Note to Readers
Well, after the longest winter in many years, spring is finally here, so I’ve celebrated by shaving the beard, getting the car stuck in the lawn, and writing reviews of the band that makes me happiest: the Rascals. You see, while I admit the Rascals probably aren’t the best band, they’re my favorite; I love their sound and their attitude, and I just want to capture the lovely vibes of this sunny March morning before Manitoba sends down another cold front.
If you don’t know, the Rascals were one of the bigger names in 60’s pop music, showing up on the singles chart with regularity, and topping it thrice. The group leaders were Felix Cavaliere and Eddie Brigati, who wrote the original material (music and words, respectively). Both sang, and Felix played keyboards, emphasizing the Hammond organ. Gene Cornish played a restrained guitar and contributed the occasional tune, while Dino Danelli is simply the best rock drummer I can think of. The Rascals’ music is not just brimming with energy, it’s also full of optimistic joy and warm-hearted hopefulness. It feels good to listen to the Rascals.
Note: Since I first published this page, I have created The Rascals Reference Page, based on original and secondary research sources. Many of the facts on that page are more accurate than those presented below. Please visit the other site for more information about this fascinating group.
The Young Rascals Collections Groovin' Once Upon a Dream
READER COMMENTS Time Peace: The Rascals' Greatest Hits
READER COMMENTS Freedom Suite
Squirm factor: 2
The Rascals got their start as the hottest bar band in New York, and this album reflects those origins (it also reflects a ludicrous image foisted upon them by their manager Sid Bernstein, who attached the ‘Young’ to their name and put them in the knickers and little-boy shirts seen on the cover). There’s nothing juvenile about their music, though; it’s a thrilling intersection of R&B with pop, powered by Felix’s innovative organ lines and some great vocals.
There are some who criticize the group for throwing in too many covers of quite-recent hits (The Beau Brummels’ ‘Just a Little’, Bob Dylan’s ‘Like a Rolling Stone’, Wilson Pickett’s ‘In the Midnight Hour’) but that’s what bar bands do rope in the audience with renditions of familiar material, then slay ‘em with something new. It’s not a bad commercial strategy, either. (Imagine a teenager in the record store: ‘I can buy four different records, or get ‘Good Lovin’’ plus ‘Like a Rolling Stone’ plus ‘In the Midnight Hour’ plus ‘Just a Little’ all right here!’) Aside from ‘Like a Rolling Stone,’ which Gene sings well enough but is lacking the pile-it-on instrumental touches that distinguish Dylan’s version, all the covers are excellent. Felix has a genuinely soulful voice, and unlike many white R&B singers, he doesn’t scream to sound tougher.
One thing I love about the Rascals is that they truly represent the pop music scene of the sixties; in addition to rock and R&B, there was a strong element of traditional nightclub pop that allowed singers like Dean Martin and Ella Fitzgerald to remain popular throughout the decade. Eddie Brigati excelled at singing this kind of material, and delivered a number of ‘showstoppers’ on their first few albums. ‘I Believe’ finds him crooning gently while Gene delivers a wickedly complicated chord progressions with Spanish-flavored panache and is a great example of unfiltered talent. There is some material that the Rascals were the first to present to the world, and those songs are the best part of the record. The songwriting team of Laurie Burton and Pam Sawyer deliver two gems. ‘I Ain’t Gonna Eat Out My Heart Anymore’ was the group’s first single (a moderate hit on the east coast), and it’s an oddly structured but dramatic rave-up, with Eddie fairly spitting out the opening while Dino rumbles threateningly, then cascading via Felix’s swooping organ into a defiant chorus. ‘Baby Let’s Wait’ may be even better; again it features Eddie providing a petulant vocal (with a Four Seasons-style class-conscious lyric) but he’s accompanied with excellent harmonies and a stuttering drum line in the chorus that ratchets the tension right into the moment when Eddie trips the rhythm (‘baby baby baby baby’) into the fade.
