no.102*

Powerpop & pop-rock: S & T

(Hyped to Death CD #14B)

Powerpop got off to a well-hyped start in the mid-'70s, but after the decline-and-demise of Creem, Who Put the Bomp! and Trouser Press in the early '80s, pop aficionados (okay, there weren't that many of them left) had no way to keep up with what might have been going on. The decade of the bottom-line reviled powerpop's basic mise-en-scène: a hopeful but hopelessly single guy (Teenline's rosters are 95+% male), so, so alone in a world where, somewhere, inevitably lurks the perfect girl. It's just that she's already going out with someone else -or she's one or more of the following: hiding, vain, spiteful, oblivious, older, unapproachable, unaffordable, too shy, too pretty...or simply a little too boy-crazy to settle for just our hero...

 

Wisconsin & the Midwest: For the last 35 years or so Wisconsin has turned out more powerpop and poprock bands per capita than anyplace else on earth. (Especially if you exclude its capital Madison, where they've been spewing out twisted arty hippiefunk and gawdknowswhatelse for just as long.) Th'whole Teenline series is named for a Shivvers song, we're hoping to get an RPM's reissue off the ground in '04 and the newest "solo" CD is by another Milwaukee band, The Sidewalks. 1981's "Natalie" is a chugging, loopy, haplessly sexist powerpop classic. They never quite explain what their interest is in telling us to "keep your hands off Natalie," as it's clear that they can't touch her either. Meanwhile, "Let Me Out" is one of their demos from the Rhythm Kids CD (Teenline #203).
Also from Milwaukee come the Squares, who'd soaked up plenty of the local pop heritage and maybe a bit of what Prince was up to one state to the left on the way to "999 Names of Love." They started out as the Post Raisin Band on Gulcher's Red Snerts compilation, then did an album, a cassette and this 45 as the Squares. They now carry on in a janglier/rootsier vein as the Wooldridge Brothers, while Joe Vent's with Milwaukee's long-running Yell Leaders.
By the time the Shy waxed these two Rockpile/bubble-billy treats, dated 1984 and '85, Detroit powerpop had thoroughly fizzled out -along with leather blazers & skinny ties. The Shy have a third, even earlier 45, a website [theshy.com] and a new CD...with several LPs in-between.

The Northeast
Shane Champagne had so much fun cutting their debut 45, "Stepped On," that they couldn't wait to get back in the studio. The next song was a hit and they quickly became regulars on the more commercial end of Boston's early '80s scene. From later in '80 their classic "Lonely Next to You" exemplified Boston's big-production/ monster-riff gtrrock sound. Gary Shane later had a string of Boston radio hits with the Detour (all also on Johnny V's Pure & Easy label) and now helms the Silvertone Prophecy Band. David Champagne went on to Pink Cadillac, then formed Treat Her Right with the late Mark Sandman [Morphine], and currently sings with The Heygoods.

Out in Western Mass. the Sighs took a purer powerpop approach with 1985's "Control" & "Charity." They did a '92 LP for Charisma and one more indie before calling it quits. Sighs guitarist Dave MacDonald was previously in the Cardiac Kids, while multi-instrumentalist Tommy Pluta now leads Mary's First (on Omad Records). The Shambles' wonderfully retro-Mersey "Stay With Me..." appeared in 1985, but it came with no hint of where they were from, or how to get them to play your high school dance... Turns out they were a Connecticut band who played deliberately Beatlesque pop around New England well into the late '80s. Singer Sean Morrissey now has a band called Three Peace, lead guitarist Bill "Blue" Mulligan is with Nacho Kitty and they still share the occasional stage with Shambles' drummer John Parrella..

