Reviews: 6.6.19: New Releases: The Weeklings, Alex Chilton, Bryan Estepa, and Jacob Panic

By Alan Haber – Pure Pop Radio

The Weeklings | “I Want You Again” (Jem, 2019)

It is a bushelful of happy that greets me on this day, almost a month since I last posted due to various bits and bobs. Finding a new Weeklings song in my email inbox–an old-fashioned Weeklings song, if truth be known–speaks to my most get-in-there, take-it-apart-and-put-it-back-together-again-for-you instincts. Because what fun it is to wear the happiness that Weeklings recordings bring, like a new suit resplendent in audio jewels that really make me smile.

Started at London’s Abbey Road Studios, written by Lefty and Zeek Weekling, and finished off at home base in New Jersey, “I Want You Again” is perhaps a quintessential example of the Weeklings’ melodic sense that embodies significant Beatles and fellow traveler touchstones as much as the group’s own contemporary identity.

An I-really-shouldn’t-have-pushed-you-away-and-by-the-way-can-I-get-you-back song with a beat and a beating heart, “I Want You Again” is a jangly joy with a McCartney-esque bass line, Merseyside guitar stabs in the bridge, an “A Hard Day’s Night” namecheck (“When I think, of the time, when our love burned bright / When we shared, every word, singin’ ‘A Hard Days’ Night'”), and, most importantly, echoes of the Fabs’ “You Won’t See Me” and a closing melody quote from Badfinger’s “Baby Blue.”

“I Want You Again” is just the latest example of New Jersey’s finest fab foursome’s pursuit of audio excellence that bridges decades of catchy melodic pop. A bushelful of happy, if you will.

Where to Get It: Amazon, iTunes. Stream on Spotify

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Alex Chilton | From Memphis to New Orleans (Bar/None, 2019)
Songs from Robin Hood Lane (Bar/None, 2019)

When most people think of Alex Chilton, they likely remember his work with the Box Tops, whose big 1967 hit, “The Letter,” he sang at age 16 with the maturity of a much older and perhaps wiser artist, and Big Star, an influential group blessed with a deep vat of melodicism and rock-influenced pop songs that have stood the test of time, such as “September Gurls,” “The Ballad of El Goodo,” and “Thirteen.”

It is less likely that casual music fans–people who grew up with the Box Tops and Big Star–also embraced Chilton’s music that followed. Two new, comprehensive compilations from Bar/None seek to mend the fences over which Chilton jumped in the 1980s and 1990s to make music that was stripped down, less commerical, and sometimes undersold, yet still viable and enjoyable and quintessentially Chilton.

From Memphis to New Orleans draws from four releases produced in the second half of the 1980s. A mix of original and covered punchy, seductive bluesy rock (David Porter and Isaac Hayes’ “B-A-B-Y”), punchy rockers (Ronny and the Daytonas’ “Little GTO”), Bakersfield country (Chilton’s “Paradise”), gentle pop with a beat (“Let Me Get Close to You,” a Skeeter Davis flip side scribed by Carole King and Gerry Goffin that originally appear on High Priest) and rock and soul grooves, the album chugs happily along as it shows off the wares of Chilton’s post-Box-Tops-and-Big-Star eras.

Probably, the sides compiled on From Memphis to New Orleans are closer cousins to Chilton’s previous work and likely more palatable to fans of the Box Tops and Big Star, but it’s the covers of classic songs in the style of the music that he heard growing up, compiled on Songs from Robin Hood Lane, that might just provide a clearer picture of where Chilton’s heart really found the most peace.

Songs from two Chilton releases–1991’s Medium Cool and 1994’s Cliches–sit comfortably alongside four previously unreleased sides on Songs from Robin Hood Lane. Chilton nestles quite comfortably in the moods and emotions of a dozen jazz, blues and pop numbers, showing quite different sides of his musical persona. They are, in their way, just as emotional and effective as the singer’s work during his rock and pop years.

