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

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Didn’t Hear THAT Coming! (Unexpected Covers In Concert): THE FLASHCUBES, “Mrs. Brown You’ve Got A Lovely Daughter”

THE FLASHCUBES: Arty Lenin, Tommy Allen, Gary Frenay, Paul Armstrong

Didn’t Hear THAT Coming! (Unexpected Covers In Concert) discusses songs I was surprised to hear covered in a live show by an act I’d gone to see.
Cover songs can add zip and spark to a rock ‘n’ roll group’s live repertoire. In their earliest gigs, most groups start out playing covers, and integrate more of their own original material into their sets as they play more dates, develop more of an identity, and attract more fans with an interest beyond just hearing bar-band interpretations of songs associated with other acts. It’s a basic long-term strategy for groups hoping to get noticed, to get somewhere; there’s a reason The Rolling Stones cut back on Chuck Berry songs and started writing their own material.

Still, a well-placed cover tune can enhance a live set, while the wrong choice can result in irritating a fan who doesn’t want to hear a fave rave act pandering to a lower common denominator. Whether it works or falls flat, the unexpected cover prompts us to say, “Wow–didn’t hear THAT coming!”

THE FLASHCUBES: Mrs. Brown You’ve Got A Lovely Daughter [Herman’s Hermits]
I believe I’ve already mentioned that I kinda like Syracuse’s own power pop powerhouse The Flashcubes; insisting that my all-time favorite groups are The BeatlesThe Ramones, and The Flashcubes is a pretty direct statement, right? ‘Cubes shows in 1977 and ’78 included a lot of covers; as time went on, the bulk of their set lists became (rightfully) dominated by their own compositions.

The Flashcubes had terrific taste in covers, encompassing ’60s British Invasion, ’70s punk, power pop, new wave, and Eddie Cochran. The ‘Cubes introduced me to the music of The New York DollsBig StarChris Spedding, and Eddie & the Hot Rods. They covered The TroggsThe JamThe HolliesTelevisionThe RaspberriesThe Sex PistolsThe Yardbirds, and “Dizzy Miss Lizzy.” 

And The Flashcubes covered Herman’s Hermits. Just, y’know, usually not the song listed above.

“A Must To Avoid” was the Hermits track that eventually made its way onto Cubic set lists, a song ready-made for live power pop (though the ‘Cubes always skipped its final verse, presumably to keep it lean ‘n’ stripped). But one night in 1978, upstairs at either The Orange or The Firebarn, the ‘Cubes did a seemingly impromptu snippet of “Mrs. Brown You’ve Got A Lovely Daughter.” They were introducing a Sex Pistols cover, guitarist Paul Armstrong saying they were going to do a song by a group that had just broken up. “The Beatles…?!,” bassist Gary Frenay joked. “No,” said Armstrong, “and it’s not Herman’s Hermits either.”

For dramatic purposes, the part of Mrs. Brown’s lovely daughter will be played by the lovely actress Pamela Sue Martin

At which point guitarist Arty Lenin started picking the distinctive faux ukulele intro to “Mrs. Brown.” Paul paused, conferred with Arty, who then resumed his picking as Paul joined in briefly to wail along, Missus Brown you’ve gahht a luuuuvleeee dawwwwwwwterrr…! Drummer Tommy Allen may have thrown in a rim shot, completing this Borscht Belt power pop connection. The gag completed, The Flashcubes launched into their planned cover of either “God Save The Queen” or “Pretty Vacant.” 

She’s so lovely, she’s so lovely…she’s a DAUGHTER…!

Was this whole schtick planned out in advance? Maybe. Probably? If so, The Flashcubes pulled off the illusion of spontaneity with grace and aplomb, perhaps not a phrase often applied to the clattering Wall of Noise that defined the sound of Flashcubes ’78. 

My memory insists that I witnessed Arty throw in his “Mrs. Brown” lick during at least one other Flashcubes show, that time without Paul Armstrong channeling a punk Peter Noone. If he ever did it again, it was still an isolated incident. “Mrs. Brown You’ve Got A Lovely Daughter” would not be listed in any document of songs The Flashcubes ever covered. But I saw it. I heard it. I just didn’t hear it coming.

