- I'm the co-host of THIS IS ROCK 'N' ROLL RADIO with Dana & Carl (Sunday nights, 9 to Midnight Eastern, www.westcottradio.org). As a freelance writer, I contributed to Goldmine magazine from 1986-2006, wrote liner notes for Rhino Records' compilation CD Poptopia! Power Pop Classics Of The '90s, and for releases by The Flashcubes, The Finkers, Screen Test, 1.4.5., and Jack "Penetrator" Lipton. I contributed to the books Bubblegum Music Is The Naked Truth, Shake Some Action, Lost In The Grooves, and MusicHound Rock, and to DISCoveries, Amazing Heroes, The Comics Buyer's Guide, Yeah Yeah Yeah, Comics Collector, The Buffalo News, and The Syracuse New Times. I also wrote the liner notes for the four THIS IS ROCK 'N' ROLL RADIO compilation CDs, because, well, who could stop me? My standing offer to write liner notes for a Bay City Rollers compilation has remained criminally ignored. Still intend to write and sell a Batman story someday.
Monday, February 29, 2016
Presenting: another star-studded edition of The Best Three Hours Of Radio On The Whole Friggin’ Planet, THIS IS ROCK ‘N’ ROLL RADIO with Dana & Carl. Patrons are responsible for their own popcorn. While I confess I’m not much for the Oscars to begin with, Oscar Night did give us a good excuse to include a bunch of great rockin’ pop music from the movies within this week’s irresistible TIRnRR mix. We also wished very Happy Birthdays to STEVE STOECKEL of The Spongetones, ANTHONY KACZINSKI of Fireking, and JOHN WICKS of The Records, all within our heady little mutant radio format.
We also shilled on behalf of Syracuse’s own phenomenal power pop trio, SCREEN TEST! Screen Test will be playing a very rare live show this Saturday, March 5th, at Vendetti’s Soft Rock on Teall Avenue in Syracuse. You’re a pop fan? You’re in beautiful Central New York the first weekend in March? You’re at Vendetti’s Soft Rock on Saturday for Screen Test. You’re welcome.
(Wanna learn more about SCREEN TEST? Man, have we got a blog for you: http://carlcafarelli.blogspot.com/2...)
And this is what rock ‘n’ roll radio sounded like on a Sunday night in Syracuse this week.
THIS IS ROCK ‘N’ ROLL RADIO with Dana & Carl streams live every Sunday night from 9 t0 Midnight Eastern, exclusively at www.westcottradio.org, and coming soon to your FM dial at the brand-new SPARK SYRACUSE (www.sparksyracuse.org)
TIRnRR # 815: 2/28/16
[Bracketed notation following film songs on this week’s playlist indicate what film contained the song.]
THE RAMONES: Do You Remember Rock ‘n’ Roll Radio? (Rhino, End Of The Century)
SCREEN TEST: A Hard Day’s Night [live] (unreleased)
BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN: Girls In Their Summer Clothes (Columbia, Magic)
THE SPONGETONES: (My Girl) Maryanne (Loaded Goat, Always Carry On)
THE UNDERTONES: Thrill Me (Sanctuary, Get What You Need)
HARRY NILSSON: Daybreak (RCA, The Essential Nilsson) [Son Of Dracula]
AMBROSIA: Magical Mystery Tour (Legends Of Rock, VA: All This And World War II OST) [All This And World War II]
THE BAY CITY ROLLERS: New Beginnings (n/a, Burning Rubber OST) [Burning Rubber]
JULIANA HATFIELD & TANYA DONNELY: Josie And The Pussycats (MCA, VA: Saturday Morning Cartoons’ Greatest Hits)
PRINCE: When Doves Cry (Warner Brothers, The Hits/The B-Sides) [Purple Rain]
JOSIE & THE PUSSYCATS: 3 Small Words (Play-Tone, VA: Josie & The Pussycats OST) [Josie & The Pussycats]
LULU: To Sir, With Love [Museum Outings Montage] (Retroactive, VA: To Sir, With Love OST) [To Sir, With Love]
JOSIE & THE PUSSYCATS: You’ve Come A Long Way Baby (Rhino Handmade, Stop, Look & Listen!)
SCREEN TEST: Just Like Me (unreleased)
AMERICA: Wednesday Morning (Oxygen, Human Nature)
EYTAN MIRSKY: American Splendor (M-Squared, Everyone’s Having Fun Tonight!) [American Splendor]
HEDWIG: Tear Me Down (Hybrid, Hedwig And The Angry Inch OST) [Hedwig And The Angry Inch]
THE MONKEES: Opening Ceremony (Rhino, Head) [Head]
THE MONKEES: Porpoise Song (Theme From “Head”) (Rhino, Head) [Head]
THE MORELLS: Let’s Dance On (Hightone, Think About It)
THE WONDERS: That Thing You Do! (Play-Tone, VA: That Thing You Do! OST) [That Thing You Do!]
THE DROWNERS: While My Guitar Gently Weeps (Jealousy, VA: He Was Fab)
THE KNICKERBOCKERS: They Ran For Their Lives (Big Beat, A Rave Up With The Knickerbockers) [They Ran For Their Lives]
RICHIE HAVENS: Here Comes The Sun (Rhino, Resume)
P.J. SOLES: Rock ‘n’ Roll High School (Sire, VA: Rock ‘n’ Roll High School OST) [Rock ‘n’ Roll High School]
GEORGE HARRISON: If Not For You (Apple, All Things Must Pass)
THE RECORDS: Hearts Will Be Broken (Virgin, Smashes, Crashes And Near Misses)
THE LILAC TIME: Together (Mercury, The Lilac Time)
HERMAN’S HERMITS: It’s Nice To Be Out In The Morning (Repertoire, Mrs. Brown You’ve Got A Lovely Daughter) [Mrs. Brown You’ve Got A Lovely Daughter]
PAUL McCARTNEY & WINGS: Live And Let Die (Capitol, Wingspan)
BADFINGER: Come And Get It (Apple, Magic Christian Music) [The Magic Christian]
THE GO-BETWEENS: Bye Bye Pride (Beggars Banquet, Bellavista Terrace)
DAVID BOWIE: Absolute Beginners (Virgin, Best Of Bowie) [Absolute Beginners]
PSYCHEDELIC FURS: Pretty In Pink (Sony, Heaven) [Pretty In Pink]
MARCH VIOLETS: Miss Amanda Jones (Geffen, VA: Some Kind Of Wonderful) [Some Kind Of Wonderful]
ROD STEWART: It’s All Over Now [single version] (Mercury, Rarities)
FIREKING: The Other Man (futuremanrecords.bandcamp.com, VA: If It Feels Good Do It)
R.E.M.: I Believe (IRS, Lifes Rich Pageant)
SCREEN TEST: Nothing Really Matters When You’re Young (Air Mail, Inspired Humans Making Noise)
THE CHORDS: Maybe Tomorrow (Captain Mod, So Far Away)
LITTLE RICHARD: The Girl Can’t Help It (Specialty, The Georgia Peach) [The Girl Can’t Help It}
JOHN LENNON: Oh Yoko (Apple. Imagine)
THE BEATLES: The Night Before (Apple, Help!) [Help!]
