Names come and go. Some, like Gertrude, Hilda, and Agnes, are probably never coming back. But others carry on through generations, like Maryanne. It’s a name that conjures up the quintessential girl next door. She seemed to be at every dance in the 1950s, ended up shipwrecked with Gilligan in the 1960s, and was the focus of a host of singer-songwriter’s attentions in the 1970s. Leonard Cohen tried to say “So Long Marianne” but it didn’t work. More Mary Anne songs kept coming. Today’s post focuses on songs named for Maryanne, Mary Anne or Mary-Anne (though, curiously, not Marianne).
What sparked this theme was my just discovering The Spongetones’ amazing single “My Girl Maryanne” from their 1984 album, Torn Apart. How did I miss these guys back in the 1980s? They had it all going on: a thoroughly Beatlesque esthetic, catchy poprock tunes, with jangly guitars and killer harmonies. The chorus from this song channels a vocal harmony straight out of 1966, as if the Mamas and Papas got the Beatles to swap out the Wrecking Crew for a session.
Of course, any mention of Mary Anne immediately got me thinking of a deep cut from Marshall Crenshaw’s stellar self-titled debut album from 1982. Distinctive guitar and background vocals always made this one a favourite for me, while the chord changes struck me as similar to Nick Lowe’s “My Heart Hurts” from the same year (similar but still sufficiently different).
But two songs hardly a theme blog post make. I needed more material. There was that Cohen cut, or The Who’s “Mary Anne with the Shaky Hand, or even The Four Season’s “C’mon Marianne” but they didn’t work with the blog or seemed too obvious (though I was sorely tempted to go with the Who!). Then I stumbled across a rare vocal turn from the normally instrumentally focused Shadows on their own “Mary Anne” song. Not bad for guys who usually let Cliff Richard do all the singing.
Rounding out this tribute to various Mary Anne’s is a more modern track from Boston’s alt-country outfit, Girls Guns and Glory. “Maryanne” comes from the band’s 2014 release, Sweet Nothings. The whole record is a worthwhile kick-up-your-heels, Dwight Yoakam-ish country-plus-rock and roll mash up. But check out the melodic twist in the chorus – pure poprock! Don’t overlook their 2016 album, Love and Protest, particularly the killer single “Rock and Roll.”
With the internet, releasing a single or album is now an event that never really ends. The chance that some old thing from years ago could take off unexpectedly is so much more possible now than previously. So drop in on The Spongetones, Marshall Crenshaw,The Shadows, and Girls Guns and Glory and let the hit-making begin!
Time passes and it’s amazing the musical acts you realize you haven’t thought about in a long time. Could even be bands you once loved but now regularly pass over in the record collection. Then something brings them back to mind and you discover they have carried on, despite your indifference. Of course, sometimes such rediscoveries can be painful. But in the case of these three once mega-successful acts, the missing years have some seen them produce great stuff worthy of a bit of musical reconnaissance.
If ever there was a band that seemed likely to gain the ‘fad artist’ label, it was Duran Duran. Flashy outfits, winning hairstyles, and plenty of jump-cut videos were oh-so-early 1980s. When they abandoned their hook-driven material for more bass-heavy R&B on 1986’s Notorious the exit sign over their career seemed to be flashing brightly. But despite the odds they persevered, turning out ten more albums over the years, all with at least a few pretty solid, hook-driven tunes, songs like “I Don’t Want Your Love,” “Ordinary World,” and “Come Undone.” The new millennium has seen the release of strong albums like Astronaut (2004) and All You Need is Now (2010). But their most recent Paper Cuts (2015) is arguably their best since 1983’s Seven and the Ragged Tiger. Largely written and and produced by recent wunderkind Mr. Hudson, the record still has the remarkably familiar stamp of Duran Duran while breaking new ground musically. Standout tracks include title cut “Paper Cuts” and “Sunset Garage.” If you haven’t checked out the band in a while, it’s time to return to the fold.
