Home Taping: Power Pop
thousand guitars schlanging away in unison, some Rickenbacker
12-string arpeggios and a dearth of improvised soloing. Imagine a warm
understated bass line beneath a firm backbeat and chimp-friendly
tambourine part. Add vocal harmonies, an uplifting melody and some
straightforward words and you may have, in short, music that draws its
inspiration from the Revolver/Pet Sounds/Younger Than Yesterday lineage.
you call this? Power Pop? You might, but that would be to imply that
other forms of pop lack power. The term also conjures up images of skinny
ties and boy-meets-girl naivety. Therefore, just as sheriffs' outfits and
yee-hawing DJs alienate the potential country fan, many potential
listeners are turned off. But, for the sake of expediency, Power Pop is
the term resorted to for the purpose of this piece.
first wave in the '60s (The Beatles, The Byrds, The Who, The Move…) power
pop lay dormant until a number of new (mainly American) groups appeared in
the early '70s, e.g. Raspberries, Big Star, The Wackers. Frankly, these
were groups out of time and none of them enjoyed lasting commercial
success. A third wave emerged post-punk. In America: Chris Stamey and
the dBs, Pezband, 20/20, The Knack (My Sharona!) and Blondie, while in the
UK, who can forget The Autographs, The Pencils, The Pleasers or The
Dodgers? Today, there are many new groups mining this rich seam, but the
world steadfastly refuses to ignite.
following tape compilation is a personal selection which I believe
encapsulates the best of the Power Pop genre. Lack of space prohibits
inclusion of Stories, The Beckies, The dBs, The Plimsouls, The
Smithereens, Game Theory, Red Kross, Jellyfish, Beagle, The Gin Blossoms,
Adam Schmitt, Material Issue, Martin Newell, The Pribata Idaho and
Chopper, while failing memory prohibits the inclusion of many others.
forbids me from including a track by The Records, but not from giving my
former group a plug. Back then we were trying to champion the music of
the early power pop pioneers. Thankfully today, names like Big Star and
Badfinger drop from the mouths of young musicians, I'm sure with all
sincerity, but still very few people have actually heard much of this
music. It is deserving of a bigger audience, but seems destined to
forever bear the stamp: Top Secret!
Almost Saturday Night
Album: John Fogerty (Asylum) 1975
opener! Not typical Fogerty and quite unlike his Creedence rockers, this
countryish item mixes 'good old boys' and a guitar figure reminiscent of
Cliff's only (unwitting) venture into the groove, Don't Talk To Him
(1963). Fogerty's lost classic was covered by Rick Nelson, The Searchers
and, at your correspondent's behest, Dave Edmunds. This scorching track
sets things up nicely.
Album: Marshall Crenshaw (Warner Bros) 1982
To be fair,
Capital Radio gave this song much exposure. It follows the Fogerty
selection perfectly. I remember being in a rehearsal space filled with
musical equipment that was stencilled 'Marshall Crenshaw'. This included
an electrical fan, perhaps to cool their drummer. A wag in our party
cruelly remarked: "Look, Marshall Crenshaw's only fan."
The World Turns All Around Her
Album: Turn Turn Turn (CBS) 1965
has all the ingredients of classic Byrds: a mediaeval guitar part, airy
harmonies, a twisting Gene Clark melody and a brilliant middle eight;
components that form the blueprint for a quarter-century of influence,
imitation, and tribute. Magnificently leads into...
Single (Bomp) 1978
song. Originally a 45 that bridged the gap between their DIY commercial
debut, Black Vinyl Shoes, and their first major label album, Present Tense
(Elektra), for which Shoes re-recorded the song, leaving its wonderfully
concise guitar break intact. As is often the case, the 45 wins out,
picking up The Byrds' gauntlet with ease.
Lovin' You Ain't Easy
Single (Pye) 1971
Michael Pagliaro saw his 1971 Power Pop classic released on Pye in the
UK. It charted! (#31 in February 1972). Pagliaro's John Lennon fixation
is best heard on Some Sing Some Dance ('63 Beatles meets '67 Love) from
his album, Pagliaro. Even better though, is Lovin' You Ain't Easy, a
Beatles pastiche that rolls along on sustained aahs and oohs. May I now
suggest two seconds silence to fully flatter the intro to...
