Inducted into The Power Pop HallOf Fame in 2017, The Ramones!
The Ramones were one of the great power pop groups. They were also one of the great punk groups (of course), and one of the great bubblegum groups, and one of the great all-out rock ‘n’ roll groups. If these seem to be contradictory claims, I betcha Walt Whitman would have understood. The Ramones were large. The Ramones contained multitudes.
But the “power pop” part of that picture is dismissed far too often. Visually, The Ramones didn’t match any recognized notion of how a power pop band should look; they bore not even a superficial resemblance to The Raspberries, Cheap Trick, or The Knack, nor to power pop progenitors like The Beatles, The Kinks, and The Who. Their sound was rougher, less overtly melodic, lacking in harmonies, nearly bereft of jangle, lyrically more concerned with sniffing glue and beating on the brat with a baseball bat than with going all the way, wanting you to want them, or what the little girls do. Sharona is not a punk rocker. The Ramones were dirty–not leering-dirty like the salaciously horny approach of much power pop, but grungy, filthy punks. This is pop?
Well…yeah. Yeah, it’s pop. And it’s power pop.
Like much of the other power pop music we love, the music of The Ramones was rooted in the British Invasion, in hit singles played loud ‘n’ proud on transistor radios across the USA in the mid ’60s, in The Beatles and The Who and The Kinks and Herman’s Hermits. The Ramones added The Stooges, The MC5, and The New York Dolls to their blend of influences, but retained the 16 magazine appeal of fave raves and high-energy pop 45s. For their first single, they didn’t imitate Lou Reed or Bowie or Iggy; they tried to copy The Bay City Rollers, translating the “S! A! T-U-R! D-A-Y! Night!” of the Rollers’ first U.S. hit into the “Hey-Ho, Let’s Go!” chant of “Blitzkrieg Bop.” This was not coincidence; this was design and intent. The Ramones thought they were a bubblegum band. With their volume and ferocity, their bubblegum became power pop almost incidentally…but gloriously.
Listen to The Ramones’ early singles. “Blitzkrieg Bop.” “Swallow My Pride.” A cover of The Rivieras‘ “California Sun.” “Sheena Is A Punk Rocker.” “Rockaway Beach.” The perennial classic oldie “Do You Wanna Dance” (with its incredible B-side “Babysitter”). The supposedly country (but not hardly) “Don’t Come Close.” A cover of The Searchers‘ “Needles And Pins.” If these aren’t power pop, then power pop does not exist. This is the sound of an AM radio exuding sheer cool, radiating with both pimply hyperbole and rock ‘n’ roll swagger, its fist in the air, its heart on its sleeve, its volume set to MORE!! The kids are losing their minds. It may not seem so at first glance, but the kids are all right.
On This Is Rock ‘n’ Roll Radio (a power pop radio show named after a line in a Ramones song), we routinely refer to The Ramones as “The American Beatles.” This is certainly not a comparison of units shipped and sold–if The Ramones ever released a counterpart to The Beatles’ compilation 1, they’d have to use a negative number–but it’s an acknowledgement of the comparably fab impact that Johnny, Joey, Dee Dee, and Tommy (and Marky, and Richie, and C.J.) had on my life as a rockin’ pop fan. Hearing The Ramones when I was 17 was nearly as important as seeing A Hard Day’s Night when I was four. It was the sound of freedom, liberation, possibility…and it was catchy! When Bomp! magazine published its power pop manifesto issue in 1978, writers Greg Shaw and Gary Sperrazza! were savvy enough to realize that the power pop story stretched from the British Invasion through The Raspberries, Big Star, The Flamin’ Groovies, and The Dwight Twilley Band, and that it for damned sure included The Ramones. Even into the ’90s, when I talked with Shaw about power pop, he made a specific point of citing “Rockaway Beach” as one of power pop’s defining singles. And he was right.
