From the Garages of Michigan

(Edited to add link below.)

As we have observed here previously, there used to be significant regional variations in record charts around the country. Bands and records of local interest would frequently outperform nationwide smashes, although they have now been lost in the onrushing years and the homogenization of radio playlists. But the Internet is the best thing that ever happened to this stuff, as it’s become possible for both obsessive collectors and chart geeks such as myself to hope that one day, we might be able to find some of it. More than two years ago, in one of my first posts exploring such records, I snagged a 1966 chart from Detroit’s legendary WKNR (“Keener 13”) with several records that either missed the Hot 100 entirely or just scraped in near the bottom. Nevertheless, all of these tunes were monsters in Detroit and elsewhere, a couple of the bands are still fondly remembered—and I’ve managed to get my hands on some of them.

For a record that reached only Number 99 in Billboard and Number 70 in Cash Box, “Open Up Your Door” by Richard and the Young Lions, a New Jersey band, was an enormous hit in lots of places. According to ARSA, it made the top five in Seattle, Salt Lake City, Cleveland, Tucson, Vancouver B.C., and Salinas, California, as well as Detroit, and it remains a psychedelic rock classic, albeit an obscure one. Not long ago, I heard from Bob Freedman, one of the founding members of the band, in a comment to the original post. He says the widely told story that the Young Lions nearly became the first white act signed to Motown isn’t true, and that “Open Up Your Door” was the victim of poor promotion. I e-mailed Bob and asked if he’d be willing to tell more about the Young Lions, but I never heard back. Until then, you can hear “Open Up Your Door” and other tunes at MySpace.

The Rationals, from Ann Arbor, were voted the most popular local band in Detroit by WKNR listeners at the end of 1966, and their cover of “Respect” charted before Aretha Franklin’s did. It’s vastly different from Aretha’s, however, with a great honkin’ garage harmonica. Despite a Hot 100 peak of only 92, it made the Top 10 in Detroit and Orlando, got a bit of airplay in New York, and also charted in Cleveland, Boston, and Springfield, Massachusetts. The Rationals, too, were apparently victims of bad management decisions, and were unable to build on the success of “Respect.”

Based on what I could find on the web at the time of the original post, the Capreez were either a garage band, a soul group, or a garage band trying their hand at soul. But “Rosanna,” which was on that Keener 13 chart, is more of a doo-wop throwback than either garage or soul, a little outdated for 1966, but mighty pretty, even though its producer was supposedly embarrassed by the piano part, which he considered out of tune. “Rosanna” bubbled under the Hot 100 without breaking in, but it was Top 10 in Detroit and Orlando, and it got some airplay in Toledo, Milwaukee, and Sacramento.

I mention all of this because the fine blog Fullundie has posted an out-of-print compilation called Michigan Memories that features Richard and the Young Lions, the Rationals, the Capreez, and many others. Especially notable: “A Change on the Way” by Terry Knight and the Pack—the more I hear by that band, the more I wonder how it is they didn’t become major stars; “Persecution Smith” by an extremely young and raw-sounding Bob Seger with the Last Heard: “(I Wanna) Testify” by the Parliaments, which is where George Clinton’s space travels with Parliament/Funkadelic began, although this record is firmly anchored in mid-60s soul; and “I’m So Glad” by the Scot Richard Case, a quintessentially garage-y version of the blues tune that Cream would record a few months later.

(Michigan music fans: Be sure to check the comment from Scott Westerman below, and go visit his Keener 13 site.)

Shout Out: Since I mentioned Orlando in this post, I also want to mention this: The first time I wrote about a mid-60s chart from WLOF in Orlando, I heard from Bill Vermillion, who was the music director there. But his website, which featured a goldmine of chart stuff, is now down, so I’m wondering—Bill, are you still out there somewhere?

Reminders: I’m on Facebook, so drop by. I’m also still posting at WNEW.com, on Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays. Coming this week: the history of Super Bowl halftime shows and the death of Buddy Holly. And for those who care about such things, the political blog to which I occasionally contribute, Best of the Blogs, has reorganized itself. My posts can be found here. Let me know if you have trouble with the link.

“Rosanna”/The Capreez (out of print)
“Respect”/The Rationals (out of print)

One response

  1. Loved your words about some superb Michigan talent that graced the WKNR Music Guide. When you think about the homogenized play lists on today’s radio stations, it’s hard to imagine that groups like the Rationals and the Capreez could ever make a mark now.

    They were just the tip of the Keener iceberg, too. Acts like Scot Richard Case, The Wanted, ? and the Mysterians, Terry Knight and the Pack, The Shy Guys, The Precisions, Tim Tam and the Turn-ons, even more nationally known guys like Mitch Ryder, Tommy James and Bob Seger all were part of the unique Detroit sound that gave Motor City Music it’s distinctive flavor.

    Come visit us over at http://www.keener13.com, our little volunteer enterprise that celebrates our favorite Detroit radio station. You’ll find Keener Airchecks, memorabilia, and every single WKNR Music Guide from October of 1963 (Louie Louie was number one then) to April of 1972. We profile a number of Michigan bands there too.

    If you’re looking for help in finding out-of-print Michigan Rock, shoot a letter to John Freist, freistjohn@sbcglobal.net. At Keener, we call him “The Rock And Roll Detective.” He can connect you with resources so you can again here those rare recordings.

    Thanks again for the great post!

    Scott Westerman
    Curator – keener13.com

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: