Andrew Curry loves lite rock, and he’s not ashamed to say it.
What’s lite rock, you ask? If you’re older than 40, you’ll remember the commercials that record distributor K-tel used to promote late into the evenings (“Mellow Gold! Only $19.99 plus shipping and handling!”). The songs were mostly obscured by the last dying vestiges of disco, the one-hit wonders full of melody that you barely recognize but can’t for the life of you figure out who sang it. They are almost lost to us.
But Curry loves it so much, he produced a 28-song tribute to the genre. “Drink a Toast to Innocence: A Tribute to Lite Rock” went on sale this month, and Curry has worked with the best independent pop artists of the day – Mike Viola, David Myhr and Bleu – and asked them to recreate classics such as “The Things We Do For Love,” “Theme from the Greatest American Hero” and “Thank You For Being a Friend.” The result is a wonderful romp through some truly classic songs that were a big part of my childhood (See my review tomorrow).
It’s truly been a personal project. Begun as an innocent discussion among college friends some 20 years ago, the project was launched in February via a Kickstarter campaign. Andrew Curry is still busy shipping CDs and LPs, but he found some time to answer a few questions about the project.
Why lite rock? Why not do a tribute to New Wave or Glam Rock?
The simple answer is because these are the first songs I remember hearing on the radio as a kid growing up. But I also wanted to tackle a style of music that doesn’t necessarily get the same respect as those other genres. I felt like Lite Rock was ripe for rediscovery, especially if I could get great artists to cover these old songs.
I’ve heard many power pop artists, including Andy Sturmer of Jellyfish, say that they were influenced by AM Radio in the 1970s. I, too, grew up listening to this music, and I’m a huge indie pop fan. Why did melody flourish in this genre, and how did it influence you and the artists who covered these songs?
[Pop artists] were certainly influenced, knowingly or not, by the songs of their childhood. We all were. At heart, these are solidly crafted, melody-filled songs. It’s no accident that they were all hits on the charts back in the day. And that’s why I thought this would be a natural pairing with some of the artists that I contacted to participate. It doesn’t surprise me that someone like Andy Sturmer or Mike Viola or Bleu has an affection for these songs, because they probably grew up listening to them, just as you and I did. Their future output may be more influenced by the Beatles or the Beach Boys, but they were certainly influenced, knowingly or not, by the songs of their childhood. We all were.
Was there any song that you just didn’t allow anyone to do? I was surprised to see “Escape (The Pina Colada Song)” on here.
Well, my definition of Lite Rock covers a very specific era. I define the heyday of Lite Rock as being somewhere between 1976 – 1982. So if someone approached me wanting to do a song that fell drastically out of that particular time frame, I had to say no. So great old AM radio favorites like “Alone Again (Naturally)” or “It Never Rains In Southern California” were suggested, but ultimately, I decided to stick to the specific era that I defined.
Two cuts really stand out for me: Kelly Jones’ “I’d Really Love to See You Tonight” and the Davenports’ “Just When I Needed You Most.” They really redefined the songs, and both sound much better than the originals.
I really love those two versions. There are some other great re-imagined versions as well: Willie Wisely’s take on “So Into You”, Lannie Flowers’ “Dance With Me”, or Eytan Mirsky’s “Escape (The Pina Colada Song)” are all radically different from the source material. But there are some tracks that are pretty close to the originals that blow me away, too. I’ll sound like I’m hedging when I say this, but I really do like every track on the record.
I ask this of everyone: Why isn’t melodic indie pop more, well, popular? How do we bring back AM Radio hits?
It’s the great unanswered questions for pop geeks like me. Every time I hear a new artist that I love (and go listen to Chris Price RIGHT NOW, if you’re not. Well, after you listen to “Drink A Toast To Innocence” a few more times), I inevitably wonder why they aren’t all over the radio. I think this is a genre that has become niche, despite having its roots in some of the most popular music of all time.
What was the most satisfying thing you got out of this project?
The opportunity to work with so many artists whose careers I’ve been following for years. To discover how down to earth so many of them are, how willing they were to collaborate with an unknown like me. That’s been immensely gratifying. Also, the notion of following this through from a glimmer of an idea to a fully realized record is great. It’s taught me so much: about organization, about project management, about fundraising and promotion. It was a crash course.
What’s your next project?
Ha! Well, my wife is more than eight months pregnant, so my most immediate project is getting our new baby home. And that’ll occupy me for a while after that. On the music front, I have a few ideas swirling around, but there’s nothing on the immediate horizon yet. This one has been such a blast, I’m going to sort of wallow in it for a while before diving into anything else right away. But stay tuned.