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POWER POP Q&A (Crib Notes From The Modern Pop Underground)

As mentioned yesterday, my friends (and fellow pop addicts) Bruce BrodeenJohn M. Borack,and I were each interviewed by writer S. W. Lauden for his just-published piece “Notes From The Modern Pop Underground.” For deeper background, here’s the complete text of my conversation with the esteemed Mr. Lauden. And I thank him once again for inviting me to participate.


S.W. LAUDEN: How do you personally define power pop?

CC: I always go back to writer Gary Sperrazza!‘s words in Bomp! magazine in 1978: “Power pop means pop with POWER! Not some whimpering simp in a Beatles haircut.” Guitar, bass, drums, vocals, la-la-las, and CRUNCH, all leaning forward. Infectious pop music with aggressive intent.

How did you discover power pop? Who are three of your favorite all-time power pop artists? Why?

Before hearing the phrase, I already liked AM radio rockin’ pop designed for high volume, especially Badfinger and the RaspberriesBomp! magazine preached a Gospel, connecting the early Who and Kinks to Raspberries and Ramones. I already loved all of these acts, so I was already a power pop fan.

My favorite power pop act is the Flashcubes, who embody the Bomp! power pop equation of Shaun Cassidy + the Sex Pistols = the early Who. Great songs, great excitement, hell of a live band. The rest of my top 2 rotates (unless I just say Beatles, Ramones, Flashcubes).

Looking around the global power pop community—who would you say are 2-3 of the best bands making modern power pop music these days?

Ignoring my strict view of what is or isn’t power pop, there are tons of great, great acts making fabulous new music within the broad parameters of rockin’ pop. The Flashcubes are still recording. The Grip Weeds are still at it. Pop Co-Op is terrific. Just about anything released by Big Stir RecordsKool Kat MusikFutureman RecordsJem RecordsRed On Red Records, and a bunch of other worthy labels is at least worth a listen, and some of it’s freakin’ transcendent.

What are one or two outlets (DJs, authors, platforms, record stores, magazines, labels, etc.) that you rely on to discover modern power pop music?

It’s all internet. A lot of stuff gets sent to us for airplay on This Is Rock ‘n’ Roll Radio with Dana & Carl, and we pay attention to what friends, fans, and other DJs and pundits are saying.

If I use one or more of your quotes (no promises!), how would you like to be credited? 

Example: S.W. Lauden, co-editor of the power pop essay collections Go All The Way and Go Further

Carl Cafarelli, writer, blogger, and co-host (with Dana Bonn) of This Is Rock ‘n’ Roll Radio with Dana & Carl

TIP THE BLOGGER: CC’s Tip Jar!

You can support this blog by becoming a patron on Patreon: Fund me, baby! 

Hey! If you buy from Amazon, consider making your purchases through links at Pop-A-Looza. A portion of your purchase there will go to support Boppin’ (Like The Hip Folks Do). Thinking Amazon? Think Pop-A-Looza.

This Is Rock ‘n’ Roll Radio with Dana & Carl airs Sunday nights from 9 to Midnight Eastern, on the air in Syracuse at SPARK! WSPJ 103.3 and 93.7 FM, and on the web at http://sparksyracuse.org/ You can read about our history here.

The many fine This Is Rock ‘n’ Roll Radio compilation albums are still available, each full of that rockin’ pop sound you crave. A portion of all sales benefit our perpetually cash-strapped community radio project:

Volume 1: download
Volume 2: CD or download
Volume 3: download
Volume 4: CD or download
Waterloo Sunset–Benefit For This Is Rock ‘n’ Roll Radio:  CD or download

I’m on Twitter @CafarelliCarl.

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Boppin'

KISS

In the mid-’70s, I was a pop-obsessed teenager in love with my AM radio.  I was old enough to remember Beatlemania, and my affection for ’60s rockin’ pop remained undimmed:  The Beatles.  The Dave Clark Five.  The Animals.  The Monkees.  The Hollies.  Paul Revere & the Raiders.  Over time, those stalwarts had been joined (but never replaced) by irresistible ’70s radio fare by Badfinger, Alice Cooper, Slade, The Raspberries, The Sweet.  Somewhere in there, I developed an insatiable taste for The Kinks.  And in December of 1976, I went to my first rock concert.  I went to see KISS.

I was not all that much of a KISS fan at the time.  I knew a few songs from WOLF-AM in Syracuse–“Rock And Roll All Nite,””Beth,” “Shout It Out Loud,” maybe “Detroit Rock City”–and these were all certainly songs that I liked.  But the KISS concert experience made me a fan immediately.  I never quite joined the KISS Army, but I bought the KISS comic books from Marvel, and I received a copy of the Rock And Roll Over album as a high school graduation gift from my sister.  I was particularly taken with “Calling Dr. Love,” and wanted to march in for graduation to that tune rather than “Pomp And Circumstance.”  Man, I NEVER get my way…!

