Legends of poprock: Joe Jackson

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Before Elvis Costello, Graham Parker and The Jam, my fave angry young man of the new wave era was Joe Jackson. Look Sharp! and I’m the Man, his first two albums from 1978 and 1979, were flawless poprock. “Is She Really Going Out With Him” was a masterpiece of his spare approach to instrumentation and arrangement. Though Jackson was primarily a pianist, these records were guitar-strong, but not in an endless 1970s guitar solo sort of way. Instead Jackson put the rhythm guitar back in charge, just as the Beatles and other sixties melodic bands had done. I segued into Jackson’s more keyboard-based work in the 1980s without missing a beat, drawn in by the distinctive emotional depth of Jackson’s work compared to the other angry young men. While Costello and Parker told you about their pain, Jackson somehow let you feel it. As a young gay man in 1982, his “Real Men,” a song tackling the contradictions of gay identity, really hit home with me. And it was pretty brave to put out the song in such a homophobic time. As a result, Night and Day (1982) and Body and Soul (1984) dominated my turntable throughout the mid-1980s. I even got to see him on the Body and Soul and Big World tours when he came to Vancouver.

But with Big World (1986) I started to drift from Joe Jackson’s orbit. I just didn’t connect with his subsequent recordings in the same way. Years passed before I realized I’d completely lost of track of his career. Sure, I dipped in now and then to see what was out but didn’t really give his new recordings a proper listen. And in retrospect, that was a mistake because every Joe Jackson record has more than a few pretty good poprock tracks, barring the classical (1987’s Will Power) and jazz (2012’s The Duke) releases which clearly had a different purpose. As I think his early hits period is pretty well known, this post will focus mostly on the post-1985 releases. I say ‘mostly’ because I can’t help offering up a few deep cut choices from the earlier recordings. There’s “Pretty Girls” and “Pretty Boys” from Look Sharp! and Beat Crazy, respectively. I always thought “On Your Radio” from I’m the Man was an overlooked should-be hit single. All of Jumpin’ Jive is pretty special but Jackson’s killer cover of Louis Armstrong’s “Is You Is or  Is You Ain’t My Baby” rocks! Night and Day put the piano up front in Jackson work, to stay, and his keyboard virtuosity shines on “Cancer.” Body and Soul is known for its unusual and delightful combination of salsa with jazz on most cuts but personally I love the cinematic feel of “The Verdict,” it’s ability to swoop down from big horns to more tender quiet moments. Speaking of movies, Jackson’s made some great contributions, particularly on Mike’s Murder and Pretty in Pink.

Pretty Girls
Pretty Boys
On Your Radio

After all his previous experimentation and stylistic wandering, Big World was a return to poprock form for Jackson. Well, sort of. In another bid to do something different, he recorded the whole album live before a shushed audience! Here the standout track for me is undoubtedly “Forty Years,” a moving commentary on the uncertainty that preceded the end of the Cold War. The shifting geopolitical winds of the era animated 1989’s Blaze of Glory on tracks like “Evil Empire” but Jackson’s fascination with the emptiness of fame defined the title track and the peppy “Down to London.” 1991’s Laughter and Lust developed this further, taking aim at the shallowness of consumer-driven popular culture on “Hit Single” and “It’s All Too Much.”

Forty Years
Down to London
Hit Single

Then, in a surprise move for an artist who’d always condemned nostalgia, Jackson decided to revisit his past glories with Night and Day II in 2000 and a reunion of his early band on Volume 4 in 2003. But true to form Jackson used both as platforms for more reinvention. N&DII was darker and more collaborative that the original (including duets with Susann Deyhim and Marianne Faithful, among others), with elements of techno added to the mix. Personally I like the light and airy “Stranger Than You.” Volume 4 is the band from Jackson’s first three albums but the sound is filtered a bit through all his subsequent influences. Love the dissonant jazzy feel of “Chrome” and jangle elements all over “Still Alive.”

Still Alive

Five years later Jackson returned with the very Night and Day-ish Rain in 2008. Songs like “Invisible Man” and “Rush Across the Road” really sound like a continuation of that project while “Too Tough” pops a killer hook out of its chorus like proverbial beautiful girl out of a birthday cake. Fans then had to wait seven years for Jackson’s next poprock project, 2015’s Fast Forward, his ode to great cities like New York, Amsterdam, Berlin and New Orleans. Here I’m partial to the expansive, horn-filled “Ode to Joy.” 2019’s Fool seemed like even more familiar territory with lots of piano-led tunes and biting commentary. “32 Kisses” immediately grabbed me as classic Jackson.

Rush Across the Road
Ode to Joy
32 Kisses

I deeply admired the combo of hooky songwriting and sardonic commentary that typified Jackson’s early career. His inability to sit still creatively or tolerate fake sentiment and rampant commercialism was just icing on an already attractive cake. Now I can see he kept playing to those strength later on. Of particular interest to me (given my day job teaching politics) is how Jackson has consistently put his politics front and centre, unlike say Graham Parker and Elvis Costello where it tends to be a bit more oblique. And while I haven’t always agreed with Jackson’s positions (particularly defending smoking) his attention to matters of class and working class identity mark him out as a truly original and principled artist. I’m delighted to be reunited with his work.

Connect with Joe Jackson on his official website.

Love is in the air. Or is it?

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Ah love. The autumn rustle of leaves amid crisp sunny days brings a new tableau for songwriters to paint love into the picture. Or out of it, as the case may be. Today’s post covers it all: from easy loving to yearning feelings to distinct varieties of heartbreak. Let’s get the loving started!

