Hoehn-ing In On Some Great Pop

I am back yet again to write about the best music ever created, if I do say so myself….and I do! I wrote this review about a recent reissue of forgotten Memphis power-popper Tommy Hoehn’s best album. With a new album by Paul McCartney not too far away thanks to a label owned by the very same people who help get me awake in the morning, I figured it was a perfect time to write about one of Sir Paul’s best students. So, here t’is:

Tommy Hoehn – Losing You To Sleep
Air Mail Records

Memphis has always reminded me a lot of New Orleans. Not only are both world-class cities with their own rich histories of influencing almost every aspect of the world’s culture from cuisine to art, but they both have a similar way of closely guarding their own, almost to a fault. Take, for example, New Orleans: there are stars from New Orleans that are worshipped like kings but are unknown, or long-forgotten, in almost every other place in the world. There are also plenty of other musicians who are virtual prisoners – so addicted to the way of life they are used to that they cannot succeed anywhere else no matter how hard they try because they simply do not, or cannot, fit in with the rest of the world and end up living in obscurity, despite their abundance of talent.

It is the same way in Memphis.

Though filled to the brim with people with more musical talent than they have a right to possess, there are also tons of the musically walking wounded – artists who should have, could have, had-it-but-lost-it, close-but-no-cigar careers – who just couldn’t conquer the hold (or curse) Memphis has on them.

Probably the biggest rock band from Memphis who should have made it but didn’t is the band Big Star featuring Chris Bell and Alex Chilton (formerly of hit band The Box Tops who had a monster song called The Letter). Influential to a host of ’80’s rockers but whose own albums sold hardly anything, the band remained a footnote in the history of rock until bands like the Replacements started namechecking them and covering their songs. Following up not far behind that legendary band in the Memphis obscurity sweepstakes is Tommy Hoehn, who has himself sang backup with Big Star (on Sisters/Lovers), and had been a vital part of the mid-70’s Memphis pop scene.

A master at McCartney-esque pop filtered through a Southern point of view, Hoehn was poised to break through big time in the mid-70’s when he was signed to London Records after the label caught wind of his first album, the enigmatic, self-released Space Break. Soon, he was hustled to New York City and given free reign to record his melodic but quirky love songs. The result was Losing You To Sleep, a weird little pop record that has a ton of Beatles and Big Star influences right down to it’s production. In this Air Mail Records version (a Japanese import) it is also paired with the EP that followed, I Do Love The Light, which is also an intriguing example of mid-70’s pop. Anyone checking out these albums and looking for the huge hooks of the Raspberries or Badfinger will come off a little confused as Hoehn’s hooks and clever wordplay sneak up on you only after repeated listening. But, when you do put the time in, you will be rewarded with the benefits of one of the most overlooked and under-appreciated pop records of all time.

Encouragingly, Hoehn is still recording today, often recently as a duo with fellow Memphis pop also-ran Van Duren who has also seen a career resurgence with an all-new solo album and reissues of his own older, overlooked Memphis masterpieces.

For his part, Hoehn deftly continues to make masterful pop and is a definite survivor who should never be counted out. Even though the classless inbreds who run radio might never notice him, I often hear his best work played on some cool satellite radio shows, webcasts, and Pandora. A truly cagey singer or band could take any one of the smartly-written tunes on this reissue (and any of his other albums) and probably get the hit record Hoehn deserved.

Anyone interested in McCartney’s ’70’s work and Todd Rundgren will find plenty to like on this wonderful reissue as the songs are all top notch with plenty of great performances. Killer Memphis pop, in a nutshell.

So, there you have it. There is a lot more to the story and maybe I’ll hit you with some additional info in the future (in the meantime, find the two albums Hoehn and Duren have done as a team, Blue Orange being the best of those) but for now, check out as much of the work as you can of the names I’ve dropped and I am sure they will provide you with many hours of fantastic music.