THE RASCALS: It’s Wonderful (Now Sounds)

The (Young) Rascals were arguably  the first blue eyed soul group, though when they were at their peak, that term was hardly ever  used!  The New York-based foursome, of course, will forever be remembered for their ‘Groovin”, the ultimate “easy like Sunday morning song” and things like ‘How Can I Be Sure’ but there was a lot more to the band than just those two staples of oldies radio. To prove that point  you may want to investigate this magnificent 7 CD, 152 track box set that delivers all the Rascals’ recordings for Atlantic – the label to which the quartet were pacted in their heyday!

First a little context. The Rascals evolved out of the early 60s New York club scene and through working with R&R veterans  like Joey Dee and the Starlighter. From the start, they comprised keyboardists/vocalist Felix Cavaliere, guitarist Gene Cornish, singer Eddie Brigati and drummer Dino Daneli. Like many bands that formed in the early 60s they played covers and their live act won ‘em quite a following on the New York club/bar circuit. Thus they won a contract with Atlantic Records and working with music  biz legends  Tom Dowd and Arif Mardin the Rascals released their first single  in 1965 –  ‘I Ain’t Gonna Eat Out My Heart Anymore’/ ‘Slowdown’. We’re told, the band were horrified to learn that their manager Sid Bernstein and the Atlantic execs had changed their name on the disc to the “Young” Rascals. The boys felt the new name made them sound like a lightweight, pop/bubblegum group but their pride was soon collectively swallowed as the single entered the hot 100. Three more moderately successful singles followed till ’67’s ‘I’ve Been Lonely Too Long’ made the top 20. In the same year they hit the top spot with ‘Groovin” and their indignation with their adopted moniker was soon forgotten. The Rascals/The Young Rascals were on their way!

The band released seven albums on Atlantic and enjoyed a slew of chart riding singles – and everything from those seven LPs and singles is included in this collection. ‘Groovin’’ still sounds gently anthemic but, as we’ve suggested, there’s an Alladin’s Cave of musical treasures in this box. And though it’s an obvious suggestion, there’s a clear  and linear musical evolution in the band’s sounds. Just as the Beatles’ ‘Abbey Road’ was a million miles away from their debut album, thus the music on the Rascals’ 1971’s ‘Search And Nearness’ LP is a world away from their eponymous ’66 debut (ditto the art work).

The band’s early albums are peppered with covers and for collectors of soul covers, this box is a proper treasure trove. Thus enjoy spirited version of things like ‘Mickey’s Monkey’, ‘In The Midnight Hour’, ‘Mustang  Sally’, ‘Land Of 1,000 Dances’ and may  more. Maybe the best and most surprising is  a take on the Knight Brothers’ deep ballad ‘Temptation ‘Bout To Get Me’. As the year’s advance, so too does the music – sunshine pop, whimsy, folksy, a hint of psychedelia. Yes – it was the 60s! What brings the unity though is the commitment of the  band and their obvious love for what they’re doing – quality ensured! Oh, and by the way, by 1968 the band were back to being “The Rascals”.

Across the 152 tracks you get stereo and mono iterations of the albums as well a foreign language versions of the big hits.

In the early 70s pressure of touring and the usual “musical differences” meant  the Rascals imploded Brigati and Cornish quit and Atlantic dropped them. Cavaliere and Daneli brokered a deal with Columbia but despite working with top session players like Robert Popwell, David Sanborn, Ralph MacDonald and exiled Merseybeat luminary, Adrian Barber success eluded them. The real success was with Atlantic. The proof’s in this box!

(BB) 4/5