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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 three 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.

Friday, February 12, 2016

THE KIDS ARE ALRIGHT! The History Of Power Pop, Part 2

Here's Part 2 of my history of power pop, as written for John M. Borack's 2005 book Shake Some Action. You can read Part 1 here:  http://carlcafarelli.blogspot.com/2016/02/the-kids-are-alright-history-of-power_11.html

 

Come And Get It
           
In the early- to mid-‘70s, there were several acts that seemed willing to mine the motherlode of Beatley pop that many had forsaken.  Some were British glam/glitter acts like The Sweet and Slade, whose captivatingly simple style (on singles like “Little Willy” and “Mama Weer All Crazee Now,” respectively) melded bubblegum with hard rock to create an authentic (if prefabricated) power pop sound.  Some were ‘60s holdovers, both hitmakers who refused to be moved much by the passage of time or trends—let’s hear it for The Hollies here!--and marginally-recognized names that simply continued to make music in their own chosen pop style.

That last sub-category included ex-Nazzman Todd Rundgren, by now a successful solo star, record producer and sporadic pop icon; Rundgren’s 1972 album Something/Anything? offered impressive pop, especially in the nonpareil track “Couldn’t I Just Tell You,” while most of Rundgren’s work with the band Utopia was emphatically not cut from the same cloth.  There was also Emitt Rhodes, former leader of The Merry-Go-Round, a mid-‘60s light pop band from L.A. who’d enjoyed a regional hit with “Live,” a song much later covered by The Bangles.  Rhodes released several fine pop albums in the ‘70s, and even scored a minor (# 54) hit with his McCartneyesque “Fresh As A Daisy.”

One of the biggest groups in this sub-category of ‘60s survivors was Badfinger.  Beatles protoges and Apple recording artists, Badfinger began in the late ‘60s as The Iveys, and debuted as Badfinger on the soundtrack to the 1970 Peter Sellers-Ringo Starr film The Magic Christian.

The Magic Christians signature song was “Come And Get It,” a Paul McCartney composition that gave Badfinger a # 7 hit.  Badfinger seemed like a Godsend to pop fans:  a great band, playing in a classic tradition without resorting to cheap revivalism, even brightening up the airwaves with honest-to-God hit records.  From 1970-72, Badfinger enjoyed actual chart success with “No Matter What,” the exquisite ballad “Day After Day” and the unbelievable “Baby Blue,” each written by singer/guitarist Pete Ham.

But the Beatles connection was a double-edged sword, and many slagged Badfinger mercilessly as Beatles imitators.  Some even viewed Badfinger as mere Beatles puppets, oblivious to the fact that McCartney had only given the group one friggin’ song, for crying out loud.

When Badfinger left Apple and moved to Warner Brothers, the group’s career was essentially put to sleep.  1974’s Wish You Were Here, which many fans consider to be Badfinger’s best album, fell victim to what appeared to be Warner’s sudden disinterest in the group.  Frustrated with music-biz woes, Pete Ham hanged himself in 1975.  (Bassist Tom Evans also took his own life, the same way, in 1983, making the Badfinger story one of the most tragic tales in pop history.)

In the evolution of power pop in the ‘70s, though, two acts stand above all others.  Both acts included veterans of ‘60s groups.  One act, formed from the remnants of two ‘60s Cleveland bands that never quite made it nationally, went on to have four Top 40 hits in the ‘70s.  The other act, which included the lead singer from a Memphis group that had several ‘60s hits, never enjoyed any chart success at all during its lifetime, but is now considered one of the single most influential bands of the ‘70s.  In the story of power pop in the 1970s, no two names are more important than The Raspberries and Big Star.


 

I Just Want A Hit Record, Wanna Hear It On The Radio

The Raspberries formed in Cleveland in 1970, with singer/guitarist Eric Carmen, lead guitarist Wally Bryson, drummer Jim Bonfanti and original bassist John Aleksic.  When Aleksic left the group circa 1971, Carmen switched to bass and new guitarist Dave Smalley completed the line-up.

Bryson, Bonfanti and Smalley had all been members of The Choir (remember them?), who'd scored a regional hit in 1967 with the proto-pop classic “It’s Cold Outside.”  Carmen had been in a group called Cyrus Eyrie, with whom Bryson had also played after leaving The Choir in 1968; Carmen is also said to have made an unsuccessful attempt to join The Choir himself at one point.  All four shared a fondness for the mid-‘60s British Invasion rockin’ pop sound that had fallen out of fashion among their peers.

