When Indie Becomes Oldie(s)

I was ready to abandon K-Tel for greener pastures, when I recalled with great amusement a K-Tel hits collection that someone (okay, Tom Avazian) once tenderly pressed into my eager hands.  I can’t imagine anyone would be shocked that a label famed for recycling older tunes had thieved its title – Gimme Indie Rock – from a song by former Dinosaur Jr. bassist, Lou Barlow … and then oddly omitted the title track!

Includes a Dinosaur Jr. song in lieu of Sebadoh’s title track – ironic?

K-Tel's Gimme Indie RockNo one should be surprised that a label known for being a step or two behind contemporary pop music trends would embrace 80s and 90s punk and “alternative” rock by the dawn of the new century (I hear some of you grumbling this is not your father’s K-Tel).  Nor should anyone be taken aback that this double-disc set from 2000 is a CD-only release that was never pressed onto good ol’ vinyl.

Gadzooks:  [insert name of indie band below] on a K-Tel collection!

K-Tel's Gimme Indie Rock - track listing

The CD cover would also break the K-Tel mold by being a 6-panel foldout poster, with liner notes provided by Option Magazine‘s Scott Becker and a quote at the top of the page attributed to Minutemen frontman, D. Boon (“The how, the why, the where, the who – can these words find the truth?”) from a song – “The World According to Nouns” – that was, in fact, written by the group’s bassist, Mike Watt!  Oh, K-Tel…

K-Tel, as we learned from a recent piece, would expire the following year, thus, dooming this first volume of Gimme Indie Rock, heartbreakingly, to orphan status.

To read Scott Becker’s essay, save image to hard drive and magnify in image viewer

K-Tel's Gimme Indie Rock - essay

Generally speaking, Zero to 180’s rule of thumb (you may or may not be aware) is to feature under-celebrated studio songcraft that is, minimally, 20 years old, thus enabling indie and punk to fall fairly within the scope of this music history blog.  Previous attempts to feature more contemporary sounds, Zero to 180 realized belatedly, would not be a good fit for a historically-oriented website, something that should have been apparent at the outset (nothing personal, Roy Sludge – you know I love you).

WordPress would feature Zero to 180 – and then pick the “wrong” piece!

Zero to 180-WordPress by ExampleAnd yet, it’s as if Zero to 180 has learned nothing, as today’s piece sidesteps protocol by ignoring Gimme Indie Rock in favor of a modern rock track — power pop, to be more precise — that is a mere 12 years old, but is already showing alarming signs of being consigned to the dustbin of history:

“Misadventures of the Campaign Kids”     King of Prussia     2007

Such an obvious lead-off track, Zero to 180 is a little disappointed to discover “Miseducation of the Campaign Kids” to be the third song on King of Prussia‘s 2007 CD release, Save the Scene.  The opening chords would seem to be a loving nod to Paul Weller’s demo for The Jam’s “That’s Entertainment” — could that have been the songwriter’s intention, I wonder.  Yes, there are five YouTube clips of this compelling King of Prussia track, and yet the total combined “views” of these audio clips do not even total 5,000 — a musical injustice that this history blog is attempting to remedy.

King of Prussia - Save the SceneLyrics to the song can be found here on Bandcamp, where you can also buy the album for only $6.99 – a bargain.   Thank you, as well, to Zero to 180 science correspondent, Paul Guinnessy, for once forwarding a flash drive filled with 3.42GigaBytes of songs (e.g, “Misadventures”) from artists – including King of Prussia – who appeared at the 2008 South by Southwest music conference in Austin, Texas.  NPR, in fact, would give the band some coverage, describing the King of Prussia’s debut album as “a trippy collection of songs with elements of ’60s folk rock.”


News Flash:  Zero to 180 Filters Out the Rubbish!

