Friday, April 30, 2021

The Pursuit of '80s Power Pop

In 1986, the Pursuit of Happiness had a minor hit in its home country of Canada with "I'm an Adult Now.". A couple of years later, the song was re-recorded and appeared on their debut album, the Todd Rundgren-produced 'Love Junk.' "I'm an Adult Now" beacame part of the regular rotation on MTV's '120 Minutes,' and it peaked at No. 6 on the U.S. Alternative Airplay chart. I was never quite sold on the song. It felt like a novelty or an anthem wannabe, and the tune has aged badly. On the other hand, another single from the album, "She's So Young," was a beauty with a timeless melody.

She's So Young
Speaking of Rundgren, his name has popped up on a couple of my favorite blogs in the last week, here and here. Rundgren's Utopia was the first band I ever saw live. Talk about the time of my life! It was the last day of middle school. Class got out early, and I swam all afternoon with my friends without a care in the world. We listened to a tape of 'Oblivion' on a boom box and talked about girls and music. This was back among the corn fields of Illinois, and we didin't get the likes of Rundgren (or anyone else, really) in our rural part of the state. Even today, I remember the show so vividly. Rundgren wore a beret and shades, and he did the pogo while playing a tiny Casio keyboard held in one of his hands. I wore the latest craze, parachute pants. Shudder.

At the time, I had two Utopia cassettes, 'Oblivion' and 'Adventures in Utopia.' Here's one from the latter, released in 1980. In 2001, a few live performances from the band were released as full albums, including 'Oblivion Tour,' the one I saw in 1983. I'll include a taster from that one too.

Set Me Free
Crybaby (Live)

Tuesday, April 27, 2021

Spinning the Power-Pop Hits

You don't get a headline like that too often on these pages. Felt like putting together a little mix of classic '70s (and very early '80s) power pop today, but I ended up coming back to songs associated with Phil Seymour again and again. Let's start with his time in Dwight Twilley Band. Dwight and Phil had been friends since their school days in Tulsa, Oklahoma. In 1974, the band went out to Los Angeles and were signed to Shelter Records within two weeks. Shelter, incidentelly, was co-run by fellow Tulsan Leon Russell. The fellas were told to go into the Leon's Church Studio with an engineer to get acqainted with the equipment. As soon as they got in there, Phil said to Dwight, "Let's record a hit single right now." Right out of the shoot, "I'm on Fire" was the result. It peaked at No. 16 on the Billboard Hot 100 in August 1975, and they got to be on American Bandstand to boot. Phil is credited as the drummer, bassist and, of course, he shared those great vocals with Dwight.

I'm on Fire
Seymour remained in Dwight Twilley Band for two albums, charting modestly at No. 138 and No. 70, respectively, before going solo. You can't help but wonder whether the need to go it alone stemmed from the outfit being called Dwight Twilley Band when Seymour had so much do with the outfit. Like Dwight Twilly Band, Seymour had his greatest success with the very first single. The ballad "Precious to Me," from the self-titled debut album, made it to No. 22 on the Billboard Hot 100 in early 1981. Through the years, power-pop fans have become more enamored with the rougher and rowdier B-side "Baby It's You." The song often pops up on compilations celebrating the genre.

Precious to Me
Baby It's You

Seymour's first album did fairly well, peaking at No. 64, but wealth and fame did not follow. The follow-up album wasn't as good, frankly, and his label folded soon after due to the death of its founder. He bounced around after that, joining the Textones on drums for a while. In '85, he got sick. Seymour returned to Tulsa and played in local bands until his death in '93 at the age of 41. I can't possibly end the post this way. It's meant to be a celebration of Seymour's work. I'll add that he and Twilley were good friends with Tom Petty, and you can hear Seymour's beautiful voice backing Petty on hits like "American Girl" and "Breakdown."

Perhaps my favorite of Seymour's contributions to the power-pop scene, outside of his first solo album, was his work with 20/20. They were another band from Tulsa. When they saw what Twilley and Seymour were doing in L.A. the fellas headed west as well. They signed to the legendary indie label Bomp! and released this 7" in 1978. Seymour provided some gorgeous harmonies. I'm not saying this is my favorite single in my collection, but it would be in the conversation.

