Life, One Song at a Time: “Pure Pop For Now People”

The Great Mixtape Project, Volume 3

So the other night, I get this e-mail. It’s Editor Guy Mike Duck, asking if I can turn around another mixtape piece in time to use as a Snackable installment. It’s late. I’m three drinks to the good.

“Let me put something together for you,” I write back, and hit send. My e-mail disappears into the ether, winging its way through the void to some mysterious place called Bethlehem, from whence this eZine is produced.

But now I have to find a mixtape to write about. I run downstairs to my basement office to a bookcase sagging with all manner of vinyl LPs, 7-inch singles, and a truly massive collection of cassette tapes.

This is what I find: A tape labeled “Pure Pop For Now People, Spring 2002.” I wrack my brains for context.

This one was produced as I was immersing myself in early Aughts power-pop as I wrote a batch of songs that would eventually become the seed material for my band Milkshake Jones. Between 2002 and 2007, we recorded two CDs for a little indie label in Portland, OR, and did some limited touring. God, how I loved that band. And it bummed me out no end when we went on hiatus. We’ve recently reconvened and are getting ready to record our first CD in five years.

A sampling of tracks from that cassette:

1. “Meteorite” – Cherry Twister

A pop classic from one of central Pennsylvania’s finest pop bands. Fronted by Steve Ward, of Lancaster County, the band also featured bassist Michael Giblin. Giblin later produced the second Milkshake Jones LP and my 2012 solo project The Sunday League. An example of the Pop Circle of Life.

2. “Briar Rose” – Choo Choo Train

An early project from Paul Chastain and Ric Menck, who later went on to form the venerable power-pop band The Velvet Crush. (That band’s LP “Teenage Symphonies to God” is required listening for any student of the genre.) This comes from “Hey Wimpus,” a collection of random Menck/Chastain projects compiled by the Parasol label of Champaign-Urbana, IL. I used to go see Velvet Crush all the time when they played in Hartford, CT.

3. “Wonder Guy” – Girls Say Yes

From “To Boys Who Say No,” a great one-off project from drummer/multi-instrumentalist Jim Huie. More Six Degrees of Milkshake Jones. Huie, of Portland, OR, runs The Paisley Pop Label, which had the foresight to release the first two CDs by my old band. This LP included guest shots from founding members of The Paisley Underground, a bunch of early 1980s bands from California that included True West, Green on Red, The Dream Syndicate, and The Bangles. “To Boys Who Say No” is an inspired collection of pop tunes and I go back and listen to it just all the time.

4. “Bad Reputation” – the dB’s

An absolute classic from the New-York-by-way-of-North-Carolina pop combo. This comes from their first LP, “Stands for deciBels,” and was written and sung by the great Peter Holsapple, who is, for my money, one of the best pop songwriters of the last 30 years. The band broke up in 1987 and its members each went their separate ways. Holsapple did stints as a touring musician in R.E.M., and was a part of the roots-rock outfit The Continental Drifters. The dB’s released their first LP in more than 25 years last year, the excellent “Falling Off the Sky.” It’s well worth your time. And even though all four band members are well into their 50s, they’ve lost nothing off the pace.

5. “Jet Fighter” – The Three O’Clock

A great tune from one of the core bands of the aforementioned Paisley Underground scene. This one comes from their debut LP “Sixteen Tambourines.” If I recall correctly, I was in the midst of researching a piece about the scene for PopMatters.com and was familiarizing myself with the work of the core bands.

6. “The Beatles and the Stones” – The House of Love

I love songs that are love letters to a particular time in pop history. This one comes from a coulda-been band that recorded for the legendary Creation Records label that later produced Oasis.

Article © 2013 by John L. Micek