Saturday, August 23, 2008
Power Pop's 21st Century Comeback
Stiv Bators and Frank Secich, 1979, Hollywood, CA
When punk rock pioneer Stiv Bators reunited with his childhood friend Frank Secich in 1979 to make power pop records, he had his finger on the pulse of the future of the new music, the post-punk movement that made the mainstream take notice. Sure, some marketing person started calling the more pop stuff "new wave" but its always been power pop.
It goes back the Beatles, like it always does... and from the Beatles, we get a direct line to The Ramones, the unequivocal kings of American punk rock.... like it or not.
The Ramones were not just NYC's favorite sons, they were almost every NYC punk pioneer's favorite band. Punk rock's Most Valuable Player, Blondie drummer Clem Burke wears his opinion on his back -- that Ramones t-shirt of his was a wardrobe perrenial back in the day. Clem has told me on more than one occasion that The Ramones are punk rock's Beatles. And he's right. Despite their power chord frenzy, The Ramones played pop music... and even had an album produced by the master of all pop music, Phil Spector. Even before the creator of the Wall of Sound put his mark on the Ramones, the band were giving us songs like "I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend." They were like the boy Ronettes...
Blondie, one of the earliest of NYC underground bands of the punk rock era embraced the pop side of punk and made a 30+ year career blending the best of power pop and punk rock with a little bit of European dance music thrown in for good measure (remember, their Giorgio Moroder produced and co-written single Call Me was 1980's #1 Pop single)
Rodney Bingenheimer, known to many in the 21st Century as the Mayor of the Sunset Strip, has always been a fan and supporter of power pop going way back in his own fan days (he was a fan of the Beatles, Small Faces, Sonny & Cher - all the good pop stuff). If you find a backstage picture of Rodney and some band... if they weren't punk rock pioneers, then they were the cream of the crop of power pop. Witness:
Nick Gilder, Debbie Harry & Rodney, backstage at the Starwood, 1978
Rodney was playing the Bomp single, "Giving It All" by a power pop trio from Oklahoma, 20/20 relentlessly on his show, Rodney on the ROQ.
It helped them reach a huge fan base in LA and they were signed to a major label deal (Epic - doesn't get much bigger than the Sony empire, does it?), added a fourth member and went on to make a couple albums in the major leagues that were musically ahead of their time.
20/20 fell off the mainstream radar for a while, but die-hard record collectors and pop music fans never forgot them. In fact, next weekend, they are performing in Austin, Texas as one of the main attractions in the Austin Wild Weekend Power Pop Fest.
20/20 with their girlfriends, some fans and Rodney, backstage at the Whisky a Go Go
Its a line-up that acknowledges the 70s/80s power pop bands as well as the bands that were influenced by them.... such as Seattle's Boss Martians.
The Black & Whites from Oxford, MS, fronted by Talbot Adams channel a Real Kids / Ramones thing, and I'm happy to say you can see what I mean, as they too are playing this Festival.
Talbot Adams, The Black & Whites
THEE power pop supergroup of recent times, however, remains Magic Christian which boasts a membership of Cyril Jordan (Flamin' Groovies), Clem Burke (Blondie), Eddie Munoz (Plimsouls) and Paul Kopf. They won't be at the Austin festival but they ARE playing in NYC the first weekend of September.
Back when they first started, The Plimsouls were, very much like other extraordinary power pop bands that came before (I am thinking: Badfinger, the first rock n roll band to be considered power pop - the band, that in fact, defined what it meant to be power pop) could play the hell of out all rock n roll and pop genres and do it with elan and chaos at the same time. Throw in the Plimsouls' own little bit of soul, garage and punk, and you have perfection in a live performance.
A band that formed in the 1990s channels that same kind of energy of The Plimsouls and of Badfinger (and if you think Badfinger is just a Beatles sound-alike band, I URGE... no I DEMAND you watch the DVD of The Concert for Bangladesh. Badfinger are the core of the backing band for all the superstars who made guest appearances with George Harrison and they do more than could ever be expected of any house band. They were flawless in every genre and style demanded of them) is The Shazam.
When I first met them, I was taken by the separated at birth resemblance of their front man, lead guitarist and songwriter, Hans Rotenberry to Badfinger's Pete Ham. Thankfully, Hans agrees... anyway, The Shazam have more in common than look-alike band leaders... you could call The Shazam a power pop band, and at the time they started out, based in Nashville, TN, they were a lone power pop voice in Music City.
But like the great Badfinger, the great Plimsouls and the great Cheap Trick, The Shazam can play deftly and skillfully across the genres that inform rock n roll and pop music. Deemed a garage band by one of my erstwhile music biz employers, The Shazam are a garage band in the same way The Who is... yeah, they can play dirty, but they're more often than not just dirty enough to make their beautiful harmonies sound like rock n roll instead of... well, beauty. That and they are loud and sweaty; make no mistake: they rock. You may have missed out on them during the past 10 years, but now that I've put them on your radar, keep an ear open....
The Shazam - Hans Rotenberry, Scott Ballew (top, middle)
Mike Vargo, Jeremy Asbrock (L-R)
Here is the line-up for the Austin Wild Weekend Power Pop Fest:
Friday, August 29th:
Paul Collins Beat
Black & Whites
The Pleasure Kills
Saturday, August 30th:
Gentleman Jesse And His Men