WHEN DIDN’T HEAR THAT COMING! RETURNS: David Johansen sings disco!

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

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

Volume 1: download
Volume 2: CD or download
Volume 3: download
Volume 4: CD or download
Waterloo Sunset–Benefit For This Is Rock ‘n’ Roll Radio:  CD or download
Hey, Carl’s writin’ a book! The Greatest Record Ever Made! (Volume 1) will contain 100 essays (and then some) about 100 tracks, plus two bonus instrumentals, each one of ’em THE greatest record ever made. An infinite number of records can each be the greatest record ever made, as long as they take turns. Updated initial information can be seen here: THE GREATEST RECORD EVER MADE! (Volume 1).

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Boppin'

THE EVERLASTING FIRST: Cheap Trick

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.


A tabloid called Phonograph Record Magazine was a starting-point for a lot of my rock ‘n’ roll revelations in the ’70s, and it’s where I first heard of Cheap Trick. Flo & Eddie (aka Mark Volman and Howard Kaylan, formerly of The Turtles) had a regular PRM column called “Blind Date,” which featured our happy-together heroes reviewing new releases without being told upfront what the hell they were reviewing. For one 1977 “Blind Date,” they were given the eponymous debut album from Cheap Trick, and offered the clue that the band’s name was like an inexpensive subterfuge. That was my introduction to Cheap Trick.
It seems likely that I must have heard Cheap Trick on WOUR-FM a time or several in ’77, but I have no recollection of that. As was the case with many other new rockin’ pop discoveries for me in 1977, my first conscious memory of hearing Cheap Trick came in the fall of ’77, when I was a freshman at the State University College at Brockport. Most of the new music I heard then was courtesy of the campus station WBSU–“The station where we BS you!”–but Cheap Trick first filled my ears on a commercial station in nearby Rochester, either WCMF-FM, or maybe even the usually-lame Magic 92. The song was “So Good To See You,” a track from the second Cheap Trick album, In Color. I think the cut got a little bit of subsequent radio play as well, though it wasn’t really a hit. In my mind, I hear it alongside “See Forever Eyes,” a then-contemporary prog-pop song by a group called Prism. I liked both “So Good To See You” and “See Forever Eyes,” though neither was specifically at the toppermost of my poppermost.

So I can’t claim to have been ahead of the curve in adoring Cheap Trick. I caught on to the irresistible appeal of Rockford’s Phenomenal Pop Combo about the same time everyone else did: with the track “Surrender” on their third album, Heaven Tonight, in 1978, and full-tilt Cheap Trick mania with Cheap Trick At Budokan, released as an import in late ’78 and–by overwhelming popular demand–domestically in 1979. There was a brief period there were everyone seemed to like Cheap Trick. For once, I was in the mainstream!
The “everyone” in this example included my lovely girlfriend (and now lovely wife) Brenda. We each bought our own copy of Cheap Trick At Budokan–me, to play with my Ramones and Jam records, and her to play with her Santana and Earth, Wind & Fire (plus the Buddy HollyRolling Stones, and Who LPs she’d “liberated” from my collection; she also bought a copy of The Kinks‘ Greatest Hits at the flea market, so her horizons were already expanding). Harmonic convergence!

I eventually acquired all of Cheap Trick’s early catalog–Cheap TrickIn ColorHeaven TonightBudokan, and Dream Police–and loved ’em all. When The Ramones’ fab flick Rock ‘n’ Roll High School played on campus in 1980 (the second time I’d seen the film), it was accompanied by a cool video promo for Dream Police; fitting, since Cheap Trick had been an early choice to star in that film (some time after director Allan Arkush convinced producer Roger Corman that the film shouldn’t be called Disco High, but before Johnny, Joey, Dee Dee, and Marky were cast).
I have to confess I lost interest in Cheap Trick after Dream Police. I didn’t care for the George Martin-produced All Shook Up in 1980, and it would be a while before I was interested in any new Cheap Trick albums. Turns out I missed some pretty cool stuff in that period. But I got back on board the Cheap Trick bandwagon with 1997’s underratedCheap Trick album on the Red Ant label. I had a chance to finally catch the Trick live on that club tour.

