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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 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.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

THE KIDS ARE ALRIGHT! The History Of Power Pop, Part 5

Continuing my history of power pop, as written in 2005 for John M. Borack's book Shake Some Action.

Part 1:  http://carlcafarelli.blogspot.com/2016/02/the-kids-are-alright-history-of-power_11.html

Part 2:  http://carlcafarelli.blogspot.com/2016/02/the-kids-are-alright-history-of-power_12.html

Part 3:  http://carlcafarelli.blogspot.com/2016/02/the-kids-are-alright-history-of-power_13.html

Part 4:  http://carlcafarelli.blogspot.com/2016/02/the-kids-are-alright-history-of-power_15.html

The Girls Are Alright?

Before we get to the subject of power pop in the ‘80s, at least some mention should be made of a separate phenomenon that intersected with the power pop story:  female rock ‘n’ roll bands.  Not Brill Building-era girl groups, not earnest singer-songwriters, not blues belters nor disco divas nor new wave chanteuses, but self-contained rock ‘n’ roll groups with, y’know, gurls playin’ and singin’.  That such a concept was still seen as a novelty in the early ‘80s seems terribly quaint now; that Rolling Stone still occasionally marginalizes female rock ‘n’ rollers with stupid “Year Of The Woman” pieces reminds us that we really haven’t come a long way, baby.

There were a few all-female groups in the ‘60s--The Pleasure Seekers in Detroit, (featuring a then-15-year-old Suzi Quatro), Goldie and the Gingerbreads (with Genya Ravan, who would much later go solo, and would also produce both The Dead Boys and Ronnie Spector), She, The Continental Co-Ets, even (I swear!) King Family Singers refugees The Clingers, whose cover of The Easybeats’ “Gonna Have A Good Time” is an obscure but essential power pop gem--but none came anywhere close to the pop charts or radio airplay.  In the ‘70s, groups like The Runaways and Fanny, plus the above-mentioned Ms. Quatro, furthered the notion that a rock ‘n’ roll girl's ultimate fantasy needn’t be limited to being some rock star’s girlfriend, when instead she could become a rock star herself.

While there were pop elements in the work of each of the acts mentioned above, I submit to you that the world’s first avowed all-female power pop group was The Poptarts, a still-unknown quintet that formed in Syracuse, NY in 1978.  They were inspired by The Flashcubes, and Poptarts songwriter/guitarist Meegan Voss (aka Debbie Redmond) actually was Flashcubes guitarist Arty Lenin’s girlfriend at the time, but their goals were always clearly stated:  to become the female Raspberries, with their faces on a lunchbox, proudly and perkily perched at the toppermost of the poppermost.

But it was not to be.  The group split acrimoniously in 1980, without ever releasing even a single tune.  They had great songs, they had a great look (mini-skirts and colorful ‘60s pop style) and a great lead singer in Gael McGear (nee Sweeney), but the world wasn’t quite ready for them yet.  Nor was the world ready for The B Girls, a similarly-styled Toronto group who at least managed to record a few cool numbers and release a Bomp! single.  Detroit’s Nikki and the Korvettes released a swell Ramones-meet-The-Shangri-La’s album on Bomp!, but got little notice.  And The Catholic Girls, from New York, did release an album on MCA, and even got some limited MTV play with their video for “Boys Can Cry,” but still couldn’t connect with a larger audience and couldn’t sustain their careers.  (On the bright side, The Catholic Girls have since returned to the scene, and their new music is better than ever.)

Ready or not, though, the world could not deny The Go-Go’s.
The Go-Go’s started as a ragged L.A. punk band in the late ‘70s, and it’s likely that no one who saw them then could have ever predicted their eventual stardom.  But they cleaned up real good--in fact, they wound up looking an awful lot like The Poptarts-- and they wrote terrific pop tunes.  If the members of The Go-Go’s were initially dismayed by the pop sheen given them by veteran producer Richard Gotterher on their debut album Beauty And The Beat, they got over it quickly, as the album exploded (# 1 for six weeks in 1981) and singles “Our Lips Are Sealed” and “We Got The Beat” stormed radio, retail and MTV.

The group made three albums (each essential) before imploding in 1984.  Lead singer Belinda Carlisle went on to great success as a solo artist, singer/guitarist Jane Wiedlin to more limited solo success, while the other members kept lower profiles overall (guitarist Charlotte Caffey in The Graces, and drummer Gina Shock in House Of Shock; bassist Kathy Valentine’s profile was lower still).  They’ve reunited occasionally, first for a pointless remake of The Capitols’ “Cool Jerk” on 1990’s Greatest Hits set, then for some more encouraging new stuff included on the archival set Return To The Valley Of The Go-Go’s in 1994 (including Valentine’s superior “The Whole World Lost Its Head”), and then for a splendid new album in 2001, God Bless The Go-Go’s.

The Bangles were constantly compared to The Go-Go’s, primarily because of their striking similarities:  they were both all-female, self-contained rock ‘n’ roll groups, obviously influenced by ‘60s pop music, and...well, that was it for similarities, actually.  Where The Go-Go’s seemed a new wave update on ‘60s girl groups, The Bangles drew more inspiration from The Beatles and, more noticeably, American folk-pop (We Five, The Mamas and The Papas, The Grass Roots, etc.).  The Bangles’ self-titled 1981 debut EP (following a 1981 single as The Bangs) was a nice enough introduction, but 1984’s full-length album All Over The Place was a pure delight, sensitive and vulnerable in spots, but brash and confident where it needed to be.  Subsequent albums were more successful—1986’s Different Light hit # 2, and included the massive hit “Walk Like An Egyptian,” a novelty tune that has unfortunately become the group’s signature number;  1988’s Everything also spawned a massive hit with the ballad “Eternal Flame”--but neither matched the pop promise of All Over The Place.  The Bangles disbanded unpleasantly in 1989, but have since regrouped for a pretty good album, Doll Revolution, in 2003 .

NEXT:  Repercussions In The Reagan Era--Whatever Happened To Fun?