Album review: VARIOUS ARTISTS – Rockets Of Love! Power Pop Gems From The 70s, 80s & 90s

VARIOUS ARTISTS – Rockets Of Love!

Big Beat / Ace [Release date 25.6.21]

Power pop collections are never going to be top sellers, so it’s encouraging to find Ace’s Big Beat imprint following up 2019’s “Come On Let’s Go” and last year’s “Girls Go Power Pop” (both of which I have reviewed previously for GRTR!) with another excellent release.

Compiler Dave Burke extends the timeframe to include the 90s this time (and even one from 2004, Josh Rouse’s lovely ‘Winter In The Hamptons’) and doesn’t restrict his selections to America alone, with UK and Australian acts also getting a look in.

The opening track, which inspires the name of the CD, is The Knack’s ‘Rocket O’ Love’ from their 1991 album “Serious Fun”. The band continued to produce some great music long after the commercial success of ‘My Sharona’, and this is a terrific example of their later output.

Candy’s ‘Whatever Happened To Fun…’ from 1985 sounds reminiscent of The Babys in their prime, and their line-up includes a pre-Guns N’ Roses Gilby Clarke. Even better is the catchy ‘I Could Be The One’ by Fire Town, a relatively obscure band which included Doug Erikson and Butch Vig who would go on to form Garbage.

‘I Need You (That Thing You Do)’ by The Wonders is from the 1996 Tom Hanks movie ‘That Thing You Do!’, but less well known than the film’s main theme song. Tommy Marolda is best known for his recordings as The Toms, but his nostalgic sounding ‘I Wanna Be A Teen Again’ was released under the Tom Foolery moniker. The cover stars of this CD, Cheap Trick, are here with an oft-overlooked cut from 1990’s “Busted”, the superb ‘Had To Make You Mine’, while ‘Vacation’ is a high octane 1980 blast by Richard X Heyman.

The UK is well represented, with Essex’s cult singer-songwriter Martin Newell’s ‘The Popular Girl’ a typically lo-fi jangling affair from a man with an extensive discography. 1980’s ‘Hearts In Her Eyes’ by The Records was actually written by the band’s Will Birch and John Wicks for The Searchers, who themselves are also here with the self-penned ‘Another Night’ from the second of their excellent Sire label albums. 1981’s ‘Better Things’ is a strong later period effort by The Kinks, while the Ace Records archives are also mined with 1978’s Chiswick label Beatles-esque single ‘Hey Baby’ by the obscure Hartlepool-based group Disguise.

As for the Australian contributions, ‘Foolish’ by DME is another epic number, while they don’t come much better than ‘Sooner Or Later’ – an Innocents song which evokes The Raspberries to fabulous effect.

One of the most fascinating inclusions is a re-imagined (through a power pop prism) version of British group Jigsaw’s 1975 hit ‘Sky High’ by The Vandalias – a killer tune! The ‘shoulda-been-a-hit’ theme continues with gems such as Tommy Tutone’s ‘867-5309 / Jenny’, Marshall Crenshaw’s mighty ‘Mary Anne’, ‘Modern Man’ by 4 Out Of Doctors, and ‘That’s What She Said’ by The Greenberry Woods. The set is completed by more magic courtesy of The Flashcubes, The Blow Pops, The Producers and Brad Jones.

As with the previous Big Beat releases, there’s a good sprinkling of well-known acts mixed with some true obscurities, and this really works. Topped off by a 24-page booklet which includes a detailed track by track annotation, along with original sleeve photos, this is another brilliant dose of power pop! ****

Review by Jim Henderson

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