Canadian crooner David Myles is no slouch on guitar and he puts his smooth vocals and wiley acoustic playing together in a wonderfully Jim Croce-easygoing manner on “Loving You Is Easy.” It’s from his lovely new album Leave Tonight. Myles really excels at these laid back love songs so break out the candlelight if you’re going to spin this disc tonight. I love how Ride member Andy Bell’s new solo single starts abruptly, like you’ve tried to drop the needle in between vinyl cuts and not quite got the start. “Love Comes in Waves” is lovely rush of Bryds-influenced dream pop, accent on a spacey feel. Myles and Bell have clearly got the love and aren’t afraid to let you know about it.

Meanwhile, others are still looking for love. The Amplifier Heads composed a nice “Short Pop Song About a Girl” that features spot-on 1960s lead guitar work and a winsome vocal style. There’s some serious wooing going on here. George McFall sets the scene a bit differently, coming on with more of an industrial tinge to start. But “The Boyfriend” delivers a great big head-exploding hook in the chorus that will have you hitting repeat to get just a little bit more of it. When he’s not leading the Lunar Laugh, Jared Lekites is apparently pining for love that’s not coming his way. His new EP Looking for Diamond X is a winning handful of loser laments, delivered in a most melodious way. “Unrequited Love Song” pretty much speaks for itself.

And then there’s heartbreak town. Sweden’s Mom have a new album called Pleasure Island but the song titles suggest that love may not appear on the street map. There’s “I Want You to Feel What I Feel,” “Hurt By You,” “Waste My Time,” and “Suzie (Use Me).” Sounds more like I’m-All-Out-Of-Love Island. But hey, I’m not saying the songs aren’t great – they are!. Check out the fab guitar and early Cars-vibe on “Don’t Leave With My Heart.” Lastly, Mike Daly and the Planets finally give falling out of love its due with a song of its own, the aptly-named “Falling Out of Love Song.” I mean, why should falling in love get all the songs? Love the Elvis Costello wordplay and sound on this track.

If love is in the air, forget the mask – it’s not going to protect you. Whether it’s coming or going or just being ignored, today’s artists demonstrate you can always set it to music. Hey, why not get a little love going on your own, a little money love for these artists? Hit the hyperlinks to do your part.

Beatle me this! The Szuters, Rob Clarke and the Wooltones, Apple Jam, Cupid’s Carnival, and more!

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While there is little in the post-Beatles era that is not somehow touched by their influence, some bands wear that influence a bit more obviously than others. Today’s crew are veritable Beatlemaniacs, long suffering and uninterested in any cure. At times, they almost are The Beatles, they come so close to the masters in song structure and/or performance. Yet they all add some magic of their own, some original element that elevates their efforts beyond mere imitation. Get ready for some old and new Beatlers!

One of the earliest post-Beatles bands working the Mersey side of street was Liverpool Echo. Their self-titled 1973 album was a refreshing reworking of the 1964 Beatles sound for the seventies with strong songwriting from Martin Briley (later of “Salt in my Tears” fame) and Brian Engel. Countless songs start out like a Beatles’ classic, only to veer into something else, e.g. “You Know It Feels Alright” kicks off with a “Love Me Do” harmonica, or “Don’t You Know I’ve Been Lying” sounds very “I Call Your Name” at the start. But the record sports more than a few really original cuts, like “Gone, Gone, Gone” and the hooky “Girl on a Train.” Former hard rockers The Szuters have a broader take on The Beatles’ sonic legacy on their new album Sugar, filtering their efforts through a Todd Rungdren/Utopia Deface the Music set of influences (particularly on “If You Only Knew”) or a Cheap Trick (on “She’s Coming Home With Me”) or even early Squeeze (“Good Thing”). But “I Don’t Wanna Cry” and “Two We Will Always Be” nail The Beatles circa ’64.

Liverpool Echo – Gone, Gone, Gone
Liverpool Echo – Girl on the Train
The Szuters – Two We Will Always Be
The Szuters – I Don’t Want To Cry

With Putting the L in Wooltones Rob Clarke and the Wooltones move a bit beyond their usual Mersey predilections to explore some other 1960s sounds. But there’s still one classic moptop number with “It’s Only You,” a lovely track that could easily live in the Beatles For Sale universe. And then there are actual cover bands, though few stand out like Apple Jam. As one commentator once said, “Apple Jam are possibly the most arcane Beatles tribute band in the world.” Why? Because they only record the songs The Beatles never officially recorded. Their 2009 Off the Beatle Track album reworks 15 early Lennon-McCartney tunes (and one Harrison song), their 2018 Off the White Album takes up all those songs that didn’t make the White Album cut, while other singles and EPs give a Beatles treatment to various solo material from the fabs. The results are pretty spectacular. Imagine all those songs the Beatles gave away in the 1963-4 period but now informed by the polished sound they gave on their official releases. “I’m In Love” and “From a Window” get upgraded to an obvious should-have-been Beatles release. “Goodbye” as performed here seems to merit inclusion on the White Album. And their Beatles 1964-style interpretation of McCartney’s “On the Wings of a Nightingale” is pretty special. The band’s most recent single is a version of Harrison’s unreleased “Window Window” from the Let It Be-era.

Apple Jam – I’m In Love
Apple Jam – From a Window

Unlike our other Beatle-vibing bands Cupid’s Carnival solidly occupy the mid-period Beatles zone, stretching perhaps from Help! to Yellow Submarine. They load their songs with uber cool Beatles references but the songwriting stands on its own. Their recent 2020 release Colour Blind kicks off strong with “Working All Day,” acing those familiar Beatles harmonies. The hooky “I Got It Wrong” and “Happiness” are Beatles poprock bliss! “Clapham Junction – Platform 9” uses a “Strawberry Fields” mellotron to good effect. And the record includes their masterful should-be hit “She Don’t Care” from their 2018 EP Clapham Junction. Detroit’s The Singles are all over the Meet the Beatles sound on their 2003 debut Better Than Before. The title track is simultaneously pure 1964 and yet timeless in execution, absolute dance party killer. “She’s Got a Hold” works that special Beatles jangle into a lovely melodic number with great harmonies. Since then the band has released a number of solid poprocking albums, albeit ones that beat the Beatles drum a bit more lightly.

