Wednesday, November 9, 2011

pop rock

Pop will get you through the bad stuff life throws at you. For me it’s pop, and friends, and writing, and playing the guitar, and my beloved cat, Vito, who’s put up with a lot from me lately but remains just as loyal to me as he ever was. …The other day I pointed out that Substitute is a nearly flawless song, and it got me to thinking about my favorite pop songs of all time, not in a Top 100 kind of way, mind you, but more free form. That’s where my mood is taking me to now, with my net cast widely so as to catch anything that makes me feel good, and whole, and connected… A few months back, when I was in an entirely different frame of mind, I wrote a few words about Blue Ash, one of the great, unheralded bands of the 70s, but I was so wrapped up in other stuff at the time that I gave them short shrift. Like Vito, they deserve so much better. They’re a remarkable band. The sheer volume of delightfully tuneful songs they recorded - songs with incredible melodies, great guitars, soaring harmonies, and generally groovy vibes - will make your head spin. When Blue Ash are at their best, it’s obvious that they love what they do, almost as much as I love hearing it, and you just wanna make ‘em a part of your life because their songs leave you feeling so young and free and energized, even when they’re about heartbreak. And believe me when I tell you that they have a few songs, like the one I’ve posted tonight, that you need to be careful about playing if you’re not in an entirely good way. I was listening to tonight’s song on my way to work this morning, and when Jim Kendzor sings, ‘And I don’t know why, but you really sent me a-reelin’… I mean, jeez, I dunno. Lines like that may not be the best thing for me at the moment, but I can’t help myself because hearing it feels so fucking good somehow. But it hurts, too. A friend asked me last weekend if I’m in love with the pain. I’d hate to think this about myself, but maybe. Maybe there’s a masochistic side to living the pop life. Pop is intrinsically tragic, after all, though it also offers redemption and rebirth. Around Again has an unmistakably tragic vibe. There’s something about the way the piano carries the melody that really gets to me. It’s pretty subtle but, man, it has me teetering on the razor-thin line separating ecstasy and abject sorrow. It’s not an emotional space I care to dwell in for too long. It’s ok for short visits. But the song is also sung from the point of view of a guy who loves again after having been convinced he’d never be able to. I find that comforting and hopeful, even if the song’s overall ethos leaves you with the impression that, in the end, things will turn out the same way this time as they have all those times before. At least he’s capable of going around (and around) again. The accumulated disappointments never completely snuff out his capacity to love, his willingness to take a chance and to dream. That’s the part of the song I really clutch onto and savor. It brings a smile to my face at a time when the smiles aren’t coming so easily. …Blue Ash are a bit of an anomaly in that they’re a pop band, but there’s a smidge of Southern Boggie that creeps in here and there. It’s weird because they’re from Youngstown, Ohio, which I don’t think is even considered to be in the region of the state that most resembles the South. (The last few elections have imbued me with an appreciation for the ‘two Ohios’, one part of the state where the cool people live, like the guys in Blue Ash, and one part where the redneck Bible thumpers live). I mention this because I like Blue Ash least when they ‘lapse’ – for lack of a better word – into the R&B boogie thing, and I like them most when they sound like Ohio’s answer to the Beatles. Had I produced their records I would have advised them to be less Stonesy, less bloozey. Dispense with the meatheaded shit. Accentuate the pop, even if you can’t help straddling the divide between pop and rock. I guess that’s the thing. Blue Ash make pop rock, and when they lean heavily towards the former, there’s very little else that’s as lovely, affecting, and inspirational…

PS - Wouldn't you know it. The song I just rhapsodized about so passionately is not available on Youtube, and I don't possess the technical skills to figure out how to upload the song from my computer. So instead I've posted Bad Actor, another great Blue Ash gem that basically traverses the same emotional terrain as Around Again. If you're curious about Around Again, it's available on the iTunes store for less than a buck. A dollar might change your life. Do it!


  1. Thanks for the nice write-up & for finding & promoting that song. I've always thought it was one of the best that Bill & I had ever written. He would have enjoyed your insights on the tune!

    All the best,

    Frank Secich

  2. When it comes to American Power pop, you can't go back any farther really than Blue Ash.....maybe The Flamin' Groovies....and that's about it! Why this band never lived at the top of the charts back in '71-'72 or so has more to do with the death of AM radio and the snobbery of FM than it does with Blue Ash. I play the Around Again CD constantly (and feature it on my internet radio show often. As rock got so big and took itself so darn seriously in those early 70's years, Blue Ash kept it simple and rocking, melodic and instantly familiar. Not many bands get to say they set the template for an entire genre. Blue Ash is the standard by which American power pop bands are measured.

  3. Here's a You Tube posting for "Around Again" by Blue Ash!

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