Every decade is doing the nostalgia thing. Soft rock has joined disco as the go-to 1970s sound. Synth and trebly guitar bands define the retro-1980s movement now afoot. But they’ve got nothing on the 1960s, the decade that refuses to die. While the 1950s now sound increasingly dated (though I still love them!), the dynamic range and never ending freshness of the 1960s keeps coming back with revivals of the original artists, box sets and re-issues, and the decade’s continuing influence on new artists. These three recent acts live and breathe the 1960s, without sounding like some tribute band. They’ve got the guitar sounds, the groove, but – most importantly – some strong songwriting.
Here’s exhibit ‘A’: check out the guitar hook that jump starts The On and Ons’ “Whole World” from their 2017 release Welcome Aboard. It’s got a solid grounding in The Who’s early work, with perhaps a bit of The Action modding things up a bit more, and a nice quasi-sitar guitar bit at the end. Of course, the sound can also be characterized as new wave on this and tracks like “She’s Leaving” in a very Nerves/Plimsouls sort of way. I love the melody shift in “Can’t Avoid” which evokes a Zombies’ wistfulness. Also, don’t overlook the great tracks on their 2015 debut It’s the On and Ons Calling, particularly “Before Our Eyes” and “Not a Friend in Sight.” It’s no wonder that Paul Collins had this band back him up on a recent North American tour. They perform like veterans but deliver a fresh take on the 1960s sound.
Whole WorldCan’t AvoidBefore Our Eyes
Anyone who puts their band’s theme song as the first cut on their debut album is OK with me. I mean, it was good enough for The Monkees, right? The Squires of the Subterrain are the product of the seemingly mad poprock genius, Chris Earl. Earl loves the 1960s and simultaneously pays homage to while reinventing its signature sounds. Sometimes it’s Nuggets-style oh-so-garage rock like “Sweet” from 2003’s Strawberries on Sunday, or the brittle mid-1960s English poprock on “Intoxicating Violet” from 1998’s debut Pop in a CD. Whole albums are given over to exploring different styles, like the playful send up of early 1960s American radio vocal beat groups on 2009’s Adventures in …, or the spot off Beach Boys reinvention of 2012’s Sandbox. 2017’s Slightly Radio Active is a more straight up album of great songs, though delivered with Earl’s wry lyrical insights and slightly off-kilter performance. “Meltdown” has a lovely subtle hook on piano. Title track “Slightly Radio Active” is a great garage single, with super guitar hooks. Both “Letters from Heaven” and “Highly and Unqualified” showcase Earl’s inventiveness in song instrumentation, arrangement and sentiment. This guy pays repeated listens – there is simply so much to hear here!
Theme SongWhoa, Whoa, Yeah, YeahSlightly Radio Active
Last up on That 1960s Show is a band that sometimes sounds so late 1960s country rock a la the Byrds or International Submarine Band but then shifts to a more jangly poprock style on other tunes. Rifling through the band’s catalogue, The Carousels ace that languid country rock vibe on “Winds of Change” while “Call Along the Coast” almost seems to jump out at you with its peppy bass, trebly lead guitar, and killer harmonies. The band’s more recent 2017 album Sail Me Home, St. Clair combines these strengths on cuts like the country-styled “Josephine” and more jangly “Lord Speed My Hurricane” and many others.
Winds of ChangeCall Along the CoastLord Speed My Hurricane