With No Time to Die finally in theatres it seems timely to revisit the exquisite pleasures of 1960s-derivative spy music. The genre and its distinctive vibe was arguably invented when British session guitar player Vic Flick was invited to add some ‘punch’ to Monty Norman’s “James Bond Theme” before the release of the first Bond film, 1962’s Dr. No. With the addition of John Barry’s horn arrangement and Flick’s instantly recognizable rumbly guitar hooks, the track is as much a brand for the franchise as Moneypenny and the Walther PPK. Since then the song has appeared in all 25 official Bond films and, according to the website SecondHandSongs, been covered more than 153 times. Lanny Flowers produced a killer version for the superb Curry Cuts powerpop collection of Bond covers, Songs, Bond Songs, reviewed in detail here. But we won’t limit ourselves to just the double-O ranks in taking up our spy music theme. Flick’s guitar sound became synonymous with spy music more generally in the 1960s, which means it’s all pretty groovy.
Of course, we have to begin with the Bond theme, this time from Boston’s premier twang band The Weisstronauts. The take is pretty traditional, except when it’s not. Check out the intriguing guitar counterpoint that surfaces early in the tune or the brief Hawaiian guitar flourishes. It’s from the fab wiaiwya Bond songs covers album, A Girl and a Gun. Next up, the inspiration for this spy-themed post, The Outta Sites stunning spy song EP, Shaken Not Stirred: The Secret Agent Sessions. The band offer up covers of classics like “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.” and “You Only Live Twice” as well as more off-the-beaten-track – but still great – material like the “Theme from Our Man Flint,” James Coburn’s satiric take on Bond from 1966. But the price of admission is paid entirely with their “Secret Agent Medley” combining elements of Johnny Rivers’ “Secret Agent Man,” “The James Bond Theme,” “Goldfinger,” and “Live and Let Die.” “Double Agent” is also a treat with its relentless organ-driven sense of panic and excitement. Sticking to the instrumental side of spy music, San Diego’s The Shambles serve up a rare non-vocal track with “A Girl to Kill For,” the b-side to their 1995 single “(We’ve Got a) Groovy Thing” and deep cut on their 1996 album Clouds All Day. The song packs the requisite degree of guitar-driven ominous dread in a concise 2 minute workout.
Sometimes people like to sing about spies and spying. Like when Starbelly admit to some on-the-side employment in “I Am a Spy,” one of a load of bonus cuts that appear on the 2012 reboot of their 1998 album Lemon Fresh. The song has the cool melodic bite of any of The Odds 1990s material, with the spy guitar shots just an added benefit. Santa Barbara’s The Tearaways tell Bond’s story in musical form on their “James Bond.” The track is a supremely pleasant poprock tune with maximum Bond film-title name-dropping exposition. Now if you want to dig back into more historical spy song treatments, check out Ace Records fantastic collection of 1960s tunes, Come Spy With Us: The Secret Agent Songbook, featuring John Barry, Dusty Springfield, the Supremes, Nancy Sinatra, and many more. As you leave this post and the credits roll, taking us out are The Surf Trio’s “Cocktails with Bond,” basically a languid cocktail interpretation of the Bond theme, from the Exotic Guitars compilation.
The Cold War may be over but our nostalgia for the combination of international people of mystery and rumbly guitar lives on. Bond will return, undoubtedly inspiring another wave of cool tunes and covers.
I love the 1960s-meets-1980s synthesis embedded in the work of The Romantics, J. Geils, the Cars, the Go Go’s and so many others. Today’s feature artists are cut from the same cloth. I’ve dubbed them ‘paleo’ poprock because they effortlessly channel the essential melodic and rhythmic elements of the style. Listen closely and you’ll hear the very DNA of poprock.
The Tearaways are a jaw-droppingly good band. They emote an early to mid-1960s vibe, featuring their own distinctive brand of Beach Boys-style harmonies and Merseybeat jangle. And the songs! It seems like every one is loaded full of hooks. You can check out a fairly detailed review of the band corpus on an earlier post on this site. Their more recent efforts are a bit harder to nail down. Mention of a spring 2019 full album release entitled We Grew Up on AM Radio appeared on the band’s Facebook page but the record itself is hard to track down. Instead, I could find only about half an album of singles available in the usual locations. But, hey, I’ll take that. “Sweet Sounds of Summer” certainly covers the nostalgic AM radio theme, segueing to a full blown side trip into The Archies “Sugar Sugar.” “Manchester Girl” gives us a delightful blast of Mersey-ness on a tune that would easily fit on any Paul Collins record. But my fave from their latest batch of singles is “I’ll See You Again,” a solid rush of shimmery poprock goodness. A new album can’t come fast enough.
