As with Sweet's 100% Fun, however, this isn't a wholly obvious choice. Shoes reputation was built and cemented with 1979's Present Tense, as close to a perfect pop record as has ever been produced. The two radio singles were "Tomorrow Night" and "Too Late," sung by Jeff Murphy and Gary Klebe respectively, but the record had easily five or six other songs which were as catchy and melodic, as fraught with earworms. (Go ahead and ignore "I Don't Miss You," I dare you!)
But Present Tense barely needs my kudos. I want to focus on 1989's Stolen Wishes, an album as cohesive and catchy as PT, but much less appreciated (and so one you, gentle reader, are more likely to need).
It's bookended by two brilliant John Murphy compositions: "Feel the Way That I Do" and "Never Had It Better." The first is the psychic flipside of "Please Please Me," it seems, but I like it partly because it's one of the few pop songs I know to deal directly with the issue of the female orgasm. (An odd omission from the canon of pop topics, it seems to me. It's at least as interesting as the ubiquitous heartbreak and adolescent rebellion, no?) The last is everything a pop song should be: catchy, cute, and fun. I'd count them among the fines of his compositions throughout his career.
In between, SW is full of gems of various descriptions. Some of my favorites include:
"I Knew You'd Be Mine": Like a lot of this record, this is a sweet song. (As I've noted elsewhere, this disc is remarkably free of the anguish and sometimes outright misogyny which marks some other Shoes' records.) But what's most compelling about this some is the dead-on-balls accurate channelling of Roger McGuinn on the part of Jeff Murphy. Shoes generally leaned toward the melodic rather than the jangly, but this one has a read Byrds vibe to it which I love.
"I Can't Go Wrong": Another good example of the relatively upbeat nature of this record. There's a certain swagger to this song that cheers me to no end. I never really bought the sad-sack version of romance so common in the early records--they were too cute altogether for that to be really true--and this song strikes me as fundamentally more accurate.
"Your Devotion": Look, I take it as a given that men like oral sex. At least, I never met one who didn't. Given that, it's a bit surprising how few songs in this male-dominated genre deal directly with the issue. This Gary Klebe tune is pretty unabashed about its subject matter (one does show devotion on one's knees, no?), and lines like "Looking up, but going down to do what you do best" suggest a good-natured approach to sexuality.
"She's Not the Same": Generally, I eschew male-to-male songs about the transition of women's affection. There's something weird and medieval and proprietary about them which bothers me. Having said that, I know I've been the subject of at least one such conversation in my life, the "keep the pedal down when you start her in the morning" sort of discussion, so I know that such conversations do happen, even among men who should know better. And this Jeff Murphy tune is pretty respectful generally, as well as thoughtful and melodic, so it has lots to recommend it.
"Love Is Like a Bullet": The metaphor in this song is kind of weird, I think--second only to 20/20's "Jet Lag" as an odd paralel for romance--but the song itself is a model for the kind of melodic structure that characterizes power pop.
Even the songs I'm somewhat agnostic about on SW have some charm. Klebe's "Want You Bad," for example, is pretty basic and straightforward, so much so that its closest parallel (and I say this cringing, with all apologies) is the song Dirk Diggler and Reed Rothchild attempt to write in Boogie Nights. (Not the Transformers theme, the original composition called something like "Feel My Heat.") So even though there's not an awful lot to it, musically or lyrically, I smile at it.
In any case, this is an egregiously underrated record, warm and catchy, full of hooks and gems. What else can you ask for?