Coming Full Circle and Meeting Up With the Latest Music Added to the Pure Pop Radio Playlist

Essay by Alan Haber

This is the kind of full circle thing that tickles one’s funny bone or, at the very least, raises a smile when one thinks back to how it all started for him–him, and one, being me.

purepoplogoWhen the weekly Pure Pop Radio Show started back in 1995, I had moved on, in quick succession, from two short-lived programs. The first, Lost Treasures and Guilty Pleasures, outlived its usefulness in short order when I quickly realized that my supply of real, actual lost treasures (album cuts and b-sides that I thought were truly “lost”) and guilty pleasures, a concept I didn’t believe in because I really don’t believe that one, meaning me, should ever feel guilty about something they like, were in shorter supply than I thought they would be.

The second, a Beatles show, the title of which has been snugly wrapped in a cloud of misty and rather moist memory, lasted a bit longer–a couple of months, I think. The show, a mix of Beatles group and solo tracks lounging comfortably in the same hot tub as groups that sound Beatlesque (and don’t get me started on whether the term Beatlesque actually means anything), songs by artists who touched shoulders with the Beatles, and artists not connected with the Beatles who covered Beatles and solo Beatles songs, was fun for those couple of months and then, not so much. I know–you can’t understand how an all-Beatles show could get old, but it did for me. And I’m the world’s biggest Beatles fan (look me up in Guinness, if you must).

sheepshead bay brooklynStuck with a time slot and no show to fill it, I started to think about what I might tackle next, looking vainly through my humongous record collection for signs, any sign at all, that might clue me in as to my next radio move. The signs were not forthcoming. But then I remembered, for whatever reason, visiting a local mom-and-pop record store in my old neighborhood in Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn about 10 years earlier. I found myself looking at a rather impressive wall of singles, many of which sported picture sleeves. One of those picture sleeves housed a 45 by a group called Common Knowledge, which was new to me.

common knowledge picture sleeveCommon Knowledge was actually the duo of Andrew Gold and Graham Gouldman, and the two songs on that single, released in 1984, the delightfully catchy “Don’t Break My Heart” and the b-side, “J.B. in Arabia,” functioned as nothing less than what would become the group Wax two years later. I remembered playing “Don’t Break My Heart” for the first time and falling in love with it. It was, to my ears, a perfect pop song, which led me to reminisce about listening to the radio, growing up in the 1960s, and hearing a whole lot of perfect pop songs, one after the other. The memory was an instant motivational shot in the noggin for me. I thought, why not do a show full of great pop songs?

nick lowe pure pop for now peopleBut what to call it? For that slice of inspiration, I looked to Nick Lowe’s 1978 Pure Pop for Now People album (the US title; in the UK, it was Jesus of Cool). A snip here and another snip there, and I had my title: Pure Pop. That seemed to sum it all up for me, for these were songs that were pure of heart, with natural melodies and harmonies and hooks, glorious hooks, and most of them were three minutes long (give or take). That kind of thing could fill a radio show, right?

And so it did. But playing the great old numbers wouldn’t be enough…I needed new music that played in the same sandbox, which led me to peruse the pages of two great, much-missed publications: Audities, the Journal of Insanely Great Pop and POPsided. Both magazines featured reviews of then-current and archival releases by pop music artists. I would read these reviews and contact the record companies and/or artists for copies of their music to play on Pure Pop. I was working a pretty demanding day job at the time, and this was before cell phones; I made many calls in between flights for work trips, standing in my suit at payphone kiosks in airports talking to people who made the music that turned me on.

kennedys webrburtnik caseI invited artists into the studio for live performances and revealing chats–Pete and Maura Kennedy (see the photo at left for proof, and dig Maura’s Partridge Family tee), Glen Burtnik, John Wicks and the Records and the Van DeLeckie’s (christened the Recorleckie’s that day), Lee Feldman and others were early visitors. Pure Pop became Alan Haber’s Pure Pop, not because I wanted to put my name in the spotlight, but because there were many other “Pure Pop” sites springing up on the Internet and I didn’t want there to be any confusion. Plus, Glen Burtnik did a jingle for the show in which he sang “Alan Haber’s Pure Pop” and added a big poof! for a big-time, show biz touch that made me smile (that jingle, cut on February 13, 1997, is still in use today).