With The Empty Hearts it’s hard not to feel that rush of excitement that accompanied all the best new wave bands. It was a time when a ringing guitar seemed to able to kickstart what had become a moribund rock and roll scene band to life. And with former members of The Cars, Blondie, The Romantics and the Chesterfield Kings in the band, I mean, how could the group go wrong? Their self-titled debut deservedly received accolades from all quarters, including yours truly. Now back with The Second Album, it’s accolade time again. Early release single “Coat Tailor” kicks the album into high gear with Romantics-style up-front guitar and hooks. Ringo Starr stops in long enough to add touch of Beatles-rhythm to the delightfully jangle-heavy “Remember Days Like These.” From there the record offers up a wide range of familiar mid-to-late 1960s and early 1980s sounds, like a great J. Geils soul vamp on “Well, Look At You,” or the Cars vibe on “Come and Try It,” or the Kinks-ian feel to “The Haunting of the Tin Soldier” or what sounds like a great lost Romantics single, “If I Could Change Your Mind.” The whole record is a breezy, fun party album from players who’ve mastered the hooky rock and roll oeuvre.
Dave Rave has had an incredible career, as a member of legendary Canadian punk/new wave bands like The Shakers and Teenage Head, and then in more straight up rock and roll outfits like The Dave Rave Group and Dave Rave Conspiracy. Over the last decade he’s put out a raft of great records as a solo artist and with his Minnesota backing band The Governors (you can get caught up on these releases here). Now Dave Rave and Governors have a new double album out, January and June, with 18 cuts that cover off everything from sixties garage rock to melodic jangle. The record takes on an impressive range of styles yet still sounds coherent. There’s a sixties garage vibe to “Nowhere to Rumble” and “Leaving Doors Open,” a Stonesy slow grind to “Trangression” and Ray Davies flavour to “Medusa Without Snakes,” and a sixties psychedelia to “Summer is Gone” and banjo folky feel to “My Little Town.” I love the lively bass work on “You’re Worry” and 1979 ska sound and killer organ fill on “Pull the Trigger.” But the undeniable choice for a double A-sided single here should the combo of the light and jaunty, earwormy “I Don’t Think So” with the classic FM rock radio-sounding “Walking Down the Boulevard” with its distinctive rumbly and jangly guitar lead lines. January and June is another no-nonsense rock and roll release from Dave, chock full of delightful surprises and reliable hooks.
A great band is one that just gels on stage or in the studio. They so know the rock and roll motifs they can reliably work off each in sometimes predictable, sometimes surprising ways. The Tearaways, The Empty Hearts, and Dave Rave and the Governors are such veterans, paleo-poprockers that turn out great tunes with apparent ease. Get your dose of their rock and roll via the conveniently provided hyperlinks.
I’m not really an album guy. Particularly now in our ‘download-any-song-you-want-era’. I grew up on compilation albums and AM radio. It was all singles, singles singles: a new sound every three minutes. A whole album is just a vinyl horizon for my needle dropping. But I have to say this year I got hooked on more than a few long players. What grabbed me? I could say it was the songwriting, a coherent sonic palette, the performative ingenuity, etc. But hey, who am I kidding? It was mostly the hooks. Fair warning: there is considerable overlap of artists here with my should-be hit singles list (duh) but not entirely. Bottom line: you won’t go wrong putting your cash down on these LPs in toto.
So, here are Poprock Record’s 20 must-have LPs for 2018:
Best ‘best of’ compilation: KC BowmanImportant with a Capital I; Best covers album: Tommy and RocketsI Wanna Be Covered; Special merit award: Super 8T-T-Technicolour Melodies, Turn Around Or …, HI LO
Edging out Daisy House’s fantastic Bon Voyage by a hair, my number one album for 2018 is Aaron Lee Tasjan’s Karma for Cheap. The more I listened to this record, the more I loved the songs and the performances. There is something extraordinary in just how Tasjan combines his elements. He’s got rumbly guitar, he’s got jangly guitar. His vocals run the gamut from Tom Petty-solid to Roy Orbison-aching tenderness. There’s not a weak cut here, but pay special attention to subtle hooky vocal interplay on “Heart Slows Down,” or the driving guitar hook behind “End of the Day,” or the touching “Dream Dreamer.” You won’t steer wrong with his back catalogue either, particularly 2016’s Silver Tears! There is so much I could say about all 20 albums but frankly the music speaks for itself. Click the links to go directly to the band’s bandcamp, Facebook or webpages.
