Seems closets and filing cabinets are spilling out great lost albums every other week, if you can believe the stream of releases that have come out recently. Steve Rosenbaum and Bruce Moody’s great collections of their respective lost recordings from the 1980s come to mind. Now you can add today’s featured performers to those acts that could have been but never were. But hey, they’re here now.
LA’s The Bings were working the west-coast American music scene pretty hard back in the early 1980s but apparently couldn’t get the time of day from Capitol Records. Listening to their unreleased 1981 album Power Pop Planet all I can think is: epic A&R fail. The whole thing is highly listenable poppy fun, sometimes revving a Beach Boys-on-amphetamines atmosphere or breaking out into a classic new wave guitars-everywhere style. “Please Please Please” opens the record with a solid Paul Collins feel. “Oh No” follows in a similar vein, updating a sixties beat group sound by roughing things up a bit. “Go Bye Bye” is another retro reworking, almost bubblegum in its intensity with a Jan and Dean vocal demeanor. “Billboard on the Highway” is also a retro-ish tune, giving off early 1960s tragic-rock vibes. But The Bings are not limited to updating the sonic past on this album. Departures abound, like the mellow “There She Goes” and solid rocking “She’s Got the Power.” And the band really ace that early 1980s new wave sound on a number of cuts. Just check out the killer Cars-like guitar-attack undergirding “Don’t Stop Dancing” or the hook-laden “Hold On.” My vote for sleeper hit goes to “Close Your Eyes” with its innovative lead guitar work. Though I’m pretty seduced by the subtle jangle touches animating “Snowbound in our Town,” a style that would define later acts like Fire Town. Power Pop Planet sounds pleasantly old and totally timeless, depending on where you drop the needle. Here’s a find I’m really glad got found.
The Popsicko story is right out of rock and roll central casting. A hardscrabble band of party hearty-iers manage to get a record out and start climbing the indie charts, only to fracture amid drug problems and the untimely death of the group’s leading light. I won’t dwell on the details – others have written up the equivalent of a screenplay treatment – but the surprise coda to the story is a quality re-release of band’s 1995 album Off to a Bad Start. As I hit play the record practically lunges from the turntable with opening cut “Nastassja.” It’s a full-on rock and roll aural assault, going right for the party jugular. Comparisons to Cheap Trick really make sense here and on a host of other tracks on the LP like “Distrust” and “I Don’t Need You.” The vocal/guitar swagger also reminds of more recent work from The Lund Brothers. But the record does shift gears a few times, vibing The Replacements on cuts like “Some Mother’s Son” and single-worthy “Back It Up.” Elsewhere the needle points to a muscular REM feel on “Hard To Tell” or even a bit of The Plimsouls with “Dragging Me Down.” Popsicko are clearly a band of the 1990s, whether in a dirty pop rawk style (“Same Old Me”) or something more smoothly commercial (“Starless”). The record even includes an eerie yet prescient acknowledgement of the band’s soon-to-be fate on the Big Star-ish “No Better Time” when they sing the lyric ‘If we knew the end was near there would be no better time.’ This one still sounds like a hit to me.
Is it ‘bait and switch’ to offer up early-to-mid 1970s demos from Doug Fieger and Burton Averre as The Knack? You won’t need much of a listen to give up such concerns, the duo are so clearly the real thing in embryo. It’s like Prescott and Gary just stepped out for a ciggie. Rock & Roll Is Good for You: The Fieger/Averre Demos is a collection of pretty polished tunes – 16 in all, some with just guitar and vocals while others sound like a small combo. The distinctive Knack sound is definitely all over these tracks and not just the ones that would end up on Get the Knack. Of course, the early version of “Good Girls Don’t” and “That’s What the Little Girls Do” are pretty riveting, with an intensity and charm all their own. But the other 14 cuts here reveal a performative polish and song-writing strength that undermine the usual ‘one hit wonder’ insults that dog the band’s reputation. Stylistically the duo riff on a number of 1970s styles, a bit of funk, boogie rock, even some folkie affectations appear here and there. But what we also hear is how the Beatles touches on those early Knack records were no marketing fluke, such influences were baked in. Both “Corporation Shuffle (Daddy Turns the Volume Down)” and “Little Lies” abound with Beatlesque guitar riffs and melodic turns of phrases. Meanwhile shades of the distinctive bassy guitar work that would define “My Sharona” can be heard on “Have a Heart.” For Knack fans this record is no mere money grab – it clearly adds to the band’s stature and is highly listenable to boot. And for band super-fans, even more pre-Knack product is on the way with the imminent release of two albums from Fieger’s early band Sky.
In today’s instant and connected world, everything old is new again. You can make yesterday today by checking out worthy new releases of decades-old stuff.
Another stellar write-up and music selection Dennis. The Bings are terrific! Such a shame they never got a big break. Popsicko was pretty amazing too, and it was also a shame they fell apart from drugs and Keith Brown’s untimely death. And once again, I’m in awe of your writing, evidenced by lines like this one: “As I hit play the record practically lunges from the turntable with opening cut “Nastassja.”
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Dennis Pilon said:
Aw, thanks! High praise from a man who writes as much as you do!
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