THE KINKS: David Watts (Essential, Something Else)
DAVE EDMUNDS: High School Nights (Rhino, The Dave Edmunds Anthology) [Porky’s Revenge]
THE FLATMATES: I Could Be In Heaven (Cherry Red, Potpourri)
THE BEAU BRUMMELS: Woman [vocal version] (Sundazed, Volume 2) [Village Of The Giants]
ROY WOOD: Polythene Pam (Legends Of Rock, VA: All This And World War II) [All This And World War II]
THE DAVE CLARK FIVE: Catch Us If You Can (Hollywood, The History Of The Dave Clark Five) [Having A Wild Weekend]
STATUS QUO: Getting Better (Legends Of Rock, VA: All This And World War II) [All This And World War II]
SCREEN TEST: Sound Of The Radio (Air Mail, Inspired Humans Making Noise)
CARGOE: Feel Alright (Big Beat, VA: Thank You, Friends)
JOHN BARRY: Midnight Cowboy (Manhattan, Midnight Cowboy OST) [Midnight Cowboy]
Screen Test, one of my all-time favorite pop groups, will be playing a relatively rare live show this coming Saturday night, March 5th, 2016, at Vendetti's Soft Rock on Teall Avenue in Syracuse. If you're a power pop fan in Central New York this Saturday, then this is where you need to be. These are my liner notes for Screen Test's 2005 anthology, Inspired Humans Making Noise.
There wasn't a fight, there wasn't a blowup, there wasn't a line in the sand to mark a parting of the ways. But it was clear that Screen Test had run its course. For one thing, the addition of a keyboardist to the original trio still hadn't really worked out to anyone's satisfaction. “Jim was/is a major talent,” says Gary, “but not a good fit for where we wanted to go. We tried co-writing--"I'll Never Forget You” was the most successful one--but there was always something a little wrong about how we sounded. Tommy, Arty and I were so tight, musically and personally, that I'm not sure we could have found the right match.”
"Nothing Really Matters When You're Young" written by Arty Lenin
"I'll Never Forget You" written by Gary Frenay
NOTHING REALLY MATTERS WHEN YOU'RE YOUNG
Sometimes you start to wonder, what you're doing right
When you're kissing with your lover all through the night
What was different about you when you were in your teens?
If you didn't wanna play their game, then you weren't part of the scene
Arty Lenin's portrait of teen alienation provides a fitting intro as we look back on an incredible pop band that the world forgot...no, scratch that, because Screen Test was a band the world never really got to know in the first place. At best, they've become a footnote in the story of The Flashcubes, a phenomenal power pop band from Syracuse, NY, who broke up in obscurity in 1980, but whose stature grew in the ensuing decades to the point that some pop fans now (rightly) refer to them as “legendary.”
Well, what did they know?
And where are they now?
Where did they go
If they're any place at all?
They hurt you so
But that was long ago
And nothing really mattered when you were young
Oh no, nothing really matters when you're young
It was different in 1980. The Flashcubes--hitless, unsigned, unsuccessful--were history, not likely to be remembered as “legendary,” probably not likely to be remembered by many people at all. Still, the demise of The Flashcubes gave us two new, cool bands to replace the departed 'Cubes. Former Flashcubes guitarist Paul Armstrong formed a spunky rock 'n' roll trio called 1.4.5., and the remaining original 'Cubes--guitarist Lenin, bassist Gary Frenay, and drummer Tommy Allen--became Screen Test.
Screen Test was adamantly not The Flashcubes. Subsequent pop history has seen The Flashcubes' status elevated considerably, but in 1980 the 'Cubes were considered a thing of the past. Screen Test consciously set out to carve its own niche in pop music, and --kinda like what Paul McCartney did in going from The Beatles to Wings (if you'll forgive the comparison)--Screen Test did so largely without playing many Flashcubes songs, concentrating instead on great new material that would be specifically and identifiably Screen Test music.
The Flashcubes ended in August of 1980, when guitarist Mick Walker (Paul Armstrong's replacement in the group) didn't show up for a 'Cubes gig, forcing Gary, Arty and Tommy to play the gig as a three-piece. “We decided to change our name and re-launch,” says Gary.
But what to call this group that was not The Flashcubes? “I remember pushing for The Heartbeats and The Pinstripes,” says Gary. “We all wrote lists of names,” continues Tommy, “but couldn't agree on one--we had a gig booked, and no name. I had the name 'Sneak Preview,' and kinda liked it. I ran into a fellow musician (Spencer Montague--now that's a cool name!) at the post office one day, and he asked me what we were gonna call ourselves. I was trying to remember Sneak Preview, but 'Screen Test' came out instead, a name that wasn't on any of our lists. When I said it, I liked it and ran it by Gary and Arty...I guess they liked it, too!”
But why change from The Flashcubes into Screen Test in the first place? “After Paul,” Gary recalls, “we thought we'd be able to shed his--and thereby our--'punk' image. But even as the totally power pop Mick lineup [of the 'Cubes], we still got called that. It was a reputation that would not go away. So we thought, if nothing else, the name change will give us a fresh start.
“In retrospect, I think it was the single biggest mistake we made in our entire career. Even bigger, in my opinion, than jettisoning Paul from the original band. As three of the four original members, we had just as much right to the Flashcubes name as the Mick lineup had. The band had so much press, and a true national profile...and we tossed that all aside, so that we could start anew.”
Screen Test made its live debut at The Lost Horizon in Syracuse on September 1st, 1980, three years to the day after The Flashcubes' first show. They played out often, and they didn't waste any time getting back into the recording studio. Two Gary Frenay songs were cut as the first Screen Test demos on November 11, 1980 at Sigma Sound in New York City. “Sound Of The Radio” (which Gary used to introduce live as “a song about how great radio used to be, back when radio stations played The Kinks”) and “Growin' Up Too Fast” were produced by Matt Weiner and Bruce Solomon. “Solomon worked for E.B. Marks Music in NYC,” says Gary, “and these were done as demos for him to shop our songs for a record deal.”
A bit closer to home (at Chase Media in nearby Skaneateles), Screen Test found itself back in the recording studio on December 8, 1980, the night John Lennon was killed. These sessions provided the tracks for the first Screen Test EP, Inspired Humans Making Noise, titled (fittingly) after the phrase Lennon himself had used to describe the transcendence of rock 'n' roll music. The EP was released in March of 1981 on the group's own Northside Records label.
The EP kicked off in fine fashion with Gary's “Anytime,” a confident rockin' pop number propelled by a simple, monster riff that immediately owned any room it entered. “There's No Place Like Work,” Arty's danceable ode to the work ethic, and “I Am Sincere,” Gary's winningly earnest placing of heart on sleeve, further contributed to a perfect pop EP. A message etched in the record's inner groove--“Finger & Berries”-- eagerly admitted Screen Test's debt to the music of Badfinger and The Raspberries, and the tracks on the EP carried forth that tradition with pride and distinction.
But the showstopper was Arty's “Nothing Really Matters When You're Young,” a devastating screed of discarded hearts, broken promises, and square-peg disillusionment, delivered with a stiff upper lip and an inherent buoyancy that belies its bitter origin. (Another terrific Arty tune, “I Won't Trust You Anymore,” was also recorded at the EP sessions, but has been unreleased until now. A cover of The Beatles' “Thank You, Girl,” recorded at these sessions as a tribute to the late Lennon, remains unissued.)
Screen Test continued to gig constantly, traveling frequently to New York City for dates at Trax, The China Club and CBGB's, plus Spit and The Rat in Boston, and numerous local jobs, including a spot opening for U2 (at a club located within a shopping center, no less) in May of 1981. In June of '81, Screen Test returned to Skaneateles to record tracks for the second single, this time with longtime associate Ducky Carlisle producing.
