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In the mid-seventies British rock and roll was brewing up a real storm until the Sex Pistols came along and ruined it. If this statement appears counterintuitive that's because we've been overwhelmed by revisionist histories of popular culture written by hacks who wouldn't recognise a great pop song even if it jumped out of their iPod and beat them about the head with irresistible hooks. On the level of rhetoric punk was supposedly a reaction to the excess of bands like Yes and in particular their 'concept album' Tales of Topographic Oceans (1973). What tends to be overlooked is that we didn't require an antidote to prog rock because the pub rock circuit had produced some great high energy bands, while other ace acts from that period traced their roots back to sixties mod music. Likewise the bubblegum end of the glam scene bequeathed late-seventies rockers an incredible heritage; unfortunately those around and influenced by the Sex Pistols were more likely to impressed with David Bowie and Roxy Music than purveyors of perfect pop like The Arrows, Iron Virgin or Flintlock.

The problem with the Sex Pistols was not so much that their music was boring (they were only a shade duller than Yes and ELP), but the media circus that grew up around them which inspired many would-be teenage half-wits (some were in their late-twenties but pretended to be a decade younger) to form equally dull copy-cat groups including Siouxsie & The Banshees and The Clash. The Sex Pistols singer Johnny Rotten went out of his way in interviews to stress his 'authenticity' and'‘relevance' (1), presumably because at some level he understood he was the 'original' Kings Road flake. Unfortunately a lot of kids who wanted to be celebrities like Rotten aped his antics and believe it or not, turned out to have even less talent than this inept role model. These Rotten knock-offs began with Sid Vicious and moved downwards in terms of fame and talent to the sub-bargain basement lower depths of Adverts 'singer' TV Smith. The Sex Pistols were very much like The Beatles in that both groups benefitted enormously from the mass media wrongly treating them as THE leading representation of contemporary music. Neither The Beatles nor the equally plodding Sex Pistols had anything whatsoever to do with high-energy rock and roll - what aging Fleet Street hacks of that time knew about pop culture could have been inscribed on an ant's balls - but they sold records by the bucket load because there were enough impressionable young fools around who got excited by music that was treated as worthy of front page news coverage by the tabloids. Both bands function as perfect examples of celebrity culture overwhelming whatever sense of musical taste their fans may have once possessed.

For those who took Rotten's empty-headed boasts at face value, his way past its sell-by date sub-existentialist rhetoric about 'authenticity' tended to obscure the fact that the right type of irrelevance has long been an integral part of pop music's appeal. On the whole lyrics about sex and love are irrelevant to pre-pubescent children, but songs containing content of this type have long been popular with the (real) kids. And as far as 'relevance' goes, subjects like 'anarchy' and record label disputes (viz Anarchy In The UK and EMI by The Sex Pistols) are hardly matters of concern to the average teenager. But then for Rotten 'irrelevant' was simply a moronic mantra, and he's never demonstrated much interest in anything that doesn't in some way contribute to his narcissistic self-image. However, the fault here lies not so much with Rotten for taking himself seriously (since an egotistical clown living in a bubble of culture industry hype can hardly be expected to make objective judgements about his own worth or lack thereof), but rather with those fans and critics who failed to clock Johnny's every utterance as complete rot. Pop is waste, excess matter, and this is why when a band like The Gorillas delivered their Message To The World the object of celebration was rock and roll, not anarchy (a superannuated nineteenth-century ideology that anyone who knows the first thing about politics finds impossible to take seriously because it poses no threat whatsoever to the bourgeois establishment). (2)

Fronted by Jesse Hector and originally known as the Hammersmith Gorillas, the group who chose Message To The World as the title track of their only album (1978) were named after a Third World War song Hammersmith Guerrillas. They should have been huge, not just for their fabulous music but also their image. The band came replete with grown out Small Faces haircuts, the biggest sideburns you've seen in your life, and post-mod clobber including Rupert Bear chequered Oxford bags. Like wow! Now that's what I call the height of sartorial elegance, as opposed to a dyed green barnet, one of Johnny Rotten's many fashion errors. Rotten's hats were a mistake too and probably only adopted in a vain attempt to cover his endless bad hair days. Gorillas' singer and guitarist Jesse Hector could turn somersaults on stage while continuing to play his guitar, whereas the second Sex Pistols bass player Sid Vicious couldn't play a note and other people had to anchor the sound on this group's studio recordings!  In a previous incarnation as Crushed Butler, The Gorillas had invented glam stomp at the fag end of the sixties. Forget punk rock, Jesse Hector is what the late seventies should have been all about, but his band ended up huge in France and nowhere else!

Jesse Hector had certainly paid his dues from his early teenage days in the late-fifties playing rock and roll through to mod bands in the sixties and on into The Gorillas via two precursor groups Crushed Butler and Helter Skelter. When the Hammersmith Gorillas recorded their first single in 1974, a tenth anniversary celebration of The Kinks You Really Got Me, many critics considered it to be unduly raw. But this was a worked at sound, a polar opposite to the inexperience and lack of technical ability that prevented so many young punk bands of the late-seventies making worthwhile music. If the Hammersmith Gorillas are brutal on their version of You Really Got Me this is because they were reflecting the time they were living through: oil crisis, power cuts, strikes, the three day week and two British elections in a single year. By the time the band got to record their second and third singles (She My Gal in 1976 and Gatecrasher in 1977) they'd shortened their name to The Gorillas and become even more tuneful while remaining every bit as energetic. Many aficionados view Gorilla Got Me, the flip-side of Gatecrasher, as the band’s most primal track and thus also their greatest achievement. The sound on these releases and their album Message To The World reflects and celebrates a twenty plus year history of rock and roll. Jesse Hector not only had roots, he'd worked with them to create a truly contemporary sound and measured against this the output of second-rate boy bands like The Clash and The Sex Pistols palls in comparison.

