The original Shelter Records logo.
This week on Six of One: Tribute to Shelter Records; a tribute to #52; OTR with “NBC University Theater of the Air” (the August 1949 presentation of George Orwell’s “Nineteen Eighty-Four”, part two), and the Hollywood Report with William Frawley. Oh, and there might be a song parody in there somewhere…
Raspberries' "Overnight Sensation" 45 RPM single.
Raspberries had their roots in two popular Cleveland bands of the late 1960s: The Choir and Cyrus Erie. The Choir consisted of Dann Klawon, Wally Bryson, Dave Burke, Dave Smalley and Jim Bonfanti, and had an extensive repertoire of original songs, including “It’s Cold Outside”, which became a #1 hit in Cleveland and even charted nationally, peaking at #68. The Choir endured several lineup changes, although the core members Bonfanti and Smalley remained in the band until Smalley was drafted and sent to Vietnam. In the meantime, Cyrus Erie, formed by brothers Michael McBride and Bob McBride, became the better draw after Eric Carmen (guitar, vocals) joined in 1967. Carmen persuaded guitarist Wally Bryson, who had just left The Choir, to join Cyrus Erie. This lineup recorded a single, consisting of two Carmen/Bryson originals, for Epic Records. Soon afterwards, Bryson returned to The Choir, and Cyrus Erie disbanded. Carmen and Dann Klawon then formed a new act called The Quick, and recorded two singles for Epic that had little success. After discussions between Carmen and Bonfanti about forming a band, the first lineup of Raspberries came together with Eric Carmen (lead vocals, rhythm guitar, piano), Jim Bonfanti (drums), Wally Bryson (lead guitar, lead vocals), and John Aleksic (bass guitar). Soon Aleksic left the band and soon former Choirs member Dave Smalley, who had just returned from Vietnam, joined the band on rhythm guitar, with Carmen switching to bass. The group made a demo, and after a major label bidding war, they were signed to Capitol Records. Their first single, “Don’t Want to Say Goodbye”, dented the Billboard singles chart (#86), but the second single, “Go All the Way”, reached #5 nationally, was awarded a gold disc and eventually sold over a million copies. This helped boost sales of their debut album, “Raspberries” (1972), which spent 30 weeks on the Billboard album chart. Subsequently, Carmen and Smalley switched instruments, with Carmen becoming the rhythm guitarist and Smalley becoming the band’s bass player. The band’s second album, “Fresh”, was released in October 1972, and spawned two more hit singles: “I Wanna Be With You” (#16) and “Let’s Pretend” (#35).
Tensions within the band developed at Carmen’s creative dominance, which seemed to dwarf the contributions of Bryson and Smalley. Their next album, “Side 3” (1973) saw a change in musical direction for the band, with a more raw, aggressive sound than its predecessors. The album spawned two minor hits: “Tonight” (#69) and “I’m a Rocker” (#94), as well as one single that did not chart (“Ecstasy”). After this album’s release, Smalley was ejected from the band, and Bonfanti left soon afterward. The two were replaced by Scott McCarl (bass) and ex-Cyrus Erie drummer Michael McBride. This lineup released “Starting Over” (1974) which would record the band’s fourth and final album. It also spawned the single “Overnight Sensation (Hit Record)” b/w “Hands on You”. This is today’s featured single.
“Overnight Sensation (Hit Record)” is definitely one of the high water marks of Eric Carmen’s career, an epic-scale production number in which the song’s main protagonist sings about wanting to hear his song on the radio: “Well I know it sounds funny/But I’m not in it for the money, no/I don’t need no reputation/And I’m not in it for the show”. The track starts off with the songs melody played on piano (in the style of Barry Manilow), which is soon joined by an impressive wall of sound, signaling that while “Side 3” was an effort by the band to shed their teenybopper image by showing that they could rock as hard as anyone else, “Starting Over” was more about impressing the listener with top-notch production. The instrumentation is diverse (there’s a brief saxophone solo here), yet all of it works towards creating a lush musical soundscape; the Beach Boys-esque vocals towards the end are also a nice touch, as is the false ending before the song comes thundering back and fades away. The way Carmen seemingly effortlessly weaves together the song, moving from verse to chorus to bridge back to the chorus again, is impressive, and a testament to the evolution of his songcraft from the days of such relatively simplistic (though admittedly enjoyable) tunes such as “Going All the Way”. The song itself became a hit record, peaking at #18 on the Billboard singles chart.
