Saturday, December 27, 2008

Chasing Rainbows

Psychedelic pop really is my thing. That, and bubblegum pop. Also, I can’t resist power pop.. power pop perhaps from the 90s? Combine all these and wow.. The music I’m going to describe now isn’t however power pop or bubblegum. It’s psychedelic, orchestrated pop from the 60s.

I found this UK-based band Nirvana maybe a year ago when I was looking for good sunshine pop. The group was founded in 1967 by Greek-born Alex Spyropoulos and Irish-born Patrick Campbell-Lyons. At that time, symphonic pop was popular and it shows in Nirvana’s early music. Later the band went on to make more progressive rock-styled music. They have never been very successful commercially but if you ask me, they should have been. I think they are a more interesting band than Kurt Cobain’s Nirvana – especially because I’m a person who loves melody-oriented baroque-psychedelia to pieces.

All of Us is Nirvana’s second album, released in 1968. It is a very good album filled with lovely psychedelic soft pop songs. It sounds to me like a combination of The Beatles’ more baroque-symphonic work and Sagittarius. One of my favourite songs is the opening track Rainbow Chaser, a brilliant tune with magnificently dramatic violins and trumpets. The song also has great melodies, and excellent female choir vocals, like many other songs on the album.

Tiny Goddess combines peacefulness with melancholy in an extremely beautiful way. The Touchables (All of Us) and Melanie Blue do approximately the same thing. Trapeze is probably my most favourite song of the album – you can’t go wrong with such a catchy, magical melody. Miami Masquarade is also really catchy, and the same is true of Girl in the Park, Frankie the Great, and practically every other song, too. The four bonus tracks are also very good.

This album is a true gem for anyone who likes symphonic pop with some psychedelia. I love this album so much that I think I’ll get more albums from the band!

Rainbow Chaser (YouTube)

Tiny Goddess (YouTube)
Show Must Go on (instrumental song, YouTube)

Friday, December 19, 2008

Ho Ho Ho, It’s Magic

Here’s a most brilliant song that I discovered some days ago. It is a song by Scottish pop band Pilot and it’s called Magic. Pilot was founded by ex-Bay City Rollers members David Paton and Billy Lyall in 1973. This song is utterly wonderful, catchy and memorable. It sounds probably more like Electric Light Orchestra than Bay City Rollers but hey, we all love both bands, don’t we?

In a way this song is kind of Christmassy. It goes “ho ho ho” which I believe is something that Santa Claus says.. So, enjoy! This video is from the Top of the Pops show, year 1974. I’ve already listened to this song a couple of times too many. Maybe it’d be good to check other Pilot songs too..

This is the classic problem with perfect pop songs. You can’t get enough of them, they become an obsession and as a result stop you from looking for more perfect songs because you can’t stop listening to your previous perfect pop find.. This happens to me constantly. It’s fun, I have to admit.

THE Swedish Pop Wonder

Right now is the perfect moment to get to know Sweden’s pride: a globally successful 70s pop group, winners of Eurovision Song Contest 1974, one of the best pop bands of all times! It’s of course ABBA I’m talking about, and this band definitely is worth mentioning. They are the most famous Swedish band ever, and insanely successful commercially. They continue selling millions of albums every year, and combined with income from musicals it’s no wonder they are one of the most commercially successful bands ever.

Why now, then? First, you already know it’s always a perfect moment to be a pop fan. Second, everyone should be familiar with this group. So, if you aren’t, it’s about time! Third, there is now a complete ABBA box out, nine CDs containing eight most important albums of the group’s ten albums and a bonus CD. The box is called The Albums.

I haven’t really been that close to ABBA so far but I really intend to do something about that. In fact, I am a Nordist which means I’m supposed to familiarize myself with Scandinavian culture. Anyway, I recently proved myself that I’m much closer to this band than I thought. ABBA is actually as familiar to me as The Beatles, probably even more familiar. It’s actually really difficult to avoid hearing ABBA’s music here in Finland – not that it’s a bad thing, not at all (at some other occasions unavoidable music-hearing surely is unwanted). This means that I already have heard probably all of the group’s hits. I checked this with ABBA Gold – Greatest Hits collection that had 19 songs. There were only 1-2 songs that were unfamiliar to me.

So, now really is time to enhance your (and my) knowledge of ABBA! Although I haven’t ordered the new box yet, I intend to do so very soon.