That single, Gary's “Suellen” backed with Arty's “Girl's Brand New,” was released on Northside in January 1982. After the single's release, Screen Test expanded to a quartet with the addition of keyboardist Wells Christie. The addition was short-lived, and Christie was out of the band by the end of March.
On April 1, 1982, the Screen Test trio convened at Minot Sound in White Plains, NY to record master demos for Atlantic Records. At the helm was British producer Mark Dodson, who'd previously worked with Joan Jett and Greg Kihn, and on Bow Wow Wow's hit cover of The Strangeloves' “I Want Candy.” These sessions produced completed tracks of two Gary Frenay songs, “I Get Restless” and “You Don't Know Me,” both presented here. Also recorded were a remake of “There's No Place Like Work” and a cover of Greg Kihn's “Hurt So Bad” (which Dodson suggested), though neither track was ever released. An incomplete version of “Nothing To Say To You” was shelved, then eventually overdubbed and completed as a Flashcubes track in 1999.
The tracks were excellent, but no contract with Atlantic (or anyone else) materialized. “You Don't Know Me” was included on a sampler album (Son Of Soundcheck) compiled by local radio station 95X in 1982. The track would return in a slightly higher-profile venue before too long.
In March of 1983, Screen Test recorded the still-unreleased 19 Big Ones, a collection of four-track demos produced by Ducky, preserving 19 otherwise-unrecorded Screen Test gems. Meanwhile, Screen Test returned to Chase Media in Skaneateles to cut another track, “I Know It's Over,” in April of '83. But still, no more records were released at the time, nor were any record labels beating a path to Syracuse to sign these kids up. Maybe a more dramatic means of getting attention was necessary.
By now, MTV's conquest of popular music was well under way, and a video seemed the very '80s thing for Screen Test to do. “A former Syracusan, Tom Garber, saw us play in New York City,” says Gary. “[He] was doing video work and asked us to come down to Long Island for a video shoot. He storyboarded the whole thing, hired the actress, got the club and soundstage to shoot at, and we did it.”
“It” was Screen Test's only video, made for “You Don't Know Me.” A thoroughly professional effort, the video served as an effective accompaniment to Gary's hauntingly pretty tune about a regrettable one night stand. It was relatively free of the many cliches already rife within rock videos in 1983, perhaps not groundbreaking, but both of a piece with the video landscape circa '83 while not seeming overly dated today. It would have been a fine addition to MTV's power rotation.
It did, at least, get one spin, anyway.
MTV's Basement Tapes was a television showcase for unsigned bands, competing for audience votes and (one presumed) eventual stardom. On August 10th, 1983, Screen Test made its one-and-only national television appearance, as the video for “You Don't Know Me” competed on Basement Tapes.
It was a heady experience. Prior to the big night, Gary, Arty and Tommy had pulled out all the stops in promoting the event. They'd contacted everyone, from current fans to old members of The Flashcubes International Fan Club. They'd arranged for plenty of local media coverage, and many Central New Yorkers were quite prepared to support the local boys now poised to make good.
But it wasn't to be. Screen Test came in third, with the honors going to a Boston act called Digney Fignus (all together now: “WHO?!”). Still, Screen Test managed a strong showing; “We finished third behind bands from Boston and Miami,” says Gary, “which, being such large markets, was some consolation. I can't tell you the number of people over the years who still come up to me and say, 'I voted for you on MTV!'”
Screen Test again returned to Chase Media on November 9, 1983 to cut three more tracks, Gary's “We've Gone Too Far” and “It's No Secret” and Arty's “What Is Wrong With This Picture.” It would be the last full-fledged Screen Test recording session for some time.
It's tempting to believe that Screen Test's loss on MTV's Basement Tapes served to slow the group's momentum, though it's probably not accurate. But one wonders if things were beginning to change within the group. “I recall that there was a point in 1982,” says Gary, “when we talked quite seriously about relocating to Boston or New York City. I began saving toward that end, and was surprised to discover, several months later, that I was the only one who was! After that, I just decided that I had to put myself first, and the band second, and that included getting married. Jackie and I had been together for five years at that point, and it was certainly time.”
Gary got married in July of 1984. If married life had any effect on the band, it wasn't immediately apparent. In September of 1984, Screen Test investigated the possibility of raising its profile by having Marshall Crenshaw produce them. Crenshaw was certainly a marquee name in indie pop at the time, and it seemed an ideal match. Contacts were made, but the group wound up concluding that they couldn't afford Crenshaw's asking price. “I seem to remember $10,000 as a figure that was quoted at the time,” says Gary. “Actually not a bad deal, given his notoriety at the time.” Screen Test friend and fan Pat Pierson also arranged contact with Mitch Easter, whose work with R.E.M. and his own band Let's Active had certainly made him one of the hottest pop producers of the time; Easter did reply to the contact, but things never quite fell into place.
In December 1984, Screen Test became a quartet again, as keyboardist Jim Carney joined the group. “It was the '80s,” says Gary, “and everywhere we turned there were keyboards. The songs Arty and I were writing implied more sonically than just the three-piece could cover. The first choice, Wells Christie, was a disaster, and only lasted a few months...I barely remember playing with him.”
The following May, June and July of 1985 found Screen Test once again camped at Chase Media, cutting (among others) Gary's “This Is Fiction” and Arty's “Old Man & The Sea.” And life went on. Early in 1986, Screen Test also set up shop at UCA Studio in Utica, NY for additional studio sessions. Among the tracks recorded here were Arty's “Waste Of Time” and “Feather Dancer” (the latter recorded live in the studio to digital 2-track), and a lovely Frenay-Carney composition called “I'll Never Forget You.” These would be the final Screen Test recordings.
Still keep thinkin' 'bout the young sweet girl
She told me she would marry me when we got out of school
She started dating the boy down the street 'cause he got a brand new car
A week or so was all that it could last
She had to make it through the senior class
What did they know...?
(Perhaps further aggravating this situation was the fact that Arty was living with Jim by this time. “Arty grew to dislike the arrangement,” says Gary. “Not Jim, necessarily, but living with him. Jim would practice piano sometimes six hours a day, very hard to live with for anyone. And despite some of the gains musically--we did like a lot of it--it was clear that Jim was not really one of us.”)
Tracks from the '85 Chase Media sessions and the '86 UCA sessions were combined as Screen Test, an eponymous, twelve-song cassette released in June of 1986. Maddeningly, incomprehensibly, Screen Test still could not find a record label interested in its material. As Tommy's brother Bob Allen recalls, “I wish I could locate the letter I received in '84 (I think) from [former Raspberries producer] Jimmy Ienner, which said that while he loved the Screen Test tunes I had sent him, he 'just didn't hear any hits.'” With no record label backing, the Screen Test cassette was self-released, almost as a souvenir. In September of 1986, Tommy Allen played his last gig with Screen Test and relocated to New York City.
“We had played The China Club a few times in 1986,” says Gary, “and Tommy's sister Sarah was dating the owner. And Tommy saw the chance to get a job at the club, because of her connection. And honestly, we were sort of out of gas by then. We had played twenty weeks of that year, four nights a week, at the Sheraton Inn [in Syracuse]. We had done what we thought were our best recordings to date that spring, but had been unable to get anyone really interested in them. We continually made the decision not to release things on our own, as we were always sure that a record deal was just around the corner. Hope springs eternal...!”