The more high energy of the bands playing the London pub rock circuit in the mid-seventies not only crossed-over with the power pop scene, they were making an unholy racket when the likes of Johnny Rotten and Sid Vicious were still 'rocking' to David Bowie! None of the 'young' punks had tunes to match the likes of Baby Jane and Paradise by Dr. Feelgood, and not a single one of them sounded a tenth as good live as these primo pub rockers on their Stupidity in concert set.  While the Feelgoods' title track cover of Stupidity is hardly in the same musical league as the Solomon Burke version they took as their blueprint, it nonetheless shows they understood their roots. Power pop is not only self-consciously indebted to the musical innovations of the sixties, like all the best London mod bands of that era - The Who, Small Faces, The Creation, The Action, The Clique, The Attack etc. - it is directly influenced by Motown and other forms of American soul. Late-seventies British punk is musically weak precisely because it failed to draw from such legacies, often falling back into a more obviously 'white' musical forms by dropping syncopated bass lines (and doing this without the 'compensations' of the tonal complexity of rhythmically weak 'western' classical genres).

The most muscular band active on the 1970s English pub rock circuit was Eddie & The Hot Rods. This was a group that both on stage and on record put pseudo-novelty acts like The Sex Pistols to shame. Back in late November 1976 when I was a 14 year-old schoolboy I went into a record shop with enough money to buy one single. There were two records out that were causing a stir among the few people I knew who were interested in contemporary rock music (disco and northern soul were the dominant subcultures at my school): Teenage Depression by Eddie and the Hot Rods and Anarchy In The UK by the Sex Pistols. Even for my fourteen year-old self the choice was a no brainer. I bought Teenage Depression since it was by far the better record. The Sex Pistols were a bunch of mannequins, a fashion parade designed to shift gear from manager Malcolm McLaren's clothes shop; but even on this front they were let down by singer Johnny Rotten, who was too much of a fashion victim to succeed as a walking and talking advertisement for the clobber. I liked the Karl Marx portrait sewn onto the clothes the band wore, but wasn't impressed by the swastikas on their 'Destroy' T-shirts. Some of the threads the Sex Pistols were promoting looked good, but the band couldn't really rock even when Glen Matlock was around to anchor their sound. By way of contrast, Eddie and the Hot Rods were the real deal, a high-energy band with a perfect pop sensibility.

In many ways the Hot Rods epitomise the difference between genuine power pop groups and what is all too often wrongly understood to constitute this genre in the US. Acts like Big Star, The Raspberries, or in the later seventies The Shoes, The Romantics and The Knack, took their musical cues from 1960s British Invasion bands but without really taking up the American R&B and soul sounds that had directly inspired the acts that constituted their most immediate influence. Thus while blues and soul inflections are played down in what is often mistakenly called power pop by American 'critics', these influences are prominent in the music of the real exponents of this genre. One of the reasons British power pop acts like the Hot Rods had so much more musical muscle than UK punk bands was precisely because they had not only absorbed sixties Afro-American music from its original sources but used it to shape their own sound. British punk rock that played down Afro-American influences would have been much more palatable to the average white music executive, but it was precisely such pandering to corporate tastes (often combined with a lack of technical ability) that resulted in the music made by these cop-outs sounding so weak.

The raw energy of the Hot Rods is almost overwhelming on their third 7-inch release, the 1976 EP Live At The Marquee. The A-side features manic versions of 96 Tears and Get Out Of Denver, while on the flip there is a medley of Gloria and Satisfaction. While all four tracks are scorching, the medley on the second-side is of the greatest interest here. The Hot Rods version of Satisfaction is that rare thing; a credible cover of a Stones song. However, it is the rendition of Gloria that segues into the old Jagger/Rchards tune that really stands out as the highlight on this EP. Gloria was written by Van Morrison and originally recorded by his Belfast based combo Them. Initially the song was issued as the B-side to their 1964 single Baby Please Don’t Go and subsequently it has been very widely covered. Among the more famous versions of this tune is one by The Shadows of Knight (1965), a typical American garage band. The song has also been covered by some of the biggest names of the 1960s rock culture including Jimi Hendrix and The Doors; that said, neither of these acts seems to have intended to issue the number on record. The versions of Gloria we have by Hendrix and The Doors are essentially rehearsal jams despite their commercial release years after the recordings were made. Nonetheless, The Doors cover in particular appears to have influenced the overblown but extremely entertaining version of Gloria recorded by The Patti Smith Group in the mid-seventies and included as the opening track on their first album Horses (1975). If Patti Smith transformed Gloria into rock poetry, the Hot Rods took the song back to its rock and roll roots but with a seventies edge by playing it harder and faster than had been attempted before. The Hot Rods version of Gloria is without doubt the definitive one.

Sixties influences are most prominent on the Hot Rods earlier releases, particularly the first two singles Writing On The Wall and Woolly Bully (both 1976) which feature early member Lew Lewis playing blues-style harmonica. There is an amazing sense of continuity between 1960s British R&B such as Come See Me by The Pretty Things and a Hot Rods track like Double Checkin' Woman (particularly the demo version featuring Lew Lewis). Both clearly influenced a 1978 tune by The Stranglers Old Codger (featuring British jazz fixture George Melly on vocals). The Stranglers occupy a place on the outer fringes of power pop; they had the instrumental skills that so many young punk bands of the period lacked to successfully play high-energy music, but weak vocal performances on much of their early material make it difficult to take them seriously outside the genre of punk (whose musical standards are abysmally low). Strangely the opening track on the first and eponymous Ultravox! album of early 1977 entitled Saturday Night In The City Of The Dead also reveals similar British sixties R&B roots (this tune even features wailing harmonica), something completely missing from the band's later synth-pop sound.

