Favorite Records of the Year: Stars of 2018

By Alan Haber – Pure Pop Radio

Happy New Year, and welcome to the list.

About said list…it was the subject of my one and only New Year’s resolution: to keep the number of entries to 15. Well, good luck with that, I told myself, and wouldn’t you know it…I couldn’t make that work. How about 20? No? Okay then, how about 22? Twenty-two it is.

My annual list of the year’s best full-length releases collects what are, to me, the absolute top of the pops–the very bestest of the bunch. I liked and loved and adored many more long players, of course, but these are the ones I thought about and returned to the most.

As in past years, my favorite records of the year are listed in random order. I’ve never been able to compile lists of any kind in order of importance, size, or weight; my number five of today might drop to number 11 or rise two spots tomorrow, depending on my mood. So, random order it is.

Here are some truly exceptional releases–Pure Pop Radio’s Favorite Records of the Year: The Stars of 2018, presented randomly, all shiny and bright, all perfect for a place in your collection of great melodic pop music. A gathering of honorable mentions appears after the main list.

Enjoy.

David Myhr | Lucky Day (Lojinx, 2018)
A beautifully rendered selection of melody-rich songs from one of melodic pop music’s greatest practitioners, Lucky Day is the sound of a master songwriter’s loving embrace.

A warmhearted musical journey, Lucky Day’s 10 lovingly crafted songs, written solo and with some of melodic pop’s top writers, feature beautiful melodies and top-notch playing and singing. All contribute to one of 2018’s best albums. “Room to Grow,” written with Pure Pop Radio favorite Bill DeMain, about giving a romance all the chances it deserves to prosper, is just one gorgeous example of the treasures on offer.

Produced by Brad Jones, Andreas Dahlbäck and Myhr, Lucky Day is a wonderful gift to lovers of melodic pop.

black box Where to Get It: Amazon, Lojinx

The Cherry Drops | Good to the Last Drop (2018)
On-air and mobile deejay Vern Shank’s melange of bubblegum and sunshine pop populates the Cherry Drops’ third welcome, rousing collection of smile-inducing songs that simultaneously evoke memories of favorite old songs and create memories of new numbers written and performed in the manner of the ’60s and ’70s.

Featuring co-writes with fellow Cherry Drop Joshua Cobb and classic popsters such as the Archies’ Ron Dante, the Grass Roots’ Mark Dawson, and the late Gary DeCarlo of Steam, and choice covers of treasured hit classic numbers, Good to the Last Drop is a mighty fun ride.

“One More Try” is a Paul McCartney-esque mid-tempo slice of pure pop topped with Queen-styled electric guitar runs. “Feels Like Summer Love” is a loving nod to ’60s Beach Boys balladry, maybe the truest such tip of the hat in recent memory. The harmonies are gorgeous. The Cherry Drops pay homage to the Lovin’ Spoonful’s classic “You Didn’t Have to Be So Nice,” bringing in original Spoonful member Steve Boone on bass and opening with a lovely a cappella-over-keyboard opening.

A fun time will be had by all.

black box Where to Get It: The Cherry Drops’ Website, CD Baby, Amazon, iTunes

mothboxer open sky coverMothboxer | Open Sky (2018)
Dave Ody’s outfit stretches into some of the most creative, expression-filled songs of its long history on an album steeped in clever songcraft. A coming together and pulling apart experience built around surprising chord changes and elastic melodies, set against primarily alternative instrumental backings, Open Sky is aptly named.

Among the many highlights: “Sunshine Sound,” a slow-to-mid tempo song set sound-wise vaguely in the Beach Boys’ Holland era, and “Million Miles Away,” perhaps the most immediate sounding song on the album, a piano-based tune with harmony vocals that shine.

Open Sky is a keeper, maybe Mothboxer’s best.

black box Where to Get It: Bandcamp, Mothboxer’s Web Store

Alice Bierhorst | Ready for My Close-Up (2018)
The followup to 2016’s The Beacon is an even more astute collection of piano-based musical wizardry from this New York-based artist. High art meets accessible in these 10 songs that recall the works of early Carly Simon, Claire Hamill and Laura Nyro.

The title song is a pleasing, dramatic collision of Broadway and British folk. “Save It for a Rainy Day” is a slow burn of a ballad that shows off Bierhorst’s dynamic vocal range. “Beginners” is a drawing room waltz that rolls atop Peter Kiesewalter’s lively arrangement.

Call it all classical pop or singer-songwriter musings for the 2010s, but do call it yours by adding Ready for My Close-Up to your collection of smart pop. Bierhorst’s melodies reach the highest heights; Bierhorst is ready for her close-up, and then some.

black box Where to Get It: Alice Bierhorst’s Website, Bandcamp

Danny Wilkerson | Wilkerson (Spyderpop, 2018)
Working together with Bleu, who produced this superlative pure pop platter and co-wrote the songs, Danny Wilkerson, the always-and-forever Pengwin, has whipped up a self-titled opus that is by far this year’s most affecting collection of catchy, melodic earworms.

Wilkerson is a thing of wonder. Any and all, for that matter, of these dazzling songs could, and do, serve as examples of how to do it. Like the dynamic leadoff track, “Everybody Loves to Love,” a masterful piece of writing and statement of melodic purpose that begins drawing breath as if it were arranged by Burt Bacharach and goes on to incorporate a variety of tempos and approaches during its alluring five-and-one-half minutes.

All told, Wilkerson is nothing less than a good thing. It is, in fact, a great thing, and another feather in the cap of the mighty Spyderpop record label.

