Why Raspberries will ALWAYS matter to me, and why they SHOULD matter to you
Over the last 40 years (or so), I’ve been asked the question many times, in a variety of different ways: “What is it about the band Raspberries that makes you feel that they were something special?” It used to be that I was so passionate about the band, that I could speak endlessly about their worth. As the years have gone by, while that passion has never dissipated, I’ve come to accept the fact that the band will probably never be more than a blip in the History of Popular Music, never receive their just due, and be regarded by most people as only a one-hit wonder. All these statements, while they may carry some truth, are nowhere close to the fact. I’d wager a bet that in the history of popular music, they were one of the most misunderstood bands. Misunderstood by the general listening audience, misunderstood by their record company (who couldn’t figure out which hole to pigeon them into), and misunderstood by the record-buying public. If ignorance is bliss, then there was no group more blissfully ignored than Raspberries.
Now I fully realize that music fans everywhere could each pick an artist who they feel has been unfairly ignored and who should have had greater success. Fair enough. In my own library of music there are other artists who I feel very strongly about who have been heard by very few, so Raspberries are certainly not alone by any means. They are, however, one of a few artists who during their existence in the early 1970’s, were (in my opinion), different from the rest of the class that was receiving airplay on AM and FM radio. Now this was a time when it seemed that it didn’t matter what your song was, if it was good enough, or if you were popular, it could get played on the radio. A time when you could hear artists as diverse as Alice Cooper (“School’s Out”), Lynn Anderson (“Rose Garden”), Al Green (“Let’s Stay Together”) and Andy Williams (“Speak Softly Love”) on the SAME Top 40 station. Yet Raspberries still didn’t seem to fit into an easy slot.
Raspberries lasted for only four albums over 2½ years, but in my opinion, there have been very few Pop / Rock bands in the last 40 years that have come close to releasing four consecutive albums that showed a musical growth and maturity from album to album. They really were THAT good. Lead singer and songwriter Eric Carmen understood how to construct an addictive melody, and also HOW to sing. While many people would go on to know him better as the singer and songwriter of “All By Myself”, “Never Gonna Fall In Love Again”, “Make Me Lose Control”, and the singer of “Hungry Eyes” (from Dirty Dancing), during his tenure in Raspberries, I’d venture to say that Eric was right up there with the best ‘rock’ lead singers of the time. And Raspberries were not a one-trick pony. The other band members were also fine songwriters. In Wally Bryson, the band was blessed with an inventive lead guitarist whose incredibly exciting guitar work was only matched by his captivating stage presence. For the first three albums, Dave Smalley and Jim Bonfanti were the bassist and drummer respectively, Scott McCarl, and Mike McBride took over for the final album. Dave and Scott both managed the McCartney-esque feat of playing melodic bass lines and contributing great songs, while drummers Bonfanti and McBride could go from the bombastic attack of Keith Moon, to the gentle percussiveness of Hal Blaine. Raspberries were far from derivative, but they could sound like the Beatles to the Who to the Small Faces to Free, and never miss a beat.
The band first hit the U.S. Top 10 in 1972 with “Go All the Way.” It was a song that was rooted in the 1960’s yet sounded totally new and relevant. It captured the pure essence of what made the Beatles and the Who so great, while throwing a nod or two to the Beach Boys. It was also the song that would define their career.
Follow-up singles “I Wanna Be With You”, “Let’s Pretend”, “Tonight” and Ecstasy”, from the band’s next two albums “Fresh” and “Side 3”, continued to show how far Raspberries were progressing. Whether it was the lack of proper marketing or the wrong people at the radio stations, none of the singles caught on. When they released their final album (ironically titled), “Starting Over”, and especially the magnificent mini-overture, “Overnight Sensation”, it was clear that the band had found that magical ingredient to making great records, melodic masterpieces. Publications like Circus, Hit Parader and Rolling Stone finally seemed to be listening a bit more closely, and they were universal in their praise of “Starting Over” and “Overnight.” Maybe this musical tapestry also led to some of the fascination (or confusion, depending on how you looked at it), or maybe it was the name ‘Raspberries’, but the general record-buying public was not buying. Nevertheless, the music was proof that they were far and away the best band that no one knew about. Unfortunately by then, it was too late. The band broke up in 1974.
In 2004, over 30 years since the release of that first album, Raspberries reunited for a series of concerts. The buzz had been created thanks to the likes of Bruce Springsteen, Bon Jovi, and others speaking about how much the music of Raspberries had meant to them. The reunion concerts were extremely well-received, and the band played with the same fervor as they had in years gone by, but once again it was a little too late, and the reunion did not become anything permanent. In the end, all the hard work, great songs and new-found fans still couldn’t make things click.
When the term “power pop” was coined, one of the first bands that everyone agreed deserved the title of “Kings of Power Pop” were Raspberries. The influence that they have had on future generations of musicians has been noted, and their songs, be it “Go All the Way” or something else, still have the ability to make a listener sit up and take notice. When I put on a Raspberries song, the music still sounds as refreshingly powerful and clear as when I first heard it. It still manages to bring back that initial passion and fervent belief that I once had in the band. I’ve almost even gotten over the hurt that this band never ‘made’ it. Almost. For a long time, they were really the only band that meant anything to me. I can think of no higher praise than to quote a good friend who said, “They were America’s Beatles.” They mattered to me in 1972, they still matter to me today, and they SHOULD matter to anyone who has an ear for good music. .