Anyone who lived through the beginning of the 1980s will instantly recognize the keyboard sound that drives The Monroes “What Do All The People Know?” The song kicks off with Springsteen-esque airy piano feel but this quickly shifts to a driving guitar/keyboard combo reminiscent of Greg Kihn, The Fixx and J. Geils Band. I mean, check out the instrumental section at the 2 minutes mark – pure 1980s magic. Released in 1982, the song managed to climb to 59 on the national US charts despite the fact the band’s Japanese label went under shortly after it came out. The group tried to carry on but eventually broke up a few years later. Over the years, the song has been resurrected regularly by fans as a great lost hit. Former band members took notice and in 2013 released a re-produced version of the original song along with some material that didn’t get an airing before. Yet it was only in 2019-20 that a proper relaunch of the group occurred, including a new video for “What Do All The People Know?” There’s an even happier ending: since then The Monroes have released a slew of new songs, proving they were not a just a one hit wonder. For instance, check out “Saturday” for a particularly winning cut.
A truly great poprock single usually has a catchy opener, some hook that makes you pause and want to know what comes next. Portland’s Throwback Suburbia nail this with their 2007 debut single “Circles.” The lone synth riff comes out of nowhere, a head turner that grabs the listener long enough for the band to come crashing in. What follows is a great synthesis of eighties and nineties melodic rock influences. With a vocal that is pure Glenn Tilbrook phrasing, a guitar and keyboard attack vibing ELO, and a melodic sheen reminiscent of Rooney, the result should have been super radio hit. But the AM/FM music directors apparently didn’t get the memo. The band would release a few EPs and two critically acclaimed albums but wild success wasn’t in the cards. A shame really. Everything they released was pretty solid on the rockin’ melodic song front. They even put out killer covers of tracks from their most obvious influences, Squeeze’s “Up the Junction” and Elvis Costello’s “Accidents Will Happen.”
You can keep up with band members’ post Throwback Suburbia efforts on the group’s Facebook page as well as buy up their existing catalogue of tunes.
I stumbled across Mancunian James Holt doing a fun cover of Crowded House’s “Weather With You” with himself playing every instrument simultaneously in the video. This led to a bit of research and the discovery of this gem, released in early 2020. “Mystery Girl” is a mélange of alternating musical shots: pumping piano, organ, and harpsichord (among other instruments) amid the delightful swirl of the main and background vocals. There’s something a bit 10cc here, definitely Neil Finn-worthy, even Gilbert O’Sullivan-ish. On the whole, the song is a masterful bit of production disguised as a breezy pop confection, Holt so effortlessly hits all the melodic and instrumental marks. This surely marks the beginning of something good.
Blitzen Trapper, Brandi Ediss, Brett Newski, Brian Jay Cline, Bye Bye Blackbirds, Chris Church, Danny McDonald, Dave Kuchler, Dave Rave and the Governors, David Myles, David Woodard, Ed Woltil, El Goodo, Emperor Penguin, Esther Rose, Geoff Palmer and Lucy Ellis, Greg Pope, Gregory Pepper and his Problems, Hanemoon, Honeywagen, Honeywagon, Irene Pena, Lisa Mychols & Super 8, Lolas, Mo Troper, Mom, Mothboxer, Nicholas Altobelli, Nick Pipitone, Nick Piunti and the Complicated Men, Nite Sobs, Nuevos Hobbies, Papills, Peggy Sue, Peralta, Richard Turgeon, Searching for Sylvia, Steven Bradley, Steven Wright-Mark, Talk Show, The Amplifier Heads, The August Teens, The Click Beetles, The Feels, The Happy Fits, The Memories, The Rockyts, The Top Boost, The Vapour Trails, The Well Wishers, Tom Curless and the 46%
2020 was weird like no weirdness we’d experienced before. Thank goodness the music didn’t let us down. Paraphrasing some 1970s disk jockey, the should-be hits just kept on coming! My top 50 singles for 2020 covers the usual range of styles I jam into the poprock category, from Buddy Holly 1950s to Buck Owens country to various shades of jangle and new wave. I’m not saying these are the 50 best songs of the year, I’m saying these 50 had the hooks to keep me hitting repeat again and again. If Poprock Record were a radio station these tunes would have been in heavy rotation all this past year. The hyperlinks below will take you to the original post about each artist as they first appeared on the blog.