Where to Get It: The Spyderpop Store, Kool Kat Musik, CD Baby, and iTunes

McPherson Grant | McPherson Grant (2018)
Paying sweet homage to the melodic pop ruling class headed by Harry Nilsson, Paul McCartney, Klaatu, Brian Wilson and the like, Scott McPherson and Jamie Grant–their last names fused together in joyous harmony–have crafted almost an hour’s worth of sturdy earworms. Endlessly endearing songs like the lovely and charming “Housekeeper,” about cleaning up a romantic life gone sour and empty and honestly assessing the less-than-attractive situation ensure repeatability.

Cut from the catchy cloth of so many ’70s classics, the perky “Come Around Again,” about learning to realize and revel in the bountiful joy in front of one’s face, is propelled by Zak Nilsson’s drums and a sunny disposition that wouldn’t feel out of place during the summer months. And speaking of summer, “Let’s Drive to Summer” recounts a slow-growing, toe-tapping Beach Boys-by-way-of-Holland road course from cold Canada to warm Florida (“We’ll just follow the coast/Our sandals and shorts in tow/Waiting till the palms wave hello”).

Produced, written, played, arranged and recorded by Scott and Jamie (and don’t ask who did what; it’s a mystery even to both halves of the duo), and featuring guest turns by Zak Nilsson and Klaatu’s Terry Draper and Dee Long, Song travels the path negotiated by so many artists who came before them, but in a way that is significantly and characteristically their own. Song is a marvel.

black box Where to Get It: Tiny Volcano’s Web Shop, Kool Kat Musik

The Davenports | Don’t Be Mad at Me (2018)
Scott Klass and crew’s fourth long player, arriving 18 years after their smashing debut, Speaking Of, is the usual collection of literate, assured, thinking person’s pop songs. Anchored by the masterful title song, a tremendously enriching melodically-charged experience about a family light whose world has slowed to a crawl, who is needing help to maneuver through her days, this album swims in waters populated with one incredibly rich song after another.

“Away From Me,” sporting a typically attractive Klass melody, is a vaguely countryish construct about saying goodbye to one side of one’s personality, supported by strings that bend somewhat ominously around the melody. And “I Don’t Know What to Do,” an insanely catchy kind of left-field number co-written by Klass and David Myhr, is built around a clever, rocky riff and does its business in just over two minutes. It’s quite ingenious.

A great album.

black box Where to Get It: The Davenports’ Online Store, Amazon, Kool Kat Musik, iTunes

Caper Clowns | A Salty Taste to the Lake (2018)
The mighty Caper Clowns are back with their sophomore long player, another well-crafted collection of top-flight melodic pop gems. From the undeniably catchy opening confection “The Way I Dream,” which sports a clever acoustic guitar riff and an enchanting melody, to “Sacre Bleu,” a piano-based, harmony wonder that sounds like the kind of song radio should be embracing and sending up to the top of the charts, A Salty Taste to the Lake is a winner all the way. That makes two in a row. Good job, guys.

black box Where to Get It: Kool Kat Musik, iTunes, Amazon

Les Bicyclettes de Belsize | The Twelve Days of Christmas (2018)
A late-year surprise and not only a charming, top-flight holiday-themed album but one of the best melodic pop albums of the year, Charlie Darling’s collection of original from-the-heart Christmas songs will warm you like a heaping cup of peppermint candy cane-flavored good cheer.

Bittersweet holiday tales told in pretty swaths of lovingly rendered melody, and sung with an everyman’s sweetness, color this delightful song cycle; sincere, understated orchestration, a literary approach to lyrical conceits, and a pinch of sleigh bells catch the ear time and again in lovely slow- and mid-tempo-ballads.

Darling’s vocals, sort of a contemporary cross between the tones of the Big Dish’s Steven Lindsay and Pet Shop Boys’ Neil Tennant, are key to making  songs like gentle ballads “Every Christmas,” about missing a love gone away grab hold of your heart. And then the artist changes course: “Andy Partridge (From XTC)” is a spirited pop sprint substituting the names of pop and rock bands through the ages for the various creatures evidenced in “The Twelve Days of Christmas” (Three Dog Night, the Dave Clark Five, Gang of Four, Nine Inch Nails and Joe Strummer (strumming), among them).

One of the best albums of the year, Christmas-oriented or not? Yes, indeed.

black box Where to Get It: Bandcamp

Bill Lloyd | Working the Long Game (Spyderpop, 2018)
Bill Lloyd, one of melodic pop’s most distinguished practitioners of the art, has released one of the very best albums of 2018, with which you will fall in love.

Working the Long Game’s dozen melodic pearls, whether written solo or with top song scribes like 10cc’s Graham Gouldman, Cheap Trick’s Tom Petersson, and Wanderlust’s Scot Sax, are gorgeous, instantly classic gems of the Lloydian variety. Like the co-write with Graham Gouldman, “What Time Won’t Heal,” about letting love in again after a relationship withers away (“What time won’t heal/Love will repair/And if you open up your heart/You’ll find it there”).

The closer, “Shining,” is a beautiful ballad of the one-man-band variety that features some lovely sixties-inspired guitar lines and harmonies. The narrator sings about his true love and you will feel the emotion. It’s all fantastic, so get ready to fall in love.

black box Where to Get It: Spyderpop, Kool Kat Musik, Amazon, CD Baby

Fernando Perdomo | Zebra Crossing (2018)
Recorded in famed Abbey Road Studios and in Perdomo’s own Reseda Ranch Studios, the wearer of many musical hats’ fourth album is a rich tapestry of styles centered around the artist’s considerable composing and instrumental prowess. It’s a clear winner.

Highlights are many. The gorgeous ballad, “I’m Here,” is as good and classy an opening track as one could imagine; a strong melody and emotive vocals make the proceedings shine. The poppy “Sometimes I Feel Like Nothing at All,” cowritten by Beach Boys lyricist Stephen Kalinich, is an inviting tune topped by sensitive strings. And popster Ken Sharp guests on guitar on the should-be-a-radio-hit “Find Love,” a spectacular upbeat, McCartneyesque pop song.

