Monthly Archives: September 2014

Everyone’s Going to the Movies Tonight on Ken Michaels’ Every Little Thing

Ken Michaels' Every Little Thing...For the Beatles Fan Who Craves All Things Fab! Airs Every Monday at 9 pm ET on Pure Pop Radio!

Ken Michaels’ Every Little Thing…For the Beatles Fan Who Craves All Things Fab! Airs Every Monday at 9 pm ET on Pure Pop Radio!

It’s movie night tonight at 9 pm ET on Ken Michaels’ Every Little Thing, your weekly gathering place for Beatles and solo Beatles cheer.

Ken kicks off tonight’s show with another catchy segment of various Beatles and solo Beatles magic, starting off with the Fabs’ “Girl,” as essayed in the Cirque du Soleil Love show, and follows that up with an interview with musician Andy Timmons, who delivers performances of two Beatles classics from Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” and “Within You Without You.”

Then, it’s Ken’s weekly thematic set, this time around featuring five songs written and appearing in movies by the Beatles and Paul McCartney: “Live and Let Die,” “The Night Before,” “A Love for You,” “All Together Now,” and “Spies Like Us.” It’s a cinematic music feast, and you’re invited!

Don’t forget to tune in tonight at 9 pm ET for the latest edition of Ken Michaels’ Every Little Thing. See you on the radio!

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Click on the image to listen to Alan Haber's Pure Pop Radio through players like iTunes

Click on the image to listen to Alan Haber’s Pure Pop Radio through players like iTunes

It’s All Acoustic, Beatle People, On Tonight’s Every Little Thing

Ken Michaels' Every Little Thing...For the Beatles Fan Who Craves All Things Fab! Airs Every Monday at 9 pm ET on Pure Pop Radio!

Ken Michaels’ Every Little Thing…For the Beatles Fan Who Craves All Things Fab! Airs Every Monday at 9 pm ET on Pure Pop Radio!

Show number 31 of Ken Michaels’ always fab Every Little Thing, rolling out of the gate tonight at 9 pm ET, starts out with the usual set stocked with cool group and solo numbers of the highest order–this time, everything from Paul McCartney covering Carl Perkins’ “Movie Magg” to the Beatles rocking George Harrison’s “If I Needed Someone” and Mike Scott from the Waterboys rolling out those “Beatles Reunion Blues.”

And then, after Ken gets you and yours “Anthologized” with a tune taken from the second Beatles Anthology release and a John Lennon track from the Lennon Anthology box set, he turns down the house lights and puts the spotlight on a very cool, all-acoustic set featuring George Harrison, McCartney, Lennon and a group number from the White Album. It’s Ken’s weekly thematic set, and this one’s really special.

Top it all off with a head-scratching trivia question, this time in the form of a Beatles One-Liner, and you’ve got another in a series of fun hours chock full of gear goodness. Don’t miss it!

Ken Michaels’ Every Little Thing airs every Monday night at 9 pm ET on Pure Pop Radio. Set your alarm clocks so you don’t miss a minute!

Click here to download our app for listening on the go with Android and iOS devices!

Click on the image to listen to Alan Haber's Pure Pop Radio through players like iTunes

Click on the image to listen to Alan Haber’s Pure Pop Radio through players like iTunes

Thank You, Thank You, Thank You

thank-youWhen I started this website back at the end of last December, I thought I would post station updates and not a whole lot more. I should have known better. I quickly became addicted to the task of populating these pages. All of a sudden, this site became a living, breathing thing that not only kept track of new song and artist adds to the Pure Pop Radio playlist but also featured in-depth reviews of albums and concerts, contests, looks back at my radio and music history, and several continuing series, including the popular I Love that Song.

The happy news to report is that this website has now logged almost 14,500 views, which is very gratifying, especially when you consider we’ve only been an ongoing concern for about six months. Pretty sweet.

