This from Larry Kennedy, lead singer and guitarist with The Jellybricks, an amazing power-pop outfit from Harrisburg, PA. The band’s most recent album “Goodnight to Everyone,” garnered rave reviews on its release in 2009.
My former band shared several bills with The Jellybricks over the years. And I often wished we were half as good as the ’Bricks.
—John L. Micek (guest editor)
I recently forced myself to ponder 10 records I might need to have, if I could never hear any others. It wasn’t an easy choice, because I truly enjoy lots of different kinds of music: Classical, country, blues, R&B, swing, jazz, rap, rock from metal to The Monkees, and if forced to think about it, I’ve never really sneezed at polkas either. Granted, I was born in Youngstown, OH, full of opportunities to hear lots of polka, but I (typically) digress …
These 10 don’t begin to cover all my tastes, but if I had to pick ten favorite tunes, these would be them. I guess if there’s a theme, it’s about songwriting, vocal layering, and harmonies. (My early exposure to The Beatles is to blame, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.)
1. “There’s a Place” — The Beatles
The band that introduced me to rock ’n’ roll as an obsession, when I was only four years old. I was probably five when I first heard this song, on my vinyl copy of “Introducing … The Beatles.” (The tune is now most easily located on the British CD “Please Please Me“). It’s hard to say just why, but as a die-hard Beatles fan, this tune seems to make me smile the biggest, after decades of hearing their music. It’s impressive to me that at their very purest — that is, limited to two guitars, bass, drums, and their voices — these guys were weaving a subtle kind of artistic magic, right from their very first album session in 1962.
2. “God Only Knows” — The Beach Boys
Maybe an obvious choice, but have you listened to this track lately? Many of the tunes on this list actually tug at my heart when I hear them, something mysterious and wonderful about the potential power of a pop song. This song from the album “Pet Sounds,” pretty much created solely by Brian Wilson, is more wonderfully mysterious than most. A virtually peerless track in pop music.
3. “Six Months in a Leaky Boat” — Split Enz
After Lennon and McCartney, my favorite pair of occasionally-collaborating songwriters are brothers Tim and Neil Finn. I discovered the wildly day-glo, at times freakish pop-brew of New Zealand’s Split Enz via MTV, and after buying endless piles of records by the Finn brothers (both together and separately), this song remains my all-time favorite Enz creation. It appears on my favorite Split Enz album, “Time and Tide.”
This excerpt from “Six Months in a Leaky Boat” leaves out most of the song’s lengthy introduction and coda; to hear the whole thing, check out the video on YouTube.
4. “Four Seasons In One Day” — Crowded House
Same general explanation as #3, except this is simply my favorite Crowded House song, from my favorite Crowded House album, “Woodface.” When Tim and Neil Finn harmonize, it is reminiscent of some of my other favorite vocal blends: Lennon/McCartney, The Everly Brothers, Indigo Girls, The Bee Gees, and, of course, Simon and Garfunkel.
5. “The Only Living Boy in New York” —
Simon & Garfunkel
A song about the end of their partnership itself. It may not be Simon’s greatest song, but this emotionally-charged, bittersweet masterpiece is my favorite from this duo. It appears on their swansong album, “Bridge Over Troubled Water.”
6. “Waterloo Sunset” — The Kinks
Ray Davies is a terrific songwriter, and this is the greatest song by him I’ve ever heard. It paints pictures in the mind that resonate through nearly all the senses. From the album “Something Else by The Kinks.”
7. “Dedicated to the One I Love” — The Mamas & The Papas
I forgot about them in my spiel about vocal blends! John Phillips was an excellent songwriter, and a keen vocal arranger. So even though he didn’t write this one, the vocal performances by John, Michelle Phillips, Denny Doherty, and the legendary “Mama Cass” Elliot are, to my ears, positively sublime on this track. From the album, “The Mamas & The Papas Deliver.”
8. “Here Comes a Regular” — The Replacements
You’d hope that by now everyone knew how cool The Replacements were, but if not, I think they were one of the great rock ’n’ roll bands that never really made the front pages. They were sloppy, but ever fun, and uncommonly charming in their punky disarray. This song, from the album “Tim,” doesn’t reflect their rock ’n’ roll elements at all, but rather is one of the finest examples of great songwriting by frontman Paul Westerberg. Bittersweet, haunting, sparse, fragile, and excellent.
9. “Overnight Sensation (Hit Record)” —
Not everyone has heard of this killer band from Cleveland, OH, but fans of power pop will never get by without discovering Eric Carmen’s 1970s fourpiece. On some fanciful level, if my band (The Jellybricks) could be anybody, I’d love to be The Raspberries. They had a way of weaving the bits and pieces of all of the best music from rock ‘n’ roll from the past into their own, contemporary (at the time) kind of rock ‘n’ roll sound. As it happens, this band recorded several songs that are my favorites, but “Overnight Sensation” — from its final album, “Starting Over” — is one of the best rock/pop records I know about, period.
10. “My Back Pages” — The Byrds
Some bands take you on a great “trip” of sorts. Pink Floyd, Radiohead, The Church, The Cure … or Parliament Funkadelic, for that matter — bands that carve out a unique world to inhabit, and then invite you in, via your ears. The Byrds were a trip, man. This is my favorite trip from them, penned by the great Bob Dylan, sung by the inimitable Roger McGuinn, and loaded with emotional colors and textures. Appearing on the album “Younger Than Yesterday,” it was the Byrds’ last hit record.