – the latter three reunited under the Raspberries name in ’99 and put out an EP, Refreshed, but obviously it wasn’t the same without Eric.
Why should anyone care? The Raspberries materialized like aliens on the landscape in 1972, recorded six certifiably great songs — “G oAll the Way,” “Tonight,” “I Wanna Be With You,” “Overnight Sensation,” “Let’s Pretend,” “Starting Over”) in the course of three years and four albums, then dematerialized leaving only a vague sense impression behind of who or what they were.
The band was a victim of bad timing, musically recaptulating the ’60s just a few years after the fact. Also, the Raspberries were a singles group at a time when albums had become the coin of the rock realm. Lastly, the group unabashedly sang about the joys and pains of youth with passion and emotional candor at time when cynicism and world-weariness were the dominant themes in rock ‘n’ roll (the breakup of the Beatles, Altamont, glitter rock, the deaths of Hendrix, Joplin, Morrison) and in the news (Vietnam, Watergate, Kent State), leaving themselves in cultural limbo.
For Straight Outta Cleveland I selected “I Wanna Be With You,” the band’s second-biggest single (after “Go All the Way”), written by lead singer/rhythm guitarist Carmen, which originally appeared on the Fresh album in ’72. It is a classic arpeggio-driven guitar rocker from the opening snare-drum volley to the closing sax and guitar riff, fading along with Carmen’s inflamed pleadings.
Carmen’s lyrics are almost laughably direct: “If we were older, we wouldn’t have to be worried tonight …” He was 23 when the song was released, but the vision is clearly that of mid-adolescence, a time when the answers to all of life’s deepest mysteries lie ahead. Lending great poignancy to the youthful energy is our knowledge that wish fulfillment can be one of the greatest disappointments of all.
For one night anyway, I’m guessing the greatest wish of Raspberries fans will be satisfyingly fulfilled.