New Guitars in Town

Various Artists – New Guitars in Town: Power Pop 1978 – 1982 [3CD Boxset]

The late ’70s and early ’80s has been a fertile era for Cherry Red Records, with releases covering the heydays of various genres of music that rode the wave of the commercial and creative booms for popular music at that time. The musical and cultural fashions of the day allowed room for an exponential expansion in the number of bands being formed and a proliferation of new and independent record companies were developed to service them and bring new music to the masses in ever-increasing volumes.

One such genre riding the wave was Power Pop, a hybrid of pop and rock styles, that has been around since the mid-’60s. This 3-CD set covers the years from 1978 to 1982 and marks the rise and fall of a form of music that has regularly came in and out of fashion. As well as a sprinkling of well-loved hits there are more obscure tracks and curiosities, and the CDs are presented with a 36-page booklet containing notes and relevant sleeve illustrations. What makes it notable is that Power Pop had its most inglorious fall from grace in this very period, and so whilst it makes for a comprehensive compilation for completists, for my tastes there is a little too much filler.

The term ‘Power Pop’ was first coined by Pete Townsend to describe the Who’s energetic style, that was itself influenced by the Beatles, the Byrds and the Beach Boys. The characteristics that would endure are the melodic hooks, the vocal harmonies, and the up-tempo beat that made for an energetic sound. The more creative bands tended to have other strings to their bow and often moved on from the simplified, and limited, song structure that was another characteristic of the form. Those Power Pop bands that didn’t have the capacity to break the shackles tended to flash briefly and burn out.

In this collection, bands like the Undertones, the Buzzcocks and Eddie and the Hot Rods had successful but short-lived lifespans (in their prime), and those such as Elvis Costello, the Jam and Squeeze moved on from straight Power Pop and had much longer, more commercially successful – and arguably more interesting – shelf lives.

This is part of the problem with curating such a large collection of very similarly styled songs. It has historical value but listening to one CD in a sitting was as much as I could take. On the plus side, there is the excitement of re-discovering bands like the Jags, the Rich Kids and the Vapors, and the many others who enjoyed their 15 minutes of fame at that time, bringing back all sorts of undignified teenage memories.

There is no sense in trying to critique all of the seventy-five tracks in the set, but here are some observations that struck me whilst wallowing in the nostalgia of it all. In no particular order; considering the abundance and prominence of female vocalists in punk and new wave in this time period, it is notable that they are extremely under-represented in the Power Pop genre. This is possibly a potential Sociology thesis in itself, but looking back over the influential Power Pop bands through the years, it does seem to be a male-orientated scene, with teenage-boy-centred romance, angst, partying and mischief-making seemingly making up the main list of lyrical subject matters. As the exception to the rule, Linda and the Dark’s Where Have All the Good Times Gone is towards the back end of disc three and counts as one of my undiscovered gems picked out from this collection, with Linda (presumably) sounding not unlike a slightly less theatrical Lene Lovich.

It’s also the case that when it comes to Power Pop, as with any genre, the cream does tend to rise to the top. When tracks are sequenced randomly like this it is easy to recognise the hits from the misses. There is no formula for success, but there is a magic combination, a star quality that only a few possess. Having said that, the music scene as a whole benefits immensely from having a diverse range of artists in the pool of talent. This is where a compilation like this can be so rewarding as it’s not just about the successful bands, it lays out the context and celebrates more than just the obvious.

This compilation is also about the surprises that are unearthed. Did you know that the Fly’s Neil O’Connor also played in his sister Hazel’s band? Or that celebrated Manchester radio celebrity Mike Sweeney is a band member of the Salford Jets, who are still gigging? And prior to the release of Teenage Kicks John Peel played the Stiffs records incessantly on his show and is quoted as saying on air that Inside Out was “the greatest record in the history of the universe”.

The Stiffs are one of a few remaining bands from the era who continue to perform with all four original members. The journalist Carol Clerk stated, following a 1981 performance, “I haven’t seen so much energy, musically or physically from any band in a long time. This is a marriage of instant melody and hooks with the power and forcefulness of punk”. It’s a great summary of the enduring appeal of Power Pop, and their longevity proves that there will always be hardcore fans stoking revivals of the genre.

In this period, the Knack’s My Sharona was ubiquitous and the Look released I Am the Beat, which contained a loop in the run-out groove that caused the single to play out endlessly. Without wishing to point the finger at any particular event, it was a combination of over-exposure, the development of new wave and electronic dance music, and the emergence of global superstars such as Prince and Michael Jackson that meant that this particular hot streak for the Power Pop genre was snuffed out, over-taken by the ongoing and regular changes in the marketplace for popular music.

