Categories
Pop Sunday

Bill Lloyd /Working The Long Game

Bill Lloyd

Working The Long Game (SpyderPop Records/Big Stir Records 2021) 

https://bigstirrecords.bandcamp.com/album/working-the-long-game

As one half of Foster & Lloyd, Bill Lloyd experienced a run of success on the country charts in the late eighties. Based in Nashville, Tennessee,  the acclaimed singer, songwriter and mercurial instrumentalist has further enjoyed a gratifying solo career as a pop rock artist.

Originally distributed by the SpyderPop label in the fall of 2018, Working The Long Game marked Bill’s ninth solo excursion. Earlier this year, SpyderPop joined forces with Big Stir Records, resulting in a partnership focusing on reissuing select albums, with Working The Long Game rolling in as the third release in the series.

 If there is any album worthy of a reprise, it is definitely Working The Long Game. Musically and lyrically, every song radiates spirit and substance. Bill’s lucid and lilting vocals, paired with in-the-pocket performances, equals dose after dose of melodious brilliance.

 A number of notable friends were also recruited to lend their craft to the sessions. Among these familiar figures are Cheap Trick bassist Tom Petersson, Freedy Johnston, Scott Sax of Wanderlust, Buddy Mondlock, Aaron Lee Tasjan, and Graham Gouldman, whose credits involve authoring hit singles for The Hollies and The Yardbirds, as well as playing in his own renowned bands, such as The Mindbenders, Hot Legs and 10cc

Guitars that simultaneously chime and crunch man the punchy Satellite, and the title track of the album shuffles to a merry vaudeville- inspired beat, which sounds kind of like a collaboration between The Kinks and Paul McCartney. A pinch of swagger and crackling power chords  stand as the engaging elements behind Yesterday, where the jagged riffage and rustling rhythms of Interrupted produces a bit of a funky tenor.

 Sealed to the seams with bracing hooks and a perky chorus, the slightly-country seasoned Make That Face, and the haunting glare of What Time Won’t Heal are additionally accented by sharp and spacious arrangements. Another attention-grabber on the album is the incredibly catchy Go-To-Girl, which romps to a youthfully exuberant bounce that crosses the sunny harmonies of The Beach Boys with the bright polish of The Smithereens

If you missed Working The Long Game the first time around, now is your chance to score a copy and sink your ears into a groovy guitar pop extravaganza. Nothing but the best is expected from Bill Lloyd, and here’s an album that delivers the goods on all counts.

By Beverly Paterson

Categories
Pop Sunday

Mike Browning / Class Act

Mike Browning

Class Act

https://mikebrowning.bandcamp.com/album/class-act

At an age when most people are preparing to retire, Mike Browning launched a new career – as a recording star! The North Carolina based singer, songwriter and multi-varied instrumentalist’s debut effort – a six track EP aptly called Never Too Late –  was released in 2020, ensued  by a single, Another Bite At The Apple. Both of these endeavors received rave receptions, which duly celebrated Mike’s indelible talent for composing, arranging and playing hook happy pop rock to the hilt. 

However, Mike’s current collection – Class Act – was not intended to be an album. The project was initially conceived back in 2018, when Mike was enrolled in a recording and production program taught by Jamie Hoover of the famed Spongetones. Students were assigned to pick tunes of their choice to record, and the numbers on Class Act are those Mike selected. 

Exclusively covers, the material basically sticks to the same structure and tempo of the original recordings. But Mike’s bubbly harmony-laden vocals, attended by his earnest passion for the music, stamps a fresh feel onto the songs. 

Considering The Beach Boys are one of Mike’s key inspirations, it is only appropriate that Class Act opens the session with the sunshine-soaked doo-wop of Do It Again. In fact, the album focuses heavily on the sounds of the sixties. 

The Beatles are saluted on Norwegian Wood, while Picture Book by The Kinks, and the Spencer Davis Group’s keyboard-driven Gimme Some Lovin’ are also revisited in fine form. 

