Tag Archives: Cheap Trick

R.I.P. Steve Popovich

In the 70s and 8os, when record companies warred against each other like lumbering dinosaurs, there were some real unsavory characters in the business. I’ve met and worked with quite a few of them, and to say I counted my fingers after a handshake is putting it mildly.

But among the stories of the ridiculously rich and powerful were the occasional feel-good stories of when David beat Goliath. Of course these days, that happens daily – the major label stranglehold on music is all but dead.

But when little Cleveland International Records started up, they could have never imagined that they would stumble across one of the most monumental albums of the rock era, especially after most of the supposedly smarter majors passed on it.

Steve Popovich had the career I thought I wanted a the time, a VP of a major label in his twenties with the ability to sign artists and help share them with the world. Any of us who are fans of music have our truckload of underappreciated musicians and writers and singers who would surely be megastars if only given the break. Working under Clive Davis at Columbia Records and then A&R with Ron Alexexburg at their sister label Epic, he was able to help launch or maximize the careers of artists like Cheap Trick, Brice Springsteen, Mott The Hoople, Johnny Winter, Southside Johnny and many of my favorites.

When he struck out to form Cleveland International Records, he used his old school local promotion skills to work an odd and obtuse album called Bat Out Of Hell month after month, slowly building an expanding regional base until radio finally fanned the spark into a flame. I was working in a record store at the time, and I remember how often labels would get all excited about a new record only to ignore it three months later if it didn’t catch on. Popovich believed in the record, believed in Meat Loaf, believed in Jim Steinman. He followed his gut instincts, and the rest is history.

He also gave us Ellen Foley’s majestic Night Out, and when Ian Hunter and Mick Ronson wanted assistance post-Mott, it was Steve they turned to for direction. He had the reputation as a man who would invest in the artist in ways far beyond financial.

Steve Popovich passed away today at the age of 69.

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New Album! Smash Fashion

Glam punk powerpop alert!

I’ll admit it – I love everything about glam powerpop. The fat guitar chords, the thrashing drums, the foot-stomping beat and the huge hooks are the antithesis of subtle, but there’s a time and place for everything. I love Loudon Wainwright III but I don’t bounce down the street blasting “Your Mother And I” out of the car stereo, windows down, rear-view mirror shaking from the pulse of the woofers. Nope, that’s what glam and powerpop is for.

I missed Smash Fashion’s 2003 release (and have since made up for it) and almost did the same thing with 2010’s Don’t Pet The Sweaty Things. (Thank god for late night “sounds like” tangents on Amazon and CD Baby!) I wasn’t sure what to expect from a group photo that had one guy thrusting a Flying V guitar neck at me while sporting an eyepatch, but at the risk of hearing an album full of Dr. Hook covers I dove in.

Video: “She Goes Down

Like most powerpop bands, you can play spot the influence. For example:

  • Baby Dancer” and “Blonde Raccoon” are so reminiscent of Dwight Twilley I had to check the credits
  • Hard On Love” is as KISS-like as its title
  • Confessions of a Opium Eater” is the bastard child of “Auf Weidersehen
  • Proper Way To Eat A Muffin” is T.Rex incarnate
  • Sad Sweet Sick and Beautiful” has Mick Ronson’s fingerprints all over it 
  • All Systems Go” is like a mashup of Matthew Sweet and “If I Needed Someone
  • Mott The Hoople, The Sweet, Cheap Trick…and so on.

The title track is as close as you’ll get to a glitter ballad. There are also a couple of covers – the muscle pop rendition of Abba’sDoes Your Mother Know” is really good but “Benny And The Jets” was probably better left alone. Still, this impressive collection of glammy chestnuts is well worth getting and playing loud. These guys know exactly what they’re doing, and they sound like they’re having a blast in the process.

Life is short, stop taking it so seriously. Blast this mofo out a window.

Smash Fashion’s website and MySpace page

Listen/buy at CD BABY.

Smash Fashiion - worth the trip.

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Under The Radar: Crumb

CRUMB: Seconds, Minutes, Hours…

This one dates back about thirteen years, back when TransAction Magazine was landing my brain nuggets in all sorts of cool clubs in London, Paris and Tokyo as well as Manhattan. It gave me a nice forum to write a gattling-gun column of odds and ends, things that wouldn’t fit into the tight print requirements of the glossy magazines that were so prevalent then.

So all the CDs that were too commercial, too obscure or assigned to others were directed there. The Editor was happy to get the volume, the bands and labels were happy for the coverage, and I was happy to have my byline in the Eastern hemisphere. Ah, simpler times

Crumb’s album came out on Red Ant Records, the label that I thought would re-launch Cheap Trick’s career until they imploded and killed whatever momentum either band had. Here’s my 1998 review from TransAction

TransAction Magazine

About half a great record – the first three tracks sound like someone found The Vapors in a time capsule and defrosted them, and they landed mid-riff! Wow! “Tonight“, Overboard” and “Exhibit A” all have great vocals, power-buzz guitars and that Big Drum Sound I love so much.