That period of late 1976 through the end of ’77 saw a huge transition in my musical tastes. Or did it?  As I bought more records, as I burrowed through used records stores and flea markets, as I learned about exciting new stuff in Phonograph Record Magazine, as free-form FM radio drew my attention away from the increasingly disco-dominated AM airwaves…as all this was going on, I still loved The Beatles.  And everything else I loved was an extension of that.
And that included KISS.  KISS was a pop band, and a very good pop band at that.  The best KISS records were infectious in a way Led Zeppelin wasn’t, accessible in a way Pink Floyd and ELP could never be, thrilling in a way that The Bee Gees would never even understand.  KISS, though certainly not a punk band, was also my gateway to punk, a whole new world that nonetheless still drew inspiration from the prevailing and pervasive appeal of 45 rpm records played loud and distorted over a tiny transistor radio speaker.  I saw KISS in December of ’76; a year later, I wrote my first-ever piece of rock criticism, an emeritus contribution to my high school newspaper, drawing a line forward from the greatness of The Beatles to the virtues of The Ramones, The Sex Pistols, Blondie, The Rubinoos…and KISS.  Punk.  Pop.  Rock ‘n’ roll.  For me, it was all part of the same continuum, and I loved it all.  I still do.

When KISS was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2014, I read through a lot of complaints that KISS was not deserving of this (or any) honor, and I became increasingly pissed off at such dismissals.  You don’t like KISS?  That is certainly your right.  You think KISS is untalented, insubstantial, too gimmicky?  You think the members of KISS (one member in particular!) are obnoxious jerks?  I guess that’s all fair game, too.  But KISS is important to me, and the band’s impact transcends the mere happenstance of being my first rock concert.  Loud, garish, celebratory, and as infectious as an arena cheer, KISS’s best records make me feel GREAT.  Awright!

The week of KISS’s Rock Hall induction, THIS IS ROCK ‘N’ ROLL RADIO attempted to put KISS in context, to play a few of the best KISS records alongside a bunch of other terrific pop tracks, and to prove that maybe KISS could be discussed with Badfinger, Big Star, The Raspberries, et al., as among the best rockin’ pop the ’70s had to offer.  “Strutter.”  “Comin’ Home.”  Anything For My Baby.”  “Calling Dr. Love.” “Detroit Rock City.”  “Shout It Out Loud.”  “Rock And Roll All Nite.”  These are pop songs, and they sound…well, awesome on rockin’ pop radio.  As one listener put it, “Stop giving me less reason to hate Gene Simmons!”  Turn it up.  Shout it out loud!  And if they tell you that there’s too much noise, they’re too old to understand….

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Boppin'

THE GREATEST RECORD EVER MADE: Hey Jude

An infinite number of rockin’ pop records can be the greatest record ever made, as long as they take turns. Today, this is THE GREATEST RECORD EVER MADE!

For years and years, “Hey Jude” was regarded by many as The Beatles‘ crowning achievement among singles, the fabbest of the fab, the toppermost of the poppermost. No, wait–neither fab nor poppermost, for “Hey Jude” was far more mature and accomplished than that earlier yeah-yeah-yeah hold my hand stuff. It had depth! It had meaning! It had purpose! It had a big room full of people swayin’ and singin’ Na-na-na-NA-na-na-na!, as if they’d lost their way and forgotten the precise words to “The Batman Theme!”

And I loved it. Wholeheartedly.

“Hey Jude” was released in the summer of 1968, a double-barreled 45 with the raucous “Revolution” as its flip. The Beatles promoted it via a video clip aired by British TV host David Frost and subsequently in the U.S. on The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour. I missed all of this, and I don’t remember hearing it on the radio or anywhere until the early ’70s. That’s when I finally heard “Hey Jude,” as I was visiting my brother Rob in Albany, and listening intently to an oldies radio countdown of the all-time greatest songs. “Hey Jude” came in second, falling just short of the unstoppable juggernaut that was “Dizzy” by Tommy Roe. Or maybe it was the other around, but no matter. I adored both songs immediately.

There was never a time where I didn’t like The Beatles, at least no such time after Beatlemania hit the States in ’64, when I was mere lad of four. But the early ’70s was a huge period of discovery and rediscovery for me in terms of your John, Paul, George, and Ringo. I listened to the Beatles records I knew, sought out the Beatles records I didn’t know, saw the Beatles films I hadn’t seen, and re-watched the one I knew–A Hard Day’s Night–whenever it turned up on TV. The Beatley Badfinger was my favorite current group on the radio, and the Beatley Raspberries later became my favorite current group on the radio; in the period between Badfinger and The Raspberries, Paul McCartney & Wings was likely my favorite current group on the radio. But my all-time favorite group? There was never, ever any question about who that was. There still isn’t.

Granted, the onslaught of punk in the late ’70s prompted me to re-examine my ongoing allegiance to The Beatles. My newfound devotion to The Ramones rivaled my Beatlemania, but certainly didn’t replace it. I did grow tired of the solo careers of the former Beatles by that time, and even started writing a song urging them to never get back to where they once belonged (‘Cause you got a good reason/For staying apart just as long as you can/You got a good reason/All things must pass, you can’t do that again). I developed a distinct preference for The Beatles’ pre-1967 recordings, before they got too serious with the Sgt. Pepper and the “All You Need Is Love” and the goo goo ga joob. On the other hand: RevolverRubber SoulBeatles VI and Beatles ’65 and Meet The Beatles and the American mix of “Thank You, Girl” on The Beatles’ Second Album? Yeah, yeah, a thousand times yeah! 

