In all the fuss about our present pandemic it’s easy to forget the still lingering effects of past afflictions. For instance, there’s a untreatable malady that ravaged the world for a number of years in the early to mid-1960s that continues to gain new victims to this day. I’m talking about Beatlemania, of course. And while there is no cure, the condition can be managed with strong, regular doses of melodic rock and roll, preferably layered with dollops of jangly guitar and effervescent harmony vocals. Now my Ph.D. doesn’t normally allow me to prescribe in this area but – what the hell – I’m going to recommend the following artists and their music to help manage your condition.
It was finding Frankie Siragusa recent concept album, Goodbye My Love – a reworking of songs Lennon-McCartney gave away but as if the Beatles had intended to include them on Rubber Soul or Revolver – that got me on this Beatlemania jag. What Siragusa accomplishes on the record is pretty impressive, with a little help from indie all-star friends (like members of The Posies, Jellyfish, and others). In the end, the results are not unlike what Apple Jam has done over the years. Stand out tracks for me include the exquisitely McCartney-esque “Goodbye” and the lovely spare “I’ll Be On My Way” but for some reason the more early period-sounding “I’m In Love” is what I gotta feature here. The band here nails the early 1965 feel. The record is the product of creative music company Reimagine Music who just happen to have two other Beatles-themed records, one recreating Rubber Soul (Looking Through You) and the other Revolver (Tomorrow Never Knows). From the former I love Bombadil’s folky deconstruction of “Drive My Car” and Olin and the Moon’s “Run For Your Life.” From the latter Jake Mann and the Upper Hand add a slow grind hypnotic element to “Taxman.”
I used to think ‘why bother’ trying to cover the Beatles. It’s not like you’re going to improve on what the world’s greatest band could do. But I think that was shaped by growing up in the 1970s. Frankly, I just didn’t prefer what those cover artist were doing (MOR Beatles? Yuck!). But into the 1980s people starting taking Beatles covers in directions I could dig. Sometimes it’s just the subtle changes in harmonies that you can hear on Mike Carpenter and The Album Show’s take on “Baby’s in Black” or The Beat-less strongly Spanish-accented “From Me to You.” By contrast, Richard Snow Hattersleyjust pushes all the constituent elements of “Another Girl” just a little bit further, a bit more twang, a bit more rootsy feel. And then there’s the occasionally brilliant repositioning of a Beatles classic in a new register, like Caspar Babypants’ more upbeat “Mother Nature’s Son.” No more summer field acoustic guitar noodling for this happy go lucky boy. Similarly Timmy Seanadds a bit Beach Boys piano and vocal oomph to “You’re Going to Lose That Girl.” Or there’s Robyn Gibson’s Byrdsian folk rock version of “There’s a Place.” Once you hear it, it’s like ‘ya, that works!’
The best dose for a spot of Beatlemania is, of course, something from the Fab Four themselves. Let’s assail your symptoms with the Beatles covering themselves, sort of, with this great Live at the BBC recording of “I’ll Be On My Way.” I was a sucker for this version when I first heard it on Beatles bootleg I picked up somewhere in the 1980s.
In these troubled times it’s great to rely on some tried and true melodic remedies. Now initial reactions to this treatment might be fevered excitement but you can relax as that usually gives way to a measured contentment in short order.
Why not be positive? After the year we’ve been through 2021 can’t help but be an improvement. I know, I know, pandemic habits die hard. Bad news on the doorstep, again. So to help steel your resolve for positivity, here’s a slew of songs on the perfection theme.
Parthenon Huxley (aka P. Hux) has the perfect sound to kick off this themed post with the addictive guitar hooks and Eels-meets-ELO smooth vocals on his song “Perfect.” He even has another tune that would fit in here called “Perfection” – but let’s not overdo it. Irrelevant aside: I just discovered that Hux produced Eels front man Mark Everett’s first two solo albums and A Man Called E is about as perfect as a debut can be. Bombadil change up the pace and style of what we’re doing here with their song “Perfect,” a lilting folkie track with a lot of uplift, from their 2017 album Fences. “Perfecto” is another 2017 release, this time from big guitar guy Chris Church’s long player Limitations of the Source Tape. For Church this offering is actually a bit low key (well, until the end) but has a lovely Matthew Sweet vibe with vocals that remind me of recent work by that inventive iconoclast Brad Peterson. I don’t know a lot a about Louisville, Kentucky’s The Pine Club, other than that they have three albums of fab material dating from the beginning of the new century. From their self-titled LP we showcase “Oh, Perfect!” Nice horns and background vocals on this one.
