Tag Archives: The Jags

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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Under The Radar: The Sweat

I occasionally refer you to my friends at Power Pop Criminals, Power Pop Overdose and similar sites as they have a knack for putting together some great mix discs (god, I really miss the word mixtape…). There are certainly millions of blogs out there and lord knows I’ll miss many good ones simply for the lack of time. But I do try to pop around every so often and am always astounded when I come across a reference to another solid disc that demands play time right away. So not only was I was glad to see that the Power Pop Lovers blog has decided to reanimate, but thanks to them I came across a little gem from The Sweat, a Belfast band I hadn’t heard about.

The original band (Clive Culbertson: vocals,bass,guitar / Michael Katin: guitar / David Stuart: keyboards /Ricky Bleakley: drums) was called No Sweat, but reportedly was sued by Pete Townshend‘s Eel Pie Records because they alreadyhad a band by the same name. (That’s a pretty common problem, especially for a pretty common band name. Even today when you try to research The Sweat, you might confuse them with these guys…wrong band, although they aren’t too bad either!)

But the pop references that were tossed around were pretty spot on;  if you liked The Jags, The Romantics, Dirty Looks, The Beat and The Records, you’ll find The Sweat right up your alley. Clive Culbertson, Adrian Culbertson, Sean Donaghy, Paul Coates – the current version of The Sweat – continue to kick a little ass today.

Video: “Why Did You Have To Lie?” 

Sure, maybe their sound is a little more polished and reserved than the name check bands, but you can’t deny the great vocals and the hooks in the chorus. I really hear more postNew Wave pop in their sound; bands like The Producers and Great Buildings come to mind. The title song has a whiff of Greg Kihn to it, and tracks like “Please Don’t Say You Love Me” and “I Can’t Hardly Wait” (not the Replacements classic) would slide seamlessly onto any playlist from the time. The production is a little thin and tinny (like many of the commercial pop albums of the early 80s) but the songs are three minute pop nuggets from start to finish.

Check out The Sweat and No More Running for yourself – you probably missed this gem as well.

The Sweat at MySpace

Buy the album from 1977 Records Japan

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Under The Radar: Coward

Sometimes you hear a band and think they’ve got something happening that will surely grow in time; you’re witnessing the awkward first steps of a future success. But sometimes, that just doesn’t happen. I could have sworn that Long Island power-pop-punk band Coward was going to make some noise; they were on a major and getting the big push. But…no.

Even when pulling this out today and writing I was certain they made it under another name, but I came up dry.  I did recently track down Joey Sykes, the guitar player and co-writer of many of the songs; he’s got a new album which I’m reviewing for another publication. Producer Jerry Finn (who also handled Blink 182, Sum 41, Green Day and several other pop punk masters) sadly passed away in 2008.

As their MySpace page says, plenty of bands came along later and found success with the same sound. These guys just never made it. Doesn’t mean the album isn’t a good listen! So maybe they’re under your radar, too.

From my original Consumable Online review:

How’s this for irony? The band kicks off the record with a tune called “Cliche” that apes every 1970’s rock move right down to the synthesizer fills and the “C’mon C’mon” vocals. Pretty ballsy – are they in on their own joke, or what?

Must admit that when I got this CD I wasn’t enthused. Front cover band name in “neon lights” (Heavy Metal Alert #1) and on the back cover of the CD, a tight shot of that “devil horn salute” fist raised, pinky and index finger extended) that usually means a moron is attached directly below.

Well, glad I continued. “Fell Down”, the second cut, mines that territory that houses pop bands from The Cars to Silver Jet – attention grabbing, hooky numbers that follow the tried and true power chord formula. However, most of the songs like “Boring” and “My Wisdom” even take it a step further, echoing New Wave heroes like The Jags and The Fools more than modern power pop.

Others like “Swallow” and “I’m All Right” kick in with a harder edge (think Green Day). Good harmonies, chunky guitars and tight playing throughout the record make it enjoyable, albeit short, ride. My favorite is probably the snappy “Popularity Kills” – silly, but with an infectious chorus that you can’t get out of your head.

Probably best heard at high volume with the windows rolled down, there’s lots of promise here, whether they’re truly into this style or just aping a la Weezer. But next time I hope they leave that damn synthesizer at home.

Cheap grab at Amazon.

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Blast From The Past – The Raves

Really, really fab!

Your collection, if like mine, contains several hidden gems that even you forget about over time. But when you stumble across them years later, you immediately know why you were hooked in the first place. With so many bands springing up in the post-Beatle era and beyond, how could you know about them all? Some incredibly talented ones never got too far outside of their zip code for one reason or another, but we all know there are diamonds in that rough…

One such band was The Raves, from Atlanta. Years after its release. their album Past Perfect Tense is still a sixteen-track breath of fresh air. Here’s what I wrote for TransAction a dozen years ago…

My God, two of them even *look* like John and Paul! This collection of Beatle-esque pop from the 1980s proves that along with The Flashcubes and The Toms there were many other great bands that didn’t get their due. Chuck, John and Jim Yoakum handled the guitar-bass-drums axis while Ken Kennedy added some flash lead guitar. Although the production immediately screams “local band”, the songs don’t – they’re pure New Wave pop.

