From the very beginning of my life's obsession with rock music and the people that make it, I have found the interview the most fun to read. It's almost always the most informative format, too. I was 11 when The Beatles were interviewed in Playboy. Naturally, I couldn't possibly possess a copy, but, my older female friend, Nicole (14) had smuggled a copy into her bedroom. One night, while our folks were getting drunk and making dinner, Nicole let me read it. I was instantly transfixed by their voices, meaning you could really feel their individuality and personalities. This was very early in my life and molded me the way things do when you're that age.
I wallow in interviews. I read interviews with artists I can't stand, or even worse, am completely indifferent about. One learns over time that the interviewer is the actual key in almost every case. An interesting, knowledgeable, engaged interviewer get ditto back from the interviewee.
I've been lucky enough to have been doing interviews with actual heroes of mine up here on Huffington Post over the last year or so... You can look 'em all up. I strive to do the kind of interview that has hooked me over the decades.
I do believe that there is an actual Best Interviewer covering rock and pop music; Ken Sharp. No, I'm not his shill. I am his friend. Something that counts virtually not at all, as a few hundred friends of mine can attest. Ken just keeps putting out cool as shit books, all 100% based and presented as... Interviews!
I have covered, and been covered within, Ken's Nothing To Lose book on KISS's actually interesting early years. I throw in the 'actually' for all you knee jerk haters. I never did a Huffington piece on his Starting Over book on the sessions of John Lennon's last album, a book of amazing intimacy in it's portrayal of a man at work. I did write up recently. Hence, my somewhat defensive stance regarding yet another Ken Sharp project.
Fuck it... This one is an exponential doooozie!
It's called "Power Pop," a much maligned and misused term in lots of circles, primarily because so many crap bands used it as their self-declared cubbyhole. Very of those bands are represented here, Chloe, okay.
To reset the term 'Power Pop' before we go a paragraph further, Ken Sharp has put a wonderful cartoon of the man who coined the phrase in an interview with Keith Altham in late 1966 on the cover of his new and grand opus. Yes, Pete Townshend, of course...
"We play what I call power pop. It's what the Beach Boys used to play." [Brian Wilson had just released the "Good Vibrations" single at the time]
Oh yeah, I remember that quote, you betcha!
The definition as I have always understood it boils down to playing catchy melodic songs with the power of a heavy riff band. For me, the quintessential power pop song is "Pictures Of Lily" by The Who. A gorgeously wistful melody and tale in the lyric, a very clever chord structure, and all of it just bashed as hard any 1980s punk band could hope to muster. That is Power Pop.
Ken Sharp's criteria magically matches mine, so, I'm sold.
Sold on what?
Okay, kids... Ken Sharp's Play On! Power Pop Heroes book will be coming out in three volumes. Over 1200 pages of in-depth interviews, along with maybe half a dozen 'side bar' shorties. The first volume is over 500 pages.
What happened was... Ken has been doing interviews with a staggering amount of artists over the years. And not just hustling quotes from the lead singer. In depth discussions with entire bands contributing comments. He had accumulated dozens of interviews that had one thing in common... every act, every artist, every individual, fit comfortably into the category called Power Pop.
So, who are we taking about, anyway?
Here's the list...
The Beatles with sidebar interviews with George Martin and engineers Geoff Emerick and Ken Scott, The Beach Boys, Brian Wilson "Pet Sounds" commentary, Tony Asher, lyricist/Pet Sounds, The Kinks, The Dave Clark Five, The Who, sidebar interview with Who/Kinks producer Shel Talmy, The Zombies, The Turtles, The Hollies, The Byrds, The Left Banke, The Knickerbockers, Bee Gees, Small Faces, The Move, Jeff Lynne, The Nazz, Emitt Rhodes, Badfinger, Raspberries, Big Star, plus sidebar with Big Star engineer John Fry. Foreword by Eric Carmen.
Flamin' Groovies, XTC, Squeeze, Rick Springfield, Blue Ash, Stories, The Hudson Brothers, Pezband, The Sweet, Dwight Twilley, Bay City Rollers, The Rubinoos, Utopia, The Babys, Piper, Artful Dodger, The Records, Shoes, The A's, The Toms, Cheap Trick. Forword by Rick Springfield.
