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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Eric Carmen, Raspberries frontman and ‘All By Myself’ singer, dies at 74

Eric Carmen in the early 1990s (Wikipedia)

By Ron DePasquale and Alex Williams

Eric Carmen, whose plaintive vocals soared above the crunching guitars of the 1970s power-pop pioneers the Raspberries on hits like “Go All the Way,” and whose soft-rock crooning later as a solo artist propelled anthems like “All by Myself” and “Hungry Eyes,” has died. He was 74.

His death was announced on his website by his wife, Amy Carmen. She did not give a cause or specify where he died, saying only that he died “in his sleep, over the weekend.”

The Raspberries formed in Cleveland in 1970. With the preternaturally melodic Carmen churning out hits and serving as frontman, the band represented a throwback of sorts, in terms of both sound and image.

Emerging at a time when FM radio playlists tilted toward the thundering blues-rock of Led Zeppelin and Deep Purple; the orchestral pomp of progressive rock bands like Yes and Emerson, Lake & Palmer; and the glittery glam rock of T. Rex and David Bowie, the Raspberries recalled the intricate songcraft and lush melodies of the mid-’60s pop masters.

“I had spent my youth with my head between two stereo speakers listening to the Byrds and the Beatles and later on the Beach Boys,” Carmen said in a 1991 interview published on his personal website.

Even more retro was the band’s look: Members initially wore matching suits — a concept that had seemingly gone out of fashion with Herman’s Hermits, although in their case the suits looked more like harbingers of John Travolta’s discowear from “Saturday Night Fever.”

To Carmen, the relatively square look was a cheeky way to stand out in the landscape of 1970s rock. “Almost every band had hair down to their waist and beards and ripped jeans, and they looked like a bunch of hippies, and I wanted to get as far away from that as I could,” he said in a 2017 interview with The Observer.

It all worked. The band burst onto the rock scene in 1972 with its debut album, titled simply “The Raspberries,” which included a raspberry-scented scratch-and-sniff sticker, a hint of the sugary pop hooks contained within.

The album’s biggest hit, “Go All the Way,” contained lyrics about an implicitly young couple moving haltingly toward intercourse, which Carmen considered riskily suggestive for the pop charts of the time. “Either it’ll get banned because it’s dirty, then maybe people will buy the album to check it out,” he recalled thinking, “or if it ever gets on the radio, I think it’ll just be a hit based on the title alone.”

The song was a hit, all right, climbing to No. 5 on the Billboard Hot 100 in October 1972. It became “the definitive power pop song of all time,” as Dave Swanson wrote on the site Ultimate Classic Rock in a 2017 appraisal. Power pop, pioneered by the early Who and others, was an emerging style that grafted bright 1960s-era vocal harmonies onto the driving guitar riffs of the ’70s.

“‘Go All the Way’ was a perfect melding of Beach Boys, Beatles and Small Faces, all delivered with a Who-like attack,” Swanson wrote. “Right here is where power pop was born.”

One of Carmen’s idols apparently approved of the band: John Lennon was photographed around that time wearing a Raspberries shirt. The band’s influence would only grow over the years, with acts as diverse as Cheap Trick, Kiss and Nirvana citing the Raspberries as an influence.

The Raspberries’ second album, “Fresh,” also released in 1972, would be their highest-charting, reaching No. 36. It featured two Top 40 hits: “I Wanna Be With You” and “Let’s Pretend.”

The Raspberries broke up in 1975, but Carmen’s time on the charts was far from over.

Eric Howard Carmen was born Aug. 11, 1949, in Cleveland to a family of Jewish immigrants from Russia and grew up in Lyndhurst, an eastern suburb of the city. Showing a keen interest in music early on, he was studying violin with his aunt Muriel Carmen, a member of the Cleveland Orchestra, by age 6. By 11 he was playing piano and writing his own songs.

His musical destiny changed forever with the arrival of Beatlemania when he was in his midteens. “After seeing the Beatles film ‘A Hard Day’s Night,’” he later said, “I dropped everything and immediately decided I wanted to do that!”

Within months, Carmen had taught himself to bang out chords on a guitar, and he spent the next few years bouncing from band to band. While a student at John Carroll University in suburban Cleveland, he joined a popular local band called Cyrus Erie, which included future Raspberries guitarist Wally Bryson and opened for major acts like Who and the Byrds.

Carmen and Bryson eventually joined forces with guitarist and bassist Dave Smalley and drummer Jim Bonfanti, veterans of another prominent local band, the Choir, to form the Raspberries.

When that band’s run finally ended, Carmen went solo with the intent of showing off his full range as a songwriter and performer.

“Unshackled from having to write for three specific guys and myself, my brain just kind of opened up,” he told The Observer. “Also, I didn’t want to make a record that sounded just like the Raspberries, because I thought, Jesus, everybody will go, ‘Oh, here he goes again, he’s just repeating what he already did.’”

He clearly accomplished that with “All by Myself,” a lush if lachrymose ballad from his first solo album, released in 1975, that was, as he put it, “certainly as far away from ‘Go All the Way’ as you could get.” The song soared to No. 2 on the Hot 100 and was eventually hailed as a soft-rock classic.

The follow-up single, “Never Gonna Fall in Love Again,” with its nods to Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys, made it to No. 11.

In the 1980s, two of his biggest hits came from soundtracks. For “Footloose” (1984), he wrote (with Dean Pitchford) “Almost Paradise,” which was recorded by Mike Reno of Loverboy and Ann Wilson of Heart; for “Dirty Dancing (1987), he wrote and sang “Hungry Eyes,” which became an MTV staple. Another of his songs, “Make Me Lose Control,” was a No. 3 single in 1988.

Carmen’s songs would be covered by artists as varied as Shaun Cassidy (“That’s Rock ’n’ Roll”), Celine Dion (“All by Myself”) and Travolta (“Never Gonna Fall in Love Again”). In 1989, he began touring with Ringo Starr and His All-Starr Band.

The Raspberries reunited in 2004. A show from that tour was featured on a 28-song live album, “Raspberries Pop Art Live,” released in 2017. The album’s liner notes were written by filmmaker and former rock journalist Cameron Crowe, who showcased “Go All the Way” in his 2000 movie, “Almost Famous.”

Complete information about Carmen’s survivors was not immediately available.

Late in his career, Carmen was sanguine about the impact of the Raspberries.

“Rock critics got it, and 16-year-old girls got it, but you know, the 18-year-old guy who liked Megadeth was never going to like the same record his sister did,” he said in the 2017 interview, before recounting the first time he met Bruce Springsteen.

“I walked in his dressing room before a show, and he was writing out the set list, and we both looked at each other for a couple of minutes — I was very uncomfortable being on the fan end, so I felt a little stupid. But Bruce looked at me and he goes, ‘You know, while I was writing ‘The River,’ all I listened to was Woody Guthrie and the Raspberries’ greatest hits.’”

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