Illustration of Arthur Wellesley Duke of Wellington from Hyde Park and the House of the Grosvenors, a History Thereof by Sir Max Pemberton, 1903
After much waffling, nail-biting, and brain-wracking, I came up with a heading/label for entries about new releases - In Stores Now. It's funny (to me, at least) because you'd be hard-pressed to find any releases I'm writing about in any store within driving distance of your house, unless you live near an impressively-stocked CD store, of which there are six remaining in the continental United States. It's considerably less funny if you consider Amazon.com to be a store. Which, coincidentally, is where I bought the new release from the awesome Numero Group, a collection called Titan: It's All Pop! Exclamation point is in the title, not my added editorial emphasis.
The Numero Group is a boutique reissue label that specializes in investigating forgotten record labels and regional scenes. They have been known to go to such lengths as to finagle a soggy cardboard box of master tapes out of the possession of some former producer's ex-wife through lengthy negotiations. These worn tapes are then remastered and dressed up with extensive documentary liner notes and photos - unbelievably, Numero Group issues up to a dozen of these archivists' dreams a year. They are especially good at reassembling the histories of lost regional R&B labels like Twinight, Deep City, and YoDi, all covered in their Eccentric Soul series of releases.
Their most recent release is a second foray into telling the lost story of underground power pop (the first, Yellow Pills: Prefill is an essential collection of lost hits). This time they are telling the story of Titan Records, a fly-by-night operation out of Kansas City whose entire original discography consisted of a single sampler album and seven singles. How could this be considered a worthy target for their attention? Well, for one thing, almost half of the two-CD set is composed of failed Titan projects that never saw the light of day for one reason or another.
But what about the quality of the material? The sound quality is amazing considering that Titan never made any money - apparently, part of the reason they failed is that they spared no expense in production. And the songs themselves? The liner notes heap praise on the Titan musicians like the Boys, the Secrets* (their asterisk, not mine), Gary Charlson, and Arlis! (his emphasis, not mine), using words like "authenticity", "honesty", and "timelessness". These words are all found in the "rockism" primer and are given little credit in music criticism these days, so I'll set them aside (even though I am something of a rockism apologist). Somehow, against considerable odds, Titan managed to draw a dozen or so REALLY talented songwriters, vocalists, and players. The songs avoid the standard power-pop problem of everything blending together because the songs are distinct and take varied approaches to the pop sound, and the melodies (and harmonies!) are full of memorable hooks. I could pick almost any of the set's 42 tracks to showcase here, but I'm going to go with one that stood out to me on first listen - "Uniform" by the Secrets* from 1980. A little long for a pop song at 4:10, it somehow doesn't wear out its welcome, making the most of harmonies, piano, organ, and chiming guitars. And it sounds a little like "Jack and Diane", although I'm not sure that goes in the plus column. Points for prescience or something.
"Uniform" by the Secrets*