Abba at YouTube

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Sweet Apples

It was a few years ago when I started listening to The Apples in Stereo. The band is associated with the famous lo-fi/indie pop collective Elephant 6 that I definitely wish to explore further. I’ve already checked out some material from Beulah and Of Montreal (I also remember listening to a couple of songs by The Olivia Tremor Control), but there are also many other interesting bands to listen to. The collective is big, so I believe there is a whole lot of fun ahead of me – fun and quirkiness. The bands that I’ve already listened to have all proved to be quite unique.

The first Apples in Stereo album that I properly listened to was New Magnetic Wonder (2007). At the time it was the group’s latest. Once I got around to listening to it several times it started showing promise, and it didn’t take long before I start enjoying Robert Schneider’s wild ELO-like backing vocal effects and energetic, upbeat songs. The vocal effects are airy and magnificent, and usually successful. There is a moment or two when the vocal effects are slightly OTT but it’s not such a big sin.

Can You Feel It? and Same Old Drag are examples of successful vocal effect experiments. Both songs are also very catchy. Energy is a hit. It sounds like a mixture of Oasis and Electric Light Orchestra, and probably something else too. Hilarie Sidney who has since left the group provided New Magnetic Wonder with a couple of good tracks: Sunndal Song and Sunday Sounds. Play Tough is a beautiful melody, definitely reminds of The Left Banke’s Walk Away Renee. In the end of the album there are a couple of very grandiose songs: Open Eyes and Non-Pythagorean Composition Pts. 3-4 – perhaps not personal favourites but definitely not bad either.

The album’s biggest problem is the huge number of instrumental interlude tracks. Many people have already stated how unsuccessful the idea of placing them all around the album is. I guess everyone would still agree on the fact that once you’ve removed the interlude tracks from your playlist or mp3 player, New Magnetic Wonder works well as an album. It’s probably best listening to those instrumental tracks separately.

There was a long pause between New Magnetic Wonder and its predecessor Velocity of Sound (2002) which is also one sweet album. While New Magnetic Wonder is ELO-oriented Velocity of Sound sounds like Weezer. It’s clear right from the first moment of Please. Although the album easily brings Weezer to mind with its loud, distorted guitars, it’s not geeky – at least in the same way as Weezer.

One of the absolutely coolest things about The Apples in Stereo is Robert Schneider’s voice. There’s definitely some good nasal vibe there, and the way he makes himself sound like a 6-year-old.. It’s simply amazing - and really sweet. There are many moments on Velocity of Sound album when Schneider’s vocals blow my mind. That’s Something I Do and Do You Understand? are wonderful, as well as Please. Baroque is also brilliant. There is not much baroque instrumental quality but one melodic part definitely is baroque! Another really cool track is Yore Days, a song in which the album’s vocal style suddenly turns completely different.

This band has made many albums and EPs – I don’t even know how many.. They’ve also released a new creation quite recently. It’s called Electronic Projects For Musicians.

The Apples in Stereo at MySpace

Pop from the Dear Western Neighbour

Looking for some new 60s pop? Try Swedish! There was a lot of pop activity in this country back in the 60s. Pop such as instrumental rock (á la The Shadows) and beat music was adopted from the United Kingdom as well as American-styled rock’n’roll, pop, folk-rock and many others. There are, in fact, two excellent 2CD Swedish pop collections called Swedish Graffiti (Unfortunately, it’s probably very difficult to find those).

One of my most recent Swedish favourites has been Hep Stars. This band performed different styles of pop and rock. Their cover choices included Mike Berry (Tribute to Buddy Holly), The Kinks (So Mystifying) and others. The general sound of Hep Stars is quite mellow and includes Byrds-like feel and harmonies. Another strong point of their music is baroque melancholy. Check out Consolation and you’ll be mesmerized!

Hep Stars featured a future ABBA member Benny Andersson as a keyboardist. The band was active in years 1963-1969. During that time they released many albums and had numerous hits in Sweden.

Hep Stars at YouTube

Flipping and Melting

It’s time for some more The Sun Sawed in 1/2 praise! The group’s second full-length album Mind Flip came out in 1995, and it remains as their most straightforward record. It contains no violins, saxophones, trumpets, french horns or other fancy psych-baroque elements – there are some keyboards and one electronic beat though! This album proves that this band is capable of recording some very interesting powerpop music also with a bit more simple approach to arrangements.

The album is about 30 minutes long which is a perfect duration. There are way too many too long albums in the world, but I’ve never heard of a single album that would be too short. It’s always an advantage being economical – some people may disagree, but on the other hand I’ve never seen the point in recording minutes of buzz with nothing happening.. There should be action, energy, rock’n’roll, and melodies! It’s melodies where the magic happens.