Gary and Arty attempted to soldier on, recruiting Ed Steele on drums and--well, this is interesting!--latter-day Flashcube Mick Walker back again on guitar. “Mick was quickly dismissed after he and Arty had words,” says Gary, “and we added Ed's brother Steve to the line-up. We actually still played a few dates as Screen Test in that line-up--opened for KBC Band, played at The Landmark [a beautiful old movie theater in Syracuse], and even went down to New York City to The China Club, to play with Tommy--but sputtered out quickly, and just went on as The Neverly Brothers.” One final Screen Test single was released posthumously in 1987, as the Frenay-Carney tune “I'll Never Forget You” (from the UCA sessions, previously released on the Screen Test cassette) was issued as a 45 in memory of basketball player Len Bias. The lyrics, reflecting on a lost love, proved prescient, and could apply equally to the late Len Bias, or to Screen Test itself: “I'll never forget you/If I live for a hundred years/No, I'll never forget you/And I'll never believe that it wasn't meant to be.”
The Neverly Brothers had begun in the early '80s as a side project for Gary and Arty, an acoustic duo specializing in oldies covers. As Screen Test faded to black, cover gigs became Gary and Arty's primary live venue, sometimes as just the two of them, sometimes supplemented by other musicians. Frenay and Lenin original songs still found their way into Neverly Brothers set lists--it would have been a crime against pop music otherwise--but these tunes weren't the primary interest of those tipsy bar patrons calling out requests for CCR and Van Morrison.
This image paints a much drearier portrait than the reality of Gary, Arty and Tommy's life after Screen Test deserves. Tommy became active in production, toured as a drummer with Paul Young and Robin Beck, and helped develop pop acts like The Sighs and Kara's Flowers (the latter now known as hitmakers Maroon 5). Gary and Arty's partnership was interrupted in 1990, when Arty relocated to New York for a time, where he joined The Paul Collins Band, the act fronted by the legendary former leader of Paul Collins' Beat; Arty appeared on the 1993 Paul Collins Band CD From Town To Town. Gary stayed in Syracuse, continued to write songs, and won SAMMYs (Syracuse Area Music Awards) as Best Songwriter. He played solo and in various combos (eventually reuniting with Arty), and released two solo albums nationally, Armory Square and Jigsaw People. No one in Screen Test was looking back.
“Honestly,” says Gary, “I think in 1987, because I had just signed a publishing deal with China Doll Music, I probably hoped that all these years later we'd be talking about all those hit songs I wrote. It's funny, everything is always so egocentric. When The Flashcubes was done, it was done. 'Let's be Screen Test...we'll kill!' Then when that was done, it was, 'Man, I'm gonna score so many song covers!' I guess I was just always so busy looking forward, that I never really looked back in any kind of accurate way. And it wasn't until my solo career kind of sputtered out, in the late '90s, that I started to assess in any kind of real sense. By then, of course, all of the Flashcubes stuff was already happening....”
Still, even as The Flashcubes suddenly and unexpectedly rose like a really loud phoenix from the ashes, some wondered what became of Gary, Arty and Tommy's other great pop group. “I would always get people coming up to me at the [Flashcubes] reunions,” says Gary, “saying, 'Yeah, this is great, but what about the Screen Test stuff? That was your best stuff!' And that is what Arty, Tommy and I have always felt, that our best songwriting, and our best recordings (until [The Flashcubes' 2003 album] Brilliant) were as Screen Test. I say this without any disparagement towards Paul, and all that the 'Cubes mean to all of us. But remember, we only played with Paul, the first time, for 23 months, and Arty, Tommy and I were together in one form or another for nine straight years. There's just no comparison.”
“When I listen to the songs,” adds Tommy, “ it really sounds like Screen Test to me. In all the years I've been playing music, there has been nothing as consistently satisfying to me as playing the songs of Gary Frenay and Arty Lenin. Their songs have left an indelible mark on my musical genetic code, and I feel lucky to have been a part of it.”
"It's funny,” continues Gary. “We always felt a little inadequate as a three piece band, always felt that we needed something more, thus the keyboard players. And in the industry, that was also the response we'd get: 'A three-piece pop band? C'mon...!' Then in 1987, when we were history, along came Crowded House, a three-piece pop band, with hit singles and all kinds of success!
“In assembling the anthology and listening to old live tapes, we realized that the three-piece band was our finest hour. And that's why, where possible, we've always gone with a three-piece version of a song rather than a keyboards version. Might've sounded good then, but not anymore! Long live the three-piece pop band!!”
If only it hadn't taken the world at large so long to learn that simple lesson.
You can't really think about life bein' fair
Because you can't forget the faces that took away your share
But what did they know, and where are they now? In February of 2004, it was my great fortune to attend a full-fledged Screen Test reunion show in Syracuse. Gary and Arty's British Invasion cover band, The Fab Five, had been booked to play a gig commemorating the 40th anniversary of The Beatles' first appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show. For an event billed as “From Liverpool UK to Liverpool USA,” The Fab Five were to play two sets of British Invasion covers, including one set duplicating all of the songs The Beatles played on their first three Sullivan appearances. Then, The Fab Five would serve as backing band for sets by Terry Sylvester of The Hollies and Joey Molland of Badfinger. A nice evening out, it would seem.
One hitch: Fab Five drummer Paul Miller (Arty's brother) wasn't as familiar with the Badfinger material; he was perfectly comfortable with the Hollies songs, but he thought it best that the group find another drummer for Joey Molland's set.
And a light bulb appeared over Gary's head: “Let's call Tommy!,” he said.
So Tommy would travel from New York to Syracuse for the Friday night event. And, with Tommy in town anyway, why not have him join Gary and Arty for their regular Thursday night gig?
And everything clicked. Rather than perform their usual Thursday night cover gig (which, mind you, they do brilliantly), all agreed that this would be a Screen Test show, featuring just Screen Test songs, many of which had not been played live in over twenty years. It sounded as if not twenty minutes had passed--it was The Lost Horizon, The Jabberwocky, The Firebarn, and all of the other now-defunct Central New York nightspots that Screen Test had played in its original run, the vibrance, the songcraft, the sheer, unsullied joy of nonpareil Syracuse rockin' pop music from the '80s transported unharmed into the 21st century. When Joey Molland turned up to join Screen Test on-stage for an impromptu rendition of Badfinger's “No Matter What,” it merely capped an already-transcendent evening. And Tommy, in particular, looked like he was in Heaven.
One final digression: sometime circa the summer of 1981, I went to see Screen Test play at The Firebarn, my very favorite local bar; it would be the last time I ever went there, but I didn't know that at the time. It may also have been the first time I ever met my future radio partner Dana Bonn, but we're never gonna know that for sure.
I had moved out of Syracuse by then, and was just back for a short visit. I decided to wear my Flashcubes T-shirt to the show; oddly enough, a number of other fans also decided to wear their 'Cubes T-shirts that night, something that really didn't happen all that often. Noticing more Flashcubes T-shirts than he'd seen since 1978, Gary went and did the unthinkable: he led Screen Test through an old Flashcubes song, an unreleased live favorite called “Social Mobility.”
It was friggin' MAGIC. Sure, 1978 to 1981 was hardly a large span of time, but it seemed a giant leap to bridge those two very different years, and “Social Mobility” made it all seem one. Screen Test's show was awesome, as always, but that one song stands out, not because it was better than (nor even as good as) Screen Test classics like “Sound Of The Radio” or “Nothing Really Matters When You're Young,” but because it linked how cool Screen Test was with how cool The Flashcubes had been.
