Wednesday, August 31, 2011

my power pop addiction, no. 127 (199)

If I'm given a choice between punk and New Wave, I'll take New Wave every time. But how about bands like the Buzzcocks, and the Only Ones, and the Undertones, who straddle the divide and then throw in a bunch of addictive poppy hooks to rein in the alienation just a bit? Canada's Diodes were one of the best of these hybrid outfits. You can find their songs on both punk and power pop compilations. It might be that their split personality, which defied easy categorization, was the reason they remained so obscure. They remind me of another very good and somewhat obscure Canadian band, the Barracudas, who were one part punk, one part pop, at home in neither camp, and so a stranger in both. Music that’s difficult to label might be more interesting than easily identifiable product, but it also makes the stuff much more difficult to mass market. Too bad for the Diodes. I like their sound a lot, even if it's punky 'tude takes things a bit outside my normal crotchety comfort zone. Tired of Waking Up Tired has enough ennui to keep your mohawk as sharp as nails, but it's also tight, melodic, and devilishly catchy. And the thing is, who isn't tired of waking up tired? The song's sentiment gets at a universal problem in the modern world...

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

my power pop addiction, no. 126 (198)

First off, I want to thank my amazingly talented sister for the new look and feel of this blog. I gave her a couple of loosely formulated ideas, an she just grasped my vision intuitively. Thanks, Molly. You're the best...

I don’t know much about Fotomaker, except that they came out of Long Island and featured two members of the Rascals as well as Wally Bryson, the guitarist for the Raspberries. Their sound, which is definitely in the same orbit with the Raspberries and Artful Dodger, is pleasing if not particularly earth shattering. Sometimes power pop affects me profoundly. Dwight Twilley, Dom Mariani, the Rubinoos, Todd Rundgren, 20/20…They’ve all had a deep impact on my consciousness. But other artists just provide momentary pleasure, and then you move on, and that’s ok. Fotomaker are one of those bands for me, along with the Raspberries, Pezband, Cheap Trick, and the Romantics, just to name a few. None of them offer anything too spectacular, in my opinion, but they pop up on my iPod every so often and bring a little added sunshine to my day. It’s not a bad thing at all.

Monday, August 29, 2011

my power pop addiction, no. 125 (197)

The Rubinoos embody that pop life vibe I love so much. In their heyday during the late 70s and early 80s, they were a fresh faced, wholesome looking bunch who seemed like the kind of band that’d play your high school dance. I’m thinking of the one where I wanted nothing more than to dance with a cute girl from my English class, not because I liked dancing but rather because I liked her - a lot - and I spent the entire evening getting up the nerve to ask. When the moment of truth finally arrived, I tapped her on the shoulder. She knew my name, which took me by surprise and gave me some added confidence. I fumbled a little with my words and I was glad it was dark in the gymnasium, enough to camouflage the beet redness consuming my face. My body felt warm with nervous excitement and a bead of sweat dripped down my back. See what guys go through? But I gotta admit that I felt pretty damn good about myself when she nodded and I got to dance with her, and I felt even better about myself when she kissed me on the cheek afterwards. The smile she flashed at me lit my world up like a brilliant sunrise. It’s a shame that feeling can’t be bottled and sold. It’s the greatest feeling in the world. Someone needs to figure out a way to freeze those perfect moments in time. There’s so much anguish and insecurity during teendom, it’s easy to forget that there’s some moments of blissed-out ecstasy scattered in there as well. The Rubinoos remind me of the bliss. They inject a great punchy energy into their songs, youthful and upbeat, even when they’re singing songs like It Hurts Too Much. The music has a bit of an edge without ever getting too hard. The guitars are crunchy and the drums are prominent in the mix, but the overall thrust of things remains endlessly tuneful and poppy. And their yearning harmonies are just right. They strike a perfect balance, creating archetypal power pop that flirted with the charts a few times but sadly never really broke through in a big way. They eventually got around to recording a patchy album with Todd Rundgren and Utopia, scored a minor hit with the theme song to Revenge of the Nerds, and even have a collection of songs for kids that’s supposed to be a lot of fun. But it just seems to me that they should’ve been so much more than a cult favorite amongst obsessive pop geeks. If I could figure out a way to bottle that amazing feeling from the high school dance, I think the Rubinoos would become the Platinum selling band I know they could have been…

Sunday, August 28, 2011

my power pop addiction, no. 124 (196)