Every once in a while, I write something purely for myself and hope against hope that other people will respond positively to it. When I wrote a review of the outstanding version of Jimmy Webb’s classic song, “MacArthur Park,” performed on David Letterman’s late night show at the end of July of this year, I was moved to communicate the excitement of the performance. Live string and horn sections complemented Paul Schaffer and the CBS Orchestra’s great rendition of the song, bolstered by the presence of Webb the composer, who played organ and piano. I thought maybe a few people would read the review, but reaction was so strong, I was frankly blown away.

And then came my review of Jeff Lynne’s ELO concert at Radio 2’s Festival in a Day in Hyde Park, London, this past Sunday night. Again, I was so moved by the performance that I wrote about it in great detail. The words just flowed out of me and, with very little editorial tidying up, I published the review. The response to it, from all over the world, has been unbelievably enthusiastic. It has been read many hundreds of times and shared on Facebook more times than I can count. I’ve received many wonderful comments from people who share my enthusiasm for the music of Jeff Lynne. I followed this piece up with an enthusiastic review of Dave Caruso’s new album, Cardboard Vegas Roundabout, and it has been received with more warmth than I could have expected. Great for Dave, who deserves broad exposure for his wonderful music.

Which is the reason I’ve been writing about and playing melodic pop music on the radio for the past 20 years. I love spreading the word on great pop music. I feel as strongly about doing that today as I did when I started. My health hasn’t been the best of late, so my output has slowed down, but I look forward to ramping up again soon and doing much more in the service of the pop community.

Anyway, I’m feeling myself starting to blather on, so I’ll close by saying thank you so much to all of you who have been supporting my efforts over the years. I want to welcome my new friends, too. I’ve got lots of reviews in the pipeline, interviews to let out into the world, new music to play on the radio. I’d better get busy!

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Click on the image to listen to Alan Haber's Pure Pop Radio through players like iTunes

Click on the image to listen to Alan Haber’s Pure Pop Radio through players like iTunes

Dave Caruso’s Delicious Soft-Pop Stew Serves Up a Tantalizing Meal

dave 1

Dave Caruso

Dave Caruso | Cardboard Vegas Roundabout | 2014

Dave Caruso | Elizabeth Parker | 2004

A Review by Alan Haber

(We’re giving away nine copies of this great album, by the way. See the contest form at the end of this page for details.)

God knows how these things happen, but they do, they really do, and thank God they do because we’d have to invent this kind of thing if they didn’t.This kind of thing, this magical musical mixture exhibiting the tasty influences of Barry Manilow, the Carpenters, the Beach Boys and, hey why not, Paul McCartney, is a thing of beauty, an artful excursion that can and will enrich your life, take you to your happy places and prove to you that good things absolutely do come in all manner of packages–small, medium, large and beyond.

Here lies the magnificent sound of Dave Caruso, whose skills as a maker of music that speaks to you and takes you to a higher place are without peer as they are within you and cannot exist without you. Dave Caruso’s lovely, melodic songs are of a place that hardly exists in today’s world of processed and premeditated music that populates the radio airwaves. These songs are crafted with care, note by note, lyrically tuned to evoke emotion, and sent off into the world only when they’re right with themselves and right for the world.

You get all of this with the deluxe edition of Dave Caruso's Cardboard Vegas Roundabout

You get all of this with the deluxe edition of Dave Caruso’s Cardboard Vegas Roundabout

Dave Caruso's Cardboard Vegas Roundabout

Dave Caruso’s Cardboard Vegas Roundabout

By which I mean they either feel right or they stay home, under the covers to bake a little longer, until the thing of it–the heart and soul of it–is beating in synch. Songs like the Beach Boys homage (with Carpenters shadings) “Champion,” on Dave’s new album, Cardboard Vegas Roundabout, stand out as the album’s fuel. These beautiful melodies, sharp musicianship and gorgeous, multi-part harmonies take listeners away. Likewise, the astounding tight harmony singing that kicks off and populates the beautiful “I’ve Tried to Write You” makes everything else in your life irrelevant for the four minutes and sixteen seconds it takes for the song to play.

The aura of Barry Manilow shapes the very seventies vibe of the upbeat “The Art of Erica.” It’s a radio song if ever I heard one, a serious contender for a concert staple delivered to adoring, screaming fans who shake, rattle and roll at the sound of its first notes and marvel as they are bathed in the warmth of the closing Beatles chord.

