A WIZARD A TRUE STAR: TODD RUNDGREN IN THE STUDIO by Paul Myers (Jawbone Press)
“Todd’s aphorism was, ‘If you know what you want, I’ll get it for you. If you don’t know what you want, I’ll do it for you.’” Lenny Kaye (Patti Smith Group)
Todd Rundgren is without doubt, one of the giants of rock music: not only as a solo singer-songwriter-performer but also as the mastermind behind progressive rock ensemble Utopia. And if that was not enough, Rundgren is one of the most prolific and successful producers as well.
Considering that rock legend Bruce Springsteen is famous for his lyrical genius, the very idea of a Springsteen memoir is exciting and intriguing. Would an autobiography match up to the cinematic lyrics found in classics like “Born in the USA”, “The Promised Land” and of course, “Born to Run”?
Robbie Robertson (real name: Jaime Royal Robertson) is perhaps best known for being the guitarist/principal songwriter of The Band, a highly influential group that were active mainly from 1968 to 1977. Robertson has also a solid reputation as a solo artist, film composer and producer.
The Kinks is a band that deserve more recognition than they have received. Although never quite valued in the same manner as many of their 60s peers, in many ways, The Kinks contributed as much to the development of rock music as The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Who & Pink Floyd.
With the election of Donald Trump as the 45th President-Elect of the USA, commentators have remarked that perhaps this era will also see the return of the protest song, prevalent during the tenure of hardline conservative leaders like Ronald Reagan (USA) and Margaret Thatcher (UK) in the 1980s.
Although the legendary British rock band Queen effectively ended with the tragic death of lead singer Freddie Mercury over 20 years ago, the legacy of the band remains vital and strong. Now, add this previously unreleased set of recordings to the must-have with list of every diehard Queen fan.
Once upon a time, pop and rock came together and made a baby, and its name was Pop-Rock. Very strictly speaking, Pop-Rock is a fusion genre that mixes a catchy pop style and light lyrics in its (typically) guitar-based rock songs. Other genres that bear similar traits would be Powerpop, Melodic Rock, Soft Rock, Jangle Pop, Glam Rock, New Wave, Indie Pop and of course, Rock ’n’ Roll.
“Melodic guitar pop-rock inspired by the 60s/70s” is probably the best definition I can come up with of ‘The Pop Underground’. Personally, I believe this ‘genre’ encapsulates several pop-rock styles like Rock ’n’ Roll, Power Pop, Chamber Pop, Orchestral Pop, Glam, Punk, Mod, Merseybeat, Psychedelic Rock, Garage, Alt-Country and the like. Simply put, this is retro rock music that thrived initially in the 90s but has been truly under the radar since 2000 and continues to struggle to gain prominence, dismissed as ‘irrelevant’ by the hip and the cool. Fuck ‘em, cuz GOOD music is GOOD music. Some jumping on points from way in the beginning.
“With every song that I write, I compare it to the Beatles. The thing is, they only got there before me. If I’d been born at the same time as John Lennon, I’d have been up there.”
This mind-boggling quote comes from Noel Gallagher. The self-delusion is obvious but the fact that Gallagher has made a career out of plagiarism is proof of how wrong this statement is. If not for the inspiration of The Beatles (and many others), nobody would have even heard of Noel Gallagher (sounds like heaven!).
Here’s part one of a playlist put together to celebrate The Beatles’ entry into the streaming services. This playlist covers the Fab Four’s early years of Beatlemania (1963 – 65) whereby in 2 short years, the band released SIX albums and numerous non-album singles and EPs, the majority of which were filled with ground-breaking, iconoclastic pop music. Enjoy!
The Beatles 1 album compiles all the #1 hits that the Fab Four issued during their career & always provides a concise history of the band’s popularity. The original compilation was released 15 years ago and this reissue pairs the 27 tracks with videos (it is the Youtube age, after all).
Rock legend David Bowie was a bit of a late bloomer in the business of rock ’n’ roll. Even though he was only 17 years old when he released his debut single in 1964, he would never achieve commercial success and critical acclaim till the 70s. His first three solo albums failed to set the music world alight and in fact, Hunky Dory – which would become his fourth LP – started life as a demo to secure a new recording contract, which he duly did with RCA Records.
