Ed note: We continue our series devoted to tunes that hold special places in our hearts and in our collective experience as devotees to and lovers of timeless indie rock. To kick the series off, we asked Eric Matthews, of both solo and Cardinal fame, to talk about his classic number “Fanfare,” from his 1995 Sub Pop hit It’s Heavy in Here. Next was Bill Janovitz of Buffalo Tom pulling back the curtain on one of his early gems: “Taillights Fade,” from 1992’s Let Me Come Over, cut with fellow bandmembers Chris Colbourn (bass) and Tom Maginnis (drums). Now we dip way back to 1970 for the proto-power pop of Crabby Appleton’s “Go Back,” penned by frontman Michael Fennelly.
BY TIM HINELY
At this stage in the game we probably don’t have to tell you that the early ‘70s was a breeding ground for the genre we’ve come to know and love as power pop—Big Star, the Raspberries, and the Nazz being just three of the more prominent progenitors. Count L.A.’s Crabby Appleton—vocalist Michael Fennelly (late of Millennium) plus a group popular on the local scene called Stonehenge: Felix “Flaco” Falcon (percussion), Casey Foutz (keyboards), Hank Harvey (bass), and Phil Jones (drums)—among those icons, too. Although the group managed to land insistent, hooky Fennelly composition “Go Back” in the Billboard Top 40 in 1970 and tour nationally on the strength of their eponymous Don Gallucci-produced debut album, the couldn’t maintain their momentum and wound up splitting following the release of their poorly-selling 1971 followup, Rotten to the Core. Fennelly would go on to a lengthy career as a songwriter and solo artist, and we recently caught up with him at his home in Portland, Oregon, to take a quick trip down memory lane to the “Go Back” period—and a musical legacy that’s still cherished by power pop fans across the globe.
BLURT: What was the initial inspiration for the song?
FENNELLY: There wasn’t a particular incident or person as inspiration. I wrote songs all the time. Sometimes they were personal, and sometimes they were attempts at commercial placement. Some songs seem to write themselves. Go Back was one of those. Sitting playing my big old Gibson acoustic 12 string. Stoned. Out it came. Probably took less than a half hour.
Any idea how your long-time fans feel about it (ie: would it be considered a “fan favorite” or anything?)
It’s the song more people know about than any of my others. A lot of people really liked it upon its release and many remember it fondly and comment how it was among their favorite of the era. So, in some respects it’s a fan favorite, although people who are familiar with my catalog over the years might have other choices for their faves.
Was it a staple of your live sets ever years later?
After Crabby Appleton, I didn’t play “Go Back”. Many years later, in the ‘80s, my bands would include it – sometimes as an encore. It was fun to revisit.
Is there anything about the song you’d change?
Nope. It came out just as it should have.
Tell me a little about the recording of it – where and when, how long did it take, any watershed moments or glaring problems, etc.?
“Go Back” was among songs I’d written before Crabby Appleton. We worked up our version in rehearsal. When we recorded it, producer Don Gallucci suggested the keyboard be a Farfisa Organ. It was a nice suggestion, I think. When we ran into problems was when we were close to finished mixing the album, and Don felt strongly that Go Back should not be on the album. He’s been involved with heavier concept album stuff (Touch) and though the song was too light and kind of bubblegummy. Of course it did have elements of that genre, but I felt they were well offset by the minor-to-major changes in the chording, and the power of the overall sound. I also felt VERY strongly that “Go Back” was to be Crabby’s hit. We got in a shouting match in Elektra’s VP’s office over it. I won. [Below: Fennelly’s original demo for the song.]
How do you feel about it now?
I like the song – I like Crabby rendition of it. And I feel a fondness for it as my one-hit wonder. Having a song and record that many people know and love is indeed a wonder! And “Go Back” opened all sorts of doors for Crabby and for me. It got us on American Bandstand [watch the performance, below), and had us playing arenas and pop festivals. We used to hear it come on the radio as we were driving to gigs across the US. That was a thrill.
I’ve attached the original scrawled lyrics, and a link to the original pre-crabby guitar/voice demo.