Saving the best for last, Dave rolls out a powerful, solo take on a soulful, light gospel number, “It’s a Great Day for the Angels.” Powered by some keen Carole King-esque piano, Dave’s strong vocals (lead and background) and some tasty synth shading, this song promises to be covered by scores of artists looking for that signature number to feature in their shows, albeit a signature song that has someone else’s signature. It’s a beauty.

Cardboard Vegas Roundabout, start to finish, is as fine a soft pop experience as exists today, but it’s only half of the story. The deluxe edition of this album features a second disc, packed tight with alternate versions, different mixes and demos. It’s the kind of thing collectors drool over, and as you will now be counting yourself as a Caruso fan, you too will be drooling. Amongst the treasures on Slip Road (the regular album is known as Main Road) are a stripped-down version of “Champion” that puts the deserved spotlight on Caruso’s incredible vocals (and ups the Carpenters effect), and a stripped-down version of the proper album’s opener, the bossa nova-esque “Mystery & Sweetness,” that also puts Dave’s voice in the spotlight. And rightly so.

Dave Caruso's Elizabeth Parker EP

Dave Caruso’s Elizabeth Parker EP

The magic exhibited on Cardboard Vegas Roundabout was also evident on Dave’s equally-astounding EP Elizabeth Parker, released in 2004. By turns jangly (the opening, Byrds-like title track), pure poppy (the Elvis Costello tip of the hat “I Can’t be on Time”), Beatley (especially on the perfect-for-A Hard Day’s Night samba-esque acoustic ballad, “If I Died Today”), and rocky (the organic, propulsive “Letter to My Ex”), this is as good as Roundabout, and just as essential.

Kudos to Dave for putting together a solid, visual package for Roundabout that you can hold in your hands and admire. The 12-page booklet even includes the lyrics to the songs and full musician credits. As you might expect, Dave plays a trillion instruments, and all of them swell.

For those of you who already know Dave’s music, and for the rest of you to whom Dave is a new favorite, Roundabout will become a treasured part of your music collection. You will be doing yourself a huge favor by picking up everything Dave has released–a visit to Dave’s website will set you up.

And now, because I am in love, love, love with Dave’s music, I’ve decided to give away nine, count ’em, nine autographed copies of Cardboard Vegas Roundabout. If you’d like to win one, simply fill in the form below and type “Dave!” in the Comments box. Deadline for entering is noon ET on Monday, September 29. Only one entry per person, please. Good luck! And enjoy the wonderful world of Dave Caruso!

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Click on the image to listen to Alan Haber's Pure Pop Radio through players like iTunes

Click on the image to listen to Alan Haber’s Pure Pop Radio through players like iTunes

Jeff Lynne’s ELO Takes London’s Hyde Park by Storm! Tell Tchaikovsky the News!

Jeff Lynne’s ELO | BBC Radio 2’s Festival in a Day in Hyde Park, September 14, 2014 

A review by Alan Haber

Big thumbs up for Jeff Lynne's ELO!

Big thumbs up for Jeff Lynne’s ELO!

“Yes, I’m turnin’ to stone ‘cos you ain’t comin’ home, why you ain’t comin’ home if I’m turnin’ to stone? You’ve been gone for so long and I can’t carry on, yes I’m turnin’, I’m turnin’, I’m turnin’ to stone!” Jeff Lynne steps back from the microphone with a slight step and suddenly, as if he were the only performer on stage in front of 50,000 young and old and in-between fans, draws a wide smile on his face–a self-congratulatory attaboy for his seemingly effortless skill employed during the fast, percussive, staccato lyrics coming just before the last verse in the song “Turn to Stone,” the opening salvo from 1977’s Electric Light Orchestra double album, Out of the Blue, which is only fitting as that pair of couplets was delivered to the Hyde Park crowd in double time, and here was Birmingham, England’s native son effectively saying “It’s been 37 years since I recorded that and I can still shoot it out at you.” Looking trim in a black suit, white shirt and a rock ‘n’ roll attitude, Jeff Lynne advanced a small step back to the microphone and continued on with the song.

