But his music has undeniable staying power. Two of his songs, "All By Myself" and "Almost Paradise (Love Theme From Footloose)" are among the most-played songs in U.S. pop history, with more than 2 million plays each on domestic radio and other broadcast outlets since their release, according to a tracking service developed by BMI, the performing rights society.
Dion covered "All By Myself" on her 1996 album, FALLING INTO YOU, which has sold more than 26 million copies worldwide. "Almost Paradise," which was recorded by Heart's Ann Wilson and Loverboy's Mike Reno for the 1984 movie "Footloose" is being revived, too. It is featured in the Broadway musical "Footloose," which launches its first national tour with a public opening tonight at the Allen Theater at Playhouse Square in Cleveland.
"I'd like to think my staying power is a testimonial to damn good songwriting," said Carmen, who now lives in Gates Mills with his wife, Susan, and 15-month-old son, Clayton. "My goal has always been to write really, really good songs."
A Musical Start
Carmen, who grew up in Lyndhurst and went to Charles F. Brush High School, has been obsessed by music since early childhood. At the Age of 2, he was entertaining his parents, Ruth and Elmer Carmen, with impressions of Tony Bennett and Johnnie Ray. By 3, he was in the Dalcroze Eurythmics program at the Cleveland institute of Music. At 6, he took violin lessons from his aunt Muriel Carmen, then a violinist with, the Cleveland Orchestra.
By 11, he was playing piano and dreaming about writing his own songs. The arrival of the Beatles and the Rolling Stones altered his dream slightly. By the time Carmen was a sophomore at Brush, he was playing piano and singing in rock 'n' roll bands.
Carmen became serious about rock 'n' roll while attending John Carroll University in the late 1960s, joining a band called Cyrus Erie, which recorded several unsuccessful singles for Epic records. Cyrus Erie guitarist, Wally Bryson, had been playing with friends Jim Bonfanti and Dave Smalley in one of Cleveland's must popular bands, the Choir, which scored a minor national hit in 1967 with the single "It's Cold Outside." When Cyrus Erie and the Choir collapsed at the end of the '60s, Carmen, Bryson, Bonfanti and Smalley teamed up to form, the Raspberries.
Rise of the Raspberries
The Raspberries soon became the most popular rock 'n' roll attraction in Cleveland. In 1971, the band signed a national recording contract with Capitol Records, releasing its self-titled debut album the following year. The album's second single, "Go All The Way," soared to No. 5 on the Billboard singles charts. Critics hailed the band's unique twist on Beatlesque power-pop, citing Carmen as a pop visionary.
"Cleveland was a special place for music back then," says Carmen. "It was a lot like Liverpool in the 60s. It was this industrial city on the water with nasty winters. It wasn't exactly a resort area at the time. And an awful lot of kids turned to music as an outlet. There were great bands here: the Choir, the Outsiders, the James Gang. It was an amazing time.
The Raspberries time in the national spotlight was short-lived. The band's next two albums -- 1972's "Fresh" and 1973's "Side 3" -- produced a couple of Top 40 hit singles including "I Wanna Be With You" and "Let's Pretend" but the group, had acquired a light, teeny-bopper image that didn't fit in with the times. Bonfanti and Smalley wanted to move toward a harder rock 'n' roll sound. They quit the band in 1973 and were replaced by drummer Michael McBride and bassist Scott McCarl.
The group released one more album, "Starting Over" in 1974. It yielded a Top 20 hit single, "Overnight Sensation (Hit Record)," but that was it for the Raspberries.
"Even though rock critics loved what we did, we couldn't get those album-buying 18-year-old guys to go out and buy our records," says Carmen. "It Was just not hip. It was like, 'My little sister likes them.' It was so frustrating. We just could not break through it. It was probably the single biggest motivating factor behind the end of the band, which is kind of sad because it was it good band."
Carmen reappeared as a solo artist, releasing his first album on Arista in 1975. It produced three Top 40 hit singles, including "All By Myself." His output has been sporadic since then. He released three more albums on Arista between 1977 and 1980, but had only one hit single, "Change of Heart" in 1978. "Almost Paradise (Love Theme from Footloose)" put him back in the Top 10 as a composer in 1984. But Carmen didn't have a hit of his own again until 1987, with "Hungry Eyes," written for the film "Dirty Dancing."
He followed with another hit single, "Make Me Lose Control" in 1988, performed on the "Dirty Dancing" tour that year, then disappeared. He hasn't performed in public in the United States since then. He released a new studio album, "Winter Dreams" in Japan last year, but it is still not available domestically.
Carmen says he has taken a laid-back approach to music for most of the past decade, working only when the mood strikes him. He moved back to Northeast Ohio from Los Angeles four years ago to be closer to his extended family. Right now, he is content to stay at home with his young son, supporting his family with songwriting and publishing royalties from his past hits.
"I'm kind of a project writer," he says "I have no project, so I'm hanging with my son here. It's just the most fun I've ever had. And it's a big job. I have this wonderful luxury of being able to be home with my little boy as he is growing up. I just love every single day, waking up and seeing him and hearing him call for Daddy from the top of the stairs."
There is one thing that might tempt him to perform onstage again -- a proper Raspberries reunion.
"We've talked about the possibility of doing it", he says. "My only stipulation is that if we are going to do it, it's got to be done right. I have absolutely no desire to get on a stage And burst everyone's bubble who thought the band was great. If you can do it and present it in the right way and make it great, then maybe you do it, If not, It's better to just leave the myth alone. "