John Sieger
Sieger on Songs

The Rascals’ “See”

Once known as the Young Rascals, the band was always tight and soulful, even in this “psychedelic” song.

By - Apr 9th, 2015 05:43 pm
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The Rascals. Photo from facebook.

The Rascals. Photo from facebook.

There’s a whole lot to consider with the band that changed their name from The Young Rascals to just The Rascals. Let’s start with the possibility that a group that pretty much owned the top of the charts along with The Beatles and The Rolling Stones was way underrated.

I know, the Rascals are in the Hall Of Fame and everything, but the hip luster that time has added to many other bands doesn’t seem to attach itself as easily to these guys. Why is that? Their story is compelling in the way it reflects the rapid cultural changes of the ‘60s era. Somehow, they are there before, during, and just a little bit after The Beatles and doing mostly cool-to-amazing stuff. In their first incarnation as The Young Rascals they dressed in knickers, which was corny, yes, but I was OK with it. There were others doing it too, like Paul Revere and The Raiders, it was a tacky point in history. Sadly, this little costume snafu may have doomed them in critics eyes.

Even before they became the Young Rascals, they were busy up and down the East Coast as members of Joey Dee & The Starliters, which could best be described as a society twist band. You can hear vocalist Eddie Brigati and his brother David, who did all the vocal arrangements, on the backing tracks of these old twist classics. This gig functioned the way Hamburg did for the Beatles and they must have gotten to Malcolm Gladwell’s magic number of 10,000 hours, because the band got tighter than girl jeans.

The other Starliters, organist and vocalist Felix Cavaliere and guitarist Gene Cornish knew how to get a crowd going. When they added Dino Danelli, one of the greatest and most confident drummers rock and roll ever saw, they were set to explode. The roadwork, the native talent and the addition of power-manager Sid Bernstein had them pointed towards instant success and that’s just what they achieved, once the old Starliters became the Young Rascals.

You could argue that Felix was the first credible blue-eyed soul singer. He had a great husky tone and his phrasing was impeccably swinging. There was so much church in his sound you wanted to testify whenever you heard him. He sang lead on most of their hits, and occasionally the hyperactive, tambourine swinging Eddie got to use his pretty spectacular pipes.

The very first of their three #1 hits in America was a cover, Good Lovin’. It’s was originally done and done well by the wonderfully named Lemme B Good and the Olympics. Like The Beatles before them, The Young Rascals more than borrowed the tune, they took it up a notch, rewriting lyrics and trimming it down to a potent 2:29 that zips by. After that, they started writing and the songs were good-to-great.

Among the many classics written by Cavaliere and Brigati was one fondly remembered as a high point of the ‘60s, the indescribably sublime, Groovin’. With it’s sensuous Latin vibe and jazz chords this one conjures the best Sunday in the park since the one painted by Georges Seurat. Aretha Franklin’s covered it and, of course, stole it, returning the favor The Rascals had done Lemme. All this points to a very porous border between black and white music — there’s no doubt The Rascals were admired on both sides.

They soon shortened their name to the one they had used in the first place and had to give up for legal purposes to a group called The Harmonica Rascals. I’m not sure there would have been any confusion, but I’m not a lawyer. As the ‘60s wound down, they, like most of the country, started feeling the peace and love vibe. Unlike many in rock and roll, this did not induce wishy washy watercolors of sound and silly lyrics about unicorns and moonbeams.

See,” their psychedelic masterpiece, is a template for how to have it both ways. A more muscular gospel rave up you may never hear, at least not one that features the kind of cosmic cowboy lyrics these guys were coughing up. (Yes, even The Rascals could let the psychedelic tide sweep them off course a little.)

Things ain’t like they used to be
Love’s the only thing I see
Wings of life are taking flight
From the darkness to the light

I used to try and fly away
Upon the flood of dreams
Tasting all the good and bad
From on the serpents tree

Little ones remind us
Of a place we used to be
Echoes of the ever land
Discover who you really are

Rivers rushing to the sea
Love is flowing endlessly
Drops of rain are never lost
Soul and spirit to its source

Saw you in a fairy tale
Or was it just a dream
White and yellow jasmine trees
Times a mere machine

Flashes of a new year light
Up a stellar sky
Love is really everywhere
To see it is to fly

Things ain’t like they used to be
If you want to you can see
Words of love on chestnut trees
Written by sweet memories

While we are riding on the avenues of time
The bird of life drinks from the cups of wine
Waits until we’re ready for
The princes gift of love

Things ain’t like they used to be
Love’s the only thing I see
Wings of life are taking flight
From the darkness to the light

Secret mirror photographs
Shining in your eyes
I’m married to the universe
My brother is the sky

Stars can see to make a wish
And hearts with wings can fly
Come with me and see my love
So we can never die

Rivers rushing to the sea
Love is flowing endlessly
Drops of rain are never lost
Soul and spirit to its source

© Felix Caveliere

Whoo… that’s a mouthful! Serviceable and not as foolish as some, the whole thing starts with a crazed and distorted electric piano intro and just races off from there. You won’t be sleeping through this one!

In Kenosha, where I grew up and first heard these guys, there was a large Italian-American population. In high school, the hottest girls and hippest guys all had last names that ended in vowels. There was a sly confidence about guys like Tim Greco, a drummer I knew. He played all night in Illinois bars and then (aided by pep pills, I suspect) showed up at St. Joe’s in his stage clothes the next day. They were a far cry from the baggy uniforms the rest of were forced to wear. The priests must have liked him.

Italian cool is such a great branch on the tree of rock and roll. The Rascals exuded that, along with honorary member Gene. From the twist to the psychedelic washout at the end of the decade, they always kept theirs.

0 thoughts on “Sieger on Songs: The Rascals’ “See””

  1. Anonymous says:

    Unlike most of the songs you’ve analyzed in your column, I don’t know the melody for this one, and it’s interesting to see how poetic the words actually are, and if they’ll seem different to me once I look up the song on YouTube!

  2. Anonymous says:

    Looked it up – very energized singing – more majestic, in a way, as an entire song, but the words on the page by themselves (in silence) hold up as poetic!

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