Thursday, June 26, 2008

Good Time Rock 'n Roll

Rock 'n roll! Pop rock! Power pop! Garage rock! All-out skuzz-rawk! The fleezie sheezies! Swamp-jazz! The Loosie Goosie! The Raspberries!

Yeah, you know what I'm talking about. Good 'ol straight-forward pop-rock. We all love it. And we all miss it, 'cause it h'aint been popular for years. Yeah, we've got the Strokes and the Hives and all those garage-revival bumpkins, but what have they done in the past five years? Not that damned much. And I know you're shouting "WHAT ABOUT THE WHITE STRIPES YOU DUMB SHIT!!" but they're into all that blues stuff. Plus they don't care about pop music. Let's not worry about them. (And if you're saying "Jet" instead of "The White Stripes" then... man, come on.)

No, let's look to the past. We could talk about the usual suspects - Beatles, Stones, Kinks, Yardbirds, Kingsmen, any of those '60s fuckers. But man, we've talked about them enough, haven't we? Why don't we talk about the 70's and 80's, a time when pop-rock was old-fashioned for a while until New Wave decided to make it fashionable all over again (with synths added, mind you). Here are a few of my favorite pop-rock albums from '75-'85 that I feel everybody should check out.

The Flamin' Groovies - Shake Some Action

The Flamin' Groovies were unapologetic British Invasion revivalists. Not only did they dress like '60s mods, and not only were their album jackets homages to the Who and the Stones, but their songs all sounded as if they were ripped straight from 1965. And considering that this album was recorded in 1976, in the midst of an era dominated by prog-rock space jammers and Peter Frampton, that's no small feat.

But while some songs do sound a bit derivative of the greats ("Yes It's True" will always echo the Beatles' "All I've Gotta Do" for me), almost all of them are fantastic, bringing Swinging London to life without simply aping the era for novelty. Besides the classic title track, you've got the psych-baroque "I Saw Her" and "I'll Cry Alone," the rockin' "Please Please Girl" and "Let The Boy Rock 'n Roll," the jangle-poppy "I Can't Hide," the downright Beatles-worthy "Sometimes," and my personal favorite "You Tore Me Down." There's also a bunch of authentic covers perfectly reminiscent of their time, such as "St. Louis Blues," Chuck Berry's "Don't You Lie To Me," the Stones' "She Said Yeah" and a spunky take on the Beatles' "Misery." Shake Some Action, despite being recorded over a decade later, stands strong when stacked against the 60's best.

The Plimsouls - The Plimsouls

While the Plimsouls were popular during the New Wave era (late 70's/early 80's), they were much more of a straight-up rock 'n roll band than the likes of Cheap Trick or the Cars. And while their studio albums were a little too slick and tame-sounding in comparison to their live show (and by extension their live album One Night In America), they still recorded some great rock 'n roll singles back in the day. My personal favorite Plimsouls LP is their first self-titled album, a collection of kickin' rock tunes that still sound fresh today.

The Plimsouls seem to give off kind of a Stonesy vibe, with lead singer/songwriter Peter Case's voice sounding vaguely Jaggeresque, but their sound is decidedly less blues-influenced. My personal favorites of theirs are the opener "Lost Time," the hits "Zero Hour" and "Hush Hush," the silly dance-groove "Mini-Skirt Minnie," and the transcendent "Nickels and Dimes" and "Everyday Things." Unlike the Groovies, you're not going to find any ballads or blues covers here - just perky, clean, straightforward rock fun. The Plimsouls is a little hard to find nowadays, but the CD Plimsouls Plus collects not only this album but their Zero Hour EP which is practically just as good.

The Rattlers - Rattled!

Fronted by Joey Ramone's brother Mickey Leigh, The Rattlers were an unfortunately short-lived pop-rock band that once sported legendary rock critic Lester Bangs as their frontman before his untimely death in 1982. After that, Leigh took singing and songwriting duties and recorded Rattled!, released in 1985. While some may think that Leigh was simply living in the shadow of his brother, that couldn't be further from the truth; for one, the Rattlers sound little to nothing like the Ramones, preferring a sweet pop-rock New Wave sound over the Ramones' aggressive metal-punk. What they DO share with the Ramones is their love of 60's pop (hell, the Ramones were just a distorted pop band when it comes down to it) and by extension a love for garage-punk and sweet melody.

While Leigh's compositions are pretty much all great, with the charging opener "I Won't Be Your Victim," the fun "For Johnny's Entertainment" and singles "What Keeps Your Heart Beatin'?" and the "My Generation"-esque "Pure and Simple," my personal favorites here are the covers. "I'm In Love With My Walls," while not technically a cover (the music was written by Leigh), features lyrics from the late Lester Bangs, whose manic nature seeps into the song. Then there's a cover of the Amen Corner's "(Paradise Is) Half As Nice," a cute 60's pop ballad sung with wholehearted conviction by Leigh. But my favorite would have to be "Little Black Egg," an obscure gem by the Nightcrawlers. With its jangly guitar riff and cute lyrics, it's easily the sweetest song here, and one of the Rattlers' purest pop songs. What's cool about these covers is that they aren't obscure for obscurity's sake - the Rattlers clearly love these songs and play them straight-up without an ounce of irony, and their sincerity is refreshing to hear.

I've got plenty of other albums I could throw into the "good time rock 'n roll" category that I haven't put here. But hey! These albums are great. Great enough for you to put those Death Cab records away for a little while and rev up some kickin' goodtime tunes. You won't regret it.

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