Anyone who has been following Power of Pop closely enough would be aware that I am a massive fan of the English band XTC.
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.
… still there’s more …
A transitional year for me. I welcomed the new decade as a National Serviceman having enlisted on Boxing Day, 1979. But more importantly, my musical tastes were changing as well, significantly. Sometime in 1978, I had been exposed to punk when a JC friend played to my friends & I, the Sex Pistols‘ Anarchy in the UK LP (banned in Singapore but smuggled in for good measure) and to be honest I was unimpressed. For a pop-rock lover weaned on The Beatles, Deep Purple, Queen, Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin, the Sex Pistols seemed dumb and barbaric!
That said, by 1980 I had begun to cotton on to the post-punk movement and had already started listening to the pioneering new bands of that era, which seemed far removed from the old-school rockers of my relative youth. Fueled by the noises made by rock mags like NME, Sounds & Melody Maker, I had started to abandon the old bands (as irrelevant) and had ’embraced’ the future of rock.
FRAMPTON COMES ALIVE!
Perhaps no one artist epitomizes the classic 70s rock era more than Peter Frampton.
Frampton had already established himself as a rock star even before the 70s were well underway with his adventures with The Herd (being voted ‘Face of the Year’ in 1968) and Humble Pie (alongside the late legendary Steve Marriott). Frampton was a triple threat – good looking, equally talented vocalist and lead guitarist, with catchy tunes to boot!
But his 1976 double live album Frampton Comes Alive would encapsulate all his achievements into one handy package which shifted 16 million copies and made Frampton a household name.
For me, the defining moments here are the single hits – Show Me The Way – with the distinctive ‘talkbox’ guitar effect and infectious chorus, the breezy Baby I Love Your Way and the bluesy Do You Feel Like We Do. More than that, Frampton’s style would combine pop, rock, jazz, folk, blues and soul in varying measures which reflected the dizzying eclectic sound of the times.
To this day, Frampton Comes Alive is the go-to album when I need reminding why I love 70s rock the most.
Creedence Clearwater Revival, mostly known to fans as ‘CCR’ was a rock quartet whose singles were big radio hits during the transition period from the 60s to the 70s. As a kid, I remembering hearing their songs constantly on the radio and the secret of their success was very simple – basic rock ‘n’ roll infused with country, folk and soul inflections and not to mention the dynamic larynx of lead singer John Fogerty.
I remember getting hold of a cassette of Chronicle – which was subtitled “The 20 Greatest Hits” for good reason. Chronicle was that rare compilation where every selection was an unforgettable classic. No exaggeration to state that I wore out that cassette from the non-stop play and I would repeat the process over the entirety of the album. Now of course, the whole album is a firm fixture in my iTunes and still receives a regular play-through to remind what top notch rock ‘n’ roll is all about.
If I had to choose my top five from “The 20 Greatest Hits” it would have to be – Who’ll Can Stop The Rain, Someday Never Comes, Have You Ever Seen the Rain, Lodi and Fortunate Son – these tunes have been permanently burned into my consciousness. Add to the list, CCR’s fiery interpretations of Screamin’ Jay Hawkins’ I Put A Spell On You and Marvin Gaye’s I Heard It Through the Grapevine and what you have is rock ‘n’ roll bliss.
Thanks to Glee, Journey’s Don’t Stop Believin’ has become a worldwide hit once more. Which proves that you can’t keep a good song down. As much as I loved Escape, the 1981 album that featured Don’t Stop Believin’, for me Journey’s finest moment was its 1978 breakthrough, Infinity. Coinciding with the addition of singer Steve Perry to the Bay Area band’s lineup (viz. Neal Schon – guitars, Gregg Rolie – keyboards, Ross Valory – bass and Aynsley Dunbar – drums), Infinity combined mellifluous tunes and muscular rock to deliver a potent pop-rock concoction.
