JAIMIE VERNON – THE POWER OF POP

Jaimie_CapeCod_2004
This week Paul Revere of 1960s pop band Paul Revere & The Raiders passed away at the age of 76. He and his band were one of the second generation of pop stars who took the post-Elvis world by storm on the back of Beatlemania.

Paul revere

The Revere motif was one of riding horseback (pun intended) on the momentum of the British Invasion while not necessarily being a part of it. The Raiders, you see, were American. They were part of the counter strike against the British musical conquest of America that began in 1964 – not unlike the man in 1776 who inspired the name.

Until the moptops stepped off that plane at JFK in February 1964, America had been deep in either Beach Boys surf, crooning Bobbies or folk artists riding the M.T.A. The Beatles didn’t just beachboysarrive in the United States, they re-designed it. Within a year Brian Wilson had upped his game, the crooners had gone to Vegas and folk artists were plugging in and turning on. But most crucial was the re-invention of the four and five piece music ensemble. America remained awash in instrumental groups swinging on a Telstar or wiping out or sleep walking. The Ventures had informed a nation that they must walk and not, in fact, run. The Beatles, however, hit the ground running and showed that not only were lead singers the new norm but FOUR lead singers were preferred. The gauntlet had been thrown and instrumental bands either took school sock hop gigs or succumbed to the reality of a changing pop music perspective and hired lead singers.

Paul Revere & The Raiders had started as one of those instrumental groups. They were actually ahead of the Beatle curve in adding vocals, however, and recorded a version of “Louie Louie” in MelcherApril 1963 [there has been a 50 year debate on whether the Raiders or The Kingsmen recorded it first].  The track didn’t do much but the band was going about their business when The Beatles wave washed over everyone. By 1965 they were working with producer Terry Melcher who would begin the process of elevating them to iconic counter-Invasion stars.

The American music industry wanted badly to emulate the British Invasion’s success and built their own version in-house. The Turtles, The Monkees, The Beau Brummels, The Cowsills, The Beau BrummelsAssociation, Mamas & Papas, Lovin’ Spoonful, The (Young) Rascals and then the psyche garage competitors chasing after The Beatles’ LSD alter-egos with acts like The Seeds, Lemon Pipers, and Strawberry Alarm Clock among others. The competition was healthy but it seemed everyone was reacting to the Beatles instead of driving American pop forward (Beach Boys notwithstanding). That is, until the post-Beatles era.

Despite personnel changes the band weathered the post-Beatles storm, shortened their name to The Raiders and had their biggest hit with “Indian Reservation”. Revere claimed that Columbia moved 6 million copies of the single – the biggest seller for the label over the course of a decade.

Few of the 1960s pop acts survived like The Raiders. The Beach Boys endured, of course, but most of what came next was driven by a faded blueprint. It was new by default because the Fabs Osmondswere no longer driving the ship. Family groups became the rage – The Osmonds, The Jackson 5 – while the new post-Beatles sounding acts twisted the model and made it their own like Big Star, The Wackers and The Raspberries. American Pop music would take back the reins of their own destiny for the first time since Chuck and Little Richard and Elvis and Buddy and Jerry Lee created it the first time.
Viet Nam protests

Meanwhile back in England they could only look at The Hollies, The Who and The Rolling Stones and wonder why these heroes had to grow up to be so damn serious. Where was the fun and the frivolous nature of a pop hook now? The Hippie Movement, and specifically, Viet Nam had turned off the fun and gave everyone pangs of conscience.

Dream PoliceBut it was still there. Pop music, specifically Power Pop music, would grow silently in small towns and the backrooms of the Midwest or percolate in the Petri dishes of big city garages and lofts. They would have names like The Shoes, The Knack, The Romantics and Cheap Trick (‘Dream Police’ turned 35 last month!) . And it would take the birth and death of the second British Invasion of New Wave to come and go before Power Pop actually got a name. It was four chord jangly pop built on the DNA of The Beatles, The Beach Boys, Badfinger, The Byrds and occasionally with orchestrations a la Beethoven.

MasticatorsUnapologetically, American power pop was ‘Go’ and it was being driven in dozens of American markets by the likes of The Beat, Material Issue, Tommy Keene, The Spongetones, Marshall Crenshaw, The Smithereens, Enuff Z’Nuff, Dwight Twilley, Matthew Sweet, The Masticators, Jellyfish, The Gripweeds, and so many more. The scene grew so exponentially in the late 1990s that there were labels like Not Lame Recordings, Kool Kat Music, Permanent Press Recordings and Jam Recordings releasing nothing but Power Pop music exclusively.

FountainsOfWayneStill the world at large knew nothing about this music. What had been the driving force of 1960s British Invasion push-back was now relegated to the underground. It was counter-alternative. It was anti-Grunge. And it seemed the only breakthroughs were the likes of Fastball, Owsley (RIP), Fountains of Wayne and, arguably Weezer (at the beginning) from labels that didn’t have a clue how to market these acts any longer. Like musical comic book fandom, the Power Pop scene was a universe unto itself with magazines (Amplifier, Big Takeover) and festivals (Poptopia, International Pop Overthrow Festival) that required nothing more of its audience than an appreciation of melody.

Alas, with the implosion of the music business in the 2000s, power pop too suffered defeat. Labales dies and festivals waned (International Pop Overthrow survived and thrived). There are Pop2still Americans waving the Power Pop flag. Recently, Dana Countryman released his second pop CD ‘Pop 2!’ which, interestingly, plays all around the borders of the 1960s but never falls back on a single Beatle moment. Instead, it’s a collection of tracks you might have imagined hearing on the radio as a kid – from the Beach Blanket Frankie/Annette or ‘Grease’ inspired doo-wop and ‘50s Rock and Roll on songs like “Mama Told Me Not To Rock And Roll” and “The Summer I Turned Seventeen” to the early ‘70s teen sensations of Donny Osmond, Bobby Goldsboro and Bay City Rollers on tracks like “And Suddenly, Love Just Happened” (with Klaatu’s Dee Long adding stellar guitar hooks) and “I’ll Get Right Back To You”.

DanaCountryman sidesteps the power part and feeds on the pop itself. Like Peter Foldy (whom I reviewed a few weeks back), re-visiting our AM Radio obsessions is no longer a guilty pleasure. It’s the new nostalgia. With a focus on the ‘new’. If someone could harness this new pop with what’s called current pop, maybe radio would have a shot at driving an audience again. Countryman dreams of that on his own tune “Good Radio Day”. He’s the biggest dreamer I know. And sometimes pop music dreams come true. Check out more of Countryman here.
THIS WEEK’S VIRAL VIDEO:

THIS WEEK’S VIRAL OLDIE:

Send your CDs to: Jaimie Vernon, 180 Station Street, Suite 53, Ajax, ON L1S 1R9 CANADA

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Jaimie’s column appears every Saturday

Contact us at dbawis@rogers.com

DBAWIS ButtonJaimie “Captain CanCon” Vernon has been president of the on again/off-again Bullseye Records of Canada since 1985. He wrote and published Great White Noise magazine in the ‘90s, has been a musician for 33 years, and recently discovered he’s been happily married for 16 years. He is also the author of the recently released Canadian Pop Music Encyclopedia and a collection of his most popular ‘Don’t Believe A Word I Say’ columns called ‘Life’s A Canadian…BLOG’ is now available at Amazon.com

One Response to “JAIMIE VERNON – THE POWER OF POP”

  1. Thanks for the tip.

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