Looking back at Record Store Day 2019's Power Pop releases

Looking back at Record Store Day 2019's Power Pop releases, John M. Borack picks four standouts.
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MATTHEW SWEET

The Blue Sky on Mars Tour

Culture Factory (Collectible Orange Vinyl)

4 out of 5 Stars

TODD RUNDGREN

The Complete U.S. Bearsville & Warner Bros. Singles

Rhino (4-LP box set)

5 Stars

BADFINGER

So Fine: The Warner Bros. Rarities

Real Gone Music (2-LP Colored Vinyl)

3 1/2 Stars

CHEAP TRICK

The Epic Archive Vol. 3 (1984-1992)

Real Gone Music (2-LP Colored Vinyl)

3 Stars

By John M. Borack

Power pop, a much maligned and misunderstood musical genre, still has a small but fervent fanbase. Various undeserved bad raps and critical jabs (“It all sounds like watered down Beatles” being but one) have led to power pop drawing the ire of some since the days of Capitol Records overhyping the Knack (“My Sharona”) in 1979. But thanks to that previously-mentioned fanbase, the genre refuses to fade away, mainly because its primary tenets—strong melodies, guitars and vocal harmonies—remain timeless.

Record Store Day 2019 saw several power pop-related vinyl releases geared toward the collector and the novice alike when recordings from four seminal artists of the genre—Matthew Sweet, Todd Rundgren, Badfinger and Cheap Trick—found their way onto shelves.

Matthew Sweet’s The Blue Sky on Mars Tour is a white-hot, previously unheard live set (on orange translucent vinyl) dating from a 1997 gig at Pleasure Island in Florida. Sweet and his band are in fine form, plowing through 11 tunes, often at a breakneck pace (“I’ve Been Waiting,” for example is done up at a speed more akin to punk than power pop). Ivan Julian shines on lead guitar, while Ric Menck (drums), Paul Chastain (keys, guitar and vocals) and Tony Marsico (bass) provide a solid foundation for Sweet’s always-sturdy pop tunes. Funny moment: when Sweet introduces one of his best-known songs, “Girlfriend,” to an audience at least partially comprised of Disney tourists as “A stupid song that changed my life.” Limited to 1200 copies and an RSD exclusive release.

The Complete U.S. Bearsville & Warner Bros. Singles compiles the A and B sides from Todd Rundgren’s solo singles from 1970-1989 in a four-LP box with the albums pressed on translucent orange, yellow, pink and blue vinyl. It’s not all power pop by any means—Rundgren has always been far too experimental and independent to be tied down to just one genre—but some pop cornerstones are included: “I Saw the Light” and “Couldn’t I Just Tell You” both qualify as classics, while hits and near-hits such as “Hello It’s Me,” the wonderful “We Gotta Get You a Woman,” the sports anthem “Bang the Drum All Day” (which Rundgren refers to as a ‘cash cow’ in Paul Myers’ excellent liner notes) and “Can We Still Be Friends” are all here. There are also some noble experiments, Philly soul excursions, a touch of gospel (the grand “I Love My Life”), and some flat-out weirdness (try “Lockjaw” or “Emperor of the Highway”), all of which help define Rundgren’s career to date. It’s all remastered, it includes some edits and mixes that have been out of print, and it’s another RSD exclusive, limited to 4500 copies worldwide.

Badfinger’s So Fine: The Warner Bros. Rarities collects the 19 previously unreleased bonus tracks from Real Gone Music’s deluxe 2018 CD reissues of 1974’s Badfinger and Wish You Were Here albums on two red vinyl LPs. (It’s an RSD limited run/regional focus release of 900 copies.) Work in progress mixes of nine of the twelve tracks from the original Badfinger LP are here—there is no “I Miss You” (sadly), “Love is Easy” or “Why Don’t We Talk”—along with a rather undistinguished unreleased tune called “Love My Lady” rounding things out. Alternate mixes of the Wish You Were Here tracks (minus “King of the Load”) occupy sides three and four, with the addition of horns to the leadoff cut “Just a Chance” providing an interesting alternative to the officially released version. The unissued “Queen of Darkness” is a spiffy little Tom Evans rocker that was never fully completed. Packaged in a gatefold sleeve with extensive notes from Badfinger expert Dan Matovina, So Fine is a must for fans of this talented but ultimately doomed band.

The mid-‘80s to the early ‘90s wasn’t the most artistically fruitful period of Cheap Trick’s storied career, but after a nine-year commercial dry spell, the band returned to the top 10 in 1988 with “The Flame” and their update of “Don’t Be Cruel.” The single version of the former and the “Big New Mix” of the latter are both present on the two-LP set The Epic Archive Vol. 3 (1984-1992), which compiles some good, some not-so-good, and some rather bombastic rarities. The bombastic is due in large part to what longtime CT drummer Bun E. Carlos describes in the album’s notes as drums that “…sound like cannons going off.” The nadir of the collection is a truly dreadful, turgid version of “Money (That’s What I Want)” (from the soundtrack to the cinematic masterpiece Caddyshack II), but thankfully there are some highs: the Greatest Hits version of the Beatles’ “Magical Mystery Tour” is Cheap Trick at their Beatlesque best; the title song to the film Up the Creek (with an acapella intro) is a keeper; alternate and edited versions of “Little Sister” and “Tonight It’s You” (originally from 1985’s Standing on the Edge) are both standouts; and the disc-closing “I Will Survive” (from the Gladiator original soundtrack) is called “the pick of the litter” by Bun E. Carlos. Limited to 1400 copies and yet another RSD exclusive release.

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