The group’s first original composition, ‘Do You Feel It’’ is simply a rave over Gene’s frantic vamp, but it sure hits the right groove for doing the frug, and the drum breaks are thrilling. The highlight of the entire album is ‘Good Lovin’’, my candidate for the quintessential 60’s rock song. From the very start, a count-in which moves around the stereo field, every moment is calculated to stir the listener’s interest and excite his feet. It’s driven by a simple guitar riff but the swing in the rhythm locks nicely with Dino’s syncopated kick drum. Felix sings with a passion born from joy you can hear the smile in his voice, and the arrangement hits a number of climaxes: the pause just before the second chorus, damming up the energy of the song ‘til it explodes in the next bar; Felix’s amazing organ solo, doing Hendrix-like overtones and multiple rhythms, driving to that chorus; and that final, overdriven guitar riff sending the song home with a sweaty drive. Rock and roll honestly doesn’t get much better than this.
Despite the good-to-great performances (except lackluster performances of ‘Slow Down’ and ‘Mustang Sally’, which the group recorded before Wilson Pickett), the sound quality brings this album down a notch. The Rascals were recording live-in-the-studio, with Felix playing the bass lines using his organ pedals. It fills in the bottom, but lacks the percussive punch of a bass guitar. Despite that, the first album from the Rascals is thrilling, touching, and damn impressive.
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Squirm factor: 4
The first in a long string of dopey album titles that I’m sure caused the group’s reputation some damage, Collections (isn’t it just one collection’) is a mixed bag. The group at its most ambitious is working on highly polished pop material, but about half the album is more live-in-the-studio recordings of their stage act (interestingly, the covers this time are from the poppier side of R&B, like Motown, indicating the change of sensibility even without the big production numbers). Both sides of the group are fantastic, though, and it’s fascinating to hear the transition in progress.
Eddie gets in two ballads, and both are incredible examples of a really tight band at work. ‘Since I Fell for You’ finds the Rascals building slowly, changing tempos on a dime, bursting into rocking mode, and dropping back out. Dino’s particularly good with the delicate cymbal work. ‘More’ is a luscious melody that allows Eddie to show off his warm, throaty tone, while Felix contributes another brilliant solo (notice how he gets the organ to shimmer with judicious use of the Leslie cabinet).
The rockers are aimed squarely at the dance floor, and don’t fail on that count. A nice touch in ‘Mickey’s Monkey’ is when Felix substitutes Eddie’s name for the protagonist, and the medley into ‘Love Lights’ lets Eddie show off his up-tempo work, which is as powerful as Felix’s. ‘Land of 1000 Dances’ is oddly arranged it doesn’t feature any of the verses, just a few repetitions of the chorus as the band gets louder and louder (by the end it sounds like Felix is playing with all ten fingers and maybe a nose) but it’s a tremendous effect, like the stereo’s about to blow up!
Gene contributes two songs, both of which are a little disappointing. ‘1956’ sounds exactly like ‘Kansas City’, although the piano runs are fun. ‘No Live to Give’ is pretty, but the lyrics are questionable (‘I find myself ignoring things that aren’t there’’), and Eddie could have sung it better than Gene did.
The Cavaliere-Brigati compositions, though, make this album great. The record kicks off with ‘What Is the Reason’’, acquainting the listener with the band’s new style right away. There’s no corner of the arrangement left untouched. From the double-tracked piano introduction to Dino’s tom-toms tuned like tympani (notice how the fills in the chorus are in tune with the chords), to the massively echoed tambourine, to Gene’s stinging solo which adroitly handles a chromatic descending line thrown into the proceedings, it’s a great sound. The composition is a winner, too, with a low arc in the beginning of the melody followed by a higher inverted arc in response, it’s catchy and formally proper (Felix studied the classics as a youngster). Eddie’s lyric is just lovely, as he goes through all the reasons to fall in love, before settling on ‘you’ nobody but you.’ If the Rascals had just come up with this one song, they’d be considered cult classics, but they topped it twice more on this album alone.
’Lonely Too Long’ starts out with a Motown-influenced piano line, but soon creates its own style. A large part of it is Dino’s beat, described by Dave Marsh as ‘Benny Benjamin meets Keith Moon’. It does have powerful fills, but the most intriguing part is the kick drum pattern, syncopated into the two, but dragging the last beat all the way to the and of four. The melody’s short phrases (answered by a beautiful French horn) built into the passionate multi-syllabic outburst leading into the harmonized chorus, and the whole thing is a work of art. Again, a fantastic lyric, as Eddie takes Felix’s raw emotions (he’d just fallen in love), and makes some affecting phrases (‘all my trouble’s been torn in half’).