As well, the garage rocking (I’m Not Your) Steppin’ Stone – which was popularized by The Monkees and Paul Revere and the Raiders – and Just Like Romeo And Juliet from The Reflections, appear on the album. 

Then there’s a couple of Bob Dylan essays, which are delivered in the manner mainly recognized by the versions by The Byrds. Among these songs are the countrified You Ain’t Going Nowhere and the ringing folk rock of My Back Pages.  Further folk rock pieces include the quirky nursery rhyme prose of The Little Black Egg (The Nightcrawlers) and the bright and beautiful I’ll Never Find Another You, that The Seekers scored a hit with in  1965. 

XTC fans will rejoice when hearing Mike’s spot on treatment of the paisley-appareled Dear Madame Barnum, along with Tommy Tutone’s 867-5309/Jenny, which bounces to a cool new wave vibe.

It is a good thing Mike decided to make these cuts available. Lively and sparkling with enthusiasm, the album certainly deserves an A-plus. Class Act will tide us over until Mike’s next album of his own great songs rears its head. 

Categories
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.

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Categories
Pop Sunday

Richie Mayer / The Inn Of Temporary Happiness

Richie Mayer

The Inn Of Temporary Happiness

https://richiemayer.bandcamp.com/album/the-inn-of-temporary-happiness-2

Back in the late seventies and early eighties, Richie Mayer fronted Loose Lips – a band that was a key component of the fertile Chicago music scene – and released a critically appraised EP called Hung Up On Pop.  After four decades of silence, Richie has surfaced with his first solo album, The Inn Of Temporary Happiness, which is nothing short of dazzling. 

A self-contained effort, the thirteen-track set flashes on the singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist’s flair for playing a mercurial selection of styles that skillfully results in a concerted collection. Richie’s poised and evocative vocals are also wide-ranging, encompassing pure pop, roots rock and even a touch of soul and progressive rock.

Picking up pointers from both The Beach Boys and Jellyfish, the cheery She Is Why  swirls with round and ripe melodies, complemented by a contagiously hummable chorus of “ba ba ba’s,” where the punchy Todd Rundgren influenced pop rock of You Don’t Get Me High Anymore is laced with a cool and breezy falsetto. 

Signing on as a prime demonstration of Richie’s gift for crafting enterprising hooks and arrangements is Dangerous Rhythm. The song starts off on a tick-tocking beat, then ultimately swells into a sampling of electrifying guitar flourishes and exciting orchestration altogether. 

As for the title cut of the album, a stately folk presence directs the course, and the frisky Sunshine Blues is simply a great pop song featuring radio-friendly assets by the pound. Get ready to click your heels and snap your fingers to the vaudeville inspired How Can I Leave When I’m Already Gone, while Sometimes I Feel Like I’m One Kiss Away plugs in as an epic performance, burning with power, heated emotions and cracking riffs. 

Additional attractions heard on The Inn Of Temporary Happiness are Love Will Find A Way and Warmth Of The Sun, but each number truly possesses its own pleasing personality. By melding conventional pop values with just the right balance of other assorted genres and left-field turns, Richie has fathered an album where not a single moment is wasted.

Now that The Inn Of Temporary Happiness is on the decks and gleaning rapturous reviews, perhaps such acceptance will encourage Richie to keep the creative juices flowing. To think we’ve been robbed of his talent for all these years is a real pity.  Not only should you buy a copy of The Inn Of Temporary Happiness for yourself, but purchase the record for your friends and family as well. 

Categories
Pop Sunday

JEM Records Celebrates Brian Wilson

Even those with a casual interest in music are aware The Beach Boys sit at the top of the totem pole, as one of the most successful and influential bands of all time. This year marks the sixty year anniversary of the birth of the band – which was founded by visionary leader Brian Wilson – and in honor of the milestone, JEM Records has put together a terrific tribute album starring a sea of familiar faces from the indie community.

