There’s really no such thing as a regional hit anymore. Either your song goes national (or international), or it goes nowhere. But it wasn’t always that way.
In the ’50s and ’60s, due largely to the power of local radio stations (and the lack exposure for rock bands, beyond a few superstar groups, on network television), you could be huge in a few cities, but virtually unknown everywhere else.
That’s what happened in 1966 to Richard and the Young Lions, an Essex County garage-rock group fronted by Richard Tepp of Newark. They were discovered by L. Russell Brown, who went on to co-write “Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Ole Oak Tree,” and were signed to a company owned by Four Seasons writer/producer Bob Crewe. Their ferocious “Open Up Your Door” went to No. 1 in Detroit, Cleveland and Salt Lake City, and was in the Top 10 in some other cities as well. But it was heard only rarely in other places, including their home state. Nationally, it just barely cracked the Top 100, peaking at No. 99 on Billboard magazine’s national chart.
Their follow-up singles went nowhere, and they soon broke up.
In 1998, though, “Open Up Your Door” was included on an expanded CD reissue of the seminal 1972 garage-rock compilation, “Nuggets,” and in 2000, band members started doing occasional gigs again, in clubs such as Maxwell’s in Hoboken and the Village Underground in New York. Tepp died in 2004, the same year a documentary, “Out of Our Dens: The Richard and the Young Lions Story,” came out and surviving band members played at a garage-rock festival organized by Steven Van Zandt at Randall’s Island in New York.
“They defined garage-rock,” Van Zandt told me in an interview for The Star-Ledger that year.
Check out a clip of them performing “Open Up Your Door,” below.
New Jersey celebrated its 350th birthday in 2014. And in the 350 Jersey Songs series, we marked the occasion by posting 350 songs — one a day, from September 2014 to September 2015 — that have something to do with the state, its musical history, or both. To see the entire list, click here.