Because what's cool once is cool forever. I later ripped that phrase off from Greg Shaw, but that Screen Test show was the first time I became fully conscious of its truth. There was something vital here; it wasn't just a pretty good local band I liked when I was a teenager; it was a great band, as good as anyone, anywhere, any time, potentially with great appeal to a great number of people. As time wore on, and Gary and Arty moved from Screen Test into The Neverly Brothers, they wouldn't dip into the 'Cubes (nor even early Screen Test) canon often, but when they did, the connection was electric and instantaneous. And each time I witnessed it, I became further convinced that the legacy of The Flashcubes and Screen Test was important, worth preserving and worth expanding. For me, that appreciation started at The Firebarn in 1981, when a bunch of Flashcubes T-shirts inspired an epiphany that should have been so obvious, yet was a revelation nonetheless.
(Incidentally, based on anecdotal evidence in a Chris von Sneidern interview I once read, I believe that same night at The Firebarn may also have been the first live rock 'n' roll show that CVS ever saw, thus indirectly inspiring HIS great pop work. From small things, mama, big things one day come.)
Nothing really matters when you're young? Everything matters when you're young; minor snubs become the stuff of grand drama, tiny little wounds seem to draw blood, each little wave of emotion threatens to inundate and drown your floundering heart. And it's all real, and no one else seems to understand. But it matters, then, now, and for as long as your memories live.
Where did they go?
Where did they go?
You've never heard of Screen Test? Well, y'know, that doesn't really matter, not anymore, because you're about to get another chance. So may I introduce to you, the act you've missed for all these years....
Screen Test's Inspired Humans Making Noise is still available as a download from CD Baby: http://www.cdbaby.com/cd/screentest
"Nothing Really Matters When You're Young" written by Arty Lenin
"I'll Never Forget You" written by Gary Frenay
Sunday, February 28, 2016
Tonight on THIS IS ROCK 'N' ROLL RADIO: hey, it's Oscars night! Yeah, we don't care, either. But it's a good excuse to mix in some music from the movies, along with whatever else it is we do. Also gotta play some SCREEN TEST tonight, in preparation for the group's upcoming show in Syracuse this Saturday, March 5th. What else? Oh, trust us; we'll fill in the rest with special effects. Get ready for your close-up with The Best Three Hours Of Radio On The Whole Friggin' Planet, Sunday night, 9 to Midnight Eastern, Westcott Radio
Saturday, February 27, 2016
Aaron Kupferburg recently asked me to contribute an artist bio to his new Power Pop Hall Of Fame website. I was delighted to comply with this short piece on The Rubinoos, originally written for This Is Rock 'n' Roll Radio's Rubinoos spotlight in 2015. Aaron promises more inductees into the Power Pop Hall Of Fame in the future, and i fully intend to lobby on behalf of The Flashcubes. For now, though, I hope you enjoy this celebration of The Rubinoos, and then head over to the Power Pop Hall Of Fame to see who else is celebrated. http://powerpophalloffame.com/
In 1977, I was a lonely teenager, and madly in love with every pretty girl I had ever seen. And there was a song on the radio that I dedicated to each of them. The song was called "Wouldn't It Be Nice," but it wasn't the Beach Boys tune that shared its title. It wasn't even a single. It was an album track on the eponymous debut LP of a group called The Rubinoos.
In 1977, I was a lonely teenager, and madly in love with every pretty girl I had ever seen. And there was a song on the radio that I dedicated to each of them. The song was called "Wouldn't It Be Nice," but it wasn't the Beach Boys tune that shared its title. It wasn't even a single. It was an album track on the eponymous debut LP of a group called The Rubinoos.
Radio can be a lifeline for the lovelorn: perfect pop songs, providing context and commentary for the heart's giddy highs and aching lows. In 1977, the purest perfect pop was courtesy of The Rubinoos, a young California band who hit the charts with an infectious cover of the Tommy James & the Shondells nugget "I Think We're Alone Now." This would somehow turn out to be The Rubinoos' only hit single--a fact which makes no sense whatsoever, but that rant is likely best left for another time. For now, suffice it to say that The Rubinoos have spent the last four decades building an irresistible body of work, simply loaded with nonpareil pop tunes that should be playing on radios around the world every minute of every day.
Along the way, The Rubinoos' music has matured, but The Rubinoos have resisted any silly notion to grow up. They no longer sing as teenagers, but they do sing to the teen within us all, to the romantic who wants to fall in love, to the dreamer that wants love to last forever, and to the veteran lover who knows that love can be fleeting, even traumatic, but who still realizes that love's reward is worth its risk. From The Rubinoos' first single ("Gorilla") in 1975 through their most recent album (45) in 2014, this group has consistently delivered on its promise of perfect pop for lovers of all ages. Wouldn't It Be Nice. 1, 2, 3 Forever. Must Be A Word. Amnesia. And, especially, the specific promise of "I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend," the Big # 1 Hit that never actually charted: "Gonna make you love me 'fore I'm done."
Friday, February 26, 2016
[The following piece was co-written by Gary Pig Gold and me for John M. Borack's way-fab 2007 book Shake Some Action, but was not included in the book. It has remained unpublished (except for a Facebook posting) until now. I've always liked this a lot, and I've wanted to share it with...someone! Gary gave his blessing to post it here, so enjoy. This is copyright 2016 Carl Cafarelli and Gary Pig Gold.
Visit Gary's blog, too! www.GaryPigGold.com
The Secret Origin Of Power Pop!
Fresh from their infamously great Monkees / Bubblegum debate of 2001, the diatonically dynamic duo of CARL CAFARELLI and GARY PIG GOLD return, with their ears to the underground and their heads in the sky, to ask that eternal musical question,
CC: What was the very first Power Pop record?
GPG: Or, should we say, Which came first? The Rickenbacker or the egg?
CC: I guess the question becomes rhetorical as soon as you understand that there probably isn’t even a true consensus on the definition of Power Pop, let alone any wide agreement on what exactly was the first power pop record.
GPG: THAT’S for sure. Attaching a concise, yet all-encompassing meaning to the words “Power Pop” – one that, by the way, doesn’t alienate anyone out there who’s (a) female, (b) under forty, and (c) doesn’t spend every spare minute seeking out mint condition Badfinger 45s – has been keeping the virtual Audities List for starters alive for nigh on a near decade already!
CC: And Lordy, we aren’t even certain WHEN to begin the investigation, as some folks say power pop started in the Sixties, and some say adamantly that it’s a Seventies phenomenon; some may even try to put the genre’s origin at an earlier or later date.
GPG: Personally, I most definitely go with “earlier,” Carl. As in the precise moment producer Norman Petty counted off his very first “That’ll Be The Day” session with Buddy and those Crickets. But we’ll get to that in a minute.
CC: So then, we’re pretty much screwed if we’re looking for an easy agreement on pinpointing Ground Zero for power pop. But let’s have a bash at it anyway!
GPG: Flagrant subliminal reference to Mister International Pop Overthrow Festival duly noted, sir. Continue.
CC: First, let’s get some possibly academic stuff outta the way, alright? Pete Townshend is generally credited with coining the phrase “Power Pop,” which he used to describe his music with The Who, as well as the music of The Small Faces and “Fun, Fun, Fun”-era Beach Boys.
GPG: Let’s just make note here, however, that most every single catchphrase and/or socio-musical innovation of import that passed through Pete’s cannabis-encrusted lips back in them salad daze can be directly attributed to his brilliant mentor/svengali-slash-co-manager Kit Lambert, just remember.
