Power to the Pimple
Quotations from Greg Shaw's "Juke Box Jury,"
(Compiled by Scott Woods)
The extent of my Greg Shaw knowledge resides in a relatively small stash of musty old magazines: four highly treasured issues of new wave-era Bomp!, one issue of Phonograph Record Magazine from 1973, and a dozen or so early '70s issues of Creem featuring Shaw's "Juke Box Jury" column--a monthly rundown of pop singles. The column is something I only discovered about ten years ago, and it's a terrific time capsule: a fast-paced, breezy conversation with and about the radio--which meant, necessarily, not just the Top 40, but all the stuff that Shaw believed should've been in the Top 40. He banged the drum hard for a stateside glitter revolt in '71, he reserved some of his highest praise for a mysterious entity named Instant Ralston ("single of the year, so far"--in January '72!), and he sprinkled his column with references to the Modern Lovers, Flamin' Groovies, and Big Star, all of whom he assumed were going straight to Number One. I think it's fair to say that this side of Shaw--champion of the underdog, discoverer of the obscure--is well known and highly regarded...and justifiably so, as dozens of tributes have made clear.
But there's another side, present in those early columns, I find just as endearing: Shaw the unrepentant believer in All Things Pop. "Juke Box Jury" ran in Creem from 1971 to 1974, smack dab in the era of classic album rock, and there was Shaw, at the back of the magazine, extolling the virtues of AM radio, thrilling to the latest Lobo single, losing his head over some upstart Swedes that reminded him of the Cowsills, and sidling up to the seductive veneer of "borderline MOR" (an idea as anathema to most rock critics now as it was then). This isn't to suggest that Shaw loved it all--not quite. In hindsight, one of the underlying themes of the column is that, as great and enjoyable as some of this stuff is, it's still never good enough. There's gotta be better and there needs to be more. Much, much more.
But let's turn it over to the man himself. Billy Preson fans, take a seat and pour yourself a drink.
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The possibilities are
"To hear this [Bullet's cover of 'Little Bit O' Soul'] on the radio would
be enough, but when you realize that it could conceivably be followed by
the Bay City Rollers' 'Keep On Dancing' the possibilities for good times
"You don't often see me this excited, seldom to the point where I
collar people the minute they walk in the door and drag them over to the
record player to hear some new single, pacing the room and grinning,
saying, 'See, isn't it great? Isn't it?' Blame it on the Hollies, whose
'Long Cool Woman' has been driving me berserk since the day it came out.
You remember the Hollies, limping along through unnoticed records that have
varied from fairly good to nondescript. Who could have expected this? It
sounds like Phil Spector got hold of Creedence Clearwater Revival or
"...I'm beginning to wonder if another pop renaissance isn't just
over the horizon. It's not just the number of good records, it's something
about them and the way they fit together. There've been plenty of fine
sounds all along, but where a Creedence single in 1970 was like an oasis in
the desert, the best records now taste more like goblets of wine served in
some pleasure palace of Baghdad--if you can follow that analogy. The
standards are going up, too--already, 'Long Cool Woman' seems rather lame."
Stop! Hey! What's that 'underground
"What this means, I hope, is that the best groups can once again
record for AM without losing integrity in the public eye, and also that
some of them have begun to see through the myth of 'underground' rock...I
see AM as rock & roll's salvation because it is more open to change in many
ways--its standards revolve around simple popularity, while FM is still
dedicated to upholding an outmoded hippie orientation. Hippies are the
squares of the '70s and the less they have to do with rock & roll, the
"A few months back I suggested a campaign to start thinking in terms of
'pop music' again, instead of all this 'underground rock' twaddle. It was a
good idea, but unnecessary. Pop is coming back, the best rock is on
singles, and as we've seen over the last few months these great singles are
actually hitting the charts. And the snowball has hardly begun. I can cite
Slade, the Raspberries, the Move, etc., but that stuff doesn't add up to
"Why don't we start a 'back to pop' movement like Spector's 'back to mono'
And the listening is
"I'm getting so into pop that I'm even starting to like the borderline MOR
stuff, like 'It's So Easy to Be Bad' by Tom Autry and 'Brand New Kind of
Love' by Bobby Goldsboro. What is it about this gentle, carefully-produced
pap I find so satisfying? Maybe I'm going nuts."
