"The Rascals are all nerve, soul and viscera. They possess
all the mood and message of a revival, the energy and sounds of the city and the
rhythms of a bluesjoint "
-Constance Tegge, DETROIT NEWS,
IN MAY 1997, The Rascals -alternately known as The Young
Rascals- were welcomed into the prestigious Rock And Roll
Hall Of Fame. During a ceremony that included the induction
of such luminaries as The Jackson 5, The Bee Gees and Crosby,
Stills & Nash, one highlight stood apart from the rest:
a poignant reunion of all the original Rascals, who last
shared a stage together 28 years ago.
The group spun apart in 1970 after an impressive five-year
reign atop the charts, turning out one hit after another
for Atlantic Records. In 1965, The Rascals were signed as
the company's hot prospect for a "crossover" act, one that
would find mass appeal with audiences regardless of color.
From the beginning, Atlantic ceded creative control over
all the group's recordings to the members themselves and
provided The Rascals with unlimited time in the studio to
experiment, an unprecedented gesture of corporate confidence.
Within months, the group demonstrated such a Midas Touch
with both albums and Top 40 singles that any reservations
about the label's gamble quickly evaporated.
Now all the groundbreaking achievements of these four
gifted and disparate founding members are available under
one cover for the first time. As these recordings readily
attest, the breadth of The Rascals' vision and the magnitude
of their accomplishment can still stagger anyone with ears
to listen. Sure, they were an instant sensation. But echoes
of that overnight success still ring in the ears of Rascals
acolytes across the globe. Critics and devotees alike continue
to pay homage to the group, leaning on that shopworn "blue
eyed soul" catchphrase to describe their raw, R&B-inspired
sound. And Atlantic's gamble paid off too, earning dividends
far beyond mere profits for the band or the record company. The Rascals
marked the label's first tentative foray into the rock group
market. In short order, the Atlantic family grew to include
Cream, Buffalo Springfield, Led Zeppelin and The Rolling
Stones, as well as soul legends Aretha Franklin and Otis
Thirty years on, the passage of time has diminished neither
the brilliance of The Rascals’ music nor their architects:
Felix Cavaliere (keyboards, vocals), Eddie Brigati (vocals,
percussion), Gene Cornish (guitars) and Dino Danelli (drums).
The Rascals' best work meets the most rigid standards
of timelessness. These are tunes cherished and continually
covered by other artists, records that pop up on radio playlists
and film soundtracks to this day. And when the hits are
heard here in context with the album cuts surrounding them,
even the most overexposed tracks sound as fresh, as raucous
and as buoyant as the day they were recorded.
Their music may have been forged in the simmering street
sounds of the day, but years on the stage and in the studio
smoothed those edges and allowed them to construct some
of the most enduring melodies in pop's grand pantheon. On
disc, they melded a cornucopia of diverging influences into
a shimmering whole. Their recorded legacy includes a treasure
trove of memorable singles: "Good Lovin'," "Lonely Too Long,"
"Groovin'," "A Girl Like You," "How Can I Be Sure," "A Beautiful
Morning" and "People Got To Be Free." After starting out
as four musicians who had each fronted his own band, The
Rascals proved just how much greater the whole can be than
the sum of its parts.
Each of them had one thing in common long before they
met: a love for music delivered with equal doses of passion
and precision. "For me, the moment of discovering music
was seeing a jazz show on television," Dino Danelli recalled
sometime later, "and it was a drum battle between Buddy
Rich and Gene Krupa. I was in my house getting ready to
go out, and this music and these drums came on, and it just
blew me away. Once I heard jazz, I didn't want to hear anything
else. I stopped listening to rock 'n' roll, and just started
learning jazz music. When I used to go to sleep at night,
I would put on a jazz record and the needle would pick up
and go back to the beginning of the album over and over
Danelli took the train into New York, and even though
underage, hung out in front of the big glass window at The
Metropole as Krupa's band played inside, sometimes until
4 a.m. While Dino peered through that window like a hungry
pup in front of a butcher shop, Eddie and Gene were busy
soaking up every influence to seep up the street grates
of the East Coast - doo-wop, R&B and early rock 'n roll
- and were entranced by everything they heard.
Felix received formal keyboard instruction as a youngster
that took a sharp turn the moment he first heard Ray Charles.
"In the beginning," he says, "my Mom insisted I had a classical
education. I wanted to be a producer because of Phil Spector,
I wanted to be a singer because of Marvin Gaye, I wanted
to be a keyboard player because of Ray Charles, and I wanted
to be an organist because of Jimmy Smith."
