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Raspberries: An Influential Case for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame
Why the Raspberries will ALWAYS matter to me, and why they SHOULD matter to you
In early February, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame announced its 2021 nominations. Carole King, Tina Turner, Fela Kuti, Foo Fighters and, the New York Dolls were among the new names on the ballot. Returnees include Todd Rundgren and Rage Against the Machine. Each year the nominating committee face extreme criticism around the candidates they include and those that they leave off the ballot. The case is no different this year.
“Where is Bad Company?” “Where is Pat Benatar?” “Where is “Judas Priest”? “Where is (fill in the blank)? These are just a few of the cries that are heard around the music world. We each have an artist whose case is pleaded.
In my case, it’s, “Where are Raspberries?” This article is designed to help school the uninitiated and to bring further light to the worth of Raspberries onto the Rock Hall nomination ballot.
The Rock Hall History
The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Foundation was established on April 20, 1983, by Atlantic Records founder and chairman Ahmet Ertegun. Many cities lobbied to be the permanent home for the Hall’s museum, Cleveland that was chosen in 1986. On September 1, 1995, the museum received its official dedication.
The Hall has selected inductees every year since 1986. Initial honorees included Chuck Berry, Elvis, and Sam Cooke. Artists become eligible for induction 25 years after the release of their first record. Criteria (according to the Hall’s website) include “the influence and significance of the artists’ contributions to the development and perpetuation of rock and roll.” The Nominating Committee, which consists of “a diverse group of about 30 music industry professionals including some inductees, academics, journalists – with hundreds of years of professional music experience between them, and whose passion, expertise and livelihood are all about music,” typically meets in the fall to create a ballot for the class that will be inducted the following spring.
Over the years, there have been many artists whose selection into the Hall has been unchallenged. Who can argue with 1960s generation movers like the Beatles or Bob Dylan? The same can be said about 70’s stalwarts the Eagles and Led Zeppelin, and latter-day inductees such as Pearl Jam. But for every Beach Boys or Byrds, who have received universal agreement, there are head-scratching omissions such as Rundgren, Benatar, or Warren Zevon.
This brings me to the lack of appreciation by the Rock Hall of Cleveland’s own, Raspberries. While there those who dismiss the band, never giving them their Rock Hall due, there are many musicians, historians, and fans that have been quite clear about the band’s influence.
The Past according to Raspberries
“I remember when I first heard the Raspberries, we heard ‘Go All the Way’ on the radio, and we said, ‘Wow, those guys are really doing it!’ I thought that was a great song.” – Alex Chilton/Big Star
While Raspberries’ recording career was short, it was incredibly creative and prolific. Between 1972 and 1974, they released four albums, each showing exponential growth in musicality. Their eponymously titled first album released in 1972, featuring the Top 5 (and their most well-known) song, “Go All the Way.” With 3 1/2 minutes of Beatles-meets-the Who-meets-the Beach Boys glory, it created initial excitement, blasting its way out of both AM and FM airwaves, providing a shot of quick success for the band.
The second album, Fresh, also released in 1972, featured the Top 20 hit, “I Wanna Be With You.” This time around, a burst of 12-string shimmering Rickenbacker guitar drove the song, resulting in another Top 20 single. Unfortunately, two albums in, confusion about the band among their record company, the music critics and listeners, was starting to simmer. Capitol Records were unsure how to market the band.
Were Raspberries the aggressive-looking band on the cover of its first album, that had power-chorded its way through “Go All the Way,” or were they the clean, wholesome-looking band in white suits that paraded on the cover of their second album? The confusion and concern about marketing image over what was important, the music, would ultimately lead to the band’s downfall.
Raspberries’ strength lay in the fact that they were musical chameleons. The band’s songwriters Eric Carmen (vocals, keyboards, guitar), Wally Bryson (guitar and vocals), and Dave Smalley (bass guitar and vocals) brought many influences into the band, and it showed in the songs they wrote. This diversity enabled them to tackle any musical style effortlessly, without falling into a predictable zone. They could power through the Pop of “I Wanna Be With You” seamlessly, soften things up with the Bee Gees-ish “Don’t Want to Say Goodbye,” and then make a complete left turn, tackling multiple styles in one song on the eight-minute “I Can Remember.”
The band’s next album, Side 3, released in 1973, was driven by high-octane Carmen tunes such as “Tonight” and “Ecstasy” that meshed neatly with the country-rock of Smalley’s “Should I Wait” and Bryson’s bluesy “Money Down.” It was another diverse collection that was musically much more powerful than the acoustic-driven Fresh. The fans and critics loved it, the record company continued to be confused. In 1973 it also came down to finding a radio audience, and without the proper support of the record company, none of the singles from Side 3 made a difference on the Top 40 charts.
The writing was on the wall by the band’s final album, 1974’s Starting Over. Personnel changes in the rhythm section brought in bassist Scott McCarl and drummer Michael McBride, replacing Smalley and Bonfanti, respectively. The change did not effect the quality of the material — a stunning song cycle highlighted by Carmen’s opus “Overnight Sensation,” McCarl’s stellar tunes, “Cry” and “Play On,” and Bryson’s angry and honest “Party Over.“ It showed that even with the turmoil surrounding them, Raspberries were still capable of reaching Pop majesties. At the same time, it was obvious by some of the themes in the songs that they were becoming tired of playing the game.
