When Eric Carmen and Wally Bryson of Cyrus Eyrie teamed up with Jim Bonfanti and Dave Smalley of The Choir, the result was pop bliss. The Raspberries emerged from the ashes from the two bands, and over the course of four albums – three with the original line-up, and one with just Carmen and Bryson remaining – they came to define power pop. Yet today, some might wonder: Why is the Cleveland, Ohio band so fondly remembered despite only placing one Top 5 single in the U.S. and two more Top 20s? For the answer to that question, one need only seek out the splendid, freshly-remastered 180-gram vinyl reissue of The Raspberries’ 1972 self-titled debut available now from Analog Spark, the audiophile imprint of Razor and Tie.
The high-octane sonic explosion of “Go All the Way,” written by the Cyrus Eyrie team of Carmen and Bryson, remains one of the great album openers of all time. Melding AM melodicism to FM energy with killer riffs and vibrant harmonies, Jimmy Ienner’s production captured a sense of youthful abandon and freewheeling spirit for an audience that may have been seeking something heavier than Gilbert O’Sullivan, Sammy Davis, Jr. or Melanie (all of whom scored Top 10 hits in the year-end Billboard Hot 100) but lighter than, say, Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin or even the eternal Rolling Stones. The suggestive lyrics of “Go All the Way” earned it a banned-by-the-BBC badge of honor, but today, its three minutes of pop perfection seem more sweet than provocative. The track, a Top 5 hit and the band’s most familiar recording today, sets the tone for an album which itself is a blend of soft and hard.
Raspberries primarily features love songs, or variations thereof, with the group’s American take on its British Invasion heroes. The Raspberries wore those influences (Beatles, Hollies, The Who) on their sleeves; the band’s admiration for sunny California’s Beach Boys, too, would more fully manifest itself on later albums but also pops up here. Carmen, Bryson and Smalley all contributed songs to Raspberries, with Carmen and Bryson each earning five credits (solo and as collaborators) and Smalley penning two tracks.
Bryson’s “Come Around and See Me” plays like a vintage, early-era Lennon/McCartney ballad at a faster clip, and indeed, Macca seems like a clear touchstone on the LP. Bryson’s peppy “With You in My Life” has vaudeville horns scored by Jimmie Haskell and a bounce that both owe a debt to “When I’m 64.” (Veteran arranger Haskell died earlier this year at 79 years old after a long, distinguished career working with artists from Bobby Darin to Blondie.) The soaring Carmen/Bryson co-write “Don’t Want to Say Goodbye,” a rumination on love and loneliness scored by Haskell for strings, evinces a McCartney-esque knack for balladry even as it transforms from ballad to rocker. (It earned The Raspberries a No. 86 Pop hit.)
If Carmen and Bryson’s “I Saw the Light” has to take second place to Todd Rundgren’s song of the same title (which was released as a single on April 8, 1972 – two days before Raspberries reached shops!) it’s still a fine example of the band’s softer side. Carmen’s two solo compositions, the lovelorn, piano-and-string-driven “Waiting” and soft rock-esque “I Still Remember,” clearly augur for the direction his solo career would take on songs like the classically-derived mega-hit “All by Myself.” On an album dominated by short, AM-friendly pop-rockers, “I Still Remember” distinguishes itself by its 8-minute length. Touches of Brian Wilson (think “She Knows Me Too Well”), Jimmy Webb and the band’s contemporary Rundgren all shine. Dave Smalley’s two songs balance Carmen’s romanticism: the tight, guitar-heavy “Rock and Roll Mama” and the even more high-energy “Get It Moving.”
Jimmy Ienner’s production is enhanced on Analog Spark’s splendid new vinyl presentation. Raspberries was mixed for a “compressed,” AM-radio-friendly sound that, by design, was never sonically crisp. As mastered and cut by Kevin Gray at Cohearant Audio from the original stereo master tapes, this reissue is naturally faithful to this style as envisioned by the producer and the band for Raspberries’ original vinyl issue. But there’s a definite vibrancy and clarity to the harder-hitting tracks that’s lacking from the album’s CD editions, and a real subtlety to the quieter moments, too. The driving drums gain a real presence, but the sound throughout is never too aggressive. You may well hear new instrumental detail you previously missed.
Though there’s no scratch-and-sniff sticker as on the original U.S. issue, the packaging has been replicated with exacting detail. The vinyl has been pressed and plated at RTI, and the attractive and sturdy Stoughton tip-on jacket is joined by other features such as a replica period Capitol Records label and a protective inner sleeve for the LP.
The career of The Raspberries was a short-lived one, but the band left behind a legacy of happy, jangly and bright pop-rock that still begs to jump out of your speakers today. Analog Spark has gone all the way in commemorating the band’s debut in high style.