Review: Harmony In My Head - UK Power Pop & New Wave 1977-1981

Harmony In My Head: UK Power Pop & New Wave 1977-1981 (Cherry Red Records).
Harmony In My Head: UK Power Pop & New Wave 1977-1981 (Cherry Red Records).

Power pop is one of those labels applied to music from a certain era which doesn't really fit into any specific genre.

It wasn't pub rock, it wasn't punk, it wasn't mod, it wasn't ska, it wasn't electro - nor any of the other myriad styles of the late 1970s - for my money one of the most fertile periods ever for music in this country.

Power pop - or new wave, as some preferred - rose in prominence in the wake of the initial punk explosion of 1976, and was quickly applied to bands who were obviously a cut above the tidal wave of three-chord wonders who followed the lead of Sex Pistols, The Clash et al.

Many of those DIY bands are included on the excellent compilation Action Time Vision (reviewed here), which Cherry Red brought out in 2016 to celebrate the 40th anniversary of punk.

This 3CD set, featuring 76 tracks, celebrates some of the bands who followed, though it puzzlingly takes its name from a song by the Buzzcocks, who, being formed in 1976, were certainly among the first wave of bands.

Many of those featured were happy to ride the new wave which followed - bands featured here such as Elvis Costello & The Attractions, Squeeze and Eddie & The Hot Rods.

Others enjoyed their 15 minutes of fame, maybe a hit single or two, or missed the boat all together beyond their town and local gig scene, and it's those bands which Cherry Red are so good at digging out for compilations like this.

For every old favourite which gets your toe tapping, there's three or four songs you've never heard before, which you immediately fall for, or which maybe crossed your radar fleetingly many years ago and you'd long since forgotten.

A good example of the former is Ufo by The Monos!, a tremendous tune with a guitar riff to die for, while Drummer Man by Tonight took me back to my early teens, in a really good way.

Cherry Red are past masters at picking out less-obvious cuts; hence we get (I Wish It Could Be) 1965 Again by surf rockers The Barracudas instead of the ubiquitous Summer Fun, Jilly by The Piranhas instead of the much-better-known Tom Hark, and I Never Was A Beach Boy by The Jags instead of the excellent but overplayed Back Of My Hand.

Highlights? There are many. First Time by The Boys is a stonewall classic, despite subject matter you probably wouldn't get away with now, as is Irene by The Photos, another song I'd never heard before, but have played repeatedly since receiving this set.

There are some incongruities: The Ruts are featured with their final single West One (Shine On Me), and although it's a great song, I'd never in a million years call it power pop or new wave. They were (and still are, as Ruts DC) a punky-reggae band).

Do third-rate punk bands like Chelsea and Eater belong here? I'd contend not, and I'd also query the omission of such obvious big-name inclusions as The Undertones, The Rezillos and Boomtown Rats (presumably for licensing reasons).

But I'm nit-picking. Like the aforementioned Action Time Vision, and the mod revival set Millions Like Us, this is an essential purchase for anyone who loves the music of the late '70s and is keen to hear gems they might have missed. 8/10.