The crucial role of The Raspberries in the power pop story cannot be overstated.  Where several other acts played in a pop style, The Raspberries consciously set out to recreate the frenzied rock ‘n’ roll excitement of Beatlemania.  They didn’t want to be a revival act; they wanted to bring the pop of the ‘60s up-to-date with the power of the ‘70s.

The Raspberries made incredible records, often combining the leering salaciousness of The Rolling Stones with a facade of choirboy (or Beach Boys) innocence that enabled them to get away with blunt sexual solicitations like “Go All The Way,” a # 5 hit in 1972.  “Go All The Way” was followed later that year by the similarly-themed “I Wanna Be With You,” perhaps the definitive power pop single.

Dave Wolin, co-owner of the Big Deal record label in the 1990s, recalled the appeal of The Raspberries’ unique dichotomy:  “The Raspberries may have dressed up their songs with beautiful melodies, but the underlying themes were basically smoke pot and have sex with minors.  It represented the ultimate Rabelaisian, hedonistic world view, but in a package that could be sold to the masses.  That is the essence of rock ‘n’ roll.  There is something really sublime about taking your parents’ worst nightmares, sugarcoating them a little and getting them to dance unwittingly to it at a Bar Mitzvah.”

Alas, the party would soon be over.  From the beginning, The Raspberries were dogged by meatheaded criticism that they were light-weight, teenybop, even bubblegum.  And, like Badfinger before them, The Raspberries were also consistently derided as Beatle clones, a specious charge that ignored the group’s equally-evident roots in dynamic acts like The Who, The Small Faces, The Dave Clark Five, The Hollies and The Beach Boys.  It also ignored The Raspberries’ own contribution in remaking those influences into a thoroughly contemporary sound, and in making that sound their own.

When the wonderful Side 3 LP only managed a pathetic # 128 berth on the album chart, and the great “Tonight” single stalled at # 69, The Raspberries’ days were numbered.  The group actually broke up, acrimoniously, after Side 3.  As Smalley and Bonfanti split, Carmen and Bryson decided to hang together for the time being.  Scott McCarl and Michael McBride joined The Raspberries for the group’s final album, Starting Over.

Starting Over was, miracle of miracles, a critical hit, but it fared even worse than Side 3 on the charts.  It did yield one final hit single in “Overnight Sensation (Hit Record),” a self-fulfilling prophecy about just wanting to get a hit record played on the radio.

And then The Raspberries were no more.  Eric Carmen went on to a successful solo career, though his interests often led him into musical styles somewhat removed from the power pop of The Raspberries.  Wally Bryson was in the bands Fotomaker and Tattoo in the late ‘70s, and he served as “musical director” on Whatever Happened To Fun...., the 1985 debut album by latter-day power pop group Candy.  In 1997, Scott McCarl emerged with a stunning solo album called Play On..., named after a terrific McCarl song that had appeared on Starting Over. 

The Raspberries may have left the scene prematurely, but their legacy continues to thrive.  Rock history may remember them as mere footnotes, but the pop faithful know better:  no group ever embodied the power pop ideal more fully than did The Raspberries.

An abortive attempt to reunite The Raspberries for a summer tour circa 1999 left bad feelings all around (though Bryson, Smalley and McCarl did briefly bill themselves as The Raspberries for a few live shows and a six-song CD, Refreshed, in 2000).  One would have thought that to be that, but in November of 2004 the debut-album line-up of The Raspberries--Carmen, Bryson, Smalley and Bonfanti--did a reunion concert at the House of Blues in Cleveland.

Eyewitness accounts of this show were nothing short of ecstatic, as the reborn ‘Berries reportedly surpassed the highest of expectations.  The show included virtually every highlight from the group’s four albums, including selections from Starting Over (and an appropriate nod to Scott McCarl, who wasn’t invited to participate in the reunion, but was given on-stage props as Carmen sang a version of McCarl’s “Play On”).  They even did two Choir songs, and a few Beatles and Who covers.  The reunion gig was to be taped for a DVD release, and then...well, who knows?  



 

I Loved You; Well...Never Mind

Big Star’s Alex Chilton also appreciated The Raspberries’ efforts.  In a 1992 interview for Goldmine magazine, Chilton recalled the similarities between what the two groups hoped to accomplish:  “What really got me interested in rock ‘n’ roll was that period of time from 1964 to 1966 when The Beatles were really happening.  For me, around ‘67, things started going to hell, no more two-and-a-half minute pop tunes, now it was nine minutes of grunge and that was never my thing....