The album is an absolute pop-rock classic from the opening Lights – a paean to San Francisco (the band’s hometown) – to the dramatic closer Opened the Door, the quality of the songwriting and performance is consistently high without any filler whatsoever. Most notable are the Perry-Rolie duet Feeling That Way, the pummeling La Do Da, the folk-rock bender Wheel in the Sky and the prog-rocker Winds of March, which testify to Journey’s versatility and technical virtuosity.
The ace in the hole is guitarist Neal Schon (who like Gregg Rolie, was previously a member of Santana) who dazzles throughout with his fret mastery – fast but melodic solos dominate. Together with Perry’s high register larynx, the duo made a deadly combination.
The success of Infinity would usher in a golden age for Journey which culminated with the mega-platinum heights of Escape and Frontiers. But it all began right here and to this day, it’s an album I can return to time and time again to remind me why I positively adore 70s pop-rock.
I GOT THE MUSIC IN ME – PART II
The late seventies was a turbulent time for rock music as punk and various new sub-genres sprouted. In junior college, I was still quite sheltered in my classic rock world (I had actually performed Band On The Run with a girl’s choir in JC! Bizarro!!) . I do remember a college mate coming back from the UK with an album he had to hide in a brown paper envelope. It was the Sex Pistols’ Never Mind The Bullocks (which was banned in Singapore then!) and when the needle hit the vinyl and Holidays in the Sun blasted from the speakers, we were all gobsmacked! Well, it did not sound like ELP, let’s put it that way…
I GOT THE MUSIC IN ME – PART I
A Twitter conversation with a young lassie about music brought home that I must seem rather strange to many youths. Well, I am probably as old as (or older than) their Dads and yet I am able to appreciate the same kind of music that they do. No generation gap! Well, apart from the fact that as a music writer, it’s a professional responsibility to keep abreast of the latest trends and genres, I am a music geek. Pure and simple. Throughout my life, it has always been about the music. Unlike many of my peers, my love of music did not stop when I became an adult, in fact, it intensified.
BEST ALBUMS OF 2001
It’s June 2011, almost half the year is gone and I can still hardly believe that 2001 was a decade away. That year was a troubled one as September 11 impacted the entire world and plunged everyone into uncertainly. But life still had to go on despite the circumstances and at the end of the year, Power of Pop determined that these ten albums were the best of a difficult year…
FUNERAL FOR A FRIEND/LOVE LIES BLEEDING
It begins with the tolling of a bell, ambient noises and the howling wind and proceeds into a pseudo-classical piano instrumental, with synthesizers and lead guitar weighing for good measure. This is Funeral For A Friend, the first half of an amazing opening track to Elton John’s legendary Goodbye Yellow Brick Road double LP, released in 1973. The instrumental would take on Spanish-Flamenco nuances as the track builds up momentum and an emotional crescendo.
Not merely content with such an illuminating tone, the instrumental segues into Love Lies Bleeding, a blues-rock tale of heartbreak. With a memorable piano chord pattern and guitar riff, John begins to sing “The roses in the window box are tilted to one side…” By the time the song reaches its chorus, the listener is hooked by the power and the glory of this awesome track. With his crack backing band (Dee Murray – bass, Nigel Olsson – drums, Davey Johnstone – guitars, Ray Cooper – percussion) in full flight – including heavenly harmonies that will guarantee chills down spine – the performance is measured and muscular at the same time.
Then, an instrumental bridge revisits the motif of Funeral For A Friend once more before Johnstone’s lead guitar sears and soars its way into classic rock immortality as John and band meld into one driving awe-inspring rock machine! Not forgetting to mention, Murray incandescent bass lines which belie the relative simplicity of the song itself.
A fantastic way to open a rock masterpiece that also included the masterly Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, Candle in the Wind, Bennie and the Jets, amongst many other sonic gems. If you only listen to ten classic rock songs from the 70s, this has to be one of them. Check out the video below if you know what’s good for you…
“15 minutes with you”
Never ever connected with “post-punk” as a genre in the 80s (I detest the word ‘genre’ to begin with). At the time, it was all pop-rock music and the words “indie” or “alternative” held no meaning for me. But certainly in the early 80s, there was a whole shitload of exciting music coming out of the UK and I spent much time, effort and money obsessively collecting singles, EPs and LPs, and reading NME, Sounds, Record Mirror (and even Smash Hits) to find out as much I could about the UK music scene. There was no local music scene to speak of and I knew very few people who shared the same passion and interest in music that I had. So it was very much a solitary obsession.
