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Romantics at Chene Park, 5 Things To Know

By Gary Graff
ggraff@digitalfirstmedia.com, @GraffonMusic on Twi

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There's still a lot we like about the Romantics, four decades after the group formed in Detroit.

Its 1980 single "What I Like About You" remains an enduring rock anthem and an instant party whenever and wherever it's played. The Top 5 "Talking In Your Sleep," celebrating its 35th anniversary this year, is an indelible touchstone of the MTV-dominated 80s. Those two songs alone insure the Romantics' legacy is anything but sleeping.

And the good news is the group continues. Co-founders Mike Skill, Wally Palmar and Rich Cole, with drummer Brad Elvis, tour with regularity, and though it's been 15 years since the Romantics' last album (2003's "61/49") nobody is rolling out the possibility of more new music in the future...

Skill, who now resides in Seattle, says by phone that those who know the Romantics for the group's pop hits are usually surprised by what they see on stage. "We have this rawness that comes out that a lot of people don't expect sometimes. They think pop, New Wave, whatever you want to call it. But our songs have an edge to them. Growing up through the 60s, we were there when the MC5's 'Looking At You' record came out. We saw the Frost, Bob Seger, the Rationals. That really inspired us."

Skill also recalls that by the late 70s the Romantics were well-positioned to help rebuild Detroit's faded rock 'n' roll fortunes. "After, like, '72 or so the city was just a faded memory of itself as far as rock music went. It had kind of slacked off and got real depressing. I remember when we formed we wanted to go to New York and we kept reading about all these bands out there. So we called up CBGB and got a date there in the middle of the week and stayed an extra day. I think we saw the New York Dolls and Tuff Darts or something, a couple other bands. We came back and had a new attitude."

This year marks the 35th anniversary of the Romantics' fourth album, "In Heat," the group's best-selling set. Marking Skill's return to the band after a brief absence, it peaked at No. 14 on the Billboard 200 chart and was certified gold, spawning two Top 40 singles. "We gelled really well on that record," Skill recalls. "We had a good producer (Peter Solley) and the record company (Nemporer) was really behind us. I think with everything that was going on in music at the time, with MTV and the New Wave bands and all that, they felt like something could really happen with that (album). And lo and behold it did."

"In Heat" also features "Talking In Your Sleep," which peaked at No. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100 though it surprised fans with its polished, R&B-flavored arrangement. "It was more raw and rock 'n' rolling before we recorded it," Skill recalls. "Peter Solley told us we needed one more song, and he goes, 'Skill, what was that thing you had, that bass thing.' I played and we grooved with it and he goes, 'You might have something there,' and we went in and built the song from there. To me it was like the Rolling Stones doing 'Miss You' or the Clash when they went into reggae dub music; It was different but it was good, so why deny it. There was a guy who worked at the studio, sweeping up, and he goes, 'Man, I hear all these songs here. I've heard Aretha, James Brown, the Allman Brothers. That's a hit you got there.' Sure enough, he was right."

Skill has been working on solo material -- he released a single, "'67 Riot," last year -- but he also has songs he think would be suited for the Romantics. "It's really along the lines of the '61/49' record, pretty raw, a lot of guitar. The lady who inherited K-Tel wanted to put out something and some other guy came to us and wanted us to do a Romantics version of the British blues scene from the 60s. Those are up in the air, but I really want to get into a new record or EP, a raw Romantics thing that we can put out there. People are always asking for something new."

The Romantics -- along with A Flock of Seagulls, Wang Chung, Naked Eyes and more -- perform on the Lost 80's show at 8 p.m. Saturday, July 28, at Chene Park Amphitheatre, 2600 E. Atwater, Detroit. Tickets are $35. Call (800) 745-3000 or visit cheneparkdetroit.com.

Web Site: www.cheneparkdetroit.com

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