"I'm also real happy to hear Lobo's 'I'd Love You to Want Me' on the air.
'Me and You and a Dog Named Marijuana' was all right, sounded vaguely like
the Byrds in places, but this is really fine, a shameless cop from B.J.
Thomas' shameless Beach Boys/Phil Spector cop of not too long ago.
"I began the last column with a rant against inanities like 'Coconut' and
the abominable 'Outa-Space' that were keeping great summer records like the
Beach Boys' 'Marcella' off the air. 'Where is the spirit of
summer,' I cried into the wilderness. Since then, I've mellowed,
thanks to a number of fine pop records that have lately graced the charts.
Like 'Alone Again (Naturally)' by Gilbert O'Sullivan which proves his
mastery of lyrics if not his versatility. Or the Carpenters' 'Goodbye to
Love.' Is that Procol Harum backing them? Sure sounds like it, and if so,
they haven't sounded this good to me since their first album."
"A new group called the Eagles, made up of ex-members of Poco and other
Buffalo Springield splinter groups, gets off to a fine start with 'Take it
Easy,' an instant country-rock classic. Any group that can open a song like
the Who, and on their first record at that, bears watching."
Waiting for the Big
"Offhand, it looks to me like 1973 is gonna be a vintage year for
car radios. Take one out for a ride today."
"Basically, I think the most significant thing that happened to rock in '73
was the solidification of the new Seventies pop sensibility that began its
emergence in 1972. In the course of this year we have developed a sense of
style, sound, and values unique to the Seventies, as distinct from all
that's come before as the Fifties and Sixties rock cultures were. And it
looks like '74 is gonna be the big one.
"Except for a couple problems. The biggest being radio, which is
currently controlled by a generation of programmers that discovered rock in
'67, the same people who dismiss the best new music as 'bubblegum' while
playing 'Ramblin' Man' and Billy Preston all day."
"Not one of these records will answer anybody's questions about the
meaning of life, but they sure give meaning to a lot of otherwise
"[Rock and Roll Band' by Bjorn and Benny] is a brand new release that I've
gone absolutely nuts over...This side came from Sweden, and if I'm not
mistaken Bjorn Ulvaeus and Benny Anderson are former members of Sweden's
leading Monkees-like pop group of the mid '60s, the Hep Stars...This is one
of those '70s pop creations I was talking about, with pounding guitars like
the Sweet, teen harmony reminiscent of Lobo, and a clear sparkling
production sound. A little like the Cowsills too. What a record!"
Genius of Genre
"I used to love blues, but I'm sure getting sick and tired of The Blues.
Even the self-parodying 'blooze' school bores me, almost as much as critics
who spell it 'blooze' and think they're being clever."
"Also fun is 'I Just Want to Make Love to You' by Foghat. Blues purists
would never agree, but the only way that stuff is gonna survive is by being
turned into taseteless boogaloo music, and I think these guys have the
"'Rock and Roll Part 2' by Gary Glitter is the latest reggae smash to hit
these shores. I'm biting my nails waiting for this stuff to catch on
here--it's got so much vitality it could wipe all this other shit off the
boards if only people could hear it. The record in question is just T. Rex
grit chords and a lot of aimless double-echoed shouting. I think it's
"It's gonna be fascinating to watch the spread of reggae in this country. Thus far we've averaged about one reggae hit per year--last year it was 'Double Barrel' and now it's 'Rock & Roll Pt. 2.' Just wait til all the Trojan stuff starts getting released here--man!"
"It appears I was mistaken in my assessment of Gary Glitter as a reggae
artist. Yeah, I'm familiar with the Maytals and all that hardcore Jamaican
stuff, but ya know, there are English offshoots that concentrate on the
echo and sound very much like his stuff. But it turns out Glitter is an
oldtime British rocker nee Ben Hill, which makes him a little less
unique musicologically but still a heap of fun."
"Whether you'd class reggae with R&B I don't know, but it too is getting
ready for a strong push in the U.S., what with all the Trojan stuff and
that amazing Jimmy Cliff album now coming out here on labels like Mango,
Shelter, and Island. It probably won't ever be as big as it is in England,
but I think it will become a major trend. One of the first Trojan releases
here is 'Rock It Baby' by the Wailers, a typical reggae dance song. The
best is yet to come, but this is a fine appetizer. Watered-down reggae a la
Paul Simon is more likely to clean up, and that's all right..."
