No, I'm not talking Obama vs. McCain (not much suspense there any more). I'm talking about the "Shake Some Action" Revisited site, where your vote for the top 5 power pop albums of all time is being solicited for the rest of this month in order to come up with a fans' list to go with the Top 200 list John Borack compiled in his excellent Shake Some Action book.
Of course being the opinionated sort that I am, I have my own top 5 picks, which consist of one unsurprising pick, one not-too-unsurprising pick, two unsurprising artists but surprising discs, and one out of left field. Here I go:
1. Big Star-#1 Record/Radio City. The Rosetta Stone of power pop. I don't have any grand new insights on this legendary disc, but I will state that "September Gurls" might just be the perfect song.
2. Cotton Mather-Kon Tiki. I've waxed poetic on this one before, but I will simply state it comes closest to approximating a Beatles album than anything else out there, and I don't mean it simply in the sense of aping the Beatles sound, which a lot of bands are quite capable of. And if Kon Tiki was the best album the Beatles never released, "My Before and After" was the best song they never released.
3. Matthew Sweet-100% Fun. I've taken some heat for picking Clint Sutton as the #1 disc of 2008 in my spring list, and although I'm not sure it'll stay at the spot at year's end, the reason I love it so much is that reminds me of what I consider Sweet's best album and a stone classic. Although Girlfriend gets all the praise and the list mentions, I always thought 100% Fun was the more focused, tighter, melodic and rocking of the two. The first couple of seconds of "Sick of Myself" might be best way to open an album I've ever heard, and the wonderful "Get Older" is probably the most overlooked great song on this disc. (Side note on Sweet: The title is the notoriously thin-skinned Sweet's response to complaints that the Girlfriend followup, Altered Beast, was too "dark". Later, after the 100% Fun followup Blue Sky on Mars took some critical heat, Sweet responded with the bitter "Write Your Own Song" on 1999's In Reverse. So I sure hope he isn't reading this when I mention that his new disc, Sunshine Lies, didn't do much for me.)
4. Marshall Crenshaw-Field Day. Like the pick above, this isn't the disc people have in mind when they think of the artist, and while his self-titled debut would find a spot in my all-time top 20, this one to me is his true best. Maligned at the time as a result of Steve Lillywhite's reverb-heavy production, the controversy about the sound obscured the fact that this was Crenshaw's strongest set of songs, from the perfect power pop of the album's lone hit, "Whenever You're on My Mind", to gems like "For Her Love" and "Monday Morning Rock". My only knock on the debut was that it was a bit too retro-conscious, and what makes Field Day so great is that it marries Crenshaw's brilliant songcraft (which shows a greater depth and maturity here) to a more up-to-date vibe, even without considering Lillywhite's production.
5. Valley Lodge-Valley Lodge. Wha??? Alert and/or longtime readers might recall that this wasn't even my #1 disc of 2005, so what's it doing at #5 of all-freaking-time? Well, first of all if I had to re-do my 2005 list, this one probably would be at the top, and secondly, I've been listening to it a lot lately. But the more I listen, the more I'm convinced this might be the purest, most fun, power pop album I've ever heard, and here I mean power pop in the narrowest sense: rocking guitars, sugary melodies, etc - not the broad parameters I use in the choice of discs I review on this site. This disc has it all - aside from songs that deliver one hook after another, there's an intelligence and sense of humor that prevails here, unsurprising since frontman Dave Hill (ex-Uptown Sinclair) is an adept a professional comedian as he is a rocker. And what seals the deal for me is Hill's penchant for slipping into falsetto in the middle of verses and choruses, which makes these songs so much damn fun to sing along to. If you've been somehow immune to this disc's charms these past three years, do yourself a favor and check it out.