“Sorry Girls, He’s Married!” Joe Sullivan Strikes a Rock Star Pose and It Comes Out Pop

sullivanJoe Sullivan | Schlock Star | Reed Recording Company, 2014

Review by Alan Haber

If this were another time and place and Sullivanmania had hit our shores in 1964, it would have been Joe striking a rock star pose on the stage of the Ed Sullivan Theater with the legend “Sorry Girls, He’s Married!” jittering lazily at the bottom of our television screens. The idol of millions, a musical matinee bon vivant, and a consummate rock ‘n’ roll craftsman? “Surely such a creature does not exist!” the ubiquitous they would have screamed, hands flailing around their heads. The whole package. The goods.

In today’s world of momentary chart toppers and web site photo bombs, Joe Sullivan emerges upon first listen as the real deal. Don’t let the tongue-in-cheek album title and cover fool you. A portrait of the artist as an animated object, rendered in permanent marker and surrounded by an under-strung guitar and crayons used to color in a couple-plus-three musical notes, adorns the canvas, suggesting that the music inside might have been written and performed for a Saturday morning kids show in Tuscaloosa or a traveling ice show with skating bears and tree trunks. Nothing could be further from the truth, for this is pop and rock music created by an adult for other adults, and adults who are kids at heart. And it hints, every so cautiously, at the humor and pathos contained within. And, of course, the talent. So much talent.

Sullivan, who plays in the live shows of sterling musical conclave An American Underdog, considers himself to be a songwriter that plays guitar, as opposed to a guitar player who writes songs. His craft benefits from his exposure to a “huge collection of records” from the fifties and sixties he had access to in his youth. His life experience turns those sounds on their heads for a contemporary musical knockout punch you won’t soon forget.

This is absolutely the stuff of a legend who rolls out his barrels beginning with song number one, the hooky “Conspiracy Radio,” armed with an opening salvo in the form of an affectionate nod to the Ronettes’ “Be My Baby.” A slightly agitated roll on that song’s opening drum beats raises the flag and spreads the word about the wonderful, still-vital world of radio. With a sweet Ramones glaze and Brian May-like guitar solo, Sullivan pleads with people to be overtaken by the power that finds him “hanging on every word.” “Haven’t you heard?” Sullivan wonders, and you know you have as you’re reaching for a dial to turn to your favorite station rocking your favorite tunes.

sullivan 2If there is a recurring theme within Schlock Star, it’s the plight of girls and boys of various stripes. A powerful portrait of the artist as rock star pulling the rug out from under a girl who thinks her boyfriend is “insane” and plays music that’s “kind of lame” is at the center of the tongue-in-cheek “Rock Star Boyfriend.” “She don’t care,” the narrator sings, perhaps matter-of-factly. The heck with cool tunes: it’s all about guitar shredding and posing for shiny web site splash pages for this girl. In “Girl Next Door,” a guy, with his heart presumably in the right place, trains his telescope on the bedroom of a new next door neighbor from parts unknown. It’s really a sweet story, as the narrator sings: “I’ll be her Gilligan, she’ll be my Mary Ann, she’ll be my Lois Lane, I’ll be her Superman.” And in the bluesy guitar crunch of “Love in Every Bite,” the emotion is all-consuming and flavorful, and in every way just as tasty.

Aided more than ably by producer, engineer and multi-instrumentalist Andy Reed and drummers Donny Brown and Cody Maracek, Sullivan makes tracks that stick and stack up for imminent replay. You can tell the whole bunch of these crackerjack musical minds are having a blast. The explosions are infectious and more than that you can not ask for. This is Sullivanmania, attended by screaming fans who dig the sounds of one of the best records of 2014.

This is the whole package. These are the goods. This is Joe Sullivan, and he is the real deal.

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I Love that Song! #1: “Honey, Honey” by Abba

ABBA (Bjorn, Benny, Agnetha & Frida) - Waterloo (1974)

ABBA (Bjorn, Benny, Agnetha & Frida) – Waterloo (1974)

I heard the most wonderful sounds coming from my radio. “Waterloo” immediately struck me as such a perfect pop song, with its insistent beat and that wonderful, hooky melody, punctuated by Benny Andersson’s classically-influenced piano stabs. And that chorus: kind of an amalgam of fifties, sixties and contemporary influences. It all sounded so good, so sweet, so charming coming out of those speakers, like a gift settled before me that came from heaven.

And then, when I got the album and dropped the needle gently upon the first track on side one, I found that heaven, all 11 songs of it, was indeed within my ears’ grasp, nestled comfortably within the commanding sleeve which depicted the four members of Abba (and a reasonable facsimile of Napoleon). I loved it all, from that glorious hit single and the pounding “King Kong Song” to the soulful, rhythmic bounce of “My Mama Said” and the jangly, poppy “Suzy -Hang-Around.”

But the song that I especially loved–the one that caught my ears in a take-no-prisoners kind of way–was the side two opener, the luscious, entrancing “Honey, Honey.” That upbeat number started in overdrive with a runaway bass guitar, swirling orchestration and a percussive bottom. The melody, crafted with care by Andersson and his songwriting partner Bjorn Ulvaeus, surrounded me and hugged me tight, especially during the middle section which started at 1:04: “I don’t want to hurt you baby, I don’t wanna see you cry…” Those notes, full of life and taking me somewhere other than here, simply slayed me like so many songs I have heard since have failed to do. It’s hard to explain, but when that middle section repeated at 1:59, and the words in the first lines of the lyrics were replaced by orchestration, my knees became weak and my legs turned to jelly, such was the enormity of the effect.

ABBA's "Honey, Honey"

ABBA’s “Honey, Honey”

I found, perhaps for the first time, what is was like to be in love with an ABBA melody line. The group, of course, went on to record many more exciting, wonderful songs and albums, but, for me, as much as I loved all of their output, no song of theirs ever topped the effect that “Honey, Honey” had, and still has, on me. “There’s no other place in this world that I’d rather be.” Those words were as true as a sunny sky back then. They still ring true today.

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