This edition of the Big Show spins cool rockin’ pop songs old and new.
A “mini theme” of music history, nostalgia and looking to the future emerges in the second set. The Paul and John chime in with “Long Way Back,” a look at a punk rock summer from days gone by. Sunrise Highway defy aging by continuing to make music as time goes by in “Foreverland.” The Barracudas check in with their classic celebration of the music of the mid-60’s with “(I Wish It Could Be) 1965 Again.”
Show #9 also features a rare, acoustic version of Teenage Fanclub’s “Don’t Look Back,” Matthew Sweet covering the single best Paul McCartney solo song, Martin Luther Lennon’s wonderfully titled “Armageddon Surfer Girl, Rock On,” the Go-Betweens doing “Surfing Magazines,” and a whole lot more.
So, why not give it a spin, and check out the main mix at Pop That Goes Crunch radio, streaming 24/7.
The complete track list appears after the embed.
1. The Lyres, “Help You Ann”
2. Martin Luther Lennon, “Armageddon Surfer Girl, Rock On”
3. Nushu, “Precious To Me”
4. The Paul and John, “Long Way Back”
5. Sunrise Highway, “Foreverland”
6. The Barracudas, “(I Wish It Could Be) 1965 Again”
“If you’re a power pop fan, you’ve got the book, and quite a labor of love it was. But if you could tweak John Borack’s 200, what albums would be #1-#10?” So went a question posed in an on-line discussion group.
The book in question is Shake Some Action, a photograph of which appears to the left. It’s out-of print, but a list of the Top 200 can be found (with an occasional Spotify link) here
Lists of “the best” of anything can be difficult to compile. A fine line distinction between, say, Number 4 and Number 5 can be agonizing and, ultimately, quite arbitrary.
But this assignment was different. It used someone else’s list as a jumping off point. There were also “rules,” most particularly that there could only be one entry per artist on the list, and that “two-fers” could be included.
So I was game. Have I listened to every album in the Top 200? Of course not. That limited the playing field even more.
So here’s my quick, down and dirty tweaking of “John Borack’s 200.” No agonizing over fine line distinctions went into creating this list:
1. Big Star, #1 Record/Radio City: All roads lead to and from this “two-fer.” If I created a list of my Top 100 songs of all-time, it would include “September Gurls,” “Thirteen,” “The Ballad of El Goodo,” “When My Baby’s Beside Me,” etc., etc., etc.
2. Myracle Brah, Life On Planet Eartsnop: 20 songs meant for blasting out of an AM car radio in 1972 while driving around town with windows open and without a care in the world. The lead track, “Whisper Softly,” sets the tone for everything that comes after:
3. Cotton Mather, Kontiki: The yin and yang of melodic rock. Slow, dreamy stuff (“Spin My Wheels”) slides effortlessly into full-throttled Power Pop (“My Before and After”). And it does it over-and-over again.
4.Jellyfish, Spilt Milk: Some bands fly under your radar and are never noticed. Some are simply overlooked. Some are purposefully avoided. Jellyfish fits into the last category for me. No way, no how was I going to listen to this “hippie” stuff in the early-90s. That was just so wrong. Spilt Milk is simply the most brilliant collection of self-indulgent, over-the-top, bombastic circus pop ever released.
5. Matthew Sweet, Girlfriend: This grafts some of the greatest guitar playing in the entire Power Pop universe onto fifteen almost perfect songs. More than twenty years after-the-fact, it sounds like it could have been released last month.
6. Wondermints, Wondermints: Beautifully encapsulates almost the entire history of rock and roll as it existed in 1995. The finesse with which the band handles such a wide variety of styles is all the more remarkable because it seems so effortless:
7. Chris von Sniedern, Big White Lies: One meticulously crafted pure pop gem after another by one of the true craftsmen around. A slightly softer version of the recreated AM rock experience of the early-70s than Life On Planet Eartsnop.
8. Eugene Edwards, My Favorite Revolution: It grabs you immediately and refuses to let go. And it shouldn’t. Its un-fancy, bass-guitars-and-drum rock and roll, smartly written from start to finish:
9.The Plimsouls, The Plimsouls . . . Plus: Some of this supplied one of the soundtracks to my high school years. Its Power Pop, but with some R&B and garage rock sprinkled into the mix. “Zero Hour,” “Now,” “Everyday Things,” “Great Big World,” “How Long Will It Take” and “Great Big World” remain perennials for me more than thirty years later.
