One of my favorite Facebook groups is called ‘I Love Power Pop,’ full of musically astute fans posting all kinds of cool music. The most fun about the group, however, is the members arguing with each other whether what they’ve posted is really power pop. This happens with about fifty percent of the postings, and it’s a lot of fun to follow. I’m not sure what the real definition of power pop is, but I can assure you the Rubinoos are the real power pop deal, often described as “the Beach Boys with a garage band backing.”
The Rubinoos are a legendary power pop outfit from Berkeley, California. Formed in 1970 when the boys were just teenagers. They were stalwarts on the indie label Beserkley, and had hits with a cover of Tommy James’ ‘I Think We’re Alone Now,’ and their own ‘I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend.’ The band has been at it for decades, on and off, but thanks to superfan and producer Chuck Prophet, they are now on Yep Roc Records and have a stellar new LP, From Home, featuring the original Rubinoos lineup.
This new record, with Prophet’s help, is a beautiful power pop blueprint. It sounds like as if it was still 1979. The band plays with joy and abandon, and a noticeable lack of snark or distortion. The melodies are top-notch, and the singing nothing short of impressive. The opener ‘Do You Remember’ has a trashy drum sound and spidery guitar riff perfect for the lyrical nostalgia trip, referencing both The DeFranco Family and The Troggs. ‘Do I Love You’ has a very familiar guitar riff, as heard in ‘Betty’ by local Greenville SC band King Cotton and the Remnants. Their guitarist told me the riff comes from Roy Buchanan’s version of Tyrone Davis’ ‘Can I Change My Mind,’ It has a bit of a beach music feel with Jon Rubin’s vocal shining throughout. ‘Phaedra’ of course references the Greek Goddess:
Phaedra, goddess of an ancient age
Perfect was the way they made ya
Seven thousand years ago
Seven thousand years ago
This track sounds like a Raspberries tune, it is catchy as hell and amazingly well done.
‘Heart For Sale’ is a stone classic, outdoing Big Star at their own game, just acoustics and Rubin’s beautiful voice. It’s the kind of a song everyone who writes songs wishes they could write. ‘Honey From The Honeycombs’ is a love song to a female drummer:
You’ve got your Charlie’s and your Ringos
Your jazz guys with their bongos
But I’ll take Honey - Honey from the Honeycombs
The band really gets into the harmonies on this one, it’s all great fun. “Rocking In Spain’ has a Glitter band drum swagger with the obligatory Little Richard “whoo’s.” Sounds like a single from 1972. ‘Masochist Davey’ has the descending Big Star intro, but with a lighter feel and cool electric piano, tied to a slightly twisted lyric:
He’s gonna show you things about yourself that you don’t want to know
Go on and try a little tenderness
See how far it goes, see how far it goes
Masochist Davey, oh, he’s only happy when you put him down
Masochist Davey, ooh yeah, you’ll need to learn a little monkeyin’ around
Masochist Davey, he’s only happy when you make him cry
Masochist Davey, he’s just that kind of guy, just that kind of guy
‘Pretty Close’ is a bit of a reworked ‘Love Is Like A (Heatwave)’ totally breezy and full of Al Chan’s walking bass runs. Another great thing about this record is all twelve songs clock in at about three minutes each, living proof of the maxim, “don’t bore us, get to the chorus.” They get to the hooks then move on to the next one. Album closer ‘Watching The Sun Go Down’ sets the Rubinoos on full Beach Boys power, although I thought the melody was reminiscent of ‘Sister Golden Hair ,’ this is a beautiful, harmony filled ballad again featuring Rubin’s amazing vocal.
There it is, From Here is a triumph of old school power pop. Back when melodies and singing and songs were the thing. The Rubinoos have made a wonderful return. Do you remember? Don’t worry if you don’t: you soon will.