CC: I guess we can also then blame Kit for Tommy as well?
GPG: Well, SOMEONE has to! Go on…
CC: Writing in Bomp! magazine in 1978, Greg Shaw and Gary Sperrazza! put together a fascinating study of power pop, tracing its origin to the mid-Sixties work of The Kinks, The Easybeats and, especially, The Who. Shaw picked The Who as the first Power Pop band -- ignoring the fact that The Kinks predate The Who -- and mentioned a few precursors: Eddie Cochran. The Rolling Stones. Phil Spector. The Beatles. Though acknowledging their rockin’ pop efforts, Shaw discarded each of these in his attempt to chronicle the true beginning of power pop.
GPG: I can state as an almost-fact that when Greg hit Toronto in very early 1978, he was most impressed indeed with that amazing proto-punk and/or (power) pop combo Teenage Head who, in their sets then, performed blistering versions of classic Swinging Blue Jeans and, yes, Eddie Cochran tunes. Greg then got kinda, um, sidetracked during that trip by the B-Girls …but then, who didn’t back then?
CC: They did put the hubba-hubba in Hubba Bubba Bubblegum, didn’t they? And I agree with Shaw about the Stones (their blues and R&B roots set them apart from power pop, though they were certainly one hell of a great pop band too), Eddie Cochran (close, but not quite explosive enough in sound) and Spector (almost perfect -- a pop Wall Of Sound, but not primal enough)…
GPG: “Not primal enough”??! Carl, remind me to sit you down with a good pair of headphones and Disc Two of the Spector Sessions box-set as soon as we’re done here. Sheesh!
CC: Oh, Spector’s stuff had the Power AND the Pop, for sure — you’ll get no argument from me on that point. But I’m gonna remain a stickler and insist that it’s not power pop, per se.
GPG: [raises eyebrows quite skeptically indeed]
CC: For starters, the tempos are generally too leisurely. “Da Doo Ron Ron” comes closest, but even this full-throttle number keeps itself in check. never threatens to go over the top. And that leads to the second point: the transcendence of Power Pop is that everything’s just about ready to burst, to lose control entirely —but Spector was all about control.
GPG: Among other things…
CC: His productions were massive, sprawling, HUGE …but every note was in its precise spot, every nuance was painstakingly planned, and you can actually hear the level of control in place. The one time Spector worked with a bona fide power pop group — The Ramones, much, much later — he diluted their power rather than enhancing it.
GPG: I guess he really should’ve just produced a Joey Ramone solo album after all then, as I believe was the original intent.
CC: And finally: where’s the friggin’guitars?! Spector used guitars,but they weren’t his dominant instrument, nor should they have been. As even your own Rickenbacker vs. Egg comment alludes to above, the guitar is the primary instrument of power pop.
GPG: Geez, I’m hoping even ONE of us now gets a free Ricky 12-string at least, what with all of this gratuitous product placement!
CC: But Spector wasn’t interested in inventing power pop. He wanted an irresistible, radio-ready Wall Of Sound, and he succeeded — but there ain’t no such thing as orchestral power pop.
GPG: Again, I hand you my best set of phones and an iPod starring, yes, Ike and Tina’s “River Deep Mountain High” …plus “Wouldn’t It Be Nice,” “Back Seat Of My Car” even, and just about everything off that first Left Banke album.
CC: Of course there’s no way to ignore Lennon, McCartney, Harrison, Starr and producer George Martin. Power pop --melodic rock ‘n’ roll, played fast and hard but remaining solidly, unerringly pop -- begins with The Beatles.
GPG: Well, if you weren’t listening to AM radio before 1963, I suppose . But come on (come on), come on (come on), as the Fabs themselves later wailed: The template for John, Paul and George, not to mention most every other original British Invader, were The Crickets. In particular their legendary 1958 U.K.tour, for which most each and every English musician who made records during, and had an impact upon, the Sixties had proud front-row tickets to. Why, even John Lennon Himself (or was it just Philip Norman, speculating post-December 8, 1980?) realized the effect Buddy and his band had on all the nascent British popsters back then. Some even say a big part of the Crickets’ initial appeal to, and more importantly perhaps their English audience’s identification with, was that Holly actually LOOKED British, unlike the decidedly more raw and “ethnic” Presley and other early American rockers. And John for one just must have surely noted the subliminal double-meaning, appreciated by Brits only, in the very name “Crickets” (as in England’s home sport). The Chief Beatle’s also on record, as on that marvelous Vee Jay elpee Hear The Beatles Tell All, that he fashioned the name “Beatles” as he was looking for something crawly and bug-like as in, you guessed it, “Crickets.”
CC: I’d readily agree that The Crickets were the template for the classic 1960s band, even though their most notable work was done prior to the night the music died in 1959. Two guitars, bass, drums: it remains the preeminent model for a pop-rock combo, and the specific blueprint for everyone from The Shadows and Beatles to, dare I say it, KISS.
GPG: Well, Simmons and Co. DID cover a genuine Dave Clark Five power pop song, didn’t they? And no, I promise not to bring up “Beth” if you don’t. Anyways, after those U.K. Cricket concerts, one can surely imagine Lennon, McCartney, Jagger, Richard(s), and Townshend even closely pouring over such Fifties-recorded, yet inarguably Sixties-SOUNDING Holly/Petty creations like “Think It Over,” “Listen To Me,” “It’s So Easy” (…stop me, Carl: I could go On and ON).
CC: And here you didn’t even mention “Rave On,” which I think comes the closest to power pop among the gems in the Buddy Holly songbook (with an honorable mention to “Love’s Made A Fool Of You,” “Crying, Waiting, Hoping” and each and everyone of the great Holly records you named). I love Buddy Holly. My wedding song was a Buddy Holly song (“True Love Ways”).
GPG: Better that than “Maybe Baby,” but never mind…
CC: Nonetheless, while Buddy ranks high among power pop’s early influences, he didn’t make power pop RECORDS. Even “Peggy Sue,” which is certainly manic enough — and HOW! -- in its rockin’ approach, isn’t quite Power Pop; it doesn’t marry the melody, the sound, the aggression, the chaos and the harmony like a hypothetical perfect power pop prototype oughtta.
GPG: Too bad the vintage Crickets never made a live album then …and one can only imagine what Buddy would’ve come up with – on stage AND in the studio – if he’d lived even five years longer into Beatlemania. But on this subject of Merseybeating Roots, even the most casual student or listener can uncover many, many other stepping stones therein to Power Pop as well. To name only the most obvious examples? The Everly Brothers, vocally, and the Brill Building songwriters in particular, who held an undeniable sway over most each and every pre-’64 Lennon/McCartney composition.
CC: There again, influence does not equal invention. The early Beatles repertoire included covers of Carl Perkins, “Till There Was You” from “The Music Man” AND (live at the Star Club!) Marlene Dietrich’s “Falling In Love Again”…
GPG: …talk about pandering to one’s Germanic audience!
CC: …but none of those are gonna turn up in any real-world listing of Power Pop touchstones. Think about rock ‘n’ roll itself: The Nat King Cole Trio and Bob Wills and his Texas Playboys were enormous early influences on rock, and Elvis Presley’s favorite singer was Dean Martin. Yet none of those should be considered rock ‘n’ roll acts, their influence on rock’s development notwithstanding.