“I turn to stone when you are gone, I turn to stone,” he sang, steeped in classic mode. “Turn to stone when you comin’ home, I can’t go on.” Then: “Turn to stone when you are gone, I turn to stone,” but there is no stone here on this night, Sunday, September 14, 2014, undercover of the night, the night having fallen but the lights bright, gleaming from the stage onto the crowd hungry for more, bowing to their hero, a light shining through the shadows of the night. “I’ll just sit tight, through the shadows of the night,” come the words of “Telephone Line,” “Let it ring for evermore.”

Richard Tandy provides the keyboard textures for Jeff Lynne's ELO

Richard Tandy provides the keyboard textures for Jeff Lynne’s ELO

And so it did for 80 minutes, give or take, as part of BBC Radio 2’s Festival in a Day, which also featured other artists who performed their hearts out, but during these moments, the only hearts that were beating from the stage were Jeff Lynne’s and ELO keyboardist Richard Tandy’s and a host of other top-notch, invested performers’, merrily augmented by live strings from the BBC Concert Orchestra, the members of which were caught smiling every now and again, and when the string players are smiling you know, in your heart of hearts, something is up.

Lynne’s set was perfectly executed and perfectly modulated with highs and more highs and yet more highs keeping the flow magical from first song to last. Opening with a spirited surprise–“All Over the World,” from the film Xanadu–ELO’s main man played the hits, pretty much just like on the record, as God intended. Except during the lone encore, a wild and wooly, balls to the wall rendition of Chuck Berry’s “Roll Over Beethoven,” during which Lynne’s fierce electric guitar runs and Tandy’s Jerry Lee Lewis piano took center stage as the orchestra dug into their violins and cellos and the drummer drummed like there was no tomorrow and the various other guitar players and percussionists whooped it up as if in the eye of the rock ‘n’ roll storm. Lynne, particularly, relished the chance to channel his bodacious, rocking inner child, pulling off a fireworks-worthy series of rockin’ guitar runs that threatened to set the stage on fire.

Along the way, the 66-year-old-as-his-younger-self played through the highlights of his catalog, adding in a track from Xanadu and the song that started off the legacy of the Traveling Wilburys, “Handle with Care,” which began life as a b-side knocked off in Bob Dylan’s home studio and instead became the firing pin that set off the Wilbury’s album explosion and legacy. Lynne dedicated the song to the late George Harrison and the late Roy Orbison, two of the five souls and beating hearts of the band.

Jeff Lynne strums his guitar at BBC Radio 2's Festival in a Day

Jeff Lynne strums his guitar at BBC Radio 2’s Festival in a Day

Lynne seemed genuinely surprised to be greeted by the expansive sea of fans swimming along to the tunes. And so many of them, too–baby boomers and relative babies too young to have been alive when the Electric Light Orchestra began. Thanking the audience every chance he got, he played and sang assuredly, even reaching the dreaded high notes with absolute musical certainty. He switched from electric Gibson to acoustic goodness and remembered all of the words. He brought past triumphs into today’s universe and every light in the crowd in front of him shined.

Preferring the sanctity of the studio over live performance, Lynne may or may not engage Tandy and players to be named later on a tour of Britain. Maybe the US? TBD. For now, there is the pickup and refreshing of Hyde Park, a thing of beauty on any given day, now reverberating with the ghosts of sounds that populated the grounds last night. For the families and pensioners and dog walkers navigating the length of the park, there will be suspicious memories of a wonderful concert from the night before. For people who couldn’t be there as the notes flew out of the collection of sacred instruments on stage, there is always the Internet, where Lynne’s masterful gift to the people will hopefully live on forever.

From “Can’t Get it Out of My Head” and “Sweet Talkin’ Woman” to “Don’t Bring Me Down” and “Rock ‘n’ Roll is King”–from “Mr. Blue Sky” to “Strange Magic”–these are the sounds that have stuck in the collective consciousness for decades and still live as breathing objects. This was a reverberating chunk of the Festival in a Day, a living thing that will last a lifetime, for evermore.