Returning briefly to The Stranglers, imagine them without the keyboards and a massive chip on their collective shoulders and you'll immediately have a handle on The Depressions, another seventies act with sufficient musical skill and post-mod attitude to make a fabulous pop racket. Formed in Brighton in 1976 from the ashes of an earlier group Tonge, within a year of getting together the band were signed by former Animals bassist and Jimi Hendrix/Slade manager Chas Chandler to his Polydor subsidiary Barn Records (they also signed a management contract with the same impresario). The Depressions' first single Living On Dreams was released in October 1977, and it is the B-side Family Planning that really cuts it as exemplary power pop. The vocals could be a little sweeter but the band knew how to rock, and they had a production and management team behind them that not only wanted a contemporary take on sixties pop but understood how to use a young band to achieve this. The band released a couple more singles and an album in 1978 before shortening their name to the DPs and recording even more overtly pop material, unfortunately without achieving chart success.

Producers and management were as important to power pop as to its glam rock precursor: reigned in by men with proper pop sensibilities, a band like The Sweet recorded classic hit singles such as Little Willy and Poppa Joe, but when allowed full artistic control on B-sides and albums the same group consistently let the side down by indulging their taste for hard rock rot (viz later singles like Love Is like Oxygen or Action). One power pop band who were overjoyed by the production work on their records were Trash. Formed in 1976 by students from the National College of Food Technology (located just outside London in Weybridge, Surrey), Trash were snapped up by Polydor Records and issued two fabulous singles Priorities (1977) and N-N-E-R-V-O-U-S (1978).  The latter release was produced by the legendary Shel Talmy, who'd also been at the controls during the best 1960s sessions by The Kinks, The Who and The Creation. Both Trash singles demonstrate that what made late-seventies UK power pop superior to punk slop was a hyper-conscious awareness of its mod roots but renewed by a post-glam sensibility. Both singles are anthemic teenage stomp with hooks, melody and eyes fixed firmly on the charts, just like the Motown sounds that so influenced the original London mod bands.

Polydor, the label that issued the Trash flops, were very keen on mod sounds and not only did they bring in Shel Talmy to produce N-N-E-R-V-O-U-S, they also signed up The Jolt from Glasgow – who were perhaps the greatest mod renewal band of the late-seventies. This Scottish trio started as a punk act but their donning of smart three-button suits seems to have kept their major record label happy, even if it didn't do much to pull in an audience. Still they produced a perfect contemporary take on sixties pop, tunes with as much punch and far more speed than the music that inspired them. Those who rate this band tend to cite Decoyed and Mr Radio Man as the best tunes from their only album, an eponymous platter. While the entire LP rocks, my personal favourite is I Can’t Wait; ringing guitars and accusatory vocals made this 1978 declaration of youthful impatience irresistible to me when I was sixteen and had just left school, and thirty years on it still sounds great! And like a lot of power pop songs from the seventies, this one's time has come again with the credit crash, since the singers insistence that he 'ain't gonna worry 'bout a rainy day' remains as pertinent as ever.

Aside from The Jolt, Polydor also provided a home to a rather more pedestrian 1970s mod revival act called The Jam. Although Paul Weller is a few years older than me, The Jam's singer and guitarist was on the fringes of my social circle during the mid-seventies. The older brothers of a friend I had then called Mick Carver were thick with Weller, and so I was familiar with but remained unimpressed by The Jam for quite a few years before they landed a record deal. Weller himself is one of most narcissistic individuals I have ever met, as can be illustrated by recounting the last conversation I ever had with him. In May 1977 The Jam's first single had just scraped into the bottom of the UK record charts. I was walking down the road with Mick Carver when we ran into his older brothers who were with Paul Weller. Mick had a quick exchange with his brothers, telling them we were on our way to the west end of London. Weller who wasn't part of this family group turned to me and said: "I'm famous now, do you want my autograph?" Naturally I replied: "No! Do you want mine?" To me Weller always appeared far more obsessed by fame than anything else, and for this and a number of other reasons - such as the fact his music sucked - I was never able to take his activities as a 'rock musician' seriously. That said, Johnny Rotten is probably even more narcissistic than Paul Weller, but fortunately as far as I'm aware the only member of the Sex Pistols I've ever met is original bass player Glen Matlock (who not only possessed a far more astute sense of sartorial elegance than the other members of the best known punk plonkers on the planet, he was the only Pistol to possess any real musical talent, something he proved with his subsequent band The Rich Kids).

Chris Parry who signed The Jam to Polydor and was mixed up in producing their early records, also involved himself in more worthwhile power pop/mod renewal activities. Prominent among this work is his fabulous production on the only single by Back To Zero, Your Side Of Heaven (1979). Yes the song sounds a lot like The Who's I Can't Explain, but with the spacing of the instruments in the mix marking it out as a late-seventies production and thus an update, not just a copy. Pint-size singer Brian B. was widely rumoured to have won first prize in a national pop quiz while still at school, and back in the late-seventies this was taken as evidence he was a vinyl nerd. However, he certainly put his nerdy knowledge to good use in producing a perfect example of power pop! There were many mod revival/renewal bands playing around London at that time but not too many transferred as successfully as Back To Zero from live act to record, although the first few Purple Hearts singles were also very good.

