Monday, January 28, 2019

SPAZ picks the Best Of 2018!

2018 was a great year for music.  Mind-blowing, even.

As usual, I must preface these lists by stating that I listen to a lot of music throughout the year. My heart, mind, body and soul are constantly processing what I listen to and what I connect with the most. It is an cycle that never ends. I drive to work and listen to music, I listen to music at work, I listen to it when I drive home, I listen to it when I'm at home, and last but not least, I listen to it when I go to bed. Music keeps me sane and drives me insane at the same time. And I love every minute of it.

I have certain rules about what goes on my list: it has to be available in a physical format and I have to own it. Oh, and I have to love it. That is easy enough, right? I don't connect with digital files or streaming and that is probably because I'm an avid old-school collector. I've been buying music since the early '70s when I started getting an allowance. So, in order for me to connect with an album, I need to own it. It has to be tangible. A picture of a hamburger isn't going to fill my tummy so why should a digital file satisfy my soul? One more thing - I hear a lot of music each year yet there is so much that I miss! I look at other music journalists' 'best of' lists and realize that there is so much that I miss. I don't have infinite wealth and I'm not on many mailing lists so I have to pick and choose what I buy...

Oh, and my brain doesn't work like normal critics... You know how an artist will release an album towards the end of the year so that it is fresh in people's minds when they start putting together their 'best of' lists?  Well, those titles may end up lower on my list because I haven't had time to 'live' with and digest them. Again, one of my 487 quirks as a music fan and journalist.

Anyway, out of the many, many albums I heard this year, these are the ones that are filed on the shelves in the halls of my heart...


1. WILKERSON/Wilkerson
A fresh take on the classic sounds of Rock and Pop's rich history. From The Beatles and Squeeze to Supertramp and Jellyfish, this debut solo album from the legendary Texas musician (The Pengwins) is stunning in every way possible. He took his time to make what ended up to be a musical and personal triumph. While some may claim this as a Power Pop album, it is something much more grand than that. This is an album that will appeal to those who love great melodies, inventive arrangements, and Pop Music history. Music from the heart, for the heart...

2. IAN McNABB/Our Future In Space
Many artists tend to put out a few great albums but lose their focus within a decade and then spend the rest of their careers putting out 'hits' collections and living off of their past glories. Not Ian McNabb. Nearly 40 years on, he's still firing on all cylinders, putting out albums that are just as good as anything he did in the '80s with The Icicle Works. In all actuality, his songwriting may actually be better now. Our Future In Space is not a return to form - it is another great album from an artist that still burns with passion after all these years.

3. PAUL COLLINS/Out of My Head
From his days with The Nerves and The Beat up until now, Paul Collins has taken a 40+ year journey through Power Pop and has released what could be his finest 'solo' album to date. However, it must be said that he's been putting out some fantastic albums leading up to this one so he never really lost his spark. Another thing that really makes this album stand out is the raw intimacy of the recording. Instead of playing to a crowd of people, this album sounds like he's playing just for you.

Guided by his love of Rock 'n' Roll, Arthur Alexander moved from his home country of Poland to the U.S. and became a New York legend with The Poppees and Sorrows. Now here we are, 40 years on and he's still writing killer tunes and out-rocking kids 1/3rd his age. Arthur - like Paul Collins - knows that the heart of Power Pop is unbridled Rock 'n' Roll mixed with some great hooks. And this album is filled with plenty of great hooks! 

5. BOSLEY/Unreal Fire
Who would have thought that a young white kid from Baltimore would have recorded one of the best Soul albums of the year? Bosley Brown started off as an Indie kid, playing a soulful style of Rock and Pop but has grown into something truly special. Like a Soul travelogue, this album was influenced by everyone from Motown to George Clinton, Stax to Prince and back again. Unreal, indeed...

6. LATIN QUARTER/Pantomime Of Wealth
In this age of political turmoil, it is strange that there aren't more politically-minded Rock and Pop bands scaling the charts. For nearly 35 years, Latin Quarter has been recording songs that speak about the political climate from an emotional and personal point of view. This is music that is smart, melodic, and emotional. However, Steve Skaith and the band avoid pretentiousness with their warm and wonderful songs. Instead of beating you over the head with a message, they offer a point of view that encourages the listeners to research the subject matter and think for themselves. That's not an easy thing to do...

7. MICK TERRY/Days Go By
While his previous album was closer to melodic Folk Rock, this is an album that embraces the glory of British Pop music and reinterprets it for a new generation. While the '60s and '70s Pop influences are present and accounted for, there are nods to '80s and '90s Pop as well. The production is clean an direct and the songs are lovingly crafted Pop gems. Mick is an artist that should be on your radar if you haven't heard him already...