 “Any Way You Can”, “Every Little Bit Hurts” and “Make Up Your Mind” are just three of the sixteen tracks that you can play in tandem with bands like Artful Dodger, The Jags and The Sinceros. “Tonight It’s Going To Be Great” is The Records via Buddy Holly and you’ll like the Elvis Costello nod on the intro to “Chastity”. Four guys weaned on classic pop rock who decided to make some of their own.

Go ahead – drop a few more names. The Rubinoos. Dwight Twilley. Sloan. Everly Brothers. Name any melodic or powerpop band you want…if you like them, you’ll like this. I have no idea what happened to the band after this – a very common tale – although Chuck did work with the late Graham Chapman of Monty Python.

But do try and track down this hard to find little gem – you will be richly rewarded.

The Raves at AllMusic.com

A couple of YouTube videos courtesy The Yoakum Channel.

An old interview at Bubblegum The Punk

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Blast From The Past – Marvelous 3

Ready for a Marvelous Threesome

Ready for a Marvelous Threesome

Everybody knows Butch Walker now – he’s the go-to producer for a legion of hitmakers from Pink and Avril Lavigne to Pete Yorn and The Donnas. But ten years ago, he was cutting his teeth as the leader and frontman of The Marvelous 3, a band that combined the irresistibe elements of The Who and The Jam with a Beatle-esque hook and a clever sense of humor.

Their first record (Hey! Album) was a smash on Planet Bristol. Here’s my review from 1999, first published in Consumable Online. My prediction for the album’s big success fell short, but the guy behind it wound up vindicating me:

consume-icon

Now we’re talking! If you ever need to define the epitome of power pop to someone, all you’re going to need is a copy of Hey! Album and a loud stereo. The three piece Atlanta band is well schooled in the college of Cheap Trick, Rubinoos, The Sweet, and The Cars, as well as lesser known purveyors like The Beat Angels and Shazam. In other words, great harmonies, sharp drumming, a solid bottom, big guitar and hook after hook after hook. Get those mopey shoe-gazers off the stage, because power pop rules again!

“Freak Of The Week” seems to have grabbed the initial headlines with its Cars-like riff, but “You’re So Yesterday” is equally strong, handclaps and doo-doo-doo background vocals that should make listeners run to turn up the volume. “Write It On Your Hand” is a major player, pulsating beat leading to a call-and-response chorus worthy of The Knack, or The Jags, or Jellyfish … damn, there I go again. But it doesn’t matter if it’s the psychedelic “Lemonade”, the bouncy “Mrs. Jackson” or any other track – each of the twelve songs is bursting with energy and personality. Guitarist/songwriter Butch Walker, bassist Jayce Fincher and “Slug” the drummer pack a wallop and nail three part harmonies throughout the record.

Every power pop record comes complete with the big slow-dance anthem, and that’s “Let Me Go” – an arena ballad with sweeping falsetto vocals. I can see the Bic lighters and the swaying crowd already. My favorite is the irresistible “Vampires In Love”, which mixes clever but goofy lyrics with an absolute killer hook that you’ll be singing in your sleep.

Last year pop bands like Fastball and Semisonic got an opening and exploded onto the charts. It stands to reason that some programmer won’t need the Homer Simpson head-slap to realize that there’s an audience for energetic, exciting music. If this record isn’t a bonafide smash, bleeding out of radios four tracks deep, something is very, very wrong.

Fan website

Marvelous 3 wiki

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Under The Radar – The Supers

Supers

When The Supers dropped this pop puppy on the world almost a decade ago, it may not have made much of a splash on major radio but it exploded in the power pop community. Boasting hooks upon hooks, clean production, great vocals and that bombastic energy only powerpop can bring, it got a flurry of great reviews. I saw the band live at a pop fest in Raleigh and was wowed; like many I could not understand why these songs were not on the radio.

What, Doc? You don’t understand? Cue Dan Ackroyd

After a follow-up album titled Mystery on Pop Mountain (again, great artwork, this time spoofing The Hardy Boys) I didn’t hear much from them again as they moved on to other projects. I didn’t even realize that they released Re-Arrange in 2006! So it’s understandable if these guys have fallen under your radar. Check them out!

thesupers

This piece ran in PopMatters back in 2000…

Boasting a cartoon cover and an album title that the late Don Martin would be proud of, Toronto’s The Supers are every bit as energetic as their super-hero alter egos. With hooks galore and a couple of strong singer/songwriters in Maury Landry and Graham Powell, The Supers sound a lot like The Jags or even Fountains Of Wayne, albeit with much higher octane. And for that, large credit is due drummer Jeffrey MacPherson, who seemingly kicks every song in the ass just to make sure it doesn’t lag. (And Tim Bovaconti, you’re no slouch either — god forbid I mention three people in a four man band!)

