The forgotten major-label power pop album—those records that, even after all these years, remain perfect amalgams of beaming Rickenbacker guitar hooks, la-la-ing and handclapping, and nervous Buddy Holly charm—is ideal summertime listening, thanks to the way they, at their best, blend longing and jangle, quirk and shimmering harmonies. Here are five albums best heard when the sun ain’t quite below the horizon and you can still see the frisbee coming at you, but you can’t quite make out that maybe date in the distance, walking toward the parking lot.
1. Marshall Crenshaw, Field Day (Warner Bros., 1983)
Marshall Crenshaw, “Whenever You’re On My Mind”
Yes, his 1982 debut is the classic, but this one—its tunes of girls, first dates, and “rockin’ around in NYC” bloated by Steve Lillywhite’s big, fumbled, wannabe-Spector production—flies outta the speakers, and has much more awkward teen endless summer pining.
2. The Bangles, All Over the Place (Columbia, 1984)
The Bangles, “Hero Takes A Fall”
Pre-Prince-written hits, pre-massive coifs, pre-Egyptian walking, the girl-group gang was all about go-go boots, garage fuzz, Mamas & Papas harmonies, and L.A. house party crashing. Every song on this album is a boy-juggling, singalong sure shot.
3. Plimsouls, Everywhere at Once (Geffen, 1983)
Plimsouls, “A Million Miles Away”
Okay, so they got their hit (“Million Miles Away”), they got into that Valley Girl flick, and even the band that some members had before the Plimsouls—The Nerves—are more loved than ever amongst the collector scum. But this album as a whole is a bit forgotten, and the band was dropped and disintegrated soon after. A shame, since you’d be hard-pressed to find a more fully-formed, high school doors flung open, run down the steps, jump into the car, and hit June hard soundtrack than this one.
4. Smithereens, Especially for You (Enigma, 1986)
Smithereens, “I Don’t Want To Lose You”
Please to forget their B.B. King’s brunch concerts and instead recall this perfect blend of Beatles hooks, Byrds chiming, Costello pipes, and a pinch of scorned sourness. Not to mention lyrical references to Nicholas Ray.
5. The dBs, Like This (Bearsville, 1984)
The dBs, “Love Is For Lovers”
Down to a trio and stuck on Todd Rundgren’s soon-to-be-kaput label, the dBs laid out this goofy platter that dispensed with most of their leftover post-punk itch and got with the radio-exec handshaking to oddly quirky and catchy results. (Just don’t mind the ill-advised forays into funk.)