The first few Undertones singles were so great. They never really got the credit they deserved, at least not in the U.S., for their excellent brand of punk infused power pop. If you're like me and bands like the Scruffs, the Only Ones, and the Buzzcocks are about as punky as you like your punk (not terribly punky in other words), then you'll love the Undertones. The first time I heard Teenage Kicks back in the day, I remember feeling like, 'yes, this is for me, this is what I need, this is how I want my music to sound.' It's one of those songs where the only thing you wanna do when it ends is hear it again. It's so simple, and it's tuneful as hell, yet it also packs enough of a punch without ever rocking harder than it needs to. I've come to appreciate how rare it is for a band to achieve that balance, where the music is just on the threshold but manages to resist the temptation to flex too much muscle. The Undertones' restraint, which is a kind of insistence on keeping things poppy, pays huge dividends. And what I hear more than anything over the two minutes or so of tonight's song is a group of guys who love what they're doing. I think it's the hand claps that give it away. Their joyfulness is infectious...

Saturday, August 27, 2011

my power pop addiction, no. 123 (195)

With Cheap Trick you've gotta take the bad with the good. The bad, in my opinion, is that they've always been kind of a bar band with arena rock aspirations, which often results in music that's a bit too meat headed for my genteel sensibilities. They are widely viewed as one of the great American power pop bands, but even on their first few albums the material already crosses over from pop into rock with the subtlety of a jackhammer. Also, the lyrics to a handful of songs from their classic period - tunes like Elo Kiddies and Taxman Mr. Thief, for example - reveal a shallowness of spirit that I find to be a distasteful harbinger of the Reagan era's ethos of greed and narrowly defined self-interest. There's no question in my mind that Cheap Trick were mostly in it for the money, and while there's nothing wrong with that, why not just go work at a bank if your motivation is 90 percent mercenary? On the good side, even when the songs are more hard rocking than what I would prefer, there's no denying Cheap Trick's excellent feel for melodies and hooks. And while it's fairly obvious that they yearn above all else to be well heeled rock stars, there is a power pop band hidden beneath the bloat and unseemly ambition. Another thing is that drummer Bun E. Carlos strikes me as one of the most iconic figures in rock 'n roll. In fact, the juxtaposition between the two dream boats in the band and the two guys who look like they'd be more at home doing your taxes is pretty damn hilarious...

Friday, August 26, 2011

my power pop addiction, no. 122 (194)

I don't know much about Chicago's Pezband at this point other than that they had a cool look, sounded like a cross between the Raspberries and the Pop, and don't have any albums available anymore unless you're willing to go the Japanese import route and shell out $100 or so. I've always heard good things about these guys, but limited access to their music has made it hard for me to get a sense of what they're all about. If I were the type of guy who steals music - and I'm not, just in case the FBI is monitoring my seditious musings on power pop - I would download their whole catalogue in a matter of minutes and be able to offer a more interesting post for today. For now, though, here's a groovy sounding Pezband track I found on youtube. It's the best I can do at the moment...

Thursday, August 25, 2011

my power pop addiction, no. 121 (193)

This will sound like pop life sacrilege, but I think the Raspberries are kind of overrated. There’s a reason it’s taken me 121 posts to get to what is widely regarded as the ultimate power pop band. I appreciate the prototype they created, all the more so since they did it in the age of bloated arena rock, and they definitely have a handful of terrific songs - catchy, loaded with great sounding guitars, and radiating good time vibes - but I honestly don’t think they’re that great. They're good, sometimes quite good, but never great. And tonight’s clip of them 'performing' one of their best songs shows that they’re pretty bad at synching. There’s not even a fleeting attempt to make things look authentic. But still, if you’re gonna talk power pop, the Raspberries eventually need to be inserted into the conversation, so enjoy it and don’t let my occasional need to be contrary sway your opinion one way or the other…

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

my power pop addiction, no. 120 (192)

Artists like Peter Hammill, David Bowie and Robert Fripp blazed a trail from progressive rock to New Wave starting in the mid 70s, but none of their efforts were ever as pop oriented as the fusion Todd Rundgren forged with Utopia. I have very little patience for progressive rock these days, but with Utopia I make an exception. Adventures in Utopia is a fascinating transitional album that’s intricate and technically sophisticated, but also tuneful and hooky at the same time. Parts of the album are a bit more crowded with effects than what I usually go for, and the sound is undeniably heavy and heady, but there’s about three or four songs I can’t resist. When Rundgren focuses on making music and concise songs, as opposed to making a fetish of twiddling nobs and creating sounds, there’s really nobody I’d rather hear. And his singing and guitar playing on Adventures in Utopia are in peak form. …Check out the excellent footage I found of the band playing one of their greatest songs on the Mike Douglas show. For all the moaning and whining I do about how everything was so much better before the digital age, I gotta admit that youtube is just the best. Utopia actually look like they’re totally prepared for the digital age in this one. The guitar and drum kit alone are worth the price of admission...

