Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Shoes -- Tongue Twister album (1980)

Legendary power pop bands are split into three divisions: the ones that are revered and charted (The Beatles, Badfinger, The Raspberries, The Cars), the ones who didn't chart but command a huge cult following in their aftermath (Jellyfish, Big Star), and the many regional bands who may have cut an album or two and are now just a mere memory for obsessives.

Shoes (note: no "The") fell between the second and third categories and probably constitute indie rock's first pioneers of the "DIY" ethos. Famous for being based in Zion, IL, Shoes were recording and distributing their own homemade EP's and albums way before new wave acts like The Police and 90's grunge bands were doing it.

They pressed and distributed their Black Vinyl Shoes record in 1977, became the toast of music critics, were signed to Elektra Records and immediately teamed with Queen producer Mike Stone for their Present Tense album. While some people consider that to be Shoes' finest moments, I prefer their follow-up, Tongue Twister, co-produced by the band and Fleetwood Mac producer Richard Dashut.

Imagine Shoes as a raw version of the Cars with no synthesizers. As a matter of fact, like Boston and Queen's early albums, they were purists who often boasted about the no synth approach (and with Shoes, no keyboards at all). Extremely melodic mid-tempo to fast songs, definitely more on the "rock" side than pop, very 4/4, and the real operating word here is "crunch" -- the riffs and power chords were mixed right up front for your air guitar pleasure.

Tongue Twister made full use of overdrive and distortion in both the rhythm and lead guitars, twiddling the pedal knobs for all kinds of effects with a little acoustic tones blended in periodically. No, this did not sound like Fleetwood Mac at all, despite Dashut's credentials, and not blues based, like many classic rock acts, but power pop rock on the order of Cheap Trick's first three albums. Real drums and guitars, Gary Klebe's scratchy vocals, tastefully placed and sparingly used harmonies, nothing more than three minutes long, and one in a while, you'll hear a chord riff EQ'd perfectly, sitting in one speaker like ear candy.

In John Borack's superb 2007 Shake Some Action book (subtitled: "The Ultimate Power Pop Guide"), Shoes' Jeff Murphy cites his 10 favorite pop songs, which should give you an idea of where the band drew their influences: The Beatles' "Tomorrow Never Knows," Big Star's "September Gurls," Todd Rundgren's "Couldn't I Just Tell You," Badfinger's "Baby Blue," The Beatles' "We Can Work It Out," Paul Revere and The Raiders' "Hungry," The Beatles' "You Never Give Me Your Money" medley, The Ramones' "I Wanna Be Sedated," Big Star's "The Ballad of El Gordo," and Cheap Trick's "He's A Whore."

I assembled this 14-minute tour through my five favorite songs from Tongue Twister, followed by the Shoes' official videos for the two best songs from Present Tense -- the Byrds-ish "Too Late" and "Tomorrow Night." It's worth noting that they were played on MTV's launch date of August 1, 1981.

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