This album definitely doesn’t lack excellent melodies. Right in the beginning of the album listeners are introduced to the sweetest voice on this planet. Yes, the one that gives a brand new definition to sweet! (As the previous one wasn’t even close to sufficient..) While Mind Flip is not the most mind-blowingly catchy song in the world it’s a perfect introduction to this album. Tim Rose’s magic never fails, and it surely doesn’t do it now.

For me, the whole love affair with SS1/2 started from Janet Greene. Now that I look at the song it sounds a bit surprising. It’s very catchy and original but I’m not sure if it really is the best way to introduce people to this band (for many people it probably has been). Now that I know The Sun Sawed in 1/2 better I don’t listen to Janet Greene particularly often anymore. I guess this is in fact a quite common phenomenon. You don’t choose the song that best represents the band to be the first single - instead you pick a song that has something more unusual, a hook that will get people’s attention. It surely worked with me, and it was good that it did! Janet Greene is a song – a fantasy - about the most divine girl there is, the one that looks like Monroe, Bardot and Fawcett at the same time. Basic pop thematic there.

Among the songs that I listen to most frequently are the following tracks. Fall is a beautiful and melancholic tune about not feeling alright. A lot of comfort is however added to the song in the form of upbeatness that is nicely embedded in the melodies – a representation of the exciting happy-sad –balance of powerpop that intrigues me very much. Life is another song about difficulties in life, melodically brilliant, a lot of soul there! Life is followed by one of the most magical moments in Sun’s catalogue, The Tops of Trees. The song floats in the air like a feather and is accompanied by an electronic beat that is transformed into acoustic drum beat in the end. There are also some very Pink Floyd-esque organ sounds in the end of the song. The vocals (so good!) and lyrics capture the delicate moment right before you close your eyes in the evening.. The lyrics also shed light on the true essence of love. What could ever be more wonderful?

There is no room for any sort of weaker moment on this album. Every song is good. Dashboard Christopher charms with its melodies and catchy riff, single track Green M&Ms deals with a boy-wants-girl theme and like Dashboard Christopher, shows Doug Bobenhouse’s lower vocals nicely. As I’ve already stated a couple of times before, based on the information that can e.g. be found on SS1/2’s music, every particle of air that travels through his vocal chords becomes something beautiful.. Remember that.

Head in the Sand Stan is also one of my favourites, a bouncy song with a catchy chorus and another low-tone melody that interestingly follows the guitar riff. Finally, there are Devil Fish and Wish, the most rocking two songs on the album – very nice work indeed. Devil Fish makes me wonder a bit what it would sound like if this band experimented with some more hardcore-like music..

When I think about the lyrics of this album I get the feeling that Tim Rose’s lyrics used to be a bit more metaphorical, more psych-themed in the past. There are definitely no shamans in his more recent lyrics. On Mind Flip, as usual, Rose’s lyrics are filled with dozens of lively expressions – and many, many words! Some of the songs (particularly on this album) are so packed with words that go forward so fast that I’m having problems with following the lyrics.. It’s my own fault, of course. I’m not a native English speaker, and my listening comprehension skills are still the weakest part of my knowledge of English. Even though I suck at understanding lyrics that I hear, I don’t feel I’m losing anything too important. I enjoy melodies so much. After all, I’m pretty convinced that if you concentrate too much on lyrics, you may not be able to hear and enjoy every bit of a brilliant, complicated melody – something that Tim Rose definitely masters.

Get this album now if you already don’t have it. You can find used copies of it quite easily – unlike the band’s first full-length or the debut EP. In my opinion, the entire catalogue of The Sun Sawed in 1/2 should be re-released as deluxe versions, but I know.. I’m just one person (who is slightly out of her mind due to this band’s utter brilliance).

The Sun Sawed in 1/2 at MySpace


Oh my.. This stuff is brilliant! While doing my usual bubblegum pop research, I came across a thing called The Wombles some time ago. These creatures do look a bit questionable to me now, as I never saw them when I was a kid.

The Wombles originally appeared as teddybear-like characters in children’s novels by Elisabeth Beresford, and in the early 70s they were made into a stop motion TV show – for children, of course. In the show these creatures were presented in a different form, with pointy noses. Music producer Mike Batt created a theme song for The Wombles TV show and then went on to write more music in Wombles theme, resulting in four full-length albums and chart success. A live act called The Wombles also played concerts, and the Womble characters always wore proper suits on stage.

The music of the Wombles is strongly associated with bubblegum pop, as well as novelty songs. I’m not really that familiar with the term novelty song, but it appears to have a lot to do with being funny and humorous. However, it’s not the same thing as humor music – on the other hand a humorous song isn’t automatically a novelty song. I don’t really know much about novelty songs but I guess I’ll learn as I do some more research..