Speaking of Fab connections, an all-in, emotionally reverent cover of George Harrison’s “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” credited to the Zebra Crossing All Star Band, finds guest vocalists Diane Birch, Shawn Lee, and Jason and Daphna Rowe and lead guitarist Perdomo taking center stage for a thrilling album closer. What better Beatles track to cover for an album named in tribute to the area in front of the studio the Fabs called home?

black box Where to Get It: Bandcamp, Amazon, Kool Kat Musik

Mick Terry | Days Go By (Kool Kat, 2018)
Mick Terry’s Days Go By is 2018’s standout pure melodic pop album. It’s filled with the kind of songs that used to jump out of transistor radios way back in the when.

Every one of these 10 songs is golden. Witness: “Emily Come Back,” an upbeat, poppy tune that’s sure to please and features this album’s title in the lyric. “Everybody’s Talking” is an upbeat, sixties influenced Motown-meets-Billy Joel song (think around the time of Joel’s An Innocent Man album), a toe-tapping classic if ever I heard one. And “Friends Like That” is another upbeat gem with a great melody, handclaps, horns and a crazy, meaty guitar solo.

Working with producer Jim Boggia, Terry has produced a clear, melodic winner.

black box Where to Get It: Kool Kat Musik, Mick Terry on Bandcamp

Astral Drive | Astral Drive (Lojinx, 2018)
Longtime producer and songwriter Phil Thornalley has made nothing less than the Todd Rundgren album that Todd Rundgren never made in the 1970s. Astral Drive is nothing less than one of the best albums of 2018.

Astral Drive finds Phil Thornalley doing most of the heavy lifting for a joyous tour de force composed of original songs that echo the catchy sounds that the Hermit of Mink Hollow made all those many years ago. Thornalley, a legendary producer and songwriter whose lengthy list of credits includes co-writing Natalie Imbruglia’s “Torn,” fell in love with Todd Rundgren’s music when he heard Todd’s song “Useless Begging.” The rest, as they say, is history.

Astral Drive’s go-to, so-much-fun-to-listen-to song “Summer of ’76” practically demands that you sing along, whether you know the words or not. You will love, with all of your heart, the warm ballad “Wishing I Could Change the World,” which honors the classic Todd-meets-Philly-Soul bond, and the glorious, melody-infused, upbeat “Love is Real.”

One of 2018’s biggest and happiest surprises, without a doubt.

black box Where to Get It:  The Lojinx shop, Kool Kat Musik, Amazon, and iTunes

Michael Simmons | First Days of Summer (2018)
Musician and high school educator Michael Simmons, from Yorktown Lads and the much-missed sparkle*jets u.k., has crafted a stylistically diverse collection of songs that expertly lays out the artist’s diverse musical vision and dedication to craft.

From the opening and closing near-perfect, soft-pop bookends “Do Your Best to Care,” a keyboard driven toe-tapper featuring a determined, jazzy electric guitar solo, and the sleepy, closing ballad “Center of the Spiral,” which ends as if a turntable’s needle has become comfortably stuck in a loop within a record’s runoff wax, First Days of Summer speaks to melody-hungry melodic pop fans.

What shines brightly and decisively from within these dozen tracks is the passion that Michael Simmons has for making and playing music (he played most of the instruments on this album). He would do well to keep at this music thing and start planning his next collection with due haste.

black box Where to Get It: Bandcamp

Linus of Hollywood | Cabin Life (2018)
Nearly 20 years after his debut long player landed on planet Earth, Linus of Hollywood has served up 10 scoops of tasty, melodic treats on Cabin Fever, his delightful fifth effort that really, truly is the kind of thing that puts a spring in your step.

Some heartfelt words of wisdom are imparted in the fast-paced pop song “Won’t Let It Get Me Down,” played and sung with gusto. Cabin Life’s tender closing ballad, “It Was You,” details a love story for the ages. Beautifully sung and dedicated to Linus’s wife Augusta, the emotional arrangement marries delicate orchestration to nimble acoustic guitar playing as Linus sings about his true soul mate. “I finally got out of my own way,” he sings. “Everything just felt so easy/And I left behind my yesterday/You saved me from myself, believe me.”

“Drive up to the hills/Take that winding road/I think I remember where it goes,” the title song sings. And that winding road? It goes to one of 2018’s very best albums–Linus of Hollywood’s lovely Cabin Life.

black box Where to Get It: Linus of Hollywood’s web store, Amazon, iTunes

Dana Countryman | Cabaret of Love (Sterling Swan, 2018)
The year is not complete without a musical missive from melodic pop music’s melody and harmony king. Dana Countryman’s Cabaret of Love is one of 2018’s top long players, a joyous song cycle that surveys the feeling that unites us all: love.

Every number is a winner in this Cabaret of Love. “Just See If I Care” is a happy-sounding, hit-the-road-Jill Merseybeat-styled rocker featuring the Spongetones’ Jamie Hoover singing along and playing lead guitar in quite a Fab way. The heartfelt Four Freshmen homage, “The Night I Fell in Love With You,” is an unforgettable, romantic number with an affecting tea room orchestra arrangement and warm lead vocal sung by Tim Smolens from I.S.S. (Ideal Social Situation).

Cabaret of Love is chock full of guest star turns from such pop favorites as Klaatu’s Terry Draper (who turns in a top-shelf, particularly romantic lead vocal on “I’ll Be Shining Above You”), Klaatu’s Dee Long (electric guitar on “Shout”), and Tiny Volcano’s Scott McPherson (vocals on “You’re Still Number One”).