In my 1980s Beatles milieu, “Hey Jude” was not here, nor there, nor everywhere. I still liked it, but it was no longer in my Top 100, not even close. Hell, when a rummage-sale dive at a church basement in Buffalo netted me an Atlantic 45 of Wilson Pickett testifyin’ his own take on “Hey Jude,” the Wicked, Wicked Pickett’s rendition instantly became the version in my mind. That remained the case for decades thereafter. And seeing Paul (now Sir Paul) haul the song out again and again for seemingly every TV appearance honoring The Beatles’ legacy eventually caused “Hey Jude” to grate on me. Na-na-na-NA-na-na-na. No. No-no-NO-no-no-no.

There was an exception to this recently. I don’t remember what show it was, what specific honor or accolade or day-in-the-life matter was at hand. But there was Paul McCartney, on my little 32″ TV screen, once again recommending that we take a sad song and make it better. I don’t know why. I can’t explain it. But after years of indifference, even disdain for this song…

…Well, all of a sudden “Hey Jude” clicked with me, for the first time in years. I may have even joined in with the na-na-nas, as I sat on my couch and remembered how large this song once loomed in my legend.

It would be difficult to name one track as the definitive Beatles track. I usually regard “Rain” as The Greatest Record Ever Made, but that doesn’t make it the definitive Beatles track. “Yesterday” is underrated in spite of its ubiquity, but it’s three Beatles shy of even being a Beatles record, let alone the definitive example. One could argue on behalf of the moptopped frenzy of “She Loves You” or “I Want To Hold Your Hand,” the mind-expansion of “A Day In The Life” or “Strawberry Fields Forever” or “I Am The Walrus,” the pathos of “Eleanor Rigby,” the elegance of “Penny Lane,” the sheer beauty of “We Can Work It Out,” the Utopian promise of “All You Need Is Love.”

But if it’s gotta be just one, it’s “Hey Jude.” “Hey Jude” is the definitive Beatles track. It captures one moment among many, just another snippet of time when The Beatles ruled the world. It captures it perfectly, the movement we need right there on our shoulders. It’s The Beatles still playing as a band, the fractures in that foundation still bonded together in a way only four specific people would ever truly understand. It’s The Beatles with nothing to prove, already reigning o’er their domain by divine right, the four kings of EMI sitting stately on the floor. It’s The Beatles proving it anyway, because they’re the goddamn Beatles.

So let it out and let it in, hey Jude, begin. You were made to go out and get her. Tonight, I will see Paul McCartney in concert for the first time. He’ll play some songs I know and love, representing a body of work I cherish above all others. He’ll sing “Yesterday.” He’ll command us to “Let It Be.” He’ll channel James Bond with “Live And Let Die,” a license to thrill. And a splendid time will be guaranteed for all.

And he will sing “Hey Jude.” Where once I dreaded that notion, I now embrace it and anticipate it as a highlight. And I will sing along, full voice, with over 30,000 of my fabbest friends. Na-na-na-NA-na-na-na. For well you know that it’s a fool who plays it cool by making his world a little colder. Better, better, better, AH!

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Boppin'

My Top Ten Power Pop Acts

Jari Mäkeläinen asked me to contribute a sidebar piece to be used in Manifesti, a fanzine published in Finland. The challenge posed to sidebar contributors: name your all-time top ten power pop acts.

In the words of Micky Dolenz: okay, I will.

MY TOP TEN POWER POP ACTS

by Carl Cafarelli

For me, the challenge of naming my all-time top ten power pop acts is in deciding what parameters of power pop I wanna play within. While many view power pop as strictly a post-Beatles phenomenon, I agree with the view expressed by writers Greg Shaw and Gary Sperrazza! in Bomp! magazine’s epic 1978 power pop issue: power pop began in the ’60s. Greg ‘n’ Gary traced power pop back to the early Who, while I go a little bit further back to the Beatles’ “Please Please Me” in 1963. I’ve begun to entertain the notion that power pop predates even that; I don’t think the music of Buddy Hollythe Beach Boys, or the Everly Brothers is quite power pop, but it’s difficult to dismiss the power pop gravitas of some of Eddie Cochran‘s singles, especially “Somethin’ Else” and “Nervous Breakdown.”

But I wouldn’t list the Beatles or the Kinks among my all-time Fave Rave power pop acts, if only because so much of their work falls outside my idea of power pop. The Who were 100 % power pop until Tommy, and really not power pop after that. 

So my power pop Top Ten doesn’t go back to the ’60s. By default, and for different reasons, I wind up agreeing with those who won’t move power pop’s Ground Zero to any date before John, Paul, George, and Ringo settled on separate and individual long and winding roads. I’ve also come to accept the idea that power pop isn’t so much a genre as it an approach, which means relatively few acts are strictly power pop all of the time. With all that said, this list offers ten dynamic rock ‘n’ roll combos I’m comfortable referring to as power pop acts.