’Come On Up’ is not pop at all, but it does show that the Rascals still had a lot of sweaty groove in them. The guitar and organ lock into a fast version of a soul dance, but the way they drag the last beat provides a lot of sexy energy, and the combination of Felix’s earthy vocal and the backing ‘baby’s is a heady mixture. Just try to stay seated when this is playing.
’Love is a Beautiful Thing’ is the last of the original gems, and it solidifies the progress made by the group. Felix and Eddie duet with a bluesy verse melody that opens into a anthemic chorus (I love the way ‘beautiful thing’ trails down the scale, followed by ‘so beautiful’ tracing the same pattern a fifth above). Not so insightful in the lyrics department this time around (‘teach your heart to sing’), but they were just starting in this songwriting stuff. Three classics isn’t too shabby for the first try, and having another album chock-full of danceable raves, lovely singing, and brilliant drumming is just par for the course with a band this good.
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Squirm factor: 1
I can’t imagine anyone thought that the band who topped the charts with the quintessential soul rave ‘Good Lovin’’ would do the same a year later with the easy lope of ‘Groovin’’, but the Rascals were a rapidly evolving band. ‘Groovin’’ is one of the high points of their career, and its ubiquity probably had as much to do with the Summer of Love as anything by the Jefferson Airplane or the Beatles. The Rascals had always had an interest in percussion (Eddie played a number of instruments like conga and maracas on stage), and their use of congas, tambourine, claves, and vibraphone provide a fantastic setting for the amazing gentle groove of the song it’s laid-back, but propulsive at the same time, owing to the Cuban-influenced bass line and Felix’s insistent piano line. The lyrics beautifully encapsulate the glorious freedom of a sunny day (‘groovin’’ down a crowded avenue, doing’ anything we like to do’) and the melody is perfectly designed for singing along. Perhaps the most glorious moment is when the group launches into block harmonies for the bridge, followed by Felix’s ascending piano line it gives me chills every time. This is one song that always gets Abe out of a crying jag, and it stands as one of the monumental achievements of 20th century American popular music.
The rest of the album is pretty darn good, too. The Rascals found themselves enjoying enough success in the studio to add a couple vital elements: they hired bass players, and added Eddie’s brother David to beef up the backing vocals. Both elements create a fuller-sounding production and the bass especially helps to emphasize the soulful tendencies of the band. In addition, they explore a couple new directions: psychedelia (it was 1967) and orchestrated pop (think Tom Jones, not Moody Blues.)
The former entries are pretty enjoyable: ‘Find Somebody’ features Felix on guitar (don’t know where Gene was that day) in a raga-style arrangement that explodes into a straight rock chorus (dig Dino pumping up the volume with the floor tom), and ‘It’s Love’ has a terrific bass line that dances across the beat (played like a triplet over two-and-a-half beats, then a quicker triplet to fill out the measure) and an unabashedly joyful vocal from Felix (I love hearing him laugh when he sings ‘multiple revelations’). And while the lyrics are wide-eyed and hopeful, they focus on personal love rather than universal brotherhood, and bear up under scrutiny.
The big pop numbers are where the band really shines, though. The opening track, ‘A Girl Like You’ was another big hit for the group, and it opens with a dreamy piano melody echoed by flute, but then bursts into an extravaganza of horns straight out of a Vegas revue, and those famous Brigati harmonies backing up Felix’s rapturous lead vocal. A glissando from the harp sends us back to the verse and we get to hear the whole thing again. Dino holds it all together with aggressive cymbal work and some well-placed fills in the chorus.
’How Can I Be Sure’’ is a delicate ballad accompanied by accordion for an Italian flavor. Eddie’s gentle, breathy vocal is a marvel, with its tentative attack in the opening changing into a full-throated declamation in the climax, and the song was yet another hit. Even the one cover song, Stevie Wonder’s, ‘A Place in the Sun’ has more of the pop feel than full-bore soul music. Dino provides a bouncy march-like beat, while Eddie gives his best show-biz performance of an uplifting tune.
Gene’s two numbers fit in better this time. ‘I’m So Happy Now’ has a tricky arrangement, as the second part of the verse is so radically syncopated that you think it’s in triple time (but it’s not really) that Dino handles with a simple hi-hat tap, but the soaring melody of the chorus is echoed in the horns for a rousing performance. ‘I Don’t Love You Any More’ is so schmaltzy, particularly with the choral-style backing vocals, that it almost begs to be mocked, but the intriguing percussion (sounding like a cross between temple blocks and congas) and Gene’s smooth delivery redeem it.