“So what we were doing in Big Star was like harkening back to the mid-‘60s.  We didn’t want to be a heavy metal band, we didn’t want to be a psychedelic group, we wanted to be a rock ‘n’ roll band like The Beatles, The Byrds, The Hollies.  When I heard The Raspberries was around the time of the second Big Star album.  I heard “Go All The Way” and thought, ‘This is really good.  This is the vein of music I wanted to make.’”

Chilton had first achieved prominence in the ‘60s as the lead singer of The Box Tops, who hit big with “The Letter,” “Cry Like A Baby” and “Soul Deep,” among others.  Following The Box Tops’ demise, Chilton knocked around New York City for a bit before finally returning home to Memphis.  In Memphis, he eventually hooked up with Chris Bell.

Bell and Chilton had known each other since well before The Box Tops, and Bell now invited Chilton to join his new group, Ice Water.  Ice Water, which consisted of guitarist Bell, drummer Jody Stephens and bassist Andy Hummel, were avowed disciples of British Invasion rock ‘n’ roll, and Chilton made an appropriate addition to the group.

Ice Water soon changed its name to Big Star, a name inspired by casual notice of a sign for a local supermarket.  Big Starís debut LP, # 1 Record, was released in 1972.  It was a brilliant record, loaded with unforgettable Bell-Chilton gems like “In The Street,” “Thirteen,” “Don’t Lie To Me,” “When My Baby’s Beside Me” and the chillingly uplifting “Ballad Of El Goodo.”  Fortune seemed sure to smile on the group; even the critics liked Big Star.

But the group’s hopes were quickly crushed.  Big Star’s label, Ardent, was distributed by Stax Records, the legendary Memphis soul label.  The once-mighty Stax was in a serious state of decline by this point, and Big Star’s record was poorly distributed.  With few people able to hear or buy the records, both the album itself and the attendant singles (“When My Baby’s Beside Me” and “Don’t Lie To Me”) failed to chart.

By now, Bell and Chilton were no longer getting along.  Bell, nearly shattered by the commercial failure of  # 1 Record, is said to have attempted suicide; this would not be his last such attempt.  Meanwhile, he and Chilton were at loggerheads over the group’s direction.  Big Star just wasn’t big enough for the both of them; Bell split at the end of 1972.

Chilton, Stephens and Hummel tried to keep Big Star going as a three-piece for a while, but even this aggregation soon imploded.  Chilton resumed his thus-far abortive pursuit of a solo career, and that probably would have been the end of the Big Star story.

It took just one gig to change all that.

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.

With or without Bell, though, Radio City was a masterpiece, even better than # 1 Record.  From the opening bounce of “O My Soul” to the casual, understated “I’m In Love With A Girl” at its close, Radio City offered a beguiling barrage of instant classics.  And, even along such stellar tracks as “Way Out West,” “Mod Lang,” “Back Of A Car,” “You Get What You Deserve” and “Daisy Glaze,” one song stood out as Big Star’s defining moment:  “September Gurls.”

“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.

Yet, for all its brilliance, and for all its critical praise, Radio City failed to even dent the charts, and it sank without a trace.  Distribution woes were again the culprit, and Big Star’s hopes for popular success were forever dashed.

Andy Hummel left Big Star after Radio City, forsaking the music business entirely in favor of a career in engineering.  Chilton and Stephens recorded another album, Sister Lovers, with producer Jim Dickinson involved as a de facto addition to the group.  But Sister Lovers was not released, and Big Star quietly ceased to exist.

Chilton went on to his own erratic solo career, characterized early on by a debauched, sloppy haze.  He also played with Tav Falco’s Panther Burns, and became a fixture on the burgeoning indie scene in the late ‘70s.  Stephens ultimately became a staff member at Ardent Studios.

Meanwhile, Chris Bell had also attempted a solo career, and released one wonderful single, “I Am The Cosmos”/”You And Your Sister,” with the latter track even including a background vocal by Chilton.  Bell had recorded an album’s worth of tracks prior to his death in a car accident in 1978.  These tracks were eventually released by Rykodisc in 1992 as the I Am The Cosmos CD, an essential purchase for Big Star fans.

