2020 Album Draft- Round 9 Pick 4- Music City Mike selects- The Records -Shades In Bed.
If asked what my favorite musical sub-genre is, without a pause I would say Power Pop. To the unfamiliar, I like to describe it as fast-moving songs, most often about love, and most importantly, with a unique and recognizable guitar riff. Who do I consider to be the best in the Power Pop business? Without blinking an eye, the top three are Big Star, The Raspberries, and the subject of today’s desert island LP pick, British band, The Records.
My love affair with The Records began in late 1978 when I saw them on the Be Stiff Tour 78 at The Bottom Line in New York City. Along for the ride as the backup band for a very young Rachel Sweet, they were also given the chance to open the show with a mini set of their own. To this day, I have never been more won over by a totally unfamiliar band in a live setting than this moment. More so, I was totally blown away when I heard them play their debut single “Starry Eyes.” As soon as humanly possible, I made my way to Bleecker Bob’s in the Village and bought the import 45. This song has long since held the top spot on my list as the greatest Power Pop song of all time.
In 1979, this debut LP was released as was sometimes done back then with different titles and cover photos in the UK and the US. Trying to mesh the album title with the cover photo resulted in a rather clumsy cover for Shades in Bed . On the other hand, a mysteriously cool record store photo was used for the cover of the eponymously titled US version. The opening tracks for side one and two were also swapped and the US LP used the slightly shorter single version of “Starry Eyes.” Limited editions of both included the bonus treat of a nifty four-song EP of cover songs on a 12-incher in the UK and a 7-incher in the US.
As I would have expected, I was quite taken with this record. It was Power Pop Heaven! And unlike “Starry Eyes” which told the time old tale of a bad person in the record business, in true Power Pop fashion, most of the songs were about love. Young love in fact in songs like “Teenarama,” “Girl” and “Affection Rejected.” And despite my current age, they don’t feel at all creepy to listen to today rather they are just joyful reminders of days long gone by. One thing I loved about The Records is how they kept things very tight and never got quirky or silly like some of the New Wave bands who would follow.
I probably I could write a book about how great a song I think “Starry Eyes” is. First off, it comes with one of the best guitar intros of all-time courtesy of Huw Gower. (A Record for their first LP and tour only, he would later be replaced on their next LP, Crashes , by a young Jude Cole who would also share lead vocal duties with John Wicks.) Gower plays an exhaustingly powerful string of licks that any true Power Pop fan can replay note-for-note in their head. The song was written by its singer Wicks and harmonizing drummer Will Birch about some nasty band manager and as the antithesis to your typical Power Pop love song, it hits hard with this biting refrain: “Get me out of your starry eyes and be on your way.”
Another stellar track is “All Messed Up and Ready” which was rightfully moved to the leadoff side one track one position on the US version of the LP. This musical tour-de-force really shows off the band’s chops and even has a scent of Prog Rock to it. At the risk of sounding cliché, I will go ahead and say that there isn’t a lame song on this album, and it is still on my regular rotation some 40 years later.
At the time, I furthered my love for The Record’s record by seeing them live as often as I could. This included three of a four-show stand at NYC’s The Bottom Line and a midnight show at Hurrah afterseeing Rockpile earlier that same evening. They were fantastic live and thankfully there are a few tasty FM broadcasts from that maiden US tour to savor.
My fandom went a step further when I casually crept backstage at the Bottom Line to get all four members to sign my US single for “Starry Eyes.” I treasure this even more today since bass player Phil Brown and lead singer Wicks sadly are no longer with us. But my connection to The Records recently got even better.
Last spring, I had the pleasure of meeting Will Birch for breakfast in London. After spending a morning together, I asked him how it felt to have written the #1 Power Pop song of all-time. Modestly, I never got a direct answer. However, I really didn’t need one since the opportunity to ask that question was all I needed. It was as good of a moment as the time when I overhead two of my younger music friends talking about me when one said to the other: “Did you know that he got to see The Records?”