Decked out in matching red leather suits, the Romantics arrived on the music scene in 1980 with the song “What I Like About You,” which could still be heard on television commercials 20 years later. The four members of the group all hailed from Detroit, Michigan, where they were influenced by a combination of British punk and the rock and R&B sounds of Detroit.
Bassist Rich Cole, drummer Jimmy Marinos, singer Wally Palmar, and guitarist Mike Skill formed the Romantics on Valentine’s Day in 1977. They had a mutual desire to create a sound that mixed accessible pop with the energy of punk. They came up with the idea of wearing matching suits from the Detroit-based Motown groups. During their first year together, they released a single with their first two songs—” Little White Lies” and “I Can’t Tell You Anything.”
While the Romantics were performing a show in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, Greg Shaw, an executive from Bomp Records, saw them play. The Romantics released an EP on Bomp Records, which included the song “Tell It to Carrie.” Quark Records re-released the tracks from the EP in 1980 on a compilation called Midwest Pop Explosion. The band continued to play live and was the opening act for the Ramones in the late 1970s. In 1979, they signed a record contract with Nemperor Records and recorded their debut album in three weeks.
The Romantics arrived in stores in 1980 and included the hit song “What I Like About You” and “When I Look in Your Eyes.” Although “What I Like About You” became one of their best-known hits, it only peaked at number 49 on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart. Their punk-influenced pop sound caused them to be categorized as part of the New Wave genre of the 1980s. The Romantics followed their debut with tours, which included opening slots for bands such as Cheap Trick. They became a desirable booking for concerts as their red leather suits offered a strong visual image that complemented their high-energy music.
The group went from their tour directly into the studio to record their next effort, National Breakout, which included songs like “Tomboy” and “Stone Pony.” After the release, The Romantics went right back out on tour, which included performances in Europe and Australia. When they returned, Skill left the band and was replaced by Coz Canler on guitar in 1981.
Later that year, the Romantics released their third album, Strictly Personal. The members of the band struggled with criticism of their appearance rather than a focus on their music. “On the second album [National Breakouf ], radio was a lot different back then; people still looked at us as odd fashion,” singer Wally Palmar recalled to Gary Graff in the Detroit Free Press.” When the third album [Strictly Personali ] came out, once again, it was the way we looked. Radio didn’t want to see four guys dressed alike…. We wanted to have a together look. It was something we grew up with—the bands from Motown—I really admired the way they looked.”
In 1982, the Romantics went through another personnel change. Cole left the band, and Skill returned to take Cole’s place on bass. The following year, the band returned with another release and a different look. With In Heat, the Romantics appeared wearing similar snakeskin suits rather than their trademark red leather. In Heat burned up the charts in 1983 with the top ten singles “Talking in Your Sleep” and “One in a Million.” The album soon reached platinum sales, and MTV started playing the video from 1980’s “What I Like About You.”
With their fourth album, the Romantics had reached commercial success. “I’m trying to make a living,” Marinos told Graff.” I’m not so much obsessed with expressing myself as an artist as to be accepted and respected by coming up with something that’s useful, that people can relate to. Just hearing the sales figures, the radio reports, that’s telling me everything I’ve wanted to do is working.” But for Marinos, everything did not work exactly as planned. The band blamed “success” for creating problems between the members and the group’s management. Before long, Marinos left the band. He was replaced by drummer Dave Petratos.
The Romantics tried not to let the difficulties slow them down. In 1985, they released Rhythm Romance. Tim
Members include Clem Burke (joined group, 1990), drums; Moe Canler (joined group, 1981), guitar; Rich Cole (left group, 1982), bass; Jimmy Marinos (left group, 1983; rejoined group, 1996-97), drums; Wally Palmar, vocals; Dave Petratos (joined group, 1983; left group, 1987), drums; Mike Skill (left group as guitarist, 1981; returned as bassist, 1982), bass.
Formed group on Valentine’s Day in Detroit, MI, 1977; released debut EP on Bomb Records, 1977; signed with Nemperor Records, 1979; released five albums, 1980-85; filed lawsuit against management, 1987; settled lawsuit and regained control of music catalog and publishing rights, 1995; re-formed and returned to the studio, 2000.
Awards: Motor City Music Award, Outstanding Pop/Rock Artists, 1994; Detroit Music Award, Distinguished Achievement, 1999.