Thanks to Milk'n'Cookies, the NY Dolls, and their many admirers New York City power-pop and poprock tended to have deep roots in glam-rock -and Brooklyn's Speedies [photo, left] are as fine an example of that as any. Apart from the ancient 21-year-old John Carlucci [Fuzztones, Super Honkey] they were all teenage prodigies. Max's and other clubs loved them for breaking attendance records, even if it was with their underage high-school classmates... After two fine snot-pop 45s, however, both guitarists split for college... In September 2005 the Speedies finally hit the big time, when Hewlett-Packard added "Let Me Take Your Photograph" to their wonderful "frames" ad-campaign and the Speedies debuted their "You Need Pop" collection on iTunes. Their new website is speediesremix.com

By the mid '80s, innumerable bands from Beat Rodeo to the Raunch Hands to Scruffy the Cat and a buncha other Coyote bands cranked out one great country-pop tune after another, but they uniformly failed to find an audience: the Squirrels from Hell joined the parade in 1984 with "I Can't Stay." The Squirrels carry on to this day, however, in a more trashpunk/RadioBirdman mode as "The Band New York City Couldn't Kill." They have two CDs out now on their Rodent label: www.hellsville.com. Smart Remarks' "home turf" was the City Gardens club in Trenton, but they played around the New Jersey/NYC circuit for four years in the early 80s where they opened for the likes of Joan Jett, Haircut 100, and Lydia Lunch. They reshuffled a bit after their Scott Evans-produced 45 with "Mary," but the Seriously Speaking 12" was the last thing they did.

Moving clockwise...
The Strand cut a dynamite poprock LP in '83 for the ill-fated Wasp label. Although bass/vox Jim Garner was rumored to be giving bass lessons as late as the mid-90s and there were still occasional sightings of Bill Asp [=W. Asp] around D.C. (he died in 2004), we'd given up on finding them. But then pop-sleuth Mark London came to our rescue by finding Jim and passing his info along to us. "One More Ring" is Jim's song, while the LP's title track is by guitarist/vox Bill Lasley. There's a Spanish bootleg of the Strand LP on CD but we're hoping to see an official reissue with extra material... More news anon.
Charlotte, NC's Spongetones did a couple 45s and two solid early-80s albums of terrific pop lovingly soaked up from the Beatles'n'Monkees, all fronted by hookmeister Jamie Hoover [ex-Happy Eggs]. Everything's been reissued in a buncha places and most all of it's available at the Spongetones' website. The Spongetones great new CD, "9" is out now at cdbaby.com, and Jamie's stellar collaboration with Bill Lloyd is available on Paisley Pop.

The Skunks were ace punk'n'rollers from Austin who by 1982 had garnered enough of a buzz -and enough money- to hire Earle Mankey to produce their second LP. The punks gagged, but the world ended up with a terrific wad of gtr-pop-rock (that nevertheless languished in the dollar-bins well into the '90s). Check out their terrific live [1981] CD called Earthquake Shake.

Dallas' Side Effex were even more of an anomaly in 1985, though their Marshall Crenshaw-ish side and the loud guitars probably presented protective cover. They did two further 45s, plus the theme song for the 1988 Texas Rangers (yeah, that was during the time when Dubya owned them). Also a bunch of unreleased material and a 1990 band called T-Roy. Current ex-Effex projects include the Nomadic Farmers and Big Methuselah. (Both these and T-Roy are available online at MP3.com...)

Finally, out west... San Francisco's punk and art-scenes cross-pollinated pretty freely (mutually allied against whatever warmed-over psych or Huey Lewis frat-rock the aging hippies were up to), but the Flamin Groovies had the powerpop business more-or-less to themselves. So it's no surprise that Start (named for the Jam song) made little impact with this terrific Mod-pop 45 in '81. The band included original Sleepers member Paul Draper, and guitar/vocalist Bart Thurber now runs House of Faith Studios in Oakland.

Gary Ekin and Steve Jonsson formed the Santa Cruz edition of the Secrets in 1979 after their surf band Rocky Road broke up. They're no relation to the N.J., Toronto or Kansas City bands, though all were active at the time... Philadelphian John Reynolds joined on guitar (ex-Bolivians: Homework #7) and they set to work on a 4-track Tascam, which after some months yielded their "Wishful Thinking" 45. There was a major reshuffling in '82, but the Secrets kept filling clubs til they broke up for keeps in 1985.


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