MAY 6, 2017
“ROLLER COASTER” (WRITER: JIM PETERIK)
RELEASED 1966 ON 7” 45
REACHED #92 ON BILLBOARD HOT 100
Mention the Ides of March to a fan of 60s/70s rock and they may respond by singing the riff to “Vehicle,” the band’s biggest hit. While that slice of powerful horn rock is certainly memorable, their finest moment came in summer 1966.
The original Ides of March (Bob Berglund, Mike Borch, Larry Millas, and Jim Peterik) attended Morton West high school in the Chicago suburb of Berwyn. Like many boys their age, they were besotted by the Beatles and Stones but also the “second-line” invasion groups like the Searchers, Who, and Small Faces.
By 1966, they’d played at dozens of dance parties and even had original songs, mostly written by Peterik. Their self-penned 45, the beguiling, Kinks-like “You Wouldn’t Listen,” was first issued on a small local imprint, got airplay in Chicago, was picked up for national release by Parrot Records, and propelled itself to the top of the local charts and reached #42 in the country in spring 1966. Heady stuff for teenagers!
Being in a rock band in the mid-1960s wasn’t necessarily a simple thing, especially if you grew up in a traditional family or conservative community. Many parents and school principals didn’t approve of the long hair and wilder clothes of the era. None of the Ides had even remotely long hair when the band started—they all had crew cuts, in fact—and some promotional pictures of the time show them wearing wigs.
Despite this comic image, the group was on its way. Their second 45, issued in August, was another group original. From start to end, “Roller Coaster” blitzed along like its title object, threatening at any moment to careen off the track. Featuring tough, jangling guitars, a strong melody, a powerful, breakneck tempo, and massed harmony vocals with just enough dissonance, this was a perfect American riposte to the new mod British pop.
Perhaps the song was too muscular, too far out. Maybe the production was a shade tinny. The record was certainly raw; Peterik would later admit that one key vocal phrase in the song’s chorus didn’t even use actual words.
Riding on the wave of the Ides’ local stardom, “Roller Coaster” reached the top 20 in Chicago, and hit in some smaller markets, but stalled at #92 on the national Billboard chart. Always trendy, the Ides cycled through various styles, including R&B, pop, and quirky psychedelia, with little success before their big breakthrough, the brassy “Vehicle,” in 1970. They followed up with “L.A. Goodbye,” a breezy slice of CSN-inspired acoustic rock, the following year.
But in my opinion, the Ides' early singles were their best work. "Roller Coaster" remains a first-rate example of the thousands of great old songs buried in the straw pile of history.