Tuesday, May 8, 2012

My Teenage Top 10 Mod Revival Records

I used to be a power-popper. Yes, it's true.

Once upon a time, I used to quote Quadrophenia lines, wear a parka in the summer, and sing along to The Key's 'Feeling Special.' In high school, after discovering that some record shops actually had "Mod/Ska" sections, I used to hunt down whatever 'Mod' records I could find, and most of those were 1970s/1980s revival records. A lot of those power-pop Mod sounds helped bridge my junior high new wave/punk tastes to my latter-teen R&B/freakbeat obsessions.

Of course, whenever I went record-shopping, the easiest targets (no pun intended) were those albums that trumpeted "MOD!" anywhere on the cover or within liner notes. In fact, the more blatant the 'Mod' imagery, the more likely I was to grab it... quite the opposite of my record-buying habits these days.

My record collection started off with a Who LP, a Jam LP, and 2-Tone records, but soon, it was filled with revival records, Unicorn Records offerings, and... more Jam LPs. A lot of that music worked for me at the time, because it captured the frustrations I felt as a teen, the ones I, uh, wore like a suit (**groan**). Y'know, I didn't want to be 'the same as everybody else,' I wanted to be 'away from the numbers,' yadda, yadda, yadda... (Oh, to be young again.)

But enough of me prattling on. Let's climb into the ol' time machine and go back to that magical age of 17, at the dawn of the 1990s... a time when girls still swooned over their favorite New Kid on the Block, a time of bike shorts and hi-top Reeboks, a time when we tuned in to see whether Dylan would choose Brenda or Kelly... are you scared yet?


Okay, here I am in my bedroom, feeling angsty. There's some girl I'm thinking about who probably doesn't know I exist, or worse yet, does know I exist and still doesn't like me. Let's see... I'm wearing tapered Dickies pants, a Fred Perry one size too large, and my parka (in my room, mind you). Hmm, let's look in the mirror to see how cool I look. Aw man! I forgot... bad acne at age 17! AWAY FROM THE MIRROR! AWAY FROM THE MIRROR! Okay, let's forget that and let's move on to the records in my collection. And let's get into what were probably my TOP 10 Mod Revival/Power-Pop Records at that time (in no particular order)!

1. The Risk - Good Times - The Risk were a band I dug on heavily back then. Songs like this, "Carrie Ann," and "Whiskey and Wine" were played often on my cheap little record player. One of the things about The Risk is that they turned me on to the idea that there really were other Mods out in the world, still. Even though these songs were already several years old (the lifetime of many Mod bands), they were still recent enough to make me think that somewhere, outside of La Puente, CA, people were still forming Mod bands and playing to Mod crowds.

2. The Chords - Maybe Tomorrow - Okay, these guys are one step behind The Jam, in my book. Out of all the revival bands, I can still listen to their songs and enjoy them, not out of nostalgia, but out of an honest liking. They were great! I don't listen to this stuff much these days, but The Chords are always welcome on my turntable. Unlike many of their contemporaries, they weren't whining about wanting to be different. They seemed a bit more thick-skinned than that.

3. Squire - My Mind Goes 'Round In Circles - For me, Squire were one of the more accessible Mod revival bands, thanks to their happy pop sound. No matter how angst-ridden I got, these guys could always snap me out of it.

4. Three O'Clock - Sorry - So, I hear these guys were pretty big in the L.A. music scene back in the early '80s. I wouldn't know... I was still too busy playing with my Star Wars action figures back then! But when I finally did catch up to them, I fell full-on into this sound. This song was one that especially grabbed me... little did I know at the time that it was an Easybeats cover.

5. The Key - Feeling Special - This was one of those albums that had everything I was looking for in a Mod LP cover. A moddish band name, arrows in the logo, and a dude sporting an op-art shirt with a 3-button jacket. The only thing that bothered me was that guy wearing those horrible white Dr. Marten boots up front. Of course, this song was the only song I really liked off the whole album. And no, I didn't know what "straight-edge" meant at first when I used to sing along to it. I did find out later. Now, I look at this album as a bit of preachy silliness. 'Mod/Skin unity?' Again, oh to be young again.

6. The Moment - And With This Ring - Another one-hit-wonder album for me. In all fairness though, this song is still pretty excellent all these years later. After listening to it recently, I think I like it more today than I did back then. Makes me think I should give the rest of the LP another listen. What I remember most about this album, though, are the pictures of the guy blowing a whistle on stage. I really didn't know what that was all about, but I remember seeing an L.A. band a couple of years later at a New Sounds of the Sixties show, also using a whistle. Someone out in internet land, correct me if I'm wrong, but I think that band was Neighborhood Bully.

