Thursday, May 31, 2012

The (Young) Rascals 1966-1972

The Rascals were one of the better blue-eyed soul/R&B bands of their time. And then they became something different and lost their audience. You can't blame them for trying to stretch out, but their best material was always danceable fun, and the jazz-lite styles they incorporated later, sometimes fairly successfully, just didn't serve the same purpose.

The first four records are the work of a hot outfit from New Jersey out to prove something. With a fabulous drummer in Dino Danelli, and the organ and soulful voice of Felix Cavaliere, you didn't need much more, but the vocals of Eddie Brigati (and brother David) and Gene Cornish's tasty guitar made for a great vocal group, as well as a rhythmically tight band.

From 1966 to 1968 those four records (Young Rascals 1966, Collections 1967, Groovin' 1967 and Once Upon A Dream 1968) contained solid singles and pretty good filler, too. Cavaliere and Brigati were a fiery hot writing team, and the band had three #1 singles (six in Canada) and five more singles in the Top 20. This era is perfectly documented on their 1968 Time Peace: The Rascals Greatest Hits. It is indispensable, and ranks as one of the better greatest hits records of the sixties. With Good Lovin', Groovin, I Ain't Gonna Eat Out My Heart Anymore, Mustang Sally, A Beautiful Morning, and How Can I Be Sure, it's a classic.

The records that followed this golden era were a mixed bag. Freedom Suite 1969, a double LP, was a good single disc, that made a good follow-up to Once Upon A Dream, and contained their last #1 single, People Got To Be Free as well as highlights A Ray Of Hope, Any Dance'll Do and Island Of Love. The second disc was useless, featuring two loosely-structured "jams" clocking in at 5 and 15 minutes, plus a 13 minute drum solo.    

1969 also saw See, a troubled record that didn't sound enough like The Rascals. Jazz, Gospel and Blues elements were introduced to no great effect, and only the title track, I'd Like To Take You Home, Carry Me Back, and Hold On are much worth hearing. Search And Nearness 1970 followed, and it deserved the pallid sales figures it achieved. Right On was good, and I Believe played the pop-soul-gospel card nicely, but the Vanilla Fudge-styled bombastic arrangement of The Letter is criminal, and the rest does little to hold your attention.

After founding members Eddie Brigati and Gene Cornish left, and a label change, Cavaliere and Danelli teamed with Buzzy Feiten (guitar) and various jazz bassists and horn players to produce Peaceful World 1971. By this time they had lost their original audience entirely. The record is nearly great, and a darn fine jazz-rock record, especially considering the times. Cavaliere also wrote some of his punchiest tunes. In And Out Of Love, Bit Of Heaven, Happy Song, and Love Letter are all single-worthy. The jazz-trance-rock of Sky Trane, the stomping gospel of Love Me, and the tribal beat of Mother Nature Land pay extra dividends. Feiten is a hot and funky guitarist, and he's all over the record. It should have been a big seller.

Island Of Real 1972 was the last try. The record has its moments, but mostly it plays like an unfocused Peaceful World. And the songs just are not as strong. Lucky Day (a Happy Song rewrite) and the funk-jazz of Saga Of New York are both fine, as is Feiten's Jungle Walk, but the rest never comes together.

Time Peace is well worth it, and there are some fancy Anthologies that might interest some. The best looking comprehensive single disc is probably The Ultimate Rascals, although Time Peace might still be the better choice for most. Peaceful World is a gas, and a unique record. A great sixties singles band becomes a light-jazz-gospel-soul band, but looses its audience along the way.

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