Highlights include the quietly bouncy “My Baby Just Cares for Me,” cut by Nina Simone in the 1950s and played out here with only Chilton’s masterly acoustic guitar picking and playful, jazzy vocal; “Don’t Let the Sun Catch You Crying,” a jazzy, supper club take on the 1940s standard and one of the four previously-unreleased tracks on this collection; and “That Old Feeling,” a half instrumental and half sumptuous vocal workout of Sammy Fain and Lew Brown’s classic written in the 1930s and essayed by many classic vocalists, including Patti Page and Frank Sinatra.

Both From Memphis to New Orleans and Songs from Robin Hood Lane sport beautifully-laid-out packaging that includes immersive and informative liner notes by Glenn Morrow and track personnel and discographical facts. Bar/None is to be congratulated on both releases; listeners will come away from hearing a fuller picture of Chilton the artist.

Essential.

Where to Get It: Bar/None, Amazon (From Memphis to New Orleans; Songs from Robin Hood Lane), and iTunes (From Memphis to New Orleans; Songs from Robin Hood Lane)

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Bryan Estepa | “I’m Not Ready for This” (2019)

The lesson learned in pop-rocker Bryan Estepa’s new digital release, “I’m Not Ready for This,” is that first loves are woven into one’s heart forever (“Forgetting first loves can’t be done”).

What to do with such a realization is another thing entirely, as noted in this mid-paced guitar popper. After all, first loves can be a fleeting thing (“Stay together for a little while / Run its course on this crooked mile”).

This track, with its smooth lead vocal, engaging backgrounds, and lovely, pleasing chords, will stay with you for a long while, even if your first love isn’t showing in your rearview mirror.

(Watch the stylish black-and-white video for “I’m Not Ready for This” below. The use of light fading quietly in and out to suggest the memory of a first love fading in and out over time is quite impressive.)

Where to Get It: Bandcamp

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Jacob Panic | “The Heart/Breaks” (2019)

The banjo’s the thing here, which is the thing that counts most in Jacob Panic’s world. A rock/pop hybrid love song exhibiting immense power and emotion, “The Heart/Breaks” is all about love, and the more of it–the stronger it comes on–the better.

“Put your lovin’ arms around me / And everything’ll be alright,” Panic sings, and when those lovin’ arms lock tight, an explosion of emotion comes due. “Listen to the heart beat go / A mile a minute / Many miles it flows / It gets dark / It gets cold,” and where do you go from there?

Mostly, the choruses are drawn with thunderous drums and instrumentation mixing with powerful vocals; the connecting tissue is softer, limber. The feeling, near as I can tell, is when you truly feel love and it totally encompasses you, you fall hook, line and sinker.

A tremendous track from a tremendous performer, co-written by Panic and Steve Antonelli, and featuring Antonelli on guitar, bass, and drums and Lea B. singing backgrounds. 

Where to Get It: Amazon, iTunes

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Alan Haber’s Pure Pop Radio is the premiere website covering the melodic pop scene with in-depth reviews of new and reissued recordings, and a wide variety of features. We’ve been around since the first weekly Pure Pop Radio shows, which began broadcasting in 1995, and the 24-hour Pure Pop Radio station, which ended last August.

Welcome to your number one home for coverage of the greatest melodic pop music in the universe from the ’60s to today.

We’re Back…

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Alan Haber’s Pure Pop Radio is the premiere website covering the melodic pop scene with in-depth reviews of new and reissued recordings, and a wide variety of features. We’ve been around since the first weekly Pure Pop Radio shows, which began broadcasting in 1995, and the 24-hour Pure Pop Radio station, which ended last August.

Welcome to your number one home for coverage of the greatest melodic pop music in the universe from the ’60s to today.

Reviews: 5.9.19: When Joy was Job One: Ken Sharp’s “World’s Fair” is an Affectionate Trip Back in Time

By Alan Haber – Pure Pop Radio

Ken Sharp | “World’s Fair” (Jetfighter, 2019)

Think back to when you were a kid; think back to the things you had that were cool and full of joy, that you just had to bring to school the next day and show your friends and the kids who thought you were maybe just a bit weird and not fit to be a member of their cozy little clique.

When I think back to my kid days, I remember that, among the kids I hung out with, our love for the music we heard on the radio and our latest comic book acquisitions were tops of the pops. We bonded over our favorite sports teams (for me it was baseball and the New York Mets, however they were or weren’t doing). And we bonded over our hatred of our little brothers and sisters, because they had cooties and were just general pains in the neck.

