If the west coast had the sublime production and baroque pop stylings of Curt Boettcher in the early ‘70s, the east coast boasted the man who invented the genre: Michael Brown. Brown has the driving force behind The Left Banke (“Pretty Ballerina” and “Walk Away Renee” were its biggest hits in 1967) and he continued his baroque pop ways with Stories in 1972. While Brown tried to make Stories a multi-faceted band with vocalist Ian Lloyd and guitarist Steve Love he was in losing battle. The mid tempo signature piano arrangements Brown brought to the band at this point in time was considered “up-hip” as the heavier guitar oriented bands like Deep Purple and Alice Cooper rose up the charts.
And the “power” chords that defined power pop at this time was something Brown was still learning to navigate through. By the Stories second album “About Us” it combined power pop brilliance of “Top Of The City” and gorgeous melodies like “Love Is In Motion.” However record producers had no patience for his delicate melodies, and Brown left the band in 1973 — ironically the album’s cover of Hot Chocolate’s “Brother Louie” became a huge hit and Ian Lloyd took ownership of the band.
Brown made one last attempt to merge rock with baroque with The Beckies in 1976. He signed on with Sire Records under the moniker “Brown’s Band,” but he still needed to come up with an actual band. Meeting with longtime friend vocalist Scott Trusty, they recruited Jimmy McAllister (guitar) and Gary Hodgden (drums). They decided to name the band after Hodgden’s wife Becky and The Beckies started putting their album together. Brown followed the model he built with Stories when he wrote these songs.
After original vinyl release it remained an elusive collectible for only those in the know. This new re-release, while not remastered is crisp and clearer than ever before. The opener “Right By My Side (Etude)” recalls Blue Ash with its keys and guitar riffs. Then the orchestrated Brown comes forth on “River Bayou” and “Other Side Of Town” with its strong background harmonies and dramatic piano chords.
“Fran” is a classic Brown composition here that comes closest to the magic of The Left Banke and Stories. “River Song” is a successful pairing of Brown’s classical piano influences and rock and roll. “On The Morning That She Came” is the last great Brown composition here and pure poetry set to power chords. Also recommended is the finale “Run Jenny Run” that boasts a Raspberries-like main chorus. Unfortunately the album is not without flaws, “Midnight and You” and “ Can’t Be Alone” while well done comes off rather as a generic rockers and Trusty’s vocals are merely adequate for Brown’s material.
Sadly, Brown died of heart failure at his home in Englewood, New Jersey in March 2015 at 65 years of age. While his album is essential for Brown completeists, the average power pop fan will find enough gems here to make the investment. Get it on Amazon