The Go-Go's, Fountains of Wayne, The Romantics, 20/20, The Beat, The Plimsouls, The Knack, Robin Lane & the Chartbusters, The Spongetones • Off Broadway, Marshall Crenshaw, The Bangles, 4 Out of 5 Doctors, The Three O' Clock, The Producers, Jason Falkner, The Smithereens, The Posies, Jellyfish, Matthew Sweet. Foreword by Andy Sturmer of Jellyfish.
All three volumes include many track-by-track commentaries by people like The Hollies, John Entwistle, Small Faces, The Left Banke, Badfinger, and many more.
And, no... I haven't read all of these. Good Lord... This is four months of bathroom reading. What I did was grab several bands that meant a lot to me and that I thought I had a decent grasp on their histories... just to see how much Ken Sharp could dig out of them that would surprise me. I devoured the Hollies and Move chapters and had my mind blown by the amount of fabulous nuggets of information and insight Ken got out of these guys. His Hollies interview features Graham Nash, Allan Clarke, Tony Hicks, the 'essential trio', all contributing equally and with great candor. His interview with The Move features Roy Wood, Trevor Ball, Bev Bevan, Rick Price, again with amazingly detailed and forthcoming comments. The Left Banke, again, features the four original members all giving their sides to the story.
Oh, before I forget... the marketing plan...
These three book will only available for a limited sales period Ken Sharp's website exclusively November 14th is the last day you can order them. See, as per the 21st century, copies will be printed based solely off the pre-orders becoming an instant collector's item.
You can buy it here...
This is the kind of item us Demented must have... act accordingly. Operators are standing by...
One of Ken's great gifts as an interviewer is he's not only not afraid to approach dangerous subject matter but somehow does it in a way that his subjects just open like a flower. It helps that Ken is a musician, songwriter, ultra-fan boy (a term I consider a compliment I hope I merit). He approaches every interview having done crazy amounts of research and it shows. His queries inevitably elicit juicy responses.
I've pulled a few quotations here, just to give you a flavor...
My personal favorite... being a vintage guitar obsessive... Ken clues us into the very earliest guitar collector rock star extant... Tony Hicks, lead guitarist with The Hollies.
Tony Hicks: "That first trip to the States was pretty wild. It was great for me to be in New York because I'm a great guitar lover and I went to all the music shops like Manny's. I used to buy loads of vintage guitars from there. That carried on when we starving doing the tours of America. We'd stay at either a Holiday Inn or a Howard Johnson's and I'd get a taxi and go down to the pawnshops and sort of dig out all the vintage guitars. I bought them and loved them; you see, they weren't really available in England until around that time."
The Hollies shared bills with the Beatles several times. Graham Nash had a wicked little moment...
Graham: "The Hollies were playing in Stoke-on-Trent in England and The Beatles were on the same bill. John and Paul came up to me after sound check and said, 'Hey, do you want to hear our new song?' Of course, who the hell doesn't want to hear a new song written by Paul McCartney and John Lennon? (laughs) They put me in the middle and sang 'Misery' to me, just John on his acoustic guitar with he and Paul singing. That song was an 'ear fuck.' It was quite a moment."
Typical Ken Sharp question to Graham Nash...
Ken: "Didn't you also write down lyrics for 'Anna' by Arthur Alexander for John Lennon the day before The Beatles entered the studio to record their debut album?"
Graham: "Ahhh... The Hollies and the Beatles were playing in Manchester, the town where I come from. We met up after their show and after our show and went into this after-hours drinking place that was semi-illegal. Way back in the '60s, drinking after hours was semi-illegal. But we found this place and we were all in there having a pint and they were going down the very next day to record their first album. Lennon was a little pissed off. I said, 'What's the matter? What the fuck?' He goes, 'Well, I wanna do this song by Arthur Alexander called 'Anna,' and I can't remember the words.' The Hollies used to do it so I said, 'Well, I'll show you the words' and I wrote the words out for him and the rest is history (laughs)."
Or this from Hollies' singer Allan Clarke: "We recorded 'He Ain't Heavy, He's My Brother, right after Graham left for LA, which became one of the biggest hits we ever had. Playing piano on that was little Reg Dwight, who we now know as Elton John. We recognized him as being something special when we did that song. We thought, This guy's gonna be big one day! (laughs) and we were right.