When the New York World’s Fair was held in Flushing Meadows Corona Park in Queens in 1964 and 1965, it was the number one place to say you’d been. In my house, it was the number one requested family outing. To go to school and hold your head high as the kid who went to the World’s Fair was everything (well, it was for me).

The fair did not disappoint. Although my memory is rather vague as far as specific pavilions and attractions, I do remember the sheer enormity of it all; I remember walking through the grounds thinking that nothing could ever be as impressive. And that pretty much has held true even to this day (although the Beatles coming to America was pretty impressive, too).

I remember the Unisphere, the ginormous steel globe that still stands today (and figured into a rather madcap Coen Brothers-esque date I had back in the day), and I remember Disney’s “it’s a small world.” And I remember the General Cigar pavilion, most famous for its outdoor smoke ring machine and the button given out to patrons to attract attention.

I’m not sure how much attention this button attracted on the fairgrounds, but I know how it fared at school the next day. Those of us who attended the fair and visited the General Cigar pavilion would wear the button and ask kids to read it. They would invariably read it incorrectly. A typical exchange went like this: “Read my button.” “Meet me at the smoke ring.” “No. Try again.” “Meet me at the smoke ring!” “No, that’s not right. Try again!” “Meet me at the… um, smoke ring?”

Try it yourself! What does the magical button at left say? Careful…there is only one correct answer!

Hearing kids read the button incorrectly became a great source of amusement for a couple of days, until the joke got old–as old as the smoke rings that hardly ever emerged from the General Cigar smoke ring machine.

But remembering that button through our lives–certainly through my life–continues to be a source of inner amusement. Maybe you had to be there, but for those of us that were, it was a moment in time we will likely never forget.

Although musician and singer-songwriter Ken Sharp did not attend the New York World’s Fair, the idea of him being there and experiencing its wonders has rattled around inside of him, resulting in him capturing the excitement and magic of the event in what he calls his “wish fulfillment song.” It’s a catchy, melodic beaut.

“World’s Fair” opens with the sound of a crowd gathering and feeds quickly into a quick drum tumble and a towering, majestic, celebratory mix of happy instrumentation and Ken’s wistful vocal, evoking the love that flew in and out of the World’s Fair grounds. He places himself in the midst of it all, a wondrous thing to do (“I hear a thousand children laughing / Not a worry on my mind”). He gets the feeling of being there in Flushing Meadow exactly right.

Piano, guitar, horns, sitar, bell tree, maracas, drums, bass, and a theremin work in concert to recreate the experience of attending the New York World’s Fair. Best to close your eyes while listening, to get the full effect of this song that on April 19 was the first song recorded in the new iteration of Fernando Perdomo’s Reseda Ranch Studio (version 2.0, if you’re keeping track).


What keeps me going, writing about some of the greatest melodic pop music being released today and classic recordings from years past, is what these songs trigger inside of me. When I first heard “World’s Fair,” I was immediately transported back to my youth, to a much simpler time, when joy was job one.

It still is. Thanks for the trip back in time, Ken.

Where to Get It: Digital: Bandcamp, Amazon

A vinyl version is available (see left). Contact Ken directly at sharpk@aol.com

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Alan Haber’s Pure Pop Radio is the premiere website covering the melodic pop scene with in-depth reviews of new and reissued recordings, and a wide variety of features. We’ve been around since the first weekly Pure Pop Radio shows, which began broadcasting in 1995, and the 24-hour Pure Pop Radio station, which ended last August.

Welcome to your number one home for coverage of the greatest melodic pop music in the universe from the ’60s to today.

Reviews: 4.24.19: Armchair Oracles’ Guitar Pop Shines, and Lannie Flowers McCartneys Things Up

By Alan Haber – Pure Pop Radio

Armchair Oracles
Caught by Light (Kool Kat Musik (CD), 2019)

Comprising 10 songs drawn in bewitching colors, doused with the spirit of decades of classic guitar pop and seasoned by Norway’s quartet of the moment, Caught by Light jumps to the front flank of 2019’s finest releases.

Armchair Oracles, twisting and turning in and around the essence of bands such as Badfinger and Teenage Fanclub, roll out a virtual guide to being safe and at home in this life.

