Friday, September 19, 2008

A To Z: Y - You Need Pop! by The Speedies

Released in 2005, "You Need Pop!" is the first actual full length release from a band that began playing power pop gigs in New York 25 years prior. This album is a collection of 10 songs: their best from their original singles as well as a reworking of the title track. I don't know that much about the history of the band or the awesome power pop seen of the late 70s in general, but I do know that this is a great compilation. Fast, catchy, and a lot of fun. Definitely a record to listen to if you are already upset about summer being over. The sound changes throughout the record. Some stuff sounds like Cheap Trick (and then subsequent bands like The Exploding Hearts), but some songs almost sound like The Fall and have a much more Post Punk feel. But throughout, the songs remain pop, as obvious from the title of of the compilation (and song). It's a blast.

It all started in Brooklyn in the mid 1970's. Eric Hoffert and Gregory Crewdson met each other for the first time at Brooklyn Friends School, working together to understand global patterns of climate for a homework assignment. At the time they were 11 years old. Around the same timeframe, Allen Hurkin-Torres and Eric Hoffert met each other while studying for their Bar Mitzvahs. Greg and Eric took their next steps by learning to play the guitar and visiting CBGBs at the age of 14 to see the Ramones. Allen picked up the drums quickly and was ready to take the stage. Their lives were now changed forever. One thing Eric, Greg, and Allen all had in common as young kids - a love of fast, pure, and catchy pop songs – but with an edge.

The popular music at the time was heavy metal and disco; but these young budding popsters had something completely different in mind. They called it power pop and they loved it with a passion. Fast forward to 1978 and Eric, Greg, and Allen just had to start the best power pop band imaginable. At the young age of just 16 years, they started practicing in the top floor of the brownstone building in Cobble Hill in Brooklyn where Allen lived with his parents and two sisters. No song could be longer than three minutes, songs had to be fast and catchy and they could only be about school, girls, and pop perfection.

In need of a singer, they went out for a walk around the block a met a fan of the Sex Pistols and David Bowie with a wild haircut – John Marino. John was invited upstairs for an audition and the magic of the band was instantly undeniable. With their first three minute pop song ready to play, the Speedies were born. Their first song was “You Need Pop”. Big things were soon to come, but first a word on musical influences.

The Speedies trace their roots to a number of key inspirations – starting with Saturday morning TV cartoon theme songs, the Jetsons, the Flintstones, and the Banana Splits. From this pure pop culture starting point the band moved on to the pop music of the Monkees, the Who, and the Beatles. The Speedies then jumped into a love for the hard edged bands of the early 70’s that created the best glitter rock that could be heard - David Bowie, Mott the Hoople, T-Rex, The New York Dolls, and the Sweet. Just prior to the birth of the Speedies, the band members were deeply inspired by fast and hard pop from the UK by the Buzzcocks, the Sex Pistols, the Jam, Generation-X, and the Undertones.

In fact it was this last wave of bands that convinced the Speedies that it was time for an International Power Pop Overthrow. But the Speedies were different than any of these bands – they crafted their own sound which combined the best of all of them with a vision that power pop could take over the world. Power pop wasn’t just music; it was a way to look at the world. The Speedies were also celebrating pop culture – including a love for breakfast cereals like Cap’n Crunch and the cool prizes inside.

The Speedies’ first show took place on a cold winter night - December 26, 1978 at Max’s Kansas City. It may have been cold outside, but it sure was hot inside, where the Speedies sold out the show and had more people attend Max’s on a Tuesday night than ever before. The packed crowd went wild and the band had its first glowing and major review in Variety magazine. In addition to ragingly fast pop, the band had boxes of cereal all over the stage which they poured onto their fans when they played “We Wanna Be Your Breakfast Cereal”. And the fans threw cereal back. With the band jumping up and down, people dancing and thrashing around, cereal in the air, and loud pop, it was a scene of beautiful but controlled chaos. NYC would never be the same.

Soon after the bands debut, five of the best Speedies songs were recorded in Toronto, Canada by Paul Hoffert – an award winning composer, producer, and musician with Top 100 pop hits of his own. After playing for awhile to an ever growing base of avid fans, the Speedies realized that in their haste to form the band they had neglected to include a bass player. So they brought in a fifth band member, John Carlucci, a talented and high energy bass player, who at the age of 22 was the elder statesman; John also introduced the band to the practice of wearing spiky toed Beatle Boots. To perfect the band experience everyone changed their name to suitably poppy pseudonyms including Eric Pop, Greg Zap, Allen Zane, Buckwheat, and the new member too – John Carl.

Before long, the Speedies were all of the rage in NYC with long lines around the block for their shows, riots with hundreds of Speedies fans, non-stop demand for more shows at clubs everywhere, and a move to put out the band’s first single “Let Me Take Your Foto”. The single was an instant hit and sold out of its first run almost immediately. Power pop songs like “Math Teacher”, “Urban Mania”, “Ready for the Countdown”, “360 Sound”, and “Fashion Free” became big hits for the Speedies with fans memorizing every word and singing along...

A big event at the time was the Speedies playing at the now historic Bottom Line in Greenwich Village which was also broadcast live on the radio; the Speedies were still so young that the club insisted that their parents supervise them for the evening and no cereal was permitted to be thrown into the audience. Indeed, some of the Speedies could often be seen doing their homework backstage just before the shows.

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