GPG: Well, I cited the Everlys and Brills only as potent influences upon the Beatles’ development as instrumentalists, vocalists, and especially as songwriters. A different kettle-o-carp entirely from their plundering old Sun Sessions and Broadway musicals simply to pad out all-nighters in Hamburg, or America-only LP collections.
CC: So as we can see, The Beatles didn’t get to Power Pop immediately. You don’t really hear it in their very earliest recordings, in either that lo-fi cover of their Buddy’s “That’ll Be The Day” or the stuff they did with Tony Sheridan.
GPG: Damn! You’re gonna tell me Tony Sheridan didn’t invent Power Pop??!
CC: The sound and the spirit’s not even entirely evident yet on that very first fully Fab 45, “Love Me Do”/”P.S. I Love You,” both sides of which serve up decent, late Fifties-early Sixties shufflin’ rock without threatening to push the needle into the red.
GPG: Still, we know the supposedly savage young Beatles were already writing and performing pure pop such as “Hello Little Girl” and “Ask Me Why” in all those Liverpool via Hamburg spit dives, and those two vintage ditties smack most decidedly of Everlys/Holly (“Hello Little Girl”) and Goffin/King (“Ask Me Why”).
CC: Still, the topside of the Beatles’ second single, “Please Please Me,” seems to have come out of nowhere. Faster tempo, amazing energy, lethal hooks and swooping, swoon-worthy harmonies, delivered with a self-assured gusto that presages all who would follow -- Eric Carmen was certainly taking notes.
GPG: To say nothing of Doug Fieger (nudge nudge wink etc.)
CC: Plus, it’s got certifiably teen frustration lyrics, and a picture-perfect power pop ending.
GPG: Not to mention harmonies lifted directly from Don, Phil, and Cathy …as in “Cathy’sClown”! Also, I’d have to credit said frustration squarely to Roy Orbison, upon whose “Only The Lonely” John claimed “Please Please Me,” in its original pre-George Martin incarnation, was modeled. And speaking of Sir Big George M., I’d also place that ultra-cool ending firmly under his column as well. He was quite the arranger; an absolutely integral part of the Beatles’ magic, who most fortunately treated the recording studio more like a workshop or even playhouse …precisely as Norman Petty did with the Crickets as well, not coincidentally.
CC: The Beatles continued to run with this new genre on their next few singles (“From Me To You,” ”Thank You Girl,” certainly “She Loves You,” absolutely “I Want To Hold Your Hand”), but Power Pop starts right here --The Beatles invented it with “Please Please Me.”
GPG: With a little help from their friends at least then, you’d be willing to concede Carl? And you know, we haven’t even started to mention Arthur Alexander, Del Shannon, and Motown -- Smokey Robinson especially (John’s primary songwriting beacon throughout ’63) and of course the Girl Groups, Shirelles in particular (who had TWO – count’ em! – of their songs covered on that very first Beatle LP).
CC: We also haven’t really mentioned The Beach Boys, whom Pete Townshend referenced when originally discussing Power Pop. But Pete was wrong; The Beach Boys were another great pop band that falls outside the strict parameters of a power pop definition. Unlike a lot of other pop music journalists, I think you and I both adore The Beach Boys’ music before, during AND after “Pet Sounds” and “SMiLE,” but I don’t regard any of their records as Power Pop. Some may disagree…!
GPG: Including yours very truly! But let’s move on and out of those Swinging Sixties for now, shall we?
CC: Fair enough. While you and I have traced the origin of power pop to the Fifties and Sixties respectively, the phrase didn’t really come into any kind of general use until the late Seventies, when it was applied to some of the post-punk new wave bands and, retroactively, to some earlier Seventies bands like the Raspberries, Badfinger and Big Star. I know Greg Shaw specifically and firmly excluded Badfinger from his idea of power pop, but I can’t agree with that. Granted, Badfinger had a lot of the boogie tendencies that were unfortunately so common among rock bands in the Seventies, but “No Matter What” and “Baby Blue” were the absolute epitome of Power Pop.
GPG: Not to mention Badfinger as a whole remain the still-shining example of precisely what NOT to do when hiring an agent, signing to a record label, touring the United States, moving ones significant others into the communal Band House, signing ones name to ream upon ream of extremely questionable managerial and publishing documents…
CC: There can’t be any such boogie cloud cast over the Raspberries, though. “Go All The Way,” “I Wanna Be With You,” “Tonight,” “Ecstasy” — urgent, insistent songs about getting laid, delivered with a bouncy melody, driving guitars, a swaggering confidence and infectious Ooooooooohs! There’s your Power Pop primer right there.
GPG: Did I ever tell ya about the time I was (illegally) fly-posting the Cal State Long Beach campus with gig notices for MY -- quite authentically P. Pop, by the way!-- group The Loved Ones, circa late-period Plimsouls, and chanced upon a cool little band playing on the floor in the cafeteria? I walked up to the guitarist who was, I swear, wearing an authentic Monkees t-shirt – and this was as close to blasphemy in 1982 as pulling out a Huey Lewis cassette in the car, believe you me – only to discover his name was, wait for it, Scott McCarl! He proudly handed me a copy of his band’s do-it-yourself 45 (…sorry folks, it ain’t going anywhere NEAR eBay) and when the chit-chat inevitably veered towards Raspberries, Scott made what I thought to be the defining comment on the subject. And I quote: “you know, Eric Carmen never could figure out if he wanted to be Paul McCartney OR Brian Wilson.” So there!
CC: Point taken. Big Star’s a tougher call, though.
GPG: Big Star’s actually a tougher EVERYTHING, Carl!
CC: Most fans consider them to be a Power Pop act; Shaw certainly did, and I do,too. But I can’t justify it on paper. For the most part, Big Star’s songs don’t rock very hard, and they don’t convey that almost-outta-control feeling that I think is an integral part of power pop.
GPG: Good thing Phil Spector didn’t try to produce ‘em, huh? Honestly, I tend to lump Big Star – A. Chilton especially –within the same ultra-ambiguous pigeonhole I reserve for Jonathan Richman and his original Modern Lovers, not to mention our beloved Flamin’ Groovies and possibly even Cheap Trick, ABBA, and/or Lindsey Buckingham.
CC: There’s no valid critical reason that Big Star should be considered power pop …except for the fact that Big Star IS power pop. Can’t prove it. Can’t demonstrate it. But it’s true. Sometimes, you’ve gotta do what Immanuel Kant suggested (in perhaps a slightly different context) and just make that leap of faith, baby.
GPG: I just knew we’d get around to the Kant Man eventually! Thank you, Carl. Which means we must now move forward a year or two to none other than Punk, New Wave, or as I got in big trouble for calling it within the pages of The Pig Paper at the time, “White Guys Over Twenty With New Guitars.”
CC: And every one of ‘em seeking a riot of his own, of course.
GPG: Now again, I happened to be in the right place at just about the right time when, at a Troggs gig on my very first night in London during the summer of ’75, I struck up a conversation with the leader of the opening act …who turned out to be none other than Joe Strummer of the pre-Clash 101’ers. I had been quite floored – and it wasn’t just the jet-lag or my first time on Guinness either – to hear Joe’s band perform that fateful night practically the same set (of covers) that MY current high school combo was then struggling with as well, way back in the Toronto suburbs. Meaning, basically, the first Rolling Stones album with some old Who and Eddie Cochran B-sides thrown in. Joe thoughtfully explained that this phenomenon was then becoming known round greater London as “Pub Rock.” But as we all now know, such musical cage rattling was soon to become much more widely loved/loathed as “Punk,” with a simple tightening of the pant-legs and a drastic up-turn in the tempos and volume overall. Still, check out even those early Sex Pistols set lists: Small Faces, Modern Lovers, and Monkees even!
