Raspberries – Raspberries (1972)

Raspberries_13 out of 5 Stars!

I’ll admit, I was very late in investigating this short-lived band from Ohio, definitely because of its silly name and its overly clean and poppy TigerBeat magazine image. Nevertheless, at the time of this album’s release, and despite my growing obsession with groups such as Deep Purple, Uriah Heep, Gentle Giant, Jethro Tull, and Black Sabbath, etc. I clearly remember being instantly drawn to the band’s mammoth single “Go All The Way,” with its insanely heavy guitar “hook” and its ultra-memorable chorus, constantly being played on Chicago’s AM radio stations, and I had always kept Raspberries in the back of my mind as a band to “one day investigate.”

Well, that day finally arrived in the 1990s when I came across this album in a “$.99 discount” bin and snatched it up. Was I blown away then? No, not really…many of the tracks seemed way too tame/lame for my tastes.

But nowadays, twenty-plus years later…I surprisingly find myself going back to this album more and more, finally coming to appreciate the overall (and sometimes genius) pop sensibilities of Eric Carmen and company. Yes, some of the material is still a bit too “Beatles-oriented” for me—way too light and too overly orchestrated, such as “Waiting” or “With You In My Life”—but some of the album’s tracks, especially that darned catchy hit single I clearly remembered from 1972’s “AM radio days,” as well as the songs “I Saw The Light,” “Don’t Want To Say Goodbye,” “Rock And Roll Mama,” “Come Around And See Me,” or “Get It Moving,” now occasionally bring to mind diverse groups such as Cheap Trick, Stories, Badfinger, Susan, and (the magnificent) Starz. Go figure!

Anyway, despite some stunningly catchy material here, I still find myself giving only an average rating to the overall album, thanks to several tracks that continually rub me the wrong way and the occasional top-heavy orchestration. Happily the band’s next album showed some improvement and growth.

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Steppenwolf – Steppenwolf (1968)

Steppenwolf_14 out of 5 Stars!

In the post “flower power” era of music, many of my favorite “heavy” American/Canadian bands adopted an intriguing yet similar style—a “definitive” sound—made popular by bands such as Grand Funk Railroad, Bloodrock, The Guess Who, Three Dog Night, etc…and (especially) Steppenwolf, who (arguably) were the potential “instigators” or “grand-daddies” of that particular unique “American” style.

Therefore, the debut Steppenwolf album will always hold a special place in my heart, thanks to the sizzling guitar tones merged with the distinctive Hammond organ, the freewheeling rhythm section and the raucous lead vocals, and an often-atmospheric production style. Certainly, in many respects, British bands had a similar sound, but that sound was somehow different, typically more classically oriented and not quite as “garage-rock” influenced. So the heavier American bands often tipped a hat more toward L.A.’s Steppenwolf for their overall inspiration instead of groups such as (for instance) Yardbirds, which influenced so many of the British bands in those days.

With the iconic (and outrageously overplayed) track “Born To Be Wild,” as well as the songs “Sookie Sookie,” “The Pusher,” “The Ostrich,” and “Hootchie Kootchie Man,” this album is nothing short of a pure classic—sorry, make that “CLASSIC”—which obviously inspired countless other acts in the United States and eventually defined a special “American sound of the era” that distinctly set it apart from its British counterpart sound/style. This is perhaps the ultimate “cruising” album, meant to be played while whisking down the highway with the wind in your hair, the sun at your back, and the feeling of American freedom racing through your veins. Just play it loud!!!

 

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