Thankfully, we have Cherry Red to take us back in time, allowing us to re-live our past dalliances. My musical preference in the ’70s was for Prog and singer/songwriters such as Joni Mitchell and Neil Young; how and why I got attracted to listening to the Motors, Squeeze and the Undertones et al is anyone’s guess. It was raw and authentic and we were all in thrall to the excitement of the new musical trends around at that time, and it’s good to know that now we can re-engage through releases like this.

Disc One

01. Boomtown Rats – She’s So Modern (2:59)
02. Elvis Costello and The Attractions – Pump it Up (3:14)
03. The Flys – Fun City (3:04)
04. Buzzcocks – Love You More (1:50)
05. The Motors – Forget About You (2:48)
06. Strangeways – Show Her You Care (2:22)
07. The Pleaser – A Girl I Know (Precis of A Friend) (4:04)
08. Tonight – Jealousy Kills (Beware!) (2:42)
09. The Upstarts – Beggin’ (3:28)
10. Wreckless Eric – Veronica (2:40)
11. No Sweat – Don’t Take My Advice (2:25)
12. Neon Hearts – Popular Music (2:08)
13. The Questions – Can’t Get Over You (2:26)
14. Eddie & The Hot Rods – Power and the Glory (4:12)
15. The Jam – Strange Town (3:47)
16. Nightshift – Jet-Set (2:58)
17. The Records – Rock and Roll Love Letter (3:48)
18. Leyton Buzzards – I’m Hanging Around (2:44)
19. The Rollers – Turn on the Radio (3:40)
20. The Donkeys – Four Letters (2:18)
21. Salford Jets – Last Bus (2:26)
22. Kidda Band – Fighting My Way Back (3:04)
23. The Undertones – You’ve Got My Number (Why Don’t You Use It!) (2:38)
24. Bram Tchaikovsky – (Who Wants to Be A) Criminal (2:20)
25. The Deaf Aids – Do it Again (3:02)

Time – 73:07

Disc Two
01. The Fans – Giving Me That Look in Your Eyes (2:45)
02. The Jets – Tearaway (2:52)
03. The Carpettes – I Don’t Mean It (2:54)
04. Filmstars – Here in L.A. (3:07)
05. The Planets – Iron for the Iron (3:36)
06. The Quads – There’s Never Been A Night (2:26)
07. Zoot Alors – Send Me A Postcard (2:42)
08. The Boys – Terminal Love (3:31)
09. 999 – Inside Out (2:02)
10. Excel – What Went Wrong? (2:47)
11. Famous Players – Who’s Kissing You (2:53)
12. Squeeze – Another Nail in My Heart (2:55)
13. The Cartoons – Lunchtime Love Affair (3:02)
14. The Jags – Party Games (5:19)
15. Richard and The Taxmen – Now We’re Through (2:32)
16. Pete Stride / John Plain – New Guitar in Town (3:04)
17. Toys – Go to the Police (3:00)
18. The Elevators – Your I’s Are too Close Together (3:22)
19. Public Skool – Walking the Rat (2:32)
20. The Clerks – On the Telephone (3:20)
21. Purple Heart – My Life’s A Jigsaw (2:50)
22. Rich Kids – Young Girls (2:49)
23. The Kraze – Say Hello to My Girl (3:24)
24. The Slide – Superman’s Shoes (2:28)
25. The Stiffs – Innocent Bystander (3:10)

Time – 73:22

Disc Three
01. Backseat Romeos – Zero Ambition (3:06)
02. B.T.P. Folders – Radio (2:54)
03. The Monks – Cool Way to Live (3:04)
04. Protege – Protection (1:52)
05. Straight Eight – Tonite (2:32)
06. The Uncool Danceband – My Girl Shy Girl (3:20)
07. The Kicks – If Looks Could Kill (3:24)
08. The Covers – Too Hot to Handle (3:40)
09. Stiff Little Fingers – Just Fade Away (3:05)
10. Todd – The Radio (3:16)
11. The Vapors – Jimmie Jones [Single Version] (3:22)
12. Titch Turner’s Escalator – Don’t Really Want You Back Again (3:30)
13. Jo Callis – Woah Yeah! (3:52)
14. Ronnie Mayor – Can’t Wait ‘Till the Summer Comes (2:52)
15. Plain Jane – Loving You (3:24)
16. The Aces – One Way St. (2:34)
17. The Gas – The Finger (3:06)
18. The Gross Club – Second Chance (3:36)
19. Linda and The Dark – Where Have All the Good Times Gone (2:10)
20. Chris Sievey and The Freshies – If You Really Love Me… Buy Me A Shirt (2:42)
21. Rudi – Crimson (3:02)
22. Clive Culbertson – The Night’s No Friend of Mine (2:37)
23. The Pinkees – Danger Games (2:52)
24. Smart – Mr. Right (3:14)
25. Hollywood Killers – Butterfly (3:12)

Time – 76:18

Total Time – 222:47

Record Label: Cherry Red Records
Country of Origin: U.K.
Date of Release: 1st March 2024

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