Come And Get It
John King is an unsung hero in the saga of Big Star. A promo man for Ardent, King prevailed upon Chilton, Stephens and Hummel to reunite for a convention of rock writers that was to be held in Memphis. The group agreed, and proceeded to just plain knock ‘em dead at the convention. They even did a version of The Box Tops’ biggest hit, “The Letter,” as an encore. By all accounts of the show, Big Star was a smash.
The enthusiastic response at the convention was sufficient to convince Big Star to give it one more try. The band adjourned to Ardent to begin work on another album. Chris Bell even returned briefly, but whatever work he may have contributed to the record will remain a matter of speculation (in the liner notes Chris Bell’s posthumous album I Am The Cosmos, his brother wrote that Bell worked on the songs “O My Soul,” “Way Out West” and “Back Of A Car” for Big Star’s second album; we’ll never know for sure). Bell was gone again in the blink of an eye, and he would not allow his name to appear on the new Big Star album, Radio City.
“September Gurls” was and is the sine qua non of power pop, a glorious, glittering jewel with every facet cut and shined to absolute perfection. While The Raspberries’ “Go All The Way” provides a definitive encapsulation of what power pop is, “September Gurls” goes even further, not so much as the embodiment of a genre, but as a peerless, aching distillation of love and longing. “September Gurls” may not actually be the greatest song ever recorded, but for the duration of its 2:47 running time, you can be forgiven for believing it is.
While The Raspberries and Big Star were each seeking their own separate fortunes, a number of other lower-profile groups were also pursuing pure pop and power pop goals. The Flamin’ Groovies, a San Francisco band who’d started in the mid-‘60s and later issued a few manic, Stones-influenced LPs (best exemplified by 1971’s Teenage Head), had transformed by 1976 into a group with an overt ‘60s Mod approach. By this time, the Groovies seemed intent on creating their own style of pop, based on a mythic vision of The Beatles, Stones, Byrds and Beach Boys heading into the studio for a session with Phil Spector.
And there were still others: Los Angeles’ The Quick (originally The Young Republicans), conceived by would-be Svengali Kim Fowley—it’s impossible to write a history of rock or pop music without eventually getting around to Kim Fowley--as a male counterpart to Fowley’s jailbait rockers The Runaways; The Quick had potential and some good songs, but the power of their pop was compromised by Danny Wilde's off-puttingly precious, Sparks-influenced lead vocals (though Wilde went on to better things later, as a solo artist and as a member of Great Buildings and The Rembrandts). The Poppees, from New York City, were diverting but too slavish in their attempt to recreate 1965 Merseybeat; they released only a couple of singles.
At the opposite end of the spectrum from the above pop acts toiling away in relative obscurity, there were also some ‘70s teen idols making records that occasionally fit into this broad category of pure pop and power pop. The Hudson Brothers, while perhaps not teen idols per se, did host a Saturday morning kiddie TV show while simultaneously cutting some nifty pop rock records. 1980s recording and TV star Rick Springfield also got his start in the ‘70s, both as a TV cartoon character (on the Saturday morning series Mission: Magic) and as a recording artist.
NEXT: Punk Goes POP!