But the Big Star story did not end with the band’s demise.  Interest in the band grew posthumously, inspired by fans and writers who continued to speak fondly of the group, and by a new wave of bands consciously influenced by Big Star’s records.  In 1978, the independent PVC label exhumed the sessions of that unreleased Chilton-Stephens-Dickinson Big Star album, and issued part of those sessions as a Big Star album entitled Third.  Third was far darker than the previous two Big Star albums, but no less compelling.  Its mix of bitterness with sporadic flashes of pop delicacy added to the Big Star mystique.  (The complete album, plus bonus tracks, was eventually released by Rykodisc in 1992 as Third/Sister Lovers.)

Big Star’s influence has grown, and the list of artists who’ve acknowledged the group as a primary reference point is seemingly endless.  Critics’ darlings The Replacements recorded a fitting tribute song, “Alex Chilton,” which furthered Big Star’s cool cachet, and inspired Rolling Stone to name Big Star the missing link between The Beatles and The Replacements.  Some have gone so far as to name Big Star as one of the most influential bands ever, second only to The Beatles.  While that claim is a bit far-fetched, it illustrates how large the legend of Big Star has become.

Which made it all the more amazing when Big Star decided to come back.  If someone had just made this part of the story up, you’d swear he’d been watching too many feel-good Hollywood movies.

In early 1993, some students working at the college radio station in Columbia, Missouri were trying to think of an act to book for the University of Missouri’s upcoming Springfest.  Aware of the growing status of Big Star as an unassailably cool cult act, someone suggested attempting to book a Big Star reunion.

To the surprise of virtually everyone, both Chilton and Stephens agreed to be Big Star again for a day; Hummel could not be reached.  For the gig, Chilton and Stephens were augmented by Big Star acolytes Ken Stringfellow and Jon Auer, the nucleus of the pop band The Posies.  The show itself (preserved for home consumption on the Columbia  CD) made headlines in the music press, fanning the flames of resurgent Big Star fever.  The ad hoc group stayed together for some tour dates, culminating in a 1994 appearance on TV’s The Tonight Show (playing “In The Street”).  Further confounding the expectations of every pundit you can imagine, the quartet has continued to make occasional live appearances as Big Star, and a new Big Star album is apparently nearing release as this is written.

Although Chilton himself has frequently appeared bemused and uncomfortable in reaction to all the attention lavished on his old group, the fairy tale resurrection of Big Star nonetheless opens a fascinating new chapter in this story.  There is comfort to be had just in knowing that an ever-growing base of new fans never travels far without a little Big Star.
  

Shake Some Action

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.

That approach came to fruition on The Flamin’ Groovies’ 1976 album Shake Some Action.  The title track was an incomparable blast of booming bass and apocalyptic atmosphere, all polished up pretty like an announcement of pop-rock Armageddon.  “You Tore Me Down” would have been worthy of The Searchers at their best, and “I Can't Hide” provided an exuberant close to a peerless album.

The Groovies’ pop moves were emblematic of larger forces at work.  As Big Deal’s Dave Wolin recalled, “I came out of record retail.  My boss kinda divided the world into two types of people, that you were either a Stones guy or a Beatles guy.  But then, you know, The Flamin’ Groovies went and crossed camps, [they] went from being kind of a Stones band to a Beatles band.  You know, the world’s never been the same.”

In a 1992 interview with Goldmine magazine, the Groovies’ Cyril Jordan noted that, “We’ve had fans that love Teenage Head and hate Shake Some Action.  And I’ve never understood that.  See, we have two levels of our music.  We have kind of Beatlesque levels, where there are lots of harmonies and the tunes are very melodic, and then occasionally we just kind of rock out, like on ‘Slow Death.’  That side of us is still there.”

Jordan also had no problem with “power pop” as a description of the Groovies’ music.  “I kind of dug that phrase,” he said.  “I thought it was appropriate because it was a little bit more oomphy than regular pop records.  I wanted to bring the balls back into pop, but I didnít want to kick out the melody.”

But, although Shake Some Action did manage a # 142 showing on the Billboard album charts, The Flamin’ Groovies never became more than a cult act.  Some critics dismissed them as mere revivalists, a notion Jordan was quick to dispute:  “You know, it’s amazing to me that any of this is looked upon as nostalgia or a revival.  The type of music that those guys made, whether it was the DC5 or The Beatles in the ‘60s, is the greatest stuff that’s ever come down the pike.  And it wasn’t just a contemporary period of music.  For me and George [Alexander, the Groovies’ bassist], this is timeless music.”

The Flamin’ Groovies cut two more fine albums in the ‘70s before returning to obscurity.  A version of the group resurfaced in 1992 for the Rock Juice album, but the Groovies have since disappeared yet again.  Cyril Jordan is now with a new band called Magic Christian, with an album completed in 2004.