There’s what, a billion records coming out every day? Better have a strong lead-off track, and “Turn” is a killer; lyrically clever and containing several jumps that will have you punching the gas pedal in time. Ditto “Fall” and “So Many Crooks”, although slower songs like “Even Fools” will please that sad drunk cowboy in all of us. The Supers know how to build a song, also, whether it’s a pretty vocal like “Only You” or the ironic “Pill”, which starts out drowsy and climbs key changes along with the mood of the lyrics. “Little Secret” might be too good for radio because it’s a pure pop song, but “Always In Pain” might have just enough edge to it so that the alterna-geeks will listen. Only the very odd “Near Death Experience” defies inclusion; I can hear “Within You Without You” buried in there somewhere, but what it’s covered with I don’t care for.

Not to slight the music, but I have to mention the packaging again — anyone who has ever read a comic book will enjoy the way the “ads” page is used to list song and credit information, the colorful and wonderfully done insert and even the approval stamp from the “Rock Code Authority”. So props to you, Marc Lafoy and Kurt Swinghammer, for the best work I’ve seen in a while.

Even though you, like me, have at least nine bands in your collection with the word “Super” in their name, Spklanng! finally lets you wash the phrase “Wang Chung” out of your system. As the record label says, try pop!

Website for The  Supers

The Supers MySpace site

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New Album! The Wigs

Play loud and often.

Play loud and often.

Back in the caveman days (pre-Internet), a band had to break out the old-fashioned way. Play. Play a lot. Play well. Build a fanbase, build some momentum, attract some attention, swim against a tidal wave of opposition and – if you didn’t succumb to the temptations of ego, drugs and alcohol – maybe you’d be lucky enough to make it to the next rung. After all, if the local radio station would get behind you, maybe the next town’s key jock would want to make certain he got on board before it was too late, and then if you could find a similar band in the next town, maybe you could trade gigs and start to expand.

Although just about every pop fan swore up and down that we were sitting on rock’s greatest secret at the time (mine was The Flashcubes), we now see that there were dozens of really, really good bands that could have stood toe-to-toe with most of the ones the labels were grabbing and trying to shove down our throats. But without the MySpaces and Facebooks (let alone the ability to mass produce your record on the cheap and/or on demand) some bands couldn’t get off the ground financially, while others are still sitting on a basement full of unsold vinyl to this day. And even if you did get that single out, now MTV was the hot item, and oh yeah…your DJ doesn’t make his own playlist anymore.

Which is just my roundabout way of saying that I wish I had known about The Wigs back in the day, but I’m thankful that they decided to remaster these tracks and reissue them. Because File Under: Pop Vocal is an amazing record – in either time period. The music is clean, crisp and rocking, running the gamut from Merseybeat and early Beatles (“180 Degrees”, “What I Got”, “Tell It All”) to post-punk (“You Say Ono”) along with the skinny-tie pop of their era. Given the chance – and according to the bio they were snakebit in that area – this record would have probably eclipsed bands like The Vapors, The Jags, and others and at least gotten into territory where The Romantics and The Beat were dwelling. Unfortunately they were not to be, and like The Wonders, it was one and done. (“A very common tale”, says Mr. White.)

So what made them the shoulda-coulda of their time in Milwaukee? You mean besides great songs and musicianship much more adept than many of their pop peers? Well, The Wigs combined the pop smarts and vocal harmonies of The Rubinoos with a harder rocking edge; a formula that works best on my favorite tracks, “Susie’s Got A Problem” and “Tijuana”. They had a killer leadoff track in “I Can See It Now” (complete with requisite jukebox quarter-drop sound byte) propelled by Bobby Tews‘ drums, an inventive cover (“Mony Mony”) and a prom grinder of a slow song (“Popular Girl”) that really showed off the vocal harmony between Marty Ross and Jim Cushinery. This reissue of the original album also includes a couple of tracks that didn’t make the cut the first time, although this sequence of tracks sounds perfect to me.

File Under Pop Vocal is a no-brainer must-have for any fan of the genre; a solid fourteen-track effort that would rank with the best of 2009 if it were a new release. Hard to believe this was recorded twenty-seven years ago, but it’s like finding money in your pants pocket. Lots of money.

The Wigs on MySpace.

The Wigs at CD Baby: check out some clips.

Yes, Marty Ross was in the New Monkees.

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