CC: Yep! If there’s no future, what’s left but the past? I wonder if Pistols guitarist Steve Jones owned a wool hat….
GPG: By the time Punk had been thoroughly emasculated for American consumption however-- primary culprits: those Pat Boones of the skinny tie set The Cars -- even a hitherto bunch’a Bowery-bred bums like Blondie could suddenly find themselves on “American Bandstand,” not to mention AM Top Tens throughout North America, with nothing but a quick surgical blunting of the rough edges, a “real” producer like Mike “Ballroom Blitz” Chapman at the controls and, in Debbie Harry’s case, a big-budget dye job and sheer white party dress as opposed to a, ugh, skinny tie. Still, “Heart Of Glass,” “Dreaming” and “Call Me,” like ‘em or not, absolutely paved the wave for the Go-Go’s, Police, Bangles, and logically on to the almost present day with the Masticators, La’s, Jellyfish, and perhaps even Puffy (Ami Yumi). And here’s your chance to plug the Flashcubes as well by the way, Carl!
CC: Oh,you and your sweet talk…! We’ll get to my beloved Flashcubes in a minute. But y’know, I don’t really dispute your chronology, nor even much of your take on it. Your comparison of The Cars to Pat Boone is amusing and accurate, I think. But, just as I don’t consider Mr. Boone to be any kind of rock ‘n’ roller, I don’t consider The Cars to be Power Pop either.
GPG: We gotta admit Ric Ocasek was absolutely brilliant alongside Pia Zadora in that possibly definitive power pop movie “Hairspray,” however. MUCH better than the Booner was in “Journey To The Center Of The Earth” even.
CC: You mentioned how punk had been “emasculated,” and that was a charge leveled against a lot of the post-punk new wavers, including the Power Pop groups. It’s a difficult charge to dismiss, since so much of what fell under those broad labels WAS diluted, relatively innocuous, fairly safe. Even if we don’t count the poseurs and bandwagon-jumpers, punk was usually at least a little bit angrier than power pop — it seems a long jump from “Anarchy In The UK” to “My Sharona.”
GPG: Especially when looking at the Billboard Hot 100!
CC: Nonetheless, a lot of great, great, GREAT power pop came directly out of punk: The Buzzcocks, Generation X and the earliest stuff by The Jam come to mind, plus the incredible “Do Anything You Wanna Do” by former pub rockers Eddie and the Hot Rods. All of these acts were part and parcel of the British punk movement, yet they made records that epitomized the very best of power pop.
GPG: Agreed. Especially regarding the Rods, and their heirs most apparent The Motors.
CC: Meanwhile back in the States, The Ramones -- the band that invented punk (with apologies to worthy precursors The Stooges, The Dictators and The New York Dolls) — well, The Ramones were always a pop band at heart anyway.
GPG: Yessss!! And our dear reader is now directed to thumb straight over to Shane Faubert’s identical thoughts on da brudders, right there in our New York Power Pop featurette herein.
CC: I’ll meet you over there when we’re done with this. The Ramones were paradoxically 100 %punk, 100 % bubblegum, 100 % pop, 100% rock ‘n’ roll. The figures don’t add up, but damn if the first three Ramones LPs don’t prove ‘em true, especially on the charting singles “Sheena Is A Punk Rocker,” “Rockaway Beach” and “Do You Wanna Dance.” The Ramones were actively influenced by acts like The Bay City Rollers, Ohio Express, The Searchers and Herman’s Hermits, plus folks you’ve already mentioned like Spector and The Beach Boys, as well as by The Who, and The Stooges, Dictators and Dolls, of course. Roll ‘em all together, and it’s Power Pop.
GPG: Which reminds me… Were Hairspray and Rock ‘n’ Roll High School ever double-featured at drive-ins across the USA, as I’d like to think they once were in my home and native Canada?
CC: Heh. Way better that than doubling Rock ‘n’ Roll High School with, say, Grease. Or with Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band….
GPG: Wait just a Pepper-pickin’ minute there, sir: Where else are you gonna see – and, more terrifyingly HEAR – George Burns tradin’ Beatle licks with Maurice Gibb??!
CC: Too much of the power pop that came after The Ramones did indeed forget to include the Power with the Pop, but a lot of acts got it right: The Romantics. The Plimsouls. Paul Collins’ Beat. And my favorites, The Flashcubes.
GPG: Here We Go then!!
CC: The ‘Cubes were an avowed Power Pop band, inspired by punk but openly influenced by the Raspberries, Badfinger and the Sixties British Invasion. They embodied the Bomp! Magazine power pop equation of Shaun Cassidy (whom they covered live) + Sex Pistols (whom they also covered live) = the power pop sound of the early Who (another live ‘Cubes staple). They wrote original tunes that lived up to their influences, and they remain today the most exciting live rock ‘n’ roll band I’ve ever seen.
GPG: Shaun Cassidy at the Canadian National Exhibition fairgrounds, hot off his (Eric Carmen-composed!) “Hey Deanie” hit, was nothing to sneeze at either though, I just must have you know…
CC: Okey-dokey — I once got in hot water with a pair of disgruntled Eric Carmen fans for stating in print that Cassidy’s “Hey Deanie” was better than Carmen’s “Hey Deanie,” though either version’s fine by me. What do I know? I’m a Bay City Rollers fan!
GPG: Ever heard Gary and the Gripweeds’ utterly “Who’s Next” take on “Rock and Roll Love Letter”? (…he asked, most rhetorically indeed)
CC: Why, I believe I have heard that! By the way, what do you think of The Knack? I’ve learned to like ‘em over the years, and now I like ‘em quite a bit, but at the time of their hit-making ascent, there was something about them that didn’t sit right.
GPG: Absolutely. I vividly recall utterly poo-poohing “My Sharona” as it sneered up the charts over that long-lost Summer of 79, making odorous comparisons to “D’yer Mak’er” to whomsoever could hear me …over their incessantly blaring Get The Knack elpees. However, I also remember picking up the Knack’s “Round Trip” long-player a few years later (for 99 cents sealed, I swear; even still, I had to sneak it up to the cash register as all my with-it pals were cooing over “Remain In Light”). I LOVE Round Trip, and even “Good Girls Don’t” is more than welcome on my homemade Power Pop Primer compilations any ol’ time.
CC: Yeah (yeah yeah), me too. It wasn’t that I disliked The Knack, exactly, but they didn’t strike me as the band ideally suited to carry the Power Pop banner. I probably resented them because they had a # 1 hit and The Flashcubes didn’t even have a razzafrazzin’ record deal (just as I resented The Cars for having hits when The Ramones couldn’t get played on the radio).
GPG: And Debby “Daughter of Pat” Boone’s “You Light Up My Life” certainly kept the likes of “I Wanna Be Sedated” off chart tops too, don’t anybody forget! Still, you know what Carl? When all is said and sung – and I think we’ve both made many a good case throughout the colorful verbiage above -- I guess I’d just have to say, with all apologies to Ted Nugent, that Pat Boone’s “Wang Dang Taffy-Apple Tango” is… The Very First Power Pop Record.
CC: There’s gotta be some kind of technicality I can manufacture to disqualify that. Next you’ll be telling me Pat Boone’s a heavy metal artist! Oh wait — bad example….