Tag Archives: Bubblegum music

Paying Tribute: Men In Plaid

Someone tagged a comment on an old post of mine chastising me for mentioning that Kyle Vincent sang lead forThe Bay City Rollers – insisting that there were only two lead singers and he wasn’t one of them. After correcting my non-fan (and posting a video link to prove my point) I was reminded of how back in their day, fans of The Rollers were constantly scorned but very resilient. Nothing has changed.

I was not a fan of the band at the time; for I (1) was not a teenager anymore, (2) wasn’t female (still not one) and (3) thought Tartan plaid looked bad enough on Rod Stewart, who at least had the songwriting and performance chops to overcome the ridiculous look. (Then again, I didn’t expect his brilliant early 70s run to be followed up by thirty-five years of underwhelming records. But I digress…)

As you might know, I have a weakness for tribute albums. For every gem there are ten clunkers, although there are usually one or two tracks worth excising and preserving. If you want to do it right, you need access to a group of good bands, a smart label, a certain sense of levity and material that is at least recognizable if not worthwhile. One rule of thumb is that great bands can often overcome lackluster material. Case in point – Men In Plaid. Bullseye Records, a Canadian pop label, had previously succeeded with a Klaatu tribute and did another nice job on this Rollers collection. Of course, having first-rate pop artists like The Flashcubes, Anton Barbeau and The Squires of the Subterrain doesn’t hurt, either.

I’m trying to get away from the concept of guilty pleasures, which infers a level of secrecy and/or embarrassment. Either you like something or you don’t, and if you don’t have the courage of your convictions for some things, then your opinion on anything else is worthless. I didn’t like the band much in their heyday and I wouldn’t have worn those asinine plaid clamdiggers at gunpoint. But is “Saturday Night” a great pop song? Hell yes, it is.

My original review ran in Comsumable Online ten years ago. Looks like an extended version of the CD came out a few years later.

Bullseye follows up last year’s excellent Klaatu tribute with another winner, once again featuring a Who’s Who of Contemporary Pop Bands. Rollermaniacs, having seen their heroes suffer the torture of VH-1’s Behind The Music, can now revel in a newly issued Greatest Hits collection and this enthusiastic homage. But even if you hated the Rollers – and I just know many of you did – you’ll be surprised at how many great songs are buried beneath the plaid exterior. Maybe “S-S-S-Saturday Night” doesn’t carry the same cultural weight as “My G-G-G-Generation” to you, but for millions of fans across the world, The Bay City Rollers were their Beatles.

To say that The Flashcubes launch this record like a rocket would be an understatement; Paul Armstrong and Arty Lenin rip into “Wouldn’t You Like It” like Keith Richards and Mick Taylor circa “Brown Sugar”. Although no one else blows the roof off quite like that opening track, there are several other solid contributions. Gary “Pig” Gold sounds like he’s been a closet Grip Weed for years; this “Rock And Roll Love Letter” can stand proudly alongside The Records’ version. There are two versions of “Saturday Night”; Anton Barbeau adds his trademark left-of-the-dial approach while The Dipsomaniacs attack the song with a fever pitch. Tom Davis and Jeremy handle the mellower cuts equally well, while the appropriately named Squires Of The Subterrain dial in from the basement.

Other highlights include Ed James’ one-man-band take on “You Make Me Believe In Magic”; this performance will have people running to the store for his record. And both Reptopia and Fudge chose to take some liberties with the bubblegum pop songs, and their arrangements result in two of the standout cuts. Of course, not every cut bears repeated listening – for me, The Bobbies‘ version of “Let’s Go” was devoid of energy – but beauty is in the ear of the beholder.

Men In Plaid features a solid collection of bands who treat the songs with some reverence, but also have a lot of fun with them. That’s the way music used to be in the Rollers days. Some of these bands are old enough to remember, but the others probably had to be told. And the little girls still understand.

The Original Wardrobe Malfunction

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Under The Radar: The Sleepers

If I were going to start a rock band, I’d want the boozy swagger of The Faces and The Rolling Stones mixed with the glam punch of Bowie and The New York Dolls plus the bombast of AC/DC and the stoner buzz of The Black Crowes and Izzy Stradlin. Looks like The Sleepers beat me to the punch.