Another early inspiration, according to Cavaliere, came
from a New Rochelle club, "a black club, where I heard The
Mighty Cravers. I had never heard anything like that big
organ sound. I couldn't have been any more than 16, and
it sounded like an orchestra to me, completely unbelievable.
I used to go to the city to Macys, where they had a Hammond
organ on display. There was a guy there who used to let
me sit and fool around on it, even though he knew I could
never afford one, because those things were something like
Cavaliere soon formed a working band of his own, and,
instead of the Hammond, he wound up with "something for
about a third of the price. In 1964, 1 ran into Joey Dee
And The Starliters [of "Peppermint Twist" fame] who were
appearing in the same resort I was working at, which is
how I met Eddie's brother, David. I saw they were performing
with a similar instrumental arrangement." The elder Brigati
was already something of a local legend, and generously
provided Eddie his first opportunity to sing on record,
a backing vocalist appearance on Joey Dee's "What Kind Of
Love Is This?" Around the same time, Eddie began sneaking
into a local nightspot called The Choo Choo Club seeking
to follow in his brother's footsteps. Somewhere in the maelstrom
of the Starliters' constantly shifting roster and the bustling
scene at The Choo Choo, each began an acquaintance with
the other three. Top flight players with overlapping tastes,
all four members began to see their futures converge. "I
saw a little kid walk into the place. He didn't look old
enough to go out of his house alone," Felix told pop journalist
Don Paulson in 1967. "He used to walk into the club and
no matter who was singing, get on the stage, and bury them
with his voice. We made an impression on each other. He
used to come around every once in a while, and I loved to
play behind his singing. I told him that someday we were
going to get together. "
In the days before Beatlemania, money came to professional
musicians via one of two routes: gigs or studio work.
For either, contact was essential. Felix had played with
The Escorts, and met Danelli at The Metropole. Needing a
drummer to back singer Sandy Scott on a series of Vegas
dates, Cavaliere recommended Dino for the job. "Gene was
working with The Unbeatables," as Felix recalled, "then
that fell apart and he joined the house band of Joey Dee.
And before I knew it, we were all in place." Eddie picks
up the story from there: "The three of us - Felix, Gene
and myself - all became Starliters at a certain point. We
said to ourselves, 'If Joey Dee's policy [of paying his
musicians] with the Starliters was going to continue as
it was, we would create our own group. We decided out of
all the people we had access to, we liked each other. We
mutually designed the idea that we could be a group. We
waited for Dino to finish a job, picked him up and rehearsed
about 25 songs at Felix's house. The next day, we started
at The Choo Choo Club, three blocks from my house."
While many rockers invoke buzzwords like "democracy"
to describe their group's inner workings, it's clear none
of The Rascals would have settled for anything less. There
was a mutual respect, even admiration, among all concerned.
Eddie's assessment of Cornish was typical: "Gene was really
talented", said Brigati. "He could have done anything. He
played very well, he sang very well. He had is own group,
The Unbeatables, who were successful in Puerto Rico. He
had a good ear, a good idea of what was entertaining, and
a good rounded perspective."
As Dino later recalled in an interview with ex-Springsteen
sideman Max Weinberg, "We came up with the name Rascals
at The Choo Choo Club. One night we were playing there and
someone said, 'You ought to call the band The Little Rascals.'
We said, 'Rascals, yeah.. well, why don't we dress up like
rascals?' The group's Little Lord Fauntleroy outfits were
inaugurated shortly thereafter. The band began its reign
at the Choo Choo, and was discovered later that summer by
promoter Sid Bernstein at The Barge, a floating nightclub
in Westhampton, Long Island.
Between their street-smart approach and tripartite vocal
acrobatics, some mistook the group as a marketing plot to
cash in on white America's newfound appetite for soul music.
But for the Rascals, finding an audience was the same kind
of happy accident that finding their unique sound had been.
They came off on record like three dozen crazed R&B fans
cramming themselves into a VW Bug because their enthusiasm
really was that combustible. Each one of them had something
to say, and a very specific way in which to say it, and
besides, no amount of wishing could have blessed Felix with
a voice so soulful or granted him that uncanny knack for
plucking instantly hummable melodies from thin air. There
was no calculation, only guileless serendipity. And for
as long as any of them could stand it, they got out of their
own way and let that collision of fate and talent work its
way with them.
