Holly? Jolly? Christmas? We’ve Got All Three! And More Melodic Pop Gift-Giving Suggestions

By Alan Haber – Pure Pop Radio

We continue with our Holly Jolly Christmas Party here on day four, reviewing the latest and greatest holiday releases that are perfect for gift giving. You’ve still got some wrapping paper on hand, right?

Before we get to today’s gift suggestions, let’s give our last two-pack of holiday presents to one lucky person. Today, Curry Cuts’ White Lace and Promises: The Songs of Paul Williams and Now Sounds’ deluxe expanded edition of the Mamas and the Papas’ People Like Us are up for grabs. Enter below.

This is our last post of 2018. As we gather with friends and family to enjoy the holiday season, and prepare our annual Favorite Records of the Year feature (coming in early January), we wish you all the best and thank you for your support. We couldn’t do this without you. Have a Merry Happy and a Gear New Year!

Well then, let’s get to talking about the tunes…

Brad Marino | Almost Here (2018)
The Connection’s Marino, singing all of the vocals and playing all of the instruments, turns in a trio of Christmas musings set to a holiday beat. The title song is an uptempo number about keeping holiday commotion to a bare minimum (“This Christmas is for you and me”). “Merry Christmas, Happy New Year” is another uptempo track celebrating the season (“A time for us to come together/A time for us all to remember/Merry Christmas and Happy New Year”). An uptempo, Rockpile-styled cover of the holiday chestnut “Blue Christmas,” usually delivered in a bluesy frame of mind, caps off a fun EP, perfect for this time of year.

black box Where to Get It: Bandcamp

Michael Simmons | “Christmas All Over Again” (2018)
Capping off a really good year in which he released his bravura solo album, First Days of Summer, sparkle*jets u.k.’s Simmons whipped up this bit of holiday joy. Covering Tom Petty’s beloved Christmas tune with good cheer and including Simmons’ best Petty impersonation, sweet background vocals, a nifty electric guitar solo, and bits and bobs of a couple of Christmas classics before the first verse (spot the homages!) is certainly an honest day’s work that we, the listeners, benefit from. Well done, sir.

black box Where to Listen and Get It: Bandcamp

Bob Burger | Christmas Can’t Wait (2016)
This sterling five-track holiday EP shows Zeek Weekling as his actual self, Bob Burger, the long-time New Jersey music man whose solo albums are highly recommended.

Burger helps you celebrate Christmas with, among other top tracks, the upbeat “Gonna Be Christmas,” offering up an enticing melody and attractive harmonies; the humorous, vaguely countryish story song “Santa’s Gonna Crash (Right Through the Ceiling),” which wonders why the big guy can’t just use the front door instead of weighing down the roof, and a knockout version of “Ave Maria,” which features an impassioned lead vocal.

Burger even helps you usher in the new year with the rock shuffle “Happy New Year to Ya.” Whether with the Weeklings or solo, Bob Burger is one of music’s sturdiest artists. Gift this EP to everyone you know, is my suggestion.

Here’s a live version of “Gonna Be Christmas,” with Bob and Jimmy Leahey:

black box Where to Get It: Amazon

The Butties | “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” (from 12 Greatest Carols) (2005)
If the Beatles recorded “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” in their early style and modeled it after their version of “Twist and Shout,” you’d have this classic side, just one of a dozen such clever holiday workouts contained on the album 12 Greatest Carols. The Butties also wrap bits of “Let It Be” around “Let It Snow,” and rework “We Wish You a Merry Christmas” with the spirit of “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.” Plus many more smile-inducing tracks, perfect for Beatle fans on your gift list. The Butties are really fab!

black box Where to Get It: Amazon, CD Baby

Pop Co-Op | “Wrap Yourself in Christmas Eve” (from Happy Holidays from the Co-Op Communique) (2018)
On this holiday-themed release, a free download, the Co-Op Communique matches the 12 days of Christmas with a dozen holiday tracks that celebrate the season from artists as diverse as John T. McMullan, the Bradburys, Dw. Dunphy, and Pure Pop Radio favorite Super 8.

Pop Co-Op’s quartet of popsters–the Spongetones’ Steve Stoeckel, Mr. Encrypto’s Bruce Gordon, Stacy Carson, and Joel Tinnel–lead the pack with my favorite offering, written by Stoeckel, “Wrap Yourself in Christmas Eve.” This is a clever acoustic number about availing oneself of the warmth of the night before the big day. The deft acoustic guitar figures are truly special.