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

my power pop addiction, no. 119 (191)

Todd Rundgren’s creative restlessness can be quite maddening. Maybe it’s narrow mindedness on my part, but I really wish he had spent his entire career honing his pop chops instead of spending so much time in tedious stretches of experimentation. I don’t care for experimentation as an end in itself, which in my book = self-indulgence, a sin Rundgren has certainly been guilty of periodically over the course of a career that’s spanned more than four decades at this point. On the other hand, maybe his flights of fancy have helped re-focus him in some way so that when he’s returned to what he does best, making tight and immediately impactful pop songs, he’s come back fresher and more into what he’s doing. But this is all pure speculation. I’ve read everything I can get my hands on about the man and he still remains a mystery to me. The image that's formed in my imagination is of a mercurial enigma, though his opacity is admittedly part of his appeal. And in spite of the flaws that mark significant portions of his body of work, you have to admire his relentless commitment to his work and his apparent indifference to commercial success, especially since, as Something/Anything seems to show, he could, if he chose to, churn out commercial hits in his sleep. Yet, Something/Anything is far from a perfect album. It’s kind of too bad that it’s a double LP because the filler – or what I regard to be the filler anyway – diminishes the album’s half dozen or so gems. They get lost in traffic. I’ve alluded to this before, but double albums are almost never a good idea, particularly if they’re studio albums. I can’t really think of one double album that wouldn’t have been better if it’d been reduced down to two sides, including the White Album, Exile On Main Street, Freak Out, Zen Arcade, and Double Nickels on the Dime. Maybe if windy concept albums with lots of instrumental noodling are your thing – Progressive Rock, in other words – you can make a case for the double album as an art form. But if you’re like me with my short attention span, my need for instant gratification, and my spare personal aesthetic, then you start to get sleepy at the very thought of sitting through an hour or more of music where the good songs come only intermittently. Something/Anything should have been pared down to two sides. Imagine a record clocking in at 30 minutes, maybe even less, where every song is as good, or almost as good, as the one I’ve posted for you this evening…

Monday, August 22, 2011

my power pop addiction, no. 118 (190)

The Nazz, Todd Rundgren's first proving ground, played an early variant of power pop over the course of three albums that, while patchy and uneven, each have moments of crackling electricity. Tonight’s song, from Nazz Nazz, is a hot mess of church bells, gun-fire drums, trippy psychedelic flourishes, and disorienting time signature chicanery. But there’s also a highly melodic pop song lurking beneath the the song's harsh atmosphere of white noise and weirdness. It’s a little more involved and produced than I tend to like my pop, but its deceptively tuneful, and its overall vibe, which is somehow tight as a drum and slovenly at the same time, keeps me coming back for second and third helpings. Even at the dawn of his career, Rundgren was already making records that get to your head as much as they do your heart, often times without even seeming to try very hard…

Thursday, August 18, 2011

my power pop addiction, no. 117 (189)

We will be out of commish for the next few days, but not before leaving you with a serious slice of early 70s Midwestern power pop. Blue Ash are somewhat unique in that their British Invasion template is often tempered by a hint of boogie, which is not typically a style associated with pop's lighter touch. I think it’d be fair to say that they owe as much to the Rolling Stones as they do to the Beatles. I haven’t really thought about the Stones for a long time and haven’t had a hankering for anything Stonesy in I dunno how long, the one exception being Blue Ash, whose pleasing melodies stick inside your consciousness no matter where your mood’s at. Enjoy it, and enjoy the weekend!