Listen to the studied abandon that makes these tracks
seem effortless. Years of playing and honing chops, stealing
a lick here or a hook there let to the deft interplay among
these personalities. It's evident from the outset, in the
musical telepathy that allows Dino and Felix to play a kind
of tag between the drums and organ as the band rips at breakneck
speed through "Do You Feel It" and "Slow Down." It's there
in Eddie's boundless energy as a vocalist, the kind that
turns a simple harmony in "Lonely Too Long" or "A Girl Like
You" into an urgent plea. And skittering through the dense
underbrush of sound is Gene, his guitar lines wrapping around
Felix's organ one moment and ricocheting off Dino's backbeat
Ultimately, though, what The Rascals had over other bands
of the day was not dexterity nor even those angelic voices.
They simply had better instincts than almost anyone else
in the business. The way they heard songs provided them
with great material to cover, and more importantly, how
to interpret what they were hearing. That meant not only
playing, but the good sense to know when not to play. Empty
space plays a big part in "In The Midnight Hour" and "Mustang
Sally." The records actually sound more spacious because
all the instruments are not constantly bashing away in competition
with each other. In a decade of artistic excess, the Rascals
were blessed with good taste, those Little Lord Fauntleroy
Certainly The Rascals knew they were more than a gimmick.
A short poem by Eddie Brigati published in an early concert
program states their mission succinctly:
"Once a force more stronger than any ever known united
a small number of those who stood alone - No matter what
their reasons, each one was more than sure - that together
they would build a world in which they'd be secure. "
When the doors to Atlantic swung open for them, Gene
recalls, "we were on cloud nine. We signed with Atlantic
because they had their own studio and they had all the artists
that we idolized, like Otis Redding, Wilson Pickett and
Ray Charles, who was Felix's idol. Atlantic said 'We can
offer you $15,000,' which was still a lot of money in those
days. Their attitude was, 'Please come with us, because
with The Rascals, we can become a major label.' And that
struck us as a good commitment. They were a big label, but
they were still hungry."
Eddie agrees: "We had full artistic creativity, that's
what attracted us to Atlantic. Other companies were willing
to give us more money, but didn't know quite how to treat
these so-called street urchins. Atlantic gave us less money,
but more freedom, and that was a major concession on their
part." The members were barely out of their teens when Atlantic
released their debut single, "I Ain't Gonna Eat Out My Heart
Anymore," a smoldering shout-down which climbed to #52 on
Billboard's Hot 100 chart, mainly on The Rascals' reputation
as alive act. The Rascals
entered the television arena to promote the tune on NBC-TV's
popular music showcase "Hullabaloo," then released a second
single, "Good Lovin'," which darted to the top of the charts,
bolstered by an appearance on "The Ed Sullivan Show." It
became their first million-seller.
Even today, many assume the song was composed by a bandmember.
Not so, says Danelli. "Felix and I used to go to record
store up in Harlem," the drummer told Weinberg, "and one
day we came across "Good Lovin'," "Mustang Sally," which
Wilson Pickett covered, and a few other records. We learned
them and then changed them around so that they became our
Gene remembers that "I Ain't Gonna Eat Out My Heart Anymore"
was released just before the band went to L.A. for four
weeks. "That's where we broke the attendance record at the
Whisky A Go-Go," he says. "The single broke on the East
Coast and they were playing us, but L.A. wasn't playing
us yet. The West Coast didn't pick up on the single until
after it started coming up the charts on the East Coast.
Then it was picked up on the West Coast. So consequently,
it never had concentrated airplay throughout the entire
country all at one time."
With sales from the first record falling off, Atlantic
was ready to try again. Gene left L.A. a week earlier than
his bandmates to return home. He recalls the execs at Atlantic
"wanted to put 'Good Lovin'" out as the next single. They
found out I was in town and me wanted me to okay the mix.
They brought me in, sat me down and played what they'd done
with the track. In front of me is Arif Mardin, Tom Dowd,
Jerry Wexler and Ahmet and Nesuhi Ertegun, five giants looking
over me, saying, 'Do you approve it?' Well, what was I gonna
say? I don't even remember hearing the fucking thing. I
was so nervous, I said, 'Sounds alright to me.' I had to
make a decision, so I let the judgment be theirs. When the
boys came back and heard it on the radio, Felix and Dino
were upset with me, but they understood I was under pressure."
In retrospect, Cornish believes "Good Lovin"' is "one of
the best-sounding records we ever made."