Cabaret of Love is a glorious gift for music lovers everywhere.

black box Where to Get It: Bandcamp, Amazon

Carpenter Smith and Jones | Petty (Big Radio, 2018)
Petty is a sincere and lovely celebration of the music of one of rock’s most magnanimous songwriters and performers, now sadly departed. It is a triumphant achievement, performed with heart by Michael Carpenter and songbirds Abby Smith and Sophie Jones.

The trio’s earthy vocal blend and the perhaps more deliberate pacing of the songs combine to amplify the emotions contained within the lyrics and music for a particularly engaging listen.

“Runnin’ Down a Dream” is recast as a slow, sometimes moody shuffle, a vocal workout bolstered by bracing electric guitars and Carpenter’s forceful drums. “Don’t Come Around Here No More” finds itself swimming atop a dreamy landscape played out with only nimble electric guitar backing beneath the trio’s emotional vocals (the final harmony stack is a joy to behold). And the Traveling Wilburys’ “End of the Line,” which closes this collection, takes on a singalong gospel tone; handclaps and joyous, freeing vocals abound. Prepare for an emotionally uplifting listening experience.

black box Where to Get It: Bandcamp, Kool Kat Musik

The Grand Levé | The Grand Levé (2018)
Göran Hjertstedt, who made the quite grand The Grand Levé with Europe’s (the Swedish rock band, not the continent) Ian Haugland, Ulf Holmberg, Göran Holmberg, Staffan Ebbesten, and Jonas Karlberg, is a music making veteran (best known for the equally grand Longplayer).

Although The Grand Levé fairly obviously shares cell structure with the music of Jeff Lynne, 10cc, Queen, Tom Petty and other members of the usual suspects club, and traffics in motifs pioneered during such periods as the 1960s and 1700s (note the classically-inclined first track, “And Light Appeared,” which straddles influences by either consciously or subconsciously quoting Elton John), the artist Hjertstedt is his own man, and The Grand Levé is his album.

Dig the Electric Light Orchestra vibe of “All in the City.” “Free” is very melody-rich Tom Petty, and “Yesterday Man” is very pure pop and Göran Hjertstedt by way of Longplayer. The mutli-retro “Two to Tango,” a bluesy drawing room number about love and dancing that namechecks Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, is another slice of joy.

The Grand Levé makes its mark because its sound pictures, drawn with love and affection, tell an affecting, collective tale. The Grand Levé is nothing less than a triumph for fans of melodic pop music.

black box Where to Get It: Kool Kat Musik, CD Baby. Stream on YouTube and Spotify

Louise Goffin | All These Hellos (2018)
An exceptional dialog driven by melody and emotion, All These Hellos is a steamer trunk full of memories placed under a microscope to help us figure our place under the sun.

Anchored by Goffin’s lovely, fragile vocals and superb playing from star musicians such as Fernando Perdomo, these 10 songs are quite an attractive showcase for superlative songwriting. The artist is clearly invested in these slices of reflective pop; such is the strength of communication with the listener.

Goffin embraces her pop side with a number of straight ahead, upbeat charmers. “Good Times Call” is a soulful and very catchy sixties-esque pop number about being in love and feeling it. “Life Lessons,” another upbeat pop tune with piano at its core and punctuated by horns, is about being true to yourself and following your heart. And the title song is an inviting mid-tempo number about needing the memories of a childhood place to fade.

A wonderfully rich collection of songs; a terrific album.

black box Where to Get It: Amazon, iTunes

 ∴

Super 8 | Hi Lo (Futureman, 2018)
Paul Ryan, d/b/a Super 8, ended 2018 with another top-flight recording–his third of the year–collecting 11 strong songs about employing hopefulness along one’s path through life.

“Angels and Neil Diamond” is a tremendous piece of writing, an easygoing, acoustic look back on childhood’s glory days, reliving one’s youth through good times and bad. It’s a lovely, affecting song that is followed by proof that the title is holly holy. Ryan presents a clever take on Diamond’s wonderful “Cherry, Cherry,” which is pretty life affirming on its own, especially in Ryan’s recasting of the tune as part garage, part coffee house, and all Super 8.

The Rolling Stones nod, “Good Times” (“Had enough of the bad times”), is a happy stroke in the running order, as is the pop-folk hybrid “Bob Dylan Said That,” about getting by in life with your own vision, and, no doubt, following on from what you’ve learned from the bard’s poetry.

The hits just keep on coming; you’ll love every one of them, delivered in Ryan’s emotive style. And for those of you wondering why the man didn’t go for four albums in a single year, just remember…there’s always this year.

Where to Get It: Futureman, Kool Kat Musik

The Grip Weeds | Trip Around the Sun (Jem, 2018)
This dynamic collection, recorded at the Grip Weeds’ home base, House of Vibes in Highland Park, New Jersey, pushes across the finish line a dozen high energy songs. The band has upped the level of urgency normally associated with their work. In other words, business as usual, with a bit more zing.

In the well-appointed, melody-drenched opener, “Vibrations,” the stage is set with a mix of chiming guitars and rich harmony parts. Not for the first time on this album, I felt as though I were listening to Free Design vocalizing decades after that group’s 1960s and 1970s heyday. The effect that the Grip Weeds have achieved with this song alone is hall-of-fame worthy.

So it should hardly come as a surprise that the band’s deft weaving together of yesterday’s musical signposts and today’s contemporary approaches continue throughout these songs. Take the poppy “After the Sunrise,” for example, which slides from tender acoustic to more upbeat electric guitar stances so expertly, with a lovely melody and sweet harmonies in tow.

