Power Pop

Crabby Appleton “Crabby Appleton” (1970)

With a lot of obscure rock bands from the ’60s and ’70s you might be able to pinpoint that one ingredient the band may have been missing in order to grab hold of a large audience or get radio play. With Crabby Appleton, any listener should be at a complete loss for words as to how this band got denied the success they so richly deserved! The band’s 1970 debut for the Elektra label speaks for itself, and loudly at that. From the first cut to the last, there isn’t one musical misstep on this entire L.P.! It is truly a lost gem of the early power-pop genre. Led by Mike Fenelley who teamed up with local L.A. band Stonehenge to form Crabby Appleton, the band’s main strength was their irresistible pop rock sound, but there was much more to the band than just a Top 40 style garnered for mass appeal. How many pop-rock bands could also incorporate a Santana styled percussive section into their music and make it sound completely natural? Or suddenly break out into a little classical based prog-rock without missing a beat? That’s not to say you’re going to have to endure any over the top Santana jams or 30 minute Emerson, Lake, and Palmer solos with Crabby Appleton, just a pinch of each to liven up the mix. Rolling Stone magazine actually gave this album a crowning review when it was released and you know THAT’S saying something. I’m certainly glad I took a chance on this album because I was rewarded GREATLY! —M McKay

Raspberries “Raspberries” (1972)

Ground Zero for Powerpop on this side of the Atlantic started with the Raspberries debut album. After the initial wave of British Invasion bands faded, American rock fans moved onto the music of the “Summer of Love”, with their long psychedelic jams and politico-leaning lyrics. But on the shores of Lake Erie, Eric Carmen and Wally Bryson still believed in the power and the spirit of supremely crafted pop songs packed with the excitement of their musical idols – The Beatles, The Hollies, The Who and the Small Faces. From the opening chords of their mega-hit ‘Go All the Way’, Bryson’s magnificent blistering guitar work, Carmen’s raw Steve Marriott styled singing, and Jim Bonfanti`s wild approximation of Keith Moon, served notice that the 3-minute power chord song was alive and well.

“Go All The Way” opens the album. The song speaks for itself in both spirit and meaning. “Come Around and See Me” with its Latin music-accent and lovely acoustic guitar, showcases a band loose enough in its self-impressed mod guitar band status, that “the guys” toss around lines like “Que Pasa, Baby” just for fun at the song’s end. Further showing off their influences, ‘I Saw the Light’ and ‘Waiting’ are fine slices of baroque rock, ala, The Left Banke. Side two’s “I Can Remember” offers an eight-minute melody in the mold of early Bee Gees. Here, Eric gives us the first sampling of his classical music training. It starts off as a gorgeous ballad, just Eric’s beautifully sweet voice and piano, then progresses into an up-tempo rocker, full of chord changes and the band’s trademark, multi-part harmonies.

Nearly 40 years later, “Raspberries” has stood the test of time in its stature and place in rock annuals. Listen to it again or for the first time, I think you’ll agree as well. –Ed

Jellyfish “Bellybutton” (1990)

From The Beatles right through to the likes of The Lightning Seeds, Britain has a knack of producing bands who deliver a brand of pure, polished pop. The content may have dark or serious overtones but the melody and vocals carry a rare, unblemished character. When a band is lauded as new pop sensations in America don’t expect the same characteristics. In some respects our pop is their AOR whilst their pop arrives way over from left field. They Might Be Giants and Eels are good illustrations of this idiosyncrasy and Jellyfish can be added to that list. They may have more rounded edges than the others but, underneath, they are equally strange. Vocally the closest comparison to Jellyfish is Crowded House (Andy Sturmer even sounds like Neil Finn), but when it comes to lyrical content they are a mile apart. Absent fathers (“The Man I Used To Be”), prostitution (“The King Is Half Undressed”), marital abuse (“She Still Loves Him”), rampant consumerism and parental neglect (“All I Want Is Everything”) are all covered. It’s testimony to the skill of the band that, no matter how heavy the subject, the music retains a lightness of touch to stop proceedings becoming too maudlin. Special mention should also be given to “I Wanna Stay Home” and “Baby’s Coming Back” which, on their own, prove that Jellyfish was definitely a band that got away. –Ian

Badfinger “Wish You Were Here” (1974)

Simply put Badfinger’s best album, contains no hit singles and was surprisingly pulled from the shelves (which can’t have helped Pete Ham’s fragile mind) but everything here has a cohesion and quality control lacking on other albums. ‘Just A Chance’ is a fabulous rocker, amongst the best of the band’s career, ‘You’re So Fine’, ‘Know One Knows’, ‘Love Time’, ‘King Of The Load’ could all quite conceivably been hit singles, all show the band’s poppier style to fine effect, ‘Got To Get Out Of Here’ and ‘Dennis’ show off a more acoustic, reflective almost countryish style whilst ‘In The Meantime/Some Other Time’ and ‘Meanwhile Back At The Ranch/Should I Smoke’ are pure power pop, lavishly arranged, musically and melodically as inventive as the band was ever to get, it lacks one of Ham’s gorgeous ballads but otherwise this is as good as they ever got, shame then that it was to be the band’s final album before Pete Ham’s suicide, they could have gone on to even better things. –Derek

The Quick “Mondo Deco” (1976)

The Quick’s 1976 debut, and only, LP is hands down, no arguing allowed, the best powerpop album ever recorded. Song after song, side after side, this record delivers on so many levels it’s almost comical. Danny Wilde’s (yes, THE Danny Wilde from the Rembrandts who penned the ultra annoying ‘Friends’ theme song..) vocals are so high pitched they occasionally make Russell Mael from Sparks sound like Bowser from Sha-na-na. The guitar tone is pure glitter/punk and the drums and keyboards are trashy and pounding. Lovingly produced by Earle Mankey (Sparks, Dickies, 20/20, Paley Brothers) and Kim Fowley (everyone else in L.A.), this record truly is the sound of glitter and punk, on speed, colliding in the heat of Los Angeles. The lyrics are that perfect mix of gum chewing, over sexed, punk smartass and theater major, that somehow, when sang in a 14 year old girl falsetto, sound even more manly..(scientists are still scratching their heads at this phenomena…). Out of print for years on vinyl, and never legitimately issued on cd (aren’t major labels SO COOL??!!), masterpieces like this LP and Milk and Cookies one and only LP are finally available. Fans of old punk take note, the Dickies classic ‘pretty please me’ is a Quick cover. Between the shimmering beauty of Kimono My House and the golden pop culture trash heap that are the the first two Dickies LP’s lies this diamond. It does not need appraisal, its cuts speak for itself. –Richard

The Records “The Records” (1979)

Sure, their flawless, jet-setting single “Starry Eyes” is reason enough to pick up The Records’ debut, but the album as a whole is stuffed with more sugary goodness than your average box of Frosted Flakes. The first side is jam-packed with the restless “All Messed Up and Ready to Go,” adolescent buzz of “Teenarama,” minor key mood piece “Girls That Don’t Exist,” and choice deep cut in the lingering ballad “Up All Night,” while the remainder is highlighted by the punchy rock of “Girl,” nervous “Insomnia,” and jukebox hero tale, “Another Star.” With the requisite vocal harmonies and ringing guitars filled out with the occasional organ or synthesizer, The Records is steadfast in it’s delivery of classic power pop confection. –Ben