Straight Up (Apple) 1972
Badfinger story is a tragedy waiting to be told. Where's the book? What
other pop group can boast two suicides by hanging? How could it have been
that bad for Badfinger? Either they were mismanaged and exploited beyond
the bounds of human decency, or Pete Ham and Tommy Evans had become just a
tad bitter and twisted. Sorry guys, we're not talking genius here; merely
an extraordinary melodic gift and an uncanny ability, on occasion, to
weave Beatle-scale magic, as on the magnificent Baby Blue.
is a pop chameleon who'd moved comfortably between drums (for Jonathan
Richman), keyboards (for Patti Smith), singing and co-writing (for Brian
Wilson, no less) and scoring an alternative movie soundtrack (for
Madonna). In 1977, with his brother Jonathan, he formed The Paley
Brothers and signed to Sire. The art department promptly airbrushed the
duo's features into Frampton-like youthful innocence, but the music
remained tough and this big beat ballad captures the spirit of Spector,
Twilley Don't Mind (Shelter) 1977
Twilley fail? Frequently given a leg-up by early label mate Tom Petty,
Twilley possessed a sexy Southern rock'n'roll voice, above average looks
and the right hand man that Paul McCartney would kill for, but it's too
late - Twilley's former partner, Phil Seymour, died in August 1993.
Despite holding all the aces and enjoying an early hit with I'm On Fire,
Twilley met with massive public resistance and cut-out bin infamy, save
for his dedicated, almost obsessive, cult following. Looking For The
Magic is prime Twilley.
Seymour (Boardwalk) 1980
leaving Twilley and turning down an offer to join Toto, Seymour went solo
and scored a US and Australian hit with this gorgeous slice of pop.
Can't Take It
Position Please (Epic) 1983
Back in 1978
Cheap Trick had the World at its feet. With the LPs In Color and Heaven
Tonight, the group looked unstoppable; singer Robin Zander had the voice
of an angel and the face of a saint, while leader Rick Nielsen was writing
classics (Downed, Surrender...) and shaking hands at a ferocious rate.
Consequently, they did rather well, but then spent several years in the
wilderness until this Zander original, produced by Todd Rundgren, marked a
creative return to form.
Frosting On The Beater (Geffen) 1993
It's the old
Jesus and Mary Chain trick. Write brilliant pop melodies and bury them
under a million distorted guitars. The upside: approval from boys who
paint their bedrooms black. The downside: the milkman does not whistle
your tune. The difference here is The Posies put their brilliant melodies
on top of the filthy guitars. Clever stuff. With a contemporary sound
and some of the best tunes in pop, the guys who get to be Big Star For A
Day may well find a wide audience in the '90s.
Agents of Fortune (Epic) 1976
heavy metal rush of BOC's first three studio LPs (dig those song titles),
Agents Of Fortune was MOR by comparison. So much did I love this record
and its standout track (Don't Fear) The Reaper, that I dutifully bought
every successive BOC LP, with ridiculous names like Cultosaurus Erectus
and Fire Of Unknown Origin, in the vain hope that it might contain The
Reaper's worthy sequel. Don't bother looking, it's doesn't exist.
I Wanna Be
To The Drawing Board (Beserkley) 1979
other-worldliness of BOC, The Rubinoos bring welcome relief with this
light slab of teen angst.
Know Her Name
Wacks (Elektra) 1972
featuring Bob Segarini and Randy Bishop, were the brave second wave's
Canadian wing. Devoid of more info, please allow me to quote from their
illuminating liner notes: 'In Montreal, Wackering Heights and London, the
Wacks, their ladies, and I spent The Fall of '71 pursuing a circus over
the rainbow, armed only with our changes... ' Mmmm.
veteran of the beat group wars (The Family Tree, Roxy, The Wackers, The
Dudes), Bob Segarini summoned the energy in 1978 to release this
self-produced mini-classic, decrying the then current pop scene. 'It's a
synthesised mess,' opines Bob, and goes on, 'I loved The Beatles up to Sgt
Walk In The Room
say, if pushed, that The Searchers, guided by the spirit of Buddy Holly
and the hand of Tony Hatch (before he became 'Mr Music'), invented the
whole thing. You could also say that this is The Searchers' greatest.
Written by song goddess Jackie de Shannon, it pre-dates Ticket To Ride and
Mr Tambourine Man by some six months.
Feel A Whole
Moon Fever (MCA) 1989
Searchers' final chord fades, Tom kicks in, as they say, like John Wayne
encountering a bar room brawl. Gene Clark's monumental Byrds classic is
the pinnacle of the genre, but Tom Petty's lovingly crafted facsimile
sounds even greater in the context of this collection. Produced by Jeff
Lynn, whose post-ELO motto must be: keep it simple and then simplify it.
At the time
of writing, we eagerly await new Stone Roses material. It is unlikely
that their new songs will be in this style as they will have moved on,
matured. This cracker, together with Mersey Paradise from the same disc,
shows great 'pop sensibility' and makes you wonder if the Stone Roses have
ever heard our next selection…
(Have You Seen Her?)