Then there’s “Do You Remember?”, the acoustic ballad with strings, proving that the Goo Goo Dolls didn’t patent the genre. (Matter of fact, if this was on the radio, it would sell a million just like the Goos do.)

But after literally launching me into orbit, the second half leaves me lost in space, free-floating away from my capsule, air sucked out of my lungs.

Okay, okay, maybe that’s a little overboard, but energy aside it all starts to sound the same (with the exception of “Cressida“, which smokes!). Lets just say that lovers of muscle pop should gobble this up regardless, while others will see Crumb as a band with EP ideas and a CD budget. So if you can accept skipping over the mundane to savor the charms, go for it.

Listen at Amazon (and get it for a penny).

Hey! My label's dead!

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Mixtape! This is Your Brain On Pop…

Way back in the day – June 1997 to be exact – I slapped this puppy on a C-90 and shared it with my tape swap group. Damned if it still doesn’t sound good now. A nice mix of old and new (new then, anyway), famous and obscure, sweet and bitter. Someday when I have both bandwidth and time I’ll load these on a special tab, but just YouTube or MySpace or Google your way around for now.

This Is Your Brain.

This Is Your Brain On POP!

Any Questions?

The Nerves – “When You Find Out” How can you go wrong when you have not one, not two, but THREE great songwriters in the band? Well, that’s probably two too many…
Ginger – “Feel Like Falling Down” Always a Molson’s Ale in the fridge, always a Canadian pop band on my tapes. Can’t recommend the whole CD but this song is sweet.
Joan Jett – “Indian Giver” Yes, your eyes are working fine. Little Ms. Riot Grrrl does a nice job on this 1910 Fruitgum Company classic.
The Shazam – “Blew It” From Copper Records, the label that brought us the Badfinger tribute, comes this Cheap Trick/Who/Badfinger sounding band produced by Brad Jones, whose influence is strong here (that’s a GOOD thing).
The Clouds – “Aquamarine” An Australian band who I only heard of because they opened up for TPOH – spotty record but this track is killer.
The Guess Who – “Don’t You Want Me” Burton Cummings is a guilty pleasure of mine. This is the second version of this song, from “Road Food”. They could really rock live.
John Hiatt – “Doll Hospital” The greatest living American songwriter. His older stuff is classic; if all you know is “Bring The Family” you are missing a TON of great stuff.
The Chills – “The Male Monster From The Id” Martin Phillips and company – this one’s for all the girls. Another spotty record with some great songs.
Candy Butchers – “Til You Die” More Mikey! No knock on Adam Schlesinger of FOW, but Mike Viola deserves some props for his vocals in the movie THAT THING YOU DO. Buy this EP before its gone.
Blue Cartoon – “Parachute” Lee, who’s one of my SON OF TAPE TREE swap partners, is far too modest to tell you that he writes great pop songs. So I will – this stands up with the best of 1997.
Michael Shelley – “Going To L.A.” East Coast Beach Boys with great lyrics and a borrowed T-Rex riff. Mike’s HALF EMPTY is one of the best records of 1997.
Sylvain Sylvain – “Teenage News” Ex-N.Y.Doll had a much poppier side than the band ever did. Two great records and gone – I wish he were still making music.
Sutherland Brothers & Quiver – “Dream Kid” Great, great pop rock band, probably known best for “Sailing”. This version of the band featured future Attractiion Bruce Thomas on bass.
Stella Luna – “Nervous Man” A plug for Bruce Brodeen’s NOT LAME label and sampler. Jamie Hoover produced this new band’s track; can’t wait to hear the whole record!
Sparks – “Here Comes Bob” Besides being a vastly underrated band, Sparks had a great sense of humor. In this song, Bob has a strange way of making friends…
 
