Pioneering the power pop style long before it was fashionable, few bands were as commercially successful or as critically battered as Cleveland, Ohio's the Raspberries. Eric Carmen and Wally Bryson, the band's primary songwriters and frontmen, both worshipped at the alter of The Beatles, Brian Wilson, British Invasion bands, and Phil Spector's "wall of sound" production techniques, and had a romanticized concept of pop music that harkened back to an earlier era. The creative tension between Carmen's melodic teen heartthrob sensibilities and Bryson's harder rock instincts fueled the bands music, creating an irresistible blend. The band's self-titled 1972 debut album, complete with a scratch and sniff cover, contained the AM radio smash "Go All the Way," which simultaneously blessed and doomed the band. While it unquestionably brought them immediate recognition and a gold record, it also pigeonholed them as a vocal harmony oriented teeny bopper band, which in reality only scratched the surface of the group's abilities.
This complete recording of the Raspberries taping for Don Kirshner's Rock Concert TV program, recorded before an intimate audience at Manhattan's Palace Theatre in 1973, captures the group at the peak of their powers. Although only five songs were featured in the television broadcast, here one can enjoy the complete nine-song set, exactly as it went down. Containing material from their first three albums, as well as a pair of choice covers, this recording not only displays the band's vocal harmony prowess, but proves just how tight and talented this band actually was on stage.
The set kicks off with a pair of songs from the Raspberries' new album at the time, Side 3. They open with Carmen's infectious hit single, "Tonight," followed by Smalley's "Making It Easy." Both exemplify the band's vocal and instrumental prowess and confirm lead guitarist Wally Bryson's chordal riff-ripping mastery. These are followed by an extended romp through Chuck Berry's "Roll Over Beethoven," which proves the band to be adept straightforward rock 'n' rollers, quite capable of creating tension and joyful instrumental release. Here Bryson's guitar playing and Jim Bonfanti's manic drumming totally propel the band. Bryson's "Last Dance," another highlight of the newest album follows, before they venture back into earlier material from their first two albums.
The remainder of the set focuses on some of Eric Carmen's most memorable early material, including the overtly Beach Boys-influenced "Drivin Around" and the hit, "I Wanna Be With You," both from the second album. The band also deliver a remarkably well executed cover of the Ronette's classic 1963 song, "Be My Baby," a homage to their love of Phil Spector. However, the highlight of this performance is the full-blown live rendition of Carmen's beautiful first album epic, "I Can Remember," which begins as a piano ballad, but covers a lot of Beatles/Beach Boys/Left Banke-style territory during it's nearly eight minute length. Not surprisingly, they conclude the set with Carmen and Bryson's power pop masterpiece, "Go All the Way," the song that will forever define the group.
Although the Raspberries lasted merely three years during the early 1970s, in retrospect, they would have a distinctive lasting influence on other bands to follow, including Cheap Trick, The Knack, The Romantics and countless others. Although the group was ridiculed relentlessly at the time, it is doubtful that the power pop movement of the late 1970s would have developed as it did without them.