Moving away from those who not only drew inspiration from 1960s music but also aped the Carnaby Street fashions of that time, there were a number of bands who failed to fit into punk scene but had a genuine affection for pop music. The most musically successful of these groups were the early 1980s incarnation of Adam & The Ants, and the tunes that really grab my attention are not their chart topping A-sides but the old songs they put on the flip-sides of these singles. While B-sides such as Physical (You’re So) and Press Darlings inspired cover versions (by Nine Inch Nails and Hot Gossip respectively), the track Beat My Guest is to my ears the cream of this crop. When Adam Ant was first playing Beat My Guest (and many of his other 1980s B-sides) live in the late 1970s, he promoted his act as 'Ant Music For Sex People' and performed in rock and roll toilets to audiences of a few hundred spotty teenagers including me. However, by the time Beat My Guest was issued as the flip-side to Stand & Deliver in 1981, Adam had achieved teeny-bopper stardom. Great pop music doesn't just require a good tune; you also need perfect arrangements and production. Beat My Guest has it all, and is a vast improvement on the days in which Adam was clad from head to toe in black leather with white pancake make-up plastered over his face. Like all great pop music this song is also very silly, and I'm sure there wasn't a ten year-old fan who thought Adam was serious when he sang of wanting to be beaten black-and-blue with a cricket bat!

Moving on, Cuddly Toys were a band whose sense of absurdity and deliberate breaking of the bounds of good taste was more than a match for The Ants 'achievements' in these areas. While projecting a strong albeit extremely contentious image (they were originally called Raped), Cuddly Toys lacked Adam Ant's song writing skills and never benefitted from the high-level studio production Chris Hughes brought to the latter band during its pop heyday. In their earlier incarnation as Raped, the group sought and achieved notoriety but not record sales. Cuddly Toys shared the Ants interest in sexual deviation and both bands elicited an extremely negative reaction from the British music press in the late-seventies. As Raped these lesser talents produced typical punk thrash, but with the change of name to Cuddly Toys they switched to David Bowie style glam pop. While I found Cuddly Toys fun live thanks to their cross-dressing image, the group fell flat on vinyl precisely because rather than making power pop, their sound was thin and weak. While Cuddly Toys refrained from employing the 1930s lightning flash logo of the British Union of Fascists sported as a stage prop by David Bowie during his Ziggy Stardust period (possibly also the inspiration for the Sex Pistols swastikas and taken up again in its original form during the late-seventies by industrial/punk act Throbbing Gristle), their choice of muse was nonetheless unfortunate (not only due to Bowie's deployment of far-Right imagery but also because this bozo lacked musical talent). Inspired by the media feeding frenzy around punk to form a band, Cuddly Toys singularly lacked the musical muscle to function as an effective pop combo, a weakness that was even more evident when they changed their musical style.

A band like the Vapors suffered from the polar opposite failings to Cuddly Toys. In the form of frontman Dave Fenton this group boasted a formidable songwriter but they were weak when it came to projecting an image, and journalists complained that they weren't forthcoming in interviews either. While The Vapors are best remembered for their hit single Turning Japanese, from the perspective of discussing the differences between power pop and punk rock their song Cold Wars (included on their debut album New Clear Days 1980) is particularly illuminating. The Vapors came from Guildford in Surrey and the lyrics to Cold Wars are a denunciation of another local group called Crisis. The guitar on the intro to the tune mimics the sound of Crisis songs such as UK 79 (originally UK 78, recorded for a John Peel radio show session, with the tape subsequently licensed from the BBC and released as a single). In Cold Wars Fenton castigates Crisis for their doctrinaire politics, which he appears to view as both totalitarian and opportunistic. Unfortunately it wasn’t long before Fenton’s views on this matter were proved only too right.

Crisis reached a small audience by playing Rock Against Racism and Right To Work benefit gigs. The band cynically exploited the causes they ostensibly supported in an attempt to make a name for themselves. The group split in 1980 but bass player Tony Wakeford and rhythm guitarist Doug Pearce re-emerged in 1981 as a sub-rock unit under the name Death In June. This new venture revealed that under the wafer-thin anti-Nazi image of Crisis lay an unhealthy fascination with fascism. Death In June quickly involved themselves with individuals who are easily identifiable as fascist activists and even recorded a version of the Nazi street hymn The Horst Wessel on their album The Brown Book. Likewise, bassist Tony Wakeford joined the fascist National Front, and his subsequent group Above The Ruins (later Sol Invictus) appeared on at least one benefit album for this organisation alongside the neo-Nazi skinhead bands Skrewdriver and Brutal Attack. Punk groups like The Sex Pistols and Siouxsie & The Banshees flirted with swastika imagery, but the ex-members of Crisis who formed Death In June took this much further. Dave Fenton's response to the group was prescient because few of those around Crisis at the time he wrote the song would have predicted that Wakeford (who might be characterised as the type of person who thought David Bowie was sophisticated) would be exposed as a paid up member of a fascist political party a few years down the line. Power pop was rarely overtly political, but Cold Wars demonstrates that at least some of its practitioners were capable of going way beyond the reductive political sloganeering of the talentless punk acts who were hogging the media limelight back in the late-seventies.

A comparison of the films Breaking Glass (Brian Gibson 1980) and The Great Rock N Roll Swindle (Julien Temple 1980) similarly reveals the superiority of power pop sensibilities to those associated with punk rock. Breaking Glass charts the fictional rise to fame of an ambitious pop singer called Kate (Hazel O'Connor) against the backdrop of the British 'winter of discontent'. Breaking Glass places the focus firmly on music industry manipulations, with the broader political context serving to underscore this. By way of contrast, The Great Rock N Roll Swindle is an incoherent collage of material that uses the celebrity of The Sex Pistols as both the thread that stitches its various parts less than seamlessly together, and as its main selling point. While neither movie is really musically representative of power pop or punk rock, The Great Rock N Roll Swindle accurately reflects the punk obsession with projecting an easily consumable image at the expense of musical content. I should stress here that while The Sex Pistols are subculturally punk, musically they have nothing to do with the genre and are simply a very boring and plodding old school hard 'rock' band. Thus while it is possible for me use The Sex Pistols to illustrate the ideological failings of the subculture they are associated with, I would still maintain they are not a punk band in the musical sense of the term.

