Cheap Trick

[Full disclosure: I worked on Cheap Trick’s box set and instigated the band’s Steve Albini-produced single on Sub Pop in 1997.–Ira Robbins] At a time when heavy metal had lost its menace and was fading into side-show stupidity, Cheap Trick — a powerhouse that had long been dominating Midwest clubs and bars — blew out…

Suzanne Fellini

One sexy single of peppy new wave clichés (“Love on the Phone,” complete with period rototoms) earned the singer brief radio interest in 1980, but her lone time-capsule album — a random collection of styles, from rock to Ronstadt — contained nothing to extend her career beyond that.

Fingerprints

The Suicide Commandos were the first Minneapolis punk band to release an album (1978), but there were a lot of other strong local groups active in the two years before the Replacements, Hüsker Dü and Soul Asylum finally summoned an indie rock spotlight on the city. Also in ’78, Twin/Tone Records, Minneapolis’s first important local…

B-Movie

“Nowhere Girl” got these British synth-poppers enough new wave notice in America to warrant a full MTV-era album in 1985, but they really needn’t have bothered. Their one “hit” is a percolating OMD soundalike brought low by the deep and unmusical voice of singer/bassist Steve Hovington.  The rest of Forever Running attempts a collection of…

Redhead Kingpin and the F.B.I.

New Jersey’s Redhead Kingpin (David Guppy) is a new jack rapper, delivering his positive/party rhymes over easygoing modern R&B with modest beats and lots of booty-moving instrumentation. Produced by Teddy Riley and Gene Griffin, A Shade of Red walks a polite line between Guy and the hip-hop nation; the Kingpin’s friendly, unchallenging style suits the equally…

2 in a Room

Purveyors of the hip-house hybrid, this Manhattan duo combines the pumping sounds and rhythms of high-energy dance music with rap and other funky elements. Rapper Rafael Vargas and mixer Roger Pauletta scored a surprise ’90 hit with the casual chants and inveigling high-energy hooks of the utterly inane “Wiggle It.” With more than a few…

Mysteries of Life

After the dissolution of Antenna, Jake Smith took over the bass job in the Indianapolis wing of the Vulgar Boatmen; the elemental intensity of that group’s frugal folk-pop strongly informs the Mysteries of Life, the delightful Bloomington group he and cymbal-shy wife Freda Love Smith (ex-Blake Babies and Antenna) unveiled in 1995. But, to a…

Children

Like most jangle-pop with roots in ’60s folk-rock, this New York quartet pins its hopes on enticing vocal harmonies. While the group’s original songs are sturdy and charming,  production on The Children (by Bob Rupe of the Silos) is mediocre: while the male and female voices come through with reasonable clarity, the simply arranged guitars…

Jools Holland

Best known now as the host of a long-running music show on British television, the flamboyant pianist — a cigar-chomping hustler able to energize even the most blasé audience — provided much of the zest on Squeeze’s first three albums. For his solo debut, Jools adopted a less contemporary stance, playing old-fashioned bar-room romps with…

Christine Lavin

One of the leading lights in the ’80s folk revival, Christine Lavin applies an incisive, self-aware wit and a confidently absurdist view of modern relationships and life in the big city (New York) to acoustic music. Sung in a clear, sweet voice (think of early Joni Mitchell), her songs address microcosmic issues more than matters…

Chron Gen

This quartet from Hertfordshire, formed in the class of ’77, produced top-notch British punk-core, rippling with strength and clarity. But it took them a long while to get an album out. Played at reasonable speed with a generally high level of comprehensibility, Chronic Generation (originally distributed with a live maxi-single) offers songs about the usual…

Hudson Bell

A Louisiana native based in San Francisco, Hudson Bell began putting his music out on homemade cassettes just before grunge blew the doors off indie rock at the start of the ’90s. His prolific catalog — a meandering, maturing evolution from earnest acoustic music to laconic, extended rock — varies in style and achievement but…

Handcuffs

Since the end of the Elvis Brothers, Brad Elvis (Steakley) has led a couple of great Chicago-based bands with singer-guitarist-saxophonist-spouse Chloe F. Orwell. (He has also done a long hitch as the drummer in the Romantics, which just shows to go you how skinny-tie nostalgia has taken on the never-say-die attributes of classic rock.) The…

Danny & Dusty

A batch of rowdy tunes about drinkin’, lovin’, gamblin’ and losin’, The Lost Weekend was a one-off studio bender by the cream of LA’s cowpunk society. The cast: Dan Stuart and Chris Cacavas of Green on Red, Steve Wynn and Dennis Duck of Dream Syndicate and most of the Long Ryders. Produced by Paul Cutler, The Lost Weekend offers…

Helen Love

The obsessions and ingredients that make Helen Love a mad scientist’s (and my) dream of giddy pop perfection may seem utterly random — punk rock, glam rock, bubblegum, disco, Joey Ramone, Debbie Harry, synthesizers, robotic vocal processors, ABBA, the Sweet, the Shangri-La’s, Wings, the Pooh Sticks, Talulah Gosh, “Planet Rock,” the Queers, Primitives, Rezillos, Freshies,…

Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers

Florida’s Tom Petty is one of the few American rockers to achieve lasting commercial stardom despite being (incorrectly) mistaken for a new waver at the outset. Hardly a wild-eyed punk, Petty has had a career almost the stuff of rock legend; Bob Seger is a close parallel. Having flopped with an early outfit called Mudcrutch,…

Edward Rogers

Ed Rogers, a stylish English expat who lives in New York (where we first became friends in the early ’70s), is a prolific exponent of the power pop underground, a knowledgeable fan and scholar who channels his musical devotions into charming original creations that honor, echo – and ultimately expand upon – some of the…

Allo Darlin’

Half Australian and half British, Allo Darlin’ was something of a Commonwealth analogue to Holland’s Bettie Serveert. While their delightful and engaging guitar-and-ukulele pop is generally lighter in spirit and sound, leaning toward whimsy at times, the unique and memorable melodies, an off-kilter lyrical approach, the quartet’s gender composition and Elizabeth Morris’s distinctive vocals make…

Silly Boys

On its one EP, the New Jersey trio plays smart-aleck power pop about such things as “High School Crush” and “Corner Telephone.” They have the sound down, but add little to distinguish it from others plying the same form. Tuneful but shallow. The group was later known as Pinstripes. A couple of decades later, Silly…

Freshies

Before he became Frank Sidebottom, the late Chris Sievey led the Freshies, an ill-fated Manchester diy new wave band – more peppy power pop than punk – that got into the lower rungs of the British charts with a verbosely delightful 1980 single, “I’m in Love With the Girl on the Manchester Virgin Megastore Checkout…