 
           
Looking For The Magic

            Tulsa, Oklahoma’s Dwight Twilley Band did find commercial success with “I’m On Fire,” a terrific single that became a # 16 hit in 1975.  The Dwight Twilley Band was actually a duo, comprised of Twilley and partner Phil Seymour, usually accompanied by ace guitarist Bill Pitcock IV.  Fittingly, Twilley and Seymour first met while waiting on line at a local theater to see a revival screening of A Hard Day’s Night.  The group’s follow-up single, “You Were So Warm,” was perhaps even better than “Iím On Fire,” but it was a commercial stiff, and an equally-strong, shoulda-been-a-goddamn-hit track called “Shark” went paradoxically unreleased at the time.  By the time the group’s first album, Sincerely, was released in 1976, The Dwight Twilley Band had lost the momentum of “I’m On Fire.”

Seymour split from Twilley after 1977’s Twilley Don't Mind album.  Twilley went on to record several fine pop albums in the ‘80s, and returned in 1999 with a splendid record called Tulsa.  Seymour cut some demos with 20/20 (more about whom later) before embarking on a promising but brief solo career.  Seymour passed away from lymphoma in 1993.

(Twilley, eulogizing his former partner in the pages of Yellow Pills fanzine, simultaneously summed up some of the timeless appeal of the pop experience itself:  “I’ll never forget the cold November night at the Church Studios in Tulsa.  Phil and I had just signed our first recording contract.  We had been instructed by the record company to get acquainted with working in a ‘real’ 16-track studio and not attempt to record a ‘real’ record.  In the confusion of a pivotal moment, it was Phil who pulled me into a secluded hallway and said, ‘Dwight, let’s make a hit record right now.’  That night we recorded ‘I’m On Fire.’

“For me, the true magic was when we sang together.  It felt like it was, somehow, more than just two voices.  It was the kind of luxury I know I’ll never recapture.”)


 

Bubbling Under

While The Dwight Twilley Band had a Top 40 single and two charting albums, and The Flamin’ Groovies at least managed a showing on the album chart, many other fine pop acts couldn’t even claim that much on their resume.  For example take Fairfax, Virginia’s phenomenal pop combo Artful Dodger, whose members were rock ‘n’ roll heroes in Cleveland, and virtually unknown everywhere else.  But Artful Dodger was a terrific group, blessed with an irresistible sound that seemed like a cross between Badfinger and The Faces.  Artful Dodger’s eponymous 1975 debut LP is an undiscovered classic, loaded with superb tracks; the second album, 1976’s Honor Among Thieves, was just as good, and just as unsuccessful at retail.  There were but two more albums--the less interesting Babes On Broadway in 1977, and the return-to-form Rave On in 1980--and then Artful Dodger was history.

Youngstown, Ohio’s Blue Ash released a promising debut LP, No More, No Less, in 1973 (highlighted by the wonderful “Abracadabra (Have You Seen Her?)”), but followed that with 1977’s disappointing Front Page News.  Some of the group’s terrific demo tracks were collected and released in 2004 on a 2-CD set called Around...Again, courtesy of Not Lame Recordings.  Blue Ash guitarist Frank Secich would later re-cut an unreleased Blue Ash song called “A Million Miles Away” (not the Plimsouls tune) with former Dead Boys singer Stiv Bators.  Still later, Secich was in a pop group called Club Wow, a group that included Jimmy Zero from The Dead Boys and  Billy Sullivan, a singer-guitarist who also joined The Raspberries as an auxiliary member for that group’s 2004 reunion—man, this pop scene is incestuous!  Club Wow cut some very interesting demos--a Who-influenced tune called “Norman Green” was particularly compelling--but the group was unable to land a record deal.

Chicago’s Pezband denied comparisons to The Raspberries, but the similarities were always too obvious to ignore.  Not that Pezband was quite in The Raspberries’ league, but the group did release three albums of pleasantly Beatlesque pop, commencing with 1977’s Pezband.  While the debut album is a bit lightweight, things improved noticeably by the time of 1978’s Laughing In The Dark, which included the memorable tracks “Stop!  Wait A Minute” and “Love Goes Underground.”  And Pezband wasn’t ashamed of a pop label either, as a print ad for one of their albums promised “sparkling power pop,” and their first album carried a proud advisory to “File Under:  Pop Vocal.”

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.

