The Rubinoos (1977)
Any question as to what kind of band the Rubinoos were or what their musical philosophy was is answered with this albums opening track, the best version I’ve ever heard of “I Think We’re Alone Now,” which is just three minutes of pure pop music heaven.
The rest of the tracks are just as melodic, catchy, and well crafted. “Hard to get” sounds like an unreleased Jackson Five song done by an early J. Giles Band, “Peek a Boo,” is a silly but rockin’ throwback to several strains of ‘60’s rock, starting off with referencing The Sonics, with a guitar solo which sounds like Joe Strummer playing rockabilly straight.
“Rock and Roll is Dead” is perhaps the seminal track from this album, a Who like chord progression with a Cheap Trick like chorus and a punk attitude. The Rubinoos are a band out of time and they know it. So, singing “Rock and Roll is dead and we don’t care,” isn’t just a great lyric but the band’s M.O. They’re not trying to be a band from the ‘60’s playing in the heyday of punk, but rather they make some rather uncanny allusions in musical motifs to Mod Rock, Garage Rock, the British Invasion, and bubblegum pop. Their punkish, underground ethic (and the cynicism that goes with that, though they’re more cohesive than other punk-era pop craftsmen like Wreckless Eric, who they could have sounded like) makes these homage’s not just sentiment, but rather utilizing polished old tools to say something relevant. The Clash would soon state that “phony Beattlemania has bitten the dust,” but the Rubinoos are content at countering by playing the roots of the music which is making them outcasts to the new set of misfits.
Back to “I Think We’re Alone now” for an example, it is driven by punk power chords, but features a harmony and hand claps that aren’t just reminiscent of The Four Seasons but also a direct reference to “Walk Like a Man.”
The Rubinoos aren’t The Raspberries, they’re a little more self-aware (and of their time), though if you like the Raspberries you’ll also like the Rubinoos, though not as self-aware as Cheap Trick (whose fans will also love the Rubinoos), and they’re a bit too polished and smooth to be The Modern Lovers. They fall somewhere in between. No matter the place or time this is one great lost album that deserves a listen.