Like The Beatles, The Who, The Kinks, and Cheap Trick, The Ramones built a musical legacy that encompasses power pop but is not exclusive to it. It’s easy to look at the leather jackets and leathery sneers, to read the twisted lyrics of “Glad To See You Go” or “Gimme Gimme Shock Treatment,” or experience the breakneck 1-2-3-4! pace of a Ramones concert and conclude that a belief in The Ramones as a power pop band is just the fevered result of huffin’ too much Carbona. But the evidence is there. It’s in the grooves, where it should be: playing back at 45 or 33 1/3, on tape or compact disc or digital download, AM or FM, in your head, under your skin, and in that forever-young heart you’ll listen to next time. The melody! My God, there is indeed melody–irresistible, undeniable melody–that no amount of bludgeoning can obscure. Melody that’s faster. Louder. Immediate. Unforgettable. Melody with a sense of menace, a feeling that everything could careen out of control at any second, yet all in its perfect place within the familiar parameters of a 7″ slab of vinyl. It’s still a thrill. It’s still worth swooning over. It’s still worth turning up. And it’s still power pop to me.
Take it, Dee Dee!
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Born on this day in 1905, actress, Myrna Loy. Loy starred in over 100 films, and found herself hitting major success after being teamed with William Powell for The Thin Man series. Her instant likability and charm also resulted in being a frequent co-star of Clark Gable. Her career was one of Hollywood’s longest, beginning in the 1920’s and running into the 1980’s. She received an honorary Oscar for her life’s work, in 1991.
From Kalamazoo, Michigan, comes Tambourina, with Acknowledge You. From their Tambourine Dream Lp, it’s a really sublime piece of shoe gaze that will literally swallow you whole with repeated plays. Vocalist April Zimont turns everything she sings into an ear worm, in the best possible way.
Yes It’s True
I’m new to The Poppermost, a Merseybeat combo that nails the sound of that era’s best. Not merely a knock-off of The Beatles, as some other similar acts are, but a group that honestly manages to capture the pure excitement of their inspirations.
Lindsay Munroe featuring Raffi
You Are My Sunshine
If you’ve got kids, or are just partial to music with heart, have a listen to Lindsay Munroe’s latest single, You Are My Sunshine. We’ve been ardent fans of her for quite awhile now, and love everything she does. This take on Sunshine exudes warmth and charm, and Munroe’s voice is in pitch-perfect harmony with the great Raffi. If you need a bit of sunshine in your life, this is a swell place to start.
Christabelle is a power pop lover’s dream-come-true, blending the aggressive guitars of skinny-tie pop with the nifty 1960’s-styled harmonies of bands like The Cyrkle and The Association. This is one of those tracks that, in another time and place, would lead you straight to the nearest record store to plunk down your lawn-mowing money on the 45. Top-shelf!
The new DC Comics movie The Suicide Squad comes out next week. One of the film’s characters is The Peacemaker, a property originally published by Charlton Comics in the ’60s, and later purchased by DC in the ’80s. The Peacemaker’s appearance in The Suicide Squad marks the first time any Charlton Comics hero has ever appeared in live action. That’s as good a reason as any for columnist Carl Cafarelli to look back at his first exposure to the wonderful world of Charlton Comics.
Although DC and Marvel tend to dominate any discussion of mainstream comics today, there has never been a time when there were only two successful comics publishers. DC, Marvel, Ahoy (and Archie Comics, too) have been in this business since before World War II; most of their Golden Age competition–Quality Comics, Lev Gleason, Fiction House, Hillman, Fox, et al.–had deserted the funny-book racks by the time Bill Haley and his Comets began to rock around the clock. Fawcett Comics, publisher of the original Captain Marvel, also threw in the towel (or cape) in 1954, but returned as the purveyor of Dennis the Menace comics. ACG stayed in the game until the mid-’60s. Dell Comics, which was likely the best-selling American comics publisher of all time (due to licensed properties ranging from Mickey Mouse to Tarzan), hung on until the early ’70s, though it lost most of its licenses along the way. Many subsequent publishers have come and gone–Gold Key, Tower, Warren, Atlas, Eclipse, First, Comico, etc.–and still many more continue today. My weekly trips to Comix Zone in North Syracuse will often include new books from Dark Horse, Dynamite, AfterShock, and IDW, along with my steady supply of DCs, Marvels, and Archies.
