Friday, January 24, 2014

Richard and the Young Lions -- "Open Up Your Door" (1966)

An hour can be . . . such a long, long time
When your lips ain't . . . stuck on mine

I think the Decemberists' The Hazards of Love is a wonderful album -- that's why 2 or 3 lines is doing a six-part series on it.

But you may need a break after the first three installments of that series.  Because it's ponderous, man, f*cking ponderous, to paraphrase the great Casey Kasem.

The Casey Kasems
So before we continue on with the final three installments in The Hazards of Love series, let's take a wee break and listen to a song that is anything but ponderous.

But first, let's hop in the WABAC machine and set the controls for Newark, New Jersey, circa 1966, where we will meet the Original Kounts.

Speaking of the WABAC machine:

(That movie looks really lame, doesn't it?  What a shame.)

The Original Kounts were a group of long-haired Newark teenagers who played British Invasion hits.  Lead singer Richard Tepp and a couple of his fellow band members were hanging out at a local pizzeria one night, where they struck up a conversation with Ray Bloodworth and Larry Brown, who just happened to be songwriters for Bob Crewe. 

(Crewe is best-known as the producer and co-writer of a whole bunch of the Four Seasons' hits -- including "Sherry," "Big Girls Don't Cry," "Rag Doll," "Dawn," and "Can't Take My Eyes Off of You."  Crewe also produced several Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels hits and Labelle's "Lady Marmalade.")

Richard Tepp
Tepp and his pals invited Bloodworth and Brown to an Original Kounts rehearsal.  The two songwriters decided that the Kounts would be a good fit for a new song they were working on, and persuaded Crewe to sign them to a recording contract.

Crewe thought the long-haired Tepp was a dead ringer for King Richard I of England -- "Richard the Lionheart" -- and renamed the band Richard and the Young Lions.  (Crewe was definitely on to something.  Look at any photograph of the young Richard the Lionheart -- the resemblance is uncanny!)

Richard I ("Lionheart")
Tepp and his fellow Young Lions went into the recording studio to work on "Open Up Your Door," but the producers weren't happy with the way things went.  They kept Tepp's lead vocal, but replaced the instrumental tracks with other ones recorded by studio musicians.

According to Allmusic, "the group felt so betrayed by Crewe's studio bait and switch" that on the eve of an appearance on "The Clay Cole Show" (a popular New York City television dance program), all but Tepp and guitarist Bob Freedman quit the band.  Tepp quickly recruited several members of the Orphans, another Newark band, and the show went on.

"Open Up Your Door" barely cracked the Billboard "Hot 100," but reportedly reached #1 in Cleveland, Detroit, and Salt Lake City, and #2 in Seattle and Vancouver.

A couple of follow-up singles went nowhere, and the band broke up shortly thereafter.  But in 2000, two former Young Lions members independently tracked down Richard Tepp's e-mail address and the band reunited to give music one more go. 

The group eventually came to the attention of "Little Steven" Van Zandt, the E Street Band guitarist and Sopranos regular who hosts the syndicated radio show, Little Steven's Underground Garage.  The Young Lions appeared at three of Van Zandt's "Cavestomp!" shows, sharing the bill with ? and the Mysterians, the Zombies, the Troggs, and others.

Sadly, lead singer Richard Tepp died of leukemia in 2004.

I don't know how I missed "Open Up Your Door" until now, but better late than never.  It is a real kick in the you-know-what, and it's proof of the poor musical judgment of Americans as a whole -- as if we needed any more proof of that -- that this song barely made it into the top 100 back in 1966.  

Here's some priceless prose from the single's jacket.  (Yes, kids -- your grandparents really did talk that way back in the sixties.)

The haircut is strictly Anglo-Saxon -- sort of late Beowulf, or early Prince Valiant.  For an outfit with the name Richard and the Young Lions, it fits. . . .

Richard [Tepp] is interested in today's "scene," not only musically "but whatever's happening," wherever it may take him.

He (and the others) take life "as it comes, without any worry."  Doing so, they and their music reflect the restlessness of contemporary teens, their desire for the offbeat, the different.

For instance, listen closely and you'll hear an African hair drum in this recording; it was utilized to achieve a distinct sound the boys wanted.

(You've never heard of an African hair drum?  That's a drum made with the hair left on the goatskin or cowskin.)

"Open Up Your Door" has been covered by numerous bands, most notably the Romantics (whose biggest hits were "That's What I Like About You" and "Talking in Your Sleep").  But my favorite cover version of the song is the one by the Flakes:

Here's "Open Up Your Door" by Richard and the Young Lions:

I'm sorry, but this song isn't available from Amazon.

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