 Although JEM Records Celebrates Brian Wilson mainly focuses on well-known songs rather than deep cuts, a fair share of these tracks are rendered in unique ways. As an example, The Weeklings turn in an a cappella adaptation of The Warmth Of The Sun, while their cover of Help Me Rhonda approximates a raspy-throated blues approach. Then there’s Nick Piunti’s gritty and grungy take of Hang Onto Your Ego and a loud and stomping version of Do It Again from The Midnight Callers

The Grip Weeds tackle the cartoonish progressive pop of Heroes And Villians with form and finesse before diving headfirst into the hard rocking intensity of Roll Plymouth Rock, then flipping the switch right back to Heroes And Villians again. 

Another left-field offering includes Lisa Mychols and the Super 8’s Pet Sounds (Story), which quotes lyrics from select Beach Boys songs over ethereal textures and spacey instrumentation. The Golden Needles additionally strive for the unusual, as the band plucked Love And Mercy from Brian Wilson’s 1988 self-titled solo album and expanded the piece into a big and bold production of polished pop glory.

The Anderson Council’s harmonious jangle of Girl Don’t Tell Me is nearly as good as the original recording, and Richard Barone’s delivery of the emotionally effective In My Room is highly impressive. Richard also teams up with Johnathan Pushkar on the perpetually perky I Get Around, and as for Johnathan himself, his reprises of the heart-tugging Please Let Me Wonder and the endlessly energetic Dance Dance Dance shine with reverence and enthusiasm.

 Albums such as JEM Records Celebrates Brian Wilson can be a challenge, especially when saluting a band as phenomenal as The Beach Boys. But here’s a homage that works by presenting both the expected and unexpected, not to mention a crew of artists whose respect and understanding of the music they’re playing can’t be denied. Long live The Beach Boys and these great musicians who contributed their talents to the album. 

Categories
Pop Sunday

The Palace Guard / All Night Long: An Anthology 1965-1966

The Palace Guard

All Night Long: An Anthology 1965-1966 (Omnivore Recordings)

 These days, The Palace Guard are either a footnote in history or primarily remembered as the band that included Emitt Rhodes on drums (later to be replaced by Terry Rae) who went onto front The Merry Go Round, then launch an influential and critically acclaimed solo career. But the Hawthorne, California based group actually enjoyed a great deal of regional stardom and deserved to be heard on a far wider scale.

The other original members of The Palace Guard were the Beaudoin brothers – John on vocals and keyboards, Don on vocals and rhythm guitar and  David on vocals and tambourine – along Mike Conley on background vocals, lead guitarist Chuck McClung and bassist Rick Moser. A job as house band at the Hullabaloo Club in Hollywood, complemented by appearances on local television programs, granted the group a high profile in and about the area.

During their tenure, The Palace Guard released half a dozen singles that were as solid as anything their chart-topping contemporaries were peddling. Each side of these forty-fives have been compiled onto All Night Long: An Anthology 1965-1966, which offers rare photos and liner notes by Rick Moser

Synchronized harmonies – couched in the  seam of The Beach Boys, The Beatles, The Beau Brummels and The Byrds – were  key compotents in the Palace Guard’s repertoire. Not only could these fellows carry a tune, but they proved to be quite a tight team in the instrumental department.

 As well, The Palace Guard had the initiative to pen a few of their own songs instead of relying on cover material, which was pretty much the norm for many bands at the time. Jingly guitars and plucky rhythms, magnified by a cute and chirpy chorus of “coochie coochie coochie coo,” energizes the insanely catchy All Night Long, while rolls of spinning carnival-styled organ chords underline Calliope and the moody Greed is peppered with exotic Middle Eastern psychedelic-scented motifs.

