Just two weeks ago, Schlockmania covered the first two installments of Popoff’s Top 20, a new series of list-styled essays delivered in eBook form by Martin Popoff that offer a playlist with commentary for a particular band of hard rock or AOR interest. His installments on Budgie and The Babys attracted a bit of controversy for some left-of-center critical points but both offered plentiful food for thought.
By the end of the week that review was posted, Popoff had already released his next two installments! This time, the bands covered are Foghat and Led Zeppelin – and the results show he’s developing his format in a way that allows him to express unusual opinions in ways that appeal to your love for the band in question.
Foghat was one of those beloved “road warrior” bands of the ’70s, delivering an amplified, arena-friendly version of British blues boom sounds that became a favorite in concert halls and on car stereos all over America. Popoff delivers a list that respects the depth of their catalog by mixing obvious favorites with some deep-cut selections that those familiar with their glory era work might not know.
On the classics tip, classic rock favorites like “Fool For The City,” “Slow Ride” and “I Just Want To Make Love With You” are all represented. Popoff teases out the musical elements that give these standard-bearers such staying power as well as the occasional nugget of trivia about their creation gleaned from his years of interviews. He also digs out tracks from the golden era that show he knows these albums well, like “Golden Arrow” and “Fly By Night.” He also points out proto-metal nuggets from this era, like the visceral rush of “Honey Hush” and the speedy riffing of “Easy Money.”
If you haven’t explored the Foghat catalog outside of their Bearsville Records era, Popoff does you a solid by devoting some time to reformation-and-beyond era efforts like Return Of The Boogie Men and Family Joules. Such albums often get dismissed out of hand by fans but Popoff singles out some songs that might get you interested in these albums, offering appreciative commentary on the work of latter-day Foghat guitarist Bryan Bassett.
We all know who Led Zeppelin is so this review will bypass the obligatory description. Popoff has already written an album-by-album book on the band so his Top 20 list for reflects a personalized take on the band’s catalog. The result manages to express maverick opinions on the band without devolving into the slaying of sacred cattle.
Let’s deal with shocks up front: radio favorites like “Stairway To Heaven,” “The Ocean” and “Fool In The Rain” are left off the list – it’s also worth noting that Popoff ignores the band’s first two albums entirely – but there’s no spiteful commentary about taking such songs out of consideration. He’s respectful enough to the classics to include staples like “Kashmir,” “Dancing Days” and “Over The Hills And Far Away”: such numbers get nice analysis and cool technical info, like what the particular quirky keyboard tone is that pops up on “Dancing Days” and the Middle Eastern influence running through its arrangement.
It seems that Popoff has bypassed the easy FM-playlist staples to go deeper into album track terrain. For example, he includes a few tracks from the outtakes collection Coda and “Out On The Tiles,” a rocker from Led Zeppelin III with a killer groove from drummer John Bonham. The most controversial inclusion here is the synth-drenched epic “Carouselambra” from In Through The Out Door: a lot of fans dislike this one but Popoff makes an appreciative case for its complexity and how it barnstorms its way through a variety of late ’70s rock stylings.
In short, the Popoff’s Top 20 entries for Foghat and Led Zeppelin show Popoff is figuring out how to take his unorthodox impulses and make a case for them in a way that opens the mind without ruffling the feathers – and they do this all for 99 cents Canadian per entry! It will be interesting to see if he continues to develop this style in future Top 20 installments. In any event, the reading will be interesting.
Buy Popoff’s Top 20: Foghat here
Buy Popoff’s Top 20: Led Zeppelin here