Various Artists

Philadelphia Rock, Vol. 1

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Phil Nicolo, who engineered/mixed records for a host of clients like the Hooters, Billy Joel, Dishwalla, G. Love & Special Sauce, and John Lennon's Plastic Ono Band (remix), was executive producer for this 1987 compilation of Philadelphia talent for Pyramid Records. There is not much to recommend about the compilation. It is listenable enough, the production solid and full of bluster, but the material and styles haven't aged well. Nearly all the tracks are suffused with digital synths and programmed drum thuds that were so in vogue in the '80s. As a time capsule or snapshot of the kind of rock being played in Philly at the time, it suffers a little, too, because the emphasis is totally on mainstream material. Granted, it's representative of the styles heard on FM radio and MTV at the time -- derivatives of Huey Lewis, the Hooters, Loverboy, Thomas Dolby, Simple Minds, Bryan Ferry, the Fixx, and innumerable British new wave acts that were popular on MTV in that era. And it's also an indication that local heroes the Hooters and Robert Hazard held hegemonic sway over the city's rock scene for a few years in the '80s. But there's no hint that Philadelphia also had a percolating punk scene, and but for a few R&B inflections here and there, there's no indication that Philly is a town known for Philly soul. One of the nicer songs on the compilation is Avila's "Galaxy" -- sprightly, bouncy new wave pop with a smart, Blondie-inspired vocal and some interesting modal harmonies to boot. If you absolutely can't get enough of mainstream urban pop/rock of the '80s, no matter how pedestrian or obscure, or if you remember these Philly bands extant at the time, then track this obscure disc down. Otherwise, Philadelphia Rock, Vol. 1 is strong evidence that mainstream music was in dire need of a jolt.

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