Rockets of Love! Power Pop Gems from the 70s, 80s & 90s
Big Beat (CD, U.K. import)
The third installment in Big Beat’s exploration of vintage power pop includes two dozen tracks of pure melodic goodness from the 70s, 80s and 90s – and, inexplicably, one outlier from 2004 (more on that in a moment). Overall, it’s a well-chosen and varied collection balancing both the well-known practitioners of the genre (Marshall Crenshaw, Cheap Trick, The Records) and the relatively unheralded (The Innocents, The Blow Pops, The Greenberry Woods). Basically, then, it’s a Spotify playlist come to life.
The Knack kick things off with “Rocket O’ Love” (from their 1991 reunion record, Serious Fun): it’s a decent enough tune, but with more of a straight-ahead hard rock punch than most power pop packs. A better choice might have been a non-single from Get the Knack (“That’s What the Little Girls Do” or “Your Number or Your Name”) or perhaps a selection from 1998’s criminally overlooked Zoom. (For the extensive liner notes to claim that the Knack “…could not produce anything as infectious as ‘My Sharona’” is patently ridiculous, by the way.)
The minor Knack misdeed is atoned for by the inclusion of Cheap Trick’s 1990 deep cut, “Had to Make You Mine” (which gloriously channels the Beatles circa 1964) and The Innocents’ “Sooner or Later.” (The liners rightfully state that many consider the latter tune to be one of the finest power pop records ever made.) Other goodies that fall on the obscure side of the fence include Richard X. Heyman’s “Vacation” (an early non-LP single), Tom Foolery (aka The Toms) and their nostalgic “I Wanna Be a Teen Again,” and The Blow Pops’ wondrous 1994 track, “Storybook.” Tracks by The Flashcubes, Candy, and the little-known (in the US, anyway) Disguise also push all the proper buttons.
As with any comp of this type, there are also a few curious choices: first off, why include the Kinks’ “Better Things?” It’s a very good tune, to be sure, but power pop? Not really. And while the track by 80s major label act 4 Out of 5 Doctors is okay, the prominent keyboards make it veer more toward the new wave side of the spectrum. And while it’s great to see The Vandalias here, why utilize a cover (of Jigsaw’s 70s hit “Sky High”) instead of their absolutely amazing original “Have You Seen Mine?” And finally, why was a rather limp Josh Rouse track from 2004 (“Winter in the Hamptons”) included? Surely a song that fit within the compilation’s 70s, 80s and 90s parameters—and one that actually qualifies as a power pop tune, which Rouse’s certainly does not—could have been used instead. Odd.
All told, Rockets of Love! is a sturdy collection with plenty for the power pop novice and the collector alike, although whoever thought to describe power pop as containing “banging beats” on the back cover of the CD needs to be seriously dealt with.