Hunky Dory finds Bowie in pure singer-songwriter mode – which was in vogue around the time – thus, the individual songs are quite strong and the production values rather straightforward – with simple pop-rock/folk-rock instrumentation and arrangements by and large.
Backing Bowie would be the musicians that would subsequently form The Spiders from Mars (with the exception of Rick Wakeman on piano) viz. Mick Ronson (guitars, mellotron), Trevor Bolder (bass, trumpet) and Mick Woodmansey (drums).
Many of Bowie’s classic material – “Changes”, “All You Pretty Things”, “Life on Mars?” “Quicksand” and “Kooks” (written for his son, Zowie – director Duncan Jones) – were recorded during this fecund period. The second half had Bowie pay tribute to his heroes viz. Andy Warhol (“Andy Warhol”), Bob Dylan (“Song For Bob Dylan”) and Lou Reed (“Queen Bitch”) whilst “The Bewley Brothers” concerned Bowie’s relationship with his mentally disturbed brother, Terry.
After Hunky Dory, Bowie would adopt the persona of Ziggy Stardust and found fame and fortune and the rest of his 70s would see Bowie acting out different roles, played out on his discography.
So perhaps, on Hunky Dory, fans could see Bowie for who he was – before he decided to change the face of rock music irretrievably.
In 1979, riding on the popularity of the Saturday Night’s Fever film soundtrack, the Bee Gees‘ Spirits (Having Flown) sold almost 20 million copies. I still remember heading down to the Kwang Sia record store at North Bridge Road where the LP was literally flying off the shelves. Crazy.
However, barely 2 years later, the band’s follow-up Living Eyes would only sell 750,000 copies worldwide! What happened?
Well, disco had become unfashionable and the Bee Gees were (unfairly) associated with the genre. Not only that but rock music had begun to make a return to the charts in a big way with bands like The Police, REO Speedwagon, Genesis, Rush et al, and suddenly the Bee Gees sounded very dated and somewhat lame.
That said, the Bee Gees themselves took pains on Living Eyes to move away from the disco sound that had made millions of them and the trio explored once again the pop balladry style with which they first made their name. But the music critics and fans alike did not want any of it resulting in an abject failure, that the Bee Gees barely recovered from.
BUT listening to Living Eyes now, 34 years later, it is clear that it did not deserve the criticism and hatred it did. The songwriting is sharp, the singing is beautiful and it’s fair to say that the album should be re-assessed by any serious pop music lover.
Songs like the title track, “Paradise”, “Don’t Fall in Love With Me”, “Wildflower” and “Soldiers” are as good as anything on 70s classics “Mr. Natural” and “Main Course”. True blue pop fans will find these tracks irresistible and will want to listen to them over and over to savour the wondrous melodies and harmonies.
Listen without prejudice and prepare to be amazed.
By the time I really got into rock music (at age 13), the Beatles were over. It was 1974 and though live rock music was banned in Singapore, it didn’t stop us delinquent youth from discovering the music that would keep me alive & kicking for the rest of my life. Abbey Road – the band’s final opus – was the first Beatles LP I ever owned. I believe it was a gift from my sister Melinda. To this date, Abbey Road is my 2nd favourite Beatles LP, after the White Album. The medley from Side Two is unforgettable – I remember jamming the songs constantly with my first band – it was magical. From “You Never Give Me Your Money” to “The End”, it encapsulated the wonder of the Fab Four even as they were making plans beyond the group. There will never be another pop group like The Beatles ever again. Amen.
Alright. This is a lil embarrassing but late last year Spotify made Power of Pop a ‘Tastemaker’ with a new account and despite my best efforts (?), so far we’ve had only 10 (!) followers. Shameful!!
So I am still pushing this the best way I know how – by working hard at putting together more playlists that I imagine would interest the kind folks who visit us every day. Recently, I have focusing on PoP Legends – artists whom we believe deserve that accolade so here’s what we have so far. Enjoy, spread the word and FOLLOW!
Punk is conveniently used as the defining moment in the 70s where the rock scene was fractured bringing about bands/artists with more arty, conceptual and experimental sensibilities. Of course, by the mid-80s post-punk or new wave or whatever the hell you wanted to call it became the norm and by the 90s, something else had come along i.e. grunge and alt-rock. It’s revival in the last 15 years or so has rendered the ‘movement’ a fashion trend and nothing more. But it’s worth looking back to those special moments in the 70s, where the seeds were planted…