|Day 21: The Raspberries (I Wanna Be With You)
May 17, 2020
The year is 1973, I have just turned 11, and I own 5 albums. My awesome record collection consists of the soundtrack to 2001: A Space Odyssey, containing "Also Sprach Zarathustra" with the kind of dramatic flair that appeals to an 11-year old kid (but which was still a mistake, as I had asked for David Bowie's "Space Oddity"); Steve Miller's The Joker, with a title track characterized by the kind of guitar goofiness that any 11-year boy would adore; The Carpenters' Ticket To Ride, a virtually inexplicable part of any 11-year old boy's collection at that time (it barely registered for me at the time that the song "Ticket To Ride" had actually first been recorded by this other band); Pig Iron, the debut album of a southern rock band that ended up, as far as I can tell, as its only album, a purchase by a clueless but trying grandmother (she was also responsible for The Carpenters); and a K-tel album.
I had to go looking for the specific K-tel album online (it probably is in a box in my basement) when I heard The Raspberries at some point the last couple of days. "I Wanna Be With You" is one of several perfect pop songs that The Raspberries recorded, and I was pretty sure it was that song, not their other best known song, "Go All The Way," that was on my 1973 K-tel album. Sure enough it was: the simply titled Fantastic: 22 Original Hits 22 Original Stars. As I look at the full list of songs, I remember this as my first direct album-purchasing moment.
Every K-tel album seductively drew the innocent album buyer. Look at Fantastic to see the Skittles Rainbow of Colors cover and the huge blocked typeface of the title, the print version of a 52nd street marquee. Many of the songs included in any K-tel compilation were the aural equivalent of that garishly beguiling visual look. I guarantee you I came for the Vicki Lawrence. "The Night The Lights Went Out In Georgia" has more of that dramatic flair that fits with "The Joker, "Space Oddity," and even "Also Sprach Zarathustra." I may have come to Fantastic for Lawrence's song, but I have no doubt, there was a beckoning, come-hither look from Tony Orlando & Dawn's "Tie A Yellow Ribbon Round The Old Oak Tree" (more narrative drama), as well as from Maureen McGovern's "The Morning After" (narrative drama and a movie tie-in!). Once in, I was indoctrinated by a heckuva house band that included Elton John twice (including "Rocket Man," yes, more narrative drama), Bill Withers, Barry White, and Rod Stewart with some of their biggest pop hits of the decade.
However, it was The Raspberries that I will always associate with this compilation. Compared to those other story-telling artists on Fantastic, The Raspberries' message seemed paper thin. One would be hard pressed to find verses in "I Wanna Be With You," rather lead-in lines to the chorus: "If we were older, we wouldn't have to be worried tonight" qualifies, I guess, as the first verse; "Someday's a long time and we've been waiting so long to be here" constitutes the entire second verse. Depending how you count vocalizations, the whole song consists of barely 100 words.
For several years, as I listened to Fantastic and eventually discovered worlds of music well beyond movie tie-ins and bad Top 40 radio, I could have easily dismissed The Raspberries. However, the hook in "I Wanna Be With You" sticks in your head for a long time. The production is crisp, dare I say "fresh," the name of the album it came from. The harmonies are perfect, the hand claps are a producer's dream, and the main guitar jangle holds the song together like glue. It is a fantastically simple pop song that distorts the depth and breadth of one of the 70's most forgotten bands.
I only discovered their depth a few years later when I bought a Raspberries' compilation . . . on 8-track no less. (Hey, I was growing up in the 1970's, cut me some slack.) Dig into their catalog and find such tasty morsels as "Don't Want To Say Goodbye," "Let's Pretend, "Cruisin' Music," "Overnight Sensation," and "Starting Over." "Overnight Sensation (Hit Record)" has all the dramatic flair of those luring songs on Fantastic and represents a crime that it failed to be a hit record. Both it and "Starting Over" exist in that rare universe where in concert Bruce Springsteen monologues about the songs that he loved growing up.
There are certain bands that just always make me feel happy, regardless of the lyric. The Raspberries is one of those. Hearing any of their songs during a pandemic seems like manna from God. "I Wanna Be With You" was all set to be that . . . until I went looking for a youtube to link with this blog. I found plenty and the first one linked below is the basic album cut; I provide a second one that while providing a cool "concert" version, puts the band into boxes for the chorus so that we can see them all. Over the last two months I have started to dream in Zoom (boxes of people), what kind of God tosses me manna in the form of more Zoom?
"I Wanna Be With You." The Raspberries. Fresh. Capitol. 1972. Album version link. Zoom live link.
Day 20: The Smiths "I Started Something I Couldn't Finish."
Day 22: The Go-Go's "Forget That Day." ->
See full unfinished list here.