“Ear candy that matters.” That’s one of the succinct labels drummer/vocalist Dennis Diken uses to describe the songs on his album Late Music (Cryptovision). The Smithereens drummer stepped out for a solo project in 2009, and Late Music is the audio result of a project that has (in some ways) spanned more than 30 years from inception to fruition. Over an expansive Indian buffet we spent the better part of a recent evening discussing the back story of the new record.
We started out reminiscing about a wide variety of pop acts that enjoyed a heyday in the 60s. I mentioned the recent Gary Lewis and the Playboys‘ Complete Liberty Singles 2CD set and that brought back memories for Diken. “Those Gary Lewis records were big with me when I was a kid, when I first got my drum kit and was learning to play. That was Hal Blaine on drums. I’m a major fan of that stuff.” He mentioned the song “Tina”, a midtempo ballad with some fine harmony vocal backing. “Great melody, great bridge on there.” Diken is that sort of music lover who both appreciates the song for what it is and finds fascination in the mechanics of the song construction and arrangement as well.
Our conversation turned to The Rascals. And as it turned out, Diken is the Guy Who Knows Everybody. “I played with Felix a couple of years ago, which was a real gas,” he told me. “That was a dream come true.”
“I love the Rascals,” he continued. “We could talk all night about them. Garfield, New Jersey — my home town — is where the Rascals got their start. There’s a place called Choo Choo Club, off Passaic Street. That’s where they cut their teeth. It was a nightclub, one of those places where the band sets up behind the bar,” he laughs. “There’s another place in Garfield called Charlie Blood’s. I go there at least once a week. It’s a restaurant-bar, and it’s been there since 1938. Sal, the owner, is one of my best friends; he’s cousins with The Rascals’ David Brigati. Sal’s a real music fan, and he loves when I come in, because we can talk music. And he knows his stuff, too.”
Being the music fan that he is, Diken would have been quite happy to talk about the music of others all evening. But Late Music is an exceptional album of original material, so I steered the discussion in that direction. I pointed out the similarities — instrumentation, arrangement and vocal performance — between Late Music‘s “Let Your Loved One Sleep” and The Lovin’ Spoonful‘s “Did You Ever Have to Make Up Your Mind.” Diken shrugged and said, “You’re not the first person to point that out. But the thing is, I was really going for more of a Mickie Most [producer of UK hit pop records in the 60s] feel.” Which just goes to show that the influences of great 60s pop often live below the surface, and manifest in unintended (and unconscious) ways. “We never mentioned that in the studio; no one said, ‘hey, now let’s go for a Lovin’ Spoonful feel on this one.’ I guess that the people playing on it were just of that mind. But when people say that to me, I’ll take it. It’s a great compliment.”