"One which might make it is 'All Together' by the Rowan Bros. Space-rock is
another trend that's just breaking, and this is the finest example yet.
Puts Hawkwind on a thoroughly commercial level, throwing every sound effect
imaginable into the pot and mixing it up with heavy phasing to create a
dense, roaring thrust of a sound that suits the arrangement and the song,
about all of us joining together in cosmic harmony to dance around the sun,
to a T. Those who know me don't need to be told how I feel about this kind
of Marin County metaphysical claptrap, but when it's taken away from the
Rainbow Band level and done like something the Monkees might be into if
they'd stayed together (and for the shocker of the year go back and check
their 'Porpoise Song'), then it approaches that Flash Gordon level I can
"Also cool from England is 'Free Four' by Pink Floyd who I think have
finally found their groove in this form of teenie-bubble-pop."
Hits and Disses
"I know some people who like Elton John's 'Levon' because they think it's
about Levon Helm and others who dig 'Stay With Me' by the Faces because it
sounds like 'It's All Over Now.' I like 'em because they're both good
records, especially the latter. If Elton John gets much better he might
even be tolerable."
"It wasn't until somebody pointed out that Elton John's 'Rocket Man' was
bad science fiction that I realized it isn't science fiction at all. A
better term for this stuff would be comic book rock, all stylized and
romanticized. You could include Hawkwind and all those kinds of bands, and
scattered songs by various groups, like the Kinks' 'Supersonic Rocket
Ship.' Anyway now that Elton John is unabashedly on a comic book level, his
songs seem a lot more honest. Honestly dumb, that is, which is okay with
"Here in the back of the magazine, past all of Lester and Robot's
punkoid ravings, the original spirit of Creem lives on. We're into
burgers too, in fact we just consumed a passel of 'em and some pizza too.
Now it's time for some great music, god knows there's enough of it around,
and I don't mean no Loggins & Messina either. Actually when I think about
the outrageous injustices being perpetrated by today's radio programmers, I
get downright MILITANT!"
"I truly think Todd Rundgren is a worse threat to rock & roll than James
Taylor ever was. Here's a guy whose music is so hopelessly bland that
trying to criticize it is like punching at a cotton candy fog, and because
he sounds a bit like Carole King he can make ridiculous statements about
being the next Elvis and manage to get all the so-called critics to believe
him. If this pap is accepted as what rock & roll should be, we're in
serious trouble. (Send all hate letters in c/o Greil Marcus.)"
"One guy they should send to England, and not bring back until he makes a
decent record, is Elvis Presley. 'Raised on Rock' is pathetic, and believe
me I tried hard to like it. But in the end it loses out to the DeFranco
Family. 'Heartbeat It's a Lovebeat' is one of those great pop contrivances
I always fall for."
If a tree falls north of the 49th
"The softer side of this style is presented by a Canadian cat named
Pagliaro, whose 'Some Sing, Some Dance' was brought to my attention by none
other than Dave Marsh, via Marty Cerf. This record is so charming I can't
restrain myself from playing it at least ten times a day. If you liked the
way John Lennon sang 'oooh' in 1964-65, you'll love this, and that's only
part of it."
"...same goes for the Montreal rock scene, which now boasts Pagliaro
and the Wackers, and Toronto with Thundermug. The vintage Beatles sound is
very big around those parts."
"My favourite record this month is a crazy thing called 'Africa' by
Thundermug. After a killer opening from somewhere between 'Immigrant Song'
and 'Trogglodyte,' it launches into a Move-like, fast-paced jingle about
the glories of the jungle, featuring an electric kazoo solo toward the
"The Guess Who's 'Guns, Guns, Guns' is out on a single, and it's a
protest song about recently liberalized hunting restriction in Canada."
"Sorry I can't say the same for Neil Young's 'War Song.' As a rock &
roll record, it doesn't make it at all, and as a political statement it's
pretty vague. Is this supposed to be a pitch for McGovern? If so (and I
wish it were) he should say so, otherwise it just sounds like more
mealy-mouthed America stuff."
"Even better is April Wine's newest, 'Just Like That.' It's the
B-side of a dog stiff, but don't let that bother you. This group has always
been good, and they're rocking in earnest now, having assimilated the
Montreal Sound, and soon they might even be ready to take on the
visual tribute to Bomp!.
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