This is based on a post that appeared on my old blog in January 2008. Some of the original YouTube links disappeared, so I’ve added new ones and done some additional writing.
The other day — stuck in a ’70s rut — I got to thinking about a song I haven’t heard in at least 15 years:
“Never Been Any Reason” by Head East.
(You remember it: “Save my life, I’m going down for the last time / Woman with the sweet lovin’, better than a white line.”)
This song was huge on the local classic-rock station where I grew up.
I thought it was an entrenched national rock’n’roll staple, on the same level as “We’re An American Band” or “Start Me Up” or somesuch.
I was much surprised, years later, to discover that the band was relatively obscure, and their song never even cracked the Top 40.
(The Interwebs say it peaked at No. 68.)
It’s a truism of the ’70s rock scene that the big American bands, like Aerosmith, got big because they toured their skinny asses off and climbed the ladder rung by rung.
First they sold out the Allentowns of the world; then they toured the second-rank markets like Rochester and Buffalo again and again until they sold those out; and then they conquered New York City and LA.
The Head East saga reminds me that there were probably hundreds of bands that stalled in the second- and third-level markets … scored some regional hits, maybe opened for famous bands a few times, but never quite made it all the way.
Anyway, I went looking for the song on YouTube, and found all kinds of different versions — all the “Never Been Any Reason” a burned-out classic-rock expat could wish for.
Let’s stack some of ’em up:
* Here’s Buffalo bar band Cock Robin slamming it out.
(Their friend was awfully nice to bring his video camera to all those gigs.)
Cheesy as their name is, Cock Robin gets extra points for actually having a keyboard player — and for yelling “THANK YOU, BUFFALO!” at the very end.
If ever there was a song made for the exclamation, “THANK YOU, BUFFALO!,” this would be it.
* About that “actually having a keyboard player” thing:
The original song has prominent organ and synth parts, and doesn’t quite sound as imposing without them.
Here, bar-band Flat Stanley of Sault Ste. Marie, Canada, does its level best (“level best”? Flat Stanley? Geddit?) to make up for its keylessness.
I don’t quite think it works.
But, these guys get style points for being from Sault Ste. Marie, which I’ve always thought was a cool name. Wonder if any of ’em have day gigs at the Soo Locks?
* How often do you see someone credited for “lights and vocals”?
You can here, as a band called Tricks gets their “Never Been Any Reason” on in a “private videotaping session.”
(Which is the worse band name — Tricks, or Cock Robin?)
Love the drummer’s silly arm-pump thing … and the big sign that says “TRICKS.”
Though, in all fairness, they nail the song pretty nicely.
* Here’s Ferris Wheeler kicking out the jams at Four Stools Short in Wisconsin Rapids, WI.
I think “stool” is the operative word here.
(Was that an undeserved cheap shot? Yes. Are these guys as good as any other bar band? Sure. Is there anything remotely interesting about their version of “Never Been Any Reason”? No, sir, there isn’t.)
* If I told you about a band called the Wheezetones, in which two of the members are bald and a third wears a flat cap presumably to hide his baldness, you’d probably write them off as a boring cover band made up of middle-aged engineers who could never quite put their guitars down.
Well, that’s as may be. But for all that, they do a pretty convincing “Never Been Any Reason.” It ain’t just the champagne that has the New Year’s Eve crowd in Lincoln, Nebraska, moving on the dance floor.
And, in keeping with the previously established rule, they get extra points for yelling, “THANK YOU, LINCOLN!”
* Now THIS is krap: BobRocks grinds it out in Madison, Wisconsin.
The lead singer ain’t great, and his antics with the cowbell grow old fast.
Oh, and guys? If you use a fancy keyboard onstage, TUNE YOUR GUITARS TO IT.
That way, when the keyboardist gets his solo, he doesn’t sound like he’s a quarter-tone flat as compared to everyone else.
(2012 note: Whatever I was busting them for when I first wrote this, I don’t hear now.)
* These guys (they’re called Good Company) ain’t all that great either.
But the setting looks like some sort of bizarre hazy midnight disco ritual — now THAT’s a party I wish I’d been invited to.
It looks like the kind of bash where at least three people in the audience did something regrettable that people still talk about.
Plus their guitar player has a Flying V, the most visually distinctive and impractical guitar ever built, which is good for ultramega style points.
* “Did you see any action? Did you make any friends? Would you like some direction from the Son of Man?”
Yup — it’s “Never Been Any Reason” rewritten as a Christian-rock anthem. The guy in the red shirt is former Head East frontman John Schlitt. I will simply concur with the YouTube commenter who says: “Vastly prefer the original.”
* Kids can play “Never Been Any Reason” too. Or at least they can at the Baltimore School of Rock. I’m not particularly taken with this version but maybe someone will find it cute.
* Ah, we’ve saved the best for last:
Head East themselves — or at least, the 2010 version of same — playing their signature song aboard what looks like a burning aircraft carrier.
Most of the guys in the band do a good job with it.
But then there’s the guy with the keytar’s annoying vocal vamping …
and the guy with the keytar’s duck walk …
and the guy with the keytar swinging it up above his head …
and the guy, now relieved of his keytar, working the crowd. (Apparently he gets paid extra if he fills every single moment of free space with rock-singer jive.)
I guess I’ll give him a little credit for yelling, “THANK YOU, ALTON!” Fair is fair, after all.
Save my life, I’m going down for the last time …