In March of 1966, Atlantic launched their first LP, 'The
Young Rascals,' a rollicking assortment of just the sort
of cover tunes that earned the band legions of fans at live
shows up and down the East Coast. Check out the fiery take
of "Slow Down" and Eddie's commanding vocals on "Baby, Let's
Wait" as evidence that even though the band wasn't writing
much yet, they were already a formidable performance act.
Flushed with the triumph of "Good Lovin"' a mere four months
after their signing, the band issued a second album, 'Collections,'
which saw the group limiting R&B covers in favor of self-generated
tracks penned mainly by Cavaliere and Brigati, with the
inclusion of several no-frills pop tunes from Gene thrown
in for good measure. Since the first LP had only one original
(the rave-up "Do You Feel It?"), The Rascals clearly had
melodic muscles they had yet to flex.
The band's first internally-composed single, "You Better
Run" (#20 on Billboard's Top 40), secured them a modest
hit, followed quickly by "Come On Up," a scorching rocker
which remains today The Rascals Hit That Never Was. "'You
Better Run' was just created on the spot," remembers Danelli.
"Felix came into the studio with an idea, so we had just
the skeleton of a melody, and it was kind of a march at
the time. It didn't really have any kind of a groove to
it, but when we got to that section where he had a lyric,
"you better run," it turned into a shuffle, and then Gene
fell in. Eddie got the words together and the connection
between us was just amazing. Tommy Dowd used to roll tape
just in case something happened accidentally, and he got
it all down on tape at that moment. It was just amazing
how quickly it came together. That was actually one of the
first, if not the first thing we created in the studio."
On the flipside of "You Better Run," the band offered
up "Love Is A Beautiful Thing," another lost gem that found
a second life on 'Time Peace/The Rascals' Greatest Hits'
LP from 1968. Here, in less than three minutes, the bundled
up energy of the band rushes out in a track that floats
like a butterfly and stings like a bee. Eddie and Felix
are everywhere, singing in tandem, harmony and unison, while
Dino, Gene and that magnificent Hammond swoop and soar beneath
The song that finally established the band as a self-contained
hit machine was next out of the box, "Lonely Too Long" (#16
Pop). "That song was our savior," Cavaliere recalls. "Before
that, there was disgruntled talk in and out of the ranks,
and thank God, it was a hit. In retrospect, "Good Lovin"'
launched The Rascals, but it was "Lonely Too Long" that
proved the band was more than a one-hit wonder.
Rock critic Dave Marsh singled out "Lonely Too Long"
along with four other Rascals 45s for inclusion in his book.
The Heart Of Rock & Soul: The 1001 Greatest Singles Ever
Made. He wrote that "Holland-Dozier-Holland deserve royalties
for the intro, but after Felix's organ comes in, The Rascals
are on their own with one of the most distinctive performances
in blue-eyed soul. The highlight, though, is Dino Danelli's
drumming, which merges Benny Benjamin funk with Keith Moon
"You gotta remember, we weren't writers before that,"
Eddie later confided. "Our creative energy was being developed
from that point on. Felix was the music major, and Uncle
Ed here naturally was the gabber. So I did the lyrics and
Felix did the music. I would be the detective and say, 'Tell
me in one word what the song means to you, and he would
The band also had a number of secret weapons in the studio,
among them Eddie's brother David, who helped provide the
birdcalls for "Groovin'." In addition, there was Arif Mardin,
the band's imaginative producer, and peerless studio bassist
Chuck Rainey, who Gene recalls was brought to The Rascals
by one of the band's many engineers, Chris Huston. Rainey
believes it was a recommendation from the late sax great
King Curtis that won him the gig. "Back in those days, Curtis
was the A&R person at Atlantic," Rainey recalled, "and I
left in his band in late '66 to start doing studio work.
I thought Curtis was the greatest, and he thought a lot
of me because I could read music. I met Arif through him,
and Arif put me together with Felix, Dino, Eddie and Gene."
In retrospect says Rainey, "The Rascals were the best
of the lot, a real white soul band. They were not some rock
group that messed with R&B like the Stones or Mitch Ryder.
Anybody who hadn't seen The Rascals would've thought they
were a black band because of that church organ sound and
the fact that they had a soul singer up front. Felix had
a knack for playing grooves that made him come off more
'black' - for lack of a better word - than 'white' in his
approach. He was obviously listening to Dr. John, Richard
Tee and Billy Preston, and it showed in his playing. Gene
reminded me of Steve Cropper with a strong connection to
that Memphis sound. Eddie was the one with the personality
and ideas. Dino was simply one of the hottest players ever.