THE WHO

Yeah, I was lying. Upon further review, you can’t talk about power pop without talking about the early Who, “I Can’t Explain” through The Who Sell Out. It’s not just because Pete Townshend coined the phrase; it’s because he and his band embodied it. Everything the Who did before Tommy is at least peripheral to power pop, and much of it is the power pop Gospel.

THE FLASHCUBES

Power pop on the radio, where it belongs. The horny singles–“Go All The Way,” “I Wanna Be With You,” “Tonight,” and “Ecstasy”–plus the dreamy “Let’s Pretend” (also covered by the Bay City Rollers) and album track “Play On” combine for a compact summary of the Raspberries’ power pop c.v.

THE RAMONES

A consistently controversial choice for a power pop list, but I side with the Bomp! writers who considered the Ramones an essential part of the power pop story. The first four albums tell the tale: RamonesLeave HomeRocket To Russia, and Road To Ruin, with a little extra oomph provided by the irresistible in-concert document It’s Alive!

BADFINGER

This gets back to the idea that some (many, most) power pop bands aren’t power pop all of the time. Badfinger certainly wasn’t, but then I’ve also gotta get back to that idea of power pop on the radio, where it belongs. “Baby Blue” may be my all-time # 1 favorite track by anybody.

THE ROMANTICS

On the other hand, the Romantics are generally power pop regardless of their intent. It’s their DNA. They tried to make a hard rock album, Strictly Personal, but it came out as hard-rockin’ power pop, and I mean that as a compliment. If you do just one Romantics album, you’ve gotta go with the eponymous debut, which includes “What I Like About You” and “When I Look In Your Eyes.” Their early indie singles are likewise essential, especially “Little White Lies”/”I Can’t Tell You Anything.”

THE GO-GO’S

I continuously waffle on the question of whether or not the Go-Go’s can be considered a power pop act. Their debut album Beauty And The Beat comes close at the very least, and its power remains undiminished forty years on. It’s not just that album’s great singles “We Got The Beat” and “Our Lips Are Sealed,” but also album tracks like “Can’t Stop The World” and “This Town” that make the case on behalf of the Go-Go’s. Add in subsequent tracks from “Vacation” to “Head Over Heels” to “The Whole World Lost Its Head” to “La La Land,” and it’s difficult to deny the truth that this is pop with power.

THE NERVES

Cheating, but I don’t care. The Nerves’ eponymous 1976 EP inspired Blondie with “Hanging On The Telephone” (written by the Nerves’ Jack Lee), but Lee’s fellow Nerves Paul Collins and Peter Case went on to have significant and prevailing impact on power pop with their post-Nerves work in Paul Collins’ Beat and the Plimsouls, respectively.

BIG STAR

Big Star’s story also sprawls, spills, and bleeds beyond power pop territory, and I’m sympathetic to those who claim the group’s records didn’t have the pure power one would expect from power pop. Nonetheless: “Back Of A Car” delivers, and “September Gurls” transcends our silly little labels to assume the description a rock journalist bestowed upon it decades ago: “Innocent, but deadly.” First two albums, # 1 Record and Radio CityThird, however, is most definitely not power pop.

THE SPONGETONES

North Carolina’s phenomenal pop combo the Spongetones have always taken their love of rock and pop and Beatles and British Invasion and channeled it into something unerringly Fab. You know that can’t be bad.

With a limit of ten acts in this exercise, I can’t go on to tell you about the RubinoosPezbandHolly and the Italiansthe Flamin’ Grooviesthe RecordsShoesthe BuzzcocksGeneration XDirty Looksthe Shivversthe ScruffsSorrowsArtful DodgerBlue Ashthe Knack, and dozens more, then and now. Good thing that, in real life, we’re not limited to just ten favorite power pop acts, right? Play on.

TIP THE BLOGGER: CC’s Tip Jar!

You can support this blog by becoming a patron on Patreon: Fund me, baby! 

Hey! If you buy from Amazon, consider making your purchases through links at Pop-A-Looza. A portion of your purchase there will go to support Boppin’ (Like The Hip Folks Do). Thinking Amazon? Think Pop-A-Looza.

This Is Rock ‘n’ Roll Radio with Dana & Carl airs Sunday nights from 9 to Midnight Eastern, on the air in Syracuse at SPARK! WSPJ 103.3 and 93.7 FM, and on the web at http://sparksyracuse.org/ You can read about our history here.

The many fine This Is Rock ‘n’ Roll Radio compilation albums are still available, each full of that rockin’ pop sound you crave. A portion of all sales benefit our perpetually cash-strapped community radio project:

Volume 1: download
Volume 2: CD or download
Volume 3: download
Volume 4: CD or download
Waterloo Sunset–Benefit For This Is Rock ‘n’ Roll Radio:  CD or download

I’m on Twitter @CafarelliCarl.

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Boppin'

THE GREATEST RECORD EVER MADE: Baby Blue

An infinite number of rockin’ pop records can be the greatest record ever made, as long as they take turns. Today, this is THE GREATEST RECORD EVER MADE!

