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Mike Bennett writesFriday iPod/MP3 Shuffle—Happy Birthday Jim Ellison Edition

Are you ready? Are you ready, are you ready, are you ready, are you ready, are you ready....at the close of yet another fantastic show, as drummer Mike Zelenko would launch into the famed drumbeat of Sweet’s “Ballroom Blitz”, Material Issue frontman would pick out someone from the audience and point at him or her, insistently asking “Are you ready” until that person said yes, and the band would then launch into a rocking cover of a glam classic. Skinny, arrogant, passionate and talented as hell, Ellison led one of the best power pop bands of the era, a power trio out of the suburbs of Chicago. Ellison loved the classic tropes of the genre, but injected them with the inspiration of Cheap Trick, glam rock, punk and even some classic ‘60s acts like the Bee Gees. The music was sharp, forceful and hooky as hell, with lyrics that were often as astute as Chuck Berry’s, if he was a teen growing up in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s. Their first album, International Pop Overthrow seemed to be the start of something big and is an acknowledged power pop classic. The next two albums had tons of great tunes but never caught fire. But even when their national profile descended as fast as it had flashed brightly, Material Issue was still a giant here, playing to packed houses. Sadly, for reasons no one really knows (the contents of a note have never been revealed by his family), on April 18, 1996, Jim Ellison took his own life. Very few rock deaths have affected me more – he was such a talent. On the first Material Issue song I ever heard, “She’s Goin’ Thru My Head”, he brags about the girl who is “playing my very most favorite Sweet record.” Years later, Sweet (well, half of the band, guitarist Andy Scott and Mick Tucker with some other guys) came to Cubby Bear, and at the side of the stage, there was Ellison. And he was rocking out with total abandon, just as I was, at seeing an all-time favorite. It made what was already obvious even clearer – he lived for rock ‘n’ roll. On the anniversary of Jim’s birthday, please grab your iPod or MP3 player, hit shuffle and share the first 10 songs that come up.

  1. Nicole Atkins – Sin Song (Slow Phaser): This profane and blasphemous little ditty was written by Atkins’ producer. It’s just a couple of lyrics and a repetition of the title over a bed of acoustic guitars and percussion with a bit of a gospel feel in the choral vocals.
  2. Lolas – Who Am I Talking To (Silver Dollar Sunday): Lolas were a southern power pop band that deserved a much bigger audience. Their records have a great combination of sunshiney melodies with really beefy guitars, like AM radio on steroids. This is super catchy.
  3. The Lightning Seeds – Like You Do (Dizzy Heights): This is my favorite Lightning Seeds album, with frontman Ian Broudie pulling out all of the stops as a producer, mixing the band’s jangle pop with layers of lush keyboards on songs that are rooted in ‘60s pop sensibilities. This song sounds like it could have been a hit for Petula Clark or Dusty Springfield.
  4. Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers – Anything That’s Rock ‘n’ Roll (Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers): A bluesy, riffy rocker from Tom Petty’s debut. The simplicity of his music got him lumped in by some in the burgeoning new wave movement, but the classicism made him perfectly suited for AOR playlists. This is a nice dixie fried rock tune.
  5. Chris Isaak – Livin’ For Your Lover (Silvertone): A rockabilly love song with a light touch. Isaak shows off the high end of his range, while accompanied by twanging guitar and shuffling drums.
  6. Jason Moran – Body & Soul (The Bandwagon): A live rendition of a Jason Moran original. It’s a pretty piano excursion with sympathetic backing from his rhythm section. The song has a nice build to it, building up the emotional effect of the tune. One of the more accessible numbers from Moran.
  7. The Hollows – Big Decisions (Country Song) (Vulture): This Chicago band was known for its girl group meets garage rock sound. This song has a surf rock bounce, jangly guitars and low key vocals and a melody out of ‘80s British indie rock. A shame that this second album was their last, as they were impressive.
  8. Bo Diddley – Run Diddley Daddy (I’m A Man - The Chess Masters, 1955-1958): This is an alternate, earlier version of a song that wound up on Bo’s excellent Have Guitar Will Travel Album. The structure of the tune is similar, but its played at a slower tempo. Bo goes heavy on the tremelo on his guitar. This is nice, but Bo wisely decided to rock it up on the released version, which makes since with the running motif of the tune.
  9. Maple Mars – Midsummer Day Dream (Welcome to Maple Mars): Rick Hromadka’s wonderful power pop project relaxes on this pretty acoustic tune. Great production on this track, with clear stereo separation on the two acoustic guitars.
  10. The Romantics – Stone Pony (National Breakout): One of the highlights of the second Romantics album, this is a bopping, danceable garage rock tune. The Romantics were a good, not great, band, who knew that keeping it simple was often the best approach and this song is pretty basic but presses all the right buttons.

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Categorized: Friday MP3 Shuffle

Topics: ipod, jim ellison, mp3

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