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.
While there is little in the post-Beatles era that is not somehow touched by their influence, some bands wear that influence a bit more obviously than others. Today’s crew are veritable Beatlemaniacs, long suffering and uninterested in any cure. At times, they almost are The Beatles, they come so close to the masters in song structure and/or performance. Yet they all add some magic of their own, some original element that elevates their efforts beyond mere imitation. Get ready for some old and new Beatlers!
One of the earliest post-Beatles bands working the Mersey side of street was Liverpool Echo. Their self-titled 1973 album was a refreshing reworking of the 1964 Beatles sound for the seventies with strong songwriting from Martin Briley (later of “Salt in my Tears” fame) and Brian Engel. Countless songs start out like a Beatles’ classic, only to veer into something else, e.g. “You Know It Feels Alright” kicks off with a “Love Me Do” harmonica, or “Don’t You Know I’ve Been Lying” sounds very “I Call Your Name” at the start. But the record sports more than a few really original cuts, like “Gone, Gone, Gone” and the hooky “Girl on a Train.” Former hard rockers The Szutershave a broader take on The Beatles’ sonic legacy on their new album Sugar, filtering their efforts through a Todd Rungdren/Utopia Deface the Music set of influences (particularly on “If You Only Knew”) or a Cheap Trick (on “She’s Coming Home With Me”) or even early Squeeze (“Good Thing”). But “I Don’t Wanna Cry” and “Two We Will Always Be” nail The Beatles circa ’64.
With Putting the L in WooltonesRob Clarke and the Wooltonesmove a bit beyond their usual Mersey predilections to explore some other 1960s sounds. But there’s still one classic moptop number with “It’s Only You,” a lovely track that could easily live in the Beatles For Sale universe. And then there are actual cover bands, though few stand out like Apple Jam. As one commentator once said, “Apple Jam are possibly the most arcane Beatles tribute band in the world.” Why? Because they only record the songs The Beatles never officially recorded. Their 2009 Off the Beatle Track album reworks 15 early Lennon-McCartney tunes (and one Harrison song), their 2018 Off the White Album takes up all those songs that didn’t make the White Album cut, while other singles and EPs give a Beatles treatment to various solo material from the fabs. The results are pretty spectacular. Imagine all those songs the Beatles gave away in the 1963-4 period but now informed by the polished sound they gave on their official releases. “I’m In Love” and “From a Window” get upgraded to an obvious should-have-been Beatles release. “Goodbye” as performed here seems to merit inclusion on the White Album. And their Beatles 1964-style interpretation of McCartney’s “On the Wings of a Nightingale” is pretty special. The band’s most recent single is a version of Harrison’s unreleased “Window Window” from the Let It Be-era.
Unlike our other Beatle-vibing bands Cupid’s Carnival solidly occupy the mid-period Beatles zone, stretching perhaps from Help! to Yellow Submarine. They load their songs with uber cool Beatles references but the songwriting stands on its own. Their recent 2020 release Colour Blind kicks off strong with “Working All Day,” acing those familiar Beatles harmonies. The hooky “I Got It Wrong” and “Happiness” are Beatles poprock bliss! “Clapham Junction – Platform 9” uses a “Strawberry Fields” mellotron to good effect. And the record includes their masterful should-be hit “She Don’t Care” from their 2018 EP Clapham Junction. Detroit’s The Singles are all over the Meet the Beatles sound on their 2003 debut Better Than Before. The title track is simultaneously pure 1964 and yet timeless in execution, absolute dance party killer. “She’s Got a Hold” works that special Beatles jangle into a lovely melodic number with great harmonies. Since then the band has released a number of solid poprocking albums, albeit ones that beat the Beatles drum a bit more lightly.
55 years ago “Help!” was heading for number one on the Billboard Hot 100. Today we’re still living in the shadow of that influence. Help keep the flame alive by clicking the hyperlinked band names above.
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.
This blog is really one long testimonial to the Beatles’ influence on all sorts of popular music, past and definitely present. Indeed, my shorthand for describing what I do here to any random person is to say the blog features new music that builds on the legacy of the Fab Four. Today we attend to that influence more directly with bands that wear their Beatles love on their sleeves. Sometimes it’s the sound, other times it’s the subject matter, or it can just be an inspired cover.
On sound, Rob Clarke and the Wooltones nail the distinctive elements of the Merseyside scene circa 1963. “Brown Paper Bag” is strongly reminiscent of the Liverpool’s Big Three, a band briefly thought to be able to rival the Beatles (until 1964 came along), particularly their version of “Some Other Guy.” Cupid’s Carnival also mine the early Beatles sound on two different versions of their most recent single “She Don’t Care” (from their new EP Clapham Junction), one a straight up rock and roll treatment, the other featuring a more flamenco-style rhythm. But unlike a host of more derivative Beatles copy-cat acts, this homage works because the songwriting and performance are so strong. Addison Love also has the 1960s sound down but his contribution is more notable for its lyrical content. With a focus similar to Ken Sharp’s “She Hates the Beatles” (featured recently on this blog here), Love’s “Like the Beatles” suggests he just can’t sustain a relationship with someone who doesn’t relate to John, Paul, George and Ringo. Poor kid. Lucky for him, the Beatles’ popularity shows no sign of diminishing! Rounding out our Beatles love is a cover of “Paperback Writer” from the B52s. There is no shortage of Beatle’s covers but this one caught my ear because while it remains fairly true to the original there is a fresh sense of fun about it, as one would expect from this group. Recorded in 2004 for use in a car commercial when the band didn’t even have a record contract, the song remains officially unreleased and unavailable for purchase.
Cupid’s Carnival – She Don’t CareCupid’s Carnival – She Don’t Care (Flamenco Version)Addison Love – Like the Beatles
On the blogosphere there is already a clearly demarked niche music genre that combines melodic pop melodies with the classic rock and roll combo of electric guitars, bass and drums: power pop. Said to have been coined by no less an authority than Pete Townsend of The Who, the term ‘power pop’ is now applied to any band with jangly guitars, swooping background harmonies, and a strong melodic hook. My blogroll features two such sites (Absolute Powerpop and Powerpopaholic) and there are many more. So why cast my efforts under a different label like poprock? Well, simply put, I think poprock is a broader, more inclusive term. Or, to put it another way, while all of power pop could be considered a form of poprock, not all poprock would be characterized as power pop.
For many bloggers, power pop has become a kind of music esthetic: a certain kind of guitar sound, a particular combination of instruments and vocals, etc. Poprock, by contrast, is less rigid. It is less a genre than a sensibility, crossing over different styles. Sure it is defined by strong melodies and as a category it would make little sense if it didn’t relate to the rock and roll cannon. But rock and roll itself was a bastard child of multiple influences: south Chicago electric blues, Appalachian mountain fiddle solos and harmony vocals, western swing, and so on. What differentiates its many sub-genres is the balance of influences. Thus poprock takes a bit more of the swing and country than the blues while still set within the classic rock and roll combo. Here I’m thinking of Buddy Holly, the Beatles, the Steve Miller band (in the hits era), Marshall Crenshaw, The Smithereens, and, more recently, Bleachers.
So don’t get me wrong – I love power pop. It’s just that I like a lot of other things too.Bleachers website