Detroit power-pop veterans the Romantics don’t see retirement looming
Thirty-five years after their hit “What I Like About You” debuted, Detroit power-pop band the Romantics are still in business and working hard.
Guitarist and singer Wally Palmar, one of three original members in the quartet’s current lineup, partially credits the band’s continuing success to a recent resurgence of interest in ’80s music.
“There’s so many bands that are still out there playing, some of which even I thought were no longer around anymore,” Palmar says. “But they’re raising up their heads because there’s a calling for them and people want to go out and see them. It’s a great thing and we’re very fortunate.”
The band stays busy enough touring that it hasn’t released any new recorded material since the 2003 LP “61/49.” After years of working on follow-up material, Palmar says he feels confident that at least two new Romantics recordings will be available before the end of this year.
“We have nobody to blame for that except ourselves, and probably a little bit of blame has to go on our booking agent,” he says. “Then again, we don’t have to accept a lot of shows. We can just say, ‘We’re going to stop playing and bottle ourselves up in a studio and go finish this and that up.’ ”
Although the Romantics still play plenty of gigs in the States, including their show Friday at Heritage Park, the band also maintains an international presence. This fall they’ll play a “Lost ’80s Live” festival in Mexico City, and they’ve also toured Puerto Rico in recent years. Palmar says the band is currently pursuing a much more far-flung booking in the Ukraine, where his parents hail from.
The band has also left an enduring mark in Australia, where “What I Like About You” hit No. 2 on the singles chart back in 1980. The Australian pop-punk band Five Seconds of Summer released a new cover of the song last year, which charted in the UK and Belgium.
“Three out of the five times I’ve seen them on TV they did ‘What I Like About You’ live,” Palmar says. “So what’s that got to say? It’s just one of those songs. It’s up-tempo and it gets people going. We’re so very fortunate to have that under our belts.”
A lifelong metro Detroiter, Palmar resides in Birmingham and laughingly references his youth as a “dirty white Hamtramck boy.” Palmar speaks highly of the way his Detroit upbringing inspired him and his bandmates in the early days, referencing Detroit legends like Mitch Ryder, Bob Seger, the Rationals and the MC5 as major influences on his early career.
“Listening to CKLW, they were very partial towards music coming out of the Detroit area,” Palmar says. “So they were a huge, huge part of our style, our upbringing and eventually our live shows and songwriting and recording and everything.”
Although the Romantics may not have the high profile or the chart history of some of those Detroit acts, they’ve certainly got the staying power. And when asked if he has any plans to retire, the 62-year-old Palmar cites even bigger legends as role models.
“I’ll retire when McCartney and Jagger and Keith Richards retire,” he laughs. “Oh, and Ringo. I forgot him, too.”
Patrick Dunn is an Ann Arbor-based freelance writer.
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