The whole pop-rocking ball of wax rolls into the exhaustive closer, the six-minute-long title track, which states its introductory case firmly opened in widescreen, Who territory and concludes with all instruments and vocals blazing and coming together in an impassioned burst of emotion. What a welcome shout of energetic joy this album brings!

black box Where to Get It: The Grip Weeds’ Trip Around the Sun Store, Amazon

Vegas With Randolph | Legs & Luggage (2018)
Legs & Luggage is Vegas With Randolph’s best album yet. It is a marvel. This is a new-phase VWR album that thunders across the plains with harder-edged chutzpah than their previous releases. The guitars are louder and the sound is more aggressive. The sound is more purposeful, but just as catchy and fun as always.

For this new album, the band has recorded songs with flashy hooks just as they have done all along, but this time around, there is perhaps a little more oomph spitting out of the engine. This new-phase VWR is a well-oiled and rocking machine.

It’s not just the sound of this thing, it’s the words sung sweetly, confidently, meaningfully and powerfully all the way through, telling stories of a scholarly seductress (“She’s An Intellectual”), completely fulfilling forever love (“I Have You”), and riding the roller coaster of love even though it might tug back (“Jacob”). Then, there’s “Three Red Hooks,” presenting the power of music as a metaphor for confident performance with perhaps this album’s most creative lyrics (“Rock steady/Kick it like Eddie/Didn’t know if he meant Van Halen or Vedder/But whatever/While we’re together/We’d better turn it up loud/And kick it on out”).

This album is titled Legs & Luggage because the songs are largely about transitioning from one thing to another, about taking chances, about moving on from here to there—about transporting emotion packed neatly, or otherwise, in virtual compartments. Legs & Luggage functions as a bridge to the next chapter in Vegas With Randolph’s life; how that reality will manifest itself is unknown at present. But manifest itself it will.

black box Where to Get It: Bandcamp, iTunes, Amazon

Honorable Mentions (in no particular order, with Bandcamp/CD Baby/website links):

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

Pure Pop Radio: In Conversation Podcasts: The Davenports’ Scott Klass (Airdate: July 18, 2018)

alan headshot from schoolBy Alan Haber – Pure Pop Radio

the davenports don't be mad at me album coverThe Davenports’ Scott Klass joined me for a typically in-depth hour on the July 18 edition of Pure Pop Radio: In Conversation to talk about his wonderful new album, Don’t Be Mad at Me, another feather in the Davenports’ cap. That’s a particularly apt way to describe a collection of 10 melodically-charged, literate pop songs gathered under one roof.

The lovely title song, one of my favorites from Klass’s esteemed catalog, and one of the finest melodic pop songs in recent memory, barely scratches the surface of the joys that this album brings. “I Don’t Know What to Do,” a miraculous Klass and David Myhr cowrite, and the first single, a fine ballad called “Where Shall We Hang Elena?”, are two more gems that will no doubt burrow in your brain upon first listen.

Scott and I spoke about his songwriting, collaborating with Pure Pop Radio favorite David Myhr, and Don’t Be Mad at Me’s attractive art direction (by Winterpills’ Philip B. Price). We also played and looked deep into three of the songs on his miraculous new album, and took a Davenports classic from Speaking of the Davenports, “I’ll Come Down,” for a spin.

Get your vinyl or CD copy of the Davenports’ Don’t Be Mad at Me at the band’s website store. Alternatively, purchase the download version at Amazon or iTunes.

in conversation new graphic blue

pprListen to my interview with the Davenports’ Scott Klass from the July 18 edition of Pure Pop Radio: In Conversation by clicking the play button on the following player, or click on the Pure Pop Radio button to the left to download (then right click and choose “Save audio as” to save the file to your computer). (This interview is presented in scoped format; the songs have been removed due to copyright concerns.)

 


Listen to a wide selection of previously-aired Pure Pop Radio: In Conversation interviews by clicking here.

ppr radio purple background - insetPure Pop Radio plays the greatest melodic pop music from across the decades, 24 hours a day. Listen by clicking on the Live365 Listen Now button at left. Hear us once and you’ll be a listener for life. Join us, won’t you? You’ll be glad you did!

Pure Pop Radio’s signature shows, Pure Pop Radio: In Conversation (Wednesday, 9 pm ET) and Alan Haber’s Pop Tunes Deejay Show (Thursday, 8 pm ET), air exclusively on Pop that Goes Crunch Radio.

Pop Tunes’ Labor Day Special Works Big-Time Melodies into Your Holiday Mix!

pop tunes disc smallTonight’s special edition of Alan Haber’s Pop Tunes Deejay Show works a run of melodies and harmonies for a super program designed to pop and roll! The tunes, and Alan’s snapy deejay patter, start rolling at 9 pm ET (6 pm PT).

the-davenports-don't-be-mad-at-meKicking off with the Davenports’ spectactular “Don’t Be Mad at Me”–this week’s One and Begun track–the show presents a set called Workaday World!, which offers a group of classic indie pop numbers sandwiched between two versions of the Beatles’ “We Can Work It Out.” Stupendous!  (Cue the Britannicas, the Lilac Time and Sgt. Popgrass!)

maura-kennedywilliam-dukescot sax and suzie brown

A set of Buddy Holly songs, Paul McCartney-centric (don’t you know), a set of new and nearly new tracks now playing in rotation on Pure Pop Radio–including another winner from Scot Sax and Suzie Brown, the latest from William Duke and Maura Kennedy, and recent numbers from Spencer Albee and Myrtle Park’s Fishing Club–and a quintet of songs celebrating summer will thrill and delight your ears.

Plus, there’s more! Tune in tonight at 9 pm ET (6 pm PT) for the sixth edition of Alan Haber’s Pop Tunes Deejay Show, hosted by…you-know-who. Settle into your easy chair for 75 minutes of the greatest melodic pop in the universe, and enjoy!

purepoplogoAlan Haber’s Pop Tunes is a cool deejay show playing the greatest melodic pop music from the ’60s to today. The show airs every Monday night at 9 pm ET (6 pm PT) on Pure Pop Radio, and repeats on Thursday afternoons at noon ET (9 am PT) and Sundays at 3 pm ET (noon PT). Please like us on Facebook by clicking here.