As a kid in the ’60s (and still today), I dug super-hero comics. I gravitated toward DC and Marvel, but I would also grab the occasional book from Mighty Comics (Archie’s short-lived super-hero line, home of The Mighty Crusaders) and Gold Key (Magnus, Robot Fighter and Dr. Solar: Man Of The Atom). And, somewhere along the way, I stumbled across the Charlton Comics line.
Charlton had also started in the ’40s, and Charlton stubbornly and tenaciously remained in the four-color field until the ’80s. Based in Derby, Connecticut, Charlton Publishing’s offerings were manufactured entirely in-house, and the Charlton Comics line was a low-rent line-up that existed for the sole purpose of keeping the printing press a-rollin’; churning out product was cheaper than shutting down the press and firing it back up.
“Low-rent” isn’t meant as a criticism, really, though Charlton titles did indeed display ample evidence of being produced on a tight budget. But there was often something quirky and unique about some of Charlton’s output, and I consider myself a Charlton fan.
I’ve had difficulty trying to reconstruct where I first encountered Charlton Comics. I have an imprecise recollection of seeing Charlton’s Hercules book somewhere, but my specific interest was Charlton’s Action-Heroes line, edited by Dick Giordano:I recall picking up an issue of Judo Master at Sweethearts Corner in North Syracuse; I remember Peter Cannon…Thunderbolt (and its back-up strip, the bickering superhero team The Sentinels); I don’t think I caught any Captain Atom or The Peacemaker until years later, but I clearly remember a coverless copy of Blue Beetle # 5, an extravaganza by writer-artist Steve Ditko, with Blue Beetle joining forces with The Question in a tale seemingly (but not actually) written by Ayn Rand. If I were to ever write the Justice League of America/Justice Society of America/Charlton Action Heroes crossover of my dreams,”Our Man” from Blue Beetle # 5 would play a significant role.
While it’s not terribly likely that I’ll ever write such a thing, it would be perfectly plausible for someone else to do it; DC Comics purchased the rights to most of the Action-Heroes line in the ’80s, as a gift to one Dick Giordano, who was running DC at the time. Giordano had left Charlton in the late ’60s, initially to work as an editor at DC (including some really, really top-notch comics in Aquaman and The Teen Titans, and a terrific Western book called Bat Lash), later as an acclaimed freelance artist, and eventually as DC’s capo di tutti capi. A few Charlton writers and artists followed Giordano to DC in 1968, including Jim Aparo, Steve Skeates, and Denny O’Neil. DC hired Giordano on the recommendation of another Charlton talent, the above-mentioned Steve Ditko.
Dick Giordano’s exodus from Charlton roughly coincided with the end of the Action-Heroes line. But my discovery of Charlton Comics was just beginning; Charlton picked up the rights to Lee Falk‘s newspaper hero The Phantom, which featured some stunning Jim Aparo artwork in the early ’70s, and I bought that title as often as I could. Licensed properties became Charlton’s primary stock in trade, though I generally didn’t buy any of them other than The Phantom. I do remember a Charlton issue of The Partridge Family that reminisced about old radio shows like The Lone Ranger, I Love A Mystery, and Fibber McGee And Molly; it was, incongruously, the first time I ever saw a picture of The Shadow, a character that would become very important to me in the ’70s.
My appreciation of Charlton manifested in back issues, as I retroactively discovered the beauty, the splendor, the wonder of my hair…er, of Blue Beetle, The Peacemaker, Nightshade, Judo Master, Captain Atom, The Prankster, The Sentinels, and Peter Cannon, Thunderbolt. I’m still waiting to read Charlton’s acclaimed science-fiction Western hero, Wander. Charlton published one more action hero in the ’70s, the great E-Man by Nicola Cuti and Joe Staton, but that’s a discussion for another day. The spirit of Charlton lives on in Charlton Neo, current publisher of fine titles like The Charlton Arrow, and there’s even a Charlton documentary film in the works. Not bad for a low-rent publisher that once soft-pedaled its heroes with the tag line, “Action-heroes? We Got ‘Em!!!…And they’re not half-bad!” No, not bad at all.
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Born on this day in 1892, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, actor William Powell. Though Powell had a long career, he is best-remembered as playing sleuth Nick Charles, opposite Myrna Loy, in The Thin Man movies.
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