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

my power pop addiction, no. 116 (188)

Emitt Rhodes yesterday, Badfinger today. This must be the week of damaged lives and the first wave of Beatles simulacra. Badfinger were the first of the bands trying to sound like a band trying to sound like the Beatles, if that makes sense. The Byrds were obviously influenced by the Beatles on their first few albums, but they took the Beatles’ sound and made it their own by injecting folk into the mix, whereas with Badfinger (and with Emitt Rhodes as well, I suppose), the relationship to the Beatles was more purely mimetic. They took a lot of shit for this. My cursory survey of reviews archived on the internet revealed that critics tended to find the blatant imitation to be grating. Robert Christgau, for example, in his Consumer Guides review of Badfinger’s Straight Up, wrote that he was “forced to wonder whether [he] wouldn't like this record if it were by the Beatles. But without mentioning what the question says about the group, which is called Badfinger, the answer is that the Beatles couldn't have made this record. Except for ‘Day After Day’ and ‘Perfection,’ not one of these unabashedly tuneful tunes has any magic to it, which isn't simply a matter of cautious tempos and harmonies--it's a matter of magic.” My sense is that critics had yet to come to terms with the postmodern condition as the age of aesthetic simulation. And, to be fair, it would have been difficult to do so at that time as postmodernity was only beginning to assert itself unevenly in the culture at large. Things are very different today. It has long been the case now that it’s virtually impossible to talk about music, literature, fine art, cinema, etc. without reference to what/who it sounds, reads or looks like. So then the question becomes, if all art is now necessarily derivative and always already engaged in a chain of reference, is any of it any good? That’s a little heavier than what I feel capable of at the moment, so let’s bring it down a few notches: Are Badfinger any good? Do they fill you with inspiration and creative energy, or do they merely engender a kind of depressed fatigue in marking the start of a prolonged age of cultural exhaustion? In other words, how do you feel when you come to the realization that there’s no longer anything new under the sun?

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

my power pop addiction, no. 115 (187)

I must confess that I'm not a huge Emitt Rhodes acolyte, but there's a handful of his songs that put me in an intensely reflective mood, not necessarily in a bad way, though there's an undeniable undercurrent of tragedy in much of Rhodes' music. I think tonight's selection is the best song he ever did. It puts his gift for communicating sadness and loss on full display and is deceptively affecting at under three minutes long. The problem for me is that I really don't wish to be this sad any more than I have to, so that whenever the song pops up on my iPod I have to decide whether or not I'm really in the mood to go down its dark and lonely passage. In fact, the entire trajectory of the Emitt Rhodes story is quite frankly just too depressing for me. I recently viewed an Italian documentary about him and had trouble sitting through the whole thing, kind of in the same way I had trouble sitting through Mayor of the Sunset Strip, the documentary about Rodney Bingenheimer. There’s no question of Rhodes’ talent. His self-titled first solo album after his stint as the leader of the Merry-Go-Round was released more or less contemporaneously with, and compared favorably to Paul McCartney’s first solo album in 1970. But there's so many times when talent alone doesn’t cut it. Lots of other factors enter into the equation: Dumb luck, personal charisma, record company backing, and the emotional resilience the artist does or doesn't posseses in dealing with the ups and downs of the star making machine. What I took away from the documentary was that the lack of this resilience in the face of the machine destroyed Rhodes, turning him into a maladjusted man child. Think Brian Wilson only with no chart success to buoy him even just a little bit. Throw in an indifferent record company and you’ve got a perfect storm for a shattered pop life. There may be days now and again when I’m feeling ghoulish and the arc of the Rhodes narrative will hold some appeal for me. It speaks to that part of me that digs Sunset Boulevard, The Last Tycoon, and even Helter Skelter. But usually the thought of Rhodes makes me sad in a way I don’t want to be if I can avoid it. I hope that doesn’t make me sound callous. I recognize his magnificent talent, but the whole package – the feelings stirred up by his music, and knowing the way his life turned out – I find it all too difficult to enjoy in anything other than small and infrequent dosages…

Monday, August 15, 2011

my power pop addiction, no. 114 (186)

