Rock 'n' Roll's Rascals Reunite in Broadway's Once Upon a Dream

By Judy Samelson
18 Mar 2013

Dino Danelli on the back cover of their first LP for Atlantic Records, called "The Young Rascals."

But, of course, the look was secondary to the sound. The Rascals produced an aural explosion unlike any other popular band of the day, anchored — or, rather, propelled heavenward — by the glorious rumble of Cavaliere's Hammond B-3 organ at its center. As Gene Cornish explained in writer Lenny Kaye's article accompanying the 1992 Rhino Records CD release "The Rascals Anthology, 1965-1972," "Felix came up with the concept of our sound. He said we'd base everything on the organ. It would be a blanket. The drums and guitar would be the rhythm. Together the organ and guitar would be one complete sound as an orchestra." With Cornish's furious yet sweet guitar, Danelli's hard-driving drums and Brigati's & Cavaliere's impassioned vocals (aided in no small measure by Brigati's brother David), the experience of listening to The Young Rascals was — is — well . . . it's impossible to listen to them without moving or feeling — take your pick — soulful, sensual, hopeful, happy to be alive.

From the first all-white group signed to Atlantic Records, "Young" or otherwise, we got the visceral, sexy love-me-or-leave-me ultimatum ("I ain't gonna eat out my heart anymore / so QUIT IT"), an outpouring of undiluted joy ("It's a beautiful mornin' / I think I'll go outside for a while / an' just smile . . ."), and a tender, youthful uncertainty laced with optimism ("How can I be sure? / In a world that's constantly changing . . . I'm sure with you"). The Rascals gave us all of that plus an un-self-consciously upbeat anthem of tolerance during turbulent times: "All the world over, so easy to see / People everywhere just wanna be free . . ."

From the moment they were put on vinyl, the band's track record was impressive. They had hits with cover renditions ("Good Lovin'"), with original songs penned by writers Pam Sawyer and Laurie Burton ("I Ain't Gonna Eat Out My Heart Anymore," "Baby Let's Wait") and, most significantly, with songs written by Brigati and Cavaliere ("You Better Run," "Groovin'," "How Can I Be Sure," "If You Knew," "I've Been Lonely Too Long," "A Girl Like You," "Rainy Day," "Silly Girl," "A Beautiful Morning," and on and on). By the time they released their fourth LP, "Once Upon a Dream," they dropped the youthful adjective and became known as, simply, The Rascals.

Deeply affected by the rapidly changing youth culture of the '60s and the tragic events that engulfed the latter part of the decade, including the assasinations of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy, The Rascals evolved musically, artistically and politically, and this growth was reflected in the records they produced. As Cavaliere said when the band was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1997, "More than Pop, we wanted our music to reach across racial and social barriers to make us understand each other better." As their music and their audience matured, they touched people because they never sacrificed one bit of their sense of optimism and hope.

The Rascals' hugely successful tenure at Atlantic Records ended in 1971. Discord splintered the band, and the four Rascals, as the world knew them, came to the end of an era. Brigati and Cornish left, while Cavaliere and Danelli carried on The Rascals' name at Columbia Records with a decidely more jazz-infused sound. By that time, though, it wasn't only the band's name, look or music that had changed. In Parke Puterbaugh's piece for "The Rascals Anthology 1965-1972," Cavaliere expressed his disenchantment with the sea change that, in his view, had begun to swell in the music business. He was dismayed with "this new '70s-type mentality that had come in: 'Hey, how many units did it sell?,' not 'Is there any artistic integrity to this?'" After two artistically fulfilling but commercially disappointing LP releases at Columbia, the reconstituted Rascals ended their recording career. And that was the last that fans saw of them. Until now.