The breathtakingly beautiful “Don’t Let It Break You,” a muscular power ballad with soft shoulders, sings a song of hope and guidance as the narrator offers sage advice to a young friend (“Don’t let the hard times break you or leave you all behind / You’ll be good if you stand your ground”). “Several Stories” tells a melodic tale of someone who understands how to rebound from a fall from grace (“Whenever I am down / You will be around to make it better”).

Songs such as the provocatively titled “She Gets Me High,” a concise, crafted-with-care ballad about the narrator’s safe place (“I close my eyes / I hold my breath and then exhale / She lifts me up and gets me high”) continue the listener’s journey through an invigorating program of melodically-sewn musical life lessons. (We reviewed three tracks previously released as singles here; all three–“Porcelain Heart,” “All My Time,” and “Downsized Life”–are extraordinarily good.)

An unmissable long-player from Atle Skogrand (vocals and guitars), Bjørn Gamlem (guitars), Jan Ove Engeseth (bass), and Charles Wise (drums).

Where to Get It: Kool Kat Musik (CD), Digital: Bandcamp (Vinyl, too), Amazon, iTunes

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Lannie Flowers | “What Did I Know” (SpyderPop, 2019)

A love-her-but-not-for-a-lifetime toe-tapper in the best uptempo Flowers in the Dirt-era Paul McCartney tradition, “What Did I Know” continues the ongoing offering of fabulous free songs given away each month by Lannie Flowers and SpyderPop Records, during the run-up to Lannie’s forthcoming album, Home. (And, by the way, none of these free songs will be on Home.)

This is the 13th of the “Flowers” picked and presented to fans of one of melodic pop’s greatest assets, and it’s a doozy, free for the taking on SpyderPop’s website. Christmas continues to come early, am I right?

Where to Get It: SpyderPop Records’ website

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Alan Haber’s Pure Pop Radio is the premiere website covering the melodic pop scene with in-depth reviews of new and reissued recordings, and a wide variety of features. We’ve been around since the first weekly Pure Pop Radio shows, which began broadcasting in 1995, and the 24-hour Pure Pop Radio station, which ended last August.

Welcome to your number one home for coverage of the greatest melodic pop music in the universe from the ’60s to today.

Reviews: 4.11.19: Brad Marino Makes a Rock, Pop and Roll Connection

By Alan Haber – Pure Pop Radio

Brad Marino | Extra Credit (Rum Bar, 2019)

The Connection’s Brad Marino serves up a dynamic and breathless 11-song rock, pop and roll romp on his beat-driven solo album, Extra Credit, paying homage to a group once dubbed “England’s Newest Hit Makers,” Nick Lowe, Dave Edmunds, Elvis Costello and, well, Rockpile with the gloves on. The guitars are plugged in and raving, and, oh yeah, the guitars are plugged in and raving.

It’s that kind of album, about a minute and a half shy of a half-hour long, with most songs dressed in tight-fitting get-in-and get-out-before-they-overstay-their-welcome ensembles, which is as it should be. These songs take no prisoners and make no apologies.

From the hit-the-road-running “Broken Clocks,” a breakup song in which the girl’s the bad guy and the breakneck-paced solo channels Chuck Berry, to “C’mon, C’mon, C’mon,” about a girl who plays hard to get (“The girl who plays so hard to get / Is always worth the score”), Marino hits the mark with rockin’ and rollin’ spirited performances (he plays all of the instruments other than the keyboards, which were essayed by sometime Connectioner Kris Rodgers). The album comes to a close with a four-on-the-floor, there’s-a-speed-limit? cover of Berry’s “Bye Bye Johnny”.

Last month, we waxed poetic about previously-released-as-singles songs “What Comes Naturally” (“…extols the virtues of a rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle in a song that portrays a Rolling Stones-meets-outlaw country vibe”) and “Broken Record” (“…an upbeat pop-rocker with teeth, very catchy and singalongable…”). Not a bad way to kick off an upcoming album, right?

Well, that upcoming album is almost here (mark your calendar for April 19). With six songs scribed solo by Marino, a co-write by Pure Pop Radio favorite Kurt Baker, two songs written by Michael Chaney (another is a co-write with Marino), and a well-chosen Chuck Berry cover, Extra Credit, produced by Marino and Rodgers, is this season’s breathless hit platter.

