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V/A - Yellow Pills: Prefill

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Artist: V/A

Album: Yellow Pills: Prefill

Label: The Numero Group

Review date: May. 23, 2005

Compiled by über rock geek Jordan Oakes, Yellow Pills: Prefill is a collection of rare and forgotten power-pop gems from 1978-1982. While the bands that appear on these two discs have long ago locked the cases of their Rickenbackers, the songs will be familiar to anyone who’s ever tuned in to, and been turned on by, classic pop radio. Ultimately, it’s this similarity to a thousand other songs - real or imagined - that have packed trembling-heart emotions and hummable hooks into three-minute capsules that makes the tunes on this collection so endearing.

In 1990, Oakes founded the Yellow Pills ’zine, dedicated to trumpeting his love of chiming guitars and teenage love in overdrive. After a few years, the mag failed, but Oakes had staked his claim as the great uncle of this under-loved genre. Here, Oakes has assembled 33 of his favorite cuts by bands with appropriately camp names like Tweeds, Speedies, Treble Boys and Trend.

Like all compilations, there are bright spots and some tracks that don’t quite stack up, but the overall hit/miss ratio is remarkably strong. As with all great pop music, many of the songs that warrant a shrug on first play quickly become imbedded in the brain with repeat spins.

Listening to the strongest material, it’s hard to comprehend why these tracks didn’t rival the Raspberries or Badfinger for radio supremacy. Des Moines, Iowa’s Luxury open the first disc with the ringing guitars and pogoing bass slap of “Green Hearts.” Handclaps, playful synths, cowbell (!) and a blazing guitar solo frame a suitably soaring melody. The group’s “One In A Million,” included later in the set, is an acoustic guitar-led nugget with a mid-’60s McCartney melody and longing lyrics. Sponsors’ “In And Out Of Love” is another should-have-been smash. The massive, stuttering guitars and cocky vocals are more rock than much of this set. The song smooths the swagger of the Stones into a punchy anthem as good as anything The Cars ever set to wax.

Shoes are the one band included in the set that flirted with fame, signing a contract with Elektra Records. Their “Like I Told You” is a rollicking, never before released burst. Speedies’ “You Need Pop” is a blast of smoothed-over Buzzcocks style jangle-punk.

The second disc contains another dizzying batch of adrenaline- and hormone-fueled rockers and heart melting ballads. “Not Easy For Me” by Bats - featuring a teenaged Jon Brion - piles on the synths, but is salvaged from ’80s cheese by the layered vocals and irresistible hooks. Jack Stack A Track’s “Good Time Music” is a California rocker that would have fit on any later-day Beach Boys LP. Similarly, Randy Winburn’s “Sunshine U.S.A.” is a timid – yet beautiful – ode to summer in America.

Listening to the entire collection is like taking a trip through the most valued vinyl of a supremely dedicated life-long fan. These songs, in all their saccharine glory, are prime examples of a form of music largely forgotten by contemporary artists and consumers alike. Thanks to Oakes’ expertise, Yellow Pills: Prefill allows a second chance for music fans to hear a slew of talented groups who otherwise would have faded forever into pop’s past.

By Ethan Covey

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