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.

TIP THE BLOGGER: CC’s Tip Jar!

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

Boppin’ says: BUY THIS BOOK!

WHEN WE RETURN: America’s ONLY Rock ‘n’ Roll Magazine!

TIP THE BLOGGER: CC’s Tip Jar!
You can support this blog by becoming a patron on Patreon: Fund me, baby! 

Categories
Pop Sunday

Big Stir Records / The Yuletide Wave

Various Artists

Big Stir Singles: The Yuletide Wave

(Big Stir Records 2020)

https://bigstirrecords.bandcamp.com/album/big-stir-singles-the-yuletide-wave-2

Nobody in their right mind has to be told 2020 has been a major downer. But the year is ending on a great note, because Big Stir Singles: The Yuletide Wave has arrived! Offering twenty-two holiday-related songs, the collection is primed to lift the spirits and restore hope and faith. It’s only fitting Big Stir Singles: The Yuletide Wave begins with a song addressing the situation we are currently experiencing. And that track is Nick Frater’s Wash Your Hands Of Christmas, which speaks of the lack of  lovely things we normally celebrate during the season. Despite the subject matter, the song sparkles and shines with beauty and bliss.

 Alison Faith Levy’s All I Want For Chanukah Is A Ukele strums and hums to the noggin-nodding burr of a ukele, and The Brother Steve’s I Love The Christmastime weighs in as a peppy piece of power pop perfection. Michael Simmons channels Frank Sinatra with impressive effects on the crooning Christmas Waltz and from Spygenius, there’s Revels Without A Claus that jumps and jerks to a wonky dance hall shuffle.

Wrapped in atmospheric attire, involving  jazzy horns and novel melodies, I Remember You At Christmas by Anthanor plugs in as a poignant paean to a former sweetheart, while The Decibels cleverly combine the traditional hymn, Angels We Have Heard On High with segments of the sixties garage rock nugget, Gloria with hard-hitting appeal.

The Stan Laurels crib a cue from the warm vocals and detailed construction of The Beach Boys on the shimmery Noche Buena, and Kai Danzberg & Scott McPherson’s frisky The Day Before Christmas vividly recalls the anticipation felt as a child waiting for the fat man on a sleigh to deliver wish list toys and games.

 Swinging and spinning with gripping chords and happy harmonies, Groovy Time Of The Year by The Bobbleheads is indeed groovy. Propelled by a bouncy beat and a sugar-coated bubblegummy chorus, the absolutely irresistible All I Want Is You For Christmas by Kimberely Rew and Lee Cave-Berry sounds like a joint effort between The Archies and Fountains Of Wayne, and Blake Jones & The Trike Shop’s String The Lights And Hold On pitches an ear-pleasing repertoire of choppy drumming, incisive licks and fetching hooks.

Excellent entries from Librarians With Hickeys, Irene Pena, The Forty Nineteens, Anton Barbeau, Dolph Chaney, The JAC, Addison Love, The Stillsouls and Kelly’s Heels with Steve Rinaldi further complete this prized package of sonic greetings.

Stuffed to the pores with catchy songs, Big Stir Singles: The Yuletide Wave can actually be enjoyed anytime of the year. You don’t have to practice a certain religion or believe in Santa Claus to appreciate these tasty treats. Every day is a holiday when it comes to a record flashing the Big Stir imprint, and here’s yet another production asserting their care, knowledge and recognition of quality music.

Categories
Boppin'

RESCUED FROM THE BUDGET BIN! Heavy Metal (24 Electrifying Performances)

Record stores used to have cut-out bins, overflowing with deleted albums that the labels had given up as lost causes. The cut-out LP covers had been deliberately damaged: a corner chopped off, a puncture, some sort of premeditated defacing to mark them as clearance items, as soon-to-be discarded product that had been written off, as Grade B, as “other.” The cut-out bin was a record buyer’s last chance to grab a record on the cheap before it slipped into the out-of-print zone. In addition to the cut-outs, there were also budget albums, produced and priced for discount sales.


