The Poptopia Series, Vol. 2

Vol. 2 - Power Pop Classics of the '80s

Favorite cut: The La's, "There She Goes"
Least favorite cut: The Spongetones, "She Goes Out With Everybody"

The '80s - a decade of synth-drenched, bouncy novelty one-hit new wave wonders, huh? Err, not exactly. Despite the current rewriting of musical history, the '80s were as diverse and interesting as any other decade. Unfortunately, it happened to be the decade in which radio programmers became really conservative - anything that didn't fit a certain Top 40/AOR "hit formula" got shafted to the underground. Lots of very good bands were tragically overlooked; more than any other decade, the '80s were summed up by the X song, "The Unheard Music." So any compilation covering this period is going to be more or less an exercise in recouping, defiantly proving that there was good - no, great - music in the '80s, if you digged a little. As far as the genre of power-pop is concerned, the '80s were the peak; if there weren't any Big Stars, there were a lot more good bands out there. If the '70s saw the birth of the genre and the '90s have seen the greatest commercial/crossover success of it, the '80s was the period in which it reached its artistic zenith, at least in terms of sheer quantity. It's no coincidence that power-pop and new wave overlap a great deal in the '80s, and that '80s power-pop is overall stronger than '70s or '90s power pop - it temporarily released power-pop from the wimpiness and nostalgia that are the genre's pitfalls. Some of these songs were actually hits, but most of them weren't - dig in.


The Romantics, "What I Like About You," - I used to love this song until it got killed from overexposure. Reveals the perils of selling out to big advertising: would you want your best song to be forever remembered as a beer commercial?

Phil Seymour, "Baby It's You," - Mindless energy meets a hyper-fan's mindless formalism. Reinforces my theory concerning blues/power-pop parallels: both genres relentlessly exploit the cliche until repeating the same old time-honored traditions becomes admirable loyalty rather than a musical rut. At least that's what their defenders claim.

Great Buildings, "Hold On To Something," - I like this better than the theme song to "Friends". But not the show itself!

Holly and the Italians, "Tell That Girl To Shut Up," - Ooo, do we love a good catfight! A friend of mine says that this song sounds like a sorority girl trying to be agressive. He hates this song. I say that sorority girls have the same right to get pissed off as you or me. Beats Alanis fer sure.

The Plimsouls, "A Million Miles Away," - Defines the cliche, "hooks carved in stone." Same for the chorus. The best part of Valley Girl. I hope Nicolas Cage doesn't pursue a singing career.

The Spongetones, "She Goes Out With Everybody," - Worn out your copy of Please Please Me? Here's a band that tastes like the Beatles, but is not the Beatles! Only the Fabs had talent and vision. And they were never this thinly produced, either.

Marshall Crenshaw, "Whenever You're On My Mind," - How did they get the hook that huge? Sloppy and overwrought and larger than life, it brings me to tears every time.

The Hoodoo Gurus, "I Want You Back," - Not as good as the Jackson 5 song with the same name, but hey, what is?

Let's Active, "Every Word Means No," - Like a lot of great producers, Mitch Easter is a)a good musician in his own right, and b)not quite as good as the best bands he produces (R.E.M.). This sounds like lightweight dB's, and it's the weakest cut on their debut EP.

Utopia, "Crybaby," - You know, I finally figured out my problem with Todd Rundgren: it's his production style. He practically invented the glossy, smothering synth-pop sound that ruined so much of the '80s. Of course, even I have to admit that it took a huge talent to basically create an entirely new style like that.

The Bangles, "Going Down To Liverpool," - The best song these former Bangs ever covered (or wrote themselves, which was less than you think). Haven't heard the original, but this is as close to perfection as jangly, midtempo songs with a melancholy undercurrent get.

The dB's, "Love Is For Lovers," - I would have preferred a selection from the Chris Stamey era, but then I suppose I've always preferred his style of Peter Holsapple's. Don't get me wrong - that Holsapple could certainly write a tune, and this one was good enough to lead off Like This.

Candy, "Whatever Happened To Fun," - I can imagine the Raspberries singing this song. I can't imagine Guns'n'Roses singing it.

Tommy Keene, "Places That Are Gone," - Songs From The Film is one of the great lost pop classics of the '80s. Acolytes claim that some of his other albums are even better. Too bad most of them are out of print.

The Smithereens, "Behind The Wall Of Sleep," - Title courtesy of Black Sabbath, and it namechecks Jeanie Shrimpton and Bill Wyman, too. A long time back I saw them do this song on MTV Unplugged with Graham Parker dueting.

Bill Lloyd, "Lisa Anne," - I like the verses better than the chorus, and the chorus is heavenly. I don't know much about his country duo Foster & Lloyd, but I wish he'd release more of his solo work.

The Pursuit of Happiness, "She's So Young," - My theme song for teaching a room full of 18-year olds. My theme song for my life right now is their other semi-hit, "I'm An Adult Now." I bought their debut album and nothing on there comes close to those two greats.

The La's, "There She Goes," - The best dewey-eyed, puppy-love pop song since "Walk Away Renee." Nothing on their debut (and only) album came close to the single, but that's to be expected. Ends the compilation on a high note.

Overall grade: ***** - I could quibble with one or three choices, but this is a startingly consistent set, chockfull of underexposed classics. See now, the '80s weren't so bad after all.

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