The Shazam

Oh NoThe Shazam
Engine RedThe Shazam
Sunshine TonightGodspeed The Shazam
Chipper Cherry DaylilyGodspeed The Shazam
City SmasherGodspeed The Shazam
We Think Yer DeadTomorrow The World
Gettin' HigherTomorrow The World
Nine TimesTomorrow The World
Hey Mom I Got The BombMeteor
Froggy Mountain ShakedownMountain Jack (by Rotenberry & Jones)

The Shazam photo 1

The Shazam: Mike Vargo (bass), Jeremy Asbrock (guitar), Hans Rotenberry (guitar, vocals), Scott Ballew (drums) – photo: Keith Smith



The Shazam playlist


Contributor: Marc Fagel

The Shazam are a criminally under-recognized power pop band hailing from the unlikely home of Nashville, Tennessee. They released four LPs between 1997 and 2009, as well as a few EPs and contributions to myriad tribute albums. Firmly on the ‘power’ side of the power pop genre, the Shazam’s sound is an amalgam of Cheap Trick, Material Issue, the heavier tracks on the first Big Star record, and the Who, infused by a healthy dose of ˈ70s glam from the T. Rex or Sweet playbook. At their best, the band and its frontman Hans Rotenberry manage a ridiculous number of earworm hooks, particularly on their essential second album.

The band’s self-titled 1997 debut is surprisingly self-assured, alternating between boisterous rockers that seem to make a bid for arena performances and more restrained, jangly, mid-tempo pop. Not everything hits, but the ratio of sing-along (or belt-along) choruses to less memorable tracks is pretty high for a power-pop long-player. Oh No in particular makes for a compelling band introduction, an energetic anthem that quickly establishes Rotenberry’s gift for radio-ready hooks, while showing off the joyously Keith-Moon-influenced drumming of Scott Ballew (who sadly passed away a few years back). Engine Red is more straightforward pop, a clever indictment of the party-crashing drunk that shows the band to be more lyrically amusing than most of their peers. Other winners like the gentler Megaphone, the anthemic Hooray For Me, and the glammed-up Florida, highlight the band’s stylistic range.

They took a huge leap forward on 1999’s Godspeed The Shazam, arguably one of the finest, most consistent power pop albums ever recorded, nearly every song offering at least one killer hook (if not more) that will be stuck in your head for days. It’s almost impossible to choose a few favorites for a Top 10, but the most obvious pick is Sunshine Tonight, a gleeful bit of Sweet-like high-energy bubblegum, easing from the slow burn of its verse to its chorus exhortation, “Everybody’s falling on their asses, come along ‘cuz it’s a gas gas gas!” Chipper Cherry Daylily offers a similar blast of light-hearted silliness tethered to giddy bubblegum, while the goofy City Smasher veers into a bass-driven faux metal groove with a sly insertion of a Surf City shout-out, over-the-top ridiculousness that demands wall-shaking volume. But the lighter, hook-crazy Calling Sydney and infectious lighter-hoisting power ballad The Stranded Stars, not to mention the whimsical post-election Super Tuesday – another spotlight for Rotenberry’s lyrical twists – are no less compelling.

The 2000 EP REV9 was a bit of a stop-gap pending their next album, a grab-bag of relative oddities. Lead-off track On The Airwaves is heavy-duty glam-pop that would have worked fine on Godspeed, with its blend of spooky theremin and a nicked Rush riff; and Month O’ Moons is cowbell-driven fun. But there are also some quiet ballads and stranger, more experimental tracks, most notably the studio goof Revolution 9, which updates the Beatles’ original with a rocking outro.

They returned in 2003 with Tomorrow The World, shaking off some of the daftness of the EP for a worthy (if less consistent) successor to Godspeed. Tomorrow’s peaks replicate the amped-up pop glory of its predecessor. Gettin’ Higher, like Sunshine Tonight before it, sounds like perfect fodder for Top 40 radio in an alternative universe where riveting guitar rock still has a place on the AM dial (plus, more cowbell!). We Think Yer Dead is rollicking fun, reprising the goofiness of City Smasher, while Nine Times stands firmly in comfortable power pop territory. Goodbye American Man (borrowing a riff from Big Star’s Don’t Lie To Me) and New Thing Baby sound like great lost 70s FM dial hits, all power chords and thunderous rhythm section.

The band took a few years off after that, returning in 2009 for the somewhat lackluster Meteor. Rotenberry comes up a bit short in the hooks department, resulting in a few tracks that feel more like underwhelming hard rock than the effervescent power pop of past work. Still, the album offers a few solid tracks. Hey Mom I Got The Bomb is silly fist-pumping fun, as is lead-off track So Awesome and NFU (as in, “not f*cked up enough”).

Sadly, Meteor was to wind up the band’s final proper album. However, it received a surprising coda with 2010’s Mountain Jack, which paired Rotenberry with the Shazam’s longtime producer Brad Jones (a power pop legend in his own right, with a lengthy resume as an artist and production whiz). It’s much more laid back than the heavy Meteor, peppered with acoustic guitars, and the hooks are more abundant. While the duo share vocal duties, it sounds like a stripped-down Shazam record, songs like Froggy Mountain Shakedown in particular worthy of inclusion in the Shazam discography.

Over the years, scattered among various tribute albums and online releases, the band also put together a nice assortment of covers worth tracking down, ranging from the Who’s I Can See For Miles to Shoes’ Hangin’ Around With You to Teenage Fanclub’s The Concept, all faithful to the originals with jolts of added energy.

Word was that the band regrouped later in the decade for a new album, but Ballew’s passing in 2019 seems to have put the kibosh on further work, though one song from the sessions, the moody It’s Doomsday, Honey, streams on Spotify.



The Shazam photo 2

Scott Ballew (1972-2019)


Official band website (outdated)

AllMusic Page

2009 Nashville Scene Article

Pop Matters Reviews

Phoenix New Times 2000 Article

The Shazam biography (AllMusic)

Marc Fagel is a semi-retired securities lawyer living outside San Francisco with his wife and his obscenely oversized music collection. He is the author of the rock lover’s memoir “Jittery White Guy Music”. His daily ruminations on random albums in his collection can be seen on his blog of the same name, or by following him on twitter.

Marc’s previous posts include Guided by Voices, Connells, Big Audio Dynamite, Sleater-Kinney, Liz Phair, Elephant 6, Apples in Stereo, Sweet, The Bats, Matthew Sweet, Badfinger, New Pornographers, Bettie Serveert, Flaming Lips, Neil Young, My Morning Jacket, Raveonettes, Phish, Luna, Jesus and Mary Chain, Feelies, Genesis, Wilco, King Crimson, Brian Eno

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