Also a self-composed piece, Oh Blue (The Way I Feel Tonight) possesses a curious appeal, touching on plaintive  teen idol crooning, shifting tempos, ringing folk pop and ending with a snappy Yardbirds– inspired rave up. 

Each song on All Night Long: An Anthology 1965-1966 has merit, but the crown jewel of the set is perhaps Falling Sugar.  Taking in The Palace Guard’s strong and melodious vocal prowess, a spirited arrangement, chiming licks a plenty, spiffy breaks and a dash of wheezy harmonica playing, the infectious cut fuses Mersey-minded pop instincts with West Coast folk rock sensibilities in an immediate and direct manner.

 Don Grady, who held the role of the eldest son on the hit TV show, My Three Sons, joined The Palace Guard on a pair of numbers – the breezy Little People and the Tijuana Brass flavored Summertime Game, where an adaptation of Wilson Pickett’s If You Need Me examines the band laying down a slow burning soulful groove. Authored by future Bread master David Gates, the bouncy Saturday’s Child is no stranger to fans of sixties music, as the version by The Monkees is the one that we’re familiar with.

 In an alternate galaxy, The Palace Guard would have seized the airwaves with their hooky singles. But good songs refuse to die, and All Night Long: An Anthology 1965-1966 contains such evergreen entries. There’s no doubt this fine collection will spark a renewed interest in The Palace Guard. 

Categories
Boppin'

The Flamin’ Groovies: The Power Pop Hall of Fame

“1975 will be the year of The Flamin’ Groovies!”–Greg Shaw, Who Put The Bomp magazine
“It wasn’t, but it shoulda been.”–Groovies fans ever since then

It could be argued that no rock ‘n’ roll act was ever so good and simultaneously so ignored as San Francisco’s legendary Flamin’ Groovies. Throughout their long history and many personnel changes, the group was consistently out of step with the times. While contemporaries were properly freaking out and endlessly jamming in a tedious soundtrack to an emerging counterculture, the Groovies drew on unfashionable rock ‘n’ roll roots, alternately purveying good-time jug band music á la The Lovin’ Spoonful and rockin’ the motherlovin’ house down with a ferocity to rival The Rolling Stones and The Stooges. By the time reduced-frills rock started making a comeback in the ’70s, a new incarnation of The Flamin’ Groovies was dressed up in Mod clothing and playing polished power pop as if it were 1965 and the band was some mythic combination of The BeatlesByrdsBeach Boys, and Rolling Stones heading into the studio for a session with Phil Spector. And by the time “jangly pop” became a buzz phrase, The Flamin’ Groovies were so far underground that no amount of excavating could bring them to the surface, let alone to the pop stardom that should have been their divine right.

As it is, The Flamin’ Groovies produced some unforgettable work, including three oft-covered classics: “Slow Death,” “Teenage Head,” and the incomparable, booming “Shake Some Action,” which sounded like the eleventh-hour announcement of pop-rock Armageddon. Groovies fans are generally divided into two camps: those who favor the manic-rockin’ original Groovies fronted by Roy Loney, and those who prefer the pop perfection of the Sire years (1976-79) with Chris Wilson. In both incarnations, guitarist Cyril Jordan and bassist George Alexander kept the flame burning brightly.

It’s the Sire era that puts The Flamin’ Groovies into The Power Pop Hall Of Fame. That’s not a knock against the earlier stuff, much of which is just fantastic, but an acknowledgement that we wouldn’t be talking about the Groovies as a power pop act if judged solely on the basis of “Teenage Head” and “Second Cousin;” as irresistible as those tracks are, they’re closer to the cantankerous grandeur of, say, The Pretty Things than to anything one would call power pop. The Flamin’ Groovies’ three albums for Sire–Shake Some ActionNow, and Jumpin’ In The Night–radiate a catchy cool, combining the bop and swagger of a solid rock ‘n’ roll foundation with a swoon-worthy dedication to the giddy, visceral thrill of pure pop pursuits. Shake Some Action is one of the defining albums of the genre, loaded with exquisite tracks–“I Can’t Hide,” “You Tore Me Down,” “Yes It’s True,” “I’ll Cry Alone,” and the nonpareil title tune–that shimmer with conviction and glory. Now and Jumpin’ In The Night have been less celebrated by pundits, but nonetheless gave the undeserving world such pop gems as “Good Laugh Mun,” “All I Wanted,” “Yes I Am,” “Tell Me Again,” and the magnificent “First Plane Home.”