Cupid’s Carnival – Working All Day
Cupid’s Carnival – She Don’t Care
The Singles – Better Than Before
The Singles – She’s Got A Hold

55 years ago “Help!” was heading for number one on the Billboard Hot 100. Today we’re still living in the shadow of that influence. Help keep the flame alive by clicking the hyperlinked band names above.

Cover Me! Weezer “Buddy Holly”

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As the musical godfather of the genre this blog is based on, giving more attention to Buddy Holly should be a priority for me. Well, it’s unofficially Buddy Holly Week (September 7-13), so there’s no time like the present! Though, as with most things blog-wise, we take it up with a twist: an exploration of the many (many!) covers of Weezer’s iconic track from the Blue Album, “Buddy Holly.” There are an enormous number of covers of this song, most sounding like pale imitations of the original. I’m passing on most of those. I’m more drawn to the quirky, offbeat, creative re-inventions of the song. After all, a band as unique as Weezer deserves to be covered in style.

First up, Weezer of course. Their video for “Buddy Holly” deservedly earned praise from all quarters when it was released in September of 1994. I love how Ritchie Cunningham has more costume changes in this video than Cher in concert. As for covers, Weezer offers many choices, including the original Rivers Cuomo demo and various ‘live in the studio’ sessions for AOL and Spotify. Personally, I prefer the live acoustic version below from some unnamed 1990s TV appearance for its loose, wonderfully shambolic feel and in your face keyboard solos and background vocals.

Weezer – Buddy Holly (live acoustic)

Something about “Buddy Holly” has inspired people to take the song in all kinds of wacky stylistic directions. It can survive just about any treatment with its charm intact precisely because the bones of the song are so strong in terms of melody and structure. Parody band Richard Cheese and Lounge Against the Machine mangle the hell out of the song with their hilarious, deep-lounge version, complete with swelling strings on the closing. Nordloef give the song a kooky computer games instrumental workout that somehow avoids being pure novelty. Possibly my favourite instrumental of the tune is Gareth Pearson’s tight Bruce Cockburn-esque acoustic guitar treatment. Move over McKinley High, Straight No Chaser offer up a Glee-worthy, menace free, candy-coated arrangement that would have aced the finals.

Straight No Chaser – Buddy Holly

Now on to more recognizably rock and roll interpretations. The Holophonics give us a Madness-ska-like take, emphasis on the horn shots. Late Cambrian mine the same alt/indie vibe as Weezer but make some refreshing substitutions on the array of instruments soloing.  Austin Parish slow things down in a breathy, Greenwich Village folky style. Extra bonus: their effort is part of a remake of the entire Blue Album from Midwest’s Finest, available for free download! Grayson Gilmour highlights the subtle, somewhat vulnerable side of the song with his mostly shy, solo piano rumination.

Ok, for something completely different, there’s Glowbug’s highly original and inventive remake of the song. It’s dissonant and over the top in a wonderful club-dancey sort of way. I’m including the Soundass brief instrumental excerpt because there’s something funny about the disastrous execution. The question mark added to the song title was the give-away, like the artist wasn’t sure if his efforts really warranted consideration as a cover proper. Scott Bradlee makes his piano keys jump on this jaunty instrumental ragtime performance. Whiskey Shivers give us a banjo-inflected country-ish take with particularly sweet harmonies in the chorus, a nice fiddle solo and apropos western whistling. Jarvis gets us back to basics with a stripped-down DIY acoustic vibe, fitted with a nice spacey keyboard solo.

But my undisputed fave cover is brand new from the TM Collective’s fabulous just-released tribute to BH, simply entitled Buddy Holly. TMC regularly release these sorts of tributes, so far covering the likes of Tom Petty, Wings, Nick Lowe, and many, many others. And they are all free, featuring performances from the crème de la crème of indie poprock darlings. This time they cover 16 different Holly tunes, sometimes twice. But some joker decided Weezer’s “Buddy Holly” should be added to the mix, done with an appropriately Buddy demeanor, featuring an “Everyday”-era celesta keyboard and Hollyesque vocal hiccups. Delightful! (“Buddy Holly” is track 19 on the album – just click through to the end, but check out all the great covers of Buddy Holly songs along the way!)

Let’s end on a light note. Ever since grungers starting having kids they’ve been Yellow Submarining their fave tunes to keep the tots (and themselves) entertained. Check out these two lullaby versions of “Buddy Holly” from Rockabye Baby and the Lullaby Players, the latter even retaining some of the tune’s darker melodic elements.

Lullaby Players – Buddy Holly

Given all the love for “Buddy Holly” it’s hard to believe that Weezer almost didn’t record it. Apparently producer Ric Ocasek had to convince Cuomo to cut it during the Blue sessions, suggesting they could make the decision about releasing it later. Good thing too or I would have had to come up with some other cleverism to celebrate Buddy Holly week.