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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

Come On, Get Happy! We’ve Added More New Songs and Artists to the Pure Pop Radio Playlist! It’s New Music Thursday!

smile-2Bringing you songs and artists new to the Pure Pop Radio playlist is our favorite thing to do in the whole wide world. We sure do know the feeling that hits you when you read about and then hear something that makes you smile–something that raises the hair on the back of your neck and makes you tap your toes, or dance the night or the early afternoon away, or take up air guitar or air piano or air celesta. In some measure, and this is a well know truth–in some measure what you hear changes your life, and when that happens, well, we’ve done our job.

So here is some more music that’s currently spinning in rotation–music that will make you happy!

popboomerang-records-100Popboomerang Records | (PB:100) Popboomerang Records’ Scott Thurling knows how to throw a party. He’s celebrating the 99th record released by his company with a gala, 100th musical extravaganza–a two-CD set stocked deep with specially-recorded and previously-unreleased tracks from his label’s artists and friends. (PB:100) features 32 smashing songs from a diverse roster of artists. Job well done: we’ve added 11 great numbers to the playlist, including the Solicitors’ quirky “His Robe” and Kelly’s Heels’ “Popboomerang,” a catchy, upbeat label-history-in-song that celebrates Scott’s longstanding brief of exposing great sounds to music lovers all over the world. The aforementioned songs are now playing in rotation, along with the Killjoys’ “Marching Out of Time,” Danny McDonald’s “The Melbourne Divide,” The Little Murders’ “Kings Cross Dawning,” Central Rain’s “What a Day,” Tim Reid’s “In the Dark,” D. Rogers’ “Don’t Smile ’til Easter,” Mick Thomas’ “Mermaid Song,” Lazybirds’ “Slinky Skanky,” and Jona Byron’s “Sun Daughter.” (PB:100) drops April 1; pick up a copy and help support a worthy independent record label.

spencer-albeeSpencer Albee | Mistakes Were Made Get ready for a wild blast of cool air that will toss you across your living room, through your front door, and to the far side of your yard. Spencer Albee’s hall-of-fame worthy album, Mistakes Were Made, will thrill you, delight you, and make you beg for more. A multi-instrumental wonder, Spencer dons all manner of pop music masks: uptempo balladeer in the harmony rich title song; straight-ahead popster in “So Bad”; infectious, retro, late-period Beach Boys funster in the delectable “Put Your Sweatshirt On”; and pure popster in the melodic love song, “This Will Be Our Year.” The sumptuous tip of the hat to the late ’50s/early ’60s, the catchy “I Don’t Know,” and the four-on-the-floor rhythm happy joy of “One 2 Three” are more highlights. So is the jaunty, clapalongable “Hold Me Close,” and ditto for the heartbreaking piano spencer-albee-photoinstrumental, “Something Something Heartbreak.” Well, we could go on, and we will at a later date, but for now… we swear on a stack of pop album classics that this is the real deal. We’re playing almost all of these incredible songs: “Mistakes Were Made,” “So Bad,” “Put Your Sweatshirt On,” “I Don’t Know,” “One 2 Three,” “This Will Be Our Year,” “Why am I a Fool,” “Something Something Heartbreak,” “So Long,” “Please Come Home,” “Skulls,” “Love is Not Enough,” It’s Not the End of the World,” and “Hold Me Close.” A sure bet for best of 2015 honors. In a few words, this is so very grand and, in just one word…wow! Get this for your very own when it drops on May 1. Come on, get Spencer!

brandon-schott-dandelionBrandon Schott | Dandelion (Live at the Treatment Room, January 10, 2008) Recorded in a friend’s studio as a way of sketching out songs for his next album, Brandon Schott laid his emotions on the line. He was in the eighth week of a 12-week-long chemotherapy treatment. “I wanted to get these songs down in the moment, as it was happening,” Brandon says. Some of the songs were later re-recorded for his record Dandelion. As heard on this heartfelt album, these songs, sung with simple accompaniment, may be the singer-songwriter’s most revealing collection yet. Records like this don’t come along every day; we wanted to be sure to play some of these songs in rotation so listeners could experience their majesty. We eagerly await Brandon’s new studio record, coming soon; until then, spin this recording as a reminder of how wonderful an artist Brandon is. We’ve added nearly the entire album to our playlist: “It’s Alright (Baby Blue),” “Unknown,” “Falling Forward,” “Four Winds,” “Fire Season,” “Toward the Sun,” “Blue Star Highway,” “All Will Be Well,” and “The Last Swan.” [One hundred percent of the proceeds from the sale of this album are being donated to Gilda’s Club NYC, an organization that supports, educates and empowers cancer patients and their families.]

the-davenports-away-from-meThe Davenports | “Five Steps ’15” and “Away from Me” This latest release from Scott Klass and the Davenports, a true double a-side single, pairs a newly-arranged and remixed version of “Five Steps,” which originally appeared on the group’s debut album Speaking of the Davenports and continues to be part of the A&E network show, Intervention, with the brand-new song, “Away from Me.” Full of slightly obtuse imagery and the usual mastery of language, “Away from Me”‘s lyrics make a case for disconnection. Yin meets and overpowers yang: “There’s a heart around a number on the paper in the case/In a glove compartment–chaos by the seat loved out of place/With a boy beside the window with an answer in your face/Smiling as he drives away from me.” And, yang meets and topples over yin: “Every mile up in the air/Every masterful win–I’d burn it to cinders/To be tangled up in your hair/Sturdy inside September.” The song starts out as sort of a lazy country and western number, but the slightly ominous-sounding strings cast a pall over the proceedings. Scott’s sturdy yet rubbery vocal in the chorus creates added tension even as it carries forward as a beautiful expression of melody. It’s another superb song in a long line of superb Davenports songs, and we’re now playing it, along with “Five Steps ’15,” in rotation.