A different line-up of the Groovies (still including Jordan and Alexander) emerged in the late ’80s, releasing the Rock Juice album in 1992 before returning to the shadows. Eventually, Cyril Jordan and George Alexander reunited with Roy Loney for live gigs as The Flamin’ Groovies. Chris Wilson even joined in for an encore at one show, an event that had once seemed, y’know, really unlikely. Credit to all parties for transcending the accumulated baggage of the past.

Both Jordan and Wilson remain in the current edition of The Flamin’ Groovies, and they released an album called Fantastic Plastic in 2017, 24 years after Rock Juice, 38 years after Jumpin’ In The Night. George Alexander plays on some of the album, but Chris von Sneidern has occupied the bass spot for recent live shows. Is this finally The Year Of The Flamin’ Groovies? No, it is not. And that’s okay. To fans, every year is another year of the Groovies. Let us bust out at full speed, ’cause love is all we need to make it all right.

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Our new compilation CD This Is Rock ‘n’ Roll Radio, Volume 4 is now available from Kool Kat Musik! 29 tracks of irresistible rockin’ pop, starring Pop Co-OpRay PaulCirce Link & Christian NesmithVegas With Randolph Featuring Lannie FlowersThe SlapbacksP. HuxIrene PeñaMichael Oliver & the Sacred Band Featuring Dave MerrittThe RubinoosStepford KnivesThe Grip WeedsPopdudesRonnie DarkThe Flashcubes,Chris von SneidernThe Bottle Kids1.4.5.The SmithereensPaul Collins’ BeatThe Hit SquadThe RulersThe Legal MattersMaura & the Bright LightsLisa Mychols, and Mr. Encrypto & the Cyphers. You gotta have it, so order it here. A digital download version (minus The Smithereens’ track) is also available from Futureman Records.

Categories
Pop Sunday

The Legal Matters / Chapter Three

The Legal Matters

Chapter Three (Futureman Records 2021)

https://futuremanrecords.bandcamp.com/album/chapter-three


We’re not even halfway into the year, and already an abundance of phenomenal music has been released. Parked right at the top.of the pile is the third album from The Legal Matters, which is appropriately dubbed Chapter Three. Comprised of singers, songwriters and instrumentalists Andy Reed, Chris Richards and Keith Klingensmith, the Michigan-based band roped in “unofficial member” Donny Brown to play drums on this remarkable album.

 Brimming brightly with layers of luscious harmonies and reels of rock solid melodies, Chapter Three spools out one serviceable pop tune after another. Echoes of artists such as The Beach Boys, The Eagles, The Smithereens and Matthew Sweet may be apparent, yet The Legal Matters possess the proper tools to refurbish these influences into their own recognizable style.

 An exquisite  ballad, The Painter, pins heart-wrenching lyrics to plush and expansive arrangements, resulting in a spellbinding survey of sadness and beauty. Vibrant vocals, teeming with power and polish, aided by a spot of swirling Hammond organ fills a la Procol Harum, also carpet the striking track.

 Conceived of shifting tempos, Independence Well Spent juggles soft textures with a menacing crunch, and the jingling bounce of Please Make A Sound captures everything that constitutes a perfect pop song. Spiked with the whirring zoom of a synthesizer, Light Up The Sky illuminates the band’s incredible lung prowess and telepathic musicianship to towering heights. 