Forty years later, those four Raspberries albums still stand tall in their individual and collective brilliance. During those radio days in the 70’s when it seemed as if every style of music got airtime, very few listened or took notice of Raspberries. They certainly had their passionate fans, but the numbers didn’t amount to much and the numbers and the bottom line were more important to Capitol Records than promoting a young, talented band that was only living on musical promise.
Raspberries walked away silently in 1974. Carmen would go on to have a successful solo career, helping to keep the Raspberries name alive, but decades would pass before there would be cause for celebration.
The (almost) Present
“I always felt a kinship to the Raspberries from the first time I heard them” – Paul Stanley
In the 1990’s there were some key events that helped re-established the band’s position in music history, and also helped reawaken the public. The release of the book, Overnight Sensation: The Story of the Raspberries by Ken Sharp in 1993, along with a lengthy article in Goldmine Magazine, also written by Sharp, provided an extensive history and look into the band. The book and article in a major publication proved that the band still had an audience that recognized and appreciated their work.
The advent of the internet and especially social media played a major part in newfound acceptance. Suddenly more people were becoming aware that this little-known band from Cleveland had fans all over the world. And they weren’t just any fans: whether it was Bruce Springsteen and Paul Stanley, or Cheap Trick, Axl Rose and Steve Van Zandt, influential voices spoke fondly about Raspberries’ music and how it played a part in their musical development. In addition, the band’s signature song, “Go All the Way,” while never far away from Classic Rock radio, was experiencing a resurgence in popularity, making appearances in movies, tv shows and being covered by other musicians.
In the early 2000s, much to everyone’s astonishment, Raspberries did the unfathomable and reunited for a series of shows. While the reunion did not last long, it received wide acclaim and led to the release of two live recordings. The live shows and the recordings helped open more eyes, and finally, the affirmation that Raspberries were a great band with great songs, that should not have gone unnoticed. This newfound acknowledgment was bittersweet for longtime fans.
While the wrongs from 40 years ago could not be corrected, there was some comfort in the overdue acceptance. Raspberries were finally starting to receive their just praise and their rightful and secure place in power pop history.
The Power Pop Influence
The Hall of Fame has a category for “Early Influences.” Within this category are some acts that don’t fall into the ‘Rock’ category (e.g. Billie Holliday and Bill Monroe), but whose music undeniably played a role in the formation of ‘Rock’ as a genre. While to some observers the music of these artists does not fit into the “Rock and Roll Hall of Fame,” it did have an influence, whether overt or sublime, on ‘Rock’ artists.
The Raspberries were essentially a rock band. They placed a focus on strong melodies, propelled by ringing guitars, a propulsive backbeat pushed by drummer Jim Bonfanti, and powerful vocals. Their songs worked their magic by staying in your head, and if we’re going to assign titles, they helped develop the ingredients that would become signature elements of what came to be defined as “power pop.”
The keyword is ‘influence,’ and specifically, the part Raspberries played in the formation of the power pop genre. Raspberries (and Badfinger – also sadly overlooked by the Rock Hall) paved the power pop road. They laid a framework that would be used by many artists from the 1970’s onward. That same road would be travelled by acts like the Bangles, the Cars, Teenage Fan Club, Matthew Sweet, the Knack, and many others. Raspberries were undeniably an ‘influence.’
In recent years along with the musicians, many music scribes and radio personalities have said the same thing – that without Raspberries, you might not have had the power pop that came after them. If Raspberries had come onto the scene in the mid or later 70s, their music might have gained wider acceptance and exposure. Wouldn’t radio have been more prepared for the sound of “Tonight” or “Ecstasy” if surrounded at the same time by “My Sharona” by The Knack, “Surrender” by Cheap Trick, and, “Just What I Needed” by the Cars?
“All the parts fit: There’s not too much bridge, and the chorus doesn’t repeat too many times. It’s exciting. I wish I’d written that song.” – Cheap Trick’s Rick Nielsen speaking about “Go All the Way.”
We can’t turn back time. It’s time to move forward and create greater awareness and appreciation for the band that had a hand in setting the Power Pop bar. A band that 40+ years after their last studio album, continue to influence a generation of musicians.
So how do you make a Rock Hall case for a band that had just four top 40 singles, and only one song that has had any radio longevity? Many fans find the nomination lines to be blurred. Billie Holiday and Grandmaster Flash are both valued for their relevance and place in music history. They are also both Rock Hall inductees, acknowledged as having played a part in influencing a sound and style. It is therefore indisputable that Raspberries have also had a major influence in developing a sound and formation in their genre for the many groups that followed in their musical footsteps.
The industry might not have been ready to acknowledge Raspberries all those years ago, but the time is ripe for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame to open its doors and acknowledge the influential Raspberries. Put Raspberries on a Rock Hall ballot. The time is now.
“They were the great underrated power pop masters. Their best records are as fun and sound as fresh today as when they were released. Soaring choruses, Beach Boys harmonies over crunchy Who guitars.” – Bruce Springsteen