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Seven Decades Of Melodic Rock & Roll

Archive for the tag “Wondermints”

From The Stacks: An Indie Pop Playlist

Stacks of Records

I have written previously that my single most used iOs “app” is Groove which, among other things, creates playlists automatically based on artist attributes in the Last.fm database. It also creates playlists based on genre “tags” appearing in that database.

One “tag” that appeared the other day on my device was “indie pop.” I gave it whirl. The results were quite good, so I took twelve of the tracks and uploaded a new playlist to the 8 Tracks site. It is embedded below, and can be heard in full, and in sequence, by clicking on the arrow in the embedded image. At 37 minutes in length, it would fit nicely on a 12-inch platter of vinyl.

What will you hear on “From The Stacks”?

There are several artists discussed previously on this site. Scott Brookman kicks off the set with “Karen,” a bit of Pet Sounds-inspired pop from his 2000 long-player, For Those Who Like Pop. 

Wondermints contribute one of their lesser-known tracks, the jaunty Zombies-inspired “Sting O’ Luv,” from the long-unavailable Bali.

One of my favorite bands, The Sharp Things, check in with the subtly soulful, “The Devil In You Sings,” from an earlier LP, A Movable Feast

The Well Wishers deliver straight-up jangly Powerpop with “Heroes.”

The Corner Laughers close the set with the ukelele-driven sunshine pop of “Chicken Bingo,” which starts with one of my all-time favorite couplets: “they asked us where we came from, we said San Francisco/they asked again, we said outer space.” You can get that one here.

Along the way, the set list includes a track by the late, great Elliot Smith and a country-inspired ditty by Hippodrome, sung by Chris Richards, who also has been discussed several times previously on this site.

Here it is:

Complete set list:

1.  “Karen” — Scott Brookman

2.  “Forever” — The Hit Parade

3.  “Sting O’ Luv” — Wondermints

4.  “Don’t Turn Your Back (Open Your Eyes)” — The Afternoons

5.  “Miles Away” — Sparkwood

6.  “Heroes” — The Well Wishers

7.  “See You In The Morning” — Kontiki Suite

8.  “The Devil In You Sings” — The Sharp Things

9.  “Smash Up” — Greenberry Woods

10. “Strung Out Again” — Elliott Smith

11.  “Caroline” — Hippodrome

12. “Chicken Bingo” — The Corner Laughers

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Tweaking The Top 200 Power Pop Albums

Shake Some Action“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.

Chewy Marble’s “Reasons Why”: Digging That 70s Bar Mitzvah Dance Music Groove

Chewy Marble -- Bowl Of SurrealMusic sometimes comes full circle in your life.

I went to a whole lot of Bar Mitzvahs back in 1977. There was one band that played at almost every one. It was composed of four or five guys who worked as dentists during the week. They played these weekend parties in three-piece suits — or, sometimes, open vests over puffy shirts — that went quite nicely with their well-trimmed beards. This was, of course, 1977.

For some reason, the song that got everyone on the dance floor, at every party, was “Evil Woman” by ELO. I never pegged the song as a “dance” tune coming, as it did, in the middle of the disco age. Maybe it was the jazzy, scratchy guitars, or the slightly funky keyboards that got everyone moving. The whole scene still seems kind of mysterious even after all these years. A truly “live” (meaning not “lip-synched”) version of “Evil Woman,” culled from The Midnight Special television program, best captures its essence and Jeff Lynne’s not-so-well-trimmed hair:

Fast-forward a couple of decades.

Brian Kassan, who played bass and guitar in the Wondermints before they backed Brian Wilson, founded a band called Chewy Marble in 1995. The All Music Guide described its 1998 self-titled debut as:

a sparkling power-pop effort spotlighting founder Brian Kassan’s versatile songwriting skills, which touch on influences ranging from Badfinger (‘Loneliest Man’) to the Zombies (‘Peculiar’) to even contemporary chamber-pop revivalists like the High Llamas (‘Teacher’s Pet’).

When you listen to the band’s follow-up effort, 2001’s Bowl Of Surreal, you can add “mid-70s Bar Mitzvah dance music” to their range of influences. “Reasons Why,” the tenth track on the longplayer, makes me think back to those days of dancing to “Evil Woman” on Saturday afternoons and Saturday evenings. The song is all about swing-y keyboards, lounge-y lead vocals, scratchy guitars, dreamy background vocals and string instrument sounds. You know, kind of like ELO, even if Lynne often sang with more conviction that your basic lounge singer:

A couple of years ago, Kassan discussed on Power Popaholic his early early days in the Wondermints playing a “small dive bar” called The Irish Mist:

we were playing tons of fun covers that most bar bands wouldn’t attempt or even know for that matter…’Magic’ ‘Go All The Way’ ‘Love is Like Oxygen’ ‘Telephone Line’ and many others!

“Telephone Line” was, of course, recorded by ELO and released in May 1977 — the peak of the Bar Mitzvah season that year. The Wondermints’ version of the song, if you can find it, is awesome. And so is “Reasons Why.” I feel “all 70s” whenever it comes on, which Kassan obviously intended.

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