Moving on, while younger bands like Trash and The Jolt were more than capable of turning out perfect pop, the Hammersmith Gorillas weren't the only late-seventies old hands churning out catchy tunes that totally rocked. The Radio Stars featured both Andy Ellison who'd been in sixties mod heroes John's Children with Marc Bolan, and Martin Gordon who played bass in the first British incarnation of Sparks. The other members of the band included guitarist Ian Macleod alongside a succession of different drummers. As you'd expect their first single Dirty Pictures is so laden with hooks it deserved to be a hit – even if the lyrics which included lines like 'I get my kicks up in the attic with a Kodak Instamatic' weren't exactly radio friendly. Personally, I always thought pop music was supposed to be dirty fun, and the Radio Stars were very much in the smutty English music hall tradition, albeit with a lot more oomph thanks to their crashing power chords. Over a couple of albums and a slew of 7-inch releases on Chiswick Records they banged out quirky pop with titles like No Russians In Russia, Nervous Wreck and The Beast of Barnsley.

Another oldie who cut his musical teeth in the sixties and exerted a big influence on both punk rock and power pop was Nick Lowe. Originally a member of Kippington Lodge, Lowe's band later changed their name to Brinsley Schwarz and became fixtures of the 1970s London pub rock circuit.  After Brinsley Schwarz split up, Lowe's single So It Goes (1976) was the first release on the independent Stiff Records, and he became the label's house producer, working with both punk rock outfit The Damned and new wave acts like Elvis Costello and the Attractions (whose whinging voice I completely loath). Heart Of The City, the flip-side of So It Goes, is the best tune Lowe ever recorded: the song is so catchy that if it was an infectious disease it would pose a major threat to life on earth. It also demonstrates once again that while great pop music doesn't require virtuosity, it still needs to be accomplished enough to muster a good tune and a decent arrangement. And that was what made seventies practitioners of UK power pop infinitely superior to their punky contemporaries who pointlessly mouthed-off about the redundancy of musical skills. There is a huge different between being able to play and elitist virtuoso posturing.

The more competent musicians who came of age in the mid-to-late seventies really benefited from their interactions with oldies like Nick Lowe who were brought in as producers. Leaving aside the Damned and the Adverts (and this latter group were in any case completely hopeless), much of the music Stiff Records issued was made by old pub rockers but the label sold it to a younger audience as punk rock despite the fact that it was in reality new wave and power pop. A similar marketing trick was being pulled by the other really important independent London label of that era, Chiswick Records, which provided a home to among others The Hammersmith Gorillas (after they shortened their name by dropping the first part). One Chiswick signing The Rings were unusual in that they were a young band fronted by an older underground musician. The Rings were put together in 1977 by ex-Pink Fairies drummer Twink (he was also a former member of The Pretty Things and Tomorrow). The Rings only single I Wanna Be Free is a minimalist classic in which the song title and not much else by way of lyrics is chanted over and over again above a killer riff. It is most definitely power pop of the highest order, and nothing like the underground B.O. boogie more usually associated with Twink, proving that a rock and roll leopard can indeed change its spots (with a little help from producer Martin Gordon who’d been drafted in from his day job as bassist with the Radio Stars).

The Rings were too good to last and the band split from Twink to become The Maniacs. Guitarist Alan Lee Shaw took on the role of frontman and since he'd written The Rings original songs, they were carried over to the new group as well. The Maniacs only single Chelsea 1977 (and indeed its flip-side Ain't No Legend) are fine slabs of power pop, but the group are heard to best effect on You Don’t Break My Heart, one of their two contributions to the Live At The Vortex compilation album. Shaw's vocals are even rougher than Twink's, and let The Maniacs down slightly on the pop front; and his next band The Physicals would suffer from the same defect. But Shaw knew how to write songs and play guitar, and The Maniacs were tight enough to make their pop tunes rock (something that can't be said of the throughput issued on vinyl by most of their punk contemporaries).

Like the Maniacs and much of the Stiff and Chiswick Records rooster, there were quite a few late-seventies bands that were marketed as punk but didn't particularly fit in with this musical anti-fashion. 999 always looked like they would have preferred to have been old style rock stars and while often boring they did produce a couple of top pop tunes in the form of Let's Face It and So Greedy (this latter number was produced by Vic Maile whose backroom skills also lifted Satan's Rats – later The Photos - out of their punk rut, when he was brought to produce their third single 1978's You Make Me Sick). 999 guitarist Nick Cash had previously been in pub rockers Kilburn & The High Roads with Ian Dury, and was a more than competent musician.

Cock Sparrer were a sophisticated post-mod band pretending to be dumb who eventually adopted a skinhead image in a desperate attempt to find an audience. But as the tempo of their music sped up they lost the swagger of early songs like Platinum Blonde with its classic hybrid glam/mod stomp. Similarly, The Boys had a long musical pedigree and refined pop sensibilities, with tunes from their eponymous first album like Living In The City rivalling the best of mid-sixties freakbeat in terms of raucous tunefulness. The Vibrators were another band promoted as punk but far closer to power pop; and their frontman Knox had began his musical career playing Shadows covers in the early sixties! Even the 'punkiest' of Vibrators songs like She's Bringing You Down - it features one of the dirtiest guitar sounds you were likely to hear in 1977 - was at its core a pop tune (this number is included on The Vibrators' debut album Pure Mania). And the Vibrators made their first records with veteran sixties pop producer Mickie Most at the controls!