Badfinger: “Baby Blue”

These guys sound like The Beatles!

When I was a teenager, AM radio was both a tether to the real world and a pipeline to an imagined (if not quite imaginary) world of awe and wonder. In Syracuse, in the early- to mid-’70s, WOLF and WNDR supplied the hooks and the hype, the very foundation of my formative rock ‘n’ roll dreams. Every new song was a potential revelation. Every new record was a new possibility.

My daughter tells me how much this has changed; she loves music as much as I do, but radio has become irrelevant. It’s still on in the car sometimes, when the iPod’s not available, but it’s background noise, a gray haze of commercials and forgettable music, punctuated occasionally (if at all) by something decent to listen to, briefly. Neither she nor her friends ever listen to radio at home; why would they? There’s nothing for them. There’s nothing for me. I can rarely tolerate listening to any commercial radio station for long, and it’s not the commercials that drive me away. It’s the music.

These guys sound like The Beatles!
I don’t remember which local DJ used that line, but I know I heard him use it at least twice. The second time, a couple of years later, he used it to describe The Raspberries, and I’m sure we’ll be discussing that in a future post here. To me, as a popsmacked young teen whose all-time favorite film was A Hard Day’s Night, there could be no higher praise. The radio knew what I wanted. And the first time the radio promised me a new band that sounded like The Beatles, the radio gave me a revelation. The radio gave me Badfinger.

I’m not sure which Badfinger hit inspired such fab praise. I know it wasn’t Badfinger’s first hit “Come And Get It,” a little ditty written by Beatle Paul; it could have been “No Matter What,” or “Day After Day,” both of which ruled my AM radio world with absolute, unquestioned authority. But it could also have been my favorite of favorites, The Greatest Record Ever Made: “Baby Blue.”

As noted above, the concept of The Greatest Record Ever Made maintains that an infinite number of records can be the greatest record ever made, as long as they take turns. But it’s not–it is never–faint praise. For a record to take its turn as The Greatest Record Ever Made, you have to believe it really is the best thing you’ve ever heard, or could ever hear, for the full three minutes and thirty seconds (or whatever) that it plays. In that moment, there is no other song. Objectivity can return to you later, after the record’s over, or you can effectively delay objectivity by just playing the damned record again. Screw objectivity–this is pop music! And what’s objectivity ever done for you, anyway?

“Baby Blue” qualifies. For 3:36 or thereabouts, “Baby Blue” takes everything that’s ever been great about rockin’ pop music and amplifies it and compresses it all into a sheer, harmony-laden, irresistible force.  There has never been a better single. There are others that can compete, in their own turn, but nothing–nothing–has ever topped it. It sounds like The Beatles. No, it’s better than The Beatles. Even as a twelve-year-old kid in 1972, certain to my innermost core that The Beatles were the sine qua non of pop music, I think I still knew in my heart: “Baby Blue” was even greater. Each time I hear it, I still believe that’s true.

Badfinger’s real life story is one of the most tragic tales in rock ‘n’ roll’s often tear-stained annals. But the music transcends its origin, rises above the show-biz treachery and human frailty that claimed the group itself. “Baby Blue” is the embodiment of why I fell in love with the radio in the first place, and an enduring testimony to why I still love radio’s potential, in spite of all efforts to make me give up on that love. Radio gave me Badfinger. I can never repay that debt.

Because these guys? They sounded like The Beatles. And I guess that’s all I have to say.

Categories
Pop Sunday

Sorrows / Love Too Late…The Real Album

Sorrows

Love Too Late…The Real Album (Big Stir Records 2021) 

https://bigstirrecords.bandcamp.com/album/love-too-late-the-real-album

During the late seventies and early eighties, Sorrows held ground as one of the hottest bands on the hustling and bustling New York music scene. The group’s debut album – Teenage Heartbreak – chalked up gushing reviews, prompting a highly anticipated sequel. But forces beyond the band’s control drastically altered the intended sound and vision of Love Too Late, resulting in artistic and commercial disappointment. 

Here it is, forty years on, and the album in its initial form is finally seeing the light of day. Re-labeled Love Too Late…The Real Album,  the collection is available on both vinyl and compact disc. 
Had the album been released as originally recorded, there is no argument it would now be branded a classic of it punky power popping stripe. Each of the eleven cuts are tunefully-crafted and portray Sorrows as a young and hungry band firing on all circuits.

 The group’s kinetic energy is positively contagious, especially on numbers such as Play This Song (On The Radio), Street Punk Blues, What I Used To Know and Love Too Late, which are further emboldened by jabbing hooks and gripping choruses. And then there’s Christabelle, a tasty Merseybeat-inspired pop jewel strapped tight with crackling guitars, clicking breaks and vibrant melodies.

 A catchy reggae arrangement anchors Crying Time, The Kinks are given a shout-out on a tough and edgy cover of Tired Of Waiting For You and Breaking My Heart (Over You) is a big ballad slick with Badfinger aspirations.