Giving It All
Under the Freeway

Seymour continued to help 20/20 after they signed to CBS offshoot Portrait and released a classic long player in 1979. Although this one was a deep track that was also a B-side to the single "Cheri," with the passage of time, "Yellow Pills" has probably become the band's most well-known song. There is also a popular power-pop fanzine called Yellow Pills, and that has certainly helped with the song's status.

Yellow Pills

Friday, April 23, 2021

Martin Followed Masterpiece With Masterpiece

Whether with Cleaners From Venus, Stray Trolleys, the Brotherhood of Lizards or as a solo artist, Martin Newell has never let me down. A trademark of his recordings are their lo-fi sound, which is part of the charm, but they always have a great melody and a brilliant turn of phrase. I don't know about you, but I have found those qualities will trump production values just about every time. In the early to mid-'90s, Newell took a different approach to a couple of solo albums where the influence of his producers are felt and the pop is, dare I say it, downright accessible. The first, 'The Greatest Living Englishman,' is considered by many to be his masterpiece. Newell's pal, producer Andy Partridge, is all over 'Englishman,' and if you like Lennon/McCartney circa '66, this is where you would want to start with his work. I grabbed the reissue in 2018 and hoped the lesser-known followup would get the same treatment.

Since 'The Greatest Living Englishman' has been called his 'Sgt. Pepper,' Newell had a little fun by calling his next LP 'The Off White Album.' (The back cover with a browning apple was a nice touch too.) Partridge may have hung around a bit, but the producing duties went to musician, journalist, writer and all-around Renaissance man Louis Philippe. I could go on an on about the Frenchman -- he has been a firm favorite of mine since his days as the heart and soul of the él label -- but all you really need to know on this page is he is a disciple of Brian Wilson, a genius with writing and arranging strings and quite an aficionado on the organ. You'll get plenty of those elements on 'The Off White Album,' along with some guitar (and quite an impression of Cream-era Clapton) from Dave Gregory of XTC. Philippe and Gregory must have gotten on like gangbusters because they would go on to work together quite a bit, but I digress, again. All of this gives 'The Off White Album' a radically different sound and feel than 'The Greatest Living Englishman,' but the high standard set by its predecessor is right there. Here's my favorite song from Newell's most sophisticated album...

Captured Tracks, the label that not only reissued 'The Greatest Living Englishman' but most of Newell's discography, has come to the rescue again with 'The Off White Album.' This one came out a few weeks ago, and it has rarely left my turntable since then. The white vinyl (What else could it be?) sounds great, particularly Newell's vocals and that string quartet. My only criticism, and it's very slight, is Newell's liner notes aren't nearly as entertaining as the novella-like description accompanying its earlier incarnation. Don't let that put you off. You're going to want to grab this one. Here's a clip making the rounds from the upcoming documentary 'The Jangling Man: The Martin Newell Story' expected out later this year. It's sure to whet your appetite.

In '95, here's how Newell concluded his thoughts on how 'The Off White Album' would be received. Let's give him the last word.

Not a bad collection of songs, all in all. I suppose some people will like them and some won't but it's only pop music so I hardly think they're going to change the world. And all the rock mags in the U.K. will ignore it or damn me with faint praise. And people in my village will say, "That sounds nearly like a real record Martin." Or if they're more sophisticated they'll say, "Is it generally available?" Then I'll sigh and say, "No, but I'll be selling it off a barrow in the high street." Then boring bastards will come up to me in the pub and tell me what's wrong with it. Then obsessive females will write me strange letters telling me that we were made for each other. And if it doesn't set the world alight, all my rivals will smile smugly and despise me. But if it is a huge success, they'll all say it was luck and hate me even more. And all this time I'll just be writing and doing a spot of gardening and occasionally writing a letter to the local paper about seeing the first goat of autumn. And I suppose eventually I'll do another record...

