Room 43 @ THE NICE ROOMS presents
"Yellow Pills: The Power Pop Bible"
- An Interview with Jordan Oakes
Jordan Oakes looks back at the first ever power pop magazine "Yellow Pills" and his plans to combine all the volumes into a new book..
Date of Article: 20th April 2017
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Jordan Oakes published Yellow Pills - the first Power Pop magazine - from 1990 to 1996. He produced a series of Yellow Pills CD compilations, which also had a galvanizing effect in the '90s, on the '70s-born music genre.
Jordan is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in nationally available books and magazines, like Rolling Stone's Alt-Rock-a-Rama and The Christian Science Monitor. He is about to publish The Yellow Pills Book.
For those people not familiar with the term Power Pop, Jordan, how would you personally best describe it?
Power Pop is less a genre than a rewind button. In the mid '70s, pop had grown a beard; stopped bathing. It wasn't even pop anymore. It was music-gone-wild; an outgrowth of 60s rock, steeped in excess, aimlessness and acid-influenced counterculture. Rather than succumb to the fractured state of rock, certain '70s groups looked back to the freshness and excitement of the early-to-mid-period Beatles, Byrds and Who. Power Pop was a reenactment of those natural highs - but with the benefit of hindsight; hence the addition of loud guitars to the genre's core values of melody and harmony. This way it could - at least ideally - sneak into the public consciousness through radio's back door. Equal portions ironic and sonic, the first power-pop was a brand-new kind of FM rock. It appealed to nostalgia lovers; not the acid-droppers who grooved to bands that couldn't seem to find their way out of a song. Power-pop's second wave came along via the punk era, heralded by the insistent USA #1 hit (UK #6 hit) My Sharona. It's a pretty adaptable form of music, but never dyes its 60s' roots.
The Knack "My Sharona"
Around 1990, my interest in Power Pop was at an all-time high. I had been writing for a St. Louis punk zine called Jet Lag. Interestingly, that mag got its name from a song on the first 20/20 album, just like Yellow Pills. But in the case of the former, it was an arbitrary choice: with mine, the title was thought-out and theme-appropriate.
"Yellow Pills was written from the point of view of a total, unabashed fan of the genre.."
I had noticed the absence of any publication totally devoted to Power Pop. There had been BOMP! magazine, but that was really as much about garage rock, punk and 60s mod music. That, Trouser Press and Creem were my main journalistic influences. With assistance from my friend Rich Overman, we jumped right into the project. We landed interviews with groups that couldn't believe anyone had heard of them, much less two guys from Missouri armed with microphones.
Rich's take on pop was a bit more ironic than mine. He added some kitschy '70s ads and did half the writing. For a while we adhered to a one-issue-a-month production schedule. Rich left the zine, on good terms, about three issues later. From that point on, I made Yellow Pills a more straightforwardly Power Pop magazine, and continued its tradition of putting an iconic pop band on each cover (backed up, usually, by an interview inside).
Yellow Pills lasted nine issues and about seven years. It led to some other cool things, and apparently may have had a seminal effect on a new, "unashamed," era of pop bands and fan interaction.
The first Yellow Pills issue came out in 1991 (that date even looks ancient spelled out), which was before computers were widely used - particularly for fanzines. The first few issues were written on typewriters. Pictures were taped to the page.
Four 8"x11" pages were reduced on a Xerox machine to fit on one final 8"x11" magazine page. A middle step was obtaining a word processor, which was like a brainless, would-be computer. By the mid-to-late 90s, the zine was being laid out by talented graphic artists on a computer - the days and charm of handmade publications were gone forever.
Can you put your finger on a specific time when you felt that people were beginning to sit up and really take notice of The Yellow Pills?
By the second issue, we started hearing from people. I'm not sure how they heard of Yellow Pills over in Europe -- but letters from France, England and Japan were coming in. Probably from other countries too (and of course here in the U.S.). This was just before the internet made forming a community of those into the same thing a possibility. It was snail mail that brought in the kind words - we spun records and spanned the globe. Not that Yellow Pills had a wide readership, but it seemed to bridge a divide.
