When The Beatles broke big in America, American groups started cropping up everywhere, intent on capturing that same Beatles’ magic. Bands like The Knickerbockers and The Cyrkle were looking to do much more than most of the also-rans, though. Their aim, inspired by the lads from Liverpool, was to create something with the same level of enthusiasm and electricity.
Here, well-known popster Gary Ritchie continues that tradition, with a wink and a nod, and his heart in the right place. He is, after all, along with musical partner Jeff King, responsible for the cult-favorite release, Beat The Meatles.
“Maybe It’ll Be Tonight”, takes a post-punk stab at what might’ve been an early MTV hit, when power pop was really becoming a thing. The title track, reminiscent of The Dave Clark Five’s “Over and Over” is another winner, and gets seriously-close to that ’65 energy.
My fave of the set, however, is “Arms Around A Memory,” which boasts a catchy melody and jangly guitar sound that pop dreams are made of. In a perfect world, that’d be the A-side of Capitol Records vinyl single, spinning on the Dansette.
Way back in the prehistoric 1990’s, cool record labels used to distribute sampler CD’s of their artists to record stores. They were usually in a stack at the front of the store, with other freebies like stickers and band flyers. Cool indie labels like Sub Pop, Mammoth and Enigma, used this as a marketing tool, to expose the music-buying public to their roster. In a move that puts a smile on my face, Big Stir Records is reviving the tradition.
Volume five in this series boasts a whopping twenty-three tracks, almost guaranteeing something for everyone. The including bands are old school, in that these tunes were inspired by classic guitar bands ranging from The Beatles to ELO to Teenage Fanclub and back again.
The GoAllTherWays open in glorious jangle with “Silly Girl,” before Mod Hippie lets loose with “Saturday Show,” rooting in equal parts Matthew Sweet and The Monkees. How can you not be energized by that?The Tor Guides bring the California sunshine with the buoyant “Just A Smile,” and The Forty Nineteens set their hyper-pop sights atop a reworked Bo Diddley beat, that’ll make you wanna get up and dance.
The stunner of the collection is the beautiful “Summer Blue” by Lannie Flowers. With enough clever chord changes and soothing harmonies to make Collingwood & Schlesinger blush, it just may be the best song I’ve heard in a couple of years. Wait, scratch that “may be.” It is.
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.
Anyone who knows me also knows who my favorite bands are: The Beatles, The Ramones,The Flashcubes, The Monkees, and The Kinks. There are dozens and dozens of worthy acts that I love almost as much–I am proud to be a pop music fanatic and obsessive–but I think I’ve made it clear that this fantastic five sits permanently up there as my Top, my Coliseum, my Louvre Museum, et al. The Jam used to be right up there with those Beatles and Ramones, too. While I certainly never stopped loving The Jam, they’re not as ever-present in my mind as they were a few decades ago. But in the late ’70s and early ’80s, The Jam rivaled The Ramones for the coveted title of Carl’s favorite rock ‘n’ roll group.
My introduction to The Jam was inauspicious, to say the least. One afternoon in the Fall of 1977, I was lounging in my freshman dorm room, listening to Brockport’s campus radio station WBSU. I listened to WBSU, like, all of the time, constantly pestering the student jocks to play more of the new punk/new wave stuff I wanted to discover–Blondie, The Dictators, The Runaways, and the above-mentioned Ramones brudders–and also more of the ’60s stuff I loved, from The Raiders (“Let Me!”) and The Dave Clark Five (“Any Way You Want It”) through The Monkees (the station owned the only copy of the group’s Changes LP I had ever seen, though some of the BSU jocks flatly refused to ever play anything by The Monkees).
But this particular afternoon was a singularly revelatory WBSU session, as I heard The Flamin’ Groovies (“Misery”), The Vogues (“Five O’Clock World”), and The Knickerbockers (“Lies”) for the first time. And the station also played a brand-new song by a punk group out of England, performing a cover of “The Batman Theme.” As I heard the song play, I wrote in my journal: “1977 and Batman’s a punk. Progress.”
And that was the first time I heard The Jam.
From small things mama, as Bossman Brucie would later say. If I seemed dismissive at the time, I think I was nonetheless intrigued. The Jam next crossed my consciousness in October, when TV’s The Tomorrow Show took a look at this punk rock thing that was driving some of these mixed-up kids crazy, with the pogo dancing and the safety pins and the anarchy and the use of impolite language. Tomorrow Show host Tom Snyder promised “a punk-rock jam,” but he was himself mixed-up; what he meant was that his guests would include The Jam’s Paul Weller, along with Joan Jett from The Runaways, and Kim Fowley, The Runaways’ former manager. I don’t remember much about this show, other than a sense of no love lost between Jett and Fowley, and the fact that I’d already developed a serious crush on our Joanie (“crush” in the sense that I wanted to hug her and squeeze her and call her Gorgeous; my girlfriend Sharon was neither impressed nor amused). I have a vague recollection that Weller was serious and focused, and that he knew what he was talking about, but the precise details are lost in the cluttered hallway of my memory. I really oughta at least try applying a feather duster to that place some time.