Redd Kross – “Pretty Please Me” I wanted to put “Mess Around” on this tape, but “Pretty Please Me” started off with more of a bang! Cannot believe this band isn’t all over the radio!
Semisonic – “Brand New Baby” One of the best of 1996, from the ashes of Trip Shakespeare. Semisonic’s debut CD was wall to wall great songs and was criminally ignored.
Richard X. Heyman – “Everything The Same” Permanent Press Records will release CORNERSTONE, Richard’s first new record in five years. He plays all the instruments on this song and is a pop god.
The Del Lords – “Stay With Me” In a better world, Scott Kempner and Andy Shernoff would be revered songwriters. This Dictators classic re-interpreted by Scott’s next great band, whose catalogue deserves better. Rhino? Ryko? Hello??
The Pursuit Of Happiness – “Pressing Lips” Speaking of great songwriters….Moe Berg writes ’em, the great band kicks them into gear, and those killer harmony vocals seal the deal
The Faces – “You’re So Rude” We lost Ronnie Lane this month. Although overshadowed first by Steve Marriot and later by Rod Stewart, “Plonk” was the backbone of the Faces, Small and otherwise.
Firesign Theatre – “Porgie Tirebiter” I’ve been slipping in a few non-musical interludes on this tape, but since this is a theme song, I might as well ‘fess up. If you haven’t heard “Don’t Crush That Dwarf, Hand Me The Pliers”, you haven’t lived.
Rick Derringer – “Something Warm” From “Hang On Sloopy” forward, Rick always had a knack for pop, even if he didn’t have the voice to match. Still, GUITARS AND WOMEN was a first rate album. He’s back to the blues now, though.
Godley & Creme – “Big Bang” Dedicated to the Jellyfish Listgroup – what should we call this, 5CC? For a laugh, play the Blues Brothers’ version of “Hey Bartender” at the same time.
Cheap Trick – “Oh Candy” From the first of two self-titled albums, a nice, bouncy cheerful pop song about suicide. You won’t be comin’ around no more….
Pat Godwin – “Amish My Ass” For every guy who ever got turned down with a bullshit excuse, Pat sticks it right back up her ass in one minute and twelve seconds.
Eric Carmen – “Hey Deanie” Maybe he lost his way off the path, maybe he is label-less because he is a problem guy. But forget the BS – it’s amazing how many different times Eric captured the innocence of summer love in a song.
Kyle Vincent – “Wake Me Up (When The World’s Worth Waking Up For” Am I the only person who thinks Kyle and Eric Carmen sound alike? This perfect single should be blasting out of every car radio right now! Why isn’t it??
Sparks – “Batteries Not Included” Part two of the Sparks humor brigade. Followed up on the record by a song called “Whippings And Apologies” which I’ll probably toss on another tape someday…
Mick Ronson – “Sweet Dreamer” (edit) Speaking of losses, I miss Ronno. He made Bowie and Hunter better, brought out a great side of Morrissey, and had an appreciation for classic American music like Patsy Cline. 

Any questions?

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T.G.I.F. – Ten 2010 Bridesmaids

Putting together a “best of” list is hard for me, because there’s so much out there to enjoy every year and many albums appeal to me in different ways. Lists are subjective, of course (despite what Rolling Stone may insist) and try as I might I can’t put six pounds of stuff into a five pound bag. So while I consider the Top Ten an honor, the near misses – Bridesmaids, as I’ve been calling them – are no slouches either.

To beat the tired drum again, anyone who is claiming that there is no great music being made simply isn’t trying hard enough to find it. I’m out there beating the bushes constantly and I can’t keep up with it; certainly even a cursory attempt to widen one’s horizons would be richly rewarded (there’s a bunch of links at right for starters). And as always I welcome the emails from readers that start “have you heard…” as they often open new doors for me as well.

So this week, in no particular order, let me present Ten 2010 Bridesmaids – albums that didn’t make the Top Ten but weren’t far off. When I post the full “best of” lists in January these will certainly be there, so give a listen and be rewarded! (Amazon links included – many on sale right now!)

And on this TGIF Friday I’m especially thankful.

01) Peter Wolf – Midnight Souveniers…Like fine wine, Wolf just gets better and better with age. A far cry from his kinetic J. Geils frontman image, Pete has quietly entered the small plateau of artists perpetuating organic, honest music for the ages. A musical archivist flexing his talents.

02) Smash Palace – 7…If the cover art’s nod to Revolver doesn’t tip you off, let me. Smash Palace is in the upper tier of powerpop bands with traces of Cheap Trick, The Beatles, Tom Petty and Badfinger in its mix but a fresh and original sound. Solid songwriting, incredible vocals, songs that are pure ear candy. Radio’s loss; your gain.

03) Paul Thorn – Pimps and Preachers…”If I could be a tear/rolling down your cheek/and died on your lips/my life would be complete”. Holy shit. I’m new to Thorn’s world, but this is a gritty brew of John Hiatt, Warren Zevon, Bob Seger and Alejandro Escovedo. I am on board now.

04) The Master Plan – Maximum Respect…You were so sure that you didn’t get a record from The Del Lords, The Fleshtones or The Dictators in 2010. Well, you were wrong! The collaborative side project is back for a second album and as you might expect, it kicks ass! If “BBQ” doesn’t get you hopping, you are a zombie.

05) Teenage Fanclub – Shadows…Back after a five-year break and sounding like it was a day. Fannies know what to expect, for the uninitiated, think a sophisticated pop blend of XTC, Big Star and some classic California sunny pop (Beach Boys, CSN). A little subdued for some, I prefer to call it atmospheric.