I recently paid $60 for the Orange Humble Band's much-sought-after record, Assorted Creams. In this economy - or ITE as the saying now goes - this may seem like the height of profligacy. I should be either hoarding every last cent or buying gold in anticipation of the apocalypse that's just around the corner, but I must say that the purchase was completely worth it. In times of darkness and confusion, it becomes so much more important to take solace in the things that put us in touch with the goodness life has to offer. And for me, Assorted Creams is one of those things. It’s certainly not a perfect album by any stretch of the imagination. There are a few songs that are way too long, and there are ones that rock a bit too hard and/or unimaginatively for my taste, but the good songs are some of the best I’ve heard in quite some time. …As I mentioned a few weeks ago, I've always liked the idea of Let’s Active more than the reality, yet it seems that almost everything else Mitch Easter has been involved with, including the Orange Humble Band, is really worthwhile. Among the pop lifers joining Easter on Assorted Creams are Ken Stringfellow of the Posies and Daryl Mather from the Someloves. That’s some pretty serious pop pedigree if you ask me, the power pop equivalent of Baker, Bruce and Clapton...or not. Either way, when the Orange Humble Band keep things concise and focused, their layers upon layers of guitars create gorgeously melodic pop songs that improve with each successive listening session. So while sixty smakers is a lot to ask for a CD these days, it seems like fair market value for something that offers such soothing comfort in the midst of an increasingly uncomfortable world...

Sunday, August 14, 2011

my power pop addiction, no. 113 (185)

The studio version of today's song is far superior to the one posted here, which is performed in a Spanish television studio sloppily, somewhat out of tune, and a little hard for my taste, but it's better than nothing. There are a few turns of phrase that really stay with me. 'Our eyes have met but we haven't had a chance to talk', 'I'm a fool if I let a chance like this go by', 'From the street I look up at your window, I can see your perfect silhouette', 'When I go to sleep tonight I'm gonna dream about you...' It's great pop life stuff, and when Mariani blends it with his great feel for guitar-driven melodies, there's almost nothing else I'd rather be playing, at maximum volume...

Saturday, August 13, 2011

my power pop addiction, no. 112 (184)

Dom Mariani has become one of my all-time pop heroes. He understands the emotional component of it all, that pop is exactly the right vehicle for communicating the ecstasy and agony of romantic longing. Just listen to the intricacy of the guitar playing in tonight's song and you'll feel that pleasure/pain nexus quite viscerally. And there's something about his sunny Aussie accent that always stops me in my tracks. It's so distinct and perfectly suited to the emotional landscape he creates. I hear his beautifully melodic pop songs, tinged with piercing desire, and I think to myself, 'this stuff is so me.' He's completely attuned to the way I experience music. I feel like he's my long-lost Australian soul brother, the South Pacific's answer to Dwight Twilley or Richard Lloyd. I've admired the bands Mariani has been in for quite some time, from the Stems, to the Someloves, to DM3, but only recently have I come to recognize just how devoted he is to the dream and how much he embodies the pop life...

Friday, August 12, 2011

my power pop addiction, no. 111 (183)

I heard tonight's song for the first time in 1984 over the CBGB PA System at a hardcore matinee featuring the Meat Puppets and the Bad Brains. I was slowly coming out of my hescher phase and a whole new world of music was opening up for me. The Only Ones. Television. Richard Hell and the Voidoids... And then there was the more mainstream stuff like the Jam, the Pretenders, Bowie, the Psychedelic Furs... Another Girl, Another Planet straddles the line separating punk and power pop and to this day continues to pack quite a nice wallop. It's not quite hooky enough for me to want to hear it repeatedly, and I generally don't go in for stuff that's played so fast anymore, but the song is at once tuneful and angsty, which is not an easy combination to pull off. Angst and alienation in music are often achieved at the expense of melody, but not in this case. The song also has some very interesting psychedelic sound effects in its intro, the sort of thing you'd expect to hear on a record from the Thirteenth Floor Elevators or early Electric Prunes. It reminds me that even though punk represented a break from the 60s on a number of levels, it's decisive incursion into the popular consciousness, around 1976-77, was only several years removed from hippies and beads and peace and love. This historical proximity, if you will, meant that otherwise outdated motifs and styles occasionally crept into the new music unexpectedly and would make for interesting moments of continuity with the past...

Thursday, August 11, 2011

my power pop addiction, no. 110 (182)

To be honest with you, I tried for about an hour to locate a photo of the Names on Google and the thing kept routing me to pictures of Don DeLillo. I didn't think they were that obscure, but I guess I was wrong. Why Can't it Be is a bit of a garage oddity. It's not particularly hooky but it has a certain something about it if you have patience and are willing to play it a few times in a row. It starts off sounding like a throwback to the Golden Age of Rock 'n Roll, but then the guitars pick up steam about half way through and inject some much needed muscle. Because the last thing this world will ever need is another Sha Na Na. So I don't know what you'll make of this one. Some people love and revere this song. Personally, I think it's a nice track to put in the middle of a compilation, but I don't need to hear it more than a few times every few years...

