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).