LeBlog’s Cheesetastic Classics: Eric Carmen vs the Proclaimers
Welcome to the next matchup in our continuing search for the most satisfyingly cheesy pop songs of all time! A LeBlog Cheestastic Classic should be both undeniably corny or over-the-top while also possessing some quality that makes some of us grin and pump our fists in gleeful irony. Some people might also use the term “guilty pleasure.” But I’m not going to. For our purposes here, these are “LeBlog’s Cheesetastic Classics.” The skill and talent involved in producing some of these songs may, in fact, be quite impressive and at their core these songs might actually be rather superior to some which are considered cool. But somewhere along the way the songwriter or performer took that wrong turn at Albuquerque and landed themselves in the land of cheese.
Depending on who you talk to, we might be dealing with a couple of Cheesetastic goliaths today. One is from the heart of the cheese era of the mid 1970s while the other didn’t appear until that golden age had mostly run its course in the late 1980s. Both have had lives in the popular consciousness far beyond the time of their initial release. But are they Cheesetastic Classics? Come join the conversation and vote your conscience!
Last week’s nominees garnered some spirited and definitive comments from our readers, and that’s to be expected when you are taking on one of the giants of the rock music era. As it turns out, our readers decided that Elvis Presley’s “In the Ghetto” was not cheesy enough to join our list, while fully 90% of us gave thumbs up to Harry Nilsson’s “Without You” as a quintessential example of the Cheesetastic Classic. Nilsson therefore joins Dan Hill, Foreigner, Melissa Manchester, Meatloaf, Richard Harris, and Corey Hart in this greatest of honors. Let’s take a look at the most recent nominees, shall we?
Our first nominee today is one who I once considered covering in my “Nope, Not a 1-Hit Wonder” series, but the fact that he had not just one or two more hits, but seven additional hits, including two more top ten smashes, led me to question whether he was an appropriate target for that distinction. Well, I’m glad I put him off, because I think I’ve found a more fitting series to place him in. Just feast your cheese-lovin’ eyes and ears on the video below!
Yes, that was almost seven minutes in length, and about half of it was devoted to an extended piano break. If that’s not enough, this epic wail of self-pity not only break that emotionally soft piano interlude with sudden power drums, but then employs the device of another sudden stop by the rest of the band while Carmen again takes center stage with just his piano and voice in the last minute of the song. It’s almost as if Carmen and his band mates specifically engineered “All By Myself” for the ears of snarky 21st century cynics. Or maybe he really did intend to become the patron saint of middle school secretaries with multiple cats.
Carmen was born in 1949 in Cleveland Ohio, because of course he was. He took up music and entertaining at an early age, taking violin lessons from a relative, becoming a classically trained pianist, and teaching himself to play guitar by sitting down with a Beatles chord book for several months. After playing with multiple bands during his teenage years (including one called “The Sounds of Silence”, thanks Simon & Garfunkel), he finally hooked up with a group that showed some promise while he was in school at John Carroll University in University Heights, Ohio. The Raspberries rose from the ashes of two other local bands, The Choir and Cyrus Erie, but within just a few years they were a successful rock band with a top 10 hit in “Go All the Way,” which sounds like an interesting amalgam of The Who and early Paul McCartney solo work.
The group would score three more smaller top40 hits within a couple of years, but when they broke up Carmen jumped effortlessly into a solo career, emphasizing the softer edge music that was his preference. As you can tell from the above video, people were still being transitioned from The Raspberries to Carmen on his own when “All By Myself” appeared as his first big single. It was to nobody’s surprise that the classically trained pianist had based the #2 charting single on a concerto by Sergei Rachmaninoff. His second hit record, “Never Gonna Fall in Love Again,” likewise mined Rachmaninoff’s music. My own Father spent quite a bit of time trying to master one of his more difficult keyboard-pounders Prelude in C Sharp Minor, so when I later became aware of Rachmaninoff’s softer, slower compositions it seemed odd to me.
Looking at his discography and list of hits leads me to believe that when Carmen took an extended break from recording after releasing his 1980 album that he may have felt that the fashions of the era had passed him by, first with the dominance of disco in the late ’70s and then with the rise of MTV in the early ’80s. He continued songwriting, however, and in May of 1984 his song “Almost Paradise” as sung by Heart’s Ann Wilson and Loverboy’s Mike Reno hit #7 on the Billboard Hot 100. This appeared to kick-start him a little and his second self-titled album released later that same year produced the minor hit single “I Wanna Hear it From Your Lips” in February of 1985. Two years later he hit the top 10 again with his hit “Hungry Eyes” from the massively popular Dirty Dancing soundtrack.