Cut-outs. Budget albums. I may have purchased a few of these over the years.

VARIOUS ARTISTS: Heavy Metal (Warner Special Products, 1974)

Now that’s what I call music.

Mind you, it’s not what I call “heavy metal music;” while some of the acts contained in this oddball double-LP could fall within the peripheries of the genre, and Black Sabbath should qualify for sure, it would take some seriously heavy-grade ’70s-style medication to alter one’s perceptions to a hallucinatory fuzz sufficient to regard Van MorrisonWarThe Eagles, or The Grateful Dead as a metal act. Feel free to view this peculiar marketing choice as antecedent to the GRAMMYs’ eventual award to Best Heavy Metal Artist Jethro Tull.

So forget about the label; calling this “heavy metal” is delusional no matter how you look at it. But as a various-artist set of no discernible theme? Even though it includes some tracks from the ’60s, Heavy Metal is 1970s rock in microcosm.

Far out.

When we think of budget-priced compilation albums in the ’70s, we may think first about cheesy K-TelRonco, and Adam VIII sets hawked on TV, sonically-deprived hatchet jobs cramming too many songs into too little space, sacrificing sound quality and aesthetics alike as an offering on a Me Decade altar praying to the decadent god of MORE!! I feel a little queasy even considering it. But the ’70s also produced a bounty of compilations from major labels, business entities whose motives may or may not have been inherently purer than those of a Ron Popeil, but whose methodology and ability to execute were an immediate world apart.

Count the Warner Brothers empire among those major labels. By the mid ’70s, that empire encompassed Warner Brothers, AtlanticRepriseElektra, and Asylum, the record-label equivalent of the gathering of The Mighty Avengers (or perhaps The Justice League Of America, since Warner also owned DC Comics). Let’s pound the comic-book comparison one nail further: Warner’s muscle and deep vaults gave it powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal record labels. Those super powers produced Lenny Kaye‘s seminal ’60s garage compilation Nuggets, and a long series of loss leaders that introduced deep cuts by obscure artists to legions of cash-strapped music fans. And it gave us Warner Special Products, the low-priced subsidiary imprint that concocted Heavy Metal.

I have no idea of the thought process that created Heavy Metal; if there’s a definitive account of the record’s genesis out there somewhere, I’d love to read it. The great and powerful internet suggests that Heavy Metal was a sequel to a 1973 four-record set called Superstars Of The 70’s, and I kinda wish I’d snagged a copy of that one when I was a young teen. The lineup on Superstars Of The 70’s includes Otis ReddingThe KinksTodd RundgrenWilson PickettThe Rolling StonesRoberta FlackJoni MitchellThe Beach Boys, and Gordon Lightfoot, a diverse menu that whet the ol’ Me Decade musical appetite. MORE!! Heavy Metal met the next stage of that insatiable demand.

I bought my copy of Heavy Metal at The Record Theatre near Syracuse University in late ’76 or early ’77. I was a senior in high school, sixteen-seventeen years old, and the sheer buzz of Marshall Street and the SU hill was intoxicating with possibilities for me. I loved going up there whenever I could, for lectures at Hendricks Chapel (where I saw Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry and my favorite author, Harlan Ellison), the occasional cult film, pizza, books, fruitless flirting with co-eds, one frantic, exuberant run up the outdoor flight of stairs at Crouse College as I bellowed the theme from Rocky, and sifts through the garden of delights at The Record Theatre on Marshall Street. Good times? To this square peg kid, desperately looking for a place to belong? Yeah. Good times.

I’m not sure what specific tune or combination of tunes drew me to Heavy Metal. I’m sure I would have been interested in owning some Alice Cooper, and probably “Ramblin’ Man” by The Allman Brothers Band, maybe “Ride Captain Ride” by Blues Image, and maybe the Yes or Doors tracks. My cousin Mark had hooked me a little on his Deep Purple cassettes, so it was certainly cool to claim ownership of “Smoke On The Water.” I betcha I was eager to crank some Sabbath, just because.


