Happy New Year everybody! Not only is it the 10th Anniversary of the Y2K scare, it’s also the birthday of a master of the wheels of steel, one of the first prominent turntablists, Grandmaster Flash. Because Flash is bad, Flash is cool, go grab your iPod or MP3 player, hit shuffle, and share the first 10 tunes that come up.
Descendents — Cool To Be You (Cool To Be You): While I don’t think that the Descendents reunion stuff was as consistently good as their punk-pop heyday in the ’80s, they certainly didn’t disgrace themselves. Anyway, it was all about Milo Aukerman, who is a fine frontman and a sharp lyricist. The melodies are sweet and Bill Stevenson pounds the skins like he’s the Neal Peart of punk-pop.
Ramones — Time Has Come Today (Subterranean Jungle): A pretty straightforward cover of The Chamber Brothers’ psychedelic rock classic. It would have been real cool if the Ramones did the full album length version (which was well over 10 minutes). Or maybe not. A solid but unexceptional cover on a second tier Ramones album (fun, but not essential).
Pet Shop Boys — It Must Be Obvious (Alternative): Alternative is a 2 CD collection of B-sides and other odds and ends from the Boys’ career. The amount of strong material Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe leave on the cutting room floor is pretty astonishing. Each of the discs actually holds up better than a few of their albums. This song was certainly album worthy, with the usually urbane lyrics and dance pop backing.
Michael Nesmith — Listen To The Band (Older Stuff: Best of Michael Nesmith (1970-73)): The wool hatted Monkee was an innovator in country rock and his early solo records are a mix of great singer-songwriter material with some twang and larger band work, where he created veritable country orchestras. This remake of a great tune from The Monkees’ Present album distills the rock flourishes in favor of a more rollicking feel. Nesmith was also such a terrific vocalist — a lot of personality.
Marshall Crenshaw — Brand New Lover (Marshall Crenshaw): Crenshaw’s 1982 debut is a power pop classic. His music was not as indebted to The Beatles, The Who, etc., sounding more like he drew from the same inspirations as those acts, without being overly retro. He then worked the basic themes of longing and rejection that make up 94% of all power pop songs. A lesser track, but it still sounds swell.
The Beach Boys — Don’t Hurt My Little Sister (Today!/Summer Days (and Summer Nights!!)): With Today!, Wilson started taking his Phil Spector influence and really putting his own stamp on it. The album is really a precursor to the brilliance of Pet Sounds. This track starts out in a “Be My Baby”-ish mode, but Wilson adds a couple amazing melodic wrinkles, while still maintaining a basic Beach Boys rock ‘n’ roll feel. Great.
Madness — Night Boat to Cairo (One Step Beyond): One of the classic singles from Madness’ debut album, this ska track was originally intended to be an instrumental, until Suggs insisted on writing some lyrics. This was a good call by the band’s lead singer, as this song doesn’t quite have enough thrust to go the same route as “One Step Beyond”. The mix of the ska beat to cod-Egyptian music is inspired, and the result is a classic.
Liquor Giants — Fifth Wheel Time (Up With People): Ward Dotson left The Pontiac Brothers and fronted this way cool pop band that adapted ’60s and ’70s influences into vehicles for Dotson’s odd lyrical sensibility. The result sounds like something that would burst out of an alternative universe transistor radio. All the elements are familiar, yet something is a bit off. But it’s all undeniably catchy and fun.
Fools Face — Ballet On A Wire (Fools Face): This Springfield, Missouri band was a well-kept Midwestern secret in the early ’80s, releasing three often terrific indie albums of skinny tie new wave/power pop. They moved to L.A., released an EP and then broke up. In 2002, almost 20 years after the band’s last album, they reunited. And other than a bit more muscular sound, it sounded like they picked up right where they left off. If you like candy coated power pop with just a bit of heft, this album is worth a listen.
Tony Christie — (Is This The Way To) Amarillo (Bubblegum Classics V): I love bubblegum music. I really know nothing about Mr. Christie, but this is a bit less teenybopperish than most ’60s bubblgegum. It actually sounds like a cross between Neil Diamond and Tony Orlando, with heavy production. Tony is pining for his Maria and travels to Texas. On the way, he rhymes “Amarillo” with “pillow,” which is pure bubblegum poetry.