R is for Raspberries

The Raspberries (often known as just Raspberries) are an American power pop band from Cleveland, Ohio.  The Raspberries cut through the epic pretensions and pomposity of ’70s-era rock to proudly reclaim the spirit and simplicity of classic pop, recalling the heyday of the British Invasion with their exquisitely crafted melodies and achingly gorgeous harmonies.  They had a run of huge success in the early 70s music scene which helped to pioneer the power pop music style that took off after the group disbanded.  They are best known for their hit ‘Go All the Way’, but they were never able to repeat this success again.  The members were also known for their clean-cut public image, with short-hair and matching suits, which brought them teenybopper attention as well as scorn from some media outlets for them being uncool, along with the people who felt that it was not hip for them to like the group, because their little sister liked them.  They released four LPs in two years, but the group only lasted five years before they broke up in 1975.

Leo Fender and Les Paul who both invented versions of the electric guitar at around the same time, but they did not realize that their invention would create a new genre of music that would instigate rock ‘n’ roll.  POP ROCKS, the carbonated candy have been around since 1956 and the music known as pop rock also originated in the 1950s.  Bubblegum pop arrived in the mid- to late 1960s and in 1968 two music producers named Jeff Katz and Jerry Kamenetz created the concept of bubblegum music, to categorize music that is catchy, repetitive, simple without rage, fear, and violence, featuring childlike themes in the mix.

Pop music is the genre of popular music that produces the most hits.  The pop-music song formula is met when a song has a good rhythm, a catchy melody, lyrics that are easy to remember and sing along with, a chorus that’s repeated several times and two or more verses.  Most pop songs are about the joys and problems of love and relationships.  Michael Jackson is considered to be the best pop star ever, although he performed other genres of music.

Power pop evolved throughout the ‘70s and early ‘80s, running parallel and sometimes absorbing other trends like glam rock, pub rock, punk, new wave, garage rock, college rock, and neo-psychedelia.  The term “power pop” was coined by Pete Townshend of the Who in a 1967 when he when was asked by a journalist to describe his band’s style and he said, “Power pop is what we play — what The Small Faces used to play, and the kind of pop The Beach Boys played in the days of “Fun, Fun, Fun” which I preferred”.  Power pop is often called the Rodney Dangerfield of rock ‘n’ roll, because it doesn’t get the respect that it deserves.  Pop rockers are usually well dressed and they look healthy, and their fan base actually consists of real live women.  The music is usually sexy and about girls.

Some say that Powerpop began with Emitt Rhodes’s 1970 self-titled debut album which included his single ‘Fresh As a Daisy’, or with Badfinger’s Magic Christian, or Alex Chilton of Big Star and their song ‘September Gurls’, or the unjustly forgotten band with Roy Wood and Jeff Lynne The Move who were playing power pop before the genre really existed.  This hooky yet hard-edged, guitar-driven musical style didn’t generate spontaneously, it is a 70s invention that came from musicians who missed the 60s.

The core power-pop sound, the one that came closest to breaking through to the mainstream and challenging ‘70s rock radio’s preference for grandiosity came along with The Raspberries.  Their 1972 single ‘Go All The Way’ became the template for everything the genre could be, from the heavy arena-rock hook to the cooing, teenybopper-friendly verses and chorus.  They only recorded four albums, but they created the initial fusion of fist-pumping guitars and sweet melodies which inspired young rockers to follow.

The Raspberries were America’s first power-pop band and they delivered equal parts of “power” and “pop”.  The quartet looked and sounded like rockers, they achieved chart success and were one of the first groups who broke through with a methodology that was mapped out by their frontman Eric Carmen.  ‘Go All The Way’ was a Top 5 hit that eventually went gold and later became a part of the soundtrack to three movies Almost Famous in 2000, Dark Shadows in 2012, and Guardians Of The Galaxy in 2014.