It’s hard to believe in 12 months that a group could go from covering ‘In the Midnight Hour’ to crafting universal anthems, but the Rascals were so talented that they did both credibly, and Groovin’ is one of the catchiest testaments to greatness ever recorded.
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Squirm factor: 2
The psychedelic movement did in more than one otherwise righteous band, as the eternal verities of a good beat and catchy tunes were submerged under a sea of tape echo and backward recordings. To their credit, the Rascals avoided that trap entirely with a sophisticated approach that makes Once Upon a Dream the first in a string of three nearly perfect pop records.
The psychedelic touches on Once Upon a Dream are present but merely as filigree between-song snatches of sound effects, etc. and never intrude on the actual arrangements. Instead, the group opts to explore the orchestrated pop that made so many of their hits such treats. It’s not a matter of inventing something new, but of taking their talents to new heights with the usual brilliant singing and playing and a new degree of confidence in their songwriting.
The Rascals had always shown the sort of sunny worldview that modern listeners make fun of in the psychedelic bands, but because it came naturally to them, it doesn’t seem so silly here. Rather than proclaiming peace and love for all, they just look for the good all around. This is the most optimistic album I’ve ever heard. The underlying assumption is that everything has something good to be said for it: from kids playing in the street to the flowers growing in the yard, it’s all part of the glory of this world. Heck, they even like rainy days, ‘cause it gives the opportunity to crowd into a doorway and get close with someone you’d like to meet. Call me a sucker for cheap positivity, but it’s just plain nice to listen to these songs.
It really helps, though, that they’re such great tunes, played so well. Dino’s in great form as usual, with some aggressive r&b moves like the driving beat of ‘It’s Wonderful’ and ‘Please Love Me’ and a sizzling hi-hat against a shuffle in ‘Easy Rollin’’. Felix leaves the organ behind for the most part (except for a soaring line in the chorus of ‘My World’) to concentrate on the piano, where he also shines. ‘Rainy Day’ has a shimmering high-register counterpoint, ‘Singin’ the Blues Too Long’ is a tour-de-force of Ray Charles-style pop-blues piano, and he even redeems to dopey ‘Sattva’ from its sitar arrangement with a stride piano line in the bridge. The real star, though, is Gene. Surprisingly, his guitar work dominates a lot of these tracks with a new style he’s moving on from the straight r&b slashing of earlier tracks to a more fluid soul-derived set of licks (it sounds like he’s been listening to Steve Cropper): the syncopated lick that underpins ‘My World,’ the double-tracked acoustic/electric combo of ‘Easy Rollin’ (with that great lick that leans into the downbeat), the stinging lead under the vocal of ‘Please Love Me’, all show Gene in a new light.
Eddie and Felix and both in fine voice, and came up with some killer songs. ‘Easy Rollin’’ has a groaning melody at the bottom of Felix’s range that’s a delight, ‘Rainy Day’ has some fruity harmonies that set off Eddie’s wistful lead, ‘Please Love Me’ is a bit of a throwback to the earlier r&b style, but Felix’s passionate vocal is gripping. ‘It’s Wonderful’ was a hit single, with starry-eyed lyrics (‘being enlightened’ is like planting a seedling and watching it grow’) and some powerful interjections that are hooks themselves (‘ain’t it groovy!’), and ‘My Hawaii’ brings in an orchestra and pedal steel guitar for a lush soundscape that Eddie fills with a dreamy delivery. Gene gets in a very odd composition, ‘I’m Gonna Love You’, which features a brass band and cellos on the verses, and the Rascals supporting the chorus, but Gene gives his most soulful delivery ever and the song holds together on the strength of his wide-ranging melody.
Side two has the loping ‘My World’, featuring Felix doing his best imitation of Eddie’s creamy vocal style, and ‘Silly Girl’, another big-band trifle with snazzy horns backing Eddie contemplating his own role in turning a girl’s head. ‘Singing the Blues Too Long’ cleverly subverts the blues style by incorporating some gospelly backing vocals and pointing out the advantages of a positive outlook (‘It’s 1968, after all’ time to turn the rights from wrongs’). Eddie’s brother Dave (‘the fifth Rascal’) gets a spotlight on the finale, ‘Once Upon a Dream.’ He sounds a lot like Eddie, but more Broadway and less soulful. He’s just fine on this anthem of universal hope (it could be hippy-dippy, but as a show-tune rather than a rock track, it slots in nicely with the long line of standards in this vein.)