Addresses: Website —The Romantics Official Website: http://www.romanticsdetroit.com.
Holmes wrote in his Rolling Stone review, “Rhythm Romance demonstrates the contemporaneity of popcraft as established by its ’60s progenitors: that the gush of bubblegum puppy love is as good as life ever gets and that, for a rockin’ Romantic, there’s no better way to say,‘I love you,’ than with two guitars, bass, and drums. And hooks.”
Rhythm Romance did not match the commercial success of its predecessor, In Heat, and The Romantics continued to battle with management. They filed a lawsuit against their managers, which made it virtually impossible to continue recording and performing. Their royalty payments were delayed, and the group began to struggle financially.
By 1990, the Romantics began to resurface with What I Like About You (And Other Romantic Hits).Petratos had left the band and was replaced by Blondie’s drummer Clem Burke for live performances. When Burke had other obligations, the Romantics brought in Johnny “Bee” Badanjek, who had played with the Detroit Wheels, to perform at Rob Tyner’s (of the MC5) memorial service. Following that performance, both Badanjek and Burke would alternate as the band’s drummer.
The Romantics contributed three original songs to the 1994 European release of Made in Detroit on Westbound Records. The album also featured other Detroit musicians, such as George Clinton. That same year, the Motor City Music Awards honored the Romantics with an award for Outstanding Pop/Rock Recording Artists. Then in 1995, the weight of their legal issues was lifted. They settled their seven-year lawsuit against their former managers. As a result, they regained control of their music catalog and their publishing rights.
Marinos returned to the band the following year to record and tour. A live recording from the King Biscuit Flower Hour was also released in 1996. In 1997, Marinos left the Romantics once again, and Burke continued his previous role. Other compilations of the group’s previous music continued to surface with Super Hits in 1998, Live in 2000, and Hits You Remember Live in 2001. In 1999, the band received the Distinguished Achievement Award at the Detroit Music Awards.
By 2001, the Romantics had recorded their first full-length album since 1985. It included contributions from Burke, Badanjek, and Marinos. “We’re looking back on the new album, trying to find out some musical history about Detroit even prior to the ’60s,” Palmar told John Berger in the Honolulu Star Bulletin.” There was a heavy Detroit blues scene before that, with guys like John Lee Hooker, Muddy Waters, and Howlin’ Wolf coming through Detroit in the ’40s and ’50s.” The Romantics hoped to have the album titled and released by the end of 2001.
Despite the hardships of lawsuits, personnel changes, and creative struggles over the years, the Romantics continued their optimism to produce their own brand of music. When “What I Like About You” was used in television commercials for HBO, Budweiser, and Burger King 20 years after its release, the band received the recognition that their music still had an audience.
The Romantics (includes “What I Like About You” and “When I Look in Your Eyes”), Nemperor, 1980.
National Breakout (includes “Tomboy” and “Stone Pony”), Nemperor, 1980.
Strictly Personal, Nemperor, 1981.
In Heat (includes “Talking in Your Sleep” and “One in a Million”), Nemperor, 1983.
Rhythm Romance, Nemperor, 1985.
What I Like About You (And Other Romantic Hits), Epic, 1990.
Made in Detroit (European release), Westbound, 1994.
King Biscuit Flower Hour, King Biscuit Flower Hour, 1996.
Super Hits, Sony, 1998.
Live, Sony, 2000.
Hits You Remember Live, Madacy, 2001.
Graff, Gary, and Daniel Durchholz, editors, MusicHound Rock: The Essential Album Guide, Visible Ink Press, 1999.
Detroit Free Press, November 25, 1983.
Honolulu Star-Bulletin, March 16, 2001.
Rolling Stone, October 24, 1985.
“The Romantics,” Ear Candy Magazine, http://members.nbci.com/XMCM/earcandy_mag/romntx.htm (June 16, 2001).
“The Romantics,” Yesterdayland, http://www.yesterdayland.com (June 16, 2001).
“The Romantics-National Breakout,” A Different Kind of Greatness, http://www.adkg.com/reviews/music/romanticsnationalbreakout.html (June 16, 2001).
The Romantics Official Website, http://www.romanticsdetroit.com (June 16, 2001).
“What I Like About You,” Song of the Week, http://www.postalnuts.com/newwave/99-06-05/romantics.html (June 16, 2001).