8. MICHAEL SIMMONS/First Day Of Summer
Orange County's very own Pop maestro offers up an album that embraces his love for The Beatles, The Beach Boys, ELO, and other like-minded melodic combos. As a member of Sparklejets UK and Popdudes, the Power Pop scene is familiar with his work. However, to call Michael Simmons Power Pop is like calling The Beatles 'Merseybeat' - there's much more to him than the much-debated Power Pop genre can handle. Delicious and delightful, this is an album that will warm up the coldest of days.

Singer/songwriter Bart Davenport isn't normally associated with '80s-inspired music but on Blue Motel, Bart and his Bedazzled bandmates serve up an album that owes just as much to the dark shades of The Cure as it does to the buoyant Soul of Hall & Oates. Never too dark, the album is as much an homage to his influences as it is a modern melodic gem of an album. Sweet and savory, Blue Motel is definitely an album that should appeal to Bart's longtime fans as well as a whole gaggle of new ones!

10. LAISH/Time Elastic 
Best known for his predominantly Folk releases, Laish thought outside the box for Time Elastic and came up trumps (no, not THAT trumps). This is an album that doesn't completely abandon his Folk roots but it sure doesn't play by the rules, either. The melodies bounce around the room while Laish (AKA Daniel Green) shares lyrics that can go from thought-provoking to sarcastically witty in one verse. Daniel's delivery is honest, sardonic, and everything Jarvis Cocker thinks he is...

#11: Let Me Explain...
My passion for music is intense so it must be said that putting together my list is a task that takes much soul searching. I love this stuff so much that it is hard to justify that #11 is any better or worse than #22 or #30. So, I just call this a 20-way tie for #11. Any of the following artists can consider themselves the proud owner of the #11 placing on my list!

ATHANOR/Hills Of The Universe
STEVE BARTON/Tall Tales & Alibis
THE GO! TEAM/Semicircle
THE GRIPWEEDS/Trip Around The Sun
BILL LLOYD/Working The Long Haul
PAUL McCANN/Here Comes The Rapture
MOD HIPPIE/Wannabe Nobody
MOTORAMA/Many Nights
NICK PIUNTI/Temporary High
SUPER 8/T-T-T-Technicolor Melodies & Turn Around Or… & Hi-Lo


1. YACHTS/Suffice To Say: Complete Yachts Collection (3CD)
One of the finest bands of the late '70s, Yachts released two albums, and a some fantastic singles before calling it a day in the early '80s. This Liverpool band never fit comfortably into any genre but they certainly appealed to fans of Power Pop, Mod, New Wave and good old fashioned Pop. Everything the band released on Stiff, Radar and Demon Records is included here. If you missed the band first time 'round, it is not to late to get nautical with Yachts now!

2. BADFINGER/Wish You Were Here
While Straight Up is Badfinger's most popular album, Wish You Were Here is their masterpiece. If Beatles comparisons were to be made, this is Badfinger's Abbey Road. This is certainly one of the '70s finest albums and should be sought out immediately. While some may complain about the mastering being 'brickwalled', there's not denying that the bonus tracks (different mixes of most of the album tracks plus a previously unreleased song) are magnificent.

3. BRAM TCHAIKOVSKY/Strange Men Changed Men (3CD)
Bram Tchaikovsky was the former guitarist for The Motors. His brand of Pub Rock and Rock 'n' Roll appealed to fans of Power Pop and "Girl Of My Dreams" became a legendary single among collectors. While Bram & Co. may not have been Power Pop, they certainly were melodic and crafted loads of great songs in their short career. This set collects the two albums (plus bonus tracks) that the band recorded for Radar Records plus Bram's sole album for Arista Records. Chock full of great songs, this set is essential. But aren't all of these on my list?

4. FABULOUS POODLES/Mirror Stars (3CD)
Pub Rock. Rock 'n' Roll. Pop. Fabulous Poodles were certainly a band that lovingly embraced their love of American and British Rock and distilled it into something entirely unique. Not many Rock bands featured an electric violinist as a key player but the FabPoos did! All three of their albums are here alongside non-album cuts and choice unreleased recordings, making this perfect for fans old and new... Feckin' ace, man!

5. SHOES/Black Vinyl Shoes Anthology (3CD)
One of the most iconic bands of the Power Pop genre, Shoes' first widely-distributed album Black Vinyl Shoes is pretty much a masterpiece. While not as crunchy as many Power Pop albums tend to be, BVS is a DIY album filled with great songs, performances and plenty of atmosphere. Even without big production, the album is surprisingly emotional and effective. On Disc One, the album is joined by non-album tracks. Discs Two and Three feature two earlier albums that are fun to listen to but not nearly as essential as BVS and what was to come...

I had an inner battle with this one: is it a 'new' release or a 'reissue'? Either way, it was going to end up in the Top Ten of one of the lists. I decided to go with 'reissue' since it is a collection of 25 year old tracks that were never released. Regardless, it is a stellar collection of songs that are just as good as anything the band released back in the '90s on their two major label albums. All four familiar members of the band are present and accounted for and House features great melodies and harmonies from beginning to end. Now, THIS is Power Pop!