 Zinging with excitement, Love Too Late…The Real Album plugs in as a quintessential piece of new wave-era pop rock. Sorrows sure had a good thing going, and although we can’t rewrite history, how wonderful it is the album that was supposed to be survived and is now accessible to hear and enjoy.

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Boppin'

THE EVERLASTING FIRST: Artful Dodger

Continuing a look back at my first exposure to a number of rock ‘n’ roll acts and superheroes (or other denizens of print or periodical publication), some of which were passing fancies, and some of which I went on to kinda like. They say you never forget your first time; that may be true, but it’s the subsequent visits–the second time, the fourth time, the twentieth time, the hundredth time–that define our relationships with the things we cherish. Ultimately, the first meeting is less important than what comes after that. But every love story still needs to begin with that first kiss.

I very, very much recommend you add a copy of this CD set to your collection.

This was originally posted as part of a longer piece covering both pop music and comic book characters. It’s separated here for convenience.

Was Fairfax, Virginia’s phenomenal pop combo Artful Dodger mentioned in Bomp! magazine’s epic 1978 power pop issue? Either way, the earliest memory of Artful Dodger I can summon would be from Cleveland Scene magazine, a tabloid I used to see sometimes when I visited my sister Denise in Cleveland Heights. I think it was a review of an Artful Dodger show (possibly at The Agora), and the review mentioned that Artful Dodger’s set included a cover of The Dave Clark Five‘s “Any Way You Want It.” Well! In 1978, one way to get my attention was to cover the DC5. But I don’t remember hearing any of Artful Dodger’s music anywhere, so I didn’t really pursue the matter.

In the summer of ’79, I got my first real six-string (bought it at the five-and-dime)…wait, wrong summer, and wrong performer reference. Artful Dodger came to town that summer for a show at Stage East in East Syracuse, with Syracuse’s own power pop powerhouse The Flashcubes opening. If I have the story straight, Artful Dodger played a sparsely-attended Stage East gig the previous week; after three albums that didn’t sell as well as anyone hoped, the band was nearing the end of its tenure with Columbia Records, but hadn’t quite given up on makin’ a grab for that damned elusive brass ring. A second Stage East gig was scheduled, with The Flashcubes (who had a large local following) added to the bill; as an added incentive, the first 100 ladies admitted would receive a copy of The Flashcubes’ most recent single, “Wait Till Next Week”/”Radio,” while the first 100 guys would receive an Artful Dodger EP.  The Flashcubes did radio commercials for the gig, with ‘Cubes drummer Tommy Allen referring to Artful Dodger as “one of the great pop-rock acts of our time.” The message: Get to Stage East to see Artful Dodger, you lot!

The gig itself hit a snag early on: with so much of the crowd drawn there specifically by The Flashcubes–and specifically there to see The Flashcubes–the fans were reluctant to let The Flashcubes finish their opening set and make way for the headliners. The ‘Cubes kept getting called back for encores, until our local lads finally put their collective foot down, announcing that they were done for the night. ‘Cubes bassist Gary Frenay all but pleaded with the crowd to get set for Artful Dodger, “a really great band!,” as the ‘Cubes were finally allowed to leave the stage.

By this time, I guess Artful Dodger had a lot to prove to a skeptical crowd. I wasn’t among the skeptical–I was eager to hear AD for the first time–but I was unprepared for the pinpoint accuracy of Tommy and Gary’s description of Artful Dodger: A really great band? One of the great pop-rock acts of our time? Yes. Oh God, yes!

Artful Dodger seemed like a perfect combination of the best aspects of The Faces and Badfinger, with lead singer Billy Paliselli‘s raspy vocals calling to mind Rod Stewart, and the band’s rockin’ crunch conjuring a meeting of Ron Wood‘s swagger and the power-pop dynamics of Pete Ham and Joey Molland.  I was mesmerized. Granted, I had a pretty good buzz on by now, after an evening at the bar with my pals, but the Artful Dodger boys delivered on their end of the bargain, with a ready ‘n’ steady supply of hook-filled rock ‘n’ roll music. They didn’t do any DC5 material–the only cover I remember from that night is Chuck Berry‘s “Sweet Little Rock ‘n’ Roller”–but they earned my allegiance with their original material. I was particularly captivated by “It’s Over,” a mid-tempo number, drawn out in its live incarnation by a hypmotizin’ extension of its musical intro. From that evening on, I consider myself at home as an Artful Dodger fan.

The next day, I played the Artful Dodger EP that my Y chromosome had awarded me at Stage East’s door: four songs from the group’s eponymous 1975 debut album: “It’s Over,””Wayside,””Think Think,” and my favorite, “Follow Me.”  I eventually acquired all four of Artful Dodger’s LPs, and re-acquired the first two in the CD format, but my Artful Dodger collection began with that EP.

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Categories
Pop Sunday

The Bablers / Psychadilly Circus

The Bablers

Psychadilly Circus (Big Stir Records 2021)

https://bigstirrecords.bandcamp.com/album/psychadilly-circus


Formed in the late seventies as mere teenagers, The Bablers are best remembered for their 1980 debut album, What’s All About. The Finnish band carried on a few more years before going their separate ways. But music remained in their blood, and each member of band impressively claims at least one Finnish Grammy for their non-Bablers efforts. Yet the split proved to be only a mighty long sabbatical. Come 1998, the band cut a reunion album, Like The First Time, and are back in action once again with Psychadilly Circus, which reins in as another feather in their cap. 