So, a little more than 20 years later, I’m still at it, except now Pure Pop is a 24-hour-a-day Internet radio station playing the greatest melodic pop music in the universe. I’m proud to say that, because it’s still around despite many times when personal considerations tugged so hard that the only sensible thing would have been to walk away from it and move on. The fact is, I still get excited when I push the play button and hear something that moves me in a way that no other form of art could ever do. Reason enough to continue, I think.

melody and madness ep david myhr and linus of hollywoodlinus of hollywood your favorite recordmerrymakersAnother reason to continue is to marvel at how things come full circle if you’re around long enough. Linus of Hollywood and David Myhr, whose music I first discovered when he was a member of the Merrymakers, have just released a joint digital and physical EP that was created for their 2015 same-named tour. Melody and Madness is fabulous for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that on this EP, Linus covers David’s song “Icy Tracks,” written with Peter, Bjorn and John’s Peter Morén (David’s version appears on his album, Soundshine); and David covers Linus’s song, “Ready for Something Good,” the original of which appears on Linus’s latest album, Something Good. The third track on the EP finds Linus and David pairing up to cover Paul McCartney’s “Come and Get It.” It’s all quite grand.

linus caseWe’re playing all three of the songs on the Melody and Madness EP on Pure Pop Radio, a reality which comes as no surprise, I suppose. The full circle bit, which is the whole reason for writing this essay, is that both Linus and David figure heavily and importantly in the early history of all that is Pure Pop. I had heard about Linus’s first album; I eventually received a pre-release CD-R copy with unmastered final mixes, which I still have. I was an instant fan, needless to say. That was in 1999, a pretty good year for pop music, because the Merrymakers’ No Sleep ‘Til Famous album, also released that year, was on my radar and in my hands after meeting David’s brother Niklas (he was living in the United States) for dinner at a local eatery outside of Washington, DC, before which he gave me a copy. The future station manager of Pure Pop Radio, Janet Haber, was in attendance at that memorable meeting. Now you know one of the reasons I call her my lucky charm. So, full circle and tied together with a neat little bow.

I’ve been in a bit of a reflective mood lately while I’ve been dealing with a number of health issues, which is reason enough, I guess, to have written this essay, which is, you may well guess, reason enough to say that it’s time to start reporting on new music added to the Pure Pop Radio playlist. I’ve added a ton over the past many weeks; starting next week, if the creek don’t rise, I will begin said reporting, and the Melody and Madness EP will be first up. Trust me, the wait will have been worth it.

full circleSo, full circle. Who would have thought, right?

purepoplogoAlan Haber’s Pure Pop Radio is the original 24-hour Internet radio station playing the greatest melodic pop music from the ’60s to today. From the Beatles to the Spongetones, the Nines, Kurt Baker, the Connection and the New Trocaderos, we play the hits and a whole lot more. Tune in by clicking on one of the listen links below.

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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

Ooh, Scary Good! A Look Back at Harry Nilsson’s Son of Schmilsson

(The following essay was written for the Discoveries Magazine website as part of their countdown to the release of the Harry Nilsson RCA Albums Collection on July 30, 2013, and is reproduced here by permission.)

Harry Nilsson's Son of Schmilsson. Ooh, scary good!
Harry Nilsson’s Son of Schmilsson. Ooh, scary good!

Without question, Harry Nilsson’s Son of Schmilsson was the right album for the right time. When it was released in 1972, I was 17 and had my sights set on college. I was especially open to new ideas. Enter into my record collection this completely unhinged set of songs that perfectly summed up the artist’s newfound penchant for baiting the listener with a love song and, in the next heartbeat, pulling out the rug from under you and dialing up an in-your-face rocker preceded by a healthy belch.