Give this one as a gift for maximum good cheer.

black box Where to Listen and Get It: Song: Bandcamp The album: Bandcamp

Win a Pair of Presents!

Enter below to win a pair of melodic presents for the holiday season from Pure Pop Radio (Curry Cuts’ White Lace and Promises: The Songs of Paul Williams and Now Sounds’ deluxe expanded edition of the Mamas and the Papas’ People Like Us). Be sure to fill in all fields (type “Curry Now” in the Comment field), and send the completed form to us by tomorrow, Saturday, December 22, at 10 am ET. US residents only. Good luck.


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 ended this past August. Welcome to your number one home for coverage of the greatest melodic pop music in the universe from the ’60s to today. Happy holidays!

New on Pure Pop Radio 02.14.17: Starring Pop Co-Op (with the Spongetones’ Steve Stoeckel), James Starflower, The Lunar Laugh, and More

new on pp banner hybrid 2-use this one, it's fixed

Spins and Reviews | 02.14.17
By Alan Haber – Pure Pop Radio

james starflowerJames Starflower | Covers: “Mandy,” “Jungle Love,” “God Save the Queen,” and “Moonage Daydream”; “Shandi”

Imagine Marc Bolan veering off of the T. Rex causeway and recording a David Bowie-esque Pin Ups kind of collection and you’re relatively close to where the quartet of covers James Starflower has recorded in his own off-ramp style lands.

The best covers–the most interesting ones, anyway–are those that don’t just shake hands with the originals. The best covers reposition a song’s elements, like a paint shaker in a hardware store. So imagine the mighty Starflower shaking things up and you have a wholly different take on “Mandy,” wherein Barry Manilow’s original tender-to-tumultuous arrangement is reset as an emotional, vocally-charged ballad, backed only by Elton John piano and just a tidbit of understated orchestration. Similarly, Starflower’s version of the Sex Pistols’ “God Save the Queen” turns the rock and the roll on their heads with a ramped up Christine McVie kind of piano part, recasting the song as a determined state-of-the-union address. Steve Miller’s “Jungle Love” becomes a showcase for Starflower’s rubbery interpretive powers, and the aforementioned Bowie’s “Moonage Daydream” presents Ziggy Stardust as a sensitive, but with a purpose, balladeer, performing the song before thousands of virtual acolytes holding blazing Zippo® lighters into the air.

And proving that Starflower can originate as well as recast, his “Shandi” charms in a ’70s kind of breezy, acoustic, pure poppy way, singing his goodbye to the Wizard’s yellow brick road. Since the artist’s wildly creative album Pet Your Stereo arrived last May, we’ve been hungry for more of his quite alive sound pictures; these covers, and this previously unheard original, satisfy until the next musical missives make their way to our ears. Drift to where the starflowers shine, will you?

black box Now playing in rotation on Pure Pop Radio: “Mandy,” “Jungle Love,” “God Save the Queen,” “Moonage Daydream,” and “Shandi”

black box Where to Get It: Not currently available for purchase

pop co-op album coverPop Co-Op | Four State Solution (Silent Bugler, 2017)

This fun meeting of minds, melodies, and guitars came about as the result of four like-minded musicians, including the Spongetones’ Steve Stoeckel, sharing common, catchy ground and listening to Dana Bonn and Carl Cafarelli’s This Is Rock ‘n’ Roll Radio show. Recorded in separate states of the union, these songs, sounding effortless and imbued with the spirit that drives melodic pop, are living, breathing bite-size reminders of what it is about such music that draws so many people to it. Songs like Stoeckel’s toe-tapping melodic pop-rocker, the Rockpile-with-a-hint-of-modern-country “Feint of Heart,” and Carson’s Left Banke/Spongetones-ish ballad “A Trick of the Light,” both of which will make their radio debuts tonight in the 8-9 o’clock hour here on Pure Pop Radio, are highlights, as are “Forgotten Secrets,” with its swirling rhythm and inviting Stoeckel vocal, and “Malaprop Girl,” a pop-and-rock ‘n’ roller of the catchiest order. Sweet.