Back before streaming and downloading providing anyone with an internet account access to any song ever recorded, the only place you could listen to music (other than the radio) was the record store. In Singapore, before Tower Records introduced listening booths here, one had to actually get the store clerk to play the record of your choice over the PA in order to find out how it sounded like. Or sometimes, if you’re lucky, somebody else would be testing the record and you’ll hear something you like.
That’s where I first heard Huey Lewis & the News sometime in 1982. The song was Do You Believe In Love? (actually written by Robert ‘Mutt’ Lange!) from the album, Picture This, the band’s sophomore album. Based on that, I purchased the album and this ‘new wave’ standard-bearer has remained a favorite of mine.
FOR THOSE ABOUT TO ROCK…
I am a 70s kid. Meaning I become a teenager in the early 1970s, when bell bottoms were in… AND the popular cutting edge music then was HARD ROCK. Not metal (have never really been comfortable with that word). Simply, it’s rock (without the roll) and it was hard – meaning it was played loud and fast! The first hard rock band that I really got into was the legendary Deep Purple. Purple fans all agree that the second incarnation of the band was probably the best viz. Ian Gillan (vocals), Richie Blackmore (guitars), Jon Lord (keyboards), Ian Paice (drums) and Roger Glover (bass). Like many of the bands of that era, Purple started out as a psychedelic/garage rock band and simply got harder. My favourite Purple album is undoubtably Deep Purple in Rock, which contained classics such as Child in Time, Flight of the Rat and Speed King (see live version below)
It’s 31st December. So what?
Tomorrow’s just another day – only it’s another year altogether. An arbitrary line drawn in the sand but nonetheless, it’s easy to get all misty-eyed and nostalgic about your life. Especially, if like me, you turn 50 in about 45 days…hum.
Most of all, for some reason, my mind is brought back to the early 80s when I was absolutely besotted with the music and image of Paul Weller (The Jam/The Style Council). I bought all the records (singles, 12″ and LPs) and grabbed every magazine he was featured in. Simply put, I was a fan.
PHIL COLLINS Face Value (1981)
At the beginning of the 1980s, even as I was on the cusp of adulthood, two albums made the biggest impressions on me – Duke (1980) and Face Value (1981). There is one common factor between the two – Phil Collins. Collins first came to prominence as the drummer of progressive rock band, Genesis. When lead singer Peter Gabriel left the band to solo success, Collins came from behind the drum kit to front Genesis and was instrumental in turning the band from irrelevant pomp rock dinosaurs to pop hit makers.
Collins, together with Mike Rutherford and Tony Banks (the other members of Genesis), had proved that with Duke, the band could have commercial impact. Thus it was perhaps logical when Collins released his debut solo album a year later. With songs informed by his recent divorce, Face Value was the personal and confessional album that Genesis would not be likely to make.
On the back of lead single, In The Air Tonight, Face Value was a massive worldwide hit and established Collins as a superstar in his own right. Ironically, it was Collins’ work on Gabriel’s Melt album that inspired the atmospheric tone of In The Air Tonight, which would (at the time) result in Collins becoming a bigger star than Gabriel!
Filled to the brim with catchy pop-rock songs (e.g. This Must Be Love, I Missed Again, You Know What I Mean, If Leaving Me Is Easy), Face Value is an immediate and intimate masterpiece and is without doubt the best Collins’ album ever.
Trouble is, for Collins, it was all downhill from then on as he constantly regurgitated the hit formula of Face Value on subsequent albums. Commercially, this fact did not hurt Collins as he went on to sell more than 150 million albums. Not only that but his appeal rubbed off on Genesis as well and the band also sold an equivalent amount!