The album opens with “Kick Out The Jams.” That was the revelation for me. I’d never heard The MC5 before, never heard of The MC5 before. This was the censored version, with brothers and sisters standing in for the unexpurgated original incitement to kick out the jams, muthafuckas. I knew nothing about any of that; I just knew this track rocked, and I discovered its raucous, ragged splendor just before I discovered the concept of punk rock. Within less than a year, I would be an enthusiastic punk fan.

The mixed styles offered on Heavy Metal were A-OK with me. My first T. Rex track. My first Buffalo Springfield track (the now-rare nine-minute version of “Bluebird”). My first Jimi Hendrix, my first J. Geils Band, my first Led ZeppelinJames GangUriah HeepFaces, War, Grateful Dead. I didn’t love all of it, and I still don’t. But I loved the overall experience of this album, and I look back on it with great fondness.

The period spanning the winter of 1976 into the spring of 1977 was the spark of my personal rock ‘n’ roll crucible. I saw my first rock concert (KISS). I became a fan of The Kinks. I started reading Phonograph Record Magazine, prompting my curiosity about this “punk rock” craziness. I deepened my appreciation of The Monkees. I switched from AM radio to FM radio. I turned that collective jam-kickin’ mother up. The crucible would turn its heat even higher after graduation, as I heard The Sex Pistols that summer and The RamonesBlondieTelevision, and The Runaways at college that fall. But the spark first ignited when I was still in high school.
Heavy Metal was one of the records I used to bring in to school, tunes to play during an abundance of time spent in the office of my high school literary magazine. Desolation BoulevardRaspberries’ BestThrough The Past, DarklyHistory Of British Rock, Volume 2. Anything by The BeatlesHeavy Metal. Other friends brought in more records to play, and my soundtrack at 17 began to form. The crucible never sounded better.

Over a span of decades, through countless periodic purges of my record collection, every time I’ve been tempted to shed my copy of Heavy Metal, I’ve retained my sense and put it back on my LP shelf instead. I still have it. Hell, I may have it cremated with me when that time comes. And how heavy metal would that be? Kick out the jams, muthuhs and bruthuhs. Kick out the jams.

TIP THE BLOGGER: CC’s Tip Jar!

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

Mike Browning / Never Too Late

Mike Browning

Never Too Late (Mike Drop Music 2020)


Talk about serendipity! A fan of The Spongetones since day one, Mike Browning was absolutely thrilled  when he bumped into the band’s leader, Jamie Hoover, on a Sunday afternoon at a Dairy Queen in Oak Island, North Carolina.

Upon conversing, Mike not only discovered he and Jamie were practically neighbors, but that Jamie was teaching recording and production classes at a local community college. Mike wound up enrolling in Jamie’s program, where he was accordingly educated in the fine art of cutting records.

 
Motivated by the lessons, Mike entered the studio and laid down a six track EP titled Never Too Late.  A dazzling debut, the disc demonstrates Mike’s gift for recreating heritage pop rock sounds while adding his own deft composition and construction skills to the show. 
Spilling forth with the parallel pairing of surf and hot rod music, We’re Hanging Out celebrates the freedom of the weekend and having fun with friends. Piloted by Mike’s liquid clear vocals camped somewhere between The Beach Boys and The Bobby Fuller Four, the spunky song bounces and pounces with beaming melodies at every turn, not to mention a zippy little guitar solo and a bracing break.

Similar aspirations arise on the positively irresistible Hide and Seek, that tells the tale of a flirtatious female who all the guys in town literally chase after. A  catchy call and response chorus, aided by stabbing hooks and a pumping roller-rink styled organ worthy of The Gentrys and The Swinging Medallions, further inhabit this danceable ditty.