I’m not exactly sure of the sequence of events after that, of how I went from The Jam? to THE JAM!! I do know there were four specific songs involved: “In The City,” “I Need You (For Someone),” “The Modern World,” and “All Around The World.” I can’t tell you where or when I first heard any of these, but I can tell you that the first two were staples of The Flashcubes’ live set. I saw the ‘Cubes for the first time in January of ’78, and it was immediately clear that any songthey did was okay by me. I bought the U.S. Polydor 45 of “I Need You (For Someone)”/”In The City,” and played it often. I picked up import singles of “The Modern World” (a track I think the ‘Cubes also used to cover) and “All Around The World” when I worked at Penn-Cann Mall in North Syracuse that summer. I was hooked. Guitarist Weller, bassist Bruce Foxton, and drummer Rick Buckler had created exactly the sort of modern world I wanted to inhabit.
I returned to Brockport for my sophomore year in the fall of 1978. By then, the previously-cited girlfriend Sharon was already three or four heartbreaks ago. In early October of that semester, I aced some test or paper or somesuch, and felt I deserved a reward; so it was down to The Record Grove, where I purchased a copy of The Jam’s second LP, This Is The Modern World. I went back to my dorm, and put it on my roommate’s stereo, the volume set somewhere north of lethal. God, I loved this record on first spin. Just about everyone considers it The Jam’s least-noteworthy effort, but it’s always gonna be special to me. “The Modern World.” “All Around The World.” “I Need You (For Someone).” Then on to the tracks I didn’t already know: “Standards.” “Life From A Window.” Wilson Pickett‘s “In The Midnight Hour.” I couldn’t play Side One loud enough.
My next-door neighbor, on the other hand, thought it was already a wee bit too noisy. I hadn’t even met this chick yet, but she pounded on our mutual bedroom wall, imploring me to turn that goddamned racket down already. I grumbled, cursed, but complied. Ever the gentleman, that’s me! I did eventually meet this girl next door later that month. Her name was Brenda. Wonder whatever became of her…?
(And yes, she still thinks I play that goddamned racket too loud.)
The Jam didn’t exactly fall beneath my radar after that, but I didn’t get their next album, All Mod Cons, until well after the fact. Someone–either my then-current roommate Tom or my future roommate Paul–played “Down In The Tube Station At Midnight” for me on his WBSU show in the spring of ’79; I liked it, I guess, though it didn’t have the exuberance, the immediacy of the Jam tunes I already loved. It was…mature. It would take some getting used to.
By the time I adjusted to the idea of a more grownup-sounding Jam, the group hit me with a new album, Setting Sons. What an amazing record this was! I rarely listen to whole albums nowadays, but I owe myself the pleasure of giving this another complete spin soon. Supposedly originally created as a concept album–a dirty phrase in the post-punk world of 1979-1980–Setting Sons succeeds as a stunning song cycle, simmering with the charred embers of shattered idealism, discarded friendships, wistful memory, and defiant hope. I regard Setting Sons as The Jam’s masterpiece.
The Jam’s follow-up album, Sound Affects, was nearly as good, highlighted by “That’s Entertainment,” an unforgettable number that Weller is said to have written following a pub crawl; the track would have been worthy of The Kinks. The “Going Underground” single was another winner, and The Jam were firmly ensconced near the Toppermost of my Poppermost.
And then they were gone. Another album (The Gift), and a pair of 1982 farewell singles, “The Bitterest Pill (I Ever Had To Swallow)” and “Beat Surrender,” and Weller pulled the plug. The Jam never caught on in the States at all, but they were huge stars in Great Britain, and they quit at the height of their success. I never had much interest in Weller’s next project, The Style Council, but I have to concede neither he nor the rest of The Jam owed me anything. They’d already shown me the modern world, and all around the world: in the city, down in the tube station at midnight, lost in a strange town, Eton rifles beneath a burning sky, gone underground to a town called Malice. That’s entertainment.
In 2008, Green Day offered up a serving of 60’s garage rock, recorded under the pseudonym Foxboro Hot Tubs. The record, Stop, Drop & Roll, came and went without much fanfare, though it was found and loved by guitar-pop lovers like me. Father Of All… is the legitimate offspring of The Tubs’ singular release, and it’s been well-worth the wait.
