Review - "Harmony in My Head: UK Power Pop and New Wave 1977-81"

A typically exhaustive, well-researched, and exquisitely compiled collection from Cherry Red, 'Harmony in My Head' takes a look at the UK power pop and new wave scene during the heady, explosive days of the late ‘70s/early ‘80s.
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Various Artists - "Harmony in My Head: UK Power Pop and New Wave 1977-81"
Cherry Red Records

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A typically exhaustive, well-researched, and exquisitely compiled collection from Cherry Red, Harmony in My Head takes a look at the UK power pop and new wave scene during the heady, explosive days of the late ‘70s/early ‘80s. The three-disc box includes a wonderfully illuminating, forty-something-page booklet and features 76 tracks, some from well-known artists (Elvis Costello, Squeeze, Buzzcocks, Nick Lowe), others by acts whose names still ring a bell four decades later (The Records, The Jags, The Searchers) and a large helping from combos who have been long forgotten except by cultists (Salford Jets, The Cherry Boys, the exquisitely-named Those Naughty Lumps).

Comprised mainly of the original 7” releases (with a few previously unreleased vintage cuts thrown in), the collection studiously avoids the obvious and familiar: so rather than Elvis Costello’s “Less Than Zero,” there’s “You Belong to Me”; instead of Bram Tchaikovsky’s sublime “Girl of My Dreams,” the nearly-as-cool “Sarah Smiles” is included; and the compilers forego The Jags’ “Back of My Hand” in favor of their ultra-hooky “I Never Was a Beach Boy.”

The overall effect here is that of listening to a really cool mix tape jammed with ever-friendly power pop numbers (it’s a joy to hear Straight Eight’s “I’m Sorry,” Squire’s jangly “Does Stephanie Know?” and the Pleasers’ “You Know What I’m Thinking Girl” in this context) sharing space with slightly edgier tunes such as the Distractions’ “Time Goes By So Slow” and the Monochrome Set’s “He’s Frank (Slight Return),” both of which are fueled by a spiky guitar sound.

Part of the fun in listening to Harmony in My Head is ferreting out those obscure tracks that the curators dug deep to unearth and include: The Circles’ “Billy,” Salford Jets’ “She’s Gonna Break Your Heart,” the chirpy “UFO” by The Monos, and The Carpettes’ shout-along, punk-flavored “How About Me and You” are just a few of the new-to-me tunes that made a sterling first impression. While the quality dips just a tad on disc three, it finishes strong with the slightly wacky power pop nugget “Drummer Man” by Tonight and the Searchers’ sublime “Hearts in Her Eyes.” Overall, this collection is a must-own for power pop completists and newbies alike. Grade: A

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