‘Today, I’m five!’ A Poprock Record retrospective

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It’s been five years since I embarked on this mad journey: to write a music blog. I dithered over the decision to start one for a number of months. There’s nothing more pathetic than to start something with maximum fanfare and enthusiasm, only to have it flame out a half dozen posts later. The questions I had to ask myself were: (a) was there enough of ‘my kind’ of music to regularly post about, and (b) could I sustain the effort to get regular posts up on the blog? Well here’s the proof. In five years I’ve managed to produce 347 blogs posts. I’ve written more than 170,000 words about poprock tunes. And, most importantly, I’ve featured almost 1000 different artists. Guess the answers to (a) and (b) are both a resounding yes!

I think the biggest reason this blog thing has worked out for me is that it is such a great outlet for being creative and having fun with something that has always been pretty central to my life: music. I love doing all the mock serious regular features (e.g. Breaking news, Around the Dial, Should be a hit single) and coming up with goofy themes as a way to feature different artists (e.g. “Telephonic Poprock,” “Summer’s Coming,” and the Cover me! series. Sometimes I’ve pushed the posts in more serious directions (“Is That So Gay,” “Campaigning for Hooks,” and “Pandemic Poprock“) but only if the melodies and hooks were there in abundance. The blog has also allowed me to pay tribute to my musical heroes (Buddy Holly, The Beatles, The Zombies, Elvis Costello, Nick Lowe, Marshall Crenshaw, Suzanne Vega, Aimee Mann). But, as regular readers know, such luminaries mostly appear as reference points to better help people get of a sense of what all these new acts are doing.

If you’ve just tuned in, I’m not assigning the past five years of posts as homework. Instead, I offer today’s anniversary post as a retrospective of what’s been happening here. I reviewed all 347 posts to pick out some choice examples of the range of styles I can cram under the rubrik of ‘poprock’. It wasn’t easy! My first go round produced a list of 118 songs. When I converted that to a playlist I got the number down to 81 tracks. Ack! Still too many. So I’ve broken things down into themes. This is not a ‘greatest hits’ or ‘best of’ Poprock Record. I’ve left out a lot of acts I really love. It’s just a representative sample of what goes on here, to borrow some lingo from my day job. Click on the highlighted band names to go to the original posts on the blog.

Let’s start by recognizing that not all that appears here is new. The blog has allowed me to explore a huge number of acts I’ve missed over the years, particularly in the 1990s when my new day job (academe) took over my life. I can’t believe I somehow missed great bands like Fire Town and the Soul Engines with their incredible guitar hooks. The Sighs “Make You Cry” is a pretty perfect poprock single. I knew about Billy Cowsills’ Blue Northern but had never heard of his later group, the Blue Shadows. And Eugene Edwards’ sole solo release, My Favorite Revolution, is a must add for any melodic rock and roll fan.

Fire Town – She Reminds Me of You
Soul Engines – Just Another Day
The Sighs – Make You Cry
Eugene Edwards – Congratulations My Darling

There have been acts that appeared again and again on the blog, my ‘old reliables’ as I might call them. These are performers I can pretty much carve out space in the queue for whenever I hear a new release is on the way. Gregory Pepper is probably my most covered artist. I love his quirky, always hooky, sometimes touching efforts. Ezra Furman was another great find who has an unerring knack of placing a memorable hook at the centre of whatever he’s doing, whether it’s retro 1950s pop or a punkish political ode. I discovered Jeremy Fisher long before the blog but I’ve used it to feature his work, old and new. He’s like a new wave Paul Simon with great videos. Edward O’Connell only has two albums, but they are reliably good. We really need a third. Mo Troper always delivers something wonderfully weird but still melodic and ‘can’t get it out of your head’ good. Finally, Jeremy Messersmith’s records regularly encompass big vision but he doles it out in memorable should-be hit singles.

Edward O’Connell – The End of the Line
Jeremy Messersmith – Fast Times in Minnesota

In my world of poprock, while any instrument goes, the electric guitar is arguably pretty central. Some bands really know how to ride a guitar-driven song right into your head. Jeff Shelton’s Well Wishers excel at putting the guitar up front. “Feeling Fine” is practically a ‘how to’ example of killer guitar-dominant poprock. The David James Situation and The Format are no slouches either. Jangle is a related field of guitar poprock and takes a number of forms, from the 1960s-inflected Byrds sound of The Vapour Trails to the more jaunty bubblegum feel of The Lolas “We’re Going Down to the Boathouse.” Jangle also usually features pretty addictive harmony vocals, showcased below in Propeller’s “Summer Arrives.”

David James Situation – I Should Know
The Format – Wait Wait Wait

As the original and defining decade of poprock (in my view), the 1960s sound continues to be mined by new artists. Daisy House have few rivals in nailing the late 1960s California poprock vibe, sounding like time travelers from San Francisco’s 1968 club scene. Space Dingus have got The Monkees feel down. Both Shadow Show and The On and Ons gives us that rockier pop sound of the mid 1960s, with the latter delivering killer lead guitar hooks. By contrast, both Cut Worms and The Young Veins offer a candy-coated pop sound more akin to The Cyrkle and Simon and Garfunkel.

The On and Ons – Before Our Eyes
The Young Veins – Cape Town

I’m a sucker for shivery harmony vocals so they’ve been featured regularly on the blog. One of Jenny Lewis’ side projects is the one-off album from Jenny and Johnny, I’m Having Fun Now. Aptly named, the record gently rocks and delivers amazing vocals. The Secret Sisters offer up a punchy tune where the harmony vocals seal the hooky deal. The Carousels “Call Along the Coast” has a big sound the rides a wave of harmony vocalizing and Beatlesque guitar work. Meanwhile Scotland’s Dropkick corner the market on delightful lilting songcraft on “Dog and Cat.” The blog sometimes shades into retro country and folk territory. Bomabil are an eccentric outfit who stretch our sense of song but never drop the melody.  The Top Boost are pretty new wave but on “Tell Me That You’re Mine” they’re channeling Bakersfield via the Beatles 65. The Fruit Bats put the banjo upfront in “Humbug Mountain,” where it belongs. Gerry Cinnamon is like Scotland’s Billy Bragg and he shows what you can do with just an acoustic guitar and a Springsteen harmonica.