Ken: "When you heard the Graham Gouldman songs, "Bus Stop" and "Look Through Any Window," as much as you were pushing for your own material to go out as a single, this was undeniable, right?"
Graham: "Undeniable! And this was a 15-year-old kid. He was writing songs in his house and the plastic was probably still on the furniture. He told us, 'I've got this song and it goes... (sings) Bus stop, wet day . . .' and immediately we went, 'We could sing the fuck out of that!' We get up to leave and I think our drummer, Bobby Elliot turned around and asked Gouldman, "Do you have anything else?" He said, 'I've got this thing called 'Look Through Any Window... (sings) "Look through any window, yeah . . .' And so obviously we said, 'Well, shit, we'll take that too! Do you have anything else?' Graham said, 'Well, I have this one song but I've just promised it to Herman's Hermits. called 'No Milk Today'. A 15-year-old kid!"
Graham Nash on the origins of "Carrie-Anne": "That song started with Tony Hicks. We'd all experienced "Mr. Tambourine Man" by the Byrds. We had this kind of funny melody and loved that chinky 12-string tone that Roger [McGuinn] got on that song. Tony had a chorus with the words "Hey mister man," sometimes you just put words on a melody just so you can remember them. Then, Marianne Faithfull joined us on tour with the Rolling Stones in England and quite frankly, anyone would have been out of their mind if they didn't want to fuck Marianne Faithfull. So that all came into it. The chorus turned into 'Hey Marianne' but we didn't have the balls to go with that (laughs) so we changed it to 'Carrie-Anne.'"
To put it simply, The Move were the one British band that would have ripped America to shreds in less than a year... but, they never made it over here... dumb management, mostly. That they evolved into the extremely successful ELO gives solid credence to my belief that this was the one supergroup we totally missed. For the record, Small Faces never got here either, but, we American kids were witness to their offsprings, Faces with Rod the Mod, and Humble Pie. The Move... zip!
A sample of Move queries...
Ken: "What are your recollections of touring with the Jimi Hendrix Experience?"
Roy Wood, lead guitarist/songwriter for The Move: "I got pretty close to Jimi, actually. He was a very nice guy. I mean, apart from his drug problems and all that stuff, he was a gentleman. He was a real polite sort of guy. He started having a lot of problems towards the end of the tour. . . sticking his head in the speaker cabinets and all that sort of stuff. He was going a bit deaf so I volunteered to tune his guitars for him, because I had to tune four of my own anyway, so it was very easy. I used to do his for him as well."
Another perfect example of the tasty Ken Sharp query: "How did the Move come to sing backgrounds on 'You Got Me Floating' from Jimi Hendrix's Axis: Bold as Love album?"
Trevor Ball, rhythm guitarist: "The Move was recording at Olympic and next door was the Jimi Hendrix Experience recording their second album. Roy [Wood] and I walked in to say hello because knew them well by then. They were doing 'You Got Me Floating,' and Noel and Mitch weren't cutting the background vocals too good, so we asked Jimi, "Do you want us to have a go?" And he said "Yeah!" I think we did it in two takes. Jimi was pleased with it. He sang his lead vocals live at the same time while we put down the background vocals. I also jammed with him a few times at Olympic when we had a break; that was just me, Jimi and Mitch. A lot of times Noel wasn't there--he'd be up at the pub having a drink. That was a lot of fun."
Ken: "Frank Zappa was one of your favorite musicians. Did you have any contact with him?"
Roy Wood: "No, I met him once. He came to Birmingham and played here with the Mothers of Invention. I used to love them. A couple of guys used to play with Stan Kenton, and that jazz element appealed to me quite a lot. At least Zappa had the courage to stand up and do it, which I admired a lot. After the show I got to meet him. I was slightly disappointed because I thought he might be, from his image, a bit wild and a bit of a maniac. He was actually a shrewd business guy. He was standing there with his briefcase and his suit on. (laughs) I was a bit disappointed."
Roger Daltrey on the germination of Tommy: "Let's be honest, what would Tommy have been if it wasn't recorded by a bunch of lunatics like the Who? Here was a band that, at the time they recorded Tommy, was probably two million dollars in debt. No other band would take those kinds of chances. When you think back to what could have happened if Tommy had been recorded by another band that wasn't prepared to take those chances, it might have been nothing at all, that record."