Despite all that, this was a pretty typical Nilsson album. He hadn’t abandoned his gifts for melody or whimsy; he just dressed them in funkier clothes. For every lowbrow joke on the record—the aforementioned belch preceding the wild and wooly rock ‘n’ roll oldie, “At My Front Door,” there was a straight-ahead, old-fashioned, sweet little number like “The Lottery Song,” in which a couple flirts with winning the big prize amidst hopes of growing its value in Las Vegas. Well, sort of sweet, anyway. And there was “Turn On Your Radio,” a beautifully-arranged, pretty song about hope and being at peace with the one you love, even if that person is far away.

There were other, more sanguine numbers that threatened to eclipse the less dainty ones. “Remember (Christmas)” was one, a beautiful, wistful look back at a life lived to the fullest. There were a few, emotionally-invested rockers, too: the bluesy, horn-infused “Spaceman”; the equally bluesy, late-night jazz club vibe of “Ambush”; and “Take 54,” a take-the-chick-and-run song of the highest order. And—oh yeah, that was about it.

That leaves the jokes, and they were plentiful. Low and even lower still, but plentiful. And melodic, too, wonderful compositions that showed that Nilsson hadn’t abandoned the things that got him here, wherever that was. There was the faux country song “Joy,” delivered in a mock country crooner tone and actually—somewhat suspiciously, some might say—released as a country single under the pseudonym Buck Earl by RCA. And let’s not forget the jokey-on-the-surface “I’d Rather Be Dead,” sung with gusto by Harry and a group of senior citizens. Believe me, even at 17, the sentiment was not lost on me. Who wants to wet their bed?

Of course, the song on everybody’s lips was the infamous “You’re Breaking My Heart,” which proudly flaunted the f-word and sent parents around the world running towards their kids’ stereos with hammers. Such language!

The backside of Son of Schmilsson!
The backside of Son of Schmilsson!

That leaves this album’s centerpiece, the anthemic love song “The Most Beautiful World in the World,” a two-part number that eschewed the obvious frat boy jokes for a more sentimental approach. Sort-of. The song’s first section, adopting a catchy, pop construction colored with a faux island beat, finds Harry professing his love for the whole, entire world. The second section is an altogether loftier proposition. Here, Harry gets down to business, calling out the world’s various attributes (“Your mountains when you’re mad/Your rivers when you’re sad/And those deep blue seas/I love you for your snow/Your deserts down below/I love the way you wear your trees”) and declaring that he “just couldn’t stay here without you.”

But Harry’s not fooling anyone. The punch line is right around the corner. “So when you get older/And over your shoulder/You look back to see if it’s real/Tell her she’s beautiful/Roll the world over,” he sings, and, bingo, the payoff!: “And give her a kiss/And a feel,” as the orchestra and Hollywood blockbuster chorus swell behind him. A beautiful setup followed by a tiny, smutty joke. Really, a song about a girl? Who knows. Pure Harry.

Surely, Son of Schmilsson was not the work of the man who made Pandemonium Shadow Show. Or Harry, even. This was the work of an artist bent on market self-destruction, a man who began making the recorded left turn his raison d’etre. But it’s the Harry album that I always come back to because it synthesizes the various colors of the artist’s writing and performing gifts. The songs make you laugh, cry, laugh again, and shut the door and put a towel at the bottom to keep your parents from hearing the smutty jokes.

"Seven ball in the corner pocket, eh John?"
“Seven ball in the corner pocket, eh John?”

Son of Schmilsson is the most beautiful album in the world, to put it mildly, and an astounding 42 years after its initial release, it remains my favorite Nilsson platter. Plus it’s got Richie Snare, George Harrysong, Nicky Hopkins, Peter Frampton and Klaus Voorman making the songs come alive, and it’s got a deep, resonating belch. Who could ask for anything more?

Alan Haber
June 16, 2013

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