Jenny and Johnny – Scissor Runner
The Secret Sisters – Black and Blue
The Carousels – Call Along the Coast

Gerry Cinnamon – What Have You Done

I’m proud to say that the blog has sometimes strayed off the beaten path of conventional poprock into more eccentric territory with bands that are smart and quirky and not afraid to lodge a hook in a more complex setting. Tally Hall pretty much define this approach. So ‘out there’ but still so good melodically. Chris Staples and Hayden offer up more low key, moody tunes but they still have a strong melodic grab. Overlord take clever to a new level, like a grad school version of They Might Be Giants. Coach Hop is just funny and hooky with his unabashed ode to liking Taylor Swift.

Tally Hall – Sacred Beast
Overlord – The Song That Saved the World

After the 1960s the new wave era is the renaissance of poprock for me with its combination of hooky guitars, harmony vocals, and melody-driven rock and roll. Screen Test capture this ambience perfectly on “Notes from Trevor” with a chorus that really delivers. The Enlows drive the guitar hook right into your head on the dance-madness single “Without Your Love.” Billy Sullivan epitomizes the reinvention of 1960s elements that occurred in the 1980s, well embodied in “Everywhere I Go.” Another strong theme in the blog has been the “I Get Mail” feature, populated largely by DIY songsters who write me about their garage or basement recorded releases. It is inspiring to hear from so many people doing their thing and getting it out there, especially when it is generally really good. Daveit Ferris is a DIY workaholic with an amazing range of song and recording styles. “Immeasurable” is a good illustration of his genius, with a banjo-driven chorus that always makes me smile. Mondello is practically the classic indie artist movie script, struggling to get an album out after 20 years. But then his follow up single, “My Girl Goes By,” is gold!

Screen Test – Notes from Trevor
Billy Sullivan – Everywhere I Go

I want to leave you with a two-four of should-be hits from Poprock Record. These songs are all quality cuts, grade A poprock with melodies and harmonies and hooks to spare. Some of these songs leave me panting, they’re so good. I kicked off the blog back in 2015 with Family of Year and I still think “Make You Mine” is a textbook should-be AM radio hit. Sunday Sun channel The Beatles through a 1980s song filter, in the very best way. Sitcom Neighbor’s “Tourist Attraction” is a delightful earworm affliction. Wyatt Blair has somehow boiled down the essential formula of a 1960s-influenced poprock hit. Wyatt Funderburk understands how to assemble the perfect melody-driven single. And so on. Get your clicking finger warmed up and you’ll be introduced to the essence of Poprock Record in 24 melodious increments.

Family of the Year – Make You Mine

Ex Cops – James

Sitcom Neighbor – Tourist Attraction
The Primary 5 – Mailman
Daisy – I Just Don’t Believe It

One thing I didn’t anticipate was all the great people I’d come in contact with writing a music blog. Thanks to all the bands, record labels, and readers who have responded so positively to what I’ve been doing here. A special thanks to Best Indie Songs, Tim at Powerpopulist and Don at I Don’t Hear a Single for their advice over the years and to my friends Rob at Swizzle and Dale at The View from Here for encouraging me to do this.

This post features pics from my poprock-postered 1985-7 apartment in Vancouver’s West End. Just $285 a month, all inclusive. No wonder I could buy so many records.

Around the dial: The Memories, Honeywagon, Sunshine Boys, Open Sound, and Tom Curless and the 46%

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I get to everything … eventually. Like this crew of great acts. They’ve been in the queue for a while and now here they are, ready for our poprock primetime.

The Memories hang out in L.A. now but they’re originally from Portland and that makes a lot of sense. There is something very Portland about their new record Pickles and Pies given its variety and indie unpredictability. The vibe reminds me a bit of Grouplove with its loose, almost hippie interplay amongst vocalists and players, particularly on tracks like “Waves From the Shore” and “Last Chance to Dance.” The band also have an old school 1960s dreamy pop thing going on with songs like “In My Heart I’m Sailing,” “Kissing Candy,” and “Under the Sea.” Rock it up? Sure. The album kicks off with a smoking cool cover of R. Stevie Moore’s “Too Old To Fall in Love” complete with both crunchy and eerie guitar sounds. But the hit single money shot here is undoubtedly the slightly swinging “Second Try” with its subtle hooks and captivating harmonies. And that’s just six of the 13 tracks here. Pickles and Pies has a lot more surprises from a band that clearly won’t stylistically sit still.

Halfdog is the fifth album from Honeywagon and it is one smooth, melodious piece of work. The poprock craft on this record is phenomenal, from the rollicking Brydsian jangle of “Anywhere the Wind Blows” to the straight up Paul Collins Beat-like hooks driving “On the Beach.”  These guys make the guitars sing on tracks like “All That Matters” and “All the Little Things” but effectively slow things down with some very Beatles guitar on “Maybe Maybe Not.” Then there’s a more Tom Petty feel to the single-worthy “For Love” and “Halfdog About a Dog.” You won’t be half listening to Halfdog, songs this good are going to grab your full attention.

I first came across Chicago’s Sunshine Boys with their earwormy seasonal offering “I Love Christmastime” so I was primed to like the band’s latest record, Work and Love. And there’s a lot to like here. Like the obvious single, the R.E.M. vibing “Infinity Girl” with its hypnotic guitar work and spot on Stipe delivery. But the inspiration runs in a number of directions. I hear a lot of Marshall Crenshaw on tracks like “The World Turning Around” and “Summertime Kids.” Or a hint of XTC around “I Was Already Gone.” I love the darker melody line carrying “The Serpent in Spring” along or the hook that anchors “Don’t Keep It Inside” on a seemingly constant loop. And then there’s the light, airy “A Ghost, At Best” with its surprising twists and turns.