Brilliant compositions, exquisite vocals, and 45 minutes looking at the world through rose-colored glasses. What more can you want from a pop record?
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For once, the All Music Guide hits the nail on the head: ‘Arguably the greatest greatest-hits album of the '60s. A White-soul classic.’
This just might be the album that finally gets the coveted ‘10’ rating from Steve and Abe’s Record Reviews, were it not for the inclusion of ‘Mustang Sally.’
You also need to get this for ‘Beautiful Morning’, a hit single not included on any of their other albums, and a stone classic, with its laid-back congas, heavenly vocal choruses, and deeply-rooted nature lyric (‘take in some clean fresh air for a while’ and just smile!’).
Your life will be improved by owning this record.
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You also had some wonderful points on the social message that they brought to their audience and in a sense cost them their career (the brave demand that they share all bills with an African-American artist). The Rascals' music can still lift us up.
Again, great job. I don't know when you wrote it, but like The Rascals' music it is timeless.
Squirm factor: 3
1968 was not a good year for peace and liberty. The Tet Offensive was a major setback for the forces fighting to keep South Vietnam out of the clutches of Communist tyranny; that same Communist tyranny imposed a ruthless clampdown on the Prague Spring; student radicals sparked a general strike that shut down the economy of France; Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy were assassinated; race riots raged throughout America’s cities; and George Wallace got 10 million votes for president (13% of the total) on a blatant segregationist platform. In the middle of all that, the Rascals put out a single that topped the charts for five weeks in the summer not only for its musical virtues, which include a powerful, pushing beat, an exquisite horn line that whips the bridge into a frenzy, an organ line that appears at exactly the right time to complement the melody, and another great combination of Felix’s passionate lead and the Brigatis’ soulful backing vocals but also because it distilled all the commotion into one simple phrase: ‘People Got to Be Free.’ As a statement of human dignity, it’s hard to top ‘It’s a natural situation for a man to be free,’ and the energy of this song, particularly Felix’s vocal (dig ‘we got to solve it individually, uh huh!’), shows that the enduring struggle for civil rights can move the spirit as much as good lovin’. I admit it: ‘People Got to Be Free’ is my all-time favorite song, so you’re not going to get an objective review from this website. The fierce joy embodied in this song inspired by an abstract principle that actually makes lives better moves me to tears sometimes, and never fails to give me goose bumps.
At the end of that tumultuous year, the Rascals put together an album to complement their hit single, and it follows through on the themes of the hit. With the true spirit of inclusiveness, they never point fingers or name names in fact, they rarely even call out a problem without simultaneously calling out its solution. And because the group was working at the peak of their musical powers, it’s all gloriously uplifting.
The brilliant opener melds an orchestra playing the traditional melody of ‘America the Beautiful’ with overdriven organ and some spiffy martial drumming from Dino as Felix wails about the dichotomy between America’s ideals and the life some live: ‘People crying in the land of the free.’ But in typical Rascals fashion, he points out the positive alternatives: ‘A holy man once told me that you reap exactly what you sow / So I think I’ll plant some love and peace and wait for it to grow.’ What’s especially clever is the way the song plays off some of the catchphrases of the time, both conservative and liberal: ‘It don’t take law and order to make me understand / If the minds of men refuse to see our equality / Then it takes some demonstratin’ and a lot of faith in Thee’ and ‘We all don’t want a revolution / But to make all mankind see / There’s a better way of being here in peace and harmony’. Call me a hopeless romantic, but none of this seems dated at all the whole world is obviously still working out how to live together, and sticking to the principles of America’s founding documents seems like a good way to reach that point. (OK, the part where they sing ‘If we lose the war on poverty’ is a little dated, but in a good way, because we won the war on poverty. If you don’t believe me, compare malnutrition and infant mortality rates from 1968 to today.)
