Archive for the ‘Pomp Pop’ Category

Maximalist vs. Minimalist Aesthetics in 20th Century Rock Music

April 20, 2010

Maximalists – value dynamic showmanship, idiomatic breadth, instrumental eclecticism, heroic virtuosity, harmolodic complexity, compositional grandeur and lavish sonorities. Maximalists essentially view showbiz as a meritocracy of virtuosity; the libertarian capitalism of rock.

Minimalists – value amateurism, sparse arrangements, a paucity of notes and chords, rudimental skill, compositional simplicity, rawness/underproduction and abrasive sonorities. Minimalists generally spurn showmanship, stressing D.I.Y. activism at the localized scene level; the collectivist socialism of rock.

Aesthetic Breakdown


  • Maximalism – The progression from high foundationalism, which peaked in 1966 with the release of Pet Sounds by the Beach Boys and Revolver by the Beatles. Officially launched with the June 1967 release of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band by the Beatles.
  • Minimalism – The step beyond low foundationalism, as embodied by the mid-60s garage rock compiled in the Nuggets series. Accidentally spawned by the February 1967 release of The Velvet Underground and Nico, the debut album by the Velvet Underground.


  • Maximalism – Rose in the late-60s, triumphed in the early-70s, reached its broadest global latitude during the mid-70s, and slowly decelerated between 1978 and 1983 amidst the reinstatement of foundationalism via disco and dance pop.
  • Minimalism – Had little influence as maximalism ascended, but congealed slowly between 1969 and 1977 from disparate sources, finally emerging as the dominant subterranean aesthetic in the aftermath of punk.


  • Maximalism – Progressive Rock (Prog), Heavy Metal (early), Brass Rock, 70s Funk, Fusion, 70s Electronic, Pomp Rock/Arena Rock, New Romantic
  • Minimalism – Garage Rock, Proto Punk, Kraut Rock, Punk, Post Punk, Industrial, Pop Metal, alt.rock, Grunge


  • Maximalists – Led Zeppelin, King Crimson, Yes, Genesis, Emerson Lake & Palmer, The Who (post-1968), Jethro Tull, Chicago, Earth Wind & Fire, Deep Purple, Mahavishnu Orchestra, Return to Forever, Mike Oldfield, PFM, Tangerine Dream, Magma, Harmonium, Supertramp, Al Stewart, Boz Scaggs, Rupert Holmes, Queen, Electric Light Orchestra, Steve Harley, 10cc, Styx, Kate Bush, The Stranglers, Ultravox, Magazine, Japan, U2, Simple Minds
  • Minimalists – The Stooges, The Shaggs, The New York Dolls, T.Rex, Jonathan Richman & the Modern Lovers, Neil Young, Graham Parsons, Nick Drake, Leonard Cohen, Tom Waits, Faust, Can, Patti Smith, The Ramones, Pere Ubu, James Chance & the Contortions, The Buzzcocks, Joy Division, The Smiths, Wire, Bauhaus, Gang of Four, AC/DC, Nerdvana, Violent Femmes, Suicide, Throbbing Gristle


  • Maximalism – London, Birmingham, Chicago, Montreal, Rome
  • Minimalism – London, Manchester, Berlin, Cleveland, Seattle

Philosophical Antecedents

  • Maximalism – Classicism, Romanticism, Objectivism
  • Minimalism – Naturalism, Existentialism, Postmodernism

Noted Champions

  • Maximalists – Musicologist, professor, author and composer Ed Macan (born 1961) – “The whole underlying goal of progressive rock – to draw together rock, classical, jazz, folk, and avant-garde styles into a new metastyle that would supersede them all – is inherently optimistic.”
  • Minimalists – Sociologist and critic Lester Bangs (1948-1982) – “The first mistake of art is to assume that it’s serious.”


Stadium Rock

October 4, 2008

Discussions have arisen concerning the renewed appeal of AOR, pomp rock and stadium rock, which has steadily grown as the self-effacing ironies of the misbegotten ’90s fade into the trash can of history, and people re-embrace dynamism and heroism from their performers. A recent thread on this phenomenon aroused the following enthusiasm from yours truly.

AOR/melodic rock and west coast/soft rock have become the areas of Anglophone music spanning the late ’70s through mid ’80s that I’m most enthused about now that I’m in my thirties. Funny enough, I hated this stuff in my teens when I was a full-fledged punk/new waver. Now I’ve mostly lost passion for the latter, save for the divine rarity of ‘pomp wave’ (The Stranglers, Ultravox, Magazine), the distinguished stylists of the NuRo/synthpop movement (John Foxx, Gary Numan, Dalek I) and the lifelong charms of the Second British Invasion. The more abrasive, amateurish and mopey purveyors of punk and post-punk (i.e. hardcore, alt. rock and anything produced by Martin Hannet) tend to really get on my nerves nowadays.

