Artful Dodger

Back when electric-guitar rock music was still the biggest game in town, when boys were still gathering in garages and basements to emulate heroes like The Stones, The Beatles, and in some cases, The Faces, hope sprung eternal. The path was clear, get signed, make a record, become rock stars, or so the fairy tale went.

Of course that cycle also produced a lot of heartbreak and shattered dreams. A few bands, mostly those who could produce hit singles in a Beatles-centric subgenre that would soon come to be known as power pop, made it. For a moment or two. Think of the Raspberries: a big hit single, "Go All the Way"; a couple of mediocre albums; and they were effectively done—all in the space of three years. The mid to late 1970s, when LPs were selling and the music business was awash in cash and excess, was the era not of one-hit [single] wonders but one- (or maybe two) album wonders.

One band that was caught in that music-biz inertia was Artful Dodger from Northern Virginia. Originally named Brat, the band signed a deal in 1974 with the same management firm that looked after Aerosmith and in 1975, after a name change to Artful Dodger, released a debut record on Columbia, Aerosmith's label. Two more albums on Columbia followed. All three have now been reissued in budget-priced double-CD set by Real Gone Music.

Having seen them once—do I wanna say opening for Kiss in '76?—I can attest that they were a high-energy, well-rehearsed, riff-rock quintet with fairly compelling original material. They also had that most essential element to all '70s rock acts—a live-wire, boyishly handsome frontman/singer Billy Paliselli, whose raspy voice, and fondness for wearing long scarves à la Steven Tyler became the band's aural and visual signatures.

Listening to these albums in succession, they remain an astonishing document as to how important music once was, how creative types who now write apps and code, were once songwriters and aspiring rock stars. Even bands like these guys, who never made it big and eventually abandoned music because of a lack of success, had a basic level of quality in their songwriting and playing.

The trouble with Artful Dodger may have been a common music-biz misstep: they chose the wrong single. While "Follow Me" or "Wayside" seem like the strongest tunes on the band's self-titled debut—rock music that lived midway on the spectrum between metal and pop rock—the label or the band or both chose the meandering, overly sweet power ballad, "Silver and Gold" for that important single. The same thing applies to the band's second, and best record, Honor Among the Thieves, where the strutting self-titled opener is clearly the single and yet another ballad, "Scream," was released as such. Led by Paliselli's voice, and an acoustic guitar, "Scream" has a memorable hook in the chorus but "Beth" it ain't. Hear for yourself below.

dalethorn's picture

Dodger had a metal singer in a rock band. Tyler of Aerosmith could do that because he had the voice and personality to do many things. Tyler had swag - this singer not so much. The embedded video track ("Scream?") starts with drums I might play for marching troops in Army Basic Training. Not good. But they did have some decent instrumentation on some of their recordings. I think if they could have retrained the singer for a lower register, or got a different singer entirely, they would have done better. But someone would have needed to come in tweak some of their riffs, like the intro in the embedded video, for more people to take them seriously.

Saint Gerard's picture

Always great to read about another never heard of 'em riff laden band. Will check them out. But Oh me and Oh my. The Raspberries - a hit single and a couple of mediocre albums? A throw away line and a lamentable misdescription of one of pop's great groups.