Wednesday, April 7, 2021

Three-Minute Eggs

I'm going to stick with the label samplers a while longer. Today's selection is not one where I go back to its initial release. I did not know about Egg Records, straight out of Glasgow, when label founder Jim Kavanagh began releasing records in 1988. Eight releases later, in 1991, it was all over, and I had missed the festivities completely.

Around the turn of the century, I began reading about this mysterious indie-pop label and wished I could get my hands on some product. My wish was granted a short time later when Kavanagh began putting out the once vinyl only relics on CDs. From 2003 to 2007, he released a bevy of band compilations and label samplers, and that's when I picked up 'Souvenirs From Egg Records,' a whopping 27-track gift from the heavens featuring 15 bands, mostly from Scotland, but a couple from Australia and Canada too. Among the treats Kavanagh assembled during this period were collected singles from the early years of Even As We Speak, a new album co-release from the Bats, a re-release of Baby Lemonade's legendary 1987 songs on Sha La La and Narodnik and many more.

It was well and good to have these reissues, but I continued to keep an eye out for opportunities to buy those original Egg releases on vinyl. I came across Egg 002 recently when a friend of mine put it up for sale. 'A Lighthouse in the Desert' is a four-song sampler featuring some of my favorite Egg bands. "Mr. Watt Said" has appeared on these pages before (in the summer of 2017), but I don't think you will mind hearing it again one bit... especially if you like the June Brides. This is my absolute favorite song on Egg, just beating out "Meet the Lovely Jenny Brown" by the Bachelor Pad. Three of the four acts have had a recent resurgence of interest thanks to compilations by Emotional Response Records (The Bachelor Pad) and Firestation Records (The Church Grims and Remember Fun). These are highly recommended purchases. Even the Prayers have popped up on Cherry Red compilations ('C88' and 'C89').

Clearly, Kavanagh's place in indie-pop history is secure, but my hope is someday his headquarters at 17 Prince Edward Street is thought of in the same way as 185 West Princes Street is when it comes to another legendary Glasgow-based label.

'A Lighthouse in the Desert' (Egg 002, 1989)

Side A
The Prayers - Puppet Clouds
The Church Grims - Mr. Watt Said

Side B
The Bachelor Pad - Silly Girl
Remember Fun - Cold Inside

Sunday, April 4, 2021

Happy (Mitch) Easter!

I have two annual traditions here at LTL. One is Big Country's 1983 New Year's Eve concert highlighted each Dec. 31st. The other is songs written, produced, recorded or performed by the great Mitch Easter you'll find on these pages every Easter. As this blog nears its 12th birthday, I would say I have picked the carcass of that Big Country show clean. When it comes, to the work of Mr. Easter, however, I never seem to want for material. After all, one look at Discogs shows his production credits alone at 248. Enjoy another basket of goodies featuring the work of our hero.

Let's go way way back to 1976 when Easter was in Sneakers with the likes of Chris Stamey and Will Rigby. These are from the self-titled six-song 7" EP played at 33 1/3. No, the material doesn't quite live up to what Stamey and Rigby would do in the dB's or what Easter would come up with in Let's Active, but there is a spark that will make you realize they were all heading in the right direction.

Love's Like a Cuban Crisis

Talking of Let's Active, we can't let the holiday go by without something from Mitch, Faye and Sara. This one is from the 1984 album 'Cypress' and features Faye on lead vocals. Rest in peace, Ms. Hunter. Interesting to note Don Dixon was co-producer with the band on 'Cypress' and the engineer on the release by Sneakers above. Like Easter's, his name seems to show up all over the place in my record collection.

Blue Line

Now for something from that long list of production credits. Easter worked extensively with Cali power-pop band Game Theory. The 1985 album 'Real Nighttime' was the band's second and the first with Easter behind the glass. I would rank it right up there with 'Lolita Nation' as their best. Scott Miller, the genius behind the band, worked with Easter almost exclusvely as his producer for the next decade as he moved from Game Theory in the '80s to the Loud Family in the '90s. Until next Easter, here's one from 'Real Nighttime.'