He and I did a couple of sessions as studio players outside
the band, and we did some outside gigs together, too. One
year, we were at Club 55 all summer, playing jazz three
days a week."
At the same time, the group began to depend more on albums
to demonstrate the members' burgeoning composing talents.
While the first two LPs were largely studio documents of
The Rascals incendiary live sets, by 1967, the band started
to augment their shared preferences for rock and R&B with
more obscure bits of musical arcana. The first result of
this adventurism was "Groovin'," another chart-topper which
resonated particularly well with black R&B fans. "White
people can have soul, too," mused Levi Stubbs, lead singer
of Motown's The Four Tops. "It's stupid to think otherwise.
Black, white... it's all the same music. You take singers
like Felix. He's white, but blacks love him. Color doesn't
mean anything. The Rascals were very popular among black
people. In fact, I was a fan of theirs, too. I thought,
'Wow! These guys are right in the pocket!"'
"I think growing up in and around New York, so close
to the ghetto and Harlem, allowed The Rascals to really
absorb all the sounds that black musicians were making,"
says Steve Cropper, guitarist and songwriter with Booker
T And The MGs. "That's why their music sounds so honest.
They sounded the way they did because they grew up there
and lived it. Like us, they were basically an R&B rhythm
section, with the only difference being that they had an
amazing pair of singers with Felix and Eddie."
All four members understood that their drawing power
provided an opportunity to give back to a culture that had
given them so much. "We were playing down south somewhere,
I think, in Alabama," Eddie recalls, "and on the way to
the concert for a soundcheck, we saw policemen with their
dogs pulling black people out of line. We were shocked to
death. So we went to the promoters and told them that we
refused to play to a segregated audience. In a press conference
before the concert, they asked us, 'Is it true you won't
play unless your audience is half black?' And we said, 'Well,
if that's the way you're gonna put it, yeah.' Now, there
is no such thing as a completely half black audience, but
the point was, if it was segregated we weren't going to
play to them, period."
Regardless of what the record company, the promoters
or the locals thought, Eddie says it was only a matter of
doing the right thing. "When you're in a hall and you've
sold your tickets, and during intermission there's still
50 or 60 people outside who couldn't afford to get in, especially
if there was room, what did we have to gain by leaving them
out? We'd just find a way to open the door for them."
Cornish maintains that throughout their association,
the band members believed their music belonged to anyone
who cared to listen, black or white. "We were just white
people playing good rhythm and blues," he reflects. "Back
then, you just didn't hear about white people doing that
too much, although it was happening all over. You had English
groups like The Animals and The [Rolling] Stones. Here,
it was us, The Righteous Brothers and Steve Cropper [of
Booker T And The MGs]."
While the group did retain control over its recordings,
Atlantic made its corporate presence known in which tracks
should be singled out for radio release. Label leaders balked
at issuing a 45 of "Groovin'," fearing the tune was too
radical a departure for The Rascals' rock audience.
Ultimately, the band was vindicated. "Groovin"' earned
kudos as a perennial summer classic and became The Rascals'
second Number One single. Steve Cropper recalls, "At the
time, [producer] Tommy Dowd was staying with me in Memphis
and a package came for him after he'd already returned to
New York. This was before the days of FedEx. He called,
and I told him he'd gotten some mail, and he said, "Oh,
that's the new test pressing by The Rascals. Why don't you
open it up and listen to it, and tell me what you think?"
I put it on, and it turned out to be "Groovin'." I immediately
thought 'man, that's going to be a smash.' And we liked
it so much, we eventually recorded it ourselves, and it
became a hit for Booker T And The MGs, too."
"I knew "Groovin"' was a hit recording it in the studio,"
The Rascals' session bassist Chuck Rainey remembers. "Half
my life with the band was overdubs, with nobody there but
me and Felix. They'd play me a track and say, 'We need a
bass line here,' and what I remember is that it came out
easily and felt very natural."
The Rascals used the 'Groovin" LP to push the envelope
still further, incorporating more jazz-inflected tunes to
augment two more substantial radio hits. One is Eddie's
tour-de-force vocal showcase, "How Can I Be Sure," (#4 Pop),
an accordion-laced romance that, from all accounts, took
hours of recording time to perfect. In-studio contributions
from Eddie's brother, David, added both depth and vitality
to the band's three-part vocal arrangements. On the flipside,
"I'm So Happy Now" gave Gene Cornish his first foothold
in the singles market and revealed yet another facet of
a band bursting at the seams with creative energy. With
the release of "A Girl Like You" (#16 Pop), The Rascals
presided over an embarrassment of riches. At the apex of
their power and influence, they were a white-hot commercial
juggernaut with the ability to strike gold nearly at will.