Other tracks take on similar ideas: ‘Look Around’ has a wonderfully slinky beat and falsetto harmonies, but the lyrics are more topical: they address the 1968 election (‘Bigotry hate and fear / Got ten million votes this year’) and growing concerns about violence and social anomie (‘Violence on the TV screen / Guns and ammo magazine ‘ Hello’s a word for telephones / Bigger locks and smaller homes’). Nonetheless, the song still rings true because a lot of those concerns are still with us, and the Rascals’ solutions still seems sensible: ‘Love’s not a dirty word / That’s just the way it’s heard.’ ‘A Ray of Hope’ is an Impressions tribute, down to Felix’s high singing and the minimalist guitar licks, but especially in its declaration that ‘Most people got soul / If they wanna try’ and ‘I can’t imagine any greater need / Than to treat each other like we’d like to be’. When things get roiled up with some furious tom fills and Felix expostulating ‘Gotta get together, one by one’ it’s a gospel explosion of hope and joy and frustration all together, and it’s a beautiful moment.
Gene contributes ‘Me and My Friends’ with a pounding piano line and frenzied latin percussion, and while the lyric is a bit hippy-dippy in its only-the-young-know-the-truth attitude, its focus on togetherness (‘The time has come to take a stand for unity’) lends it a redeeming charm. There’s a long guitar/organ jam at the end that intriguingly doesn’t feature any lead playing, just warm overdriven feedback, not screechy but intense. It shows Felix as a keyboard innovator. ‘Heaven’ closes the album with a traditional soul-ballad 12/8 feel, but the melody and piano licks incorporate a country feel. After all the tumult addressed in the previous songs, it’s a gentle ending with a refreshing climactic image: ‘Just open up the windows that are in your heart / And let the light shine, and your life will start.’
Naturally, the group sprinkles in some non-political songs, but they’re all grounded in the belief that respect and tolerance (and a little bit of love) are what we really need. ‘Of Course’ is built on a sinister electric piano lick (like ‘What’d I Say’ crossed with ‘I’m a King Bee’) and a heartbroken lyric. The tinkling celeste break is unfortunate, but the sax solo returns the song to its essence. Gene reprises his earlier ‘No Love to Give’ with ‘Love Was So Easy to Give’, but this time around both the lyrics and melody are improved, with a gentle waltz tune accompanied by a Little Italy accordion and a gently arcing tune and a wistful look at growing up. The chilling orchestration (right out of Bookends) is a fitting touch.
Eddie only gets two vocals, but they’re both delightful. ‘Any Dance’ll Do’ grooves hard and lays out the Rascals philosophy as it applies to the dance floor: ‘You dance how you wanna, you fell what you wanna, you’re free as you wanna be!’ A thrilling trumpet line (check out the double-tonguing up the scale in the fade) is just one of the highlights of ‘Island of Love’ which also has Eddie’s silky delivery of some faintly ridiculous lyrics (‘you’re a touched-off rocket set to leave the ground’) and a fabulous performance from Dino, slightly swinging, then exploding all over the chorus.
The Rascals propounding a musical philosophy that love can change the world seems a little preposterous on the surface. But listening to these songs moves me to a better place, where the troubles of our day seem to melt into the beat. And maybe that’s the point commiting yourself to love won’t change other people, but it will change you. This music makes me happy, and if it makes you happy too, then there’s two more people on the right side of the bed. Freedom Suite didn’t really change any minds (Richard Nixon was re-elected in a landslide a few years later) but it’s enough that this glorious music combined with a soaring, positively-oriented worldview, can still thrill the listener, moving both feet and heart. God Bless the Rascals!
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Needless to say, my band started doing a lot of Rascals songs. We did ‘In the Midnight Hour, ‘Good Lovin'‘, ‘Mustang Sally,’ ‘Come On Up,’ ‘A Place In The Sun,’ ‘More’ (Rascals version), ‘I Believe’ and ‘Love Is A Beautiful Thing.’ We played mostly private parties, church dances and junior high school dances. Back then, the most requested songs were by the Rascals, the Vanilla Fudge, Sly and the Family Stone and of course, the Beatles!
