Pop a Pill

A local power-pop connoisseur brings his joy to the masses with a new CD

I don't know what life is like for a "Tom" or a "Matt" or anyone else with a common name: the constant looking over your shoulder, always having to say, "No, I'm the other one." Thanks to hippie parents with a copy of the Old Testament, I go through most of my life being the only Jordan in the room.

In fact, the only other person in St. Louis I'm mistaken for is Jordan Oakes, a former RFT contributor and creator of the power-pop magazine and compilations known as Yellow Pills. Thanks to the mag, Oakes was recognized internationally as an expert on the early '90s power-pop revival. He's laid low for a while, but now he's back with a double-CD collection of '80s power pop called Yellow Pills: Prefill.

"I did four CDs for a label [Big Deal] in New York in the early '90s," Oakes recounts. "[The label head] found my magazine, liked what he saw and asked me if I wanted to do some CDs. My magazine led to the CDs in the '90s, and those CDs led to this CD."

On a new label (The Numero Group), Prefills is available now at Vintage Vinyl. While his earlier discs focused on the then-current pop scene, Prefill focuses on the post-Big Star era of the late '70s. (You know Big Star: the Alex Chilton-fronted group who recorded their live album in Columbia and were covered by the pop deities in Cheap Trick for That '70s Show's theme song.)

"It's kind of the post-punk era, the new-wave era," Oakes says. But those are just temporal placeholders; they do nothing to describe the music, which is pure jagged pop. Good power pop -- and the stuff on Prefill is very, very good -- sounds utterly timeless, from Cheap Trick to Matthew Sweet to Sloan. It's a sound that has totally captured Oakes.

"That was the form of music I took to," he says. "It had punk energy and it had melody at the same time. It was neat at the time [the early '90s] because no one was into Big Star. It was fun discovering all these bands and collecting these singles."

And collect Oakes did. One snapshot from the Prefill booklet (which also features extensive liner notes by Oakes) shows just one small bit of his album collection, a huge mass of vinyl.

"I have thousands of albums," Oakes confirms. "I've sold a few, and I've moved from the place they picture in the booklet. It was a pain. I moved a few months ago, and I just got the last bit of stuff over to my new place."

It's that massive amount of music that allowed Oakes to put together his new discs. "This CD was based on my singles collection," he says. "I went through my records from that era and looked up these people to see what they were doing and if they'd mind if we used this music."

One of the bands is St. Louis' the Finns (also known as the Finn Brothers), a big force in the '90s scene. The Finns' "Mr. Jenkins" comes from a different era than most of the other songs on Prefill. "It's from the early '90s, but it sounds so 1979," says Oakes, and he's right: It's only the references to AIDS and crack that date the songs.

Prefill sounds like the radio station that Damone from Fast Times at Ridgemont High would listen to while studying for finals (or scalping Cheap Trick tickets). A two-hour comp could easily get boring, but the pop nuggets (barely any song gets close to lasting four minutes) on Prefill go down smooth. This is music for driving while banging on the steering wheel or dancing alone in your living room. Three tracks from the Bats make you want to hunt down more of their sweet hooks. There's barely a misstep on either disc.

OK, Tommy Rock's "Dream Rocker" on the second disc is a little too cloying for my taste.

But though tastes vary, most of us have buds that enjoy stuff this sweet. The other Jordan is the expert, so I'll let him have the last word (from his liner notes): "What is power pop? You've (really) got me. But I know it when I hear it. And I love it when I hear it again."

 
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