Whether its Raspberries’ naughty testosterone-fueled epic “Go All the Way,” most recently prominently featured in Guardians of the Galaxy or Badfinger’s “Baby Blue,” which scored the climactic final scene in the series finale of “Breaking Bad,” or The Knack’s worldwide smash “My Sharona,”power pop is feel-good music whose sonic reverberations continue to make an indelible impact on the culture. In Play On! Power Pop Heroes: Volume Three (Jetfighter/$39.97), the forthcoming installment of a five-volume series slated for release in late October, Ken Sharp honors the musical innovators who built the genre’s foundation.
Featuring a foreword by Berton Averre of the Knack, the 581-page book culls exclusive extended interviews with 16 artists that defined the genre and is profusely illustrated with rare photographs and original handwritten lyrics.
Track-by track commentary is provided about seminal albums including: Get the Knack (The Knack,) Marshall Crenshaw (Marshall Crenshaw), The Romantics (The Romantics), Everywhere at Once (The Plimsouls), 20/20 (20/20), On (Off Broadway), The Beat (The Beat), New England (New England) and others plus select artist commentary about classic recordings from members of Rockpile, the Runaways, Greg Kihn, Nick Gilder, Paley Brothers, Robin Lane & the Chartbusters and others add to the inside story of this influential genre.
Buyers will receive over 130 tracks of incredible bonus music (over a $130 retail value) of rare, unreleased and live music from Marshall Crenshaw, The Knack, The Romantics, The Plimsouls, 20/20, Off Broadway, The Beat, Paley Brothers, Robin Lane & the Chartbusters, New England, the Pinkees. In addition to those artists, there will be out of print and rare tracks from countless other power pop acts spanning the globe.
The following is an excerpt from Ken Sharp’s “Play On! Power Pop Heroes Volume 3” (available exclusively via this link):
What was the style of music the Romantics were aiming for out of the gates?
Mike Skill: I grew up listening to the Who and the Kinks. The Sex Pistols had all happened and then the Jam came out and they were on the cover of the New Musical Express and there were also some articles about the Flamin’ Groovies. I ran over to our drummer’s house, Jimmy Marinos, and said, “Look, this is what we’ve got to do, this is what we should be doing.” It was the whole look, the bare-bones sound, harmonies and minor chords. Real tight, straight-ahead songs with no fat. No extended guitar solos. Then we added the Detroit energy to it.
The idea for the red leather suits came from an unlikely source, right?
Mike: Yeah. Wearing the red leather suits was inspired by the Motown bands who always had a sharp look and always put on a show. Everyone dressed real sharp back then. Where I went to school, the kids were dressing like that too. Black kids and greasers were wearing that stuff in school, the Italian knits and the iridescent suits where the silk would change colors.
Jimmy Marinos: We knew we had a gig coming up. I was out on my own and I happened to go to into the Salvation Army. I remember the sun was shining through the glass windows, and this sunlight hit a bunch of orange on a rack. As I got closer, I’m going, “I don’t believe this!” It was four orange iridescent sharkskin suits on a rack. I took one off and put it on and it kind of fit me and then there were the other three suits. The next thing I did was I ran to a pay phone, put in a dime and got a hold of Wally and then Mike. I was almost out of breath saying, “You’re not gonna believe this, but there’s four sharkskin suits on the rack at the Salvation Army!” and they were ridiculously cheap. Wally said, “You better get them before anyone else does,” and I said, “No one’s gonna buy these things, I’m grabbin’ ’em!” We were broke and we couldn’t have anyone make us suits from scratch; we didn’t have that kind of dough.
Mike: So we grabbed four of them and we had them all taken in and used them at our first show.
Jimmy: From then on, every time we played in Detroit we wanted to hit the stage with something different; we didn’t want to repeat ourselves. The matching suits gave us an identity where the focus wasn’t just on one individual. What we wanted to do was have some custom-made leather pants made for us, but we couldn’t afford it. So what we did was we had Wally’s mom make four pairs of matching pants and we needed to find material that was much cheaper than leather, which turned out to be vinyl. Wally actually went to an automotive parts store and he found this one section which had these rolls of vinyl you could use to reupholster your car’s interior. He bought this material that his mom turned into pants for us. This stuff was so hard-core and rugged; it was indestructible. Also, you couldn’t breathe in them because we wore our pants really tight.
By the time the show was over and we peeled off our pants it was like Niagara Falls coming off of us. There was so much sweat! We realized this was not cool to wear. We went through all these different versions of vinyl pants. At one point his mom found this black material with white polka dots which was for a tablecloth, and that was the opposite of the vinyl; it was very fragile. I think we only wore those pants for one or two shows because they started splitting at the seams on us. By the time we got signed, which was May of ’79, and we finally got an advance, which was $40,000, with that money we bought all new Hiwatt amplifiers, guitars and Ludwig drums, and also we could afford to have our own custom suits made so we went with the red leather.
Is there any truth that fellow Detroit native Jack White borrowed the red leather gear look for his band, the White Stripes?
Wally Palmar: I’m not sure about that. But you’ve gotta give credit to people like Jack White, and even Kid Rock and Eminem, because it’s not easy coming from here in Detroit. For all the hard work we put in as a band, it was really tough to achieve what we did.
Jimmy: In looking back at the Romantics’ career, it was the image and the sound which was a strong contrast to everything else happening in music at the time. And where did we get that from? That came from the Beatles and all the other British Invasion bands we saw on Ed Sullivan.
How does being a band from Detroit factor into the Romantics’ sound?
Wally: Even before we could actually go to see shows where you had to pay money, there were free shows always held in Detroit. So I was always exposed to Bob Seger or Mitch Ryder. You’re talking the mid-’60s here, with the Rationals and later the MC5 and Iggy & the Stooges. None of these groups were timid playing their instruments. The MC5 would come out and hit you right in the face with it; the same thing with Iggy & the Stooges and Bob Seger too. It was all great stuff. So we saw all of this and that’s our identity. We felt, We’re gonna represent Detroit so we better do it right; we’re gonna carry on the tradition of what those bands did.
Rich Cole: Being a Detroit band I think we had a lot to prove. Growing up with some of the bands that we got to see as kids and in high school—bands like the Rationals, Bob Seger, the Amboy Dukes—these groups helped influence our vocal and guitar style, and their style and sound rubbed off on us.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Ken Sharp is a New York Times best-selling author who has penned more than 19 music books, contributes to a variety of national music magazines, works on music documentaries and has done liner notes for releases by Elvis Presley, Sly and the Family Stone, Janis Joplin, Small Faces, Santana, Cheap Trick, Raspberries, Eric Carmen, KISS, Hall and Oates, Jellyfish, Heart and others. In addition to the Play On! Power Pop Heroes series, his books include Starting Over: The Making of John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s Double Fantasy, Elvis: Vegas ‘69, Nothin’ to Lose: the Making of KISS (1972-1975), Elvis Presley: Writing for the King, Sound Explosion: Inside LA’s Studio Factory with the Wrecking Crew, Overnight Sensation: The Story of the Raspberries, Play on!: Power Pop Heroes, Reputation is a Fragile Thing: The Story of Cheap Trick, Kooks, Queen Bitches and Andy Warhol: The Making of David Bowie’s Hunky Dory.