The world is in the midst of a full blown cultural tsunami that is Game of Thrones. The hit HBO fantasy series has escaped the bounds of normal viewership to become a must-see show for anybody that hopes to relate to their fellow human beings. The talk shows can’t stop talking about GOT, Facebook bulges with GOT memes, and YouTube is rife with GOT send ups. As the battles of Westeros draw to their final chilly end, it’s a challenge to remain aloof or immune from the phenomena or potential plot spoilers. But I think this musical contribution to the mega-event that is GOT hits the right spot. Los Straightjackets, everybody’s favourite Mexican-wrestler-dressed instrumentals band, has joined the fray lathering their own inimitable guitar stylings over the normally strings-heavy Game of Thrones theme. It’s magic! Los Straightjackets have been busy backing up Nick Lowe over the past year (following the release of the band’s tribute album of Lowe tunes) but somehow managed to record a new EP entitled Channel Surfing, featuring this new song and three others. Twangy guitar – it was just what Westeros was missing!
Aimee Mann, Chris Lund, Daisy House, Daniel Romano, David Myles, Fastball, Freedom Fry, Greg Kihn Band, Los Straightjackets, Max Bouratoglou, Propeller, Richard Turgeon, Robyn Gibson, Soccer Mommy, Terry Malts, The Front Bottoms, The Molochs, The Mylars, The Primitives, The Rallies, The Strypes, Together Pangea, Tommy and the Rockets, Wiretree
What were the biggest hits that weren’t in 2017? Who were the biggest should-be stars? In our alternate universe here at Poprock Record, these guys were all over the charts, the chat shows, the scandal sheets, as well as memed all over Facebook, Snapchatted by the kids, and Instragrammed into oblivion. Jesus, they were so popular you are well and truly sick of them by now. But sadly for our poprock heroes, the universe is not just ours to define. In the world beyond our little blog, they could all use another plug.
First, a few ground rules. The choices are drawn from the pool of songs I featured or found in 2017 and were released in that year. This is not a ‘best of’ list. This blog does not have the kind of coverage that would allow for such ‘omniscient view’ judgments. I cover things as they crawl past my attention, which means as often as not I’m featuring tunes I missed from 1994 as terribly exciting and ‘new’ to me. Nor is inclusion here a knock on the acts I’ve covered but not included. If I put them up on the site, I like’em. But there is something about this collection of tunes that lingers, sticks in my mind, and has the staying power I associate with classic 1970s AM radio hit singles. And we’re offering a ‘two-four’ of hits because, well, we are Canadian. The hyperlinks on the artist name take you to the original post and the featured songs.
So here we go – our annual list of Poprock Record’s Should-Be Hit Singles of 2017:
- Daisy House “Languages” / “Leaving the Star Girl”
- The Rallies “Don’t Give Up”
- Aimee Mann “Patient Zero”
- Fastball “Just Another Dream”
- Los Straightjackets “Rollers Show”
- Terry Malts “It’s Not Me”
- Wiretree “J.F. Sebastian”
- The Front Bottoms “Peace Sign”
- The Molochs “No More Cryin’”
- The Primitives “I’ll Trust the Wind”
- Tommy and the Rockets “Hey Daisy”
- Soccer Mommy “Out Worn”
- Robyn Gibson “He Doesn’t Love You Like I Do”
- Greg Kihn Band “The Life I Got”
- Max Bouratoglou “Drum”
- Richard Turgeon “Bad Seed”
- Freedom Fry “Strange Attraction”
- Daniel Romano “When I Learned Your Name”
- David Myles “I Wouldn’t Dance”
- Chris Lund “Tell Me”
- The Strypes “Grin and Bear It”
- Together Pangea “Money On It” / “Better Find Out”
- Propeller “Summer Arrives”
- The Mylars “Forever Done”
Daisy House dominated my playlist this year, both their current record and their back catalogue. They channel the 1960s but never let it wholly define them. They have two amazing singers and one fabulously talented songwriter. They deserve all the accolades the internet can hand out. If this were 1970 they’d probably be headlining The Flip Wilson Show tonight. The Rallies were an accidental discovery that turned into an obsession. Their whole album is great but “Don’t Give Up” makes my heart twinge every time. Aimee Mann and Fastball ably demonstrated this year that veterans can still turn out fantastic, career-defining albums. And I got to see both of them live! Los Straightjackets did Nick Lowe proud, producing a phenomenal tribute to his body of work. “Rollers Show” was my go-to summertime happy tune.
I won’t review every selection from the two-four, but I will say that I think the mix of poprock I feature on the blog is evident here. There’s fast and slow, country and rock, guitars and keyboards, etc. And then there’s always the hooks. Case in point: check out the 42 second mark on Greg Kihn’s “The Life I Got.” If you don’t feel the excitement he creates with some classic poprock guitar arpeggiation and the subtle vocal hook you’re kinda missing what we’re doing here. Here’s hoping 2018 is as hit single worthy as this past year has been!
I am going to sneak in an honourable mention for what I consider the compilation of year: Songs. Bond Songs: The Music of 007. This Curry Cuts collection has so many gems, working with material that is frankly hard to redefine. Standout tracks for me include Lannie Flower’s amazing reworking of “The James Bond Theme,” Freedy Johnston’s beautifully spare rendition of “For Your Eyes Only,” Jay Gonzalez’s nicely understated take on “A View to Kill,” and Big Box Store’s wonderfully retooled version of “Die Another Day.”
As always, let me make a plea to support the artists so we can continue to enjoy all this great music. In a way, we are living through a melodic guitar-based music renaissance, in part due to the breakdown of the old commercial music industrial complex. But what is replacing that old system is not clear, particularly the ‘making a living from music’ side of things. Visit the artist sites, go to the shows, buy the records – and repeat.
Instrumentals are the original cross cultural phenomena. Not just because they overcome the language barrier in an increasingly global world, but also because they tend to be the first bridge crossed by generationally divided tastes. Back in the 1950s and 1960s, albums of often tepid instrumentals introduced Elvis and the Beatles to an aging record buying public brought up on swing bands and Frank Sinatra. Rock and roll was too noisy for them but the hooks proved too much to ignore. Radio stations offering ‘easy listening’ formats of contemporary songs done in an instrumental style were a popular addition to elevators and doctors’ offices everywhere by the 1970s. Then with the explosion of California beach and car culture in the early 1960s instrumentals became a thing in rock and roll too. Today, its an established sub-genre.
Which brings us to this fabulous interpretation of Nick Lowe’s 1975 throw away tribute to the Bay City Rollers, “Rollers Show.” For Nick, the song was largely a contractual obligation effort, a way to cynically cash in on the teenybopper love of all things BCR at the time and fulfill his contract with United Artists records. But even knock offs from Nick can still showcase his songwriting magic, lovingly teased out in this rendition from the hilarious, over-the-top instrumental group Los Straightjackets. The band has produced a whole album of Nick covers and they are not merely knock offs. Each song is creatively reinterpreted, sometimes in boldly different ways (check out their languid version of “Cruel to be Kind” as an example). The first single was a great version of “Peace, Love and Understanding” but my current faves are “All Men Are Liars,” “I Live on a Battlefield,” and, most of all, “Rollers Show,” which really is the standout track here in my view. The album cover is pretty cool too – a riff on Lowe’s Jesus of Cool album with Nick himself featured prominently. Rollers Show
What’s So Funny About Peace Love And Los Straitjackets is out now. Find out more about this and their other fine recordings as well as their current tour with Marshall Crenshaw here.