One-Man Bands

My favorite “sub-genre” of pop music is powerpop (which I’ll address sometime soon—in fact, you’ll get sick of me talking about it). For some reason, this style of pop seems to attract one-man band artists more than any other.

It’s a pretty new phenomenon, if you think about it: one artist who plays every instrument on a recording, arranges and sings all the vocals, and in some cases, engineers the entire album. Les Paul and his multitrack recording technique/equipment advances certainly paved the way in the 1940s and 1950s, but I don’t think anybody did it as a truly one-man effort until Paul McCartney (solo) and the woefully unsung Emitt Rhodes. Both their albums came out in 1970, with Emitt proclaimed a “new McCartney” (and to be honest, the album is an obvious Beatle-esque pastiche, no matter how well done it is).

This clip is great—a medley of The Merry Go Round tunes (ER’s earlier project where he sang, wrote, and played guitar), and Don Knotts is terrifically unhip as the presenter…

He, of course, got screwed by his label, released a few more albums, and then disappeared. I believe he’s a recording engineer/producer now in Hawthorne, CA. The great Wes Anderson movie The Royal Tenenbaums features an ER tune (“Lullaby”); reason enough to get the soundtrack. His compilation is hard to find, but Amazon usually has some used copies floating around—it’s a great collection of happy pop.

A very young Prince in 1978 annoyed some label types when he insisted on producing and playing everything on his first album, which still sounds pretty fresh today (“For You” began the long-time Prince liner note practice of “Produced, Arranged, Composed and Performed by Prince”).

I’ve got a friend who thinks this type of artist is the ultimate conceit—why can’t they just write songs and stick to one instrument, and let the album be performed by an actual band, collaborating? I don’t necessarily agree. Sometimes you’ve got an artist (Jason Falkner, Linus of Hollywood, Macca, Roger Manning Jr., Brendan Benson, Mike Andrews, etc.) who forms songs so perfectly in their heads that only they can interpret them. In these rare cases, a band, egos, differing abilities… they’d get in the way and impede the song.

I really gravitate toward this kind of artist, and in this age of cheap home recording gear (I’ve got more recording power in my home office than the Beatles did for most of their albums), it’s probably going to be more prevalent. I can’t wait.

Who are some more one-man-band pop artists I should look for? And Emitt, if you’re out there… please release some new music!

6 Responses to “One-Man Bands”

  1. You’ve been blogrolled at Clark’s Picks, not to mention Dugg, Stumbled and Faved.

  2. Matthew Sweet is who first sprang to mind. For someone more recent, check out John Oszajca.

  3. Yeah, I’m a big Matthew Sweet fan, although he’s certainly been using more outside musicians on his last few releases. I’ll check out John O. You might like Owsley… wish he’d release a new album soon (his first, self-titled, is the best).

  4. Just released – a power pop album by a one-man band. Would love to know what you think!

  5. BPK, you have mail!

  6. […] goes back to my musings on one-man-bands… I’m just in awe of these guys who can pull off everything with aplomb. I first heard […]

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