Quick: what undersung band has been cited as a crucial influence by Springsteen, Kurt, Courtney, Kiss, Joan Jett, Mötley Crüe, Manson, and at least two Sex Pistols? Stuck? Here’s another clue: matching white leisure suits. That’s right, it’s the Raspberries, arguably the most influential power-pop group ever to emerge from west of the Atlantic, much less the banks of Lake Erie. Making good on that goodwill, they’re semi-officially the last ’70s group to go the reunion route — just 31 years after the original foursome last rocked.
”People used to ask me ‘Why don’t you guys get together and just play one gig?”’ says frontman Eric Carmen. ”Because it takes the same amount of preparation for one good show as a six-month tour. I never wanted to be the guy to put this band back on a stage and pop everyone’s bubble and have them go home saying ‘Oh, they weren’t that good.”’ Plus, it may have taken that long to forget the drunken parking-lot fight that marked the band’s end. ”But 30 years have passed, and everybody is a grown-up now, with a life,” says Carmen. Making the offer they couldn’t refuse was Cleveland’s House of Blues, which wanted the city’s most beloved rockers to play their November opening. A New Year’s Eve gig is being filmed for a DVD, and a national tour of HOBs is in the works for 2005. (Just don’t expect the matching suits to make a comeback; those were gone by 1973’s Side 3.)
The perception/reality disparity that helped lead to the Raspberries’ split also helped keep their legend alive: Here were guys being targeted by Capitol Records for the Tiger Beat crowd who also played carnal hard-rock anthems recalling the Who and the Small Faces at their best. Their most classic singles — ”Go All the Way,” ”I Wanna Be With You,” ”Tonight” — all had I’m gonna get laid tonight as a dominant theme and at least one of us is probably underage as a clear subtheme. ”My oldest daughter said to my wife, ‘Mom, did you ever hear the words to that song?”’ remembers drummer Jim Bonfanti, still red-faced over the kids’ discovering Dad’s band’s nascent lechery.
Carmen, who went on to a more balladic solo career, admits to a slight disingenuousness in those days. ”When I was writing ‘Go All the Way,’ I’d seen how the Stones were forced to change their lyrics to ‘Let’s spend some time together’ on Ed Sullivan. And I was listening to Pet Sounds, where Brian Wilson is talking about sleeping with his girlfriend, but in an innocent way, and getting away with it. I thought, If we sing this like choirboys and put the words in the girl’s mouth, maybe we can slide this by radio! And it worked.”