Nonetheless, there’s no denying the simple pop delight offered by Face Value, making it an album ripe for re-examination.
Anyone who has spent time reading my ramblings will be aware that I adore the Electric Light Orchestra (ELO). Not only did the band channel the Beatles and Roy Orbison but in Jeff Lynne, ELO had a songwriting and production genius. ELO has always provided me with the soundtrack to many of life’s ups and downs, ever since I purchased A New World Record and Discovery at the close of the 70s.
Shangri-la, the last track on A New World Record has often been a soothing balm for melancholia and depression and right now, its exactly what I need.
Sitting here, waiting for,
Someone calling at my door,
I’m getting out of love.
What’s the use of changing things,
Wonder what tomorrow brings,
I’m getting out of love.
My Shangri-la has gone away,
Faded like the Beatles on Hey Jude
She seemed to drift out on the rain
That came in somewhere softly from the blue
Clouds roll by and hide the sun,
Raindrops fall on everyone,
I’m getting out of love.
The song itself is sad of course as it talks about the end of … a relationship? “I’m getting out of love” seems to suggest that. There is a sense of resignation and fatalistic point of view, though the chorus has the tongue-in-cheek homage to Lynne’s (and mine!) favorite band. The guitar solo is perfect, a jazzy reflection on wistfulness.
Recently, I’ve felt increasingly alienated and marginalized. Something I believed was in my path and future does not seem to be on the cards and all I’m left with is emptiness, a hollow feeling of disappointment. How could I be so wrong? The last 5 years seem to have been an utter waste of life. It’s hard not to feel like a total loser, a fool, washed up at 49…
But at the very end, the song comes back in as an epic classical coda, expressing hope for the future – “I will return… to Shangri-la”. So all is not completely lost. Man, this song is on repeat even as I write this post, tears streaming down my cheeks, trembling as I sing along to these lyrics that I know so well…
“I will return…”
As I approach my 50th birthday next year I often return to the music of my youth and marvel at how relevant it still sounds (to me anyway). The late 70s/early 80s had some fine pop-rock music and best part of all, they were all hits in the charts and you’d hear them on radio as well. How things have changed. Here are some of my favorite pop-rock acts from that special time…
Styx enjoyed a run of successful albums from 1975 to 1983, including Cornerstone and Paradise Theatre. Styx managed to combine straight ahead rock ‘n’ roll with elements of prog rock as well. Best known perhaps for the saccharine ballad hit Babe, I personally enjoyed songs like Lights, Best of Times, Too Much Time On My Hands and Come Sail Away (see below).
Journey is well known once more thanks to Glee’s highlighting of Don’t Stop Believin’, of course. The band has seen many personnel changes during its time though the incarnation of Steve Perry, Neal Schon, Ross Valory, Jon Cain and Steve Smith had the most success, I guess. Apart from Don’t Stop Believin’ (off 1981’s Escape), other notable hits include Wheel in the Sky, Any Way You Want It, Open Arms, Stone in Love and Lights (see below)
Kansas was one of the pioneering prog-rock outfits in the USA and achieved its commercial in the late 70s. Of course, their most endearing hit has been Carry On My Wayward Son but songs like Dust in the Wind, Hold On and On the Other Side (see below) remain vital as well.
Queen – a unique band whose genius I do not believe will ever be equaled. Hugely popular in the 70s and 80s, the band had four great songwriters and their albums never stuck to one musical genre. Eclecticism at its best. Hits galore, of course, perhaps one of my faves would be Play the Game (see below) off The Game (1980). What a band! RIP Freddie…
Supertramp had the biggest selling LP – Breakfast in America – of 1979. Formed round the songwriting nucleus of Roger Hodgson and Richard Davies, Supertramp had been steadily building up their reputation with albums like Crime of the Century and Even in the Quietest Moments. They would never achieve the heights of Breakfast ever again. Many classics in the Supertramp repertoire include The Logical Song, School, Give A Little Bit, Fools Overture and Take the Long Way Home (see below).