10. The Merrymakers, Bubblegun: This is pretty sounding Power Pop. Not only is “April’s Fool” one of the best songs of the past two decades, it is easily the most exuberant song about being “dumped” that I have ever heard. For good measure, Andy Sturmer of Jellyfish (see No. 4) assisted with production and percussion — and is listed as co-writer of “April’s Fool” — so my circle is entirely complete.
And that’s my current tweaking of the Top 200. These things change over time. Who knows, maybe there is a to-be-discovered gem in the 200 that I have not yet heard.
The Windbreakers were a Mississippi-based band, comprised primarily of Bobby Sutliff and Tim Lee, that released a half-dozen records in the 80s and 90s in the kind of Byrds/Big Star jangle pop/psychedelic amalgam that R.E.M. rode to great success. Although similar success eluded The Windbreakers, Sutliff and Lee are gifted composers and superb guitar players. One of the best examples of their craft is the simply gorgeous, then-new song they recorded as the title track to the band’s 2002 compilation, Time Machine:
Outside of The Windbreakers, Sutliff and Lee have both done about a half-dozen other records each, and have appeared on various compilations and tribute records as performers, songwriters and producers. In June 2012, however, Sutliff was involved in a serious automobile accident near his home in Powell, Ohio. Lee wrote:
At the time, the prognosis was guarded, albeit not particularly promising. But Bobby survived his multiple injuries, and after a month or so of sedation, he slowly began making progress. Eventually, the pace picked up, and his condition continued to improve at an amazing speed. Before long, he was back home and closing in on 100 percent recovery.
But Sutliff’s un-paid medical bills were enormous. Lee thus organized ab bunch of friends to make a tribute record of Sutliff’s songs, an perform a concert in Atlanta, to raise money to defray the expenses. The resulting record, Skrang — a term coined by Sutliff to describe “the sound of an open chord on an electric guitar” — is likely one of the best things you will hear this year. It features performances by long-time purveyors of melodic rock and Power Pop, and not a single bum performance over 18 tracks.
Velvet Crush and Matthew Sweet get the set off to a rollicking start with the ringing “Second Choice.” John Stirrat, best known for his work as Wilco’s bass player, gives “Girl From Washington” a particularly tender feel in front of Lee’s stellar 6 & 12 sting guitar work. Matt Piucci, an original member of Rain Parade who later recorded with Lee in Gone Fishin’, enlists some of his old bandmates for a fuzzy, psychedelic take on “That Stupid Idea.” The Anderson Council play down their more typical Syd Barretisms on “Griffin Bay,” and turn out one of the best, most rocking tracks on the set. Its much more Grip Weeds than “See Emily Play.” Bill Lloyd goes it alone and gives “Same Way Tomorrow,” a slightly updated, smoother take on the Sutliff solo track from 1987. Michael Carpenter, one of my current favorites, lends his typically terrific vocals to “Long Red Bottle Of Wine,” widens the sound and manages to improve on the original:
I could probably write something effusive about each of the 18 tracks on this set. Its just that good. The first-rate quality of Sutliff’s compositions shine through on each of the tracks. Even though some of the performances purposefully veer into territory that is somewhat different than the original version of the songs, the collection has an overall cohesive quality to it that makes listening from start-to-finish a joy. It’s available for $12 from Paisley Pop, and well worth every dime. All proceeds, of course, benefit Sutliff.
Sometimes a song seems in retrospect to be “ahead of its times.” That usually means that the song or band proved to be influential. The song thus sounds contemporary, even though its old.
Rolling Stone picked “September Gurls” as the 180th greatest song of all time. “A nonhit from [Big Star’s] second LP . . . ‘September Gurls’ is now revered as a power-pop classic.”
“September Gurls” was destined to be a non-hit, coming out in 1974 as rock became bloated and self-important. Instead, Big Star looked back to the British Invasion with concise, elegant guitar pop. In turn, they influenced everyone that followed — REM, The Replacements, Matthew Sweet, Wilco, The Posies and Teenage Fanclub, just to name a few. What sounded old gave birth to the new.
“September Gurls” sounds as fresh and as beautiful as it did 5 years ago, 10 years ago, 20 years ago, etc. That is one of the makings of a great song.