The Zero to 180 screenshot above, by the way, shows this music history blog in its infancy at a time when I was still grappling with scope and content issues.  After five years and over 700 posts, I finally cottoned onto the necessity of adding several filters to help readers (to the extent they exist) pick out the few interesting bits amidst the mountains of refuse.  Consequently, Zero to 180 now has added a handful of “buttons” at the top of the screen to help minimize wasted time you will never ever get back —

“Rain Flowers”: Power Pop Spawned by The Beatles

The received wisdom is that The Beatles single-handedly invented ‘power pop’ with       “And Your Bird Can Sing,” an album track from 1966’s Revolver.  The truth, however, is a little more elusive.  One could point out that “Paperback Writer” – a song that very much embodies the power pop sound – predates “And Your Bird Can Sing” by thirteen days.  Furthermore, Pete Townshend is often give credit for having coined the term when he was famously quoted in 1967 by Keith Altham in New Music Express as having said, “Power pop is what we play—what the Small Faces used to play, and the kind of pop The Beach Boys played in the days of ‘Fun, Fun, Fun’ which I preferred.”

Every Mother’s Son’s second and final album for MGM – 1968’s Every Mother Son’s Back – would find the group charging out of the gate with a song very much in the power pop spirit, “Rain Flowers”:

Note the stirring entrance of the clavinet just prior to the vocal — another early appearance for the relatively new electric keyboard in the year 1968.

Every Mother's Son - ad

Battle of the “Spaceship Races”

How interesting that Carole King – the musical part of the Goffin-King songwriting partnership – had been writing hits since the very beginning of the 1960s and yet had not released her first solo album until 1970 – an album somewhat pointedly entitled, Writer.

Carole King

The album’s kick-off track is, for Carole, a bit of a rocker – “Spaceship Races” – and a determined one at that.  Who knew from Carole’s fairly straight-ahead reading that a joyous power pop of a colt could come thundering out of the same gates albeit when jockeyed by Tom Northcott?

“Spaceship Races”     Carole King     1971

Spaceship Races – Tom Northcott

[Pssst:  Click on the triangle to play “Spaceship Races” as arranged by Tom Northcott]

Tom Northcott’s more elaborate pop production was likewise the album-opening track on his 1971 album, Upside Downside, on Uni (imprint of MCA) – although a B-side of the single, “Suzanne” (the oft-covered Leonard Cohen classic).  What gives?

Tom Northcott

Northcott (popular in his native Vancouver) recorded 20 sides for Warner Brothers in the mid-to-late 60s and then jumped to MCA’s Uni label for exactly one album – and then nothing more for a long time.

The Great American Songbook – Southern California Style

Last year in Philadelphia I picked up a 2-LP various artists compilation (of “previously released material”) called California U.S.A. – originally issued in 1981 on Columbia:

California U.S.A.

Surprisingly, my buddy, Tom – a gifted record collector – had never heard of it.  This hodgepodge of 60s & 70s singles/rarities that originally came out on Columbia/Epic (save one) is unified by a connection to sunny California and its association with the beach, surfing, and fast cars.  I was amused to see that one of the songs in this collection was written in 1851:  “Swanee River.”   Why, you may ask, would a minstrel song that is the official state song of Florida (and better known as “Old Folks at Home” or, more accurately, “Suwannee River”)  be included in a California-themed compilation?

Answer: This fresh and original take on Stephen Foster’s crusty classic is pure 70s sunshine/power pop that only could have come from Southern California (or, even better, a UK band clearly besotted with the Beach Boy ideal of Southern California and its lush harmony vocal tradition) – the pastoral “middle eight” section, in particular, being an arrangement straight out of Brian Wilson’s long lost (though recently found) Smile album:

My uncle Chuck might be intrigued to know that this double album also includes “No Surf in Cleveland” by the Euclid Beach Band – a misnomer of a lyric, actually, since not only do Cleveland surfers exist, but they also believe “they are the last remnants of the original surf culture of the 1940s & 50s, when surfing was still a renegade sport of social misfits who scouted virgin breaks, surfed alone, and lived by a code of friendliness to newcomers and respect for the water.”