Fernando Perdomo must be the hardest working man in indie music production. He seems to have a hand in a host of other people’s projects – writing, producing, performing – and he still manages to find time for his own creative work. Open Sound is just the latest, a two man effort with Justin Paul Sanders. What jumps out at you immediately from their self-titled debut is the striking sonic impact of their harmony vocals. From the opening measure of “You’re So Fine” you know you’re in for something special. There’s a bit of ELO here, fed through a southern California pop filter. “I Wanna Look in Your Eyes” has everything that was great about mid-to-late 1970s poppy rock: melodic hooks, tasty guitar solos, and lighter than air harmony vocals. This could be April Wine circa 1975 if I didn’t know better. I love how “Reason to Write” kicks off with hooky lead guitar line and barrels along with a 1970s McCartney-esque drive. There’s a touch of yacht rock on Open Sound, evident on tracks like “She’s On Her Way” and “Thinking of You.” There’s also some lovely acoustic guitar-based tunes like “Gotta Run,” “California Moon” and “Broadway.” But I’m a bit more partial to the duo’s uptempo numbers, like their great remake of Perdomo’s “I Want a Girl with a Record Collection” and “It’s Only You.” Is there nothing this Perdomo guy can’t do?

The robot gracing the cover of the new Tom Curless and the 46% record made me smile. He definitely does not look like he’s ready for the future. Not at all, never mind almost. But Almost Ready for the Future is certainly ready to start amassing serious fandom. “Always in Between” blasts out of the box, setting the tone for the new-wavey rock and roll record to come. “House on Fire” is a particular highlight on this album, with its alluring roll out guitar work and a distinctive keyboard fill I haven’t heard since Adam Daniel’s “Breaking Up.” But the price of admission is paid in full with “Just Wanna Talk,” a should-be hit single if ever there was one. The build-up to the chorus creates just the right amount of anticipatory tension, the pre-chorus holds things back, and then, wham, AM radio chorus gold! You could stop here, but I wouldn’t. Almost Ready for the Future has highlights all over the disk. Personally, I like the midtempo rock and roll feel of “Middle Ground” and “Unexpected Knock” as well as slower cuts like the mellow “Miles to Go” and touching “Burn and Shine.” As no-one knows what the future may bring you might as well hum your way into oblivion, if that’s just around the corner. Rest assured, Tom Curless and 46% can help you with that.

Just twisting your radio dial will probably not bring these artist to you, sadly. But click on The Memories, Honeywagon, Sunshine Boys, Open Sound, and Tom Curless and the 46% for a direct link to their great tunes.

Another fabulous banner photo courtesy Larry Gordon.

Now this from Ralph

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Writing a blog is mostly a solitary endeavor. So it’s nice when people write to say they are enjoying what I’m posting and even better when they get a conversation going about our mutual musical loves. Some even make great suggestions about tunes I should check out. Like Ralph. He wrote with a list of suggested artists and songs so good I thought it warranted a post all its own. Some of the artists I was familiar with but not the songs (like Bruce Foxton) while others were completely new to me (like The Ruen Brothers). From a long list of choices from Ralph I’ve picked out the ones that really grabbed me, so this is very much a collaborate effort.

Was there ever an act that sounded more American than The Ruen Brothers? The band, actual brothers, hail from a small town a little north east of Sheffield in northern England. But somehow through the magic of Dad’s record collection, they come off like Nashville or Lubbock rockabilly locals. Their 2018 debut All My Shades of Blue, produced by Rick Rubin, is an amazing distillation of influences both old and new. My personal fave is “Vendetta” with its cool “Secret Agent Man” vibe and punk rock Roy Orbison vocals. To see them touring with Orville Peck makes a lot of sense, two acts that draw from the past but refuse to simply dwell there. Bruce Foxton had a glorious past as bassist for The Jam but struggled to find a future after they broke up. A 1984 solo album barely dented the charts so Foxton spent most of the next decade and half playing with Stiff Little Fingers. But in 2012 he returned with a second solo album, Back in the Room, which contained strong material like the hooky “Coming On Strong.” A band I didn’t even know had made a comeback are The Long Ryders. Early Americana and alt country influencers, the band hadn’t released an album since 1987. Nevertheless, a new record emerged in 2019, the aptly-named Psychedelic Country Soul, and critics declared it a winner with radio-friendly tracks like “Greenville.” Personally I love the heavenly wash of background harmonies cushioning “Let It Fly.”

The Ruen Brothers – VendettaBruce Foxton – Coming On Strong

A band I somehow missed altogether was Ocean Colour Scene, despite the fact they had five top 10 albums and 17 top 40 singles in the UK, with six songs that made the top 10. Initially associated with the Madchester Britpop scene, the band toured with Paul Weller and Oasis, eventually becoming big stars in their own right. With a lot of material to choose from, my focus on “I Told You So” might seem curious, given both the song and its 2007 album On the Leyline charted poorly. Still, I think it’s a winner. I love the Cat Stevens “There Goes My Baby” lilt to the tune and its overall cheery demeanor. Brandt Huseman is a busy guy, active in at least four bands by my count. I love his work with Greenberry Woods and Splitsville but I was less familiar with The Pale Stars, an outfit he produced two albums with. The band’s self-titled debut has that 1980s alt western vibe – think True West or Rank and File – and it comes out nicely on “Turncoat.” Another band on the comeback trail is The Old 97s whose 2020 release is simply called Twelve. Now, in truth, the band and its frontman Rhett Miller never really went away. Perhaps that’s why “Turn Off the TV” is like hanging with old friends, a familiar fun time that could easily descend into a group sing-along. And check out the cool cameo appearance from Puddles Pity Party at the end of the video.

