Billy Thermal

Billy Thermal

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In the late '70s and early '80s, seemingly every person in Southern California with the ability or ambition to write a pop hook got a haircut, put on a skinny tie, and formed a new wave band, figuring that the West Coast power pop boom was going to be their ticket to the big time. With the exception of the Knack, the Motels, and a few other stragglers, not many of those bands struck gold, but plenty of folks devoted a few years to prospecting, and years before Billy Steinberg started writing hits for Madonna, Whitney Houston, and Cyndi Lauper, and Bob Carlisle topped the charts with "Butterfly Kisses," the two were playing L.A. clubs in a band called Billy Thermal. Billy Thermal's self-titled album for Planet Records was shelved when the power pop boom went bust in 1980, but heard more than 30 years later thanks to an archival release from Omnivore Records, it certainly points to the success Steinberg would later enjoy as a songwriter; if his new wave moves seem more than a bit stiff, he certainly knew where to put the angular melodic accents and how to make his songs sound just a bit edgy without saying much that might actually threaten anyone's sensibilities. If you were looking for made-to-order new wave/power pop tunes, Steinberg had the skills to deliver them, and the fact that seasoned pros Linda Ronstadt and Pat Benatar both cut songs from the unreleased Billy Thermal album demonstrates his craft was already quite solid in 1980. The band was also very good; Craig Hull's guitar work is taut and imaginative if sometimes more hard rock than new wave, and bassist Carlisle and drummer Efran Espinosa were a tight, wiry, versatile rhythm section. Billy Thermal weren't one of the L.A. power pop bands that transcended the genre, like the Plimsouls or the Beat, but if they don't often sound at all innovative, their craft is truly impressive. If you were a fan of the West Coast new wave boom of the late '70s and early '80s, this lost artifact will probably be right up your alley, and fans of Steinberg's later work as a tunesmith may not be bowled over by it, but they won't be let down, either.

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