I didn't get to see the Rascals live until 1969 when I caught a show at Carnegie Hall. To see them perform live was incredible. By that time they had already come out with ‘People Gotta Be Free’, ‘A Beautiful Morning’, ‘Groovin',’ ‘Lonely Too Long,’ ‘Temptations 'Bout To Get Me,’ the Once Upon A Dream album and of course, Freedom Suite! It's been 36 years since I first heard of the Rascals and I still listen to them on a daily basis. I still play in a band and we still do a lot of the Rascals songs. Dino Danelli is still my all time favorite drummer and in 1995 I got to meet Dino in person in Atlantic City, New Jersey. He was playing with Gene Cornish in a band called the New Rascals and I happened to be passing by the stage while the band was rehearsing for that night’s performance and Dino was just coming off the stage and I called out to him that I'd like to meet him and he came right over and was as pleasant as could be. I was with my daughter and Dino spoke to us for about a half hour and asked us if we would like to be backstage with the band for that night’s concert!!
For me , it was a dream come true. Sitting and talking with my drumming idol. We got there early and Dino spotted us and had the guard bring us backstage where again I got to speak with Dino for well over an hour. He showed me how he twirls his sticks (nobody does it better), told me he never learned how to drive a car, never married, never had any children and so on... Truly a real gentleman and a stand up guy!!! Two weeks later he sent my daughter a letter and an autographed picture in the mail!!
Anyway, as you can see I'm a big Rascals fan and will be forever... Once again, it was great to read your reviews and keep on ''groovin’.''
The Young Rascals
Once Upon a Dream
Time Peace: The Rascals' Greatest Hits
Squirm factor: 4
It’s sad to say, but the late sixties passed the Rascals by. There was a big shift in the music record buyers wanted, and after the summer of ‘68, the group had a tough time getting their singles in the top twenty anymore. That shift, felt both in rock and soul, was away from the concise, song-driven approach favored by almost everyone except a few folks in San Francisco, and toward a rhythm-centered, funky approach (for examples of this shift, see the Temptations ‘My Girl’ versus ‘Papa Was a Rolling Stone’ or the Rolling Stones ‘Ruby Tuesday’ versus ‘Can’t You Hear Me Knocking’.) To their eternal credit, the Rascals tried to move with the times, and succeeded brilliantly in fusing their innate (and well-honed) melodic tendencies with some powerful rhythms on their late 1969 release, See. It failed to click with the public, however, and spelled the beginning of the group’s demise.
There was apparently a falling-out between Eddie and Felix, too, so that Felix writes almost all the lyrics on this album. They’re quite competent, but that lack that wide-eyed flair that Eddie delivered. Still, See is a fantastic listen.
With a new rhythmic approach, Dino becomes the star attraction, and he makes the most of his opportunities. ‘See’ is built on a raging overamped electric piano riff, and Dino pounds as heavily as any metal drummer in a complex rhythm alternating snare paradiddles with a syncopated kick drum and jazzy ride pattern; ‘Hold On’ has him beating the toms in a surprisingly accented groove; ‘Temptation’s ‘Bout to Get Me’ is a classic soul groove, but Dino delivers with understated fills that tug the wild vocals back into place.
While quite of the few of the numbers do focus more on the groove and less on the melody, they do it in ways that keep the listener hooked: ‘See’ has lovely three-part harmonies, ‘Stop and Think’ not only features an intriguing shenai-sounding obbligato, but also a very cool battle between drums, conga, sitar and guitar (Dino wins, of course, but the guitar and sitar manage to sound like each other along the way), ‘Nubia’ has a glowering string arrangement, ‘Hold On’ features a melody that sneaks up to a peak and allows the drums and guitar to slither downward in a delicious hook.
A couple of tracks are throwbacks to the Rascals’ traditional pop leanings, and they’re my favorites: ‘I’d Like to Take You Home’ lopes gently along under Gene’s cowboy-style guitar, with some exquisite falsetto singing and a joyful lyric: ‘I’d like to take you home and make you happy for the rest of your life.’ ‘Real Thing’ is even better, with a big glossy production of keyboards and horns, and a simple, elegant melody in four short arcing phrases.
While Felix dominates the lead vocals again, Eddie gets in a couple tracks: ‘I’m Blue’ is an undistinguished blues number (that shows a certain lack of awareness about their own catalog, considering a song called ‘Baby I’m Blue’ was on their last album), but ‘Carry Me Back’ is a gospel stomper just made for Eddie’s belting style. Felix and Eddie also duet in several places, a thrilling effect. They sing straight harmonies in ‘Hold On’, and on ‘Real Thing’ they swap lines but join in for some emotive singing on the bridge (when they hit ‘long ago and far away’ it’s bound to give you chills.) The true vocal masterpiece, though, is a cover of the Knight Brothers’ ‘Temptation’s ‘Bout to Get Me.’ Over a lovely sweeping organ, Eddie, Felix and Dave trade lines, each bringing out different shades of emotion: Dave is sultry, Felix determined, Eddie an emotional basket case: ‘All my strength will come tumblin’ down’ is as overwrought as anything in the Otis Redding discography, and just as cathartic.