Our next batch of performers move from vague ruminations about the perfect to more bold and weeping claims, singing about a perfect world of some sort or other. Mike Viola has some serious songwriting magic going on all over his many releases and “El Mundo de Perfecto” from his 2011 album Electro De Perfecto exemplifies these considerable skills. The song is so quintessentially Viola while also seeming to draw from acts like Crowded House stylistically. Fastball was one of those bands I only discovered deep into their career, on 2017’s Step Into Light specifically. That meant I had so many delightful surprises waiting for me dipping into their back catalogue. “Perfect World” is from 2004’s Keep Your Wig On and it really is a perfect manifestation of their new millennium Beatles/Tom Petty-inspired sound. FromDwight Twilley’s ironically titled The Luck album came a bona-fide should-be hit single in “Perfect World.” I still can’t believe this track didn’t race up the charts when it finally got a single release in 1998. Now, in the interests of journalistic balance I must include Ball Park Music’s “The Perfect World Does Not Exist.” I mean, they’re right, of course. And they say it with such a quirky You Won’t almost folkie charm.
Well, if a perfect world is beyond our grasp what about more accomplishable goals? Gary Ritchie would settle for a “Perfect Girl” on this Buddy Holly-esque workout. However, despite a delightful 2 minute and 41 second exploration of the issue, even Gary has to admit by the coda that it’s probably not gonna happen. In the late 1980s American janglers The Springfields(no relation to Dusty’s 1960s outfit) just wanted “This Perfect Day.” Well, if I were spinning this song and the rest of the collection it comes from, the 2019 retrospective of the band’s career Singles 1986-1991, I’d say ‘mission accomplished’! Perhaps we’d be wise to scope things down even further. Mo Troper has the right idea with his just released, wonderfully hooky “The Perfect Song.” I mean, I thought he already wrote the perfect song with that single from his 2020 album Natural Beauty, “Your Boy.” But more on that when I get to 2020’s best of lists …
Perfection is really just that space you’ve created, shaped, and defined where you can find some joy. For me that’s often finding, enjoying and sharing all this great music. So here’s to a perfect year, whatever that may amount to for you.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
Poor Myrtle. She’s only got Muzak® to keep her company through the long shift at work. If only she had access to this great new list of must-have LPs from 2019, helpfully assembled by Poprock Record, she might actually close that Henderson account and get off early. The lesson? You can take an oldies fixation too far. You don’t have to live in the past to love that retro sound. This year’s best-of round up of LPs from 2019 is definitive proof that everything old can be new again!
Just a word of caution – there’s no science to the list and rankings below. Here are just 25 albums and 10 EPs that caught my ear this past year and kept me coming back for more. There was something about each, their combination of elements (songwriting, instrumentation, performance), that I thought really worked as a coherent whole. And that’s saying something in our world of social media distractions and a renewed music biz focus primarily on singles.
So let’s begin with Poprock Record’s 25 must-have LPs for 2019:
I really like the variety covered in this list. There’s everything from jangle (4, 11, 15, 25) and country (12) and Dylanesque stylings (21), to keyboard contemporary (8) and acerbic social commentary (10, 23) and straight-up Beatlesque poprock (17, 19). And there’s a lot of sweetness, like Mondello’s impressive 20 year labour of love (18). My number one album, Bombadil’s Beautiful Country, embodies this commitment to diversity. It’s got an overall indie-folk vibe but the songwriting and playing are so sophisticated that somehow the label fails to capture all of what’s going on. Believe me, it’s a 37 minute journey through a myriad of lyrical and musical delights. Close behind at #2 Matthew Milia’s Alone at St. Hugo represents an amazing synthesis of melodic rock influences, from the Beatles (obviously) to the more mellow Fountains of Wayne moments. It’s an tone setter – put it on and drift away! At #3 was #1. Confused? #1 was the name of the debut album from the power pop veterans behind The Brothers Steve and it did not disappoint. The record is like a veritable hit machine. I can only imagine that this was what it was like to get your hands on a new Beatles record in the 1960s: immediately engaging, inventive yet relatable, and with nary a bum track. And I could go on about every entry on this list … but instead just click on the links to go my original posts about the bands and you can judge them for yourself.
Next up, Poprock Record’s10 must-have EPs from 2019:
The revival of the EP is very much in the spirit of the times as performers try to woo listeners to fork over for music in an era of YouTube shuffles and streaming. Personally, I’m usually left feeling that most are just bloated maxi-singles or Readers Digest condensed albums. But these ten show just how punchy an EP can be! Content-wise, I’ll just say this about my number 1 choice: wow. Dave Molter got his musical start in the 1960s (as evident on the record!) but waited until his 70s to put out Foolish Heart. What you get are five gems polished to poprock perfection: hooks, harmonies, the whole deal.
One last thing: a special mention for Aaron Lee Tasjan’s Karma for Cheap: Reincarnated. The original record was my number 1 album for 2018 and this reinvention beautifully reimagines all those great tunes in often stark and stripped down ways. If you liked the original, you’re gonna love the remake.