September 16, 2014

Click here to watch Jeff Lynne’s ELO perform “Mr. Blue Sky” at BBC 2’s Festival in a Day (BBC website).

Click here to watch Jeff Lynne’s ELO perform “Roll Over Beethoven” at BBC 2’s Festival in a Day (BBC website).

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Click on the image to listen to Alan Haber's Pure Pop Radio through players like iTunes

Click on the image to listen to Alan Haber’s Pure Pop Radio through players like iTunes

Charming, Bittersweet “Sabina” Points to Fine Fall Album Release from Michael Oliver and the Sacred Band

Michael Oliver

Michael Oliver

I cannot remember the last time I was so charmed by a song that I played it over and over again upon receipt. Only seconds into the first single from the forthcoming, hopefully late-Fall-ish album by Michael Oliver and the Sacred Band, Everything Sunny All the Time Always, I was thanking my lucky stars that such a wonderful creation (in the form of a great-sounding studio rough) had fallen into my lap. The album, you should know, is being recorded with Ducky Carlisle at his Ice Station Zebra studio in Medford, Massachusetts.

I’ve been a big fan of Michael’s for a long time. News of a new album on the horizon made me stand up and take notice. The new song, “Sabina,” which sees its Pure Pop Radio premiere tonight at 8:30 pm ET and will subsequently be spinning in hot rotation after that, is an expertly crafted, lovely, mid-tempo ballad–a heartstring tugger about loss, about sensory memory, about love, about life. Michael says the song is about a cat or life. Yes and yes.

Following a gorgeous, riff-based opening (played out atop a haunting, ghostly percussion track), Michael sings, “If she’s gone, then why do I call her name and wait for her quiet games?” as the sensory memory sets in. And then, the heartbreaking chorus, punctuated by a sensitive accordion sample, played to perfection: “Sabina’s gone but not forgotten…but something in my heart still lingers. I close my eyes and find her there.”

The final chorus adds an inventive background vocal wash, underpinned by hope, and a closing, sadly and ultimately life affirming observation: “And sometimes we all feel bruised and battered. We all need to know somehow it matters.”

As I said, this is a heartstring tugger. Michael is in fine form on the song, his vocal acutely observed. “Sabina” is a triumph. Listen to the song’s Pure Pop Radio premiere tonight at 8:30 pm ET. Hear it in rotation after that, and keep a look out for Everything Sunny All the Time Always mere months from now. The fall, or thereabouts, is looking up already.

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Click on the image to listen to Alan Haber's Pure Pop Radio through players like iTunes

Click on the image to listen to Alan Haber’s Pure Pop Radio through players like iTunes

We’ve Got Winners!

There must be something in the water here at Pure Pop Radio headquarters, ’cause we’re giving away the store! Well, maybe not the store, but certainly a couple of items in the store. What, pray tell, do we have for our winners, Jay?

sullivanYes, we have winners! Our September 2 contest, which offered up a sealed copy of Joe Sullivan’s fantastic, hall-of-fame-worthy debut album, Schlock Star, will soon be winging its way through the U.S. postal service to none other than… <insert drum roll here> …Chipper Saam! Let’s hear it for Chipper, everybody!

click-beetlesOur September 3 contest, which offered up one of the very last physical CD copies of Dan-Pavelich-as-the-Click Beetles’ Wake Up to Music (and a download code, too) also garnered winners, and they are Stephen Curtis (CD) and Michael Anthony Curan (download code). Let’s drum up some hefty congratulations for these guys, okay?

There ya go–more winners of cool Pure Pop Radio contests. Keep an ear out for the next contest we bring to you–you may be the next winner!

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Click on the image to listen to Alan Haber's Pure Pop Radio through players like iTunes

Click on the image to listen to Alan Haber’s Pure Pop Radio through players like iTunes

Dream a Little Dream of…The Beatles! Every Little Thing is Dreamy Tonight!