One final word: I had to single out Super 8’s stupendous triple album accomplishment this year for special attention. After a two-decade career in rock and roll that can only be described as cinematic in its litany of seeming breakthroughs, bad luck, record company shenanigans and some bandmate’s bad faith, these albums are a vindication of his resolve to stick with music. Each record is finely crafted portrait of late 1960s summertime sunshine poprock. Your time machine back to 1968 is ready for boarding! Just hit play.
Let’s make 2019 another great year for poprock – buy these albums, get out to some concerts, and tell your friends about these great finds.
2018 was a freakin’ fantastic year for poprock! How do I know? Every year-end I put together a playlist of tunes released that year. In 2016 it consisted of 58 songs clocking in at just over 3 hours. By 2017 that list expanded to 98 songs running over 5 hours. This year the list exploded to 175 songs going on for over 9 hours! My list of should-be hit singles had to expand to a top 50 just to accommodate all this talent. Hit the links below to find each artist as featured in my original blog post this past year or to go to their bandcamp or Facebook page if I didn’t write them up.
So, without further ado, here is Poprock Record’s should-be hit singles for 2018:
For the second year running Daisy House tops my list of should-be hit singles. I have simply run out of superlatives to describe the musical genius of this band. Great songwriting, a killer 1960s vibe, flawless production and performance – it just doesn’t get any better than this. Do yourself a favour and head over to Bandcamp to download their whole catalogue. Oberon Rose came a close second with what must be one of the coolest singles rolled out this year. Ruler ruled my playlist for a good part of 2018, with “Unhindered Place” just one of the great songs on his album. I love the way William Duke’s guitar sounds like a jangle waterfall on his hooky masterpiece “Carole and Silver Screen.” And Aaron Lee Tasjan is a real find – so many possible selections – but more on that with my upcoming ‘20 must-have LPs for 2018’ post. I could go on … (but click on the links to get the full story).
I hope you enjoy these fifty songs enough to click on over to some of the artists’ web real estate and help them along career-wise. 2019 promises to be another hungry year for many of these mostly struggling artists – so do your part: buy their music and go see them live when they come to your town.
Summer is nearly upon us so it’s time to start thinking about that party playlist. You don’t want to be caught tuneless with the BBQ on and the craft beer flowing. The party element is important because the origins of rock and roll can be found in the joy and fun and abandon of people + good rocking + Saturday night. It’s the adrenaline that runs through Chuck Berry’s “Rock and Roll Music,” Jerry Lee Lewis’s “Great Balls of Fire,” and Elvis’ “Hound Dog.” So today’s selection of pop rock bands channel that original rock and roll party vibe in varied and exciting ways.
Santa Barbara’s The Tearaways sent me their latest CD (thanks boys!), but they needn’t have. I’d already bought most of their back catalogue, so I would have gotten around to getting the new one. These guys have been in the rock and roll game for the long haul, forming in 1982 but relentlessly gigging ever since. Their early to mid-career recorded output is hard to find, but since 2014 they’ve released five killer albums of 1960s-inflected pop rock and roll. These guys know their Merseybeat hooks and layer that with exquisite California beach harmonies. Sometimes it’s pure 1960s redux. Other times, very 1979 new wave or 1980s indie. But throughout the songwriting is strong, at times fun, even a bit goofy, or just filled with straight up party hooks. You can literally hear the party starting on the Irish-inflected 2013 single “We’re All Going to Drink Tonight.” Or put either of 2014’s Earle Mankey albums and hit shuffle for instant party mode with should-be classics like “Girls Who Love Cars” and “James Bond” or “Friends and Enemies” and “John Wayne.” 2017’s DW Hofner, Martin Gibson, Ludwig Rickenbacker, Earle Hammond & Vox Fender, ESQ adds a bit of Britpop/Oasis to the mix with “Find Yourself Another Fool” along with great rock and roll name dropping on “Bash” and “That’s Rock.” But my fave here would “Hello Isla Vista” with its dynamic vocal harmony drenched chorus. The new record is no slouch either. Anthems and Lullabies sees the band branching out, featuring some distinctive new solo vocal performances on the swinging “I Could Love You Forever” or the Orbisonesque “Remember to Forget.” And then there’s the hilarious, hooky “What a Jerk” and my choice for should-be hit single, the flawless “Sometimes Saying Nothing Says it All.” Live footage of the band confirms they pull off these tunes with an extra measure of rock and heart.