Starring Arto Tamminen on vocals, guitar, bass, cello, drums and keyboards, Janne Haavisto on drums and vocals, Pekka Grohn on bass, keyboards and vocals, and Hannu Pikkarainen on guitar and vocals, The Bablers re-energize heritage pop rock values with care and clarity.

The title track of the album layers a chorus of trippy distorted vocals over a bounding rhythm, and the blindingly beautiful Love Is Everything proposes an explosive exposition of impassioned vocals, dashing piano arrangements and strong and steady drumming. I Hope It Wouldn’t Rain Tomorrow is assembled of chiming guitars and bracing breaks, while the casually-paced and pretty-patterned Love To Live is pricked with bluesy licks, and could easily pass as a prime John Lennon number.

 The apparition of Badfinger visits both the fetching power ballad All Because Of You and the breezy stride of Some Tears, where visions of The Kinks appear on Angry Young Man, which struts and prances to a foot-tapping dance hall beat.

Ringing and rolling guitar chords, combined with juicy melodies and radiant harmonies illuminate the perfectly poptastic When You Were Growing, and then there’s the waltzing tempo of the haunting and dramatic Queen Of Yesterday and the perenially punchy Walking On Sunny Beach that flickers with clicking hooks and glinted instrumentation.

The Bablers may be seasoned professionals, but Psychadilly Circus projects a solid sense of purity and wide-eyed enthusiasm. These folks know making music should be fun, and the songs on this album reflect such  intimate and earthy perspectives. Awash with top-line tunes, Psychadilly Circus is a bona fide keeper.  

Categories
Boppin'

THE GREATEST RECORD EVER MADE: Rock And Roll love Letter

An infinite number of rockin’ pop records can be the greatest record ever made, as long as they take turns. Today, this is THE GREATEST RECORD EVER MADE!

THE BAY CITY ROLLERS: “Rock And Roll Love Letter”
The next Beatles.

No one believed that particular bit of hype. I don’t recall the phrase “boy band” as part of the pop music lexicon in 1975, but it would have fit The Bay City Rollers like a Tartan glove. I was initially indifferent to them. As a discerning ‘n’ worldly 15-year-old Beatles fan, I thought the very notion of these Scottish wannabes, with their chanted S! A! T-U-R! D-A-Y! NIGHT!!,ever becoming a John, Paul, George, and Ringo just ludicrous. I dismissed them on that basis.

Dismissed them. I didn’t hate them. I dismissed them.

TV personality Howard Cosell took the hype seriously (though I betcha he didn’t really believe it either). In ’75, Cosell was launching a new live variety show called Saturday Night Livenot the famous one–patterned after The Ed Sullivan Show. Given Cosell’s goal to be the next Ed Sullivan, he wanted to introduce the next Beatles to the U.S. The Bay City Rollers made their American television debut on Howard Cosell’s Saturday Night Live. Again, not the famous one.

But slowly–and then more quickly–my indifference and dismissal began to yield to curiosity and burgeoning interest. I liked the idea of rockin’ pop teen sensations, The Beatles, The Dave Clark FiveHerman’s HermitsThe Monkees, even (one could argue) The Raspberries. I liked rockin’ pop songs meant to be played on the radio, from Badfinger to Johnny Nash to KISS. “Saturday Night” wasn’t a bad record; as I gave it a fair listen, it turned out to be a decent record. The Rollers’ second U.S. hit “Money Honey” was even better. And their third U.S. hit…well, we’re getting ahead of ourselves.

By the time The Bay City Rollers invaded America, they had already been stars in the UK. The group formed as The Saxons in 1966, with original members including lead singer “Nobby” Clark, bassist Alan Longmuir, and drummer Derek Longmuir, Alan’s brother. The Saxons became The Bay City Rollers, and had a UK hit with a cover of The Gentrys‘ “Keep On Dancing” in 1971. Follow-up singles, including a little something called “Saturday Night,” did not match the success of “Keep On Dancing.” The line-up evolved, as guitarist Eric Faulkner became a Roller, and “Remember (Sha La La)” returned the group to the UK Top Ten. Clark split, replaced by new lead singer Les McKeown, and guitarist (later bassist) Stuart “Woody” Wood joined. McKeown, Faulkner, Wood, and the Longmuir brothers became the  Rollers we know, and British stardom ensued. Hit singles. TV shows. Teen magazines. The Bay City Rollers were the idols of young lasses across the British Isles in 1974 and ’75. In late ’75, the colonies beckoned. Howard Cosell. “The next British phenomenon.” “Saturday Night,” a # 1 hit in America with a new version of a song that had never even charted back home. Success. International success.

Success, and immediate, everlasting scorn. That’s the price of being called the next Beatles. That’s also the price of actively courting an audience of adolescent females, young girls who’ll swear to love you forever, and plaster their bedrooms with craven images of their idols, only to outgrow you and move on. Ask David Cassidy, or Davy Jones before him. The Bay City Rollers’ music was not–and would never be–taken seriously.