But onto some AOR…

Silver Shoes said: I always liked “Feel It Again” and “What Does It Take” [by the Honeymoon Suite].

Side one of Honeymoon Suite‘s 1985 The Big Prize LP is totally awesome, with “Bad Attitude” and “Lost and Found” lending further exhilarating blasts of Night Ranger-esque pomp rock superpower. Canuck contemporaries Glass Tiger were another great band of like-mind, forging a unique brand of martial-tinged pomp rock on their Thin Red Line LP, which they contrarily plugged with the two most uncharacteristic songs, “Don’t Forget Me (When I’m Gone)” and “Someday”.

Intergalactic Touring Band (1977)

July 7, 2008

I’ve long loved this album, especially Dave Cousins gripping “Heartbreaker” – the best track the Strawbs never recorded – and Annie Haslam‘s beautiful “Reaching Out”, in addition to the sprightly Supertramp pastiche “First Landing”. But all the songs are good, even Ben E. King‘s discoish “Love Station”.

The first three aforementioned cuts, plus the space-age soulfulness of the opening “Silver Lady” and the melodramatic Meatloaf-sung finale “Keeper Keep Us”, can be heard below:

Intergalactic Touring Band


June 14, 2008

Us Todd-heads are notorious for analyzing every nuance of the Todd Rundgren/Utopia canon, as we were doing today with a thread in which I wrote:

I love how “Real Man” reprises at the end of “Fair Warning”. In fact, just the other day while listening to Initiation I was struck by the cohesion between several songs, which indicated the presence of a dispersed epic, like Genesis would later incorporate through Duke. I was trying to pinpoint where and how certain songs would link – “Real Man” > “Born to Synthesize” > “Eastern Intrigue” > “Fair Warning” – and I thought about fading them into one another. Trouble is, the incredible title track would get cut, and I’m so used to hearing that before “Fair Warning”. On the other hand, I’d get to lose the disruptive “Death of Rock n’ Roll”.

Split Enz – Second Thoughts/Mental Notes

May 15, 2008

Split Enz - Second Thoughts (1976)

This album was one of the foundations of my musical awakening. I purchased it when I was 14 years of age (in 1987), and it was my gateway into 1970s prog and art rock. This album formed the cornerstone of my musical and aesthetic identity throughout my teens and twenties.

The music on Mental Notes (aka Second Thoughts) is a number of things:

It is lush, grandiose, quintessentially ’70s symphonic progressive – from the blankets of mellotron and lyrical guitar strides which weave and embed “Stranger Than Fiction”, to the classical piano forward and orchestral climax of “Time for a Change”.

It is quirky, technicolor vaudeville, inline with The Kinks-infected music hall of such contemporaries as Stackridge, Sparks and Kayak – from the thumping top-hat burleque of “Lovey Dovey” to the mind-boggling keyboard tapestry of “Walking Down a Road”, and onto the contorted cabaret musings of “The Woman Who Loves You”.

It is antique and folky – from the mandolin minstrel strut of “Matinee Idyll”, to the lucid acoustic meltdown of “Sweet Dreams”.

It is wholly indefinable avant garde, thoroughly original and comparable to no one – from the through-composed, warped tropical slip-slide of “Late Last Night”, to the demented, bare-bones chordal crunching of the title track.

Mental Notes – one of the most fascinating, unique, inventive, diverse and remarkably unclassifiable albums of all time.

Several of the above-mentioned songs can be heard, and a few even viewed, on this page.:

Split Enz (1975-1977)

(The page goes by the Australasian releases, where Mental Notes was actually the title of their Oceanic-only 1975 debut, whilst their Northern Hemisphere release entitled Mental Notes (from 1976) was actually titled Second Thoughts down under. The latter album is the one which I was discussing in my praise up above.

Murray Head – Say It Ain’t So

March 25, 2008

Talk of supposed “one-hit wonders” can yield all sorts of deeper insights in these informational times, including the following from yours truly upon the mention of actor and singer/songwriter Murray Head:

Murray Head‘s 1975 outing Say It Ain’t So was a phenomenal recording, and like Russ Ballard‘s 1976 Winning LP, another source of much-covered material. Roger Daltrey did a riveting cover of the title track on his 1977 One of the Boys LP, whilst Cliff Richard performed an earnestly heartfelt rendition of “Never Even Thought” on his superb Green Light album in 1978. But my favorite songs from Murray Head‘s ultimate longplayer would have to be the gems which he kept for himself, notably the heartbreakingly poignant “Boy On the Bridge”, the grippingly mournful “Don’t Forget Him Now” and the steamy erotica of “You’re So Tasty”.