Tip o’ the iceberg, boys and girls.
…still there’s more…
RUSH Permanent Waves (1980)/Moving Pictures (1981)
It’s now 30 years since I first heard a Rush song. The Spirit of Radio.
As a prog rock fan, I was frankly quite astonished at how the Canadian band (viz. Geddy Lee, Alex Lifeson & Neal Peart) managed to produce a prog pop song, incorporating varied time signatures, virtuoso performances, thought-provoking poetry (written by the drummer, no less!) and a reggae-infused middle-eight. The album from which The Spirit of Radio came from – Permanent Waves – contained other classic Rush songs like Free Will and Entre Nous.
However, Rush’s commercial breakthrough truly came with the follow-up album – Moving Pictures – possibly the power trio’s finest moment. #3 on the Billboard Album Chart and selling in excess of four million copies, Moving Pictures is without doubt, Rush’s biggest seller ever.
With legendary tracks like Tom Sawyer, Red Barchetta, YYZ & Limelight, it’s no mystery why Moving Pictures is one of the best rock albums of all time. Certainly these two albums were a fixture on my turntable in those heady days, when post-punk was all the rage.
30 years later, Rush is still going strong and is the subject of a upcoming rock documentary – Rush Behind the Lighted Stage – trailer below. Not to be missed!
I really only started buying albums with a passion in the very late 70s. Back in the day of course, we didn’t have internet so we had to rely very much on magazines to discover new music. Remember that in the 70s and 80s, the Singapore government was very anti-pop culture and we were constantly bombarded with the message that Western culture was decadent. And so, you had to be rather dedicated to the cause if you wanted to get your hands on great new music.
Around that time, I discovered post-punk with the movie Urgh! A Music War – a film that changed my life forever. One of the artists that really got my attention was Gary Numan (see the clip below). He performed Down in the Park live and it was mind blowing. Not only was the music something I’d never really heard before – genuinely – but he sang sitting down in a motorized chair – awesome!
Numan made synth-pop a mainstream phenomenon in the UK as his singles and albums became best-sellers and deeply influenced much of British music for the better part of the 80s. Well, it certainly made me passionate about synth-pop and led to many acquisitions of albums by fellow practitioners like OMD, Human League, Depeche Mode, Yazoo and the like.
Gary Numan was very much at the forefront of the movement and personified this futurist attitude. However, Numan was often maligned by the British rock press and his popularity waned in the late 80s, a period where synth-pop – once so edgy was hijacked by the mainstream and turned into soul-less muzak. Isn’t always the case?
So it often amuses me when I hear synth-pop fascimiles coming out from modern US rock scene in 2010 – it all began in the 80s, kids. I guess imitation is the sincerest form of flattery after all.
SPEAK LIKE A CHILD
Sometime in 1982, Paul Weller announced that the Jam was breaking up. This was a major shock to the UK music scene and especially the fans of the popular trio. I remember a lead interview in NME where Weller spoke about how he had become disenchanted with guitar rock. The last Jam single Beat Surrender was a soul-inflected number which hinted at Weller’s new direction.
And it came in 1983, with the release of Speak Like A Child. I recall hearing it first on the BBC Top 20 radio show being introduced as the single from Weller’s new band “Style Castle”. Well, that’s what I heard anyways… I rushed down to the import store at Centrepoint and asked for the new “Style Castle” single. This of course mystified the store owner. He queried if I meant Star Castle (70s prog band) instead? Then it came to him, “The Style Council”?
So I picked up the spanking new Style Council 45 called Speak Like A Child b/w Party Chambers and spent many hours spinning the disc. It was soul-influenced and notable for the total absence of a guitar! Instead, Weller’s new partner – Mick Talbot (formerly of Mod revival band Merton Parkas) – was prominent in providing many of the keyboard sounds. There is little doubt in my mind that the early TSC singles had a profound influence on my own songwriting and singing (more of that later) and Speak Like A Child was the one that started it all. Music video below.