A typical issue of Yellow Pills contained three or four interviews and as many album reviews as I could possibly squeeze in. Each issue had a cover with a different color, and a famous pop band on front (usually interviewed inside)
Various Yellow Pills Issues: Click for larger Images
Yellow Pills stopped publishing in the late 90s. Ever since then – beginning not long afterwards – people suggested I combine them all into a volume. The most encouragement came from my friends Ken Sharp and Bruce Brodeen. Ken has published a ton of books, and I respected his opinion on such a book’s viability.
Going back to issue #1 is slightly embarrassing, in fact the first few issues, at least, needed better editing but they were of a time, and ran on the fumes of enthusiasm as opposed to the fuel of polished journalism. For the book, the magazine pages were scanned; nothing was changed. The zines were never stored on computer – not even laid out on computer (until later); they were cut and pasted with scissors and glue, not a word-processing program.
Are there any stand out interviews that you are especially proud of?
I don't have an interview I’m most proud of - they were all pretty thrilling for me - but I did land one with Mike Gallo, the drummer for 20/20, who, to my knowledge, hasn't granted other interviews - or at least very few.
It's the only interview after which I regret not getting the other band members' side of the story because Gallo took credit for writing a good portion of the 20/20 track Yellow Pills and other songs that he's not credited on. That said, I consider him to be a brilliant writer. His Jet Lag may be my favorite 20/20 song.
20/20 "Jet Lag"
Jordan, I have to ask about your extensive record collection..
My record collection? I once had maybe 7000 albums. Not counting CDs. This isn't bragging. It really became a burden. Record shopping was almost like being an astronaut exploring the farthest reaches of the Power Pop universe. I was lost in space. I loved the high of discovering something I'd been searching for, and if it was lingering in a bargain bin, I was almost ready to contort just to pat myself on the back. I've sold many of my albums since then. Some I never will, including prized items such as: the self titled album by Canada's (Michel) Pagliaro, which has Some Sing Some Dance - my favorite Power Pop tune ever; the (pre-Raspberries) Cyrus Erie's Sparrow / Get the Message 45 single and the ALRN LP Alternate Learning (pre Game Theory).
Pagliaro "Some Sing Some Dance"
Shoes "A Thing Of The Past"
I was amazed at all the “yes” responses. Soon word was out on the street about Jordan Oakes doing these cool pop compilations, and more bands came looking for me, sending in tracks.
Yellow Pills CD Compilations Vol 1 -4
Vol 1 (1993)
Vol 2 (1994)
Vol 3 (1995)
Vol 4 (1997)
"Occasionally, through the years, people who missed Yellow Pills suggested assembling the issues -- which have been out of print and officially unavailable for over 15 years."
I began the gofundme campaign at the suggestion of the book printer. This way I can gauge how many books to print, cover those costs and spread the word about The Yellow Pills Book to increase awareness in advance. It has gone pretty well. Still a way to go. (Click on the image for up to date information)
In this era of crowd-funding, it's important to note this isn't an all-or-nothing deal. Its purpose is to take advanced orders, and gauge the number of copies I'll need to print. I once released a CD - I have boxes of it in the basement. I didn't want that to happen again. The idea is to avoid making more copies than I have orders (well, maybe a few extra to sell on Amazon).
I would prefer The Yellow Pills Book to be a limited edition item. Once it's laid out - and, of this writing, it's 99.9% there - it goes straight to the publisher. If it's not entirely clear already, I'm self-publishing. It's my first book, so I'm kind of nervous. I'm also prepared to be kind of proud. I think it will be the best Power Pop book ever. Well, I guess there are just a few others, but… :-)
"..there will be new material, including fresh reviews, essays, interviews and rare Power Pop photos that you might never have imagined existed!"
Do you think there will there be more Yellow Pills books to follow after this one?
Absolutely. If this one sells!
Jordan, on behalf of The Nice Rooms webzine, good luck and many thanks for the interview.