The group’s classic lineup consisted of Eric Carmen (vocalist/guitarist/bassist), Wally Bryson (guitarist), Jim Bonfanti (drummer), and Dave Smalley (guitarist/bassist).  Their best-known songs are ‘Go All the Way’, ‘Let’s Pretend’, ‘I Wanna Be with You’, ‘Tonight’, and ‘Overnight Sensation (Hit Record)’.  Seminal producer Jimmy Ienner was responsible for all four of the Raspberries’ albums in the 70s.  Their first three albums, before Smalley and Bonfanti were replaced by Scott McCarl and Michael McBride sound like a hybrid of Beach Boys’ and the Beatles’ melodies and harmonies, having the power and punch of the Who and the crunch and stomp of Small Faces.

When this pop rock band formed in Cleveland, they had no name, and some of the suggestions that came forth were outrageous, bringing lead singer Eric ‘The Kid’ Carmen to a point of desperation in which he cited a favorite expression from the classic comedy The Little Rascals Our Gang where Stymie said, “I’ll get you, you little punk!” and Spanky responded “Aw, razz-berries!”  The group is called The Raspberries, but they are not the edible fruit.  Blowing a raspberry is a is a lot like making a fart sound and it is done by sticking out your tongue and blowing hard.

The group’s history begins in early 1970 as a partnership between singer-songwriter Eric Carmen and drummer Jim Bonfanti, who were both local pop/rock heroes of Cleveland as members in the hugely popular bands Cyrus Erie and The Choir.  Cleveland rock’n’roll band Cyrus Erie was originally formed in 1967 by singer/guitarist Tim Manning, bassist Bob McBride and his drummer brother Michael.  They started to catch on when they added singer/guitarist Eric Carmen and guitarist Marty Murphy in 1968, and they eventually replaced Murphy with ex-Choir guitarist Wally Bryson.  Carmen left the group to become a solo artist, and Bryson quit to return to his former band The Choir, signaling the end of Cyrus Erie.  Singer, songwriter, guitarist and keyboardist Carmen formed a new group, the short-lived band Quick with Dann Klawon (bass), Randy Klawon (guitar), and Mike McBride (drums).

The Choir were a rock band in the mid-1960s from Cleveland Ohio, best known for their song ‘It’s Cold Outside’.  The band consisted of Dann Klawon on rhythm guitar, Dave Smalley on vocals & rhythm guitar, Wally Bryson on vocals, lead guitar, & bass, and Jim Bonfanti on vocals & drums.  Three core members from the Choir were Wally Bryson, Dave Smalley and Jim Bonfanti who all eventually became part of the Raspberries.

The group was formed in Mentor, OH, in early 1970 and the original band members were Eric Carmen, drummer Jim Bonfanti, guitarist Wally Bryson, the bassist John Aleksic who was also a member of Choir.  Dave Smalley was their first choice, but he was serving in Vietnam.  They rehearsed in a rented space just outside of Cleveland, Ohio and then made their live debut in mid-October of 1970.  Aleksic left the band in March of 1971 after the group cut their first demo, and rhythm guitarist Dave Smalley joined the group while Carmen switched to playing bass.  They had short hair and no beards and they were not doing 20-minute solos, instead they specialized in two-part and four-part harmonies.  They wore matching suits, and they featured a Beatlesque sound, which ran in direct opposition to the prevailing hard rock mentality of the Cleveland scene.  Yet, after just a handful of gigs, the band was among the city’s most popular live acts.  The first song that the Raspberries ever played onstage was ‘I’ve Got A Feeling’ by the Beatles.  It was on October 16, 1970 at Cyrus Erie West Club in North Ridgeville, Ohio, which was formerly known club of North Ridgeville Hullabaloo.

Their managers had the band’s demo tape with them when they spotted producer Jimmy Ienner in New York City’s Grand Central Station and after listening to it, Jimmy liked what he heard and he helped them get signed with Capitol Records.  As 1971 drew to a close, the Raspberries packed their bags and headed to the Big Apple to record their first album.

The Raspberries’ self-titled debut album stitched together ‘60s harmonies with the introspective lyricism of Big Star and Rundgren.  Raspberries’ first single was ‘Don’t Want to Say Goodbye’, which showcased the band’s Paul McCartney like pop-ballad side, but it was the follow-up, ‘Go All the Way’, that really introduced the world to their killer crunch, as it shot into the U.S. Top 5 in the summer of 1972 and captured the hearts of a gazillion girls.  It remains their signature song.  Though the album is somewhat patchy, it was a strong start for the band.  ‘Come Around and See Me’ and ‘l Saw the Light’ hinted that things would only get better from here.

