Chicago has such a rich musical history and one of the greatest talents to come out of our fair city was Sam Cooke. He bridged gospel roots with an urban sensibility — it’s like he found the midpoint between Ray Charles and Nat King Cole, capable of being as smooth as silk or gritty and down home. On top of that, he was a ridiculously talented songwriter, penning hit after hit and influencing so many of the great soul singers who followed him. What a wonderful world this would be if you would get your iPod/MP3 player, hit shuffle and share the first 10 tunes that come up! (NOTE: the 11th tune on my shuffle this morning was Cooke’s “Sugar Dumpling”).
Gaza Strippers — D Is For Dead (Laced Candy): The Strippers were Rick Sims’ band after Didjits. At one level, they weren’t much different than Didjits — more fast punky songs with Sims’ fingers flying on the fretboard making sounds like a mess of pissed off hornets leaving the nest and lots of lyrics about being a badass. But the Strippers had a bit more of metal orientation that both tied them a bit to the ’70s and even moreso to ’90s contemporaries like Hellacopters. As a result, I preferred Didjits, but still dug the Strippers, and this is one the better songs off of the band’s debut.
The Streets — Has It Come To This (Original Pirate Material): Gosh, remember how exciting that first Streets record was? A lot of songs about not doing much more than being lazy and getting high over grime and hip-hop beats. Mike Skinner yobbed his way through his insightful lyrics and someone would sing the hook. I wish Skinner would go back to doing that.
The Replacements — Androgynous (Let It Be): I like but don’t love The Replacements. The major label part of their career was more craftsman-like than inspired, in my (decidedly minority) opinion. Their inspiration peaked on Let It Be. Legendary Village Voice music critic Robert Christgau explained that on Let It Be, the ‘mats simply played the music they liked, whether is was loping rockabilly-ish pop (“I Will Dare”), Kiss (the cover of “Black Diamond”), or this tender exploration of folks who like to wear clothing of the opposite sex. Not the deepest treatment of the subject, but it’s not exploitative and is rather affecting.
Velvet Crush — Gentle Breeze (A Single Odessey): The duo of Ric Menck and Paul Chastain made plenty of classic power pop in the ’90s. This singles collection is a great place to start if you want to find out more. This might be my favorite Velvet Crush tune, a pure jangle fest that is steeped in The Byrds and Big Star (they even reference Big Star’s “Way Out West” in the chorus).
Channels — New Logo (Waiting for The Next End Of The World): Both of J. Robbins’ post-Jawbox projects haven’t really deviated from the style he perfected on Jawbox’s For Your Own Special Sweetheart. Jagged guitars, an ultra-tight rhythm section with surprisingly strong melodies. Channels is perhaps a hair less powerful than Jawbox or Burning Airlines and a touch more melodic. And Robbins is still articulately angry, as this song varies from clangorous roar to delicate middle eights.
The House Of Love — Sulphur (1986-88: The Creation Years): A British indie guitar rock band that wasn’t really a shoegazer band but meshed well with that style, House Of Love put out two terrific albums before getting lost trying to figure out its next move. This is from that early period, when they could really do no wrong. Lead singer Guy Chadwick had this interesting low key vocal style that exerted an all-knowing and comforting presence. Meanwhile, there were always lots of great guitar work on top of the sturdy compositions, like this one.
Polara — Allay (Polara): This Minneapolis band was lead by Ed Ackerson, who had previously fronted The 27 Various. Both bands played power poppish indie rock. On Polara’s 1995 debut, Ackerson created a really cool wall of sound, augmenting the guitars with an array of keyboards and percussion sounds, giving Polara a special texture that rocked out enough to hold its own in the alt-rock ’90s. Ackerson also had a voice that sounded a fair amount like Scott Miller of Game Theory and The Loud Family. The debut is great, as is this song, but on subsequent albums, the band got slicker, and less interesting.
Tommy Keene — Love Is The Only Thing That Matters (The Real Underground): Keene is a revered cult figure both in and out of power pop circles. For nearly 30 years, he’s been reliably churning out melancholy pop songs, supported by his wistful, reedy voice and his excellent guitar playing. Keene, who has collaborated with Robert Pollard of Guided By Voices in The Keene Brothers (Tommy’s tunes with Robert’s words) and has been Paul Westerberg’s touring guitarist, is skilled in Big Star style jangle, but also can produce riffs that are catchy and tinged with bittersweet emotion. This is more of a jangly tune.
Northern State — Trinity (Dying In Stereo): Three gals doing old school rap that calls to mind the Beastie Boys? Sure, they’re not as good as the Beasties, but there were some really good songs on their debut. Neither the music nor the lyrics reach the heights of their inspiration, but the bar was set pretty high. More importantly, they have loads of personality, making this a fun listen.
Shoes — Your Imagination (Present Tense/Tongue Twister): This is a pretty power poppy shuffle, and Shoes are also legends if you are into the style. The Zion, Illinois band graduated to Elektra Records after one classic DIY record, and managed to retain their low fi charm with bigger budgets. Shoes boiled down pop songwriting to its basics, drawing from everyone from Buddy Holly to The Beatles to The Raspberries and their best songs have two or three hooks and usually get right to the point. Kind of like a wussier Buzzcocks. This song fits that formula to a T.