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

my power pop addiction, no. 109 (181)

It’s pretty much impossible not to fall in love with There She Goes the first time you hear it. It’s one of the greatest pop songs of all time, even if it reminds me of my gloomy days living in England during the first Gulf War. Back then, the records I listened to most often, all on store-bought cassette tapes, were a German edition Best of the Byrds collection, Big Star’s first two albums (one on each side of the tape), and the one and only release from the LAs. I guess that puts the latter in pretty good company, eh? Dunno why they insisted on spelling their name with a possessive apostrophe. Just a pet peeve of mine. I was introduced to the LAs via a new music radio program on a local BBC station in Cambridge that came on every weeknight called Jive Alive, hosted by Mick and Sarah Jane, two cool cats, very English sounding, no Americanization whatsoever, which I appreciated. …It always fascinates me when a band has one shimmering, transcendent moment and then is never heard from again. Such is the case with the LAs. I’ve read various bits and pieces on the internet about Lee Mavers, the band’s front man and principal songwriter, and learned that his career was derailed both by his impossible perfectionism and hard drugs. Apparently he’s crawled out of it since then and lives a reclusive life in a suburb of Liverpool. Good for him. He brought a little cheer into my life during an especially difficult time for me...

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

my power pop addiction, no. 108 (180)

There are worse things you could do than make a Spirit of ’66 Pet Sounds-Rubber Soul fusion album with bits of the Byrds and the Left Banke thrown in to give the music added sheen. I must confess, however, that there’s a not insignificant part of me that wants to reject Splitsville’s Pet Soul as just a little too clever for its own good, what with its nerdy-cool record collector pose. Perhaps I feel so much of my essence in the music that it makes me uncomfortable. But in the end, these guys are simply too damn talented and too good at what they do. Resistance is futile. They hit all their idols’ nuances in ways that are just right. The album is nothing less than a joyous celebration of the very peak of human civilization, replete with fulsome guitars and airy West Coast harmonies. I don’t even mind that there’s a song on the record called Caroline Knows. It helps that it’s a fantastic song that does honor to its progenitor. When the music is good, all other considerations go out the window for me. The whole thing is a bit show offy and over the top, no doubt, but I’ll bet you a Dr. Brown’s Cream Soda you’ll be seduced by Pet Soul’s mimetic charms after one listen straight through. It won’t feel like the first time, and maybe not even the third or 25th or 100th, but demanding that it do so at this overripe point in the age of simulation would be setting the bar impossibly high. Let’s simply be grateful that there remain folks for whom this type of thing still matters. Every last one of them forestalls the fade into oblivion, the fate of the dinosaurs. If loving this shit is wrong, I don’t wanna be right…

Monday, August 8, 2011

my power pop addiction, no. 107 (179)

The values of the Reagan era have reasserted themselves in a big way over the past few weeks. It’s strange and quite dispiriting for those of us who had hoped Obama would be another FDR. It was na├»ve to think this, sure, but it’s painful nevertheless to watch as he triangulates in Clintonian fashion, especially since he doesn’t have Bill’s political chops and so his presidency, which started out with such high hopes, appears to be slipping through his hands, paving the way for some conservative nutter to win in 2012. But for the most part I don’t really like to mix my pop with politics. Pop is my escape from politics, or at least that’s what it’s become. Still, I find it difficult to stay completely blinkered to what’s going on, and the return to the 80s mindset dovetails nicely with my having turned my attention to the Go Gos. I really wanted to post Vacation, which is my favorite Go Gos tune and has a great video (remember the water skiing?), but it’s not postable, probably for some petty corporate reason. So tonight it’s Head over Heels instead, a song from the very peak of those days of exposed shoulders. It was a grim time for sure, but this doesn’t mean the song isn’t very catchy and won’t hang around in your mind all day long after you’ve heard it just once…

Sunday, August 7, 2011

my power pop addiction, no. 106 (178)

I'm not gonna lie and say that the Go Gos are one of my favorite bands of all time, but they have eight or ten songs that fit in perfectly on any pop compilation I make for myself or friends. They really captured the spirit of the early 80s Hollywood scene, and this as much as anything else is the reason they remain interesting to me. When I was a teenager growing up in NYC, the Go Gos seemed so otherworldly to me. They represented something I had no familiarity with whatsoever, but it appealed to me, Los Angeles as a place of freewheeling decadence and sexy fun. It's not that far off from the way Fast Times at Ridgemont High affected me. Perhaps these kinds of things planted seeds in my brain that eventually made me so much more receptive to the place when I finally moved here... The only other thing I would say about the Go Gos is that Jane Wiedlin is a very good songwriter and has excellent pop instincts, even if her personality puts me off somewhat. She is the band's real talent in my opinion. And my understanding is that this eventually caused tensions as she received song writing royalties from which the others were excluded. Ah, the jealous games people play...

