Tuesday, 1 December 2009

VARIOUS ARTISTS - Shake It Up!: American Power Pop II (1978-80)


There’s a whole world of power pop out there. For every band which made the big time, there are dozens of also-rans. Some of the first wave of power pop’s finest unsung heroes can be found on Rhino’s power pop anthologies. The first volume, ‘Come Out And Play’ features stuff from 1975-78, and as such, features some of the more famous names – Cheap Trick, Chris Bell, Flamin’ Groovies, The Real Kids etc. This second volume catches the tail end of that wave, featuring an almost equal number of gems, even if some of the names aren’t quite as famous.

Kicking off this second anthology, The Cryers’ ‘Shake It Up (Ain’t It Time)’ is sugary, but all familiar with a strong hook. It has a solid arrangement with chiming guitars and handclaps. It’s all very much in the same mould as The Rubinoos and The Romantics. I know next to nothing about Shoes, but their track is excellent, with the guitars a bit more to the fore. ‘Tell That Girl To Shut Up’ by Holly & The Italians will probably be familiar to most people reading this, as it was covered by Transvision Vamp in the late 80s. This original version is almost identical to that rather more familiar cover. It would have been nice to hear something different by these guys – although with the album having had a CD reissue, it remains one of the easier things from this compilation to obtain.

Equally as good, The Rubinoos’ ‘I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend’ has plenty of harmony vocals, handclaps and a monster chorus. It ticks all the boxes and manages to be as infectious as most power pop should be when done this well. Pretty much unknown in the UK, people in the US will undoubted be familiar with this band and especially this song. The same goes for The Romantics, who’s ‘What I Like About You’ is a staple of some radio stations. Off Broadway USA is a band I’ll admit to knowing absolutely nothing about. If the track here is anything to go by, it’s solid stuff, with more than a nod towards early Joe Jackson. Best of the bunch, though, is ‘You Got It (Release It)’ by Pearl Harbour and the Explosions. Worthy successors to the Cheap Trick throne, it’s a mystery how these guys got ignored. This is power pop gold. Slightly poppier than some of the other bands featured here, this band show a lot of potential. I know this came from their vinyl only EP release from ’78, but I hear there’s other stuff out there. Definitely worth checking out.
‘I Thought You Wanted To Know’ by Chris Stamey & The Db’s, as you’d expect from a band with Mitch Easter connections, show wear their Big Star influences proudly and this track (alongside the Pearl Harbour) makes this CD a worthy addition to the power pop fans’ collection.
There’s stuff here that isn’t earth shattering too. ‘The First One’ by ex-Blondie man Gary Valentine shows Flamin’ Groovies influences (it’s when going through the many power pop compilations out there, it becomes obvious that they were seminal band), going for an older sound. Both tracks by The Beat [aka Paul Collins' Beat - not to be confused with the ska-pop band The (English) Beat] offer two songs which are above average, and even then, ‘Work A Day World’ might be better than I’ve given it credit for if I’m in the right mood.

As always with compilations, it’s not all good. ‘I Like Girls’ by The Know (written by the aforementioned Gary Valentine) is appalling. Thin sentiment, thrown together arrangement, bad lyrics. This is the epitome of really bad ‘good time’ music. There’s not even enough depth to embarrass the listener with a bunch of stuff about fast cars, which would usually be the thing. The track by Prix is pretty bad too. There’s not a lot wrong with the music, but the singer’s voice is rather irritating, with an odd whine. Also in the forgettable category are both tracks by Tulsa based 20/20; one of their songs sounds like a really bad version of The Flamin’ Groovies, while the other nods towards The Cars but without any of that great band’s charm or song craft.
Both this CD and ‘American Power Pop Vol 1’ are now out of print. They’re not so easy to find now, but their more than worth trying to track down.

1. Shake It Up (Ain't It Time) - Cryers
2. I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend - The Rubinoos
3. (I Thought) You Wanted to Know - Chris Stamey & The dB's
4. First One - Gary Valentine
5. Love You Tonight - Prix
6. Giving It All – 20/20
7. Tell It to Carrie - The Romantics
8. Tomorrow Night - Shoes
9. Yellow Pills - 20/20
10. Walking Out on Love - The (Paul Collins) Beat
11. Too Late - Shoes
12. Work-A-Day World - The (Paul Collins) Beat
13. Waiting for the Night - The Pop
14. You Got It (Release It) - Pearl Harbour & the Explosions
15. Stay in Time – Off Broadway
16. What I Like About You - The Romantics
17. Zero Hour - The Plimsouls
18. I Like Girls – The Know
19. Tell That Girl to Shut Up - Holly & the Italians


August 2007



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