7. THE BEATLES/White Album (Super Deluxe)
Do I really need to explain why this is on my list?  I'm sure that some of you might wonder why it isn't further up the list... but this is my list so here it sits.

8. PAUL McCARTNEY & WINGS/Red Rose Speedway (Super Deluxe)
One of McCartney's most overlooked gems. Wild Life is a fine album but I'll have to go with this as the best of the two Super Deluxe sets. One of many highlights: it is nice to hear the planned double album version before they chopped it up and made it a single LP. 

9. GLAMWEAZEL/The Great Unknown 
Jerry T. Jones was a member of One The Juggler, which is how I was introduced to his talents. After OTJ, he helped form Boom Boom Room and The Reptiles. Since then, he joined up with former OTJ bandmate Colin Minchin and formed Glamweazel, a band that blends Jones' love of '60s and '70s British Rock into a wonderfully refreshing mix of Bowie, Mott The Hoople, The Kinks and others. So, be prepared to be dazzled by a treasure trove of off-kilter Pop songs influenced by the greats but never sounding like they're ripping anyone off. This set cherry picks their studio albums plus a few gems only available here.
10. TREES/Sleep Convention
Like a well-produced garage Synthpop band, Trees (AKA Dane Conover) was a breath of fresh air from San Diego. A multi-instrumentalist, Conover knew his way around a melody and threw together s stellar batch of '60s-influenced songs that walked the line between New Wave and Synth Pop. In the end, the blend of guitars and keyboards worked really well and earned him quite a few spins on influential radio stations like KROQ in the early '80s. This stellar reissue includes a plethora of bonus tracks, most of which are demos for what would have been Trees' second album had the project continued. Earle Mankey's involvement will certainly interest those who love his work as engineer and/or producer.


11. VISAGE/Visage
12. BAD MANNERS/The Albums 1980-85 (5CD)
13. BOW WOW WOW/Your Box Set Pet (3CD)
14. ALTERED IMAGES/Epic Years (4CD)
15. 999/Albums 1977-1980 (5CD)
16. FICKLE PICKLE/A Complete Pickle (3CD)
17. EDDIE & THE HOT RODS/The Island Years (6CD)
18. THE RESIDENTS/Duck Stab/Fingerprince/Meet The Residents/Third Reich...
19. COCK SPARRER/Albums 1994-2017 (4CD)
20. LINDSEY BUCKINGHAM/Solo Anthology (3CD)
21. PAUL & BARRY RYAN/Have Pity On The Boys
22. PETER & THE TEST TUBE BABIES/Albums 1982-87 (6CD)
23. BILLY BREMNER/Singled Out (best of)
25. VINCE GUARALDI/Complete Warner Bros.-Seven Arts Recordings


There are exceptions to every rule. I don't care for digital releases and I won't even consider putting them on any list... unless I'm blown away, of course. Texas-based singer/songwriter extraordinaire Lannie Flowers has been prepping his new album HOME and to build anticipation with fans, Spyderpop Records decided to release one track per month leading up to the release of the album. They called this campaign March To HOME and it definitely worked - fans are eagerly awaiting the release of HOME (due in 2019). But here's the catch: all the amazing tracks released digitally in 2018 will NOT be on the new album! So, in essence, we were able to download an album's worth of fantastic songs that are not scheduled to be officially released! And if you've heard any of these songs, you'll know that if they had been compiled onto an album, it would have ended up at - or near - the top of any Pop fans 'best of' list. A true talent that you need to hear pronto!



2. WHITE LACE AND PROMISES – The Songs of Paul Williams

3 (tie). MY WORLD OF MAKE BELIEVE: Sunshine, Soft & Studio Pop 1966-1972

3 (tie). THE SUN SHINES ON MY STREET/Sunshine, Soft & Studio Pop 1966-1970




SHAKE SOME ACTION 2.0/John M. Borack +
If anyone should be crowned King Of Power Pop,it should be John Borack. His love for Power Pop is undeniable and his passion for 'spreading the Power Pop' gospel is certainly infectious. For decades, he has tirelessly supported the music, the labels and the artists. This, the second volume of Shake Some Action is not a sequel or an expansion of the first volume - it is a bit of both and more. Filled with lists, ratings, reviews and even insight from the artists that John writes about, this is an exciting journey through Power Pop. This is essential. BUT WAIT... THAT'S NOT ALL! The book includes a companion CD by Popdudes, which is band led by Borack and Michael Simmons. The majority of tracks on the disc are covers that have been released (on tribute albums) as well as quite a few that are being released here for the first time. The disc also includes a handful of originals as well. This is an essential purchase. 

Keep on truckin',
Stephen SPAZ Schnee


Matt Street said...

Awesome lists all around! Wilkerson #1 !!! Yes!!! And all my other faves are present and accounted for somewhere! All the best to you Steve! Your friend, Matt Street

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