Paper GodsSunset Garage
I still remember finding my first used copy of New Order’s “Blue Monday.” I wasn’t really into techno or dance but there was just something so cool about the hypnotic driving bass and keyboard riffs. I dutifully purchased Low Life and Brotherhood when they came out. But I do remember being a bit disappointed with Technique, which seemed a bit too aptly named for comfort. New Musical Express complained that the band should just break up rather than repeat themselves (but then MNE was pretty infamous for hating bands as soon as more than a handful of people started liking them). So, in the nineties me and New Order drifted apart. Imagine my pleasant surprise to catch up on their post-Technique catalogue only to discover some of their best recordings! 1993’s Republic was OK, but 2001’s Get Ready is amazing, upping the traditional indie rock sound without losing the club vibe. And the songs are pretty strong: “Crystal,” “60 Miles an Hour,” and “Run Wild.” Four years later the band did it again with the stellar Waiting for the Siren’s Call, featuring killer tracks like “Krafty” and “Turn.” Songs left off the latter album were released as Lost Sirens in 2013 and they weren’t just leftovers: check out strong tracks like “I’ll Stay with You” and “I’ve Got a Feeling.” 2015’s Music Complete (minus longtime bass player Peter Hook) couldn’t help but disappoint by comparison, though “Superheated” is pretty cool.
CrystalTurnI’ll Stay With YouSuperheated
The first record I ever bought was Billy Joel’s 52nd Street. It was 1978 and one of the only non-country albums stocked in the dry goods store in Cassiar, the asbestos mining town in northern BC where we lived briefly when I was 13. On reflection, I don’t like it nearly as much as The Stranger (with its drop dead hit single, “Only the Good Die Young”), or Glass Houses, which really was Joel’s songwriting peak (from a poprock perspective). Sometimes you have to make do. But after The Nylon Curtain and An Innocent Man I kinda lost interest in what Joel was doing. I mean, I really couldn’t figure out how the dirge-like “We Didn’t Start the Fire” could make it from the out-take pile let alone top the charts. Different strokes. And then Joel just stopped making albums altogether after 1993, surely a bizarre development in our music-as-commodity world. I would have said ‘who cares’ until I ran across two beautiful late Joel songs recently, one each from his last two albums. “And So It Goes” from 1989’s Storm Front has a slightly Randy Newman-esque feel to the arrangement, when it’s not just exquisite Joel balladry. But minus the flash – this performance is remarkably restrained and vulnerable. “Lullabye (Goodnight, My Angel)” is the best thing on 1993’s River of Dreams, a beautiful love song for his daughter.
And So It GoesLullabye (Goodnight, My Angel)
Catching up with former superstars is so much easier in the internet age. Check out Duran Duran, New Order and Billy Joel in all the usual places.
I get by with a little help from my friends. Because I can’t possibly keep up with all the great new music coming out every day, other blogs are a reliable source of new material. And I’m proud to say that I think my blogroll is a finely curated list of sites that really deliver on content. In fact, they’re so good I can’t visit them too much or I’ll just want to write about all the things they’ve already posted! But sometimes cruising through the blogs reminds me of hitting the record shops when I was younger. Vancouver in the early 1980s had a plethora of new and used record stores: Kelly’s, A&A Records, Track Records, Neptune Records, and, of course, the main new records shop, A&B Sound. A&B focused mostly on selling stereo components (I bought my first tape deck there on layaway!) but used albums as a loss leader to get people into the store. Their signature ‘featured bargain’ bins (where they stacked records flat on top of each other) crowded the front of the store and usually sold for $4:99 when the going price for an album was typically anywhere from $6:99 to $10:99. I would buy records I had no clue about, just because they looked cool and were cheap. Such bargains included New Order’s Power Corruption and Lies, Men at Work’s Business as Usual, and OMD’s Dazzle Ships. Well, the record stores, like the book stores of my youth, are largely gone. But the excitement of finding new music lingers on, now re-platformed to the blogosphere!
I don’t know about you but I love year end ‘best of’ lists. It appeals to the completist in me, the big picture guy who wants to somehow grasp the whole of what is going on. It also feels like a delightful cheat, like I’m getting to use someone else’s homework. My blogroll’s ‘best of’ lists introduced me to a host of music I had overlooked in the past year. Below I focus on just one artist from each that I’m glad I didn’t miss.
