VARIOUS ARTISTS – Shake It Up!: American Power Pop II (1978-80)

There’s a whole world of power pop out there. For every band which made the big time, there are dozens of also-rans. Some of the first wave of power pop’s finest unsung heroes can be found on Rhino’s power pop anthologies. The first volume, ‘Come Out And Play’ features stuff from 1975-78, and as such, features some of the more famous names – Cheap Trick, Chris Bell, Flamin’ Groovies, The Real Kids, and more besides. This second volume catches the tail end of that wave, featuring an almost equal number of gems, even if some of the names aren’t quite as famous.

Kicking off this second anthology, The Cryers’ ‘Shake It Up (Ain’t It Time)’ is sugary, but all familiar with a strong hook. It has a solid arrangement with chiming guitars and handclaps. It’s all very much in the same mould as The Rubinoos and The Romantics, and as such, doesn’t break the mould, but provides some taut power pop that’s more than enjoyable. Things shift into a higher gear with Shoes, whose harmony driven ‘Tomorrow Night’ really shows why they were stars on US MTV in its formative years. Armed with a big chorus and music that rivals ‘Shake It Up’ era Cars, it is a  excellent tune, with the guitars a bit more to the fore. ‘Tell That Girl To Shut Up’ by Holly & The Italians will probably be familiar to most people reading this, as it was covered by Transvision Vamp in the late 80s. This original version is almost identical to that rather more familiar cover, save for perhaps a little more finesse in the vocal department. It would have been nice to hear something different by these guys – although with the album having had a CD reissue, it remains one of the easier things from this compilation to obtain.

Equally as good, The Rubinoos’ ‘I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend’ has plenty of harmony vocals, handclaps and a monster chorus. It ticks all the boxes and manages to be as infectious as most power pop should be when done this well. Pretty much unknown in the UK, people in the US will undoubted be familiar with this band and especially this song. The same goes for The Romantics, who’s ‘What I Like About You’ is a staple of some radio stations. Off Broadway drop in with ‘Stay In Time’, which is made from solid stuff, with more than a nod towards early Joe Jackson. Best of the bunch, though, is ‘You Got It (Release It)’ by Pearl Harbour and the Explosions. Worthy successors to the Cheap Trick throne, Armed with a sharp chorus and brilliant harmonies that draw from the post-punk and new wave, it’s a mystery how these guys got ignored. This is power pop gold. ‘I Thought You Wanted To Know’ by Chris Stamey & The Db’s, as you’d expect from a band with Mitch Easter connections, wear their Big Star influences proudly. Filling a couple of minutes with a huge retro jangle and equally sizable chorus, this track (alongside the Pearl Harbour) makes this CD a worthy addition to the power pop fans’ collection.

More so than the first volume, there’s stuff here that isn’t earth shattering too. ‘The First One’ by ex-Blondie man Gary Valentine shows Flamin’ Groovies influences (it’s when going through the many power pop compilations out there, it becomes obvious that they were seminal band), going for an older sound. It often manages to be likeable, but isn’t memorable in the long term. Both tracks by The Beat [aka Paul Collins’ Beat – not to be confused with the ska-pop band The (English) Beat] offer two songs which are above average power pop fare, but even with ‘Work A Day World’s sense of bounce, it never reaches the heights of the genre’s best. For power pop lovers in the US, Collins reached cult hero status, of course, so any feelings that his material on this comp is average will surely stem from it being up against stiff competition, as opposed to a reflection on his own talents.

‘I Like Girls’ by The Know (written by the aforementioned Gary Valentine) is appalling: relying on a thin sentiment, thrown together arrangement and truly bad lyrics. This is the epitome of really bad ‘good time’ music. There’s not even enough depth to embarrass the listener with a bunch of stuff about fast cars, which would usually be the thing. The track by Prix is pretty bad too. There’s not a lot wrong with the music, but the singer’s voice carries a rather irritating, odd whine. Also in the forgettable category are both tracks by Tulsa based 20/20; one of their songs sounds like a really terrible version of The Flamin’ Groovies, while the other nods towards The Cars but lacks any of that great band’s charm or song craft.

Despite being a little hit and miss, the great bits of this collection are strong enough to recommend the disc as a fine collection filler, but since this is out of print, it mightn’t be so easy to track down. For those willing to do the leg work, though, some enjoyment will be guaranteed, especially if played in tandem with the earlier (and superior) ‘Come Out And Play’.

August 2007