Before the Internet, college radio was the best place for independent labels and majors with new acts to break to find a receptive audience of young, music-savvy consumers, and it’s still important to them today. My small-town college station, however, didn’t get with the program. When we went to an album-rock format in 1979, we cloned the then-hot “Superstars” format, which was based on a tightly controlled rotation of singles and album cuts from the most popular artists in rock. It was the prototype for classic rock’s “Stairway to Heaven”/”Free Bird”/”Layla” format heard everywhere now. The only nod to our non-commercial status was that we played about 1,400 songs in all, which doesn’t sound like a lot, but it’s maybe twice as many as your typical classic-rock station today. And we were pretty happy with it. As aspiring DJs and music fans, we wanted to play the stuff we liked, and we liked Zeppelin and Skynryd and Clapton and Foreigner and Journey and Springsteen. The majority of the jocks weren’t interested in finding the next big thing out there on the bleeding edge of hip, and our audience seemed to agree. (It’s why I sometimes say I grew up in a world where punk never happened.)
The Superstars format, however, had one category of current music devoted entirely to new artists. In 1979 and 1980, the combined forces of new wave, power pop, and anti-disco backlash combined to produce a vast herd of jangle-pop artists, like Yipes or their Chicago counterparts Off Broadway USA, and melodic new-wave outfits from the UK, like the Records or the Headboys or the Sinceros. If you’ve never heard of these bands, I’m not surprised. Most of them came and went quickly. Many of the jocks, myself included, reviled the new-artist category, because the records in it didn’t sound like they were going to be hits, and they rarely became hits, and we wanted to play the hits. But it’s the damnedest thing–as I travel around the Internet today, I occasionally come across some of those records I dismissed a lifetime ago—and they sound a lot better to me now than they did back then. Here are five of ’em:
“East Side Kids”/Yipes. Pat McCurdy says it was heady stuff for a bunch of Milwaukee kids to find themselves riding in limos in their 20s. Yipes’ two albums, Yipes and A Bit Irrational, sound fine to me now, but weren’t distinguished enough then to separate Yipes from the herd of bands that sounded so much like them. (Which is probably why Pat says it’s also heady stuff to be dropped by your label, RCA, in your 20s.) McCurdy’s sense of humor is audible on both albums, though–what I took for snotty attitude in 1979 and 1980 is just Pat being Pat.
“Stay in Time”/Off Broadway USA. Chicago’s answer to Yipes was more successful, although not outrageously so. “Stay in Time” reached Number 51 in Billboard in 1980 but was much bigger in Chicago, ending up one of the top singles of the year on WLS. One more album followed on Atlantic, but no more significant hits. Nevertheless, Off Broadway, which walked the line between jangle pop and UK new wave (lots of listeners, myself included, were surprised to learn they were from Oak Park, Illinois, and not somewhere in England) is still together today.
“Starry Eyes”/The Records. Britain’s answer to the Raspberries, sort of. The Records came together in 1979 and lasted barely a year before splintering. Failing to appreciate “Starry Eyes,” which reached Number 56 in Billboard, was a big mistake—it sounds great to me now, and it’s better than a lot of stuff that was more popular in the late summer and fall of 1979.
“The Shape of Things to Come”/The Headboys. Another new-wave offshoot with a major-label deal, the Headboys were on RSO, home of the Bee Gees and Eric Clapton. “The Shape of Things to Come” was their first record, and a modest hit in the UK. It did well enough on album-rock radio in the States to get the band an American tour. The tour never came off, though; the band decided to stay in Scotland to work on its second album instead, but the second album never came off, either. The Headboys are thus one of the purest one-hit wonders around.
“Take Me to Your Leader”/The Sinceros. Another British band that flitted around the edges of stardom, the Sinceros played a lengthy tour of stateside clubs in 1979, but its big break came when they opened for Hall and Oates on the duo’s 1980 tour. The group lasted two more years after that, making a total of three albums, one produced by Gus Dudgeon, Elton John’s longtime producer.
As is my custom when doing a megapost of mp3s, I won’t be leaving these up for long, so grab ’em now.
“East Side Kids”/Yipes (buy it here)
“Stay in Time”/Off Broadway USA (buy it here)
“Starry Eyes”/The Records (buy it here)
“The Shape of Things to Come”/The Headboys (out of print)
“Take Me to Your Leader”/The Sinceros (out of print, I think; it may be anthologized on something still in print, but I can’t find it anywhere)