So let’s get to it, Poprock Record’s should-be hit singles for 2020:
1. Mo Troper “Your Boy”
2. Gregory Pepper and his Problems “Unsolved Mystery”
3. Dave Kuchler “Slave to Katy”
4. Emperor Penguin “You’ll Be the Death of Me”
5. Brian Jay Cline “Two Left Feet”
6. Hanemoon “Sunday Afternoon”
7. Danny McDonald “Cordyline”
8. Chris Church “Something’s Coming Fast”
9. Peralta “In Your Mind”
10. Steven Wright-Mark “Underground”
11. Brett Newski “Grow Your Garden”
12. Lolas “Wrecking Yard”
13. Peggy Sue “Motorcade”
14. Searching for Sylvia “SEMA (Sunday Evening Misery Attack)”
15. The Vapor Trails “Behind You”
16. The Well Wishers “We Grow Up”
17. The Top Boost “Tell Me That You’re Mine”
18. The Click Beetles “Don’t You Call My Name”
19. The Memories “Second Try”
20. The Bye Bye Blackbirds “Watch Them Chime”
21. Lisa Mycols and Super 8 “Honey Bee”
22. Nite Sobs “I Could Tell You”
23. Nick Pipitone “Hear Me Out Thienville”
24. David Myles “Loving You is Easy”
25. El Goodo “Home”
26. Steven Bradley “Pre-Emptive Strike”
27. The Happy Fits “No Instructions”
28. Greg Pope “Jump Back from the Light”
29. Mom “I Want You to Feel What I Feel”
30. The Amplifier Heads “Man on the Edge of a Ledge Contemplating a Jump”
31. Blitzen Trapper “Masonic Temple Microdose #1”
32. Dave Rave and the Governors “I Don’t Think So”
33. The Rockyts “Break My Heart Again”
34. The Feels “She’s Probably Not Thinking of Me”
35. Nuevos Hobbies “No Puedo Esperar”
36. David Woodard “Grand Scheme of Things”
37. Esther Rose “Keeps Me Running”
38. Talk Show “This Monologue”
39. Geoff Palmer and Lucy Ellis “Swim”
40. Irene Pena “Own Sweet Time”
41. Ed Woltil “When We Fall in Love”
42. Papills “What to Call It”
43. The August Teens “Crestfallen”
44. Richard Turgeon “Higher”
45. Nick Piunti and the Complicated Men “Bright Light”
46. Tom Curless and the 46% “Just Wanna Talk”
47. Brandi Ediss “Bees and Bees and Bees”
48. Mothboxer “Accelerator”
49. Honeywagen “For Love”
50. Nicholas Altobelli “Ghost”
So many great songs! So hard to make distinctions amongst them … But this year’s chart topper Mo Troper has got something really special going on with “Your Boy.” The track is a case study in should-be hit single construction and execution, from the opening guitar hooks to the silky smooth pop vocal to the exquisite synthesis of musical elements, like the plinky piano, the dash of distorted guitar here and there. The song is the earworm equivalent of a Dutch masters miniature painting. A very close second this year came from the boundlessly talented Canuck Gregory Pepper and his Problems with “Unsolved Mystery.” I can’t get enough of Pepper’s creative songwriting and unique approach to instrumentation. The song is a hook cocktail, a nonstop aural assault of vocal and instrumental melody. Former Soul Engines member Dave Kuchler slots into number 3 with an amazing comeback single, “Slave to Katy,” a song that ripples with Springsteen organ and hooky guitar leads. This is melodic heartland rock and roll at its best. Releasing an album and three EPs in 2020, Emperor Penguin definitely win the productivity award. But I’d have been happy if they’d just released one song, the Byrdsian “You’ll Be the Death of Me.” Rounding out the top 5 Brian Jay Cline “Two Left Feet” gives the harmonica a work out on a great driving poprock number. And I could go on about the remaining 45 should-be hits but for more on the rest of the list hit the hyperlinks for my original write-ups on each.