Here's a few cool Beach Boys teasers...
Ken: "Growing up, when did it hit you that being a songwriter/musician was your career path?"
Brian Wilson: "When I wrote 'Surfer Girl'. I liked it so much that I said that I'm gonna keep on writing songs. Then we wrote 'Surfin' Safari' and '409' and 'In My Room.' I always worked to try and write better songs becauseI wanted to impress the other Beach Boys. I'm embarrassed when people say I'm a musical genius. I'm not a musical genius. I just work really hard at what I do."
Ken: "Eric Carmen once described the Beach Boys' voices as each being an instrument. He said Brian was a French horn, Carl was a flute, you were a trumpet, Dennis a trombone and Mike was a baritone sax."
Al Jardine: "Yeah, that a good point. That's kind of how we saw ourselves too. In fact, 'Heroes and Villains,' at the start, was one of the first things we ever did, really early on, even before we recorded 'Surfin''. We were working on that song way back in 1961. We all became instruments for Brian's barbershop concept. He said, 'Let's all do this, let's sing this idea.' Carl would be one instrument, I'd be another, Mike would be another instrument."
Ken: "Brian, from whom did you glean the greatest influence in terms of a chordal perspective?"
Brian: "Burt Bacharach, Phil Spector and Chuck Berry--those are the three people who really inspired me. Bacharach inspired my approach with chords, Motown inspired the bass notes, Phil Spector inspired the harmony and echo on the drums. He taught me a lot about how to make use of instruments. I knew about guitars and pianos and organs and bass and drums and he taught
me to blend things together so you could have leakage. Chuck Berry inspired the
rhythm and the lyrical thoughts."
Ken (and man, this is a Ken query de luxe): "It's May 1966. Bruce, take us back to your promo trip to London. Keith Moon met you and was your constant companion while on same trip you played a copy of Pet Sounds for the first time for John Lennon and Paul McCartney."
Bruce Johnston: "When I joined the band, we made and released three albums in eleven months. We did the Party album and then he put together Pet Sounds. It hadn't been released in England yet. So, I went over to London on my own initiative and took the album over with me. While I was there my crazy, wacky, wonderful friend Kim Fowley was there, too. He and The Beatles' Derek Taylor arranged some really cool things. When I got there, there was so much interest in Pet Sounds and everybody wanted to hear it. And yes, I was going around with Keith Moon. He loved surf music--he loved Jan and Dean and he loved the Beach Boys. Before he joined the Who he was in a surf band [The Beachcombers]. I found out later Pet Sounds didn't cut it for him (laughs). He was more into the early surf sound of the band.
When I was in Keith's care--he had a 1951 Bentley with a driver--he would play music in the car, Jan and Dean and The Beach Boys and he played it on vinyl. We'd be driving and he'd hit a bump and the needle would go across record and it would skip, "It's the little old (makes skipping sound) Pasadena . . . " (laughs) It was so funny. We hung out and went to clubs. We were on the TV show Ready Steady Go.
On one of my last nights in London, John Lennon, Paul McCartney and Keith Moon were in my suite and I played them Pet Sounds and John and Paul made me play it twice. It was really cool. They loved it. We all knew that it was a really wonderful thing to be listening to. There wasn't much to say--it was like collectively watching a great movie and you go "Wow!" and just know it was cool. They'd come over in these really cool mod suits and were both so gracious. I was told that the feeling and the heart and soul of 'Wouldn't It Be Nice,' Paul and John kind of distilled into the Revolver album and the song, 'Here, There and Everywhere' as well.
I remember Brian, me, Terry Melcher and John Phillips were over at Doris Day's house, who was Terry's mom. We were there in December of '65 and we heard Rubber Soul and that's where Brian got the idea to do an album connected front to back. You had artists like Nat King Cole and Frank Sinatra do albums that were connected like that, but you didn't in pop-rock music. Rubber Soul gave Brian the idea of putting together Pet Sounds as a front-to-back album."
Once again... Interviews that dig into delectable tibias like those above with at least 70 different guitar/bass/drums/vocals confabs... and only available for a limited sales period at Ken Sharp's website until November 14th.
Once more, that's... http://cwww.ken-sharp.com/power_pop/index.html
Happy Poring-Over-The-Holy-Texts... my fellow interview addicts.