Co-written with Jamie Hoover, I Didn’t Realize I Was Lost stands as the only song on Never Too Late not written solely by Mike. Sporting a sure and steady arrangement, the sentiment sparkles and shines to a mid-paced beat surrounded by handclaps and lilting harmonies.  A genuine rockabilly number, The List rattles off a long list of chores that demand attention, but in the end it is the narrator’s sweetheart topping the list.

Guided by a swaying rhythm and ringing licks, I Can’t See Nothing But You carries a bit of a sea shanty feel, and Watching the Lines on the Road crackles gingerly to a traditional country setting, spotted with the bray of a honking harmonica and clanging cowbell. 


There is no doubt the songs on Never Too Late would have been huge hit singles had they existed when AM Radio was where it was at. But good music is timeless, and these tunes indeed possess such a quality. Pure; playful and brimming with wide-eyed wonder, Never Too Late is the kind of record that makes you glad to be alive. 

Categories
Pop Sunday

Big Stir Singles / The Seventh Wave

Various Artists

Big Stir Singles: The Seventh Wave (Big Stir Records 2020)

https://bigstirrecords.bandcamp.com/album/big-stir-singles-the-seventh-wave


Stationed in Burbank, California, Big Stir Records is not only impressively prolific, but the quality of the label’s output remains consistently high. Along with releasing a never-ending stream of great discs by bands and solo artists, the banner regularly produces Big Stir Singles compilations, which contain both the A and B sides of digital singles recorded by acts from nearly every nook and cranny of the world.


The imprint’s most recent collection – Big Stir Singles: The Seventh Wave – offers an extra treat, as a number of these songs have never been aired until now. You’ll also notice that much of the material relates to the confusing and chaotic times we are presently experiencing. 


Stacked with storming riffs, a driving backbeat and a punchy chorus, Far Away from The Incurables cuts a dashing power pop pose, and The Ex-Quaranteens sign in with We’ll All Drink Alone Together, a mid-tempo crooner-type ballad rimmed with country-laden pedal steel guitar gestures. From Broken Arrows, there’s the anthemic folk rock of Worst Of The Rest, which is wrapped in a bundle of ringing and jingling six-string sensations. Anton Barbeau and Kenny’s Land Of Economy spins and soars to a dizzy display of daring melodies and surrealistic lyrics that resemble a curious coupling of 10CC and Robyn Hitchcock. 


A double shot of penetrating garage rock is provided by The Forty Nineteens in the form of Crocodile Tears and Late Night Radio, the latter which features legendary Standells guitarist Tony Valentino. The Vapour Trails make good with the atmospheric bluster of A Bit More Fire, where Strange moves to a grittier gait projecting in an early seventies underground rock vibe pockmarked with bluesy harmonica fills.

 
The Corner Laughers step up to the plate and hit a home run with the jaunty Calculating Boy, and Nick Frater unveils a spine-tingling showing of his amazing vocal prowess on Intro. The fast and frantic If Romance Is Dead Then I Want To Be Dead Too from Carol Pacer & The Honey Shakers teams hillbilly aspirations with reckless punk rock energy to exciting effects, while the band deposits a completely different demeanor on Love Does, a sweet and tender acoustic-based ballad.
Contributions from Rick Hromadka  include the big and bright harmony popfest of Searchlight that should send fans of The Beach Boys and Todd Rundgren into orbit, and Dreams Of A Hippy Summer, which floats and flutters with flowery psychedelic frequencies. Kai Danzberg and Dear Stella’s Let Him Go lets loose a lashing of trippy space-age soundscapes, and The Empty City Squares check in with History Rhymes, a hook-heavy slab of hypnotic pop-rock grandeur. 


Bumper to bumper with catchy tunes, Big Stir Singles: The Seventh Wave is the yardstick which all albums of its kind should be measured. Nothing but top picks here, my friends.