If there's a "Meet the Beatles" album from the pantheon of '70s
power-pop, this is it.
The self-titled debut from Chicago-based Pezband (1977,
Passport/ABC-Dunhiil), is resplendent with 12 songs of
early-Beatles-meets-Yardbirds-style songs, that are just as catchy
and endlessly listenable (even three decades later) as their
influences -- and also showcases a hard-rocking band just hitting its prime.
Consisting of members Mimi Betinis (guitar, vocals), Mike Gorman
(bass, vocals), Tommy Gawenda (lead guitar), and Mick Rain (drums,
vocals) -- Pezband's eponymous first album features a slick
production by Stephan Galfas; the E-Street Band's Clarence Clemons on
sax; a horn section to add muscle on a few tracks; and even real live
strings on the ballads.
Power-pop aficionados will certainly recognize "Baby It's Cold
Outside," a staple of every power-pop best-of compilation over the
past 20 years (including the famed "DIY" series from Rhino ) -- but
every track is a gem. The stunning "Close Your Eyes" features
"Who"-like bombast with a tinge of psychedelia; "Princess Mary" is
this Midwest group's answer to the Fabs' "Penny Lane;" "Gas Grill"
feels like it was vetted in Hamburg; and one rock critic cited "Hold
On" as "one of the best power ballads of all-time."
Oh, and two years before the Knack's arrival, Pezband's first album
cover emulated the early-Beatles image template: a black and white
photo; the band half-shadowed in vests and ties and sporting mop-top
haircuts -- and there's even "Meet The Beatles" cover minutiae (i.e.,
the tag "File under: Pop Vocal").
Pezband released two more full albums afterwards: "Laughing in the
Dark" (cited by "Rolling Stone" as "one of the best albums of the
year" in 1978); the underated "Cover to Cover" album; and two
ferocious live EPs. "Hit Parader" said of the group at the time,
"this may be the best American group out right now."
If only they'd gotten that kind of support from their record company,
because by the early '80s, Pezband unfortunately, had called it a day.
Recently though, group leader Mimi Betinis released a
critically-acclaimed solo album, "All That Glitters," and Pezband has
actually reformed with its earliest original members (with Betinis,
Mick Rain and John Pazdan on bass). The group is set to release an EP
of unreleased Pezband material, and a live tour is being readied for
the coming year.
But Pezband's debut still remains, 35 years after release, the
touchstone recording for all the power-pop groups which proceeded it
-- and is a timeless clarion call to youthful exuberance, unbridled
romance and joyous angst -- delivered with a rock 'n roll heart.