"We had traveled quite a ways from the initial sound
of the band," Cavaliere later mused. "And there was always
one magical ingredient in our favor: Arif Mardin. We had
ideas for songs, and here was a guy who could really bring
them to life. You want a song to sound like it's set in
a French bistro? He could help you make that happen. It
was like having a musical encyclopedia. He knew both strings
and homs, and I was like a kid in a candy store with all
of it. I'd had all this music latent in me for years and
thanks to The Beatles, we weren't inhibited anymore. That
was the most important thing they brought to our world.
When Atlantic brought strings into some of those Drifters
records, that was part of it, but in a limited way. Once
The Beatles opened the doors with sitars and tape loops
and concept albums, that really did it for us."
Work began in the fall of 1967 on a new LP, heavily influenced
by the swirl of psychedelia that had crested with the release
of 'Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band' the previous
June. Synthesizing the advances in recording technology
and their own quirky sense of humor, The Rascals delivered
a charging pop ditty of their own, "It's Wonderful" (#20
Pop). In a radio interview, Felix allowed, "Our sound would
change as a result of the times. What was happening at that
time or what we were listening to at that time."
The ensuing concept album, 'Once Upon A Dream,' was dedicated
to "peace on Earth and good will toward man," replete with
sitars, superstar session players and sound effect segues
connecting the tracks. All the members were charting new
territory, paramount among them Danelli, whose sculpture
graced the cover and subsequently won an award for graphic
design. "It happened just at the beginning of the album
art revolution," says the sculptor. "People in the art department
at Atlantic loved it, and the Erteguns loved it because
they were art freaks. But it
was meant to represent the individual dreams of the members,
Eddie with the house on his head ... everybody was represented,
everybody's ideas and thoughts. I did represent myself,
the little man in a cage, an artist who had no head with
his hands on the bars."
The collection now stands as an aural collage of the
psychedelic era's sights, sounds and sensory impulses. In
"My Hawaii," Brigati offers up a paean to paradise awash
in french horns and strings, and in "Rainy Day", the Cava
liere/Brigati songwriting team paints a picture of city
life at its most seductive: "A perfect time for romance
and you," Eddie intones. "Curtains of raindrops falling,
people in doorways strolling, Strange faces brought together,
chased in by stormy weather..." The Temptations would soon
revisit these compelling images with "I Wish It Would Rain,"
and The Dramatics would take them to the bank with "In The
Rain" nearly five years later.
The atmosphere was cooperative and generous, according
to all present. David Brigati accepted an invitation to
provide a lead vocal for "Finale: Once Upon A Dream." Meanwhile,
Mardin and the others pieced together a mosaic of Indian
and nursery sounds, Salvation Army brass and gibberish to
lend the album its loosely connected structure, as if the
band was inviting listeners into their private creative
workshop. In "Singing The Blues Too Long," Felix pays direct
homage to the supperclub soul of Ray Charles with such authenticity
his voice seems wreathed in a smoky blue halo as he sings.
The horns sputter a series of riffs while Gene and Dino
lock the song down into a gut-bucket groove. Another smash
single, "A Beautiful Morning" (#3 Pop) soon graced the airwaves,
and later surfaced on their Number One -and platinum-selling-
LP, 'Time Peace/The Rascals' Greatest Hits.' A mid-tempo
springtime gambol, it was a perfect musical bookend to "Groovin',"
and set the stage for the band's brightest and darkest days
The most important -and the most successful- record
of The Rascals' career followed. Born in the frightening
aftermath of the murders of Martin Luther King and Robert
Kennedy, the third multi-million seller, "People Got To
Be Free" (#1 Pop), wrapped the hard truth of Eddie's call
for equality in Cavaliere's most soulful melody.
This time, Atlantic was even more skittish. "'You can't
put this record out,"' Cornish recalls the execs saying.
"'Why not?' 'Because you're not black. You are free.' We
said, 'Who's talking about just being black? We're talking
about freedom of speech, artistic freedom, freedom of religion.
People got to be free."' Not long after, Felix told a reporter
from Cashbox, "The Rascals have decided not to appear in
any concert unless half the acts on the bill are black.
We can't control the audience, but we can be sure the show
is integrated. So from now on, half the acts will be white
and half will be black, or we stay home."
