The movies and TV you need to watch, the music you need to hear, the books and comics you need to read, the games you need to play — The Playboy Library is an ongoing series that offers the 21st century man the pop ammunition to carry himself as a gentleman of culture. Never obvious, always essential.
Chances are you have never heard of The Posies. And that is a damn shame.
Every record collection worth its salt has the staples: Sgt. Pepper’s, Nevermind, Pet Sounds and so on: all classic “must have” albums whose presence surprises absolutely no one.
What differentiates a great record collection from your great record collection are the gems in between: little nuggets of sonic goodness that may have fallen through the cracks of notoriety but demand inclusion because, well…they are just that damn good. Dear 23 is one of those gems — a masterful collection of sugary goodness that dares even the vocally challenged to sing along at the top of their tone-deaf lungs.
Formed in 1987 by core members Jon Auer and Ken Stringfellow, The Posies began as a short lived acoustic duo before their lo-fi demo became the pre-internet equivalent of a viral hit — home made cassettes dubbed and dubbed again as they made the rounds of their earliest converts. Later re-released by PopLlama as Failure, it would catch the attention of Geffen Records who quickly signed them to their subsidiary, DGC Records.
In defiance of Top 40 radio waves overflowing with Roxette, Bell Biv Devoe and Paula Abdul, the early ’90s saw an outcrop of bands wearing their Beatles/Kinks/Who influences proudly on the sleeves of vintage Nehru jackets. Everything old is new again and so, alongside artists like Matthew Sweet, Material Issue and Jellyfish, the Posies would inadvertently help define the growing “power pop” genre.
Dear 23’s influences are immediately recognizable but the result is never derivative. Instead, Auer and Stringfellow cherry pick the most infectious elements of American and British ’60s and ’70s guitar-driven pop groups such as The Knickerbockers, The Move, The Merseybeats and Les Fleur de Lys — although they are perhaps most indebted to the songwriting of Big Star’s Alex Chilton and the seamless harmonies of the Hollies. The amalgamation is nothing short of a fresh sounding, articulate and intelligent rock album.
The soaring “My Big Mouth” opens the record, spinning the tale of a relationship gone wrong and featuring what one can only assume was the only walking bass line on rock radio at the time. While its final refrain of “Don’t make my open my big mouth” is still rattling around our brains, we are swept right into “Golden Blunders” — a song so catchy and evocative of a particular songwriting duo that Ringo Starr covered it on 1992’s Time Takes Time.
Although most bands would kill to have written any one of Dear 23’s 10 tracks, standouts include “Any Other Way” (featuring clever meta lyrics such as “she left me alone/claiming we’d run out of things to fight about/I was crushed of course/but at least I’ve something I can write about”); “Suddenly Mary,” with its wistful reference to Aesop’s Fables; the acid-tinged, crisp guitar jangle of “Help Yourself” and the ¾ swing of “Mrs. Green.”
In industry veteran John Leckie, the band found the perfect combination of old school and new to package their sound. An engineer for John Lennon, George Harrison, Pink Floyd and Wings, Leckie would later produce records for XTC, Public Image Limited and The Stone Roses, which perfectly explains Dear 23’s timeless appeal. It somehow sounds slick and glossy without ever feeling over-produced.
Shortly after Dear 23, another Washington band would deliver grunge unto the world and leave little room in the musical landscape for a band as sleek and polished as The Posies — though, ironically, their flannel-tinged follow up, Frosting On The Beater did deliver their biggest hit in “Dream All Day.” But if you are looking to flesh out your collection with something off the beaten path, slot the seminal power-pop album Dear 23 right between Revolver and Big Star’s 3.
Unless you’re organizing alphabetically, in which case, you know, put it where it belongs.
Adam Freeman is the former producer of MTV’s 120 Minutes, Alternative Nation, and Total Request Live. He is now the Creative Director of Thinkfactory Media. He tweets at @mradamfreeman.