Saturday, August 6, 2011

my power pop addiction, no. 105 (177)

I should be a bigger Bangles guy than I am, but I just don't think the songs are there. In the battle of the bands between the Bangles and the Go Gos, the Bangles seem like a much nicer group of girls, but the Go Gos have more talent. That's my opinion anyway. I like the idea of the Bangles - comely, cool, easygoing women committed to the pop life - more than the reality. Still, they have about four or five terrific songs, and they're children of Los Angeles, very much a part of the paisley underground story, along with Rain Parade, the Three O'Clock, Long Ryders, and Dream Syndicate, and for this they deserve recognition. Tonight's song, one of my favorite Bangles tunes, was originally performed by Katrina and the Waves, but the Bangles improve upon it greatly, giving the song added tunefulness and throwing in some pleasing backing vocals that make me think of the Mamas and the Papas. All the vocals for the song are actually quite lovely and make it a perfect track for you to enjoy with your morning cup of coffee on a overcast, Liverpudlian Saturday morning...

Friday, August 5, 2011

my power pop addiction, no. 104 (176)

Part of me thinks Material Issue is a mere eyelash away from being the Goo Goo Dolls, and that's not really a good thing to be in my world. But if I leave my preconceived notions aside and take in their music on its own terms, then I have to admit, perhaps somewhat grudgingly, that they have their moments. I give them credit for having been an unwavering power pop band in the era of the grunge monolith. I also can't easily dismiss a band produced by Shoes' Jeff Murphy, whose calling card will always command my attention. It's funny how the 90s seem so distant all of a sudden, and yet it was all only yesterday, wasn't it? The first time I ever heard Material Issue was in the Virgin Megastore at the corner of Sunset and Crescent Heights. I bought International Pop Overthrow that day...and then brought it into Rockaway Records on Glendale Blvd a few days later for trade, pennies on the dollar. They just didn't do it for me at the time. Part of it might have been that I'm resistant to trios. I know this doesn't really matter in a studio context because you can just mix in the second guitar, but conceptually I like thinking about two guitarists working in concert, and it's hard to do that when you know the band is a trio. And not to speak ill of the dead, but it's also been hard for me at times to warm to Jeff Ellison's voice, particularly when he slips into his affected, kinda-sorta faux English accent. I can take this sorta thing with some guys (Emitt Rhodes, Michael Quercio) more than others (Billie Joe Armstrong). Whatever. These are just some of my weird music hang ups. I've mellowed as I've gotten older and I've grown to appreciate a handful of Material Issue songs over the years, including tonight's song, which makes me think of American Psycho, Paula Jones, Paul Tsongas, The Player, Kirby Puckett, Shannen Doherty, Dan and Anne's wedding, Freddie Mercury, Anita Hill, Serbs and Croats, Reginald Denny, Arsenio Hall, Arthur Lee live at Raji's, my dingbat apartment on Barry Ave, Matthew Sweet, gas for $1.25 a gallon, Mao II, Gen X, Quentin Tarantino, American Gladiator...

Thursday, August 4, 2011

my power pop addiction, no. 103 (175)

There’s a much punchier rendition of tonight’s song available on the Yellow Pills compilation, but this one will have to suffice. Whenever it’s popped up on my iPod in the past, I’ve gotten a hankering to explore the Rubinoos in more depth. But I’ve always forgotten to do so until last night, when my army of research interns informed me that the song, as well as the album on which it appears, Party of Two (1983), features all the guys from Utopia as players and is produced by Todd Rundgren. You learn something new every day! I can’t speak for the rest of the record yet, but I love the song even in its inferior incarnation. It has a very distinct late 70s/early 80s sit com vibe. Think Three’s Company meets Eight is Enough meets One Day at a Time. And then maybe throw in a little John Hughes teen-o-rama for good measure. The feel is similar to other New Wavey power pop of the same period, like the stuff you get with the Records, 20/20, Rick Springfield, and Phil Seymour. Rundgren keeps the song’s footprint nice and light, which I love, but still manages to insert an ever-so-slight edge into the music. It’s really very catchy and actually sounds like an attempt to make a single for the charts. Play it once and you’ll be singing it to yourself all day long. I especially dig the way the band captures teenage romantic fixation so perfectly. The girl / That’s all my mind is on / The girl / That’s all I ever want / The girl / So glad I got / The girl, the girl, the girl, the girl, the girl… Yup, you guys nailed it.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

my power pop addiction, no. 101 (173)