In the summer of  2016, our daughter Meghan accompanied Brenda and me to see Cheap Trick at an outdoor concert in Syracuse, and that was an even rarer harmonic convergence right there. Mommy’s all right, Daddy’s all right, we just seem a little weird. An inexpensive subterfuge? Cheap f***ingTrick!
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Pop-A-Looza TV

The Jam / Start!

Start!, by The Jam, was released as a single on August 15th, 1980. It was pulled from their Lp, Sound Affects, and reached the #1 position in England.

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Quick Spins

The Vapors / Together

The Vapors

Together (The Vapors Own Records)

http://www.thevapors.co.uk

After hitting new-wave pay dirt in 1980 with a massive hit single, Turning Japanese, The Vapors found further success harder to replicate. After two Lp’s and a handful of singles, the band broke up, seemingly destined for the “Where Are They Now?” File and one-hit wonder tours.

Flash forward to 2020, and we’ve got a new record by the band, original line-up in tow, minus drummer Howard Smith. Time hasn’t seemed to have affected these working-class lads at all, even as they inch their way towards being pensioners.

Together is a strong set of songs, but don’t expect the razor’s-edge 80’s pop sound of Turning Japanese. The band has always reminded me of The Jam, minus Paul Weller’s ferociousness, but here they edge more towards the power pop genre. Did I mention that the songs are top-notch? Indeed, they are.

Together is a peppy tune that reminisces with rose-colored glasses, and Crazy rocks and rolls with a punky Chuck Berry riff & killer chorus. My fave, though, is the haunting Girl From The Factory, a tale of a bloke who goes on a date, only to find the next day, that the object of his affections has taken her own life the previous night. 

Together is a mighty fine return for The Vapors, I hope we can look forward to more. I only hope we don’t have to wait another 40 years.

D.P.

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Boppin'

THE BANDS THAT WOULD BE KINKS! Vicarious Introductions To Various Songs By The Kinks

While I was driving home from work the other day, my iPod shuffled its way to “I Need You” by The Kinks. “I Need You” was the lesser-known third entry of the early Kinks’ triumvirate of powerhouse riffs, following the big 1964 hits “You Really Got Me” and “All Day And All Of The Night.” Unlike those first two, “I Need You” wasn’t a hit; it was, in fact, merely the B-side of the ’65 single “Set Me Free.” Though more obscure than its big brudders, “I Need You” nearly equals the hypnotic ferocity of its predecessors.

But my introduction to the headbanging splendor of “I Need You” did not come via The Kinks. I first heard the song when The Flashcubes included it in their live sets in 1978. Love at first power chord!

It occurred to me that there were several Kinks songs which I discovered vicariously. Among my all-time favorite rock ‘n’ roll acts, The Kinks are the only one where my initial exposure to a number of their classic songs came when somebody else covered ’em. That’s certainly not true of any songs by The Flashcubes, The Ramones, or The Monkees. The only Beatles songs I remember first hearing second-hand were Anne Murray‘s “You Won’t See Me” and Rain‘s “Helter Skelter” (from the TV mini-series about Charles Manson). I knew Cliff Richard‘s “Blue Turns To Grey” before I knew The Rolling Stones‘ original. I heard Syracuse chanteuse Nanci Hammond‘s rendition of “In My Room” long before I even realized it was a Beach Boys song (which was odd, because we had the Surfer Girl LP in the family collection when I was a kid, but I didn’t notice it). Hell, it wasn’t until the 90s that I discovered The Hollies wrote and recorded the original “Have You Ever Loved Somebody,” which had been one of my Fave Raves by The Searchers. See, I never learn…!