The B-side of the single, “Hands on You”, is quite a different kind of song, with lead vocals handled by Wally Bryson and Scott McCarl, accompanied only by an acoustic guitar and some strange tape loops of people clapping and making sundry noises. While the song is not as much of an achievement as “Overnight Sensation”, nor is “Hands on You” mindless pap or filler; it suggests that this incarnation of the band could step back from the grandiose leanings of such tracks while keeping the quality of songwriting high. While this album turned out to be their last, the band was by no means phoning it in, as proven by the high quality of even minor tracks on “Starting Over” such as this one.
The single (catalog #: 3946) was released on Capitol Records in 1974. As far as I know, no picture sleeve was issued with the record, but some copies were issued with a red and brown (or blue and yellow) Capitol Records sleeve. This would turn out to be the band’s last major hit as a subsequent single, “Cruisin’ Music”, failed to chart. The band broke up in April 1975, and Eric Carmen went onto success as a solo artist. Three of the original members (Bryson, Smalley and Bonfanti without Carmen) reunited for the album “Raspberries Refreshed” (1999), which attempted to recreate their original sound. In November 2004, the Cleveland branch the House of Blues opened with a Raspberries reunion concert; this led to a well-received mini-tour in 2005 which started at Chicago’s House of Blues. A date from the 2005 tour was recorded and released as a double CD and DVD called “Live on Sunset Strip” (2007).
Thanks to Blair and the good folks at RFD, Six of One now has an archive and RSS feed. You can also find links to the archive and RSS feed on the sidebar. Now all I have to do is remember to keep uploading new shows.
U.S. release of "Pictures of Matchstick Men" single.
Status Quo began life in 1962 when schoolmates Francis Rossi and Alan Lancaster (both students at Sedgehill Comprehensive School in Catford, U.K.) formed a freakbeat band called The Scorpions. They changed their name to The Spectres, and in 1963 they added drummer John Coghlan. They began writing their own material and in 1965 they met Rick Parfitt; he and Rossi became friends and they made a commitment to continue to work together. In 1966, The Spectres signed a five-year contract with Piccadilly Records. The Spectres released three singles (two in 1966 and one in 1967); all three were commercial failures. By 1967, the band had discovered psychedelia and changed their name to Traffic (later to Traffic Jam), to avoid confusion with Steve Winwood’s Traffic. By this point the band’s lineup included organist Roy Lynes and they released the single “Almost But Not Quite There”, which also flopped. In late 1967 they changed their name to The Status Quo (shortened to Status Quo in 1969), and in early 1968 they released to psychedelic-flavored “Pictures if Matchstick Men” b/w “Gentleman Joe’s Sidewalk Cafe”. This is today’s featured single.
“Pictures of Matchstick Men” opens up with a four-note riff (D/F/C/G) repeated twice (the first time the lead guitar is the lone instrument; the rest of the band enters the second time. The same four chords are used during the verses. The opening riff is quite memorable – it’s very difficult to forget once you’ve heard it – and no doubt this is one of the reasons why this track is probably Status Quo’s best-known song. But “Pictures of Matchstick Men” also owes much to its use of phasing. The lead guitar (played by Rossi) and bass guitar (played by Lancaster) play the same melody throughout most of the song, at first in unison but in slightly different tempos. As a result, the lead guitar and bass guitar fall out-of-phase, resulting in a dissonant, aural strangeness not unlike flanging (but using a different tactic to achieve the result). This sound is augmented nicely by Roy Lynes’ wah-wah organ. The lyrical content is rather weird (telling the tale of a man who is haunted by visions of a face until he is driven to distraction), and, one suspects, LSD-influenced: “When I look up to the skies/I see your eyes a funny kind of yellow/I rush home to bed I soak my head/I see your face underneath my pillow/I wake next morning, tired, still yawning/See your face come peeping through my window”. According to Rossi, the song was for the most part written in the bathroom: “I wrote it on the bog (i.e. toilet). I’d gone there, not for the usual reasons – having a crap and what have you – but to get away from the wife and mother-in-law. I used to go into this narrow frizzing toilet and sit there for hours, until they finally went out. I got three quarters of the song finished in that khazi. The rest I finished in the lounge.” It seems a rather inauspicious beginning for such a classic song, but I suppose it’s plausible. In any case, this is probably about as psychedelic you could get on a pop single in 1968. As other fans have noted, the song is a tour-de-force that seemingly transports the listener into another world, and it’s as colorful as the band’s Carnaby Street clothing.
