Listen to this track by Detroit-based British Invasion fans and power-pop poppers The Romantics. It’s their massively covered by wedding reception bands 1980 hit “What I Like About You”, a single taken from their self-titled debut. This tune represents one of the several tributaries that reacted to the classic rockification of pop music, when the “roll” mysteriously disappeared from “rock ‘n’ roll” sometime in the late ’60s and into the ’70s.
It’s no accident that this song is so popular during events at which people gather to dance – like the aforementioned wedding receptions. This tune rolls as well as rocks. It is meant to be danced to.
In this way, this was never about being retro. It’s a reminder that rock ‘n’ roll and dance music need not be two separate things. But, even with this in mind, The Romantics tapped into another aspect of guitar pop music that had arguably been forgotten by the ’70s mainstream, particularly on the radio. It had to do with an attitude of the musicians themselves, even before they picked up instruments.
By the time of the Stadium rock era, there seemed to be a vital component that musicians needed in order to become a rock band, more so than ever before: qualifications. You needed credentials, where technical proficiency was concerned. Or at least, there were plenty of expectations to keep up with the guitar heroics put on display by many acts of the day. But, what was often lost in the shuffle in this era when guitar titans and Golden Gods roamed the earth was the idea of the original heroic myth of rock ‘n’ roll bands; groups of friends all sharing a mundane setting coming together, making some noise using stalwart musical tools (in this case including the same make of Rickenbacker guitar John Lennon used in his Beatlemania days) – and making magic, too!
This didn’t mean that there was to be no technical prowess involved. It’s just that it wasn’t instrumental dexterity that was what mattered up front. The Romantics’ Lead guitarist Mike Skill weighed in on the approach the Romantics took when they first formed and when they began to think about making records in the context of where the trends were at the time:
“There were a lot of high-end, top-notch guitar players in Detroit at the time who could cover every lick that Jimmy Page recorded for Led Zeppelin. The way we saw it, those guys were overqualified for the sound we were looking to create… I played guitar and bass, and Wally (Palmar, vocalist and rhythm guitar)was another simple, straight-ahead guitar player. With us, it was more of an attitude. We liked simple guitar chords and fewer solos, more attack and melody in the playing. George Harrison was definitely an influence in that way, but so was Chuck Berry. (Read the whole article about the Romantics’ What I Like About You‘ by Gary Eskow).
That’s the approach that would make this song a hit initially, and why it’s endured in so many forms, with very little variation over the decades. The song appeared on TV shows, commercials, in video games (specifically Guitar Hero, which the band weren’t too happy with) and being covered heavily by bands from hair metal band Poison, to punk rock band the Suicide Machines. This choice not to be too preoccupied with the music in terms of complexity and being fun instead was just as punk rock as punk ever was.
In the meantime, The Romantics had at least one more smash hit in “Talking In Your Sleep” in 1984, which would be their highest charting song. Since, they’ve remained a musical concern, still interested in the timeless quality of the guitars/bass/drums dynamics with which they began when they formed.
Check out what they’re up to on the Romantics official site.