We’ve reached the point where the new Popoff’s Top 20 electronic essays by Martin Popoff have gone from new side-project to supplementary body of work. Since Schlockmania last posted about this series, he has added another four entries to the canon. That means there are now eight of these as of this writing, accounting for 160 pages’ worth of written material. That’s like a small book’s worth of material!
Here’s a quick rundown of the last four entries, all of which are interesting excursions into the deep-catalog side of ’70s/’80s guitar-driven rock. In classic Popoff style, they mix deft wordplay, an encyclopedic knowledge of hard rock and a few dollops of contrarianism.
Pat Travers: Travers is a guitar-slinger whose catalog dates back to the mid-’70s, the kind of eclectic, gifted musician who tackles everything from heavy rock to funk to blues and often mixes such styles in the same song. He’s an enduring cult favorite with hard rock listeners for albums like Live: Go For What You Know and Black Pearl. Popoff’s selections hone in on songs from his catalog that blend his variety of interests into catchy, hard-hitting tracks like “Snortin’ Whiskey” and “I La La La Love You.” There isn’t that much contrarianism here other than a predilection for tracks from 1984’s Hot Shot album over the rest of the catalog – but even those are explained in an interesting manner. A nice touch here is how Popoff singles out some quality tracks from recent, lesser-known indie albums and makes a case for how they would have been hits in an earlier, major label era.
Blackfoot: this southern rock outfit, anchored by well-traveled singer, guitarist and songwriter Rickey Medlocke, scored big at the dawn of the ’80s with a handful of tracks that crossed over to rock radio like “Train, Train” and “Highway Song.” The latter is ignored here but Popoff offers a decent cross-section of material from the group that mixes hits with overlooked stuff from albums like the AOR-crossover effort Siogo and the post-fame album After The Reign. The major contrarian moment here is when he shrugs off the band’s biggest hit album, Strikes, as being patchy but he mostly expresses appreciation for the band’s ability to take traditional styles and give them a heavy rock intensity. Most interesting critical idea: how he considers “Fox Chase” to be the superior, more musically evolved version of the well-known “Train, Train.”
Derringer: the contrarian touch is baked into the overall approach of this entry because it focuses strictly on the albums that Rick Derringer did with his group Derringer, a band aimed at the arena rock market during the second half of the ’70s and produced some deep-catalog classics like “Sittin’ By The Pool” and “Beyond The Universe.” It also grandfathers in Guitars & Women, one of Rick’s solo albums that uses the core of the last Derringer lineup (note that both of the tunes included from this album were written by Rick Nielsen of Cheap Trick). Early solo material only pops up here if it appeared on the Derringer Live album. With those limitations in mind, Popoff chooses an excellent array of material from these albums and is able to write about them in a very informed and insightful manner because he previous wrote about this era in his Ye Olde Metal series. He also picks out several choice nuggets from the underrated If I Weren’t So Romantic, I’d Shoot You, making a good case for it as a successful new wave/hard rock crossover.
Rainbow: Popoff has already written an entire book on this outfit, a successful and long-lived group venture masterminded by Richie Blackmore between tours in Deep Purple. Thus, he’s able to write in a well-informed manner about both the group and their music. His selections largely divide their time between the Dio era revered in the hard rock community (gems like “Stargazer,” “Kill The King,” etc.) and the later excursions into Foreigner-style AOR territory (“Stone Cold,” “Can’t Happen Here”). He ignores a lot of singles and best-of staple tracks but that’s less contrarian and more in keep with the personal touch that Popoff brings to these essays. The most interesting characteristic of this piece is its evangelical fervor for the Down To Earth album: he bypasses its two hit singles to focus on album material and makes a case for it being some of Blackmore’s finest work, most notably an impassioned mini-essay on Popoff’s #1 choice here, “Lost In Hollywood.”
All in all, this is another solid round of short-form reads for the hard rock heads. If you’ve read Popoff’s work before, these releases continue along those lines – and if you haven’t read his stuff, they offer a nice little crash course in his mixture of scholarship, writing flair and off-the-beaten-path critical takes.
Get Popoff’s Top 20: Pat Travers here.
Get Popoff’s Top 20: Blackfoot here.
Get Popoff’s Top 20: Derringer here.
Get Popoff’s Top 20: Rainbow here.
To read Schlockmania’s earlier posts on Popoff’s Top 20, click here.