Soul Serenade: The Young Rascals, “Groovin'”
You could make the case that “Groovin'” is the greatest single ever released, and you would get no argument from me. It is one of those songs that comes on the radio and puts a smile on your face as your body enters the relaxation zone. It’s a great tonic for an otherwise gray day.
Let’s face it, those schoolboy outfits with their knickers and knee socks were a little bit silly. I’ll bet the Rascals couldn’t wait to jettison them, along with the “Young” moniker that had been forced on them when Johnny Puleo bitched that the name Rascals was too close to the name of his group, the Harmonica Rascals. Sid Bernstein (yes, the guy who brought the Beatles to America) decided that discretion was the better part of provoking a shit storm and renamed the band he was managing the Young Rascals.
As for those costumes, perhaps they thought they would stand out in them, but the Young Rascals were such a good band that they would have commanded attention no matter what they were wearing. Eventually, both the outfits, and the “Young” were gone with the wind.
My family used to take a one-week winter vacation in the Catskills every year. There were a lot of activities (and a lot of food), but mostly teenagers like me would meet up with other kids and spend a lot of time listening to the hotel’s jukebox. I recall that one year we played nothing but the Beach Boys “Don’t Worry Baby” for the solid week.
Once in a while the hotel would throw the kids a bone in the form of a show geared toward us, as opposed to the borscht belt comedians who were hired to entertain our parents. There was one particular year, it must have been 1966, that the legendary DJ “Cousin” Bruce Morrow brought a couple of bands from New York City up to the mountains.
Everybody knew the Tokens. “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” had been a massive hit. The opening act was intriguing however. I was a fan of their early single “I Ain’t Gonna Eat Out My Heart Anymore,” and I liked the album that contained it, but that was about all I knew about them. That all changed on that long ago winter night in the mountains of New York state.
Later I would recall that the Rascals introduced what they would call their first public appearance of a song called “Good Lovin'” that night. It was a cover of the 1965 R&B hit by the Olympics, but I didn’t know that at the time. Shortly after the show that record became a juggernaut, and the Young Rascals were part of the national rock and roll conversation.
Legend has it that keyboard player Felix Cavaliere heard the Olympics record on the radio and put it into his band’s live show. Working with Arif Mardin and Tom Dowd at Atlantic Records, the Young Rascals turned “Good Lovin'” into a #1 smash. It was the first of many big hits for the Rascals.
It was the following year that “Groovin'” hit the charts, and it represented a quantum leap in the band’s growth. The blend of Cavaliere’s soulful lead vocal along with Latin percussion (but no drums), harmonica, and a brilliant bass part from Chuck Rainey, made the song into an instant classic.
“Groovin'” shot to #1 and remained there for four weeks. Not bad for a record that Atlantic didn’t want to release because it was too much of a departure from the previous Rascals material. Fortunately DJ Murray the K interceded with Jerry Wexler at Atlantic and convinced him that the record would be a smash. That prediction turned out to be prophetic.
There were other hits for the Rascals, lots of them. But by the end of the decade internal strife was tearing the band apart. Vocalist Eddie Brigati left in 1970, followed by Gene Cornish the following year. Later that year remaining Rascals Cavaliere and drummer Dino Danelli left Atlantic Records and signed with Columbia. They made a couple of albums for the label, but they didn’t have much impact.
Eventually the Rascals disbanded for good, or so it was thought at the time. In 1988 the band reunited, but Brigati would have none of it because he couldn’t get along with Cavaliere. Later there were the New Rascals, featuring Danelli and Cornish, and Felix Cavaliere’s Rascals. In 2010 all four members finally got together to play a benefit a benefit at the Tribeca Grill in New York City. Steve Van Zandt, who had inducted the Rascals into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1997, and Bruce Springsteen joined the band for “Good Lovin'” that night.
Earlier this year Van Zandt announced that the original lineup of the Rascals would reunite for a series of shows at the Capitol Theater in Port Chester, NY which will hopefully be followed by a more extensive tour.