Ken Michaels' Every Little Thing...For the Beatles Fan Who Craves All Things Fab! Airs Every Monday at 9 pm ET on Pure Pop Radio!

Ken Michaels’ Every Little Thing…For the Beatles Fan Who Craves All Things Fab! Airs Every Monday at 9 pm ET on Pure Pop Radio!

Ken Michaels’ Every Little Thing, the Beatles fan’s weekly radio haven, is dreaming of the Fab Four on this week’s show, kicking off tonight at 9 pm ET.

Following 16 minutes of various Beatles and solo Beatles nuggets, featuring the mono version of “Help!” and ending up in fine fashion with Apple Jam’s version of “I Don’t Want to See You Again,” Ken rolls out an interview with the Quiet One that’s followed by George Harrison’s classic Beatles number, “While My Guitar Gently Weeps.”

Then, it’s segment number three–the weekly theme set, this time featuring songs with the word “dream” in the titles. (Oh, and Ken sticks in an interview with famed sticksman Ringo Starr to go along with Ringo’s “Peace Dream”.) You’ll hear three Ringo tunes in this set, as well as a Beatles, John Lennon and George Harrison song. Pretty sweet!

Every Little Thing airs every Monday night on Pure Pop Radio at 9 pm ET. Set your alarm clocks so you don’t miss a second of Beatles radio magic!

Click here to download our app for listening on the go with Android and iOS devices!

Click on the image to listen to Alan Haber's Pure Pop Radio through players like iTunes

Click on the image to listen to Alan Haber’s Pure Pop Radio through players like iTunes

John Lennon’s Plastic Ono Band Album in the Spotlight on Ken Michaels’ Every Little Thing…Tonight!

Ken Michaels' Every Little Thing...For the Beatles Fan Who Craves All Things Fab! Airs Every Monday at 9 pm ET on Pure Pop Radio!

Ken Michaels’ Every Little Thing…For the Beatles Fan Who Craves All Things Fab! Airs Every Monday at 9 pm ET on Pure Pop Radio!

When you mix a 1966 two-fer with a varied set of Beatles and solo Beatles classics and a salute to one of John Lennon’s greatest albums, you’ve put together an explosive program that fans of the Fab variety will enjoy in a big way. So set your alarm clocks for tonight at 9 pm ET for the triumphant return of Ken Michaels’ Every Little Thing, the premiere Beatles radio show on the original 24-hour Internet radio station playing the greatest melodic pop music from the ’60’s to today, Pure Pop Radio.

Ken kicks off tonight’s show with an early take of George Harrison’s great song, “All Things Must Pass,” and flows through four more unrelated tunes including one of Paul McCartney’s greatest solo tracks, “The Other Me,” from the album Pipes of Peace. Segment two brings a quick salute to the year 1966, Beatles style, during which “Taxman” and “Rain” spin for your gear pleasure.

plastic-ono-bandAnd then, in Ken’s third, themed segment, you’ll be treated to a salute to one of John Lennon’s greatest albums, Plastic Ono Band. It’s a set of tracks from a variety of sources, including the original album, Lennon’s Signature Box, and Heart’s Ann Wilson’s album, Hope and Glory.

Sounds like another great hour with Ken and some of the finest music ever created from the Beatles and their fellow travelers. Don’t miss this one. It’s show number 29 and it’s on tonight at 9 pm ET on Pure Pop Radio. See you there!

 Click here to download our app for listening on the go with Android and iOS devices!

Click on the image to listen to Alan Haber's Pure Pop Radio through players like iTunes

Click on the image to listen to Alan Haber’s Pure Pop Radio through players like iTunes

The Musician’s Opinion: Dan Pavelich: Ten Favorite Songs

click-beetles
(Win one of the last remaining physical CD copies of the Click Beetles’ Wake Up to Music! A download is also available to be won. See below!)
 