7. The Purple Hearts - Millions Like Us - And you wonder how I went from listening to punk music to listening to this stuff? Same sound, different clothes! But, songs like this made that transition into the Mod thing a little more smooth for me.

8. Nine Below Zero - Homework - This band was a stark contrast to (and welcome relief from) the typical power-pop sounds I was into at this time. The sounds off this album were ones I found myself liking more and more. As much as I liked power-pop and punk as a teen, it was this hard-driving R&B sound that I found much more exciting.

9. The Prisoners - Hurricane - Okay, maybe I should not have put these guys on this list. I don't really consider them 'revival.' But I'll tell you what I do consider them: the best $2.95 I ever spent on an '80s 'Mod' band! These guys sounded so much tougher than many of the late '70s revival bands, but still had that great '60s edge. They weren't about Mod anthems or teen angst... they were just about powerful music that still sounds great today.

10. Secret Affair - Time For Action - Yes. That's right. As much as Mod anthems became tired for me, this was one I fully got down with back in high school. If sweet Julia in the song didn't care about people laughing at her because of the way she dressed, I wouldn't care. Because, y'know, we were right... looking good was the answer. Unfortunately, as much as I liked this song, the Secret Affair became symbolic of what would end up turning me off to this era. Whiney vocals, the whole 'Glory Boy/Girl' idea, hating something called 'the punk elite,' and an album pretty much filled with teen anthems. Those themes, for me, would become very dated very soon.

Well, there you go... some of the songs I would have been rocking modding out to back in high school. There were other songs I would have liked to have included, many of which were just too hard to find on YouTube... songs like "Long Time Ago" by The Mondays, "High Numbers" by The Scene (from NY/NJ), "Point Me In The Right Direction" by Raw Material (off a Unicorn compilation), "Of Heart and Soul" by Manual Scan, "Try" by The Idea, "I Want You To Know" by The Mod Fun, and even "Changing Faces" by The Second Generation.

See, I was a power-popper.

It didn't last long, though. Over time, those same records began to grow stale to me. Usually, I'd buy a revival album and end up liking only about one or two songs. I remember buying a Lambrettas LP and really liking "Poison Ivy," thinking they wrote it. They didn't. Along with that album, I purchased The Yardbirds' For Your Love LP and loving just about every song on there. Guess which one was played a couple of times before getting shelved and which one still gets played on the turntable today.

In fact, by the time I started college, I was already burnt out on most of those '70s/'80s Mod bands. I grew bored with all the Mod 'anthems'; grew bored with the use of words like 'faces,' 'numbers,' and 'crowds'; and grew bored with the power chords. I realized I was buying those records up mainly for the Mod imagery/connection.

Plus, in my freshman year in college, my pal Sean C. made me two compilation tapes featuring all the output (available at the time) from The Action, The Creation, The Artwoods, and John's Children. Those bands hit my ears in ways The Merton Parkas never could. And by the time I was 19 years old, I was itchin' for stronger, more experimental sounds (along with more soul) and that's where British R&B, freakbeat, and, eventually, psychedelia would come in. After getting into these sounds more heavily, power-pop, for the most part, just became bland to me.

After all those years, though, I have been giving some of this stuff another chance. Maybe it's nostalgia, I don't know. Some of it sounds good (or better) to my ears and some of it sounds worse than I remember. That's just the way things go, I guess, when you're no longer living in the age of the power-poppers! (Thanks for that, The Idea!)

So, here are some questions for you: What were/are some of your favorite revival songs? I got burnt out on this era, but did you? If not, what songs still stand out for you?
Me at around 17/18 years old... my Mod power-pop phase.


  1. Oooh SNAP: "So, I hear these guys were pretty big in the L.A. music scene back in the early '80s. I wouldn't know... I was still too busy playing with my Star Wars action figures back then!"

    The Three O'Clock, The Bangles and Rain Parade were my favorites and spent MANY hours in my room and in friends' cars listening to them over and over. But I know what you mean about the stale part. I remember playing Squire in the late 80's, thinking I was cool, and my older and wiser buddy said, "Ugh. That is SO early 80's dated." The horror! I knew what he meant, but I liked it anyway.

    But hey Carlos, no love for Makin' Time???

    1. Irene asked me the same thing about The Makin' Time and The Times. Why weren't they included?

      Unfortunately, although I was aware of them in high school, I didn't have any of their records! I tried to keep this list to what I was really listening to at the time. Like the Idea.

