Getting his start in the music business during the early 1960s, Richard Gottehrer co-wrote the girl group classic “My Boyfriend’s Back” before cofounding Sire Records and producing punk acts such as Blondie, the Fast, and Richard Hell and the Voidoids.
During the height of the Brill Building era, Richard Gottehrer formed a successful songwriting partnership with Bob Feldman and Jerry Goldstein, named FGG. “We became signed writers at April Blackwood Music, and they gave us a small office room in 1650 Broadway,” he said. “We would sit around in a work environment with a piano in a small room and the publisher would come in and say, ‘So-and-so is looking for a song for his next record.’ And that’s how you learned—you would try to write something that would suit them. We were constantly writing.” “For a lot of those songs, they made the song demo and cut the record in the same day,” said producer Craig Leon, who worked alongside Gottehrer in the 1970s. “It was very much that quote-unquote ‘punk’ approach.” This rapid-fire production style was used to create FGG’s biggest hit, “My Boyfriend’s Back,” recorded by the Angels. “One day Bob Feldman came in, and he had been at his local candy store getting soda and cream,” Gottehrer recalled. “Some girl came in and started screaming at a guy and literally said, ‘My boyfriend’s back and you’re gonna be in trouble because he’s gonna get you!’ ” They quickly wrote the song, and it was recorded and released within days.
From Chapter 4 of The Downtown Pop Underground — order online, or from a local independent bookstore
Even though the Zone brothers were oddballs, their family was still very supportive—especially their mother Vita Maria, who was the Fast’s biggest fan. “We started growing our hair long,” Paul Zone said, “and that was a big thing back then, when a lot of kids could have been ousted from their family for that. But even aunts and uncles, they just never really thought of us as strange or outcasts.” Still, they knew suburban life was not for them. “As long as I can remember,” he added, “we wanted to get to that train as quick as we could to get to Manhattan. It was only a few stops away.” When they started seeing ads in the Village Voice for an odd-looking band that turned out to be the New York Dolls, the brothers began frequenting the Mercer Arts Center, Club 82, and other venues. Peter Crowley began booking bands at Max’s Kansas City in 1974, and the Fast were among the first to regularly play there. “I met them hanging out at Max’s, a little bit before CBGB’s,” recalled Chris Stein. “We met Jimmy Destri, our keyboard player, through them, and we did a lot of shows with the Fast at CBGB’s.” In 1976, Paul Zone debuted as the Fast’s new frontman, and Debbie Harry introduced them at CBGB by waving a checkered racing flag. “We had a pretty good start because the name was established,” he said, “so people knew who the Fast were.” The future looked bright when they recorded a single with 1960s pop producer Richard Gottehrer, who helmed Blondie’s first international hit singles, but the Fast were done in by a combination of bad management and bad luck.
From Chapter 32 of The Downtown Pop Underground — order online, or from a local independent bookstore
Blondie first came to his attention when Richard Gottehrer was recording a 1976 music festival at CBGB. “I was in the truck recording all the bands for a live album for CBGB’s,” recalled Craig Leon, who was then working for Instant Records. “We did a sound check and Debbie came in the truck and she saw Richie and me sitting there, and she said to Richie, ‘I want you to make a record of me.’ ” The no-nonsense Gottehrer set up a rehearsal for Blondie to see if they had what it took to be stars—or at least release a catchy single. “I remember grinning from ear to ear throughout the whole rehearsal because the songs were so great,” he said. “She was great. You could tell right away they were special.” Unfortunately, Gottehrer had no luck convincing any major labels that Blondie was marketable, though he finally persuaded an old friend from his Brill Building years, Larry Uttal, whose label Private Stock Records was home to the 1960s pop singer Frankie Valli. Uttal agreed to release one Blondie single with an option on a full-length album, and Leon was dispatched to record their debut. The obvious choice for a single was the Valentine-penned “Sex Offender,” with “In the Flesh” as the B-side. That single was recorded at Plaza Sound (as were their first two albums), a midtown studio above Radio City Music Hall. Debbie Harry’s suburban parents took her to see Christmas shows at Radio City in the 1950s, when CBGB owner Hilly Kristal was in the chorus that backed the Rockettes. It is quite possible that Harry heard Kristal sing during a Radio City holiday show long before either was involved in punk rock. Plaza Sound Studios was a huge room that had previously been used as a radio studio for the NBC Symphony Orchestra and a rehearsal space for the famed conductor Arturo Toscanini.
From Chapter 33 of The Downtown Pop Underground — order online, or from a local independent bookstore
The Shangri-Las were one of the common musical denominators that Blondie shared, and Clem Burke explained the Shangri-La’s proto-punk appeal: “They had their black leather vests and their tight black leather pants, and they sang ‘Give Him a Great Big Kiss.’ They sang about dirty fingernails, wavy hair, and leather jackets, and things like that.” The Shangri-Las cast a long shadow over glam and punk rock. The New York Dolls’ “Looking for a Kiss” borrowed the spoken word intro from their “Give Him a Great Big Kiss,” and another Dolls song, “Trash,” copped the campy “How do you call your lover boy?” line from “Love Is Strange,” a catchy 1956 hit by Mickey & Sylvia. The group’s final album, Too Much Too Soon, was produced by Shadow Morton, who had crafted the girl group classics “Leader of the Pack” and “Remember (Walking in the Sand)” for the Shangri-Las. As Burke recalled, “Bubblegum rock was part of the roots of the New York music scene. Some of the old-school guys like Richard Gottehrer or Marty Thau—who had some money and success in pop music—they understood the music because they were coming from that Brill Building mentality.” Thau was the New York Dolls’ first manager before McLaren took the job, and he had previously made a living as a record promoter for late 1960s bubblegum groups the 1910 Fruitgum Company (“Simon Says”) and the Ohio Express (“Yummy Yummy Yummy”). Thau recorded the Ramones’ first demos and released Suicide’s debut album on his independent label Red Star, and also formed the production company Instant Records with the old-school industry hit maker Richard Gottehrer. “Richie was part of that whole Brill Building rock thing,” Leon said, “which had a lot of nostalgia for us because we grew up with it on the radio when we were kids.”