We’re All Going to Drink TonightGirls Who Love CarsJohn WayneWhat a JerkSometimes Saying Nothing Says It All
Our next group is the band that was playing in the background of your ‘night out at the bar’ when you suddenly realized they’re freakin’ fabulous (and it’s not just the beer talking). Minneapolis’ J. Eastman and the Drunk Uncles play like they’ve been playing together forever. They’re tight and easy at the same time. Their first album, No Capo Required, has a rough but solid indie sound, particularly on tracks like “Not the Liquor” and “Lack of Medication.” And then there’s earwormy jangle gem, “Josephine.” I’ve hit replay on this baby countless times – a real should-be hit! The band is back this year with Pleasing Some of the People None of the Time, an album that maintains all their indie charm with just a bit more polish. Comparisons to The Replacements and REM are not out of order, though I also hear a bit of a Springsteen, particularly some of his more recent poprock-oriented material (e.g. “Hurry Up Sundown” from 2014’s American Beauty EP). Highlights for me include “On Your Dime” and “Holding On.” But my hands down fave is “No Political Agenda.” I love its explosive ‘out of the box’ opening and driving guitar hooks. Gimme a twofer and a spot close to the stage this Friday night’s live performance!
Better shine up your dancing shoes for our next band, LA’s The Condors. They meld a classic rock and roll sound with that new wave sheen circa 1979 – think The Romantics meets Tom Petty, with a dash of The Cars and Elvis Costello thrown in for good measure. 2001’s Kinks’ inspired Tales of Drunkenness of Cruelty has a wonderful punky poprock sound on tracks like “Listen to Me Now.” By 2007’s Wait For It the sound had tightened up considerably. ‘Somewhere over the rainbow … there’s a party going on’ kicks off “Waiting Half the Night” and the start of a non-stop party album. Songs range from the droll “Don’t Want a Girl Who’s Been With Jack” to the blasting, driving “Carnival of Fools” to the rollicking “Wake Up.” However, my fave is probably the more sophisticated melody on “Something Better Coming Soon.” 2012’s 3 Item Combo changed up the sound a bit, adding considerable variety, sounding a bit Eels at times, Cars at others. Album highlights for me include “My Slice of Life,” “Seraphina Why” and full-on rock out on “Full Blown Love Attack.” In 2015 the band released just one single but what a tune! “Back to Jackson” echoes Nancy and Lee’s 1967 hit but takes it further. 2017’s EP Joi De Vivre shows the boys have still got it on tracks like “Tell It to the Judge” and the smoking instrumental “High Chaparral.” A night with this band would be dance heaven.
Listen To Me NowWaiting Half the NightCarnival of FoolsWake UpFull Blown Love AttackBack to JacksonHigh Chaparral
Looking to party like it’s 1965? Then The Connection is your band! I imagine a party night with this group is kinda like one of those dance scenes from A Hard Day’s Night. These guys have rock and roll chops influenced by a classic 1960s poprock groove, British pub rock, and American new wave. Think mid-1960s Stones, Rockpile, with a bit of NRBQ and Ramones. And the hooks! Songwriters Marino and Palmer leaven their party rock with healthy dose of melody at every turn. I can’t go through every album with this band – there’s just too many great songs. I love the early 1960s sweetness of “Little Lies” from 2011’s New England’s Newest Hitmakers or the rockin’ swing of “Gonna Leave You” from 2012’s Connection Collection, v.1. Then again 2013’s Let It Rock is all full of cool tracks like “She’s a Keeper” and “The Way Love Should Be.” 2015’s Labor of Love mines the more 1970s poprock sound of Nick Lowe and the Kinks, for instance on “Pathetic Kind of Man.” Ok, I did cover most of the albums. And don’t miss out on the band’s latest, Wish You Success – it may be their best yet. “The Girl is Trouble” is poprock perfection. But my current fave is “Mechanical Heart” with it’s sneaky earworm effect. Get your skinny tie on for this party band.