Fashioned of a dance hall beat that would prompt Ray Davies to glow with paternal pride, The World Is Mine pedals in as a subsequent revelation, while the atmospheric patterns of Passing Chord yields a lovely choral pop vibe.

 Stuffed to the stars with smooth and stately pop pleasures, Chapter Three is the kind of album that has no expiration date. These great songs are so timeless that they could have been recorded in any era. The Legal Matters boast both the talent and wisdom to craft and perform long-lasting music, and having said that, I can hardly wait to hear their next chapter of sonic creations. 

Categories
Pop Sunday

Singled Out: Mike Browning

Mike Browning

Another Bite At The Apple (Mike Drop Music 2021)

https://mikebrowning.bandcamp.com/track/another-bite-at-the-apple?fbclid=IwAR3pCzVhfD6qTAXpBYczWpbjkaiax2kDjcIucwDPGaT1Y6B_Y5NGT3p33CI

October 2020 saw the release of “Never Too Late,” an EP that introduced the world to Mike Browning. Drawing on the best and brightest pop rock sounds of mid-sixties AM radio, the  North Carolina based singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist revisited these influences with spot on precision while injecting his own notions into his superbly-scripted material. Refreshingly pure and moored with melodic perfection, “Never Too Late” registers as a modern day retro masterpiece.

Mike’s current effort, “Another Bite At The Apple” is a single that proceeds to pursue his passion for the music he so deeply loves. Leaning heavily on jogging surf styled rhythms, the springy sentiment owes further tribute to the genre in the form of Mike’s clear and concise vocals, backed by fluid harmonies. A bubblegummy carnival-like organ solo also courts the cut, as well as rolls of tightly-wired hooks and clicking guitar licks. 

Semi-autobiographical, “Another Bite At The Apple” mirrors the experience of Mike meeting and getting together with his wife, Janine, who he has been happily married to for nearly thirty-four years. Picture the Beach Boys mingling with Tommy Roe and Gary Lewis and the Playboys, and that pretty much rams the point home on this tasty slice of pop rock sure to steal your heart. 

Categories
Boppin'

He Buys Every Rock ‘n’ Roll Book On The Magazine Stands, Part 3: Power Pop Means Pop With POWER! (Not some whimpering simp in a Beatles haircut)

Continuing a look back at the rock magazines I used to read. Part 1 is here, Part 2 is here.

My favorite music had a name. I didn’t know that name until I was in college.

“Power pop” is a misunderstood genre, and there will never be a true consensus on its meaning and parameters. It’s my favorite music. It’s not my only favorite music–I adore so many sounds that fall outside my strict definition of power pop, even many that fall outside a broader, nebulous approximation–but it’s my primary boppin’ raison d’être. My awareness of power pop, my understanding of its meaning, began in 1978 with an incredible magazine called Bomp!

I’m not certain where I first heard this “power pop” phrase. It was coined in 1967 by Pete Townshend to describe his music with The Who: “Power pop is what we play–what The Small Faces used to play, and the kind of pop The Beach Boys played in the days of ‘Fun, Fun, Fun,’ which I preferred.” When the late night NBC talk show Tomorrow did a spotlight on punk rock in October of 1977 (with guests Joan Jett of The Runaways and Paul Weller of The Jam), host Tom Snyder prefaced the discussion by noting that, “This is called punk rock, and is also called new wave music, street rock, or power pop.” I betcha that was my introduction to the term. Roughly contemporary to that, a section in The Record Grove in Brockport (then managed by Bill Yerger, soon to open his own great store Main Street Records) was devoted to this strange noise, and the divider for that section said something like “PUNK, New Wave, Garage, Power Pop, Etc.” In January of 1978, I saw my first Flashcubes show; at the time, I thought The Flashcubes were punk, and I thought they were fantastic. I didn’t know they were power pop. I didn’t know what power pop was.

That specific revelation came in March of 1978.

