Success can evaporate just as quickly as it comes. The Records -- sometimes described as the British Big Star -- are ostensibly a one-hit wonder, thanks to "Starry Eyes," a three-decade-old romantic kiss-off with the priceless line, "the writ has hit the fan." The song and self-titled debut climbed halfway up the Billboard charts fueled by an irresistible hook, frontman John Wicks' crisp tenor -- and a partnership between Virgin Records and Atlantic which produced plenty of push for this, their first cooperative release.
The band was met at the airport by limos, and flown across the country for radio interviews and appearances. "It was the most unreal thing," recalls Wicks, from his California home. "All your life, you're dreaming of that happening. You know it happens to people. But somehow you can't imagine being in that position. It seems too much of a fairy tale."
And "Starry Eyes" was just the tip of one of the finest power-pop albums ever released, full of catchy, hook-lined tunes influenced by The Beatles, the Kinks, Badfinger and Big Star. Other highlights included the bubbly, caustic tale of dating young, "Teenarama," and the energetic late-night rave-up, "All Messed Up and Ready to Go." There was also the strutting, power-chord paean to airbrushed billboard beauties and advertisement queens, "Girls That Don't Exist," which Wicks describes as his nod to AC/DC.
But by The Records' second album, 1980's Crashes, the Virgin/Atlantic partnership was in its final throes. There were no limos: The Records took a bus from the airport, and tour support was pulled midway through, stranding the band on the tarmac in Chicago. The Records made one more album for Virgin, but it was shelved for more than a year.
The band played two shows celebrating the third album's release, performing before packed houses in London. But disappointment and lineup changes had taken their toll. Midway through the last show, founding members Wicks and songwriting partner/drummer Will Birch knew the end had come.
"I looked at Will, and he looked at me, and it was like telepathy: 'It's all over.' It was never said, but everyone did the gig and went their separate ways," Wicks says.
Wicks recruited a backing band a few years ago, and he's been reprising The Records' timeless classics, while mixing in several of his own more contemporary tracks (captured on 2007's Rotate). "There's a lot of stuff people haven't heard, and won't unless I go out and play it," Wicks says.
Indeed, until you've experienced The Records' music, you have no idea what you're missing.
John Wicks, Paul Collins, Aviation Blondes and The Spuds. 9 p.m. Sat., May 23. Thunderbird Café, 4023 Butler St., Lawrenceville. Free. 412-682-0177 or www.thunderbirdcafe.net
- Big star: John Wicks