      And for the record, The Three O'Clock weren't a band that got stale for me. Still dig them! The Key, on the other hand...

    2. I still listen to The Three O'Clock all the time. "Sixteen Tambourines" will always be one of my favorite albums!

      BTW, that captcha on my last post was PUTA. Is that legal?????

  2. Hilarious, Carlos! Your posts just keep getting funnier.

    I have similar favorite revival bands that still sound good to me (Chords,Purple Hearts,Prisoners) and those that I don't care for as much these days (Lambrettas, Secret Affair). But I never liked the Merton Parkas, ha! Not familiar with The Risk, The Key, or The Moment though.

    I think I would put early Dexys Midnight Runners in there if Nine Below Zero are (and maybe the Q-Tips), as well as some Southern California power pop bands of 1979-81 like The Plimsouls and 20/20 (mainly because we were big fans at the time). I love the Three O'Clock too, as I was very into most of the Paisley Underground bands at the time. But in my experience I think they fit more in the 60s garage scene of the 80s than the Mod scene as those were the shows they played at in the beginning (perhaps the great Jet Fighter video made them big in the Mod scene later on?).

    Some vids of fave tunes:

    Plimsouls - "Zero Hour" from the first EP (1980). Eddie Muñoz (guitarist on left) is a bit Mod (OK, ignore the shoes).

    Dexys Midnight Runners - "Geno" on Top of the Pops (1980)

    The Chords - "Somethings Missing" recorded LIVE on TV! (1980) (what's up with the baseball cap?)

    1. Dean, I didn't even think to address Dexys and they've been a band I've totally been getting back into!

      In all fairness, I think in high school, I still only had the 'Come On Eileen' LP. I don't think I picked up 'Soul Rebels' until first year in college.

      I remember 20/20! My cousin actually gave me one of their badges/pins back when I was still in high school and I used to wear it around. Doesn't one of the guys from The Plimsouls still play around locally?

    2. Eddie Muñoz was in local band Magic Christian's superstar lineup of a few years ago, along with Clem Burke of Blondie on drums, and Cyril Jordan of the Flamin' Groovies on guitar. But a couple of years ago Eddie and Clem left the band, and they recently broke up for good. I caught one of their last shows at it didn't have the tightness and excitement of the band with Muñoz and Burke. I have seen Eddie pop up here and there, a couple of times in Sacramento at Old Ironsides shows (perhaps he lives there now?).

    3. And The Plimsouls still play occasionally (and are still great). Most recently, singer Peter Case toured with Paul Collins (The Beat) doing songs from their 70s power pop bands The Nerves ("Hanging on the Telephone"), their pre-Plimsouls band The Breakaways (that did early versions of some Plimsouls songs), and also some Plimsouls songs. It was a great show!

  3. Wow, too funny. Sad as it may seem, I actually sold all my old power pop records! It's kind of unfortunate, because those albums are probably worth a fortune now, and I'm sure I made no money on them at the time. I do still have the first Secret Affair album, and I actually find it a pretty solid album on a songwriting and production level. I also thought it was cool that they embraced R&B a bit more than the other power pop bands. I always found it funny back in the day, when people would slag off The Style Council, and then act extremely precious about 45s that were recorded in a garage, by bands who could barely string a song together,... but that's just me.

    I have to admit Carlos, your list is pretty spot on. Out of all the old Mod/ power pop stuff, you pretty much listed off the top bands/ tracks. I'd probably add The Merton Parkas' "You Need Wheels" as a catchy little number or the silly "Elvis Should Play Ska" by The Graduate (out of nostalgia). Nice one with The Prisoners' "Hurricane" (a stand out for me) and Three O'Clock's version of "Sorry," though I may be a tad more partial to "Jet Fighter." Also, (pre-Dream Academy) The Act wasn't such a bad power pop group.

    I think I have to hand it to the Berkley scene back in the day, for keeping it more 60s, and less revival. Though it's interesting to me, how each area/ scene had favored different types of modernist music. In Sacramento, ska/ two tone was much bigger than power pop, and soul was more popular than garage, etc. With so many different musical genres fitting into the mod subculture, I'd be hard pressed to call any one specific genre the quintessential mod sound.

    1. I think we met right after our power-pop phases. When I met you, you were way more into The Style Council, Blow Monkeys, and northern soul. I think I was getting more into R&B/freakbeat at that time.

      I give credit to Secret Affair for definitely looking better than most of those other bands, but musically, I still can't get into them as much. The songs don't really have much punch for me. But I should give that whole record another spin.