06) New Pornographers – Together…The phrase “greater than the sum of its parts” sets the bar very high when talking about this collaborative unit, but damned if I don’t find every one of their albums irresistible. Any band that can make whistling as cool as a snapping snare drum is okay by me.

07) Graham Parker – Imaginary Television…Another guy who just defies the calendar and continues to pump out great songs; he’s a better singer, songwriter and guitar player now than in his popular prime. Also be sure to pick up his live set with The Figgs.

08) Deadstring Brothers – Sao Paulo…Imagine the Gram Parsons / Keith Richards sessions in the Stones’ golden era were invaded by Ronnie Wood from The Faces. Wine flowed. Tape rolled. Absolute gospel – rock – country blues bliss.

09) The Hold Steady – Heaven Is Whenever…Just missed…I thought the personnel change would impair their urgency and their passion but they are as good as ever. The first five songs are absolutely perfect and the album would be worth it if it ended there.

10) Nick Curran – Reform School Girl…I wasn’t a follower of Curran but damned if he isn’t channeling Little Richard, Phil Spector, Fats Domino, Screamin’ Jay Hawkins and The Sonics on this album. This is a party whittled down and stuffed in a jewel case; besides – how can you not buy an album with a title like this one?

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Meet The Beatles, Sorta

Time once again to pay homage to Angelo over at Power Pop Criminals, whose mixtapes (will someone please come up for a less cumbersome word for mix disc?) are always first-rate works of art. And that includes the art, by the way – original work always created with affection, humor and great skill.

Over the past couple of years I’ve tipped you to many of his powerpop anthologies, Beatle album tributes and collections of tribute songs. This weekend I’m recommending you check out two of his more eclectic tributes, starting with Meet The Beatlesque. We’ve all heard bands and songs that make you think of The Fab Four; pretty much any pop band around has some Beatle DNA in their bloodstream.

So where many bands cover Beatle songs outright, here we are talking about bands who are channeling their influence or building off their foundation. Angelo describes the selections as those “who have had a Beatlesque moment, whether consciously or not. Beatlesque means bearing a definite resemblance, often to a specific Beatle song. To be truly Beatlesque,a record must wear that influence openly.”

So who does that? Hmm…how about The Raspberries, Utopia, The Rutles, Marshall Crenshaw, The Smithereens, ELO, 20-20 and The Flamin’ Groovies? That’s only a small sampling…from Disc One! Disc Two features Badfinger, Klaatu, Matthew Sweet, Cheap Trick, Emitt Rhodes, The Gurus, The Jamfifty tracks of fab between the two discs!

So click here to visit PPC and download this great collection. Enjoy!

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Under The Radar: Wes Hollywood

Cities like Athens, Austin and Seattle might have gotten all the notoriety as musical hotbeds but the Illinois/Indiana area was always a great source of powerpop bands. The Wes Hollywood Show was no exception, wrangling guitar oriented pop with a sense of humor and mining that infectious, kinetic beat like Elvis Costello, The Kinks, The Beat and their neighbors from Rockford, Cheap Trick. They wound up issuing four albums under that name; Girls was the one that first caught my attention.

These days if you want to track pop savant Wes, you can find him making great music with his current effort, The Tenniscourts. Of course, that band is a subject for another day.

Here’s a review I wrote about their album The Girls Are Never Ending for Cosmik Debris back in September 2001.

Set the wayback machine back to 1977, Sherman, for The Wes Hollywood Show is waiting there for you. Remember when rock and roll was fun? Before shogazing? Before angst? Skinny tie pop rules again with these guys on their second CD, The Girls Are Never Ending. It’s wall to wall bouncy, power pop harmony, jangly guitar glory.

The opening track, “She’s Gonna Let You Go,” calls to mind the Romantics and early Elvis Costello, while the following track sounds more like The Knack and…uh…early Elvis Costello. That’s no insult – Wes isn’t trying to ape the man, but he does sound a little like him, although crossed with a good dose of John Lennon. In other words, the boy can sing!

The rest of the band are no slouches either. Mark Talent (lead guitar), Patrick Thornbury (bass) and Jason Styx (drums…wait…a drummer named Styx?) are energetic, especially on killer tracks like the Ramones-ish (well, okay, and Costello-ish) “H Bomb.” No doubt you’ll be playing this record over and over again, dancing to “Goodtime Girl,” “Little Miracle” and “Weston-Super-Mare.” And even though you’ll go grab This Year’s Model afterwards, you’d be just as likely to pull “Turning Japanese” and “What I Like About You” out of the rack.

And there’s something wrong with that?

Give it a listen at Amazon right now.

That Year's Model

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