The Divine Rarity of Pomp Wave

January 9, 2008

I’ve long asserted that Magazine were thee band to have expertly woven the buzzsaw bite and trebly sonorities of punk and New Wave with the lavish textures and monumental scope of pomp rock and symphonic progressive. Just listen to the brimming colors of “Definitive Gaze” and watch the video to “Motorcade” for two perfect examples, the latter of which suggests a New Wave “Dance On a Volcano” with its uncanny triplex intro and myriad sections.

From there you can check out some other exceptional entities from the New Wave/post-punk movement, like Random Hold and Red Noise, in the “top friends” of Magazine.

Musically, it was the instrumentalists in Magazine who should be given credit for the prog leanings in that band. Particularly their keyboardist Dave Formula, who’s polyphonic arsenal gave Magazine that sweeping, grandiose sound and feel, totally beyond the confines of the post-punk aesthetic (where sparse primitivism was the order of the day.) Additionally, their guitarist John McGeoch lent dynamics to the proceedings with his eminently lyrical, immanently scything leads. The idiosyncratic maximalism of Magazine’s music made them, with honor, a luminous light within the sonic shadow of Genesis, King Crimson, Van Der Graaf Generator and Hawkwind, with due respect to the ubiquitous if over-emphasized mark of Roxy Music and David Bowie.

After McGoech left Magazine to help lift Siouxsie and the Banshees from the depths of haphazard, shock-punk pantomime, intern Ultravox axeman Robin Simon stepped in to lend his sheer, ebow*-like tones to Magazine‘s thinly produced and sadly slight swan song, Magic, Murder, & the Weather.

*I don’t know Simon’s exact arsenal, per se, but the ebow was nonetheless thee guitar sound amongst NuRo (that’s New Romantic) bands and performers like Japan, Yellow Magic Orchestra, Duran Duran and the ubiquitous string-shredder-turned-key-petter Bill Nelson, who laced numerous early 80’s recordings with the sleek, luminous sound of the ebow.

The Many Manes of John Miles

September 15, 2007

John Miles burst onto the English rock scene in early 1976 with an orchestral glam/pomp sound crossing the lavishness of Steve Harley with the dynamics of Kayak on his blazing debut album Rebel, which he topped with a striking James Dean/Daniel Boone-style image comprised of cuffed, denim straight-legs and a sleek, manicured quiff. A musical whirlwind, his long-player absorbed all senses in the lilting vocal prowess of “Highfly”, the campy romp of “Rebel”, the heartfelt poignancy of “Lady of My Life”, the climactic catharsis of “Pull the Damn Thing Down”, and the popular pride of purpose embodied in “Music”.

John Miles, 1976

John Miles, 1976

His uber-cool image – which would have looked fairly casual a few years later – caused a ruckus amongst the mostly hirsute audience of his chosen musical style. So after being chased down Notting Hill Gate by a gang of Teddy Boys, Miles opted for a hammy, mustached disguise on his sophomore release Stranger In the City, where his lavishness was downscaled for a humbler set of songs spanning the 20th century lexicon of pop: brassy ’60s showtune pastiches like “Manhattan Skyline”, thumping Music Hall on “Music Man”, feverish disco with “Slow Down”, cinematic balladry like “Remember Yesterday”, and eerie alleyway night rock such as the title track, amongst others.

For 1978’s Zaragon, Miles adopted yet another renegade likeness in the white-robed and frizz-permed imagery of Luke Skywalker, while ace producer Rupert Holmes steered Miles back towards pomp rock, only this time in a more stripped down trio setting, which drew him closer sound-wise to stateside contemporaries like Ambrosia, Trillion and Zon. Compositionally grand as ever, the set was propelled by the sinister triplex complicity of “Nice Man Jack”, the modulated heights of “I Have Never Been In Love Before”, and the bombarding might of the cautionary tales told in “Overture”.

Six songs from his phenomenal first three albums, plus a clip for his 1976 UK hit “Music”, can be experienced right here.

City Boy

June 29, 2007

Amongst the many beguiling debuts of 1976 was the eponymous entry from the bodacious Birmingham sextet City Boy. Over the next several years, City Boy weathered the colliding musical currents with sassy swagger (“Deadly Delicious”) and power aplenty (the thundering “Narcissus”), whilst strands of art rock, hard rock, pomp pop, folk, and the ever-pervasive prints of Little Feat etched and sprayed the graffiti walls of City Boy’s concrete urban turf. Oft-tagged as a cross betwixt 10cc and Queen, our runaround boys indeed contained a guy named Lol and possessed a polar-analogue to “We Are the Champions” in the emotionally climatic “Dangerous Ground”, City Boy’s **GREATEST** song of all!

