Introduction to the Knickerbockers


Who are the Knickerbockers?

A pop smash called “Lies” brought the New Jersey pop/rock group the Knickerbockers some fame during the mid-1960s. Formed by brothers Beau and John Charles, the group were set for a big-time showbiz career in 1964. Inspired by the Beatles and the Four Seasons in particular, the Knickerbockers relentlessly followed the current music trends during that day. Even the vocalist/saxophonist Buddy Randell’s singing in “Lies” sounds unmistakably similar to John Lennon’s. The band would have been more successful if not for Challenge Records’ incompetence – and that was certainly (pardon the pun) a challenge for the band’s career and luck. For instance, the band’s follow-up single “One Track Mind”, would have been more successful had Challenge been able to handle the distribution (the single only ended up at #46). Because of Challenge’s said incompetence, it put a block to the group’s road to further success. They finally split for good in the early 1970s.

The Knickerbockers’ early career

The Knickerbockers started out as a frat rock band in Bergenfield, New Jersey in 1962. They were formed by brothers Beau and John Charles, whose real names were Robert and John Carlo Cecchino, respectively. Their personnel continued to shift until the band settled on their classic lineup: the Charles brothers, vocalist and saxophonist Buddy Randell, and drummer Jimmy Walker.

Producer and singer-songwriter Jerry Fuller signed them to Challenge Records after having seen them perform in New York.

The band didn’t write much their own material and otherwise seemed content to be following the current trends of the day. They would copy the musical styles of other groups. For example, in their song “Jerk Town,” the vocal style seemed to be heavily borrowed from The Four Seasons.

The Knickerbockers’ biggest hit with “Lies” — the greatest Beatles imitation ever yet

But the Knickerbockers’ most famous (or rather infamous) song was “Lies,” which was penned by a bevy of songwriters: band members Beau Charles and Buddy Randell, as well as Tom Bailey, Alannah Currie, Terry Ellis, Denzil Foster, Cindy Herron, Maxine Jones, Joe Leeway, Thomas McElroy, Dawn Robinson and Khayree Shaheed.

“Lies” was particularly known for being so shamelessly derivative of the Beatles’ contemporary songs at that time, although they didn’t directly and explicitly copy any of the Fab Four’s tunes. Randell’s lead vocals in “Lies” sound uncannily like John Lennon’s, while the background vocals are compared to Paul McCartney and George Harrison’s, as well as the muddy yet to-the-point guitar solo can be likened to Harrison’s style. In other words, the Knickerbockers were copying the Beatles out-and-out.

People (especially Beatles fans) who had never heard of “Lies” or the Knickerbockers before for that matter, would mistake it as a Beatles song. Indeed, “Lies” can fit comfortably into the B-side of some Beatles albums such as A Hard Days Night or Help! Even almost 40 years after the original release of “Lies,” there’s still a fine chance that people in this generation will make the same mistake once they hear this song.

Its being unoriginal is precisely why “Lies” became successful. On the Billboard Hot 100 the single just barely inched its way into the Top 20 in 1966.

The band’s decline and break-up

The Knickerbocker’s other two singles — which were equally influenced by British Invasion musical style — did decently on the charts. “One Track Mind” went to #46, while “High on Love” was only a minor pop hit at #94. The comparatively low chart places were being blamed to Challenge’s incompetence. Had the record label been a bit more aggressive in promoting the band’s records, they would have placed higher on the charts.

That set for the Knickerbockers’ decline. Their drummer Jimmy Walker left in 1967 to become a member of The Righteous Brothers. Buddy Randell soon departed the band as well. The remaining members tried to keep the group afloat by adding new members, which resulted again into a fluctuating lineup. In 1972 The Knickerbockers had their one last go by undergoing a different name change into Lodi, and then releasing a record on Motown’s Mowest subsidiary before calling it quits for good.

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