More, No Less (Mercury) 1973
Searchers on speed, as covered by The Records. Apart from minor
indiscretions such as wailing guitar and busy drumming, Blue Ash were
classic power pop. Their debut LP also includes Dusty Old Fairgrounds (an
obscure Bob Dylan song) and Smash My Guitar, which is pure English whimsy
in a Keith West/Syd Barrett/Village Green-era Kinks kind of way.
1988 La's were a hot proposition, vindicating Go!Discs' belief in the
group as this, their most commercial song, was remixed and reissued
relentlessly until it became a hit. New product from the maverick talent
of Lee Mavers is long overdue.
After The Fair
Whatever (Imago) 1993
It would be
politically incorrect to include a girl for girl's sake and, apart from
The Bangles, it is hard to think of many young ladies who have entered
this musical arena. A recent Mojo interview with Aimee Mann suggests an
artist angry at not gaining wider commercial acceptance but it can only be
a matter of time before the hits keep coming.
Girl Of My
The Motors, victims of Virgin's 'faces not fit for public viewing'
dictate, guitarist Bram (Peter Brammell) broke away and recorded Girl Of
My Dreams, a hook-laden, guitar-driven US hit. And now:
Starting Over (Capitol) 1974
against the tide were a crime, in 1972 the Raspberries were caught
bang-to-rights. Their perverse, almost wilful approach might be viewed as
heroic, even if leader Eric Carmen's bouffant and satin cummerbund
combination remains rock's best example of punter alienation. How did
they hope to survive? Most of the Raspberries' early 45s (big guitar
intros edited onto smooth MOR-land melodies) were a bit like The Who meets
McCartney in ballad mode. However, on their fourth and final LP, with
revised line-up, they really hit their stride, despite their strides. New
boy Scott McCarl's Lennonoid vocal on Play On is a high point and almost
my favourite Raspberries song. Christ! Scott McCarl! Where Are You Now?
Meet The Scruffs? (Power Play) 1977
What I know
about The Scruffs could be written on the back of a postage stamp, and I
do mean the Bolivar State 10 cent green of 1863.
Down On The
Door Man) 1977
cracking little item put The Pop near the top, but their glory was
short-lived. The name maybe?
sub-Boston guitars and veering dangerously close to the big hair and
stadium-faced genre known as Pop Metal, the anthemic Cherry Baby has a
place in this collection if only for its guitar intro and Hollies-style
harmonies. The B-side, Rock Six Times, is a bit of a corker as well.
City (Ardent) 1973
when we meet our heroes, our feet and mouths connect. Your
correspondent's Surreal Encounter with Alex Chilton involved the kind
hospitality chez Brilleaux, Sunday lunch with several bottles of The
Host's Fine Claret and a Surprise Guest. The socially relaxed
conversation went something like: "well Alex, now that you've got Like
Flies On Sherbert under your belt, how about a major record deal?"
Perhaps cushioned by imminent royalties from his Bangles' cover of
September Gurls, our hero scratched his head, looked at the floor and
mumbled a reply of the "aw shucks, I don't really know" variety. We will
never know how many major deals, if any, Alex Chilton has had to turn down
to maintain his impeccable cult status but, back in 1972/3, his group Big
Star made two of the greatest pop LPs of all time. The tragedy is that
sales figures suggest few people have actually had the pleasure of
hearing them, even if Big Star remains the name to drop.
Tom Petty &
You're Gonna Get It (Shelter) 1978
you're gonna take her away, with your money and your cocaine..." When
Tom Petty and co emerged in 1977, the rock world was besotted with punk.
Petty somehow managed to gain immediate acceptance, despite extravagant
hair length. His early songs were short and snappy, and this is one of
the best, with its easily-plundered Byrds-style intro. Petty remains one
of the few to bring this sound to a wider audience.
We are now
on the home straight with David Crosby's finest moment. Along with Eight
Miles High and So You Wanna Be A Rock'n'Roll Star, this is one of The
Byrds' most exciting recordings.
1966 Rolling Stones, Cyril Jordan and his 1976 fans-as-musicians outfit
were really wearing their hearts on their velvet sleeves. They had the
right look, the right instruments and probably the right mains leads.
They certainly made the right sound and Shake Some Action (their own
composition) is a classic of the genre and a fitting way to close this
thanks to Stuart Batsford, Paul Bradshaw (Mod Lang), Ken Sharp (author of
Overnight Sensation: The Story of The Raspberries) and Jason Oakes of
Yellow Pills magazine.
Will Birch © willbirch.com
First published in Mojo, June 1994