Bomp! magazine was the brainchild of Greg Shaw, whose work I’d already seen in Phonograph Record Magazine (the rock tabloid that hooked me on the notion of punk rock to begin with), and in the sumptuous liner notes package for the way-fab 2-LP collection History Of British Rock Vol. 2. By ’78, Shaw was ably assisted on Bomp! by a writer named Gary Sperrazza! (always with the exclamation). Sperrazza! rarely gets the credit he deserves in the power pop story, but he was just as essential as Shaw in making Bomp! such a compelling and influential read. Nowhere was that impact more evident than in Bomp!‘s March ’78 issue. The eighteenth issue. The power pop issue.

As noted above: REVELATION!!
Jesus, this wasn’t a rock mag; it was a manifesto, pop advocacy journalism unlike anything I’d seen before. Shaw and Sperrazza! saw power pop (referred to in Bomp! as the single word “powerpop”) as a distinct genre, not a mere reaction or marketing term. They traced the origin of power pop squarely to The Who, and included other dynamic ’60s acts like The Kinks, Small Faces, and Creation (the latter a group I’d not heard of before that point). It continued into the ’70s, with The Raspberries (whom Gary ‘n’ Greg obviously considered the definitive power pop act), The Flamin’ GrooviesThe Dwight Twilley Band, some scattered tracks by The Bay City Rollers, and even into some of the then-current punk stuff like The RamonesEspecially The Ramones! Many years later, when I corresponded with Shaw, he reiterated his belief that you couldn’t conceive of something called “power pop” if it didn’t include “Rockaway Beach” by The Ramones.

Bomp!‘s view of the power pop equation was simple and evocative: the punk of The Sex Pistols plus the bubbly pop of teen idol Shaun Cassidy equals the power pop sound of the early Who. Shaw and Sperrazza!’s power pop timeline specifically excluded The Beatles and Eddie Cochran, whose records they felt lacked the prerequisite explosiveness, and The Rolling Stones, whose records were more plainly grown from R & B roots. The magazine also included coverage of British glam/glitter (seen as a complement to power pop), and a history of some group called Big Star. Hmmm. Never heard of them. But that would change. Man, would that ever change!

Around this time, “power pop” was also beginning to gather momentum as a marketing term, an opportunity for skittish record-label weasels to offer a diluted form of punk energy in an inoffensive package. It was a million miles away from what Bomp! was preaching. It manifested in bands like The Pleasers, a British combo that looked like a pub-tour version of Beatlemania! I liked The Pleasers, and their records deserve better than just being slagged for not being The Who, The Raspberries, or The Ramones. But they didn’t meet the dynamic ideal of Bomp!‘s power pop vision. Shaw and Sperrazza! pushed back at this co-opting of power pop, Sperrazza! sneering in a subsequent issue, “After all, power pop means pop with POWER! Not some whimpering simp in a Beatles haircut.”

Nonetheless, the moneychangers won this battle with the prophets. The moneychangers gave us The Knack, not that there’s anything wrong with that. The prophets moved on to other things.

Bomp! magazine predated the ’70s discussion of power pop. It had begun in 1970 as Who Put The Bomp, itself an outgrowth of an earlier Shaw zine called Mojo Navigator And Rock ‘n Roll NewsWho Put The Bomp evolved from fanzine format into a slick rock mag, and its focus shifted slightly from a longing look at rock’s past to a more active inclusion and appreciation of ’70s acts that likewise embraced the glory (and lessons) of the ’60s. The Flamin’ Groovies were the first then-contemporary group to grace the cover of Who Put The Bomp (for its thirteenth issue in ’75). Cherie Currie of The Runaways was on the cover of Who Put The Bomp # 15. The magazine’s name was shortened to Bomp! with issue # 16, showing Brian Wilson on the cover. Sperrazza! joined the crew in time for Bomp! # 17, which arrived with the glowering visage of The Sex Pistols’ Johnny Rotten grimacing from its face, a sign that evolution was becoming revolution.