Back online at last!…I’ve never met the blokes in Teenage Fanclub, yet they understand me better than some people who’ve known me all my life. They love all the things I love: Tuneful, romantic songs; hooks that send the imagination soaring; guitars deployed as elemental building blocks; ethereal West Coast-style harmonies; and reverence for the West Coast sound more generally. Their music is quite simply joy, joy and more joy. And their story is inspirational. They were the wrong band at the wrong time, arriving on the scene during the first wave of Nirvanamania. Remember that bleak period in music? The cheerless, flannel-clad Aryans from places where the sun never shines, playing their grim music, heavier and blacker than the sludge at the bottom of your coffee cup. I guess it seemed like a good idea at the time… Bandwagonesque, Teenage Fanclub’s breakthrough third album, got lumped in with all those unhappy purveyors of the grunge. And since grunge was the type of corporate ‘alternative’ music charting at that moment, the record company asked them to make follow-up records that sounded like Pearl Jam and Alice in Chains, as if there wasn’t already more than enough of that shit to go around! But the band didn’t want to make those types of records and refused, so the record company didn’t promote them and relegated them to several years in commercial limbo. But during this lost period, Teenage Fanclub made two really great power pop records. It’s too bad only hardcore members of the Fanclub’s fan club bought Thirteen and Grand Prix because both records sparkle and shine. What comes across when you listen to them as much as anything is that the guys absolutely love what they’re doing and want nothing more than to stay true to their vision of the pop life. And everything they’ve put out since then has been terrific as well, especially Songs From Northern Britain, a record that finds them at their unrelentingly mid-tempo, Byrds and Beach Boys and Neil Young worshipping peak, with lots of tambourines and shakers thrown in for just the right amount of additional adornment. My only quibble with them is that they have a fair number of songs that are too long by at least a minute, sometimes two. This is where their Neil Young fetish perhaps does them a disservice. I mean, I love a great rusty guitar solo as much as the next guy, but a song doesn’t need more than one of them, and the one solo per song needn’t go on ad infinitum. Remember that there are many sides to Neil Young, one of which is the amazingly intuitive melodic sense he has, and the way he can make a guitar’s sound count for more than technical skill. I would call this Neil’s ‘feel’, and it’s certainly something that can and should be emulated by pop bands, to the extent that emulating feel is even possible. But then there’s also the side of Neil that’s given to stretched out jamming, the Like a Hurricane and Cowgirl in the Sand side, which can also be thought of as the hescher side and the anti-pop side. Teenage Fanclub sometimes sound like they’re attracted to both these aspects of Young’s musical personality, and I think their songs would be even stronger if the jettisoned the latter. But this is really a minor complaint, and if you’ve been reading me with any regularity at all then you know that it’s very much my cross to bear. I just don’t have the time or attention span for songs that go on foreeeeeeverrrrrr. They reach a certain windy threshold where they’re not really songs anymore, they’re just zzzzzzzzz, if that makes sense. Ironically, there’s a track on Thirteen called Gene Clark that is, if anything, the opposite of its namesake, with five minutes of Cortez the Killer-ish jamming before they even get to the first verse, by which time I’m bored to tears and ready for a bathroom break. But these lapses take very little away from the love I have for Teenage Fanclub, those Scotsmen who hold a deep and abiding attachment to California as an aural concept. They’ve never lost faith in the notion that guitars and harmonies will set you free. They didn’t become the cash registers the suits initially thought they might be, but I saw them live once and I can attest to the amazingly warm and mutually devoted connection they have with their fans. Maybe it’s the repressed hippie in me coming out, but I’ll take that reciprocal human connection over a Platinum selling record any day of the week. It’s a beautiful thing when a band carries the pop life torch as lovingly as Teenage Fanclub. My life is so much better for having their music in it…