The band continued in the spirit of its single with a
double album called 'Freedom Suite.' Again, the Rascals
wore their consciences on their sleeves in the most literal
way. In "Me And My Friends," Gene weighed in on the topic
of brotherly love while the surging acoustic guitars around
him built into a grand psychedelic hoedown. "I was so frustrated
because I was looking for an angle to make my songs fit
with Felix and Eddie's songs," Cornish said later. "So I
had to go a different route. I went with the attitude we
had in the beginning, where I did the pop rock songs and
Felix and Eddie did the soul songs. That way we all had
something to contribute."
A follow-up single, "A Ray Of Hope" (#24 Pop), extended
the band's growing reputation as social activists, but began
to alienate some devotees wearied by The Rascals' brand
of evangelism. A third track chosen for radio, "Heaven"
(#39 Pop), marked yet another stylistic departure for the
group. For the first time, the band's message began to sound
pretentious, obscured by too many horns and overdubs. It
was also the second single in a row not to feature Eddie's
contributions as lyricist.
Clearly The Rascals were challenging their fans to move
past "Mustang Sally" and "In The Midnight Hour." In fact,
one of the 'Freedom Suite' LP suites, titled "Music Music,"
offered three instrumentals that predated the fusion movement
of the '70s by at least half a decade. The last of these
cuts was "Cute," an elastic jam the group used to end their
concerts long before "Good Lovin"' and "I Ain't Gonna Eat
Out My Heart Anymore" topped the charts. When the group
was in residence at venues like The Fillmore West, performers
from The Mothers Of Invention, Vanilla Fudge and Iron Butterfly
were often in the audience as The Rascals used "Cute" to
create a musical scrapbook of their travels and influences.
Those present to hear the jam played live swear that "Cute"
was nothing less than a musical treasure map providing ideas
that could have easily been appropriated for such famous
free-for-alts as "In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida" and the Fudge's take
on "You Keep Me Hanging On." For the Rascals, it was just
another day on the job. "I won't say we influenced those
songs, or those bands," Danelli reflects now, "but it was
a time when music was really opening up, and we were on
the vanguard, putting Latin, pop, R&B, jazz and rock together
years before almost anyone I can think of. And we did it
without drugs, with only the rush of adrenaline and the
buzz of each other's playing to push us further."
Unfortunately, they didn't get the track down on vinyl
until 1969, and the studio version only hints at the directions
their improvisations might lead on any given night.
The Rascals toured England a second time in 1969. There
they met with George Harrison and attended recording sessions
for The Rolling Stones' "Midnight Rambler." Europe proved
to be a much-needed shot of adrenaline for the band, the
guitarist says, because "everywhere we went, we had to prove
ourselves because we were unknowns, and we'd always come
back revitalized. The real Rascals were the early Rascals,
before they became millionaires, organ, guitar and drums."
As the Beatles pared back the production excesses of
'Sgt. Pepper' to "Get Back," and The Rolling Stones abandoned
'Their Satanic Majesties Request' for "Brown Sugar," The
Rascals were keeping pace. Their next single, "See" (#27
Pop), was a conscious effort to strip the band down to the
original quartet and return to the hard-rocking style that
had become their first calling card. Cashbox was quick to
notice the change: "Brand new Rascals, or is really the
brand old Young Rascals vividly returned to life? Reaching
back to their early rock roots, the Rascals have come up
with their hardest, fastest, flashiest side in years."
Backing "See" was Gene's progressive "Away, Away." Despite
critical acclaim, the single faltered. A few months later,
Eddie's impassioned delivery of "Carry Me Back" (#26 Pop)
should have nudged the group back into the mainstream, but
proved to be their last appearance in the Top 40. The same
can be said for "Hold On" (#51 Pop), which boasted an innovative
drum track from Dino set into a rock-solid groove. With
"Temptation's 'Bout To Get Me," The Rascals returned to
their roots as a cover band, recasting the Knight Brothers'
classic in the same mold as The Righteous Brothers' "You've
Lost That Lovin' Feelin'," and providing a blueprint for
The Delfonics' "Didn't I Blow Your Mind This Time" still
to come. The album lingers in memory and on disc as a series
of experiments in jazz and pop, a prime example being "Nubia."
With its rolling bassline, percolating woodwinds and delicately
intertwining vocal parts, the song exists in that limbo
somewhere between It's A Beautiful Day's "White Bird" and
"The Girl From lpanema."