(Dan Pavelich is a power pop musician wearing many hats. He is the rhythm guitarist in the Bradburys, and the producer of three volumes of the much-loved Hi-Fi Christmas Party CDs, benefiting research on Von Willebrands Disease being conducted at the Blood Center in Milwaukee. Dan’s latest solo project, released under the clever and catchy name The Click Beetles, is Wake Up to Music!, all of the songs from which are now playing in rotation on Pure Pop Radio. We’ve got one of the very last, physical copies of this album to give away, plus a bonus download, for a couple of lucky people (see below). When he’s not playing music, Dan is a music critic and cartoonist for the Kenosha News in Wisconsin. His lively and funny strip, Just Say Uncle, can and should be viewed daily on the Go Comics website.
 
On the occasion of the release of The Click Beetles’ Wake Up to Music!, we present the first entry in a new series: a wonderful list of favorite songs that Dan prepared exclusively for Pure Pop Radio. Enjoy!) — Alan Haber
———-
Ten Favorite Songs
by Dan Pavelich
 
Instead of doing a standard interview about my album Wake Up to Music, Alan Haber asked me to pick 10 of my favorite songs and write a little something about them. This is far from being a complete list of the favorites that have stayed with me over the years, but these 10 really informed my future musical taste, songwriting style and musicianship. They are the few that have been absorbed on a molecular level. Though I only list one song by The Beatles, the instrumental influence that Paul McCartney and George Harrison have on me can’t be overstated. Whenever I’m stuck for a bass line or a guitar part, I imagine what they would have done, and something generally comes to me. It’s easy to forget the golden rule when you’re recording solo: “Serve the song.” That’s something those two guys and their band mates were masters at.
 
“It’s So Easy” – Buddy Holly
I found Buddy Holly by way of The Beatles, around the time that I got my first acoustic guitar. “It’s So Easy,” from the Buddy Holly Lives greatest hits album, was unlike any hook I’d ever heard, even before I knew what a hook was. I just could not get the melody out of my head. I could manage Buddy’s three-chord arrangement (plus a B7 on the turnaround), and it was pure joy to play along with him. It’s probably the first song I’d say I ever became obsessed with. I played it over and over.
 
 
“You Won’t See Me” – The Beatles
It’s impossible to pick a favorite Beatles song, but this one inches ahead of a few others like “Getting Better” and “Paperback Writer.” The bass line (one of McCartney’s absolute best) and drums carry the tune, which also sports a stellar Brian Wilson-inspired vocal arrangement. Everything about it just feels perfect.
 
 
“If You Want My Love” – Cheap Trick
Even with the chord charts for this song, it was beyond my feeble guitar skills in 1982. I wanted so desperately to play along with it, but every time I tried, I was over my skis. I knew that Cheap Trick was paying tribute to The Beatles, which is where my love of pop music really began (along with The Monkees), but this was like “I Want to Hold Your Hand” on steroids. To this day, when I hear it, it’s still as exciting to me as it was the day teenage me first heard it. It’s got a unique staying power. When Robin gets to “It’s a hole in my heart, in my heart…” it’s like a roller coaster getting to the top of the hill, right before the drop. You could probably count on one hand the number of bands that have a song this big.
 
 
“Walking on Sunshine” – Katrina and the Waves
In spite of its more recent merciless soundtrack flogging, “Walking on Sunshine” sounded like nothing else being played on the radio in 1983. Mixing a shake-up of The Troggs’ “Louie Louie” with a Motown beat and horns was sheer brilliance. Katrina Leskanich’s vocal deftly see-saws between sweet enticement and full-on rock belting, providing a similar give-and-take to what Robin Zander is doing in “If You Want My Love.” This is also one of the songs that got me seriously wanting to write my own tunes.
 
 
“You Might Think” – The Cars
To my ears, The Cars were simply Buddy Holly with new wave keyboards. You can take almost any Buddy Holly song, add the decade-correct synth and drum sounds, and you’d have a new wave hit on your hands. The reverse is also true. Ric Ocasek’s songs would be just as wonderfully catchy filtered through a rockabilly Texas trio. Structurally, “You Might Think” pretty much follows the Lennon/McCartney method. I had started to take guitar lessons around the time that this came out, so I was accidentally noticing little things like that. I also noticed what keyboardist Greg Hawkes was bringing to the mix, in the way of perfectly placed blips and beeps. A lot of his placement ideas have made their way into the way that I approach using keyboards.
 