vanilla-catherineVanilla | “Katherine the Grating” Variety is the chief spice in Jayson Jarmon and company’s rack, as evidenced by the new, twelfth song released as part of the growing album-to-come, Vanilla 2.0. A bouncing snare drum leads into a lively, show-type catchy tune, all surface smiles and virtue with a darker purpose afoot: a girl leaves her baby’s care in her guy’s hands. She vamooses. She’s a no remorse kind of gal: “Why oh why did the rabbit die?/Leaving me up to my eyes in diapers.” She isn’t called Katherine the Grating for nothing. When Jayson is finished with Vanilla 2.0, expect and, well, demand that it winds up on every best of 2015 list known to man…or Katherine. Awesome.

jared-lekites-fiveJared Lekites | Five Separate Lives We’re always thrilled to bring new music from Jared Lekites to your waiting ears. This time around, Jared has released a single featuring two songs written for the soundtrack of the movie, You’re Killing Me. “Five Separate Lives” is a bouncy pop song with a great melody; a lovely middle-eight; and a great, catchy chorus. “And It’s Over,” a chronicle of a broken relationship, is a marvel of a number with soaring vocal harmonies and a luscious melody. Of course, we’re playing both of these songs in rotation. Next up: Jared’s upcoming album with Connor Anderson, billed under the name the Lunar Laugh. We can’t wait.

miss-tessMiss Tess and the Talkbacks | “One Match Fire” We’d never heard of Miss Tess and the Talkbacks prior to bumping into this joyous and masterful country-rock number, being released on Record Store Day this coming April 18. Until you can hold this limited edition 7-inch in your hot little hands, you can hear it playing in rotation on Pure Pop Radio. It’s a great number, another don’t miss track, without a doubt.

quakers-on-probationQuakers on Probation | Love and Distance Pop and rock and roll and a dash of contemporary spice are at the heart of this band from the Pacific Northwest. Their songs are atmospheric and catchy and we’re spinning five from this terrific album: “Cosmic Crawl,” “The Honorable Mention,” “Love and Distance,” “Story of Your Life,” and “Out of the Blue.” Great stuff.

A strong lineup of artists and songs, wouldn’t you say? We’ve got more treasures coming up next week. Keep listening to Pure Pop Radio for the greatest melodic pop from the ’60s to today!

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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

I Love that Song! #9 (Special Valentine’s Day 2015 Edition): “Leanne,” by the Davenports

the-davenports-leanneRegarding the Davenports’ tremendous new power pop number, “Leanne,” now playing in rotation on Pure Pop Radio, the following is mostly speculation. Well, it’s mostly speculation on my part, weighed down by many questions. A wigged-out, sneaky electric guitar riff, followed by a quickly-rendered, handclap-adorned bridge, leads into the first verse of this catchy, sneaky, almost anti-love song, and we’re off to the races.

For one thing: Is the dirty drip that’s referenced up top in the song a leaky faucet filling a sink with shmutzy water, deposits on a drip pan, or something else entirely? “In the spring we lunged for the dirty, dirty drip,” one half of the relationship spouts. “I kicked out your heel to make you, make you trip.” Question answered, then: The “dirty, dirty drip” is just the thing, the thing that this guy uses as an excuse to make his lady friend  see the floor tiles up close and personal.

It’s a playful yet quite possibly tenuous relationship, one that survives the allegorical wrestling move detailed in the lyrics’ second verse: “After the final slat of sun/The violet volley cartwheel run/You held me on a mat of Monday mowings.” When the sun sets on Sunday night, and the last, partial rays peek through the vertical blind slats, closed but not totally, and the sky fades into a violet hue, it all comes out–the this and that and yes, that again, that she’s held in ever so tightly since the last time she mowed you down, and it all comes out on Monday morning in the shreds of emotion as if they were the product of a lawn mower’s chopped grass shards.

“I called you Buttercup,” the boyfriend lays out as a kind of gesture, “I called you Buttercup, Leanne/But now, now I just call you, call you Leanne.” Because the cute-as-a-button nickname that relates back to the time when isn’t realistic anymore as the couple sheds their outer skin and reveals their collective, inner sleeve. “…now I just call you, call you Leanne.”

And then there’s the standoff: “Then we swarmed around each others’ stares like bugs/And we sat securely in our mugs.” Sizing up the considerable situation, the two lovebirds find themselves in excelsis, boiling as the temperature rises higher and higher still, each relegating their ids to their respective corners, pushing and pulling and pushing and pulling again, still, not willing to budge.

“Then,” the guy sings, “we ate to excess after that/And we stole the others’ turn at bat,” because, well, one can only disagree on the same punctuated point so much. “And we said we should grow old and fat together…” Because, well, that’s their love: fiery one minute, I-love-you-lots-and-lots-with-strings-astride-but-make-no-mistake-about-it, we’re meant to be.

“I called you Buttercup,” the guy sings. “I called you Buttercup.” But now, in the springtime of our lives, I call you who you are: my love, my life, my Leanne. All the while, crunchy guitars, a steady 4/4 beat, and a determined bass guitar lead the way through the romance of two people obviously meant for each other.

“Sing along whether you’re a lover, brokenhearted, or some place in between,” say the Davenports. Sounds about right.

Happy Valentine’s Day.

by Alan Haber

Swoon with “Leanne,” playing as part of your Valentine’s Day soundtrack. Pick it up here.