Cue the guitars and get that snare a-drummin’…Brad Marino’s pumped and ready to rock, pop and roll.

Where to Get It (Releases on April 19) (Pre-order Now): Bandcamp, Amazon

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Alan Haber’s Pure Pop Radio is the premiere website covering the melodic pop scene with in-depth reviews of new and reissued recordings, and a wide variety of features. We’ve been around since the first weekly Pure Pop Radio shows, which began broadcasting in 1995, and the 24-hour Pure Pop Radio station, which ended last August.

Welcome to your number one home for coverage of the greatest melodic pop music in the universe from the ’60s to today.

Reviews: 4.10.19: Brian Gari Paints a Heartfelt Musical Picture

By Alan Haber – Pure Pop Radio

Brian Gari | Jeanne’s Album (Original Cast, 2019)

A kind of old-fashioned, heartfelt song cycle, Brian Gari’s tremendously affecting and musical Jeanne’s Album chronicles his life with his wife Jeanne through their ups and downs and up agains.

With keyboards and guitars primarily played by Gari and Peter Millrose painting Gari’s songs with colorful, catchy brushstrokes, we learn that the couple’s romance has not only come upon some bumps in the road, such as Gari’s open-heart surgery and Jeanne’s bout with breast cancer, but conquered and surpassed them. Theirs is a love story for the ages, told in beautifully rendered songs.

Swimming in the same creative pond as fellow travelers like Gilbert O’Sullivan, Hurricane Smith, Richard Carpenter, Barry Manilow and Paul Williams, Gari has crafted 14 genuine pictures of a life in motion, played out in relatively short songs graced with gorgeous, affecting melodies.

The breezy and catchy “I Got What I Wanted” gets Gari’s program going with a sweet look at being fulfilled by one true love. Songs like the light bossa nova roll, “I Like Looking at Your Face,” tell the tale in what-you-see-is-what-you-love terms (“Your nose…I just love the shape of it / Send me off a tape of it / And I’ll marvel all night long”); other songs concern themselves with more serious shades of a love.

The upbeat, poppy “She May Think You Like Her” warns against giving a woman the wrong idea (“The perfect one is there at home / She fits you like a glove / But she may think you like her / You like that other girl but like ain’t love”). “No Checks” is a bluesy pop number that looks at being broke with a sense of humor (“And we don’t have a nickel / We’re in quite a pickle”).

Two songs deal with some serious life-changing bumps in the road that Gari and his wife went through. The first, the endearing piano ballad, “Saving Each Other’s Lives,” suggests that the couple was brought together to breathe life into each other’s hearts just when they needed that the most “(Grateful seems to be the perfect word / Amazing what the two of us endured / And somehow we showed up to change our flight / Otherwise we might have said goodnight”).

The second, “Whose Hair is Longer,” a sad but ultimately uplifting ballad, posits that losing her hair during chemotherapy didn’t change who his wife was (“Your heart’s still the same”) or would continue to be (“My hair is longer / That’s only for now / What’s more important / Is we don’t allow / Any thoughts or concerns / That might interfere / Cause what matters the most / Is that you’re still here”).

A pair of Christmas songs appear as bonus tracks on this emotionally-satisfying album, a gathering of intensely personal songs that sketch out a world where everything may not always be hunky-dory, but it will always be true.

Where to Get It: Amazon

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Alan Haber’s Pure Pop Radio is the premiere website covering the melodic pop scene with in-depth reviews of new and reissued recordings, and a wide variety of features. We’ve been around since the first weekly Pure Pop Radio shows, which began broadcasting in 1995, and the 24-hour Pure Pop Radio station, which ended last August.

Welcome to your number one home for coverage of the greatest melodic pop music in the universe from the ’60s to today.

Reviews: 4.9.19: John Howard’s Emotional Rescue, and Anchor and Bear’s Tasty EP

By Alan Haber – Pure Pop Radio

John Howard | Cut the Wire (You are the Cosmos, 2019)

In the end and at the end, when we take stock of ourselves, when we reflect on a life lived on purpose and with purpose, we remain the product of what we achieved; our footprint is the culmination of a life lived in so many ways.

