Groovin' - Young Rascals

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Groovin' - Young Rascals

1 CD(s) - '60s - Label: Collector's Choice - Distributor: Proper; Hot Records - Released: 28/05/2007 - 617742080223

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Review of "Groovin' - Young Rascals"

published 03/02/2011 | Templar19
Member since : 08/03/2009
Reviews : 52
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Pro All-American 60s pop and soul
Cons Simply its age
very helpful
Originality
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"Blue-Eyed Soul Boys"

The Young Rascals

The Young Rascals

Before Web 2.0 allowed us to be as familiar with real-time happenings on the other side of the world as with those on our own doorstep, it wasn’t unusual for musical acts to be major stars in their own backyard while remaining virtually unknown further afield. This was, naturally, a common phenomenon in the pre-digital 1960s and the Young Rascals were a prime example of it. Huge in America in the mid to late 60s, the Young Rascals hardly registered in the UK, with only two of their singles (and none of their albums) charting over here, one of them well down in the low 30s. In the States it was a different story, with the band racking up a string of hit singles, including three Billboard No.1s and several other top 10s, and seven hit albums including a 1968 ‘greatest hits’ that reached No.1. Groovin’ (1967) was the band’s third and most enduring album and is still an essential listen for anyone with an interest in the (now) more obscure byways of 60s musical Americana.

The Young Rascals, a quartet originally hailing from New Jersey, were proponents of what at the time was called ‘blue-eyed soul’ - blues and soul performed by young white men - though they also freely incorporated rock, balladeering and psychedelia into their work, this curious mix being performed in a loud, energetic and singularly theatrical manner. Although the band was fronted by diminutive and impressively buck-toothed vocalist Eddie Brigati, singing duties were actually carried out by three band members, keyboardist Felix Cavaliere and guitarist Gene Cornish being the others; the first two wrote songs together and Cornish wrote and sang his own. On Groovin’ all but three of the songs were written by Brigati and Cavaliere, with the others being a couple of Cornish songs and a cover of a Miller/Wells Motown tune, A Place In The Sun, that had been a big hit in the US for Stevie Wonder the year previously.

I suppose the easiest way to describe Groovin’ would be to call it ‘easy to listen to without being easy-listening’, though to do so would be to dismiss what is in fact a subtly complex production. Forty-three years old and still as fresh as a daisy, Groovin’ is a seamless fusion of several musical styles that holds together perfectly, with its eleven songs running in at a brisk 32 minutes. Add to this some exquisite musicianship tempered by taut and restrained musical arrangements, perfect vocal harmonising and good ole’ throaty passion, and what we have here is an album that more than deserves its status as a timeless American classic. Even better is the fact that it contains the Rascals’ two best known and best loved songs, the ultra-laid-back (and very 1960s) title-track, Groovin’, and the ballad to top all ballads, How Can I Be Sure.

The track list varies pleasingly throughout, with the songs contrasting nicely. Things are never dull, never predictable, with the more meaty tracks – A Girl Like You, Sueno and You Better Run – all giving way in turn to songs that contrast strongly in texture and tone. It makes for a seamless listen. The three tracks just mentioned are collectively a good example of the Rascals’ impressive ability to capture and present a musical style (soul, Latino and rock in the case of the aforementioned) yet invest it with their very own flavour. In other words, their sound was very much their own however much of an amalgam it actually was.

Inevitably, bearing in mind the year this album was released, psychedelic elements permeate, though they only manifest themselves as an occasional lyrical or musical flourish and they never at any time threaten to dominate songs, though a couple of the latter might easily be described as psychedelic. Find Somebody is very much a tune reminiscent of the jangly-guitar sound made popular by the Byrds, though it’s multi-layered and contains some early stereophonic trickery, the endearingly clunky nature of which can be laid bare by good-quality headphones. No doubt at the time listeners fiddled eagerly with their Hi-Fi knobs to appreciate this sensational sound of the future. This song too, in places, sounds uncannily like its contemporary, Somebody To Love by the Jefferson Airplane, the line “you’d better go and find somebody to love” sounding very like the latter band’s “don’t you need somebody to love”. But that’s just a quibble, and anyhow the final track, It’s Love, is the better ‘psyche’ song here, with its upbeat soul rhythm being intensified enjoyably by a soaring flute.

Groovin’ is a song that needs little describing even to those who think they haven’t heard it. They probably have. It’s one of those summer perennials that pops up without fail as an accompaniment to adverts or TV promos whenever the sun shines. It’s a dream of a song, simple and catchy, the hypnotic rhythm, synthetic birdsong (supplied by the whistlin’ brother of Felix Cavaliere) and languid harmonica never failing to raise the spirits, or a smile. Second only to Groovin’ in terms of singles success for the Rascals was How Can I Be Sure, a poignant and distinctly epic ballad here sung breathily by Eddie Brigati and a song probably better known in this country (at least to… ahem… women of a certain age) as the one taken to the top of the charts in 1972 by David Cassidy, the Justin Bieber of his day (though not nearly so slappable). His version was okay, if a little insipid, but no match for the Rascals’ brilliant original.

There are one or two downsides to this album, chiefly in the form of the two songs written and sung by guitarist Gene Cornish. It’s not that they’re bad songs - they’re both taut and nicely put together - it’s just that they’re both a tad lightweight, though the second, I Don’t Love you Anymore, has a pleasant arrangement and a pleasingly bitter lyric. And lightweight is not necessarily a bad thing as Brigati and Cavaliere’s poppy effort If You Knew shows. This is very much a song cut from the all-American 1960s pop-by-numbers cloth, the kind of song that was churned out by the dozen back then by seasoned contract-songwriters for the likes of the Monkees and similar synthetic creations. It’s a great little tune that exhibits that ever-so-60s musical instrument of choice, the Vox organ, an instrument that lends its tinny and glorious tones to many of the songs here, though subtly.

Groovin’ is as flawless a 60s album as you’re ever likely to hear. The songs are sharp, perfectly played and never shy of surprising us with an unsuspecting turn or twist. To call this pure pop would be a disservice to the band in question. The Young Rascals were superb writers, musicians and performers and it’s no surprise that they actually produced this album themselves, though wily ace-producer for Atlantic Records Arif Mardin oversaw proceedings and it was probably down to him that not a single instrument here sounds out of place and that a musician of renown like classical-jazz flautist Hubert Laws was happy to contribute.

This is perfect traffic-jam music, or perhaps the kind to listen to when someone else’s armpit threatens to smother you with frightfulness on the Tube during rush hour. It’s pure all-American soul, blue-eyed soul, and it has never been done better. Five stars would be too much for Groovin’ and three a travesty, so four will suffice. When all is said and done, this is one classic album actually deserving of the name, unlike a few others I could think of, so for that reason if not for several others it more than deserves a casual listen, which it will undoubtedly reward.


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Comments on this review

  • tumblewheel published 24/04/2011
    Great reminder of this band. Now listening to it on spotify.
  • JasonJRogers published 25/02/2011
    Fab read!
  • lilloulfc published 25/02/2011
    brilliant review :)
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Product Information : Groovin' - Young Rascals

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1 CD(s) - '60s - Label: Collector's Choice - Distributor: Proper; Hot Records - Released: 28/05/2007 - 617742080223

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EAN: 617742080223

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Listed on Ciao since: 06/05/2007