There are endless releases that illustrate that a touch of musical skill and some care over material, arrangements and production, made power pop infinitely superior to punk rock. Jeff Hill's Chiswick Records release I Want You To Dance With Me (1977) provides a further example by a rather obscure musician from Bolton (England). Brisbane band The Saints relocated from Australia to London pretty much on the strength of their first single I'm Stranded (1976), and while they may have been marketed as punk rock, the tunefulness of songs like A Private Affair (from their second album 1978's Eternally Yours) mark them out as true purveyors of superior power pop. From elsewhere in the 'British Commonwealth', Canadian Stanley Frank was another musician who grabbed my attention in 1977 with his single School Days, a perfect slab of independently released power pop.

Before finishing I want to reiterate that all too often discussions of power pop are predicated on what deluded US based music 'critics' believe constitutes the genre. But while such commentators may consider the likes of Big Star and The Dwight Twilley Band to be prime exponents of power pop, I have no time for claims of this type. The dynamic UK exponents of power pop I've been writing about here wipe the floor with the Beatlesque poop of acts like Todd Rundgren and The Raspberries. Those interested in hearing worthwhile US power pop should check out The Dictators on their first album Go Girl Crazy and in particular songs such as Two Tub Man; or early Runaways when they were performing classic pop producer manipulated schlock like Cherry Bomb and Hollywood (with none other than Kim Fowley at the controls). The Flamin' Groovies classic power pop period is around the time of the Teenage Head (1971) album and also takes in slightly later tunes like Slow Death (1972); it is not as some 'critics' would have you believe the more obviously sixties inspired output recorded for Sire Records in the late-seventies after original singer Roy Loney left the band. Of course much of the output of Wayne (after her sex change Jayne) County is also classic power pop, particularly Electric Chairs recordings such as Stuck On You. And then there are bands like The Real Kids from Boston….

One of the reasons power pop is written about less frequently than punk rock is that it has little overt ideology to bang on about, and rock 'critics' often find it difficult to write about music. Likewise power pop is less appealing to record collectors (a sad breed indeed) than punk rock because it has a less spectacular fake back story and the focus of interest thus tends to be on the music rather than pieces of plastic. As a result not only old vinyl but also new books on punk are acquired by fans to be catalogued more than listened to or read; writers on the whole like to produce work with a ready market, and so this also in part accounts for punk generating a far greater wastage of ink than power pop. That said, the various ideologies associated with punk rock such as anarchism are as untenable as the genre's music. Power pop by way of contrast is a continuation of mod flash by other means, its practitioners know something of their own history and understand at least intuitively that they belong to what Paul Gilroy calls '‘the black Atlantic'. Exponents of power pop usually have at least a tenuous grasp of the fact that in a capitalist cultural industry they must inevitably reproduce their own alienation, and while they might play with the contradictions engendered by this conundrum they rarely sink into elitist anarchist delusions about 'living differently' within this society.

One of the things I love about pop music is that there's always something new, or at least old and undiscovered, to keep me interested in it. And that applies across genres, and is one of the things that results in me returning not just to power pop, but also northern soul, funk, garage, freakbeat and psyche. All these genres are cornucopias from which unknown nuggets are continually dug up. Much of what is still waiting to be discovered will be generic but every now and then something apparently new and fresh (even if it is thirty or more years old) surfaces that for a few spins at least will sound like the greatest song ever recorded. And if you haven't heard much of the material mentioned in this piece, then you've plenty of treats in store! It’s time to dump punk and instead Jump and Dance (the title of a freakbeat classic by Carnaby) to some hot power pop tunes! Fuck nihilism, let's have a party!


1. See for example the post-Sex Pistols 1983 interview with Peter Clifton included as an extra on the DVD reissue of The Punk Rock Movie (directed by Don Letts, Fremantle Media 2008).

2. For a critique of anarchism see the text I wrote under the Luther Blissett moniker Anarchist Integralism: Aesthetics, Politics and the Après-Garde originally published as a pamphlet by Sabotage Edition (London 1997) and now available on this website!


Pub Rock (the stuff of which cults aren't made - yet!)

A Journey to the Far Side of Solipsism (punk rock)

Tina V. Aretha (back to sixties soul)

Cranked Up Really High: Genre Theory & Punk Rock

Interview with the Art Attacks





Stewart HomeStewart HomeStewart Home

Jesse Hector Gorilla Garage cover
Jesse Hector Gorilla Garage cover.

The Gorillas Message to the World album cover
The Gorillas Message To The World cover.

A Technicolor Dream
This 2008 DVD is a TV-style talking head documentary that mainly covers the early years of stadium rock band Pink Floyd, and inadvertently reveals how they used the British counterculture to hitch a ride to success. The Floyd themselves come across like a bunch of talentless drama students in the pathetic promo films that are cut into the main feature. Sound wise they vary from seeming like a pleasant if not entirely convincing imitation of The Who (”Arnold Lane”), all the way down to prefiguring a lot of really bad indie bands (”Scarecrow”). There is also some far more interesting archive material on here, but most of it is rather too familiar. There is the famous footage of Beatle John Lennon walking into the “14 Hour Technicolor Dream” at Alexandra Palace (29 April 1967), which anyone actually interested in this sort of thing will have seen dozens of times.

Likewise, did we really need quite so much recycled footage from “Wholly Communion” directed by Peter Whitehead, when the BFI reissued that on DVD in 2007, and anyone who hasn’t seen it clearly isn’t interested in the British counterculture anyway. There is a very brief piece of footage of The Flies playing at Alexandra Palace, but while the BBC “Man Alive” documentary made at the time showed them throwing flour at the audience and allowed you to hear them rockin’ out, pretty much all you get here is a shot of their drum kit with something else dubbed over the top. This is a shame because The Flies were the business, and self-evidently a lot better than Pink Floyd live; presumably this is why the director Stephen Gammond cut their sound from the audio track, he clearly wants to big up original Floyd frontman Syd Barrett and takes many historical liberties to achieve this. There is some footage of The Pretty Things doing “LSD” here too, but this is cut around talking head shots, so you can’t enjoy the music in all it’s glory. Worse yet, while three really tedious Floyd promo shorts are included in their entirety as bonus features, live footage of The Pretty Things and The Flies isn’t accorded the same treatment.