(Though hardly a “bubbling under” artist, at least some passing mention should be made of Cheap Trick.  The Cheap Trick story is too large and sprawling to be fully contained within the confines of power pop, but certainly here was--and is--a group well capable of both melodic hooks and paint-peeling volume.  “Surrender” is an absolutely perfect power pop record, and power pop enthusiasts generally adore Cheap Trick’s first four albums, Cheap Trick (1977), In Color (1977), Heaven Tonight (1978) and Dream Police (1979), plus the breakout live album Cheap Trick At Budokan; some will also speak out on behalf of some of Cheap Trick’s ‘80s work, and I’ll happily chime in for the 1997 Cheap Trick album, a record far better than its current budget-bin ubiquity would indicate.  The group’s big-ballad success in the ‘80s with “The Flame” doesn’t obscure the fact that, at one time, Cheap Trick was simply one of the coolest bands on the planet.  On a good day, they still are.

The Greg Kihn Band also rates a mention here, as Kihn and company recorded several agreeable pop albums in the ‘70s for the independent Beserkley label (“Home Of The Hits!”).  Kihn scored a deserved airplay hit with a cover of Springsteen’s “For You,” but didn’t really hit big until the early '80s.)


 
           



Boy-Scout Pinups

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.

But for our purposes, the big names in ‘70s teenybop pop were The Bay City Rollers and Shaun Cassidy.  Cassidy, star of TV’s The Hardy Boys and half-brother to The Partridge Familys David Cassidy, deserves a mention here because of his hit covers of two Eric Carmen songs, “That’s Rock ‘n’ Roll” and “Hey Deanie.”  At a time when Carmen himself seemed less interested in the raucous style he’d pioneered with The Raspberries, Cassidy’s vibrant versions of these songs served as a potent reminder of the pop mania Carmen had once embraced.  Cassidy even went so far as to declare to Newsweek magazine that “I’m not teenybop, I’m power pop...melodic!”

(Cassidy also served as the direct inspiration for one other teen-pop-meets-power-pop footnote, as Syracuse, NY’s own power pop powerhouse The Flashcubes later wrote a song called “Boy Scout Pinup,” telling the tale of a young girl fantasizing about her Shaun Cassidy poster coming to life...and she didn’t want him to be a boy scout, baby.)

The Bay City Rollers were genuine teen idols, Tartan-clad poster boys adored by adolescent girls everywhere.  They never made a great album, made only one unreservedly good album (1979’s Elevator, made with a different lead singer and a name shortened to just “The Rollers,” after the teen mania had passed; 1981’s Ricochet album had its moments, as well).  And they cut an awful lot of typical teen idol pap.  (To be fair, I have never heard the Voxx or Breakout albums from the ‘80s, so it’s impossible to comment on them here.)

For all that, The Bay City Rollers cut a surprising number of dynamic tracks, making a convincing case for the Rollers as pop savants.  Among the group’s U.S. hits, “Money Honey,” a cool cover of Dusty Springfield’s “I Only Want To Be With You,” the great Vanda-Young “Yesterday’s Hero” and the freakin’ incredible “Rock And Roll Love Letter” all offered pure, engaging pop with undeniable power; a smattering of key album tracks and B-sides—“Too Young To Rock ‘n’ Roll,” “Mama Li,” a simply awesome group original called “Wouldn’t You Like It”--offered further evidence that there was more to The Bay City Rollers than S! A! T-U-R!  D-A-Y! NIGHT!  And even “Saturday Night,” reviled by the hipper-than-thou, was a catchy distillation of the British glitterpop environment in which The Bay City Rollers emerged.  If “Rock And Roll Love Letter” and “Wouldn’t You Like It” can't be called power pop, then there ain’t no such thing as power pop.

In the teen idol category, one group that really should have been huge was The Rubinoos.  The Rubinoos truly had it all:  built-in teen appeal, unbridled pop aspirations and a big ol’ pile of great pop tunes.  Their two Beserkley LPs were loaded with potential chart fodder, most notably “I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend,” an infectious blast of radio-ready teen romance worthy of The Raspberries.  Alas, The Rubinoos only managed one near-hit, a cover of Tommy James & The Shondells’ “I Think We’re Alone Now” that hit # 45 in 1977.  Neither album charted at all.  Instead of being the teen idols they seemed predestined to become, The Rubinoos wound up beloved only by the power pop faithful.  They deserved better.  (The silver lining in this cloud is that The Rubinoos are still with us, and they’re still great.)


NEXT:  Punk Goes POP!