The magazinedidn’t last much longer than its power pop manifesto in Bomp! # 18. Joey Ramone was on the cover of  # 19, but I missed it. I scrambled back to buy it via mail order when I discovered it had featured a short blurb about my Fave Raves The Flashcubes, and I hadda have that! Shaw, in fact, inspired The Flashcubes’ second single, Gary Frenay‘s “Wait Till Next Week.” Shaw had told the lads they would be mentioned in the next issue of Bomp! Time passed, and the issue did not appear, as Shaw kept promising “Wait ’til next week!” An alternate line in the song (as performed live, not on record) addressed that inspiration:

Greg Shaw writes about the music scene
Told us that he’d put us in his magazine
Three months later, it’s nowhere to be seen
He says, “Why don’t you call me next week?”

I was able to grab the next two issues at Main Street Records, content and engaged, still eager for more from what had clearly become my favorite rock rag. But that twentieth issue in 1979 was it; a planned Bomp! # 21 was never published. The beat would not go on.

Well, the beat wouldn’t go on in print, at least not in the pages of Bomp! However, Shaw had started an indie label, Bomp Records, a few years before that, commencing with a Flamin’ Groovies 45 in 1975. The label outlived the magazine, and released a number of incredible singles and LPs by the likes of The RomanticsThe LastNikki & the CorvettesStiv Bators, and The Plimsouls. Somewhat soured by the power pop implosion, Shaw’s interest moved to neo-’60s garage, an interest served by his new label, Voxx Records. By the time of my brief correspondences with Shaw in the ’90s, power pop had long since fallen off his radar. (My email interviews with him were an invaluable resource in crafting my history of power pop, The Kids Are Alright!) Shaw passed away in 2004. The Flashcubes happened to be playing a show that night. I informed them of Shaw’s death, and they played “Wait Till Next Week” as a tribute, its original line about Greg Shaw intact. One more time.

Greg Shaw did get a little bit of recognition for the influential work he did. I don’t believe Gary Sperrazza! ever received his just due. I met Gary when I lived in Buffalo in the mid ’80s (a tale told within a longer reminiscence called The Road To GOLDMINE). That seminal power pop issue of Bomp! had also detailed Gary’s pervasive interest in soul and funk, asking that musical question, “Where are the Sex Pistols of black music?” So it was no surprise when Gary opened a record store specializing in soul, funk, R & B, and hip-hop, Apollo Records on Elmwood Avenue in Buffalo. Apollo also had a back room well stocked with choice garage, rock, and pop platters, so I visited often. Gary died in that miserable year of 2016. I regret he never got the credit he deserved in the power pop story.

Greg Shaw
Gary Sperrazza

Bomp! magazine was about much more than just power pop. It’s an ongoing testament to the sheer prevailing whomp of that lone power pop issue of Bomp! that the magazine remains so umbilically connected to the discussion of all loud things that jangle, buzz, and chime. More than anyone else before or since, Greg Shaw and Gary Sperrazza! defined the parameters of power pop. Many others (me included) have tried to refine the subject, sharpen its definition (and expand it just enough to include The Beatles, ferchrissakes). But no one did it better than Bomp!

Nowadays, our weekly radio show This Is Rock ‘n’ Roll Radio with Dana &Carl  has a nominal power pop format, but we mix Motown and punk with our “September Gurls” and “Go All The Way.” As much as I love power pop, and as much as I want its definition to be clear and distinct, I have absolutely no interest in doing a strictly power pop show. What fun would that be? A more general rockin’ pop framework is way more interesting to me, with The Isley Brothers flowing into The RubinoosThe Velvet UndergroundP. P. ArnoldBadfinger, and KISS. Even though we don’t always remain within the criteria of power pop, we call ourselves a power pop show anyway.

Why? Because power pop means pop with powerBomp! said so. Don’t argue with Bomp!

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