Friday, October 31st, 2014 – Bordentown, New Jersey

Review by Danny Coleman

Who is Ken Sharp? He is the author of more than fifteen music related books; has been on the New York Times Best Seller List and has written liner notes for the likes of Elvis Presley, Heart, Hall & Oates and Kiss.  Sharp has undertaken and successfully authored books on John Lennon, Elvis, Cheap Trick and The Raspberries as well as a slew of others in his impressive arsenal of rocks elite.

Play On: Power Pop Heroes is the first in a scheduled series about some of rocks most dominant “Power Pop” bands such as The Beatles, The Byrds, The Hollies, The ZombiesBadfinger  and multiple others. In the book, Sharp credits The Who’s Pete Townsend with coining the phrase “Power Pop.” Townsend used the term as he described the band’s newly released 1967 single “I Can See For Miles.”

In a recent press release, Sharp describes what makes the genre so unique,

“…the stylistic glue that welds it all together into one thrilling two-to-three-minute musical joyride is a collective reverence for a Play-On-Power-Pop-Heroes-Vol-1picture-perfect melody that will take your breath away and a supersonic hook, the size of the Empire State Building, that’s near impossible to forget.”


With a forward by The Raspberries Eric Carmen who is quoted as saying,

“I think the essence of power pop is its transcendent ability to put a smile on your face and make the hair on your arms stand up. That’s what it’s always done for me” 

and features in this first volume on the pioneers of modern rock just to name a few; The Beach Boys, The Dave Clark Five, The Turtles, The Kinks, The Bee Gees and Small Faces. One can see why these acts were lumped into this category. All of them established raw energy and unheard of sounds as they blazed a trail that would be followed by a multitude of others. In some cases, even more successes of their own with solo careers and other bands.

One such example of this continued good fortune is that of the great Graham Nash. Nash broke in as a member of The Hollies and of course would go on to gain prominence with Crosby, Stills and Young in one of the most popular groups in all of rock history. Sharp asked of Nash,

“When did you first realize you broke through in the U.S. with the Hollies?” To Which Nash replied, “It happened with one of our earliest records called “Stay” by Maurice Williams and the Zodiacs. The Hollies did a really energetic, good version of that song. But then this band we didn’t know called the Four Seasons did a version of the song, which overtook ours. But that was the first time I thought, you know, we probably can do okay in America.”

Perhaps another is a quote from The Zombies Rod Argent, who also had commercial success after the band went their separate ways. Rod discusses the moment with Sharp when the decision was made to add vocalist Colin Blunstone to the mix,

“Colin really blew me away when I first heard him. I met Colin on our first rehearsal. We just put a few people together who were interested in forming a band. I knew the guitarist and the drummer from school vaguely. I was a very good friend with the bass player who left the band after the first year and that’s when Chris (White) replaced him. But Id never met Colin at all. He was a friend of the original bass player. When we met at that first rehearsal, I was the singer and Colin was the rhythm guitarist so we sort of bumbled through our first rehearsal. Then during a break, I wandered over to the piano and played “Nut Rocker” by B. Bumble and the Stingers and Colin came racing over to me and said, “You have to play piano in this band.” And I thought that piano had no part in a rock and roll band at that time (laughs). I was a bit bemused by this and went back to singing. Very soon afterwards we had another coffee break and Colin picked up his guitar and started singing a Ricky Nelson song. Now neither of us can remember what song it was but I often say to Colin that I can still hear a bit of Ricky Nelson in his voice. I was completely blown away by Colin’s singing and thought he sounded fantastic. His range and pitch were great, quite naturally at that age. And I said, “Well, I’ll tell you what, I still want to sing, but you’re gonna be the lead singer.” (Laughs) A lot of people don’t realize how powerful his voice is but at the same time he had a wonderful huskiness to his voice as well. His voice has changed now. It’s inevitable when you get older some of the characteristics change in your voice but in some ways I think he’s singing better now than he did at 18-years-old. Colin’s voice had a very magical quality then and I think it still has but in a slightly different way now. His voice is very plaintive and very special and he doesn’t sound like anybody else.”

“Play On: Power Pop Heroes” is rife with quotes and stories from the bands and artists who gave the ‘60’s and early 1970’s their signature sound. One such amusing anecdote is told by Roger McGuinn; famous member of The Byrds. Roger recounts one of the group’s earliest gigs which happened to be a birthday party for a famous movie starlet.

“One of our early shows was at a bowling alley in the San Fernando Valley. Our set was comprised of covers; we were doing Beatles songs and Bob Dylan songs. We had rearranged quite a few Bob Dylan songs and had taken them out of their original time signature and put into a rock and roll beat. One of our early gigs was for Jane Fonda’s 21st birthday party in Malibu. Derek Taylor had been the Beatles’ press secretary and he was working for the Byrds and the Beach Boys at that point, and it was his job to arrange for the Byrds to play at Jane Fonda’s 21st birthday party (laughs). So they invited the Byrds and we went out there. What Derek hadn’t planned on was some of our followers made their way in and they were really out there, half naked bohemians with body paint and ribbons in their hair. They were dancing around like demons up and around Henry Fonda and he was going, “What is going on?” Henry Fonda didn’t like loud rock and roll music and asked us to turn it down.”

Excerpts like these can be found throughout Volume One of this great book which also features several track by track descriptions of various “Seminal albums,”  along with the over 500 pages of interviews from more than twenty different artists. Sharp has taken painstaking time and effort in searching for just the right mix of performers who put together this first volume. “Volume Two” when finished will feature even more of the great bands we’ve all heard and enjoy. Bands such as Rick Springfield, Utopia, The Hudson Brothers, Cheap Trick and The Bay City Rollers will be the focus.  Just to give some brief insight to the many who sat down with Sharp and relayed their experiences is found in a  preliminary look at “Volume Three” which showcases The Romantics, the Go-Go’s, The Knack, The Bangles and the Smithereens.

This series promises to be informative, interesting and a must read for any classic rocker or music enthusiast. This is a definitive behind the scenes look into the private recounts and memories of some of the great performers and songwriters who transcended from AM to FM and even today’s Satellite Radio.

Play On! Power Pop Heroes: Volume One is available EXCLUSIVELY on Ken Sharp’s website, see the link below.





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