Greg Shaw was probably responsible for more fantastic independent music reaching more ears than anyone else in the late '70s and early '80s, through his LA-based record store, fanzine, and later, label, all known informally as Bomp! (Officially, "Who Put The Bomp!," but why quibble over details?) One of his niftiest finds of the era was a group who had come from Tulsa, OK, to the big city of L.A. to seek their fortune.
It was Shaw's Bomp! label that released the debut single from the band 20/20. "Giving It All" appeared in 1978, a brightly colored wad of late-'60s/early-'70s bubblegum in the midst of a bland late-'70s disco world. Crisp, shimmering and joyous, "Giving It All" caught a few influential ears, and before long these kids with their skinny ties, holdover shag haircuts, and mildly anachronistic sound found themselves signed by CBS via their Portrait label.
Their debut LP, the self-titled and absolutely essential 20/20, is one of the most underrated records of the 1970s. A virtual primer on what power-pop is supposed to sound like, the record boasts several shoulda-been hits that have received much more notice in recent years than they did at the time. "Yellow Pills," a pseudo-psychedelic trip through producer Earle Mankey's bag of studio tricks, may be their best-known track; "Cheri" is one of the most heartfelt declarations of unrequited love ever put down on vinyl; cuts like "She's An Obsession" and "Out Of This Time" basically laid the ground rules for a thousand power-pop bands to follow. The album is simply a must-have.
The same high praise cannot be offered for their 1981 follow-up LP, Look Out! While it isn't without its charms (notably "Nuclear Boy"), there were some obvious changes made to the band's overall sound - likely at the urging of CBS in hopes of mainstream sales. Where the debut glistened, Look Out! could at best offer a dull sheen. It didn't sell, and CBS cut ties with the band. Both records were reissued on a single CD in 1995.
Undeterred, 20/20 went back to what they did best. After finding a home with the independent Mainway label, they issued a third album in 1982. Sex Trap was a refreshing return to the sound of the first LP, and offered the band promise: Enigma Records picked up the album, remixed a few tracks, dropped one and added the excellent "Jack's Got A Problem." This new version of Sex Trap also boasted better distribution and is usually the version you find floating around for sale these days. (Originals on Mainway sport blue graphics; the Enigma reissue changes the graphics to red.) For completists, there exists a Japanese CD reissue circa 1999 that includes all the tracks from both versions and changes the graphics color to yellow. Collect them all!
20/20 split after 1983, but were reunited ten years later. Two more albums have since been released: 1995's 4 Day Tornado and 1998's Interstate. Those looking for the 20/20 of old may find complaints, but those who care to hear a solid band who have matured into musicians willing to test waters outside of their comfort zone (especially on Interstate, which veers into country-twinged sounds) should be pleased.
For this week's NW4NW, we go back to that wonderful debut record. First up, a clip for "Yellow Pills" followed by the simply wonderful "Cheri." Enjoy!