‘Go All The Way’, was their second single.  Eric scanned the bookrack of his local drug store, where he spotted a paperback by an author named Dan Wakefield titled Going All The Way.  He thought it would make a great song title.  A key contributor to the song’s power was a recent invention by Roger Mayer, a prototype of a limiter, which was utilized by sound engineer Shelly Yakus to give the track an extra wallop.  Jimmy lenner’s deft production was another asset.  When they put the song through a limiter and it came alive, and Jimmy Ienner looked up from the console and said, “Man, this thing sounds like a #1 record!”  Some censors felt that the sexually suggestive lyrics were risqué, which led to a ban by the BBC, although the group preformed the song live on several programs.  To circumvent the censors, Carmen devised a lyrics that turned around the meaning where the girl is encouraging the guy to go all the way, “I come alive when she does all those things to me, and she says (Come on) Come on”, rather than the stereotypical thing of the guy trying to make the girl have sex with him, which he felt made the song sound more innocent.

Their 1972 album Fresh proved that the group was not a fluke.  ‘I Wanna Be With You’ is one of the most brilliant and exciting singles ever recorded, kicked off the band’s second LP.  Fresh was a marked step forward from their debut, as it was stocked with gems like ‘Nobody Knows’, ‘Drivin’ Around’ and the beautiful ‘Let’s Pretend’, which is possibly the greatest Brian Wilson tribute ever recorded.  Carmen and Smalley swapped guitar and bass chores prior to recording this album.  Eric was sitting in his apartment, in Euclid, Ohio, with nothing but a piano and his stereo system when he wrote ‘I Wanna Be With You’, ‘Let’s Pretend’, and ‘I Reach For The Light’ all in the same weekend.

The Raspberries were the opening act for The Hollies for a group of shows in 1972.  Before some of their shows, their promoters were handing out promotional items like posters, pins, programs as well as bags of hard Raspberry Candy.  The Raspberries started touring with The Hollies as the support-act in September and they were thrown off the tour with The Hollies and played their last show for them on Saturday Night October 14, 1972 at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill.  The Raspberries came out and played a non-stop fast-action set of 9-Songs over a 40-Minute span which were met with loud roars from the audience after each song.  When they completed their blistering set, the cheers from the crowd were over-whelming as fans screamed for more songs.

With the crowd cheering wildly and standing, the band went into a rendition of ‘Good Golly Miss Molly’, which was played both fast and loud, with their lead singer Eric Carmen belting out vocals.  Then they went into ‘Ticket To Ride’ as an intro, before blasting away into their new song ‘I Wanna Be With You’.  The rockers then switched to their new song ‘Drivin’ Around’, which sounded like a blend of The Beach Boys.  Then they played Jan and Dean’s ‘The Little Old Lady From Pasadena’ followed by ‘Roll Over Beethoven’ which had the audience stomping their feet-to-the-beat.  For their grand finale, The Raspberries ripped ‘Go All The Way’ as loud as they could, leaving the crowd drained at the end of their set, which is probably why The Hollies got rid of them.

Side 3 was released in the fall of 1973, and with Eric Carmen still being at the top of his game still possessing serious talent and song writing skills.  The album contained three of the band’s all-time best songs, ‘Ecstasy’, ‘On the Beach’ and ‘Tonight’.  This album also included Wally Bryson’s ‘Hard to Get Over a Heartbreak’ and Dave Smalley’s ‘Last Dance’, which both rank among the band’s finest work.  This album boasted a more raw, aggressive sound than its predecessors and it encompasses everything that was great about Raspberries, showing off their influences while proudly stamping their own identity at the same time, but the album failed even to crack the Top 100.  Some copies of Side 3 were doused in cheap raspberry-scented perfume.