Absolute Powerpop may not generate the volume of blog posts he once did, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t paying attention. His best of lists for 2017 were colossal: a top 100 singles, top 20 EPs, top 10 Americana and top 100 albums list. I snagged eight new artists that really caught my ear. But I want to draw your attention to Jesse Terry‘s Stargazer. The whole album is strong but if I had to pull a single, “Dangerous Times” sounds like a collaboration between Crowded House and Peter Case, combining the former’s unique melodic palette with the latter’s gritty yet melodic folk rock meets Americana. I would also pair this a-side with the delightfully airy, Macca-esque “Only a Pawn” as a strong b-side.
Powerpopaholic is the godfather of power pop blogs. Given the range and depth of his coverage and sheer volume of posts, if a band or song is somewhere on the power pop spectrum it will eventually appear here. I snagged five new bands from his Top 30 list this year but have chosen to showcase Onesie, a tongue-in-cheek outfit from Brooklyn that specializes in quirky melodic rock and roll, evident in spades on “Husbands in Finance”: great rhythm guitar swing, fun sing-along vocals, and hooks, hooks, hooks.
I only picked one new artist from I Don’t Hear a Single’s many ‘best of’ lists but that’s because I’ve been nicking great stuff from him all year! Berwanger, Mothboxer, Daisy House and many, many more. IDHAS is an early finder – bands show up here that inevitably show up everywhere else, but a few months later. And he has a particularly good handle on the British and European scene. Having said that, my find from IDHAS is GospelbeacH, a group of LA music scene veterans whose latest project distills the magic of a host of California poprock and country-rock influences. My choice for double a-sided single would combine the breezy yet muscular poprock feel of “Hanging On” with the more laidback country/Byrds ‘tude of “(I Wanna See U) All the Time.”
Hanging On(I Wanna See U) All the Time
Powerpopulist seems like a machine that scours the internet for freely offered up tunes from great indie bands you’ve yet to hear of. I am constantly blown away by his industry – so many bands! So many tunes! His tastes typically run a bit harder than mine but he does love his jangle. His ‘best of’ list ran to 109 songs, from which I scored five acts that are real keepers. The Harringtons are great example. These Sheffield teens crunch their guitars like the Who and the Jam but offer up sweeter harmonies. The combo really works on ‘”Scootch” from their debut EP Change Is Gonna Come.
The rest of my blog finds are not from ‘best of’ lists or from blogs necessarily. Well, one is – Goldmine columnist John Borack had a great list of singles and albums – nicked the rather kooky Mo Troper from him. The album is Exposure and Resistance and it has an uneven, even raw quality at times. But when the poprock clicks, it’s heaven. My choice for a double a-sided single include the exquisite “Free Bin” and “Clear Frames,” the latter reminding me of a hetero version of Pansy Division. Pop Fair alerted me to the fact that the incredibly talented Richard X. Heyman had a new record out last year, from which “Gleam” really is a stand out track. Power Pop Square put me on to Jeremy Messersmith, whom I featured recently, but here is a different cut – the very catchy “Love Sweet Love.” Two of my favourite blogs appeared to hit the pause button sometime in 2017 but that didn’t stop them from putting out some great stuff before that happened. Everyone’s favourite foul mouthed blogger at The Best Indie Songs offered up a slew of choice cuts but I’m highlighting Autonomics “Southern Funeral,” with its insanely catchy thumping beat and sing-along chorus. Meanwhile Mufoandthings caught my ear with the acoustic jangling 1960s sound of Wilbur on “Perfect Stranger” and the more rocking, Yardbirdsesque “She’s Gone.”
Richard X. Heyman – GleamJeremy Messersmith – Love Sweet Love
Click on the names of the bands above to get closer to forking over some cash for these great singles and albums. In the record store I’d have a bundle of records under my arm and then have to decide which ones to keep and which ones to put back. It’s so much easier to be indecisive now.