While Green Day’s use of three punk chords hasn’t varied much, here, Billie Joe Armstrong seems to be reinvigorated, wringing out new melodies and vocal moves that feel both fresh and thoughtful. Propelled by Tre’ Cool’s slamming go-go beat and muscular guitars, the title track really gets the ol’ blood pumping.
Armstrong coyly winks his 48-year-old eye at his own legend in I Was A Teenage Teenager, before the band plunges into Hamburg Beatles’ mode with the gritty Stab You In The Heart. It’s cool that at this stage in the game, the band is still looking to stake-out new ground, when they could easily just clone their past success, to lackluster affect. Father Of All… is really solid from top to bottom.
You love music. But what do you really, really love about music?
I have a sound in my head.
If you want to be highfalutin’, you could say it’s an audio equivalent of Plato’s Forms, an abstract ideal that represents the perfect sound, beyond human realization, just outside our mortal ability to craft and replicate in this mundane real world. If you prefer to remain grounded to the planet we inhabit, you can call this sound a mere (?!) joyous reflection of every song I’ve ever heard, every tune I’ve ever loved, and every fantasy I’ve ever entertained of the promise of pop music.
But it’s neither. It’s an AM radio, tuned to an imaginary station that never existed. It’s as real as dreams, as corporeal as passion, and as timeless as memory, experience, grace, hope, ambition, disappointment, and love. It kinda sounds like The Beatles in 1965. Also James Brown. The Ramones. The Bay City Rollers. Otis Redding. Chuck Berry. The Everly Brothers. The Sex Pistols. Paul Revere & the Raiders. Prince. The Go-Go’s. The Isley Brothers playing “Summer Breeze.” KISS singing “Shout It Out Loud.” The Monkees being The Monkees. The Flashcubes. God, The Flashcubes!
What do I really, really love about music?
I can’t narrow it down more than that. I love the way music makes me feel, even when the feeling is melancholy, like how The Kinks’ “Days” reminds me that I recited the lyrics of that song at my Dad’s funeral, or when some random tune recalls past betrayals, lies, or heartbreak. Lyrics. Hooks. Harmonies. The drum, the bass, the guitars. “It’s My Life” by The Animals blows me away every time I hear it, its self-assured wall of melody unerringly prompting me to marvel at the precise, perfect placement of each note, each lick. Everything in its place. “Twenty-Four Hours From Tulsa.” “On Broadway.” Badfinger’s “Baby Blue.” Bowie’s “Life On Mars?” “God Only Knows,” and the entirety of Pet Sounds. “In The Midnight Hour.” “Laugh, Laugh.” “Freedom” by Wham!, ferchrissakes. “I Only Want To Be With You.” “I Wanna Be With You.” “I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend.”
I’m writing a book called The Greatest Record Ever Made! (Volume 1). Notice the singular rather than the plural “records;” an infinite number of records can be The Greatest Record Ever Made, as long as they take turns. (“September Gurls.”) You live your life within each song as it plays. (“The Tears Of A Clown.”) Your faith is fully invested, without reservation, and your belief is rewarded with each never-ending spin. (“Kick Out The Jams,” muthas and bruthas.) The allegiance is eternal, immortal…at least, until the next song plays.
Do you believe in magic? I do. And that means I’m unable–unwilling–to dissect music’s appeal. That would be like trying to tell a stranger about rock ‘n’ roll. Well, actually, I’m eager to do that. But my discourse will retain its reverence, its delight, its wonder, its awe. My cranial transistor is tuned to Sly Stone, Alice Cooper, Suzi Quatro, Rotary Connection, Patti Smith, Janis Joplin, The Shangri-Las, P.P. Arnold, The Smithereens, The Four Tops, and to a bunch of singers and groups I haven’t even heard yet. But I will. I’ll hear ’em all. What do I really, really love about music? My God, what is there not to love? And how would we even know how to love if we didn’t have it?
“Abbey Road” is the latest Beatles’ record to get the deluxe remaster treatment, and it’s a dilly. The version I’m reviewing is the two-disc set. All tracks have been lovingly restored by the late George Martin’s son, Giles Martin. Disc one contains the original record remastered, while disc two is a track-for-track match-up of alternate versions.
I’ve given several of these Beatle reissues a listen, and this one is hands-down the best. It’s bare and in your face when it needs to be, and dramatically-lush at other times. Martin has created new depth with these tracks, and some, particularly “Here Comes The Sun” and “Because,” are brilliant beyond words. It’s a shame that John Lennon and George Harrison aren’t here to take it all in.