At the time that the whole Dirty Dancing craze was happening I got pretty tired of it, so there’s a place deep inside me where “Hungry Eyes” rubs me the wrong way despite the fact that it has a pretty decent melody and is really no worse than plenty of other pop music of the era. If you want to hear it you can find it through Vevo. Within the standards of traditional pop songwriting, his next hit “Make Me Lose Control” has a lot of what a musical nostalgist might value, but damn Eric you sure hit the nail a little too hard on the head, don’t you? Especially with the video, which finds it necessary to remind us what his last big hit was and plays into the angle by referencing George Lucas’ already heavily nostalgic film American Graffiti.
This song actually went up to #3 on the singles charts in June of 1988, but for whatever reason hasn’t had the staying power in the public’s consciousness of either “Hungry Eyes” or “All by Myself.” So obviously we’re way past the point of anybody thinking of this guy as a 1-hit wonder, aren’t we? But we might still identify his first smash as a Cheesetastic Classic here at LeBlog.
His partner nominees, The Proclaimers, on the other hand, are pretty much the dictionary definition of the 1-hit wonder. They had a huge and memorable hit song that is immediately identified with them and is the only song of theirs most people have ever heard. They have no other songs that hit the top40 in the United States, and their one big hit has sort of become a bit of a punchline over the years even as it has remained strong in our affections.
If the 1989 date on this Letterman appearance is mildly confusing to some of you, that’s not your fault. The fact is that while “I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles)” was a minor hit in the “Alternative” community shortly after the album’s stateside release, most Americans did not become familiar with it until it found its way onto the singles charts in the summer of 1993. So what caused the song to resurface with such vigor four years later? Well, if you were around in ’93 you probably already know the answer to that question. The song was featured prominently in the film romance Benny & Joon, a charming little movie about a girl with schizophrenia who falls in love with an eccentric played by Johnny Depp. Wile the film was really only a mild box office success, it was very popular with young women and has remained memorable at a level beyond many other movies with a similar financial profile and is still one of Depp’s signature performances.
But of course that storyline only really applies if you’re an American. The Proclaimers were already pretty successful in many places overseas. They had already hit the top 10 twice in their native UK and “I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles)” was a #1 hit in both Australia and New Zealand when it was released there in 1988. Check out the rollicking fun of “On My Way,” which climbed into the top 10 in both Australia and New Zealand.
Their first hit in the UK was the top 10 smash “Letter From America.” I’m going to go video heavy here and ask you to watch this charming video for the song featuring puppets of the Reid brothers.
The Proclaimers are pretty great, aren’t they? Their songs feature musical stalwarts like melody and harmony and instrumentation played on actual instruments played by actual musicians. Their brand of earnest folk pop is consistently charming, and I’m of the opinion that they’re just too niche for most American audiences. Unfortunately, this means that their best case scenario here in the states is actually kind of what happened to them. They had a catchy song that rocked just enough to satisfy rock fans and got attached to another appealing pop culture event, allowing them to grab that 1-hit wonder status. The punchline they became is largely based on the fact that the song was both repetitive and easily stuck in the crook of your mind. In other words, it’s because they’re really good. The American television comedy “How I Met Your Mother” knew this and took advantage by making the song a recurring gag by having the cassette single (that used to be a thing) stuck in one character’s tape player, making it the only thing they could listen to on a long road trip.
After a mildly disappointing 1994 release that was supposed to capitalize on the boom of “I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles)” the Reid brothers took a bit of a hiatus from recording as The Proclaimers, but they have since settled back in as a mildly successful touring band that releases an album every few years and has a loyal fan base. I’m probably going to spend a little more time enjoying their catalogue in the coming weeks after becoming reacquainted with them through writing this article.
So what do you think? Are both of these songs deserving of the Cheesetastic Classic label? Or just one of them? Or maybe neither of them? Go ahead and vote and then take a few moments to explain why you voted the way you did in the comments section. Thanks for reading!
Posted on August 17, 2016, in 1970s, Cheesetastic Classics, Music, Not a 1-Hit Wonder and tagged All By Myself, Eric Carmen, How I Met Your Mother, Hungry Eyes, I'm Gonna Be (500 Miles), I'm on my way, Letter From America, Make Me Lose Control, The Proclaimers, The Raspberries. Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.