black box Now playing in rotation on Pure Pop Radio: “I Didn’t Know,” “Feint of Heart,” “Forgotten Secrets,” “Malaprop Girl,” “A Trick of the Light,” and “Only Me”

black box Where to Get It: CD Baby, Bandcamp

lunar laugh mama's boy lpThe Lunar Laugh | Mama’s Boy (You are the Cosmos, 2017)
Joined by Campbell Young on bass, electric guitar, keyboards, and vocals, multi-instrumentalists Jared Lekites and Connor Anderson have fashioned a wonderful collection of catchy pop songs as a follow-up to May 2015’s Apollo. “Work in Progress,” released as a single last October, is a lovely, charming, melodic wonder, as are the gorgeous, mid-tempo Simon and Garfunkel vibey “The Bedroom Door” and the playful “She Needs More Love,” which builds sweetly from a spare arrangement to an all-in instrumentated track. Lekites continues to be a favorite here on Pure Pop Radio for his solo work; this current incarnation of his talents, mixed with those of Anderson and Young, is also a sign that melodic pop music is alive and well and thriving.

black box Now playing in rotation on Pure Pop Radio: “Mama’s Boy,” “Sticks and Stones,” “Work in Progress,” “The Bedroom Door,” “A Better Fool,” “She Gets Stoned,” “Doin’ Alright,” “She Needs More Love,” and “Nighthawks and Mona Lisa”

black box Where to Get It: Bandcamp, You are the Cosmos

gretchen's wheel left turnGretchen’s Wheel | “Left Turn” (from the forthcoming album Sad Scientist) | Futureman, 2017)
The first song to emerge from the forthcoming Gretchen’s Wheel album Sad Scientist, due this spring, is a driving, propulsive pop-rocker with a catchy chord progression and Lindsay Murray’s strong vocal, drawing timbre from Aimee Mann. Oh, and guitars–crunchy strumming, rubbery stabs, and a Tom Scholz-y chord slide at 2:31 that brought me right back to 1976 and put a smile on my face. This portends a good showing for the new album, highly anticipated by power pop fans.

black box Now playing in rotation on Pure Pop Radio

black box Where to Get It: Noisetrade (A sampler with three previously-released Gretchen’s Wheel songs)

cotton mather with nicole atkinsCotton Mather with Nicole Atkins | Cotton Mather with Nicole Atkins (Star Apple Kingdom, 2016)
This is a miraculous triple-play, teaming Robert Harrison’s visionary songwriting with powerhouse vocalist Nicole Atkins, whom I’ve seen slay a crowd as an opener for Fountains of Wayne. The pairing pays off with aplomb; “Call Me the Witch” is catchy, upbeat pop; the dramatically-orchestrated “Faded” doesn’t sound at all far afield from something Marianne Faithfull would have recorded back in the day; and “Girl Friday” shakes with a ’60s Girl Groupy, Spectorish pomp and circumstance. Across all three of these songs, Atkins’ voice shines brightly, exhibiting power and the good sense to hold back when necessary. Alluring and awesome.

black box Now playing in rotation on Pure Pop Radio: “Call Me the Witch,” “Faded,” and “Girl Friday”

black box Where to Get It: Amazon, Star Apple Kingdom

kara mosher - dosage - from andy reedKara Mosher | Dosage (2017)

Possessing a wallop of an emotional vocal delivery, Austin, Texas pianist and singer-songwriter Kara Mosher scores with this smashing collection. Produced and recorded by the Legal Matters’ Andy Reed, with ace drummer Donny Brown in tow, Mosher reminds me of Carly Simon in the way that she modulates her vocal lines. In fact, the opening to the powerful “Golden Path” reminds me, somehow, of Simon’s “That’s the Way I’ve Always Heard it Should Be.” Interesting. Welcome the debut of an artist I’ll be following from this point on.

black box Now playing in rotation on Pure Pop Radio: “Survive,” “Golden Path,” “Moon and Sea,” “Wake Up Call,” “and “You and Me Live Forever”

black box Where to Get It: CD Baby, iTunes, Amazon

dreaming in stereo girl with a record collectionFernando Perdomo with Dreaming in Stereo | “Girl with a Record Collection” (2017)
The latest earworm from the prolific Perdomo finds him and Dreaming in Stereo tagging from a la-la-fueled open for a song about hooking up with a girl who is similarly entrenched in the world of record collecting, who can speak that musical language. Hey, she has records by Emitt Rhodes and Big Star, and her platters are alphabetized! It’s kismet! Catchy and upbeat and wholly satisfying, the Perdomo way.

black box Now playing in rotation on Pure Pop Radio

black box Where to Get It: Bandcamp