The Rascals' 'See' album shipped in late 1969, and was
commended for all the usual reasons: attention to detail
and impeccable musicianship. As Felix mused in an interview
on WIBG radio shortly after the album's release, "As far
as the main theme of the album, I was starting to get into
meditation, and I was starting to 'See.' My anger was getting
a little tempered into a direction. For the most part, these
songs are a result of my inner search.
George Harrison more or less influenced me, because he
was the first musician I could relate to who had decided
to become a Yogi. I was getting into yoga, and the lyrics
reflect this. 'See' is up, but there are a lot of things
there that reflect the peace I was coming into."
But The Rascals had missed out on an important watershed:
the Woodstock generation had just been born, and the band
did not attend the christening. "During the Monterey Pop
Festival [where Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix and The Who were
launched], we were at society function because it paid more
money," Felix says with a sigh. "And it was something similar
that kept us from Woodstock. He later added, "Cream and
Hendrix were out, and a lot more emphasis was going onto
the musical part of the group rather than the singing and
lyrics. People wanted to hear musicians play."'
Danelli concurs. "When psychedelics started to happen,
the music was changing and we weren't changing with it,
and that's when the hits quit coming and that was the beginning
of the end." To make matters worse, Cavaliere and Brigati
had ceased writing as partners altogether, and managers
began to whisper that none of them really needed the others.
"It was like Sears and Roebuck having a fight," Cornish
says ruefully, "and Sears saying, 'Well, let's close up
shop.' You don't do that. We did it."
But The Rascals had too much heart to let go so easily.
Tracks from 'Search And Nearness' reveal the band still
had its winning ways with a melody, and remained masters
at making the most of every production. While "Ready For
Love," "I Believe" (#51 Pop) and "Glory Glory" (#58 Pop)
don't actually break new ground for the band, they do make
for a few enchanting moments on the radio, and a welcome
respite from the prevailing guitar histrionics of the day.
As the LP approached completion, Eddie grew increasingly
unhappy, disenchanted with the group's direction and management.
"We originally became allies because we appreciated each
other's music and trusted each other, and somehow that got
separated," Eddie reflects. "Whether it was by money or
success or pressure or outside forces, whatever. When we
lost the belief in the equity of creativity, that was the
beginning of the downfall of The Rascals. After that we
kept going kind of just by momentum."
By the time "Glory Glory" was issued, Brigati's departure
was imminent. The record company had broken faith, too,
and declined an opportunity to match a competing offer from
Columbia for the group's recording contract. The Rascals
were released from Atlantic before 'Search And Nearness'
could reach the stores. Although the group was snapped up
by CBS almost immediately, the reshuffling effectively killed
their LP, since Atlantic wasn't about to promote a band
signed to its competition.
Before the first Columbia album -there were two, 1971's
'Peaceful World' and 'Island Of Real' in 1972—both Eddie
and Gene were gone. There were still occasional flashes
of brilliance, but as Danelli told Weinberg, the end really
came with 'Search And Nearness.' "It started at the beginning
of that album, and by the end, we had disintegrated totally."
Looking back, Cornish says that whatever tensions tore
the group apart, he remains proud of its legacy. In an era
of pre-fabricated groups and R&B imitators, The Rascals
managed to make a lasting contribution through songs that
have withstood the passage of 30 years time. "A lot of it
does, you know. "A Beautiful Morning," things like that.
But when you have young people making a lot of money it
happens. A lot happened fast. We'd be playing at a place
like The Phone Booth in New York City and have people like
Paul McCartney telling us how much he loved our band. He
wanted to sit next to us and talk. I guess we just found
a way to play that really hit home, and we were the home
boys, the Americans."
It's impossible now to access the importance of the group
and their records outside the times in which they worked
together. Would The Rascals have burned so brightly had
their music had not been stoked by the fires of racial injustice
in America during the 1960s, or did their presence help
assuage tensions between blacks and whites? Considered only
on the merits of their music, the Rascals best work remains
alchemic, a magical combination of not just sounds, but
people. Was the key in Eddie's pop sensibilities or Felix's
voice and tunes? Could it have been their buoyant delivery,
the one-man "Wall Of Sound" Felix laid down alongside Gene's
slash and-soothe hollow-body Gibson, or the way Dino executed
his drum fills with the confidence of a military tactician?
The Rascals encompass all of that, but something more, something
else, something too elusive to be captured by anything as
finite as words. Luckily, it's preserved here in the music,
where succeeding generations can listen and look for their
Kevin Phinney / Joe Russo