Back in the 90s, Rhino Records released two compilations celebrating the birth and subsequent explosion of power pop in the US between 1975-1981. Entitled ‘Come Out & Play (American Power Pop 1975-1978)’ and ‘Shake It Up (American Power Pop 1979-1981)’, those discs are an invaluable addition to any power pop collection, introducing many to the works of Pearl Harbor & The Explosions, 20/20 and Earth Quake, alongside more familiar cult recordings by Shoes, Off Broadway, Cheap Trick, Chris Bell and far more besides.
‘Harmony In My Head: UK Power Pop & New Wave 1977-1981’, a 2018 box set from Cherry Red Records exploring the UK power pop and new wave scenes, is every bit as wonderful as those US-centric discs, presenting the popular and familiar alongside some also-rans and bands whom never made the big time.
The American power pop scene from the mid-70s to the early 80s provided a goldmine of great music. Over the years various compilations have provided a great insight into the burgeoning scene’s classics, self-released gems and genuine obscurities. Delving far deeper than Cheap Trick and the Raspberries, recordings by The Flashcubes, Fotomaker and Earth Quake have become much loved favourites for music fans looking for the melodic charms of Badfinger, but also for the flair and sparkle of the soon-to-be in vogue new wave scene. …And then there were Shoes. In a land where band names didn’t need to be easy to find with search engines Shoes were potential kings, but so much of their early work proved elusive to find. For the many power pop geeks who’ve fallen in love with a couple of their later records – 1979’s ‘Present Tense’ and 1981’s ‘Tongue Twister’, specifically – this finely put together 3CD anthology throws a lot of light upon music that led the band to that career pinnacle.
In the autumn of 1977, a most unlikely star made his big breakthrough on the UK music scene. A jerky and energetic man sporting Buddy Holly spectacles, Elvis Costello was to make regular appearances on Top of The Pops over the next couple of years. The power in most of his musical arrangements was immediate, but lyrically, this was a man who was a cut above. Spewing more sneering puns than anyone would likely hear on hit singles until Carter The Unstoppable Sex Machine would make their breakthrough in 1989, Elvis cut a very distinctive presence.
Following several EPs, new-wave revivalist Kurt Baker released his first full-length LP ‘Brand New Beat’ at the tail-end of 2012. It’s half hour of tunes recalled strong links with Joe Jackson, Nick Lowe and Elvis Costello and often felt musically familiar, but was not any the less enjoyable for wearing its influences so obviously. The sessions also yielded a truckload of extra material; ‘Want You Around’, an upbeat number featuring Dan Vapid, provided the lead track of a 7” EP (and also appeared as a bonus track on the French CD pressing of ‘Brand New Beat’), backed with three cover tunes, including a spot-on version of Billy Joel’s ‘Sleeping With The Television On’. Discounting these four recordings, Baker was still in possession of an album’s worth of other tunes, most of which were collected on this 2014 release.