Album: The Romantics
. . .
Because it’s a truth that I hold self-evident, I didn’t really discuss the influence of the Rolling Stones in the eight zillion posts I just wrote about them, but one of the first things they influenced was the initial wave of American garage-rockers who emulated not just the Stones, but their British Invasion contemporaries like The Kinks and The Who, and for some reason, electric Dylan.
A little over a decade later, a second wave of this stuff came around: young kids writing big fat riffs and basing their entire songs around those big fat riffs. And one of the greatest songs to come from this second wave was the immortal “What I Like About You” from Detroit’s The Romantics, which was as great as, say “All Day and All of The Night” or “I Can’t Explain.”
And so, “What I Like About You” opens with a circular chiming intsta-hook riff played by guitarist Mike Skill followed by handclaps(!) the first time around and the whole band shouting “hey!” as drummer Jimmy Marinos kicked into the beat. Marinos then sang an adenoidal “un-huh” followed by another full-band “hey!” after which Marinos started singing the song proper. Wait! The drummer is singing?!? Uh-oh.
But before we get to that, I gotta talk about Marinos drum style, as I think he was the first drummer I ever saw who played open-handed, where his kit was set up as a right-hand kit, but he played his hi-hat with his left hand instead of with his right. This is more common that you might imagine, but the main effect was that in the video — which I saw many many many times back in the day — he could look directly (and obnoxiously) into the camera while singing the song. Or oversinging the song, as the case may be.
What I like about YEWWWW
You hold me TIIEEEEEET
Tell me I’m the only one
You wanna come over TONIEEEEEEEEEET
It’s . . . incredibly annoying. Like a bad Dylan parody. And in fact, it’s so fucking annoying, because Marinos doesn’t let up for even a second, it turns back upon itself and becomes one of the major hooks of the song.
Also helping, the backing vocals of Skill, guitarist Wally Palmar and bassist Rich Cole, which are mixed so low, it’s like they’re in a different room. But even that can’t stop the immortal call-and-response of the chorus.
(Uh-huh) Keep on whispering in my EEAR
(Uh-huh) Tell me all the things that I wanna HEEEER
Cause it’s true (that’s what I like about you)
That’s what I like about you
(That’s what I like about you)
After the second verse & chorus, during which we find out that what he likes about her is that she really likes to DAAAAAAANCE and that he thinks he’s found true ROMAAAAANCE, Marinos screams while doing a killer snare roll, after which Skill does a cool chordal guitar solo and Palmar does a harmonica solo, and it’s all rough and trashy and almost distracts you from the fact that’s all incredibly calculated. But who cares? “What I Like About You” is a veritable hook machine, right down to Marinos stage-whispered “what I like about you” at the end.
Given that the biggest song of 1979 was another calculated power-pop song, the Knack’s immortal “My Sharona,” I can imagine that the Romantics thought that they might be able to capture the same kind of lightning, but “What I Like About You” stalled out at #49 on the Billboard charts, though I would argue now that it’s by far their most popular song, at least on Spotify where it’s got over 130,000,000 plays as of this writing.
Their current second biggest song is the dread “Talking in Your Sleep” which was an actual hit single, riding massive 80s production — and a hook that I could hear even as I fucking hated that song — to #3 in 1983. But it “only” has 57,000,000 plays, so over the years, the superior song eclipsed it pretty significantly.
“What I Like About You”
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