The Rubinoos – Basement Tapes (1993): Forgotten series

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Rewind the clock to Berkeley, California 1970 and encounter a landscape flush with political unrest, acid-infested blues jams and alternative lifestyles. But the Rubinoos, who hailed from the city and formed that year, harbored no desire to participate in the scene. Smitten with the sounds of doo-wop, the British Invasion, the Beach Boys and bubblegum music, the band marched to their own merry manner.

Bright and brisk pop songs that conveyed the highs and lows of young lust, according to snooty critics and card-carrying members of the counterculture club, were hopelessly silly and dated. Rock music was supposed to be revolutionary, rigged with intellectual messages and flashy dynamics. Clearly out of step with the times, the Rubinoos were hurled abuse by those ignorant of their mission. But no matter what the musical flavor of the month is, there is always room for catchy pop tunes, and in 1975 the group inked a contract with the local Beserkley label.

The band’s first album, The Rubinoos, surfaced in 1977 and spawned a top fifty hit single with a pitch perfect version of Tommy James and the Shondells’ “I Think We’re Alone Now,” while their subsequent disc, Back To The Drawing Board, arrived in 1979 and featured the giddy “I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend,” which received a good deal of airplay as well. Both these albums were packed solid with full-blooded pop nuggets. Potent songwriting instincts, supported by banks of majestic harmonies, crafty hooks and fresh energy was the foundation such sentiments were built upon. No longer the underdogs, but still not experiencing the commercial success they greatly deserved, the Rubinoos were one of the leading lights of the power pop movement that was then taking place.

Consisting of demos recorded in 1980 and 1981, Basement Tapes (One Way Records) was slated to be the band’s third album. But the project failed to materialize until more than a decade down the road. And what a crime that is, as Basement Tapes continues right where The Rubinoos and Back To The Drawing Board left off.

Splashed with the band’s trademark complexion of smooth and polished singing, clutches of chiming guitar chords and super-tight drumming, “Hurts Too Much,” “Like Candy,” “When The Rain Comes Down” and “Hit The Nerve” are prime demonstrations of pure pop rock. A clean and shiny finish coats the songs, but the slick and sleek production techniques do not overshadow the band’s amazing synergy and wide-eyed enthusiasm.

Governed by a perpetually punchy chorus, “Hey Rita” and the heart-tugging “I Don’t Wanna Break Up” post as further blue ribbon efforts heard on the disc. Free of trendy gimmicks, like robotic disco or new wave rhythms, Basement Tapes captures the Rubinoos just the way they are. Here’s a band that never pretended to be anything other than purveyors of traditional pop music. Radiating with the kind of robust vocal gymnastics that the Beatles, the Searchers and the Hollies wiped the floor with, Basement Tapes involves a cool blend of beauty and brawn. Plenty of teen appeal ala the Jackson Five, the Osmond Brothers and Bo Donaldson and the Heywoods also makes the grade, aided by the fun and fruity bubblegum ingredients of the Archies and the Cuff Links.

A set in stone power pop classic, Basement Tapes actually only offers a quick peek at what the Rubinoos are capable of. The band’s entire catalog smacks of excellence, so if you’re not yet familiar with their musings, be sure to give a listen to the complete program.

Beverly Paterson

Beverly Paterson

Beverly Paterson was born the day Ben E. King hit No. 4 with "Stand By Me" -- which is actually one of her favorite songs, especially John Lennon's version. She's contributed to Lance Monthly and Amplifier, and served as Rock Beat International's associate editor. Paterson has also published Inside Out, and Twist & Shake. Contact Something Else! at reviews@somethingelsereviews.com.
Beverly Paterson
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