August 13, 1984 12:00 PM


Twenty minutes after his third encore, it may have looked to Mitch Ryder, 39, as though his reunion gig with the Detroit Wheels could set his career rolling again. Reassembled for the first time in nearly 20 years, the hometown boys had driven 4,000 fans at Detroit’s 15,000 capacity Pine Knob Music Theater to their feet and kept them there for most of the 90-minute show. But Ryder was adamant about wanting to reinvent the Wheels—with the help of new material and, possibly, a tour—rather than simply exploiting their past. “Tonight was a real joyous occasion,” he said, clutching a post-concert beer and ignoring the sweat that ran rivulets through his stage makeup. “It’s nice to play with some buddies, and if the interest is there, we may pursue it. We’re not stupid. But we’re not going to cater to nostalgia. I’d rather sit home and starve.”

Brave words from a man whose solo career never equaled the glory he knew in the mid-’60s when he and the Wheels helped stay the British invasion with their blue-collar rock, driving home Top 10 hits like Jenny Take a Ride, Sock It To Me—Baby! and Devil With a Blue Dress On/Good Golly Miss Molly. “We were all teenagers back then—we didn’t know anything except how to play our instruments. But we were watched very closely by the other bands in the Top 40,” Mitch remembers. “The Rolling Stones came to our sessions to see what they could learn.” The slump came after Mitch left the band to go his own way in 1967. He made several critically acclaimed LPs that were released only in Europe before he recorded 1978’s How I Spent My Summer Vacation—a dark, personal work whose undercurrent of homosexuality and strong political themes were thought too provocative for American tastes.

On the home front famous friends seemed more determined than Mitch to revive his own career: Bruce Springsteen ends his shows with a Mitch Ryder medley. And John Cougar Mellencamp (Pink Houses) persuaded Mitch to let him produce Ryder’s first U.S. release in four years, 1983’s Never Kick a Sleeping Dog (a lackluster seller).

Now, with a new European album due and an American single planned for the fall, Ryder is “still looking for that commercial song that everyone can sing.” But even if it eludes him, he says, “I don’t have to prove anything anymore: You want good shows, I do good shows. You want good albums, I do those. I’m still probably one of the best singers in the country. No matter what faults I have, I still have that.”

When the Cars come out at night, stars follow

By the time the Cars, in the midst of a 30-city tour, pulled into the New York area for a two-day gig, their Heartbeat City LP had motored to the top of the charts with the help of three video extravaganzas now on MTV. So it’s not surprising that they chose Manhattan’s hottest video club, Private Eyes, for the post-performance party. Although lead singer Ric Ocasek didn’t appear until after 1 a.m., he was very much in evidence on the club’s 34 TV screens. Among the 500 guests who watched: Timothy Hutton, who directed the group’s Drive video, and Andy Warhol, director of their video for Hello Again. John F. Kennedy Jr. and his girlfriend, Sally Munro, tried to duck paparazzi, but not so Drew Barrymore. She perched on a corner of the bar, chatted up celeb Sam (Flash Gordon) Jones and obligingly beamed for photogs.

Frank Sinatra and son do it their way

He took command as only Francis Albert Sinatra can—cool and whiskey-smooth, in black tuxedo and gold-plated microphone in hand. This night Ol’ Blue Eyes, 68, was performing at the Pacific Amphitheatre in Costa Mesa, Calif. before a bejeweled, dinner-jacketed crowd of 11,000. In the $25 seats were a few fans who didn’t fit the Republican mold—including one recalcitrant lad in a flattop and green madras Bermudas. Mom, it seemed, was “an ex-bobby-soxer” who confessed she forced junior to attend, knowing that “When I was his age, I was wild for Frank.”

Flattop remained dubious but the rest of the crowd was wowed by standards like the theme from New York, New York and, yes, My Way. Though he stammered through one intro, Sinatra showed none of the incoherence he displayed on last spring’s Oscar telecast—he was all smiles and easy charm. One matron stamped her foot in mock petulance when the 60-minute songfest ended, saying, “I want to stay and see Frankie all over again.”

It was like seeing Frank again for the 1,000 rain-dampened fans at the free concert on the Green at the New Haven Jazz Festival, where Sinatra’s 40-year-old son and namesake (his symphony tour begins in October) sang Night and Day and That’s Life. Although he understandably discourages comparisons between himself and the elder Sinatra (whose career eclipses his own even now), Frank Jr. says that they share a sound that’s enjoying a revival. In the audience, he said, were “a bunch of little girls who kissed me like I was Michael Jackson. You notice all the young people here—they’re curious. They’re hearing violins and French horns and clarinets, not just guitars and synthesizers and drums. It’s old, but to them it’s new.”

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