2019 had plenty of jangle, hooks, harmonies and melody to spare. From an initial list of over 200 songs I’ve managed to whittle my should-be hit single list to just 50 chart toppers for this year. Man, it was hard. Because I only post music I like this whole exercise is a bit like choosing your favourite child. Well, IMHO, the 50 songs featured here all have a strong earwormy quality to them. But let me know if you agree or disagree! Hit the links below to find each artist as featured in my original blog post this past year.
So, without further ado (drum roll please!), here is Poprock Record’s should-be hit singles for 2019:
As you can see, the list is a bit all over the map. There’s hints of country and folk and a lot of rock and roll. Because I’m working a broad poprock vein (as opposed to a more narrow power pop) my list crosses lines that other melodic rock blogs might not. That means the pop folky Bombadil and Fruitbats can sidle up to the more edgy melodic punk of Ezra Furman or country rock of The Cerny Brothers. But most of the entries fall neatly into my definition of ‘poprock’ – as in, melodic rock and roll characterized by plenty of hooks and harmony vocals. It’s all there in my number one song from The Golden Seals “Something Isn’t Happening” with its swinging acoustic guitar base, various hooky lead guitar lines, and catchy vocal melody. Or you can hear it in the addictive guitar drone driving Juliana Hatfield’s great single, “Sugar.” Same goes for The Well Wishers’ fantastic poprock reinvention of Fleetwood Mac’s 1977 sound on “Feeling Fine.” And I could just go on dropping superlatives on every entry on this list. Instead, click on the links and check out my original posts about all these artist.
All these artists have instruments to keep in tune and studio time to pay for, not to mention all the time they take away from paying work to write the songs and practice performing them – all in aid of getting this exciting music out there for us to enjoy. Help them thrive by getting out to see them live and buying their music.
Have you met Bombadil? Given the band formed in 2006 and has released 7 albums and 2 EPs, it’s definitely possible. But given our present state of low impact indie self-promotion it’s entirely likely you haven’t. Well, get ready for a sonic treat. One where every instrument aims to create a carefully crafted moment. Where the songs are intellectually engaging, though not in some hipster elitist sort of way but in a thoughtful everyday relatable way (e.g. “Perfect”). Where no instrument break is wasted but each is like a perfectly tended garden of sounds, both colourful and creative. Possible musical comparisons abound, from the quirky musicality of They Might Be Giants and Tally Hall to the wordy yet poetic lyrics of The Shins and the Magnetic Fields. Longtime band member Daniel Michalak once described the band’s influences as ‘Ernest Hemingway, Ronald Dahl, or Shel Silverstein’ as well as ‘science/math and computer programming’. One reviewer called the band, ‘obtuse but melodic indie folk pop with a flair for the fantastic,’ while another suggested Bombadil were like a ‘less drunk Pogues.’ Longtime drummer James Phillips described their sound as simply ‘pop-rock.’ That sounds about right to me.
How to describe discovering Bombadil? How about ‘enchanting’? A lot of that has to do with the bracing originality of the songs. The band’s catalogue ably demonstrates the continuing, seemingly endless creative possibilities left in a 3 minute pop song, whatever genre. And these guys definitely push genre boundaries. The folk veneer is there but can easily give way, depending on where the song goes. “Johnny,” from the band’s 2006 debut EP (also included on their 2008 debut long-player A Buzz A Buzz), illustrates this, vibing folk but quickly coming on like an outtake from Will Finn’s Broadway smash, Falsettoland, while from the same album “Get to Getting On” showcases Bombadil’s signature folk/country sound and their distinctive harmony vocals.
You can dip in anywhere over the band’s next six albums and come up with a treasure. Like “Sad Birthday,” “Kate and Kelsey” and “Matthew” from 2009’s Tarpits and Canyonlands. Check out the exquisite piano turnaround at the 21 second mark of “Matthew” – a killer and unexpected hook. Or the Pogues meets You Won’t aura of the songs on 2011’s All That the Rain Promises, particularly “Laundromat” and the lyrically eccentric “Leather Belt” (with that great banjo). 2013’s Metrics of Affection broadened the sonic palette with the Rogue Wave-ish “Learning to Let Go,” the magisterial “Born at 5:00,” the moving solitary piano balladry of “Have Me,” and the whimsically folky “When We Are Both Cats.” Meanwhile, “One More Ring” sounds like an alternate universe hit with its endearing melodic twists. 2017’s Fences continued the good vibes trend with “Perfect” an aptly named should-be single.
As luck would have it for recent Bombadil converts, a brand new album is out, Beautiful Country, and it may just be their best yet. I love how “Goodwill Socks” starts with an uber folky sound but then quickly adds more instrumental depth and hooky ornamentation. “The Man Who Loves You” is the should-be hit single, with a stirring vocals arrangement and hooky handclaps. And then there’s the lovely duet with Kate Rhudy on the “The Real Thing.”
Did I mention that Bombadil have recorded songs in French (“Framboise” from 2015’s Hold On) and Spanish (“Laurita” from Tarpits and Canyonlands)? Just one more reason to hustle over their Bandcamp page and buy up their whole catalogue.