The Kinks were a different story, and I don’t know why. Ultimately, I’m grateful for whatever twisting path brought me to Muswell Hill’s finest. I did become a Kinks fan before I heard any of these Kinks covers, but these well-respected men and women helped to enhance the journey.

THE FLASHCUBES

As noted, Syracuse’s own power pop powerhouse The Flashcubes introduced me to The Kinks’ “I Need You.” It wasn’t the only Kinks song I heard the ‘Cubes do, but I knew “You Really Got Me,” “Where Have All The Good Times Gone” and “This Man He Weeps Tonight” well before I heard The Flashcubes cover them live. (Among other songs the ‘Cubes taught me were Big Star‘s “September Gurls,” The Jam‘s “In The City,” Eddie & the Hot Rods‘ “Do Anything You Wanna Do,” The New York Dolls‘ “Personality Crisis,” Chris Spedding‘s “Boogie City” and “Hey Miss Betty,” April Wine‘s “Tonight Is A Wonderful Time,” and Eddie Cochran‘s “Somethin’ Else.” I love The Flashcubes.) After hearing the ‘Cubes perform “I Need You,” I really wanted to hear The Kinks! However, The Kinks’ Kinkdom LP was outta print at the time, and a used copy at Desert Shore Records in Syracuse was stickered with a higher price than this po’ college student could afford. Finally snagged it on a budget compilation in the mid ’80s.

HOLLY GOLIGHTLY

By far the most recent example on this list. When my nephew Tim co-hosted This Is Rock ‘n’ Roll Radio a few years back, his playlist included Holly Golightly’s covers of two Ray Davies songs, “Tell Me Now So I’ll Know” and “Time Will Tell,” both from her 2003 album Truly She Is None Other. I wasn’t immediately familiar with either song–The Kinks’ version of “Time Will Tell” was an unreleased demo track at the time–but they got my attention. Holly Golightly’s magnificent rendition of “Time Will Tell” is one of but three Kinks covers out there that I prefer to the original version.

HERMAN’S HERMITS

I’m pretty sure I heard Herman’s Hermits’ hit cover of “Dandy” well before I heard The Kinks’ original. It may have been close, though; I don’t remember “Dandy” on the radio at all, not even on oldies shows, so I may not have heard it until I bought a used copy of the Hermits’ “Dandy” single in the late ’70s.

LYRES

I once wrote in Goldmine that the great Boston group Lyres didn’t want to be like the early Kinks, they wanted to be the early Kinks. I meant it as a compliment, and Lyres’ On Fyre remains one of my very favorite albums of the ’80s. On Fyre includes a cover of The Kinks’ “Tired Of Waiting For You,” and I certainly knew that one already. But I didn’t know “Love Me Till The Sun Shines,” a Dave Davies song, and Lyres’ version just floored me. Another one of the three Kinks covers I prefer to the original.

THE PRETENDERS

Yeah, The Pretenders’ “Stop Your Sobbing” is the third of the three Kinks covers I prefer to the original. Whatta record! The Pretenders also introduced me to another obscure Kinks song, “I Go To Sleep” (also covered by Peggy Lee), but “Stop Your Sobbing” was the kingpin.

THE RECORDS

The Records’ 1979 eponymous debut album originally came with a 7″ EP of covers. Of the four EP songs, the only original I knew beforehand was The Rolling Stones’ “Have You Seen Your Mother Baby (Standing In The Shadows).” I don’t think I knew Spirit‘s “1984.” I definitely did not know Blue Ash‘s power pop classic “Abracadabra (Have You Seen Her).” Nor did I know The Kinks’ wonderful “See My Friends,” which is now one of my many favorite Kinks tracks, but which was introduced to me via a cover by The Records. Thanks, lads!

VAN HALEN

Nope. Just kidding. And once again: why do I love The Kinks? Because they’re The Kinks. And God save The Kinks.

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The Everlasting First: The Jam

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 BeatlesThe Ramones,The FlashcubesThe 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–BlondieThe DictatorsThe 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.