Beware The Ides of March! Although they released seven singles from 1969 to 1971, “Vehicle” was the group’s only record to make it into the top 10, let alone the top 50, making them a true one-hit wonder, though one of their members would go onto much bigger success, as we’ll soon see.
Formed by a group of kids from Berwyn, Ill. (all together now: BERWYN?), the band was originally called The Shondells Unlimited — named in honor of singer Troy Shondell, himself a one-hit wonder with the song “This Time” in 1961, and no relation to the later Tommy James-fronted group also known as the Shondells. Some of the members of Shondells Unlimited had known each other since Cub Scouts and elementary school, and two supposedly were born in the same hospital on the same day.
About the name: “Ides” merely means a “division,” as in the half-way point of a month. In ancient Rome, the Ides of March (generally on the 13th or 15th) was the first full moon of the year on the Roman calendar and the day was marked by religious observances and the public settling of debts to be paid. Notoriously, the emperor Julius Caesar was murdered on the Ides of March in 44 B.C., setting off a two-year-long civil war.
In high school, while studying Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar,” the members of Shondells Unlimited liked the famous line “Beware the ides of March” so much, they changed the group’s name to “The Ides of March.” By 1967, they were playing dances at local clubs.
In 1968, they opened for Neil Diamond at a high school in Lombard, Ill. “Next time, only do your best material,” he reportedly told them. Working with two Chicago-based independent record producers, Frank Rand and Bob Destocki, the group tightened its sound and its set.
They added three horn players (Steve Daniels, John Larsen and Chuck Soumar), and their original bass player, Bob Bergland, sometimes doubled on tenor sax.
Their first single, “You Wouldn’t Listen,” released in 1969 on Parrot Records, was a regional hit in the Chicago area, going as high as No. 7 on WLS radio and No. 42 on the national Billboard charts.
Rand and Destocki reportedly put up their own money to pay for a professional demo tape, which they took to Warner Bros. The fourth song on the tape was a “dance number” that was going over big in clubs. It was, of course, “Vehicle.” A Warner Bros. executive said, “that’s a smash.” He was right.
Released in March 1970 — beware the ides! — “Vehicle” reportedly became the fastest-selling single in Warner’s history. The record label rushed the group back into the studio to record an entire LP to capitalize on the 45’s popularity.
A hastily assembled mix of folk, rock and pop music, including a cover of “Eleanor Rigby,” the album may have been a mistake and perhaps did permanent damage to the reputation of The Ides of March. Writing in The Village Voice, rock critic Robert Christgau dismissed the hit single as AM radio bubble-gum, accused lead singer Jim Peterik of imitating Blood, Sweat & Tears’ David Clayton-Thomas, and labeled the rest of the album “schlocky.” The LP (also titled “Vehicle”) stalled at No. 55, and it was the last album The Ides of March ever charted.
Indeed, like their early idol, Troy Shondell, The Ides of March turned out to be one-hit wonders. They released four more singles for radio, but none got higher than No. 64, and two didn’t even crack the Top 100. The group broke up in 1973, but would later reunite for oldies revival shows.
Lead singer and guitarist Peterik went onto a much bigger career as co-founder of the band “Survivor,” where he co-wrote the massive hit “Eye of the Tiger” with fellow co-founder and guitarist Frankie Sullivan, along with”I Can’t Hold Back,” “High on You,” “The Search is Over,” “Burning Heart” and “Is This Love.” (Sullivan, like the members of Ides of March, was from the Chicago area. Just not from BERWYN.)
Peterik also co-wrote “Rockin’ Into the Night” and “Hold on Loosely” for .38 Special, as well as “That’s Why God Made the Radio” for The Beach Boys. He’s currently touring Europe with a new group called “Pride of Lions,” and you can find out more from his website.
But it all started in Berwyn (BERWYN?), where since 2010, you can take a walk on Ides of March Way, formerly a stretch of Home Avenue in front of Morton West High School, which the band members attended, and where they played their final concert prior to splitting up in 1973.
“Vehicle” has remained a staple of rock oldies radio ever since. All in all, it’s not a bad legacy, and it’s not a bad record, Christgau be damned.
Hit me with that horn section, fellas!
I’m a friendly stranger in a black sedan
Won’t you hop inside my car?