Following a triumphant Carnegie Hall date, the group deteriorated to the point where they were getting on each other’s nerves not being able to tolerate playing together and both Smalley and Bonfanti exited the Raspberries to form their own band, which they titled Dynamite.  They were replaced by bassist Scott McCarl and ex-Cyrus Erie drummer Michael McBride.

Starting Over was their fourth and final album released in 1974.  This was an appropriate title, with half of the band being new recruits, but the Raspberries really weren’t starting anything over, it was just that things had changed in the ranks.  Along with the personnel, a sonic change was at play as well, with the band opting for a less overtly pop approach, directing traffic to a harder-edged style best exemplified by the powerhouse ‘I Don’t Know What I Want’, and ‘The Party’s Over’.  This album yielded the band’s final chart smash, their much praised ‘Overnight Sensation (Hit Record)’.

A nasty post-gig confrontation between Carmen and Bryson resulted in the Bryson departing and they tried playing a handful of shows as a three-piece band, but it didn’t work so the Raspberries disbanded in 1975.  Unfortunately, the group came along in the wrong place (rusted-out Ohio), at the wrong time, while this self-indulgent, extended-jam era was being dominated by heavy hitters such as Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple and Black Sabbath, which made them seem like they were out of step with the times.  The group had a five-year run, then Eric Carmen began a successful career as a solo artist lodging 1977’s overblown ballad ‘All By Myself’ in the brains of every cognitive human being with a car radio.

Eric Carmen did not return to the upper rungs of the charts for over a decade, when he scored a major hit in 1987 with his Dirty Dancing soundtrack contribution of ‘Hungry Eyes’.  In 1988 he released ‘Make Me Lose Control’ which reached the number three spot.

In 1976, Wally Bryson resurfaced in a short-lived band named Tattoo and a year later he joined the power pop group Fotomaker who made three albums during the late 70s.  Bryson and Smalley resurrected the group’s name in 1999 with indie rock artist Scott McCarl as the vocalist issuing the album Refreshed in 2000.

After playing House of Blues clubs with Ringo Starr in 2001, Carmen loved the venues’ vibe and he had had some inspiration. As they started rehearsing, a number of very interesting things happened, not the least of which was, that they sold their first show out in four minutes, which totally knocked the House of Blues for a loop.  In 2004, the original four-man lineup Eric Carmen, Wally Bryson, Dave Smalley and Jim Bonfanti reunited and undertook a well-received reunion tour.  They quickly re-learned all of their biggest hits and reacquainted themselves with their fans.  They followed up with a 2005 mini-tour across the U.S., a VH1 Classic special, and a concert broadcast on XM Satellite Radio.  The band’s long-awaited live reunion, bringing them across the nation, ended up being featured in a 2007 album titled Live On Sunset Strip and released this in 2007 on CD and DVD.

In 2009, astronomers had the IRAM radio telescope trained on Sagittarius B2 and they were able to identify a chemical called ethyl formate in a big dust cloud at the center of the Milky Way.  Ethyl formate happens to be responsible for the flavor of raspberries (it also smells like rum).  The enormous dust cloud at the center of the Milky Way smells like rum and tastes like raspberries.  Isn’t the universe a wonderful place?

12 thoughts on “R is for Raspberries

  1. The Raspberries would be classed as a 70s glam rock band in the UK. They certainly had the look and the sound but the band never really took off over here.
    Only Eric Carman’s solo single ‘All By Myself’ was the big hit.

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  2. I learned a lot about the group from this. I loved their music and Eric’s voice. I liked the song by Dave Smalley you included. His voice is great also! Very good writing and like that tidbit at the end.

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  3. I had never heard of them before today Jim. They seem to have had difficulty in knowing quite what they wanted to sound like, or what they enjoyed playing. I could definitely hear the influences you mentioned and I enjoyed the passing experience.

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  4. This is my favorite one Jim! Badfinger, Big Star, and the Raspberries in a perfect world should have ruled the airwaves for years and years. The Raspberries made some of the best power pop out there….Overnight Sensation being my favorite.

    Thanks Jim!

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      1. A lot of it Jim…I never knew much about how they got together. I only knew the end very well. The reuion looked great but it didn’t last long enough.

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