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Friday, January 2, 2015

Eric Carmen

The lead singer/songwriter for one of the greatest bands of the early '70s, the Raspberries, Eric Carmen went solo in 1975, after what seems to have been a particularly painful break-up within the band.  Having penned - and sung - power pop classics such as "Go All the Way", "I Wanna Be With You", and "Overnight Sensation (Hit Record)" for his former band, it was abundantly clear that the Cleveland native was no slouch in the singing-songwriting department.  

And so, with former Raspberries producer Jimmy Ienner and Clive Davis' newly established Arista Records in his corner, Eric Carmen confidently went out on his own.  And, to make a long story short, his debut self-titled solo album issued in late 1975 is a triumph - a minor pop classic in fact.  The lead-off single, power ballad "All By Myself", quickly hit no. 2 on the U.S. Billboard singles chart, eventually becoming Carmen's best known composition to date yielding covers by both Celine Dion and Frank Sinatra - to name but two.

Other songs off the album include "That's Rock 'N Roll" (a U.S. Top 10 for Shaun Cassidy in 1977.  The Runaways also included it in their early stage show but regrettfully never recorded it), "No Hard Feelings" (about the Raspberries' break-up), and another power ballad - and a Top 20 U.S. hit - "Never Gonna Fall in Love Again".

Nothing against Barry Manilow, but as accomplished as the "Eric Carmen" album on the whole was, it unfortunately veered too much towards BM territory at times, which sort of colors many folks' (perhaps unaware of his power pop past) perception of Carmen to this day. 
But to be fair, the Raspberries' repertoire also always had its fair share of blatant balladry.  A case in point: "Starting Over", the title track and a highlight from their fourth and last long player in 1974.  Also, the Bay City Rollers, with the aid and, undoubtingly, under the influence of Raspberries/Carmen producer Jimmy Ienner, took a competent stab at one of the 'berries best melodic moments, "Let's Pretend" ("If 'Don't Worry Baby' and 'Mr. Tambourine Man' had a baby" - Eric Carmen, 2013), which appeared on their 1976 album "Dedication".

"Boats Against the Current", the difficult second album, was issued in the summer of 1977.  The title track, duly covered by both Frankie Valli and Olivia Newton-John, was yet another piano-based ballad.  The Beach Boys-influenced single "She Did it" went Top 20 in the U.S. while the excellent "Marathon Man" unjustly flopped.  With the album an overall disappointment, both artistically and commercially, Carmen could though find some solace in the fact that Shaun Cassidy hit the Top 10 with another one of his compositions, "Hey Deanie", which was also included on the next Eric Carmen album "Change of Heart" in 1978.  The title track went Top 20 as a single but the album as such flopped miserably.  And thus ended Eric Carmen's association with Arista - for the time being.

Although managing a minor hit here and there over the next few years (1980's naughty "Tonight You're Mine" was, well, interesting) Eric Carmen was no longer a viable option, or so it seemed.  That is, until a certain blockbuster movie called "Dirty Dancing" became the surprise hit of 1987.  And Eric Carmen just happened to have a song, "Hungry Eyes", on the otherwise - almost - oldies dominated soundtrack album (one of the other new songs included was "I've Had the Time of My Life" by Bill Medley & Jennifer Warnes).  And with that, Eric Carmen was back up where he belonged again - in the Top 10...

1988's "Make Me Lose Control" was an even bigger hit, peaking at no. 3 Stateside - his highest chart placing since "All By Myself"...

"The Best of Eric Carmen" compilation was issued on Arista.  It did especially well on Compact Disc - the new format all the kids were raving about.  Albums were soooooo out!
And so, apparently, was our Eric.  Instead of following this success up properly he seems to have slipped into a semi-retirement from recording, although touring with Ringo Starr's All Starr Band in the new millennium, and with the temporarily reformed Raspberries a few years later kept him somewhat active in the live arena as time went on.
In 2014 his first new recording for over a decade appeared on a new "Essential Eric Carmen" double CD issued by Arista/Sony Legacy; the Brian Wilson-esque "Brand New Year", where he was aptly enough backed by some of his hero's much lauded backing band: Jeffrey Foskett, Darian Sahanaja and Nick Walusko.  The latter two being also members of power popsters Wondermints.  Let us just hope it is indeed the beginning of something brand new for Eric Carmen...
Eric Carmen, recommended listening:
Eric Carmen/"Eric Carmen" (Arista LP, 1975)
Eric Carmen/"The Essential Eric Carmen" (Arista/Sony Legacy 2CD, 2014)

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