Sadly overlooked in a year of groundbreaking albums, See shows a great soul band coping handily with a changing music scene. It’s just too bad their fans didn’t pick up on it as well.
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Search and Nearness
Squirm factor: 2
A title like this, from a band who dedicated their last album to the ‘divine inspiration of Sri Yogananda Paramahansa,’ and you’re bound to think it’s going to be some cosmic sludge. Perhaps that’s why no one bought it. (Or perhaps the fact that it came out a year and a half an eon in the pop scene of the late sixties after their last album.)
But it’s really just another 10 tracks of the quality pop-soul the Rascals had been giving their audience for half a decade. Unfortunately, while the performances are all great, some of the songwriting’s a bit less inspired.
Search and Nearness is the band’s break-up album (oh, the name Rascals got tagged on another couple discs, but a Rascals without Eddie Brigati isn’t really the Rascals). Eddie and Dave sang most of their parts (but not all, and a gospel trio subs for them on a couple numbers) but had a falling out over something (sources vary, citing either money or ill will among members) and left in the middle of the recording sessions. The group photo inside the jacket shows Felix, Gene, Dino and an empty pair of shoes. Since the Cavaliere-Brigati songwriting team had already split, his departure doesn’t make a big difference to the sound, but the sorry state of affairs ends the group’s story on a sour note. (It’s interesting to note that Gene Cornish’s two songs on the last album could be interpreted as comments on the pending split: ‘Away Away’ and ‘Remember Me.’)
The album is pleasant and offers plenty of great music, but nothing so refreshingly original as what we’re used to. Instead of creating a unique hybrid of styles, the group falls into mimicking the trends of the day. ‘You Don’t Know’ is country-soul in the Joe South vein (although Dino pumps it up with a nearly disco hi-hat/bass drum shimmer), ‘Fortunes’ is straight acid-rock, ‘Almost Home’ is mellow soul similar to Carole King. A big disappointment is their cover of ‘The Letter,’ which lacks propulsion.
There are some clever turns, though. ‘Right On’ is an easy funk number with an elaborate production, scoring a droning Hammond organ with clavinet and scratch guitar, and Eddie and Felix turning in a soulful duet vocal. Dino’s instrumental ‘Nama’ is a beguiling Middle Eastern melody in 7/8 time, and would make a great theme for a talk show host (although the free-form noodling in the middle is unfortunate).
Felix’s latest flavor, gospel music, works well with his own melodic inclinations (though one does wonder whether his yogi would approve), and ‘I Believe’ (getting even worse with the ‘knowing your own catalog’ thing, because they recorded another tune with the exact same title on their first album) and ‘Glory, Glory’ are fiery proclamations of the transcendant power of love, the former with heavenly chimes and female singers, the latter featuring Dino pounding relentlessly and another overpowering organ part.
Felix has also settled into his role as lyricist, giving us a little more personality (which, it turns out, is kind of warped). ‘Right On’ finds him scoping out a woman who invites him to a party which turns out to be the Communist Party! ‘Almost Home’ is the story of either an ex-convict or POW returning home, only to find that urban renewal has razed his block. A few others are pretty generic, but certainly sensible.
As usual, the playing is superior. Felix and Eddie’s vocals (for once Gene lets Eddie take his song) have only gotten stronger with time, so that a tune like ‘Right On’ soars with humor, while ‘Thank You Baby’ drips with soul and ‘Ready for Love’ finds Felix matching the flute player melisma for melisma. Gene’s guitar isn’t as prominent, but he’s picking up a lot of the southern-fried licks that were dominating the charts (‘You Don’t Know’, ‘Almost Home’), and Dino always finds the right groove (especially lovely is the cross-stick playing on ‘Almost Home’ and the swampy beat of ‘Right On’).
If you’re a big fan of the Rascals, or a connoisseur of late sixties pop and soul, Search and Nearness has a lot to offer, but it doesn’t reach the universal heights of their best work. It’s not a disaster, though, which is more than can be said of most break-up albums.
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