This year’s special mention award goes to Mondello for his wonderfully quirky one-off single “My Girl Goes By.” After taking 20 years putting together his debut album one year later there’s no sign of a sophomore slump with this follow up single. From the Tijuana horns to the unique guitar work to the way the hooky swinging chorus emerges out the discordant and offbeat body of the song, it’s magic. More? Yes please!
2020 has been devastating for artists that rely on live performances to make ends meet. Now more than ever it’s crucial that we all pull together to support music and the music-makers financially. Give what you can, buy directly from artists whenever you can, and share links for the music you discover with your friends and acquaintances.
Shane Tutmarc has spent more than two decades releasing records with bands like Dolour, Solar Twin, Shane Tutmarc and the Traveling Mercies, and as a solo artist. So there’s a lot of material to potentially focus on. Here I’ll shine some light on a track from his criminally overlooked 2014 release Borrowed Trouble, an album he describes as leaning on a Memphis soul style. The record is a perfect distillation of his Seattle-meets-Nashville sound with highlights like the McCartney-esque “Can I Count on You?” and the punchy horns of “Fair Warning.” But my fave track on the album is the lurching, organ drenched “Goodbye Love.” Let this one sink in. It starts off inauspiciously, with nice acoustic guitar, organ and your basic slow, scotch-addled vocal. But then chorus sneaks up and hooks you like the best 1970-74 era Lennon single. And each time it comes around that chorus exerts just a bit more magnetic melodic pull. It’s a sound that vibes a bit of Wilco, the Replacements, and Nick Lowe in his more recent ‘mature’ phase, particularly the fabulous organ work.
“Goodbye Love” is also featured on a brand new collection, a ‘should have been greatest hits’ album of sorts entitled Written and Produced by Shane Tutmarc. The record features work from across the breadth of his long career and from all his different musical vehicles. So many great songs here! Personally, I can’t get enough of the uplifting, anthemic “Brave New World.” Think of this record as a perfect Tutmarc starter pack.
I love finding a record by a new artist and then discovering there’s a whole back-catalogue world yet to explore. Get into Shane Tutmarc’s musical orbit at his website and bandcamp. Or you can order physical copies of his efforts from Kook Kat Musik.
It all started with Tom Petty and some ironing last weekend. As I got reacquainted with Hard Promises it eventually drew me away from the shirts to exploring on the internet how Petty put the album together and, as one thing led to another, I was soon listening to Petty’s efforts in the producer’s chair of Del Shannon’s 1981 comeback album, Drop Down and Get Me. The record turned out a minor hit with his cover of “Sea of Love” as well as inspired renditions of the Rolling Stones (“Out of Time”) and the Everly Brothers (“Maybe Tomorrow”). But perhaps more surprising was that the bulk of the album consisted of winning Shannon originals like the title track, “Life Without You” and “Cheap Love” (later covered by Juice Newton). Hard to believe that talent like this had been missing from the Top 40 since 1965 but depression and alcoholism had helped stall Shannon’s career more than once. Despite assembling a dream team to work on a new album as the 1980s drew to close, he succumbed to depression and suicide in February 1990. The album-in-progress did finally emerge in late 1991 and Rock On! showcased Shannon’s extra-ordinary talents to good effect in terms of singing, songwriting and performance. The should-be hit single was the album opener, “Walk Away,” with its strong Travelling Wilburys vibe and signature Shannon soaring falsetto. It’s a chill-inducing gem of a single!
