From the 1960s through to the 1980s a lot of young people tried their hand at forming a rock and roll band. Not every act made it. Sometimes they just didn’t have what it takes but more often than not they just couldn’t dedicate their lives to the mission in the obsessed, manic way that is often required to succeed. Here’s how the story typically fizzled out: life intervened, marriage and/or kids happened, and suddenly the landlord/mortgage company demanded a more regular paycheque than rock and roll could provide. Well lately we’ve seen a lot of those deferred rockers making up for lost time, digging out their old recordings, polishing them up and turning them loose in the new, anything-goes internet form of music distribution. And the results are sometimes pretty special. Here we salute just a few of the more notable recent poprock record revivals.
Steve Rosenbaum’s monumental collection Have a Cool Summer! is like a message in a bottle that’s suddenly washed ashore. The album contains 23 songs recorded on his home 4-track between 1979-89 that never saw the light of day at the time. After spinning these tunes a few times all I can say is, what a shame. Get ready for a ‘great lost album’ experience because Rosenbaum’s songs are tight hooky little masterpieces, combining bits of the Raspberries, the Beach Boys and Marshall Crenshaw. Honestly, there are just too many highlights on this record to really sum the total effect. You can drop the needle anywhere and find something delightful. There’s a touch of the Plimsouls on “Tearing Up the Town,” some of that 1965 Beach Boys wistful ennui with “Me Alone,” a slight XTC feel to “72 Days,” and a whole lot of Costello circa Get Happy! in “Candyland” and “Confidential Love.” Then there’s the Marshal Crenshaw vibe on “Turn Out the Light” and “Girl from Seventeen,” neither of which would go amiss on MC’s debut album. I’d also nominate “These Girls Fly By” and “Come On Over” as the obvious should-be hit singles with their rollicking bouncy guitar and strong melodic hooks. Right now Have a Cool Summer! is only available on 8-track, with a digital download included, but come the new year it busts out into new formats. Trust me, it’s worth digging out your old tech for.
The legend of the Sorrows failed second album is right out rock and roll cinema’s central casting. The band’s debut Teenage Heartbreak had wowed fans and critics alike with its muscular power pop sound and sweet sweet melodic hooks. It was like The Plimsouls had joined the revived Searchers. Then early The Who producer Shel Talmy joined up to oversee the band’s second record. What could go wrong? Apparently, everything. When Love Too Late came out in 1981 it was like the original band had been mugged by some AM corporate rock ringers. Talmy had ignored the band’s production ideas and style of playing, indeed replacing most of them with session players on various tracks. End result? The band badmouthed the final product and then broke up. Fast forward forty years and the group has finally managed to reclaim legal control over their songs and performances. But instead of just remixing and tweaking the existing album they’ve produced an almost entirely new recording. Love Too Late, the real album is a shocker. You’d swear it’s the band in their early 1980s heyday, they sound that good. The songs were always great but now they lean into their early 1980s style, with “Love Too Late” matching the manic sound and energy of their then-contemporary rivals The Plimsouls, “Crying” offering a bit of Madness ska, and “Rita” conjuring up memories of the Paul Collins Beat. The Beatles influence is definitely present on “Breaking My Heart” and “It’s Not Love Anymore while the band’s own distinctive dreamy pop instincts define the lovely opening cut “Christabelle” and “So Much Love.” The cover of the Kinks’ “Tired of Waiting For You” is pretty special too. My own choice for single would the exquisitely hooky “What I Used to Know.” Love Too Late, the real album is a revelation, both a time capsule resurrection and contemporary renewal of a truly great band. You’re definitely gonna want this.
Another historic missed opportunity is the collected recorded works from Bruce Moody. Forever Fresh! features 23 cuts from tracks recorded between 1979 and 1986 that either fall into the Nick Lowe bubblegum style he perfected in mid-to-late 1970s or a Phil Seymour power pop register. A few of the songs here did see a contemporary release (on the 1982 EP Fresh Out!) while others were drip released on EPs much later in 2016 (Still Fresh!) and 2018 (Get Fresh!). Forever Fresh! doubles that past output and brings these mostly studio-quality AM radio-friendly poprock tunes all together in one attractively designed and modestly priced package. And the songs! Moody knows how to throw a solid hook into any kind of tune. “This Is It” opens the collection perfectly, a song seemingly caught between a 1970s bubblegum pop and early 1980s new wave vibe. Then “At the Rock Club” is so Nick Lowe circa Jesus of Cool. “Above Suspicion” moves more decidedly into 1980s territory, with shades of Squeeze’s kitchen sink narrative style. And so on – so many great tunes here. Personally, I love the Searchers-ish melodic simplicity on tracks like “Simple Love,” “Right to Know,” “The Closer I Get to You” and “You Do.” Then there’s the occasional departure from Moody’s relentlessly upbeat tone, like the somewhat ominous melodic turns that appear in the verses to “Find Ourselves” (though the chorus quickly auto-corrects back to punchy positivity). Or check out how Moody builds the jangle-delicious “Gotta Move Away,” with its creative juxtaposition of attack and subtle Beach Boys influences (both in terms of song structure and low-key humour). Both charts and listeners lost out when these songs didn’t get released back in early 1980s. And yet Moody is on to something with his collection title – there really is something ‘forever fresh’ about these concise blasts of innocent poppy goodness.
Here’s another Hollywood happy ending sort of musical story. A band records some tunes but before anything can come of them they break up. Twenty years later a recording engineer at the studio stumbles across the recordings and voila! here is Doublepluspop’s should-have-been 2002 debut album Too Loud, Too Fast, Too Much magically resurrected. Definitely better late than never. The record is equal parts Matthew Sweet/Fountains of Wayne in terms of influences, with tasty guitar hooks and sophisticated melodies galore. Opening cut “Stumbling Back” really sets the tone with a buzzing wall of guitars and a classic FOW guitar solo. “The Dark Inside” has a very Matthew Sweet vocal and some guitar hooks reminiscent of Jackie DeShannon’s “When You Walk in the Room.” Things continue in this vein with more ear wormy tracks like “My Verona,” “Here’s to the Losers” and particularly “Everyone” with its cool vocal harmonies. There are few deviations from the basic script, like “If I Wasn’t In Love,” with its faint echoes of Gordon Lightfoot’s “If You Could Read My Mind” popping up here and there, and the rollicking good time feel of “What a Wonderful Time.” The juiced up cover of Todd Rundgren’s “Couldn’t I Just Tell You” also really works. I’m just gonna say it, Doublepluspop are definitely doubleplusgood.
In today’s virtual world there is no yesterday, no past, no gone-for-good. It seems everything can be revived if there’s an audience to give it life. Today’s acts definitely deserve a turn on the poprock record revival circuit. Click on the links above to help make their misspent youth pay in the here and now.
Photo credit: Dale Stewart. Physical copies of the new releases from Bruce Moody and Doublepluspop can be ordered from Kool Kat Musik, Big Stir Records for Sorrows, and Dead Media Tapes for an 8-track version of Steve Rosenbaum‘s album.