Well, at least The Wombles’ music is definitely not all about sexual innuendoes, like 60s bubblegum pop sometimes/often is.. The Wombles’ 70s bubblegum music (as well as the TV show) contained a message about taking care of the environment – surely an important message for future adults! The music is catchy, rich soundwise, and like the most original bubblegum music, clearly influenced by nursery rhymes. Mike Batt, who was a clever producer, also added influences from many other cool genres: country, surf rock, calypso, and classical music among other things. The baroque-style string arrangements on several Wombles songs are really memorable – check out Remember You’re a Womble! What also needs to be said is that Wombles songs contain excellent vocals and harmonies.

Go ahead and listen to a couple of soundbites if you already haven’t! You won’t be disappointed. This stuff is easy-going sunny pop suitable for everyone – no matter if you’re a child or adult.

The Wombles at YouTube

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Rollermania Rises

Well, the big news is that I’ve found myself a new craze and I’ve been enjoying it for nearly a month already. Bay City Rollers were the hottest Scottish teen idol boy-band of the 70s, and given my fondness towards bubblegum pop and well.. boy-bands.. it wasn’t such a big surprise I fell in love with this music.

These guys drove teenage girls wild 30 years ago, and I would be lying if I told they don’t look sweet when you look at their pictures. They were on the covers of every teen magazine, girls picked their favourite member.. That’s approximately what it was like when Backstreet Boys were on top of their fame and I was 12 and totally fond of them. However, their music doesn’t sound equally good compared to the Rollers’ music. Generally speaking, something about the late 90s boy-band/girl-band/bubblegum music was wrong. For me the most obvious thing is that it was too perfect soundwise - way too artificial. 70s bubblegum sounds much more pleasant even today.

Bay City Rollers came up with some excellent bubblegum pop. At first, they didn’t write songs and performed quite a few covers, but later they started writing their very own material, too. They scored a couple of #1 hits in the UK, Bye Bye Baby and Give a Little Love, and also succeeded well albumwise. The music pays a lot of respect to 60s bubblegum music, yet I sense some difference in the general sound compared to The Archies, 1910 Fruitgum Co. and others. The Rollers have a slightly more polished sound, and there are more violins than organ hooks in the music.

I’ve found The Very Best of Bay City Rollers a very entertaining collection of the group’s most popular songs. Among my biggest favourites are Saturday Night, It’s a Game, Shang-a-Lang, Remember (Sha-la-la), as well as Give a Little Love (that definitely deserves to be mentioned twice in this article!). I Only Want to Be With You is a really cool cover that always makes me wonder: “Geez, how can McKeown sound so brilliant?” Another song truly worth checking out is Love Me Like I Love You, a great representation of the group’s own songwriting, and it’s a wonderful song.

When it comes to the lead singer of Bay City Rollers, I’ve once again proved my true nature. It’s becoming more and more clear. The thing is, if you want to create music that will stay on the playlists of yours truly for the rest of her life, start a band and, as your first assignment, find a singer who sounds exactly (or at least very much) like Les McKeown. On the other hand, I really didn’t expect to find such a brilliant British (or rather Scottish) version of my #1 favourite singer this soon. What can I say, anyway? It’s another dream come true..

Bay City Rollers music at YouTube

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Bleu’s Had Me Goin’

Since I’m such a huge Mike Viola fan, I decided to check out L.E.O.’s album Alpacas Orgling (2006). The album was and is a big joy. It sounded good right away and only got better with more listens. Bleu is the main character of the album and many people join him by singing and playing. I’m not very familiar with Bleu’s other stuff yet, but I just might get to know it.. His work is very convincing.

This is one of those great supergroup projects that seem to pop up every now and then.. There are lots of visitors on this album, and I don’t really recognize them all at this point, but I do recognize Andy Sturmer and Bleu’s Major Labels bandmates Mike Viola and Ducky Carlisle, as well as Isaac Hanson from Hanson, my childhood favourite band..

Alpacas Orgling is a great album with pleasant songs and melodies. It’s also nicely produced with rich sounds that leave the songs air to breathe. I’m especially happy with the amazing space-psychedelia. Distracted is for me the song that always sounds even better than other songs on the album. It’s pure melody magic – simple, yet probably the most complicated thing there is.

I hadn’t listened to much Electric Light Orchestra before but L.E.O. sounded so good that I started taking first steps towards becoming an ELO fan.. As you might expect I immediately found several cool songs from ELO’s Greatest Hits. We’ll see what that evolves into.

L.E.O. at MySpace