Some of it deserved better.

I’m not trying to make a case for The Bay City Rollers’ induction into The Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame. But I will insist there are true gems within the Rollers canon. “Rock And Roll Love Letter” is one such gem.

“Rock And Roll Love Letter” was written by Tim Moore, who recorded the original version for his 1975 album Behind The Eyes. It was a perfectly fine pop ditty. Its simple charm was transformed into something greater in the unlikely hands of The Bay City Rollers. The Rollers discarded extraneous lyrics about being crazy to express themselves this way, revamping and renovating the song’s basic structure. They replaced the easygoing sway of Moore’s instrumental opening with a quick rat-tat of drums, guitars then taking over to assume command of your heart, your soul, and your radio. It was louder. It was pop. It was a manifesto. I feel an ancient rhythm in a man’s genetic code/I’m gonna keep on rock ‘n’ rollin’ ’til my genes explode.

A rock and roll love letter.

Few would ever give The Bay City Rollers the credit they deserved. Boy bandPop stars. A guy I knew once referenced the great British group The Records and their own subsequent cover of “Rock And Roll Love Letter,” hailing The Records for rescuing the tune from the crass, clueless clutches of the deplorable, disposable Rollers. The comment made my blood boil. Now, The Records were a fantastic group; “Starry Eyes” is also The Greatest Record Ever Made, and it’s not even my favorite Records record (which would be “Hearts Will Be Broken”). The Records’ version of “Rock And Roll Love Letter” is lovely.

It does not surpass the Rollers.

Without recognition from critics and pundits, The Bay City Rollers comforted themselves with the cool lucre of continued chart success for a little while longer. The American Rock And Roll Love Letter LP included a fabulous, group-written power pop song called “Wouldn’t You Like It,” which shoulda been a single, shoulda been a hit. Alan Longmuir left the group, replaced initially by Ian Mitchell, who was replaced briefly by Pat McGlynn, and then replaced by no one as The Bay City Rollers became the next Fab Four, in number anyway. In the U.S., there were still a few more hits: a cover of Dusty Springfield‘s “I Only Want To Be With You,” the dynamic “Yesterday’s Hero” (originally an Australian hit for Paul Young, written by Harry Vanda and George Young of The Easybeats), “You Made Me Believe In Magic,” and “The Way I Feel Tonight.” Their star faded. Tick-tock. Such is the finite shelf life of teen mania. Alan Longmuir returned. A 1978-79 Saturday morning kiddie TV show with Sid and Marty Krofft served as the epitaph for their career. Les McKeown split, acrimoniously. Faulkner, Wood, and the Longmuirs regrouped under the truncated name The Rollers (with new lead singer Duncan Faure, ex of South African group Rabbitt) and made some outstanding records that did not sell. The next Beatles had reached the end of their short and winding road.

That’s sales. That’s popularity. That’s the broader equivalent of the schoolyard milieu we hope to outgrow someday. Cliques. Crushes. Notes passed in class, clandestine fantasies of holding hands and meeting at the lips, adolescent wishes for the rapture of romance. The pre-teen dream. The fact that The Bay City Rollers catered specifically to that fantasy doesn’t negate the occasional moments when they transcended it. Hey sister poet, dear brother poet, too.  “Rock And Roll Love Letter” exploded from the radio like an effervescent communique from an alternate world ruled by the virtues of pure pop. But I need to spend my body, I’m a music-makin’ man/And no page can release it like this amplifier can.

The little girls still understand. Older and wiser, maybe we can all understand it. too. It is what it promised it would be: a rock and roll love letter. The words are true, and meant for you. Gonna sign it, gonna seal it, gonna mail it away.

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Categories
Pop-A-Looza TV

Terry Carolan / Fade

Singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Terry Carolan has been a stalwart of the independent pop rock community for an impressive forty-five years now. Toting a mile long resume starred with bands such as Just Boys, Pinups, True Hearts, New Movies, Blue Cartoon and Heirs of Fortune, Terry is indeed a respected figure amongst the scene.

 Terry also boasts an artistically rewarding solo career, and is currently in the process of putting together a new collection of songs. He has not yet decided if Fade will appear on the forthcoming effort, but after hearing this great song I am sure you will stand in agreement that it should be included in the package.

 Administered by Terry’s rich and powered vocals, Fade is initially dominated by the ringing chords of a piano. Bathed in beauty and light, the song gains momentum at a nice and casual clip before transpiring into a soaring finish of tuneful electric guitars and sweeping rhythms. Set to a smooth arrangement and exploding with grand melodies, Fade sounds a bit like Billy Joel partnering with Badfinger, which certainly spells high praise. 

Although Fade carries a sharp and sparkly exterior, the lyrics express a touch of melancholia. Saying goodbye to a way of life or a relationship is always difficult, but pleasant memories never die and perhaps brighter days are on the horizon. Teeming with all the essential attributes desired in a hit song, Fade is a solid  example of Terry’s exceptional wordsmith and musical skills.