      There were so many bands I still didn't have in high school, like The Merton Parkas or the Killermeters. By the time I heard those bands, I was already into other music, so they didn't do a whole lot for me. My wife has a bunch of that stuff... I may have to ask her to school me on it more!

      Man, when I moved to the Bay Area, there were so many great influences that hit me at once: the Berkeley R&B/blues/'60s scene, you guys and the Sacramento northern scene, the Santa Cruz skinhead rocksteady scene... it was just so great to be all around that at once! In LA, I was pretty much just exposed to powerpop and punk. I was ready to break out of that by the time I moved up!

    2. I totally agree with you on Secret Affair. I kept the first album (always my favorite) and sold the rest a while ago (though I kept all my 45s of them). Live they were tops! I was lucky to get to see them at the Whiskey-a-Go-Go in the Spring of 1981.

  4. Always a pleasure to read your youthful reminiscence! Interesting choices! In the days of pre-Internet I once offered to kick the lead singer of The Key's ass in print. He never got back to me. Adrian Holder from The Moment got the whistle thing from Weller (he wore one a lot in the late era of The Jam) and of course he nicked it from '66 Steve Marriott, who presumably, as an East Ender, was wearing it for the footie reference?

    1. Bill, my question to you is, what ever became of New Jersey's The Scene? I almost included them, but couldn't find them on YouTube. I used to have two of their 45s.

      Also, you weren't the only one who seemed to have that attitude toward the Key singer. Over the years, his reputation has moved ahead of him! Thanks for the whistle info... I never knew what that was about but used to think it looked kinda cool.

  5. Great post like always, great to hear from someone who grew up in L.A. in a parallel mod universe. Crazy.

    When I first got into the mod thing, like you I was quoting Quadrophenia left and right. But the '60s thing also got me in terms of music. I was listening mostly to The Who, Small Faces, Kinks and other '60s R&B stuff along with tons of '60s Motown. But obviously power-pop was so prevalent in the '80s mod scene that I easily memorized all the popular band names just by seeing them emblazoned on everyone's parkas either via patches or buttons. Yet, aside from The Jam, I just couldn't get into it.

    Believe me, I tried. I bought the Mods Mayday '79 album at Rhino Records (which featured Squire, Secret Affair, Beggar, etc.) and seriously the only song I remember liking was Beggar's "All Night."

    Knowing that now, it's no wonder that I pretty quickly got burned out on being mod and turned skinhead soon after. I'd begun with ska in my heart anyway, so it's no surprise. Nevertheless, being mod was fun while it lasted.

    1. I totally understand why you'd move from power-pop to ska! During this time, I was also huge into 2-Tone and '3rd wave' stuff... but that's another post for another time.

      Like I mentioned before, moving up to the Bay Area exposed me to little pockets of groups who all hung out together. There were the Berkeley Mods, the Sacramento Mods, and the transplanted Santa Cruz skinheads. Those guys really turned me on even more trad ska and rocksteady.

      And regarding that Mods Mayday LP... I wanted that thing for so long. Finally, a friend played it for me. He saved me several dollars!

    2. I'll never sell my original Mods Mayday LP, haha. I quite liked it in 1980.

  6. Like LeftyLimbo up above, I never got into power pop that much either. It just didn't do much to me. I couldn't really dance to it and the "anthems" sounded a bit too cheesy for me. I'm probably the same age as you Carlos (maybe a year or two younger) and also from LA. My older brother (who is 10 years older than me and a teen in the late 70s and early 80s) was heavily into The Jam and 2-Tone and that's where I started and was inspired. When the rest of the kids around me where into disco music and KDAY and junk like that, I got into "mod" in junior high and liked all the "typical" stuff that I thought I was supposed to like... stuff like The Jam, Quadrophenia, Secret Affair, etc. I genuinely liked The Jam, Quadrophenia. The Who, The Kinks, etc., but I felt like I forced myself to like the Secret Affair and "Mods Mayday" LP. HAHA! When I got into high school I was still a "mod" but I discovered garage music via my brother's friend who worked at Middle Earth Records in Downey. I remember the summer before 10th grade he told me buy "Back From The Grave Vol. 2" and "After School Sessions" by The Milkshakes and I was never the same again. It opened my eyes to 60s music that spoke to me much more than The Secret Affair or The Chords ever did... I quickly started buying all the 60s comps I could find and Medway bands stuff (Prisoners, Milkshakes, Daggermen, etc). After that I never really considered myself a "Mod" as I wasn't really into stuff other Mods liked at the time, but I still hung around those clubs and scooter rallies (even though I didn't have a scooter either)... I sort of felt out of place at Mod shows even though we sort of looked alike, but that's about all we had in common. In Pico Rivera circa 1989, believe me there was NOBODY else into 60s garage or stuff like The Milkshakes and The Prisoners. I started hanging out more with Rude Boys and Skinheads who taught me all about 60s traditional ska. It seemed like in that one year or so (89-90) I discovered so much cool stuff (The Loved Ones, Donkey Show, local bands via flyers like The Gallows, The Witchdoctors, Satan's Cheerleaders, etc.) who were doing stuff I liked more... which then opened up the world to me of other stuff like the 13th Floor Elevators, The Cramps, and eventually the San Francisco scene of bands like The Mummies and The Phantom Surfers and I then finally felt like I "found" my home...

