Monday, December 22, 2008

Four Unheralded Pop Gems

Unless you're a music geek, you're probably unfamiliar with these artists. And that's too bad. They deserved better. All of them made music that recalled more famous artists/bands. And all of them made music that was the equal of the more celebrated popsters.

Any Trouble -- Where Are All the Nice Girls? (1980)

Those of you with long and/or lascivious memories may recall Stiff Records (Motto: If It Ain't Stiff, It Ain't Worth a Fuck). Stiff was the little label that could, and in the late '70s and early '80s it may have featured a roster which, artist by artist, was better than any other record label. At one time or another the label was home to The Adverts, Elvis Costello, Desmond Dekker, The Feelies, The Go-Gos, Graham Parker, Ian Dury and the Blockheads, Kirsty MacColl, Madness, Motorhead, Nick Lowe, and The Pogues -- as eclectic and excellent a bunch as one could hope to find in that era. And Any Trouble.

Any Trouble's trouble was that they sounded a lot like Elvis Costello. You know what I say? Not a problem, particularly given the fact that Costello all too soon embarked on the various genre exercises that have characterized most of his career. This is the pure, unadulterated Angry Young Man phase, the This Year's Model phase. And that was a pretty great phase. Any Trouble do it well, too, and Clive Gregson (that's him with the glasses and receding hairline; you'd be pissed off too) wrote short, combative, and highly melodic New Wave tunes that could hold their own with the master.

Bash & Pop -- Friday Night is Killing Me (1993)

This is the best of the post-Replacements album. That's blasphemy, I know. Paul Westerberg has had an uneven but occasionally great solo career. And I like Paul Westerberg. But I like Bash & Pop better. This was Tommy Stinson's short-lived band, and Friday Night is Killing Me is their one and only album. Yes, it's derivative. It sounds like The Replacements, which means that it also sounds like The Stones and The Faces at their most lubricated and ragged; balls-to-the-wall Blooze Rock. What's different is the ambivalent nature of the songs. There's a desperation to these party tunes, and Friday night doesn't always sound like such a fun time. The album got no label support, and it sank like a stone upon its release in 1993. If you're a 'Mats fan, do yourself a favor and try to track it down anyway.

Starry Eyed and Laughing -- Starry Eyed and Laughing (1974)

1974 was a lousy time to be a champion of jangly guitar pop. The Byrds' run was over, and bands/performers like R.E.M. and Robyn
Hitchcock had yet to ascend the new pop throne. And so this band of Brits (named after a line in Dylan's "Chimes of Freedom" no less; how very '60s) released a pristine batch of chiming pop tunes that appeared at just the wrong era. Nobody bought it. So buy it now. It's the missing link between McGuinn's Byrds and Peter Buck's R.E.M. And the hooks are better than anything McGuinn did after 1967, or anything Pete Buck did after the mid'-80s.

Emmitt Rhodes -- Emmitt Rhodes (1970)

I been listenin' to Paul's records/I think he really is dead. -- Larry Norman, 1973

Emitt Rhodes was listening to Paul's records, too, and the Macca influence is all over his solo debut album. SoCal popster Rhodes built himself a home studio in his parents' garage and set about the task of painstakingly recording the perfect Beatles album, instrument by instrument, note by note. And the upshot is that this One Man Band might have made a better post-Beatles album than any of the Fab Four, and almost certainly made a better album than anything McCartney released during the '70s. That's taking nothing away from the occasional greatness of Lennon and Harrison in the 1970s. But it's most certainly stating that Rhodes made a perfect -- truly magical -- pop album all by himself, and his original songs have held up better than almost anything else from that era. He couldn't sustain the greatness. But for one album he got it exactly right. I listened to this album for the first time in a long time a couple weeks ago. I can't even fully express how wonderful it was. Maybe I'm amazed. Maybe you will be, too.

5 comments:

hallga77 said...

Andy,

I'll have to check out the others but I have always loved the Emmitt Rhodes
album since one of my older brothers played it for me. One of my copies has "Recorded At Home" etched in the leadout on the vinyl. I have it on CD also.

Tim

Friar said...

I found the Any Trouble at a music download blog and did so, since it was out of print. Fun stuff, even if it was Annnngryy...

Lon said...

Andy, thank you for your blog. I missed almost two whole decades of music in between my grad from high school and about two years ago. I stopped listening to music for a long while and got caught up in talk radio, lots of movies, and my family. With the help of you and Jeffrey Overstreet I have begun to discover music again. My tastes are kind of eclectic so through your website I have discovered Nick Cave, Bill Mallonee, and many others. Thank you. It looks like I am about to discover Jamey Johnson and Josh Garrels :-). I am one to consider music with passion rather than happy-go-lucky and this walk through music with you has helped me with my walk. I am grateful for your honest belief in Jesus Christ and "good" music.

Have a blessed Christmas

Lon

Andy Whitman said...

Thanks for your kind words, Lon. I'm glad that you're rediscovering music. I'm a fan of Jeffrey Overstreet as well, and I hope that someday I can actually meet him instead of merely appreciating his words from afar. May you have a blessed Christmas as well.

Natsthename said...

I remember Any Trouble, but the rest are new to me. I guess I'm 1/4 music geek!

Merry Christmas to you and yours, Mr. Whitman.