Throughout the history of rock music, there have been a handful of years during which an abnormally large number of classic albums have been released. For me, those years include 1965, 1967, 1969, 1971, 1977, 1983, 1984, 1987 and 1991, to list but a few. Those years have been etched in my mind. 1965 is known as the beginning of the rock era mainly due to the buying public’s switch from singles to albums as the main source of their musical entertainment. During that year, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones and Bob Dylan all led us toward the viewpoint of the album as an artist’s true artistic statement.
Of course, many of you are familiar with the significance of 1967 and the “Summer of Love”, with albums by The Beatles, Jimi Hendrix Experience and The Doors taking our hands and walking with us into mind-altering music and chemicals. Then, 1969 is famous not only for Woodstock but also all the great music released by the likes of The Band, The Stones and Santana.
In 1971, Marvin Gaye, The Who, Stevie Wonder and Elton John all gave us classic albums. And, 1977 is often noted as a rich year due to the rise of punk rock and disco into critically acclaimed art forms with albums by the Sex Pistols, Ramones and Elvis Costello representing the former and the Bee Gees, Donna Summer and Chic pushing the latter.
In the Eighties, 1983 and 1984 stood head and shoulders above the other years. 1983 was dominated by Michael Jackson, Prince and Def Leppard, while 1984 was the year for Bruce Springsteen, Tina Turner, Prince & the Revolution, ZZ Top and Wham!, among others. Then 1987 rolled through with albums by U2, Prince, Michael Jackson, John Mellencamp, George Michael, INXS, Bruce Springsteen and Def Leppard dominating that year as well as 1988.
And, as far as I am concerned, the last really huge year that I believe had a huge impact on rock music was 1991. That year witnessed the release of classic albums by the likes of Michael Jackson, Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Temple of the Dog, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Metallica, Guns N’ Roses and A Tribe Called Quest. 1991 was also significant for the sheer volume of great albums released by artists from the British Indie Music Scene. Some really terrific music was released that year by bands that have remained relatively unknown here in the States. But, since you are reading this blog, I am certain you are familiar with the classic albums released that year by My Bloody Valentine, Primal Scream, The KLF, Saint Etienne and Teenage Fanclub. It is from this latter group of artists on whom I want to put my spotlight. That band is Teenage Fanclub, and their 1991 album, Bandwagonesque, is the classic album.
In 2018, Teenage Fanclub’s album will turn 27 years old. It’s hard to believe that, since by boys were but children back then. Now, they are grown men, and I am an old man. For those of you not familiar with Teenage Fanclub, you can kind of think of them as something like precursor to the works of Oasis and Blur, two bands who were just sorting themselves out when Teenage Fanclub dropped this nuclear bomb of an album. For the first time in a while, we are hearing a band from the United Kingdom whose musicians sound as if they had spent a large portion of their then-young lives listening to and digesting the sound of Big Star and adding a bit of the distorted guitar so popular at the time with the whole shoegazer crowd. For the first, the listener was treated to the sweet sounds and melodies of power pop all turned up to 11 and played with distorted guitars that only emphasized the muscularity of the band’s sound. Teenage Fanclub, unwittingly, was the missing link between the power pop of The Knack and the distorted beauty of the Pixies or Nirvana. Finally, a whole language was being invented by Teenage Fanclub that was going to allow power pop music to thrive in the Nineties.
Bandwagonesque kicks out with with distortion-drenched vocals on the epic album opener “The Concept”. Immediately, this band is informing the world that they are not afraid of distortion of the likes not heard since the Kinks were being played in heavy rotation back in the Sixties. Yet, unlike My Bloody Valentine, whose distortion assault is all part and parcel of the sound, Teenage Fanclub utilizes distortion much like early Who singles did, only to paint the song with different washes of sound. “The Concept” is basically an extended Big Star song, with some distortion thrown in for great emotional affect.
After a distortion-drenched rain of feedback song, not unlike a Gen X version of Van Halen’s “Eruption” entitled sarcastically “Satan” and the Todd Rundgren-in-the-90s sound of “December”, comes the next big single “What You Do to Me”, a song that sounds just like the boys in the band were weaned on the Raspberries, only if Eric Carmen had known what to do with distortion. That distortion only makes the chorus of the song sound that much sweeter as the distortion gives way to the angelic vocals of Norman Blake (guitars), Raymond McGinley (guitars) and Gerard Love (bass). While the guitars are wailing the rhythm section of Love and drummer Frances MacDonald hold down the bottom end with a foundation that is both solid and agile.
You can tell that these Scotsmen have grown up taking in the lessons from all the power pop gods from The Beatles to The Who, Big Star and Raspberries to The Records and The Romantics, only updating these artists’ sounds with washes of distortion first popularized by The Jesus and Mary Chain. But unlike TJAMC, Teenage Fanclub never loses track of that sweet melody and their Hollies-like vocal harmonies. The band really shines on “Star Sign”, showing off the lessons learned from listening to Badfinger. And, then the band shows off where Oasis must have gotten half of the ideas from Teenage Fanclub’s other great song on Bandwagonesque, “Metal Baby”.
Believe it or not, Teenage Fanclub continues to release fantastic albums to this very day. As a matter of fact, the band released their latest album just in 2016, entitled Here. Unfortunately, the distorted guitars of Bandwagonesque have been tempered and mostly exchanged for the washes of keyboards by Dave McGowan. Now, the adult versions of Teenage Fanclub have developed their own sound, but back in 1991, they represented the cutting edge of power pop music. Everything that distinguished the group as being power pop was present on that album: sweet melodies, jangly guitars and sweet, tight vocal harmonies that was only toughened by that aforementioned guitar distortion that was so fresh at the the time.
Now, in order to put this album’s influence in proper prospective, in 2017, Benjamin Gibbard, leader/singer/songwriter for the band Death Cab for Cutie, released his debut solo album. That album was a song-for-song cover tribute of his all-time favorite album, Bandwagonesque. Gibbard’s version is very good, but it lacks the spontaneity of the original, as well as much of the distortion. Still, the album displays the strength of the writing on Teenage Fanclub’s original.
If you pride yourself as a power pop, please go got this album! There is a reason that Teenage Fanclub was chosen as the part of the first class of inductees in the Power Pop Hall of Fame. That’s right! There really is one! Check it out on Facebook or you can google the website. But, it is real and was founded by some very knowledgeable power pop lovers, critics, collectors and producers. Still, Teenage Fanclub is widely recognized as one of power pop’s finest, right after Cheap Trick, Todd Rundgren, Big Star and Raspberries, among some others as well. And, Bandwagonesque has much to do with setting up Teenage Fanclub for a prosperous career.