Song: Starry Eyes
Artist: The Records
Genre: Power Pop
"The British Big Star." Those four words have already sent some of you racing over to iTunes. The rest of you are asking, "Who's Big Star?" That's unfortunate. Not as unfortunate as some younger folks asking, "What the heck is a record?" But that's my issue, so we'll move on.
To power pop fans, Big Star, The Beatles, Raspberries, and Badfinger are the Holy Grail. When a band is compared to them, you pay attention and hope they stick around.
However, the rise and fall of The Records was so swift, the band should have sued everyone in sight for whiplash. But knowing these boys, they would have eventually sued each other.
After a brief stint together in Kursaal Flyers in 1977, Will Birch asked John Wicks if he wanted to write some songs; he had been impressed with Wicks' sense of pop melody. Wicks, the rhythm guitarist in Kursaal Flyers, would become the singer of The Records; Birch would stick to his drums.
Bass player Phil Brown answered Birch and Wicks' ad in Melody Maker. They placed a second ad, and two hundred guitarists later, they found the left-handed, Huw Gower.
In 1978, Dave Edmunds put music to some lyrics Will Birch had written called "A1 on The Jukebox." Around the same time, a Wicks/Birch song, "Hearts In Her Eyes," was recorded by The Searchers, and still another song was recorded by Rachel Sweet. None of the songs were hits, but it didn't matter.
The new single was a power pop masterstroke, and the band knew it. The song features ringing guitars, memorable hooks and great harmonies. What's not to like? The record companies noticed and came after them hard.
By 1979, they were signed to Virgin Records, and a young hotshot producer was brought in, Robert "Mutt" Lange, whose credits included the Boomtown Rats and would soon become one of the most successful producers in the history of pop music (Def Leppard, The Cars, Shania Twain).
Their U.S. debut, The Records, was well received, and the band was taken on a whirlwind promotional tour. Bands they loved, like the dB's opened for them. They met celebrities, went to parties in limos, opened for The Cars in Central Park, they were giving dozens of interviews and Billy Joel even gave them ties. It looked like nothing could stop them.
According to Birch, after the 1979 U.S. tour, the band made "two big mistakes." The first was the firing of Huw Gower. The second mistake was not bringing back Mutt Lange to produce the second record. But as Birch notes, "I'm not sure he would have stuck around." He probably wouldn't have. In the next eighteen months, Lange would produce AC/DC's Back in Black, Def Leppard's High 'n' Dry and Foreigner's 4.
The second album, Crashes, and the 1980 tour wasn't as much fun. There were no limos, they had to ride public transportation, carrying their own instruments. In seven weeks they did not give a single interview and Billy Joel did not show up with any ties.
After a third record, Music on Both Sides (1982), was shelved by Virgin, the boys went their separate ways. Phil Brown passed away earlier this year; Will Birch became a music critic and published a biography of Ian Dury in 2010; John Wicks still plays with a version of the band and Huw Gower has recorded for his own label.
Maybe this should serve as a cautionary tale of some kind. Don't take others for granted? Appreciate what you have? Maybe. But I say screw it, put on some headphones, turn up the volume and listen to this great, great single.
Just do it. I don't want to argue.
(Jim Pace is a musician and filmmaker living in NY.)