City Boy

Rea-esque (Cafe Jacques, Easy Street, City Boy, The Movies)

June 4, 2007

Mention of Chris Rea on progressiveears recently led to a flow a stimulating conversation. Here are some of the highlights:

I’m familiar with Chris Rea‘s first four albums, in which the music tends to coast along on Rea’s cool, laidback vibe, in lieu of melodic hooks. Initially, I only liked four songs off Whatever Happened to Benny Santini (“Fires of Spring”, “Because of You”, “Three Angels” and “Fool If You Think It’s Over”) but gradually the humbler numbers sunk in, like “Dancing With Charlie”. The key to his charm seems to be in his tasteful* arrangements.

Another British act from that same time period with a very similar sound to Rea, yet with more standout hooks and artful arrangements, was Cafe Jacques, one of my favorite unknowns of the late 70’s:
Cafe Jacques

*If anyone wants to know exactly what I mean by “tasteful”, I submit this definition:

‘everyday’ said: “Great band [Cafe Jacques] – ‘Boulevard of Broken Dreams’ is one of my fav tracks. Interesting to look at the MySpace entry and their friends – several of my other fav bands from that era – City Boy, The Movies, Easy Street. “

Wow, you know about Easy Street? I’ve only encountered one other person on any of the music forums who’s ever even heard of them. Their track “I’d Been Lovin’ You” somehow managed to crack the Cash Box Top 100 in the Summer of 1976, which I find unbelievable since Capricorn (mystified by how Easy Street ended up on that label) didn’t seem to know how to promote those “short haired English pretty boys.” In fact, I own the entire 1976 volume of Rolling Stone (save for the Jackson Brown issue), plus every issue of Trans-Oceanic Trouser Press from that mighty year, yet I see no mention of Easy Street in any of those issues whatsoever. I would have never even known about Easy Street had I not seen a mention of their name in a blurb on Landscape (the next band for drummer Richard Burgess) in The Trouser Press Guide to New Wave Records.

Bands like Easy Street, Cafe Jacques, The Movies, City Boy, Deaf School, etc make a good argument for the existence of fresh, young talent that was emerging outside the New Wave, circa 1976-77. There’s even a review of Cafe JacquesRound the Back LP in Record Mirror from late 1977, which wryly noted how the “monopoly of attention given to up and coming bands” was indeed allotted to the post-Pistols horde. Such was the haze of the pre-internet age.

‘everyday’ said: “I have the Easy Street album in front of me as I type this – can’t have played it for 20 years! I certainly remember ‘Feels Like heaven’ and ‘Lazy Dog Shandy’. The first Landscape album was superb – very experimental for its day. I saw them in Hull when they were touring that LP. ‘Japan’ was a superb track. The Movies did some excellent work too. They were originally Joan Armatrading‘s backing band I believe. Jon Cole has a website from where you can download tracks for free once you get a password. Google Jon Cole and Movies to find it. Never saw City Boy but have all their albums including a CDR of the never-released outside Sweden ‘It’s Personal’. Of course Mike Slammer went on to form Streets with Steve Walsh.”

The eponymous Easy Street is one of my top 5 all-time albums from one of my top 3 favorite years in music, 1976. I got the cover spread out on the wall right behind me.

I never got my hands on the first Landscape LP, but I do have the fusiony “Worker’s Playtime” 7″ which preceded it. From the Tea Rooms of Mars.. is definitely one of the highlights of the New Romantic movement, along with some ultra cool videos featuring the band in full Romo garb along with the eye-fetching Barbie Wilde.

The Movies evolved out of the 1973 symphonic prog one-shot Public Foot the Roman, whose lone album is another underexposed treasure.

Progbear said: “The Movies played on Joan Armatrading‘s 1975 Back To The Night tour, as both opening act and backing band! Members went on to play on her albums after the band dissolved: percussionist Julian Diggle on The Key and drummer Jamie Lane on The Shouting Stage. They were actually the synthesis of two prior Cambridge-area bands—keyboardist Dag Small, drummer Jamie Lane and guitarist Greg Knowles hailed from Public Foot The Roman, who released one proggy LP on the Sovereign (Renaissance, Flash) label. Meanwhile, percussionist Julian Diggle and lead singer/slide guitarist Jon Cole came from an unrecorded band called Thunderbox.

Don’t confuse them with the Seattle trio The Movies, who released a melodic pop album on Arista (produced by Vini Poncia) in 1977.”