The Pale Stars – Turncoat

Ralph picked out some real winners that totally suited what I do with Poprock Record making it easy to write them up for a post. Register your take on these choices by clicking on the band names to check out what they’re doing.

Banner photo courtesy Larry Gordon.

They still got the beat: The Go Go’s “Club Zero”

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I was defenseless in the face of “Our Lips Are Sealed” and “We Got the Beat” back in 1981. It was grade 11 and it didn’t get any better for all-night dancing tune-age. I connected with the sheer joy of it all. Only later would I understand how important it was to have all female band, writing and playing their songs, zooming up the charts. But at the time the fact was that the Go Go’s were as good as poprock could get, regardless of gender. After Beauty and the Beat, “Vacation,” “Head Over Heels” and “Turn To You” would later send me back to the record store, again and again. But then, poof, they were gone.

Well now the Go Go’s are back in more ways than one. Fans can check out the career-spanning documentary The Go Go’s that tracks their career from LA punks, to touring the UK with The Specials and Madness, to their breakthrough and dissolution in the US from 1981 to 1985. For those of us who lived through it, the doc is an emotional journey that tracks the highs and lows that faced women in the business that was rock and roll at that time.

But that’s not all. They’ve got a brand new single and “Club Zero” is proof the band has lost none of the magic that made them such big stars in the early 1980s. Check it out and see if you don’t agree that the Go Go’s sound is timeless.

You won’t have any trouble finding The Go Go’s website, Facebook or many fan sites. And see them in person if you can, they are a kick ass live rock and roll outfit.

Staying home with Will Courtney and the Wild Bunch

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Let me say it at the outset, Will Courtney is a major talent. Sure, his new EP At Home with Will Courtney and the Wild Bunch showcases his band’s ability to make other people’s great songs even better. It is a highly listenable treat. But when you get your hands on his back catalogue it’s going to blow your mind. In a good way. Let’s dwell a bit on the new for a moment. The just released EP sees Courtney and company covering everything from new wave to pub rock to urban blues to west coast country rock without missing a beat. Nick Lowe’s “Cracking Up” is not an easy track to cover but Courtney owns it. His remake of Warren Zevon’s “Splendid Isolation” has a lovely sprawling quality, reminding me a bit of Ben Kweller. And the choice of Neil Young’s Byrdsian “Days That Used to Be” was inspired, in perfect synch with this band’s mojo. If you dig these styles you’re going to be very happy with this EP.

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But there is lot more to Will Courtney. Going back to his early band Brothers and Sisters you’ve got two albums of solid poprock. The 2006 self-titled debut leans on distinctive organ work and an almost-Apples in Stereo cheery vibe with poppy tracks like “Lost and Found.” Two years later Fortunately broadened the 1960s sound, with a Bryds-like jangle all over “The Air is Getting Thicker” and some Turtles ‘ba ba ba’-ing on “Wash Away.” In 2013 Courtney’s first solo record A Century Behind offered up a stripped-down but sophisticated country-ish feel. “I’d Have to be Crazy” reminds me of Aaron Lee Tasjan for Courtney’s ability to deliver such a tender vocal. 2016’s Planning Escapes mixes things up, combining low key ballads with a few more up-tempo pieces. “The Days When Bands Could Make You Cry” is a timeless piece of poprock, vibing late 1970s new wave or just a host of contemporary releases. You hear “I Got Your Back” and the Tom Petty comparisons start to make sense. The album’s single “The Pain (Song for Dennis Wilson)” brings on a serious Elliot Smith vibe.Brothers and Sisters – Lost and FoundBrothers and Sisters – The Air is Getting Thicker

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What was working in Courtney’s previous releases coalesces into a magnum opus with 2018’s Crazy Love. From the opening chords of “Too High Now” there’s a palpable sense that something crazy good is about to happen. The song sounds like an instant classic. “Loaded” keeps the party going, vibing a solid CCR rock and roll boogie. “Crazy” is the obvious hit single, from the seductive opening guitar lines to the more subtle changes and hooks throughout the song. “Look At All The Things” is another classic with shades of late Beatles in the chorus. You can really hear the Tom Petty inspiration on tracks like “Take You Away” and “Finally.” And there’s a few surprises, like the Nick Lowe-meets-Mark Everett (of Eels in his solo ‘E’ guise) feel to “Partner in Time.” Really, you can slip Courtney right into your collection next to the Jayhawks, Tom Petty, Elliott Smith and, as I suggest, Aaron Lee Tasjan. He’ll fit right in.

August is turning out to be all about Will Courtney for me. It could be for you too. Check out Courtney at his website or bandcamp site.

Brought to you by the letter P: Papills, The Palisades, Primary 5, Joe Pernice, and Nick Pipitone

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Screen Shot 2020-08-12 at 5.53.07 PMBig spending letter ‘P’ is today’s post sponsor bringing you a bevy of poptastic new material, all from artists and bands working the P side of the street. We’ve got a stripped down release from a reliable jangle-meister, rediscovered rarities and demos from a Teenage Fanclub diaspora group, a Wisconsin concept album, and so much more. Strap in, this will get poppy and rocky!

