Power Pop PPPPPPPerfection: The Scruffs (1977)

The Scruffs live in 1978

The Scruffs live in 1978

Power Pop is easily my favourite r’n’r sub-genre. Chiming guitars, killer vocal harmonies, the hard punch of the rythm section aiming at fast-and-forward 3-minutes-3 tunes with great hooks. The late great Greg Shaw thought the foundations of power pop rested in that majestic batch of singles The Beatles, The Who, The Creation delivered in 1965-66, just before they turned “psichedelic”. Power pop is the anti-americana: neat, anglo-centric melodic pop songs vs. elongated jams (kick’em out…) inspired by country and/or blues roots.

The first wave of Power Pop band was made by r’n’r giants as The Badfinger, Big Star, The Raspberries, the second incarnation of The Flamin’ Groovies during the 1971-1975. The second wave appeared in 1978, just after the punk rock explosion and was mainly an all-american affair: sharp, catchy tunes played hard’n’fast by bands as The Shoes, The Knack, The RuBinoos, Dwight Twilley Band, The Nerves… (You can find a well-done compendium here).

… And The Scruffs, fiercely devoted to The Beatles and The Kinks in the bluesest and soulest town in the Usa (Memphis), they really didn’t come out of the blue. Friends and cognoscenti of Power Pop luminaries as Alex Chilton and Tommy Hoehn, they recorded their pristine, fabulous debut album at the Ardent Studios under the supervision of John Fry: the same location and team that helped forge the Big Star masterpiece no. 1 record.

Wanna meet the Scruffs? it’s a great, great hilarious record, a r’n’r precious artifact of Power Pop PPPPPerfection…

 

Here are the liner notes of the japanese edition of Wanna Met the Scruffs?:”The debut album of the Memphis’ legendary, The Scruffs “Wanna’ Meet The Scruffs?” will, at long last, be released here in Japan. Most of you may rank Big Star on the top of the Memphis power pop list. Big Star had seemingly amassed a cult following nowadays, being the favorite of numerous contemporary bands, and enjoying wide popularity as diverse as old rock fans and indie kids. But hold on, they were not the only ones. At the time, Memphis had a music scene where Big Star would hang out with brilliant talents such as Tommy Hoehn, Van Duren, and also The Scruffs. Sadly enough, those fellow musicians have yet to receive the public attention they deserve.

1977 is best reminded as the year punk rock revolution exploded out in UK. The very same year, The Scruffs released their debut. However, ill-timed or what, they failed to make any splash and hurtled into oblivion, while the likes of Alex Chilton and Flamin’ Groovies gained props from the punk generation as well. When Rhino released “Come Out And Play” compilation which got the cream of American power pop, small numbers spotted The Scruffs and started digging their record, but the band still remained underground. It’s indeed a tragedy taking the title from their classic track, a great pity not only for The Scruffs but also for rock music.

A few years ago, I discovered The Scruffs among those used LPs, and the very first time I heard them, I was mighty shocked, struck, and moved, from the bottom of my heart. Then I wondered why such a great band has been passed unmarked. What are those so-called music critics and writers doing? Open your eyes wide and doubt everything you swallow, otherwise you would miss the top ranks. Especially in Japan, The Scruffs has been totally ignored. Some people might say, ‘Who cares about power pop?’, but it mattered great with my friends and I. The Scruffs became a sought-after among us power pop fans, striking out huge on their own. We kept on talking about them all the time, fancying the men and their music. This album was amazing, breathtaking, and soul-stirring to such an extent, and the first impression has never to fade.

It seems obvious that The Scruffs were influenced by their predecessors and like-minded neighbors, such as Raspberries and BigStar. Maybe one of the reason is because this album was recorded at Ardent, the same studio where Big Star recorded their ‘#1 Record’, ‘Radio City’. Though it was self-produced, we can smell the Big Star flavor and the scent of their Memphis. However, I must tell you that this classic holds distinctive originality with all. Stephen’s somewhat twangy voice is full of emotion, sometimes showing anger, and sometimes burst with heartrending sorrow. And the band, they know how to play. They adopt their style to varying rhythms from slow to the hard, with great arrangements and playability. Their sound contains the angst and pain of disillusion, and yet they’ve got the guts to fight against it. Yes, power pop do need the guts. Ecce Dwight Twilley, Ecce Eric Carmen. Even those like The Rubinoos and Gary Valentine are not as weak as they look. Behind the pop feel, their music has the ring of a tender-hearted man living the tough realities of life.

A brief listen to the opener ‘Break The Ice’ proves it. You cannot find such a rock’n’roll song so often, simple, gutsy, and quite original. Every time you play ‘My Mind’, the impression of the sound and lyrics deepens. ‘This Thursday’ has the punk rock disorder, and we can feel the overflowing passion from the sensitively restrained ‘She Say Yea’, ‘Bedtime Stories’ ―An album so rich incontent, the essence of the pre-punk era power pop crystallized within. Listening to those musical gems over and over again, it almost gushes tears from my eyes. I just can’t understand why this masterpiece has been remained unknown. Moreover, take a look at the sleeve. Don’t you think they’re cool? Just imagine this foursome playing their hot stuff―it really thrills me up. Stephen Burns (vo) wearing sunglasses and a smart jacket, the guitarist Dave Branyan dressed in uniform, handsome young Rick Branyan on bass wearing a leather jacket and a scarf, and the loose appearance of Zeph Paulson (dr) in a rock ‘n’ roll manner reminding us those 70’s rocksters such as the Rolling Stones. It flashes to my mind that perhaps Stephen Burns is hiding his tears behind the shades. Well, maybe I’m being a little too romantic. I wish I could see any video materials featuring these guys play live. I bet they are cool.

Nowadays power pop has made its way through revaluation and reissue led by those small record labels in US, and the day finally came as well for The Scruffs to see the light. The LP was originally released from the Memphis record label Power Play, but it is Stephen ‘The Main Scruff’ Burns himself who led the van for this reissue. The disk from his own label Northern Heights features the single versions of ‘Break The Ice’, ‘She Say Yea’. Especially ‘Break The Ice’ sounds so wild, performed and recorded in a rather rough manner than the album version.

Now I would like to make note of this Japanese version. On one occasion, Alex Chilton sent a tape copy of The Scruffs songs to Shoeshine, the Glasgow record label which had released his own single. Upon hearing their stuff for the first time, the Shoeshine proprietor Francis Macdonald(also known playing with the Pastels, BMX Bandits, Radio Sweethearts) got all taken up with The Scruffs. The Japan release happened thanks to the coordination of Shoeshine(Shoeshine will not release The Scruffs so far). 4 out of 5 disks will be released under the name of The Scruffs including this one, and another is the album of Stephen Burns’ latest project Messenger 45. Besides, Stephen Burns visited Glasgow to record his own album with the likes of Francis, Teenage Fanclub, Belle & Sebastian, V-Twin members. Frankly speaking, this line-up seems far from my expectation. However, it will be sure to attract public attention and turn the eyes on Stephen, hopefully leading him to success. One thing is that I am totally against of kicking him up on a wobbly cult hero pedestal. Looking forward to hear a piece with plenty of guts.”

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