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I Love that Song! #8: “Don’t Be Mad at Me,” by the Davenports

the-davenports-don't-be-mad-at-meThe subtly pounding, lithe piano run which appoints itself at the start of the Davenports’ achingly beautiful new song, “Don’t Be Mad at Me,” now playing in rotation on Pure Pop Radio, is joined by a gregarious, almost romanticized string section pleased to acquaint itself with a very “Martha, My Dear” ambiance in tow, an ambiance that later trades off with a lovely pop melody and, at the end, an even harder-edged, slightly manic, giddy even, melodic electric guitar attack straight out of the Carpenters “Goodbye to Love” school, but for now leads into the first words of the opening verse, which themselves lead to a cautionary plea: “Betty, don’t be mad at me, Betty,” delivered by the always soothing and satisfying voice of Scott Klass as he seeks to make it all better with more than a few dollops of sincerity. “Don’t cry girl, I’ve got your keys,” he sings, because the time has come to take pause and leave the driving to someone else.

“It’s not conspiracy, revenge or trying to hurt your feelings, Betty,” Klass asserts, lovingly. It’s just the way it is, is what it all means, and you barely wrestle with the idea that at a certain point in everyone’s life–yours, for example–time will come to change the course and allow a loved one or a friendly neighbor or someone else with the power of love in his or her pocket to help, just help, just help steer the course. “But it’s clear now that you’re mixing up your Christophers and Larrys…”

And so it goes as Klass, who wrote the song, sings a litany of wise words that make it all clear as we tumble along the way in our lives. This gorgeous creation, just such a grand achievement and a raise of the bar in the ongoing songwriting life, blinks brightly with all the hallmarks of a Davenports song: the way the words match the rhythm of the melody around quick breaths; the seemingly disparate instrumental elements that come together perfectly to create a winsome, winning musical base; and the idea that a whole life, and all its twists and turns, can be communicated quite clearly in only four minutes and 13 seconds with lively invention and the truth of the songwriter’s craft.

the davenportsYes, this is a pop song with strings and a catchy melody and percussion and swooping background vocal harmonies reminiscent of the closing sections of Andy Partridge’s “1,000 Umbrellas,” and it just begs, literally begs that you sing along with it (and you can, because the video, which you can watch below, includes some of the lyrics right there on the screen) and, even if there wasn’t any begging going on, you’d want to sing along anyway, because it’s that kind of a delightful number and that’s what great pop music does: it includes you as if you’re a member of the family, and, of course, you are.

The Davenports have never been anything less than top-flight purveyors of fanciful, melodic pop songs. Here, as stated above, they have upped their game and delivered a momentous achievement. There is nothing like this song in the whole wide world–a world, as depicted in this song’s video, that is alive and well within the confines of a View-Master lying in a box left silently on a sidewalk. A young girl, curious as to the box’s contents, takes hold of the View-Master and there is Betty’s, or someone’s, life, conveyed to the girl in one snapshot after another; little wisps out of time that tell a story.

“Generally,” it is said on the band’s website, this song is “about salad days to sad days, youth to old age, power to weakness, forefront to backdrop. ‘Betty’ is an old great aunt who was once almost like a matriarch of the family–strong, with style, a leader, who drove a huge old Caddy. The narrator is a younger relative who has to take away the keys to the Caddy because Betty has grown old and demented.”

“Betty, don’t be mad at me…” Undoubtedly, this song could be about someone in your life, which makes the message universal. Betty, well, could well be you, some day.

Buy the Davenports’ “Don’t Be Mad at Me” on iTunes

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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

Curry Cuts Path to the ’80s for Retro-riffic British Invasion Compilation

reign

(Win a copy of Here Comes the Reign Again: The Second British Invasion and a Reign t-shirt by filling in the form below. Be sure to type “Reign” in the Comments section. There is a quick turnaround on this contest: Entries must be received by tomorrow night, December 12, at midnight ET. The winner will be chosen on Saturday, December 13. Good luck!)

Producer Andrew Curry, who released his first compilation, Drink a Toast to Innocence: A Tribute to Lite Rock, in April of 2013, follows up in relatively short order with Here Comes the Reign Again: The Second British Invasion. While he’s billed as executive producer of Reign, Curry is better dubbed master curator, or perhaps more appropriately, caretaker of decades gone by.

Dipping this time into the musical waters flowing through the ’80s, Curry has assembled a sterling group of contemporary artists to pay tribute to and/or apply a new coat of paint on songs that were first released more than three decades ago. It is a testament to these songs–and, if Curry knows anything, he knows that the song is job one–that they retain their fortitude so long after first being heard.

To that end, Fountains of Wayne frontman Chris Collingwood turns in a spirited, lovingly rendered version of the Dream Academy’s “Life in a Northern Town,” supported by luscious background vocals from Phillip Price and Flora Reed from Winterpills; The Corner Laughers soup up the beat as they apply their particular magic to Madness’ “Our House”; and Big-Box Store takes a wholly different approach to Kim Wilde’s frenetic “Kids in America,” slowing it down and infusing it with a heartfelt dose of passion.

Jim Boggia and Pete Donnelly turn Adam Ant’s cheeky “Goody Two Shoes” inside out, applying a faux-military drum part and making every note count for a kind of jazzy workout. Similarly, the Davenports dress Wham’s “Freedom” up in power pop overalls, thereby upping the song’s catchy quotient. And Linus of Hollywood puts every ounce of emotion at his disposal into his take on Daryl Hall’s classic “Everytime You Go Away,” originally waxed by Paul Young.

The first lesson one learns listening to compilations such as this is that some aspect of everything you hear today can be traced back to something that came before. The spirit of these songs, denizens of radio first tuned into so long ago, lives on in these new versions of favored classics. The second lesson? Good songs never die, and as chosen and curated by master compilation craftsman Curry, they still rock and roll and fill your body and soul. And in the form of this Reign, they make a great, collective stocking stuffer. – Alan Haber

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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