 
“Life In A Northern Town” – The Dream Academy
I was driving around with a high school friend of mine when he popped this cassette in and said, “Listen to this.” The line “In winter 1963, it felt like the world would freeze, with John F. Kennedy and The Beatles” (screaming girls) sent chills down my spine then and still does today. Though this was the only real hit by the band, they made some of the most beautiful pop of the 80s. In addition, they really taught me how important atmosphere could be in a recording. This song just feels like winter. The Dream Academy only made three long players. I wish they’d have continued on.
 
 
“Behind the Wall of Sleep” – The Smithereens
I bought the Especially for You album for two reasons: I dug the cover art and the band’s name had a 1960s ring to it. Little did I know that I was about to discover one of my favorite bands ever. As you can probably tell from the other songs on this list, I tend to gravitate towards uptempo pop singles. The Smithereens were different, though. Sure, they had the peppy “Strangers When We Meet” and “Groovy Tuesday,” but they also had a certain darkness that I’d never really heard in pop music, and I liked it. Singer Pat DiNizio’s impossibly low baritone, in combination with the band’s guitars being tuned a half-step down to a sinister E flat, really made me reconsider the “pop” label. Years later, Smithereens Jimmy Babjak and Dennis Diken would both contribute songs to my charity Christmas CDs. Don’t you love it when your heroes turn out to be as cool as you’d always hoped they’d be?
 
 
“Roll to Me” – Del Amitri
These dudes always struck me as a modern-day Badfinger. Beautiful vocals over 70s guitar figures and thoughtful lyrics. Clocking in at just over two minutes, Del Amitri manages to squeeze in three choruses and one of the best middle 8s ever written. This will always be on my short list of songs that I wish I could’ve written. Though they flirted with chart success a few times, their strength was in recording albums that were brilliant from top to bottom. I’m always surprised that more Badfinger fans aren’t into them. Why is that?
 
 
“Your Imagination” – Brian Wilson
I was working a really horrible, soul-crushing job at an electronics factory when I first heard this song over the company loudspeaker. What can only be described as a serene calm fell over me as I listened. It was like an angel tapped me on the shoulder and said, “Don’t worry. You won’t be here forever.” For the next few years, “Your Imagination” would continue to help get me through the monotony of being a second-shift machinist, and it would also make me a Brian Wilson fan. I wonder how many millions of other people have had a similar experience with this song. It really is something special. Those stacked backing vocals are absolute bliss. Someday I will own this on vinyl.
 
 
“That Thing You Do!” – The Wonders
Well, not really The Wonders, but Mike Viola and Adam Schlesinger. I think this just might be one of the best pop singles ever written. Adam Schlesinger conducts a master class in songwriting, aided by Mike Viola’s pleading vocal. The true measure of how great this song is, is that you hear parts of it continuously throughout the movie, yet your ears never show the slightest sign of getting tired of it. When The Wonders perform “That Thing You Do!” on The Hollywood Showcase at the end of the movie, it’s still a thrilling listen. The actual chords are really interesting too, with major chords moving to minor, and a few suspended 7th’s sprinkled here and there. Not too many writers use 7th chords these days, which is a nice way to throw a little grit into an otherwise poppy mix.
 
 
Which Song Would You Like to Have Written?
Alan also asked, “If you could have written any song from any decade, what would it be and why?” That’s easy. “White Christmas” by the great Irving Berlin. For me, there are two top-tier versions of that tune. Bing Crosby’s original will always be unbeatable, but Arthur Fiedler and the Boston Pops holds a close second with their instrumental version. Both perfectly express the complete joy we feel only at Christmas time.
 
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(And now, it’s contest time! We have one of the last remaining physical copies of The Click Beetles’ Wake Up to Music! to give away. We’ve also got a download code, and one of the two can be yours if you fill out the form below by Monday, September 15 at 12 noon ET. One lucky person will win the CD; the other will win the download code. Only one entry per person. Good luck!)
 

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