John Howard’s gorgeous, wistful song cycle, Cut the Wire, draws on the idea of living a life affected by love and pain and faith and belief in the self, in others, and in the stars; it’s about innocence lost and remembered, and found again. Pretty melodies, rich harmonies, emotional vocal leads and an intimately pastoral sound, evoking the early, baroque songs of Elton John and brought to life by poetic lyrics deeply reasoned, take your breath away as the hearts of these songs beat.

In Cut the Wire’s breezy, thoughtful opener, “So Here I Go,” a life is lived with the controls set at full steam ahead, no matter what may occur along the way (“Nothing ever takes the time / You think that it will take / Nothing ever lives in head and heart / Nothing ever feels / The way you think that it will feel / Nothing ever ends the way it starts”). It is, when all is said and done, a song about hope (“So here I go…”).

All of Cut the Wire’s songs are ultimately about hope or joy, celebration or remembering, in one way or another. The title song, a beautiful, melody-rich ballad that revels in a sweet childhood that changed when adulthood set in, cautions how important it is to hold on to good memories and keep them alive (“I told my sister we were eagles / She laughed and tapped me on the head / I combed her hair and heard the seagulls / I dreamed of sand-dunes in my bed / And it was on the day / That childhood ran away / The day they laid the wire”).

“Keep Going, Angel,” a happy mid-tempo number with lovely chords that increases in intensity as it plays on, is all about believing in life and all of its possibilities, no matter what (“Keep believing in believing / That anything can happen / And it most probably will”). “Idiot Days” looks back from the position of a grown-up to the days when consequence of action wasn’t a present state of mind (“‘Who did you hurt back then?’ / Oh there’s too many to mention / From my Idiot Days”).

Perhaps the centerpiece of Cut the Wire is the emotionally gripping piano ballad, “Becoming,” in which a partner muses about how he and his relationship have changed and longs for how it used to be. He finally figures it all out and comes to a peaceful place (“This morning I held your hand / And told you we were lucky / We were older / We were frightened / But we were lucky / You waited for a moment / And then you smiled / You squeezed it back and suddenly I knew / It was still you and me together / In our anger / In our confusion / In our weaknesses”).

The brilliant stroke of Cut the Wire is that its emotional stories are told with sweet, heartfelt melodies at their core, and sung with a voice that conveys the truths of life that most everyone can relate to and even learn from. On this, his 16th studio album, Howard draws breath from the fabric of life in a most enriching and entertaining way.

Where to Get It: You are the Cosmos, Amazon

Anchor and Bear | Arrows (2019)

The third release from California quartet Anchor and Bear follows last year’s top-flight album, Raincoats and Gold, with a delicious serving of differently-flavored pop songs, all of them quite delectable and delivered in catchy style by Katy Pearson, Brian Bringelson, Eric White, and Kenny Bringelson.

“Want Your Love” is a sprightly confection, with gorgeous harmonies, about being overcome by love. “Broken Arrow” is a meaty pop rocker spiced with a bit of funk about, as near as I can tell, a loner musician who has lost his music mojo and is disconnected from his friends.

“Disconnect the Phone,” Arrow’s jewel, all shiny and bright and catchy, is a classic slice of pop that should be a slam dunk at radio. Telling the story of a relationship’s disconnect, the song is ingeniously composed of several distinct sections that work together to put a huge smile on your face (the sweet-sounding opening is reminiscent of a familiar online ringtone). And
“Magic” is a quite catchy pop rocker with heavy guitars.

Throughout the program, Katy and Brian’s vocals unite harmoniously, a perfectly matched pair communicating joy to listeners. And with Arrow, Anchor and Bear is continuing to build a fine catalog of releases.

Where to Get It: Bandcamp

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Alan Haber’s Pure Pop Radio is the premiere website covering the melodic pop scene with in-depth reviews of new and reissued recordings, and a wide variety of features. We’ve been around since the first weekly Pure Pop Radio shows, which began broadcasting in 1995, and the 24-hour Pure Pop Radio station, which ended last August.

Welcome to your number one home for coverage of the greatest melodic pop music in the universe from the ’60s to today.