The B-side of this single, “Gentleman Joe’s Sidewalk Cafe”, was good enough that it was originally slated to be the A-side of the single, but then the A-side and B-side were swapped. In any case, this song is not without it’s appeal. It opens with a melancholy melody, which soon launches into a mid-tempo pop song, in which the protagonist frets about the possibility of losing his significant other: Hey Joe, have you seen my baby here?/Oh we used to share a table every night/Hey Joe, she’s the only girl who’s ever/Meant anything at all/If I lose her I lose all”. The melody is much simpler than the one employed on “Matchstick Men” – only three chords are used, and the song doesn’t use any psychedelic effects like phasing. Once again, Roy Lynes’ organ is put to good use, and it’s much more conspicuous than it was on the A-side. Overall, I liked the song – it remains somewhat of a fan favorite – even if the line about in which Rossi sings “Under a table we’d choose, she’d take off her shoes/And rub her feet against mine” was a bit too corny for me. Interestingly enough, the label on the single lists the track as “Gentlemen Joe’s Sidewalk Cafe”, even though all the discographies I’ve encountered have it listed as “Gentleman Joe’s Sidewalk Cafe”.
What’s really interesting about “Matchstick Men” is that in spite of how memorable it is, and in spite of its status as their first hit (it reached #12 in the U.S., and #7 in the U.K.), it’s not really representative of the Status Quo sound. The band itself never really took “Matchstick Men” seriously (which is perhaps why it almost ended up on the B-side). Nevertheless, they would dabble in psychedelia on their first full-length LP, “Picturesque Matchstickable Message From The Status Quo” (1968) and also on their second album, “Spare Parts” (1969), but they would struggle to repeat the success of “Matchstick Men”. In the 1970’s, they would reinvent themselves as a rock-blues boogie band (the aforementioned Rick Parfitt was now in the fold as the band’s rhythm guitarist, having joined the band in 1968; Roy Lynes had left the band in 1970). With this new direction, they went on to record 50 chart hits in the U.K. “Down Down” became their first and only #1 hit in the U.K. in 1975; they would eventually sell over 118 albums worldwide. They were less successful in the United States, where “Matchstick Men” remains their only hit.
The single (catalog #: 7001) was issued in the United States by Cadet Concept Records, a blues/jazz/folk label started by Marshall Chess, the son of Chess Records founder Leonard Chess. It was a subsidiary of Chess Records, and was arguably a vehicle for the Rotary Connection, a pet project of Marshall Chess which featured the late Minnie Ripperton on lead vocals (long before her salad days as a solo artist on Epic Records). Apparently, the label also secured U.S. distribution rights for U.K. bands, as shown by the fact that they issued “Pictures Of Matchstick Men”, which was also the first single issued by Cadet Concept. It features the standard Cadet Concept label design – gray with black print, with “Cadet” printed in pink and “Concept” printed in orange, both words printed with a swirl-style font across the top of the label. The track name and artist are printed on the bottom; publishing information is on the left side, and the catalog number and track length are on the right side. Cadet Concept also issued “Messages from the Status Quo” (catalog #: LPS-315), their first U.S. full-length LP, in 1968.