Among the historical turns, we get far too much of Suzy Creamcheese, less than nothing is all I want of this twerp. Like so much else here that doesn’t come from “Wholly Communion”, the Creamcheese footage is culled from the earlier “Man Alive” documentary, and it is even more irritating on a tenth or eleventh viewing than on the first or second! That said, there is some nice pushin’ and shovin’ with the filth going down in the recycled shots of early sixties CND demos. However, the real highlight begins on the last fraction of a second of this movie’s sixty-second minute. Gammond has included 1.04 seconds of archive footage featuring my mother - Julia Callan-Thompson - blowing bubbles. While there is equally brief footage of her at the UK’s premier hippie happening in the “Man Alive” documentary, it is a different shot to the one used here. My mother, at 23 years of age, is clearly the hottest babe in the place! While this film would be much better if Gammond had devoted more time to footage of my mother, the little you get makes the disk worth buying. You can see a bit more of her in the audience at the Alex Trocchi/William Burroughs 1969 ‘State of Revolt’ Arts Lab event covered in Jamie Wadhawan’s “Cain’s Film” - and, of course, as an extra in various British and Bollywood movies of the sixties.

With the odd exception, the talking heads on Gammond’s documentary are a real snore fest. Tired old stories I’ve heard trotted out dozens of times are aired yet again. This film was obviously made on a shoe-string, there isn’t nearly enough archival footage to break up the tedium of the talking heads, and sometimes in a desperate bid to move things along the director simply cuts to recent footage he’s shot in Portobello Road and Camden. The focus on Pink Floyd and John “Hoppy” Hopkins as central to the counterculture is reductive, and also very boring. If Gammond had instead adopted a scatter-shot approach to the underground, one that pulled in a varied cast of characters, his film would have been both more enjoyable and closer to the psychedelic experience. Regardless, and as I’ve already said, it is still worth seeing just for that 1.04 seconds of my mother blowing bubbles at the “14 Hour Technicolor Dream”.
Mister Trippy blog January 6th, 2009.

Zombie Strippers
This movie is what in Hollywood jargon is called “high concept’. That means it can be pitched in two words - in this case ‘zombie strippers’. That’s pretty much all you’d need to know before investing in it if you were a producer. And yeah, I came late to this flick which was theatrically released in the US last summer. But why rush when you know what you’re gonna get? In this instance former porn star Jenna Jameson in the lead role as Kat, a stripper who gets bitten to death by a zombie while doing a pole dance and is soon reanimated as one of the living dead. Kat is the club’s most popular stripper, and the johns who throw money at her while she gets her kit off, go for her zombie sex shows even more than the act she had when she was still alive. In an attempt to compete with Kat, many of the junior strippers deliberately infect themselves with the zombie virus in order to beef up their own bump ‘n’ grind routines. Despite the heavy metal on the soundtrack, everything is kinda rockin’ at the strip joint until the US army (this is a low budget movie so that means around a half dozen soldiers) invade it and destroy the ever growing ranks of the morti viventi. That’s it, fade to credits….

Jameson’s dance moves are pretty hot; but unfortunately she’s completely overdone it on the plastic surgery front, and in the process transformed herself into the Michael Jackson of post-porn burn out. She just doesn’t cut it as a scream queen. Jameson lacks the truly Amazonian stature of a great B-movie star like Lana Clarkson in “Barbarian Queen”, or more recently Shelley Michelle in “Galaxy Hunter”. One of the major selling points of movies like “Zombie Strippers” is the physical attractiveness of the leads. Personally, I just don’t go for actresses like Jameson, who might as well forget make-up and instead employ a can of Mr. Sheen  to ‘clean, wax and polish’ her over-upholstered face. While Jameson’s acting is better than anyone might reasonably expect, given that softcore horror comedies don’t require fully developed thespian skills, this doesn’t exactly compensate for her plastic looks. Moving on to other members of the cast, Carmit Levité’s fake eastern European accent is so gratingly bad that she should be whipped with wet lettuce and then incarcerated in a dungeon to prevent her from ever appearing in a movie again. Oh and before I forget, Robert Englund - of Freddy Krueger “Nightmare On Elm Street” fame - plays the owner of the strip club (but then why would you be interested in that?).

The “Zombie Strippers” script and dialogue are terrible, and reveal writer/director Jay Lee to be a pretentious bore. Not only are there lots of inept references to famous philosophers and the theatre of the absurd, they also feature an anti-Republican political allegory that is laid on with a trowel (and is obsolete to boot now that Obama has ascended to power). Poor lighting and camerawork result in the film looking like shit, and the overall aesthetic is Gothic rather than trash (and my taste is for the latter NOT the former). I love dumb zombie movies but this one bored me. If you wanna see a cool and recently made undead flick then  go check “Zombies! Zombies! Zombies!” - which features zombie hookers battling still living strippers, and is a trillion times better than Jay Lee’s failed effort.
Mister Trippy blog January 16th, 2009.