Screen Shot 2020-08-12 at 5.56.07 PMPapills hail from Växjö, Sweden, located about halfway between Copenhagen and Stockholm and apparently in the middle of nowhere musically. The band members complain their town is overpopulated with metalheads. Yet despite this Papills insist on offering up a relentlessly sunny, hooky sound on their new album Too Hot For May. The record really reminds of a host of poppy, harmony-drenched British groups like The Fronteers or even a rockier version of Stornaway. Blissful harmonies over ringing guitars is what you get with the singles-oriented “Too Hot for May” and “What To Call It.” Get your dancing shoes on for “Happy Fish,” which vibes just a bit of Oasis in the chorus. Then the band really gets a rock and roll workout going on “California Surfin’” and “Hit Me Blind.” But another side of Papills is a really sweet, swinging Everlys-sounding, acoustic guitar-driven sensibility on tracks like “All the Same” and “Overthought.” Papills may be too hot for May but they are just right for now.

Screen Shot 2020-08-12 at 5.57.02 PMAs an album Almost Night is an amazing record of rock and roll reconnaissance and reclamation. The Palisades were a short-lived 1960s-meets-The Ramones outfit that rocked out the teenagers in the Beach Boys’ home town of Hawthorne California for two years around 1982-83. They never got their big break and they never laid down the perfect great lost album. So lead vocalist and co-songwriter Lear Schwarze decided to finally release the band’s rough 1980s era recordings along with some re-recordings of the material with a new back up band. It’s the kind of project that can go horribly wrong but Schwarze knew what he was doing. The new recordings faithfully re-animate the original songs in both spirit and style but with a much more professional sound. Having said that, I love the garage DIY sound of the originals. The 1980s version of “All Around the World” is so Plimsouls or early Alarm, “Nowhere to Unwind” has a solid Romantics buzz, while “Gone” and “Will Not Get Fooled” offer up super guitar hooks. Personally I think “Lonely Tonight” is the great lost hit single here. The new recordings are dynamite, particularly the new version of “All Around the World,” which is definitely chart-ready. The Palisades are a great lost band that have come back to life – enjoy their past and present on Almost Night.

Screen Shot 2020-08-12 at 5.58.58 PMI tend to love all things associated with Teenage Fanclub, especially all the impressive break-away projects from current and former members. Probably my favourite is the slight catalogue from Paul Quinn’s Primary 5. Just three albums released between 2004 and 2008 and that was it. I was late to the party, only first writing about them in 2018, so I wrote to Paul asking about the band, new material, or anything else he might be working on. He told me about a rarities project that would be coming out. Well, here it is, though Revive: Demos and Rarities, 2001-2008 appears to have been previously released, albeit only briefly. So 2020 might just represent its digital download return. No matter, fans of Primary 5 are going to want to add this to their collection. The alternative version of the majestic “What Am I Supposed To Do?” alone is worth the admission price. The stripped-down demos, some accompanied just by acoustic guitar, really showcase the strength of the songwriting. Unreleased tracks like the Beatlesque “The Beat Goes On” just confirm what we knew all along – there’s more fabulous Primary 5 material out there. If we can’t have a new Primary 5 album I’m sure fans will settle for what Revive has to offer … for now.

Screen Shot 2020-08-12 at 5.59.41 PMAfter blowing fans away with the band’s remarkable eighth album, Spread the Feeling, Pernice Brothers’ leader and creative force Joe Pernice decided to dial things down in 2020 with Richard, a mostly acoustic album of lovely low key tunes. Turn down the lights, open the wine and let “Starry Clown” and “Sullivan Street” get you into a special ruminative mood. The trumpet that dots the background of the latter is particularly special. “Lonely People” is a bit more urgent but still muted. The song wouldn’t go amiss on some 1963 AM radio station, covered by Marty Robbins or Skeeter Davis. “If We Were Better Friends” is the kind of longing loser song that Nick Lowe has seemed to corner the market on lately. And I could go on. It’s great to see an artist stretching out, pushing beyond expectations but taking their audience with them. Just give “You Should Have Came”a listen to understand the power of Pernice’s songwriting and performance, like a stripped-down Jim Croce with uber cool whistling. Some versions of the album also contain two excellent bonus tracks, “Here Comes September” and “Spend This Mountain,” so keep an eye out for that one.

Screen Shot 2020-08-12 at 6.00.41 PMA concept album all about Theinsville, Wisconsin? Ok, I’ll give just about anything a spin. And man I’m glad I did because Nick Pipitones Theinsville is surely set to make countless ‘best of’ lists this year. The album opens with a great roll out on “Century Estates,” which sets the scene for what is to come, plenty of clever acerbic commentary on suburbia and hooks galore. Many of the songs have a Difford and Tilbrook kitchen sink quality, except when they offer up some Elvis Costello bite. Overall the style is very English early 1980s poprock, with a bit of Odds and Eels thrown in the mix. You can hear that distinctive Squeeze sound on tracks like “Heidel Road” and “John Henry” while “The Prime Minster” nails the psychedelic pop of the Beatles circa “Baby You’re a Rich Man.” I detect a more XTC vibe to “The Gathering” and “Fireman’s Park” with Steve Drake vocals (from Odds) on the latter. There are so many highlights on this record you can drop the needle just about anywhere and come up a winner: “Coffee Wars” is so Costello, “Village Scoop” is mid-period Odds, and so on. But really I’ve saved the best for last – “Hear Me Out, Theinsville” is a remarkable track, a bit of departure from the rest of the record but it still fits in, a bit orchestral and ornamental, with a drop dead subtle hook in the chorus. The song deserves to be the sleeper hit single of the summer! I guess I’m telling you, hustle to visit Theinsville. You won’t regret it.

Click the names above to check out the bands and where to get their digital offerings while physical copies of The Palisades and Nick Pipitone albums are available from Kool Kat records.