Featuring a twin guitar attack over a kinetic rhythm section and an emotive (yet not preening) lead vocalist in Tommy Richied, their album Comeback Special distills all those influences through a combination ’77 punk attitude and a Sunset Strip hair metal glitz. And although it’s hit and miss – largely hit – it has that indescribable sound that wants to make you roll down the car window and blast it so the guy next to you can offer a knowing nod and smile.

I’m not one to fall for hyperbole without a second look, but I must admit that “what would happen if Jerry Lee Lewis married Appetite For Destruction instead of his cousin” is a hell of a description.

If that doesn’t do it for you, how about song titles? Any band that titles their songs “She Is My Drinking Problem” (think Poison amping up a country weeper), “Dirty Cop” and “Jailbait” has a sense of humor, at least, but while song subjects might not call Dylan to mind, they’re vehicles to set the tone for some great back-beats and some guitar noodling.

Tony Manno and Kevin Bannon interplay well on guitars, while Chris Cormier on bass and (I am not making this up) Johnny Action on drums are rock-solid. Kudos also to Elisa Carlson who adds piano and organ on a few tracks; they might want to bring her on full time. (This album came out in 2008; according to their website, Richied is no longer in the band and Bannon has taken over lead vocals).

Sometimes you need to remember that rock’n’roll can be straightforward and simple. I never heard the Chicago based band’s one previous album (Push It Nationwide) but after blasting this one a few times I’ll be seeking it out.

Listen to The Sleepers on Amazon.

The Sleepers on MySpace

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Bubblegum. Still Like It.

Some Bubblegum retains its flavor

Nine years ago, I contributed a couple of features to Bubblegum Music is the Naked Truth, a collection of essays, lists and features on the genre and its artists. Edited by Scram magazine’s  Kim Cooper and David Smay, it was the first book to take an in-depth look at the artists, writers and behind the scenes operators of the bubblegum universe. 

 When I was growing up, AM radio featured a melting pot of musical styles, from British Invasion rock to garage to soul to folk. And, yes, bubblegum. The fact that I could enjoy Tommy Roe’s “Dizzy” for what it was – a simple, catchy, sing-along pop tune – didn’t mean I was unable to appreciate Jimi Hendrix reinventing guitar rock, the poetic imagery of Bob Dylan or the not-quite-white blues that The Rolling Stones were channeling. I’ve sometimes seen people admit they like bands like The Ohio Express or The Archies only under the guise of guilty pleasures, as if somehow you need to apologize for what you enjoy. Peer pressure sucks; ignore it.

Exposure to a wide variety of music was a good thin. I sincerely believe the death of the individual DJ and the birth of music consultants and formats did serious damage to the music audience. It’s pretty hard to like something when you rarely get a chance to hear it. Between restricting musical styles and limiting the number of tracks in rotation, at least one generation has had a big hole in their musical education. Now at least people can at least surf and sample to their heart’s content, if they have the drive to do so.

But back to Bubblegum…one of the best bands was The 1910Fruitgum Company. I’ll admit that “Goody Goody Gumdrops” was a little hard to take, but “1-2-3 Red Light” was a deceptively filthy pop song, and “Indian Giver” is still one of my favorite singles from that era. So when asked to write about a couple of bands for the book, they were my first choice…

When today’s artists issue a new release every two years they are dubbed “prolific”. In the late 60’s, however, a band could have a six-album career in that twenty-four month span. And if you consider that the 1910 Fruitgum Company was just one of the several bands springing from the minds of Jerry Kasenetz and Jeff Katz during that time, you begin to understand what an incredible feat the kings of bubblegum pulled off in tandem with Buddah Records mogul Neil Bogart.

Bubblegum music was little more than stripped-down rock and roll with a unique marketing spin, and the Super K boys spat them out as fast as they could put them together in their Bubblegum Factory. The 1910 Fruitgum Company was arguably the duo’s biggest success… (continue reading at the Bubblegum University site)

Now do you like it?

Bubblegum is the Naked Truth at Amazon

1910 Fruitgum Company wiki

Scram magazine

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