Deathsport directed by Allan Arkush and Henry Suso (1978)
Set in a post-apocalyptic world, this movie features lots of motorcycle chases and loud explosions. David Carradine is as lame as ever when it comes to martial arts, but he is paired up with former Playmate Claudia Jennings, so the film isn’t entirely worthless. This is kinda a follow up to Death Race 2000 and was allegedly the work of three directors - Allan Arkush and Nicholas Niciphor (credited as Henry Suso), and producer Roger Corman who isn’t credited for his directorial contributions. Deathsport is like super generic ultra low budget sci-fi schlock but if you like Rollerball, Mad Max, Year of the Sex Olympics and Lucio Fulci’s The New Gladiators, or want to see a naked Claudia Jennings being tortured with electric rods, then you’ll love it! Jennings died in a car crash the year after this came out, and she’s not as groovy as Lana Clarkson in The Barbarian Queen, or the topless female warriors who star alongside Carradine in The Warrior and the Sorceress, but she can act and she looks good to me (the scenes of Jennings being tortured are considerably more attention grabbing than those in which Carradine is roughed up). Carradine and Jennnings are freedom loving warrior guides. They are kidnapped from the wastes by a despotic regime which wants to prove it is all powerful by having them loose a gladiatorial match to its dirt bike riding thugs who are armed with laser disintegrators. Although Carradine and Jennings begin their televised combat without motorcycles and with swords as their only arms, they win at ‘deathsport’ and escape. The insane tyrant with a radiation poisoning induced brain tumour dies, the forces of evil are defeated, and Carradine and Jennings get to ride off into the sunset with a little girl they’ve rescued from cannibal mutants. So while this ain’t classic celluloid or even half as good as Corman’s beatnik spoof Bucket of Blood, if you want an hour and a half of badly acted brain rot it does the trick nicely!
Mister Trippy blog January 20th, 2009.

Gus Van Sant Milking It….
Harvey Milk was a gay rights activist and pro-small business populist politician who was murdered alongside San Francisco Mayor George Moscone at their local City Hall in 1978. He is now also the subject of a Gus Van Sant movie starring Sean Penn called Milk. Despite the usual slew of rave reviews and award nominations that are a part and parcel of productions with the financial clout to hire celebrity leads, the film is a turkey. With a running time of around two hours it is way too long and left me bored shitless. The movie is full of clunky devices, such Milk recording his life story on tape just in case he is assassinated, something he apparently did but that nonetheless comes across as completely contrived in its celluloid anti-realisation. Milk’s assassin, former cop Dan White, is painted as latently gay but this psychologising gloss proves pointless since it isn’t properly worked into a narrative that ultimately depicts the murders as rage killings. White, like Milk, had been a San Francisco city supervisor, and he appears to have blamed his failure as a local politician on the two men he murdered. Both this film and the historical record show White to be an early example of someone ‘going postal’; and while conservative bigotry seems to have played a role in this, at the end of the day Van Sant’s wild speculation about the killer’s ultimate sexual orientation is completely pointless. Milk is equally unsuccessful in its attempts to gloss over the fact that its subject was a small time but still cynical capitalist politician. Gay liberation is necessarily part of a larger struggle for human emancipation, and the single issue politics of businessmen like Milk invariably derail this process. To me films like Milk are just worthless Hollywood schlock, and you’d have to be deluded to think such crapola could even start to compete with a recent independent movie like Zombies! Zombies! Zombies!
Mister Trippy blog January 26th, 2009.

The Baader Meinhof Complex
Uli Edel’s film about the Red Army Faction AKA The Baader Meinhof gang takes us from the late-sixties through to the late-seventies; from student demonstrations to bank robberies and kidnappings. The early part of the movie shows police brutality which no doubt led to the radicalisation of some of its victims. However, Edel chooses to follow the political degeneration of a clique of middle-class reactionaries whose minds have been warped by vanguardist Bolshevik fallacies. The dialogue makes it clear that Leninist cretin-in-chief Andreas Baader (Moritz Bleibtreu) considers his tiny cell of urban guerrillas to be in advance of ‘the masses’. One can only conclude that in Baader’s deluded idealist fantasies the role of the RAF was to prevent the working class from acting as a class in itself and for itself, and to single-handedly preserve capitalist (dis)order by injecting false-consciousness into the minds of ‘the masses’.

Andreas and his trophy blonde girlfriend Gudrun Ensslin (Johanna Wokalek) want to lead the world’s first rock ‘n’ roll neo-capitalist ‘revolution’; unlike the original Bolsheviks, the RAF reactionaries could not instigate a genuine revolution, albeit a capitalist one, because the transformation from the formal to the real domination of capital had already been accomplished.  Instead the actors, following the lead of those they portray, take their clothes off quite a lot to demonstrate how ‘liberated’ they are in comparison to their God-fearing parents. Unfortunately, Baader and Ensslin recruit hand-wringing liberal journalist Ulrike Meinhof (Martina Gedeck) to their Leninist gang, and even after being further cretinised she remains a killjoy who is never as willing to get her kit off as the other RAF ravers. Gedeck’s failure to act in a suitably nude and disorderly fashion, regardless of historical accuracy, is nearly as bad as some of the soundtrack music; this includes “Child In Time” by Deep Purple, yuk!

While I found The Baader Meinhof Complex superior to the Hollywood dreck that currently dominates cinema screens, I still couldn’t take it seriously. I’ve seen plenty of historical photographs of the Baader Meinhof gang and in them these killer clowns are considerably skinnier than the actors who portray them for Edel. In particular Moritz Bleibtreu as Andreas Baader is just too much of a porker for his role, and would have been more suited to playing the tubby 1970s terrorist Carlos Martinez. Even the title of this movie (taken from a non-fiction book by Stefan Aust) reminded me of a tome I’d read in the seventies about the rotund Latino with the white trench coat called The Carlos Complex. As long as you like comedy, and I do, this movie will keep you entertained for a couple of hours. Laughing at the bourgeois idiocies of a creep like Andreas Baader might be low comedy, but it can still raise a good belly laugh. To conclude, The Baader Meinhof Complex might be mind rot, but at least it is a better class of mind rot than you’d get from Hollywood.
Mister Trippy blog January 27th, 2009.