  7. Sounds like you and I totally remember those days! Remember "disco biscuits"?

    I remember one of my first entry LPs into more 'garage'-y music. I picked up a copy of the Pebbles "Roots of Mod" LP at Poo-Bah records (along with my first Small Faces CD) and that album blew my mind! Around this time, I was lucky to also come across The Milkshakes and the Prisoners. I used to love the Milkshakes, but one day, for whatever reason, I had a huge headache and blamed it on too much Medway, so I gave the album to a friend who then got HUGE into the Billy Childish scene.

    I'm totally with you on that music journey! All those bands you mentioned packed so much more punch than the power-pop stuff. I'm not as heavy a garage guy these days, but every once in a while I gotta pull those albums out. I caught the Sloths with the Dukes of Hamburg up here about a month ago and that show reminded me of how much fun those shows used to be. Reminded me of the Purple Onion days when I first moved to the Bay Area!

  8. In Pico Rivera/Downey/Whittier we called them "Chach" (short for Cha Cha) and "tumbleweeds" (for their hair)...

    I also wanted to mention that I didn't really care for some of the 80s garage stuff on Voxx or The Fuzztones. They seemed too cartoony and "generic" for me... corny is more like it. That is why I really dug Satan's Cheerleaders, The Untamed Youth and the Medway bands - they seemed like the real deal for me.

    Many of those 60 comps were really life-changing for me. That "Roots of Mod" Pebbles was one of them too, but nothing can compare to "Back From the Grave" and "Garage Punk Unknowns" series - just astounding! Those records along with The Milkshakes and Thee Mighty Caesars changed the way I looked at music seemingly overnight.

    I remember I called myself a "mod" because to me that was the closest thing to what I thought I "was." Haha! Funny to think back on this stuff and how important these "titles" are when you're growing up. I knew I technically wasn't a "mod" because at "mod" clubs and shows I didn't really like what they were spinning or the bands that would play at times. Good times and great blog, Carlos!

    1. It's funny, RBH, I was just thinking of the whole "Mod" label thing the day you wrote this comment. I was thinking of doing a post on it. This blog gives the impression that I still hold on to that title (probably because every other word on this blog is 'mod'!). But while I was thinking about it, I realized I never explicitely refer to myself as one in real-life conversations. Whenever anyone asks, I tend to respond with something like, "Well.. I'm into mod stuff." Makes it easier and I'm really not one into explicit labels like that anymore (contrary to my mindset as a teen). That said, people can label me anything they want (a 'schlub,' a 'mod,' a 'lame-o'), but in the end, it doesn't change my aesthetic or mindset one bit. I'm still the same dude, going on and on and on and on about mod stuff!

      Thanks for diggin' the blog and hopefully we'll run into each other sometime in LA!

  9. I must agree what you said about Secret Affair, that whole 'punk elite' spoilt this group for me. The Jam, The Clash, Small Faces, Purple Hearts, The Prisoners are still my favourite bands, and Nuggets II is a LP every serious music fan should own (and Nuggets), that's how I (and Paul Weller) discovered The Action, Fleur de Lys, The Attack - great freakbeat bands. No mention of Small World? They used to do a cracking version of Stiff Little Fingers 'Tin Soldier', still on youtube (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zvHLghWrY9I).

  10. A great piece. If anyone wants to share memories of the mod band The Chords for a book out in Sept 2020.send to John at octomosis@gmail.com. What the band meant to you? How great the lyrics were? Hoe great was the drumming? Did you see them? Do you have photos? It doesn't matter if not, tell us what you like about their sound and share pics of the 80's. Share to friends, get the message out there. The band will love it !