You can’t go far wrong with any Del Shannon release, album or single. Visit delshannon.com for more background or news about new releases.
Clicking on this late 1990s track from northern California’s The Orange Peels you’d be forgiven for thinking you’re hearing a great New Pornographers single or maybe a late 1970s new wave reunion of the Mamas and Papas, if they’d become a rock band (and somehow brought a key member back from the dead). The guitar on this track is so striking, fresh and in-your-face resonant without being jarring, while the vocals are candy smooth but never syrup. Clocking at just a minute and 49 seconds it’s all over way too soon but that’s OK, it’s just the opening track of a pretty cool album of similarly fab songs. And now would be the time to add The Orange Peels 1997 debut album, Square3, to your collection as it has just been remastered and plumped up with 27 bonus tracks. Come back 1997! All is forgiven.
Visit The Orange Peels online to find out more about their past and more recent releases and re-releases.
Hit play on Wyatt Blair’s latest release “(I’ll Keep) Searching for You” and you’ll notice the winning quality right away. First there’s the sibilant guitar reminiscent of all those early Pretenders singles. Then there’s an organ right off a mid-period Springsteen record. Finally, the record eases into a hooky groove that just doesn’t let go. It’s like it’s 1979 all over again. Blair’s previous releases mined the 1960s garage poprock sound to perfection on tracks like “Gotta Get Away” and “Won’t Back Down” (from 2018’s Inspirational Strawberries). “(I’ll Keep) Searching for You” is the third single in three months from an as-yet-unnamed future album project but, suffice to say, the material released so far advances his sound by a decade into the late 1970s/early 1980s. I can’t wait to see where he’s going next.
Blair is a record company founder, talent scout, record producer, and recording artist. So he’s busy. Check out his bandcamp page to catch up on his latest musical exploits. It’s literally hooks galore!
We loved Brett Newski’s 2018 album Life Upside Down here at Poprock Record, particularly punchy, addictive tracks like “Ride” and “The Afternoons.” But there’s more to Newski, like his fantastic 2016 LP Land Air Sea Garage. Love the jaunty melody of “Stranger” or the great mix of vocals on “Bending Spoons & Skipping Prayers.” But the killer cut here is undoubtedly the should-be hit single “Garage.” From its opening guitar ring to those hooky ‘da da da da’s the song motors along in a solid poprock groove, repeatedly building the tension back to a great chorus release, with what sounds like some nice French horn near the end (but who knows, it could be keyboards!). The quality on this and his other recordings suggests this is guy just getting started creativity-wise. Can’t wait for a new record!
Newski’s has a host of quirky and original one-off single releases and albums recorded in foreign countries on his bandcamp page. Peruse and purchase please.
Fans of Bruce Springsteen, John Cougar Mellencamp and Tom Petty at their hookiest are gonna love the Cerny Brothers’ “American Whore” from their late 2018 release, Looking for the Good Land. Like their inspirational sources, the brothers head a crack band and there’s some pretty amazing playing all over the album, particularly on the boogie piano-heavy “Laugh at the Devil” and the beautiful, moving “Million Miles,” with its light harmonica and banjo touches. But “American Whore” is clearly the centre-piece of the album, with AOR hit single written all over it. Curiously, though the band has nailed the sound and songwriting style of Springsteen and Mellencamp, the song’s message is decidedly different. Internet entertainment magazine PopDust quoted Robert Cerny describing the song as “… born out of frustration. So many people rally against capitalism and consumerism, yet don’t always admit we’re all a part of it. The system is a product of us, for better or worse – not the other way around.” In my trade (social science), this is what we call a logical fallacy. The fact that people work within a system of rules doesn’t mean they are the authors of it. But no matter. You don’t have agree with an artist to enjoy or even learn something from their art. “American Whore” is a great song that bodes well for future releases from the brothers Cerny.
Check out the Cerny Brothers’ website for deets about tours and new releases.