20/20 were part of the late-’70s run of power pop/new wave outfits that filled the airwaves for a brief and glorious time. Critical consensus has placed Big Star on the throne as the be-all and end-all of this genre, but they were certainly not alone. They may have been first, releasing their debut in 1972, but there were many others who deserve respect as well. Certainly 20/20 are one such band.
Who knows what is “in the water” to spawn particular scenes, but something special was happening in Tulsa, OK in the mid-’70s. Dwight Twilley and Phil Seymour left Tulsa for the center of the music-verse, Los Angeles, around that time. They were soon followed by Steve Allen and Ron Flynt, who founded 20/20, with the additions of Mike Gallo and Chris Silagyi.
Greg Shaw’s independent Bomp Records was the first to take notice of 20/20, and released their first single “Giving It All” b/w “Under The Freeway.” Shaw had a great love of power pop, and Bomp was a perfect fit for 20/20 in the beginning. But Bomp was a very small operation, and did not have the worldwide resources of a major label. After the single, a bidding war broke out, and the CBS subsidiary Portrait Records signed 20/20.
Their self-titled debut album was issued in late 1979, and was a pitch-perfect power pop album. That was the year of The Knack, not to mention great albums from Elvis Costello, Nick Lowe and Squeeze, just to name a few. For the faithful, 20/20 was manna from heaven. I must admit that I was one of those who came to the band much later though. There was just so much music one could absorb at a time I guess.
The problem is, when I finally did hear 20/20, the album was already commanding collector’s prices at the used record stores. Naturally enough, I missed out on the first (brief) CD reissue of it back in 1995 as well. It went out of print quickly, and has been trading hands at collector’s prices on online auction sites for years also. Until now, the only version of 20/20 I have had is a muddy cassette tape a friend made for me.
Real Gone Music has remedied this situation once and for all with the release of both 20/20 albums, plus a couple of non-LP tracks. With a total of 24 songs, and a running time of just under 80 minutes, the new 20/20 and Look Out! CD has basically everything the group ever recorded for Portrait.
20/20 begins with a sound effects-laden 1:13 introductory piece titled “The Sky is Falling.” We then jump in to the brilliant “Yellow Pills.” This is a dose of fun which reportedly received mucho airplay on KROQ, and is considered their finest moment by many. It is a reputation that is well deserved, for the tune is irresistible. When Big Star and the Raspberries first appeared in 1972, the music world was not ready for them. That was the era of side-long epics like Close to the Edge by Yes, after all. The prevailing notion was that these power poppers were hearkening back the hopelessly outdated British Invasion style of music.
Well yes, as a matter of fact they were, those pre-Revolver or Pet Sounds tunes were fantastic, as Alex Chilton and Eric Carmen knew. It is an appreciation that Flynt and Allen certainly shared. Some of the other highlights on this 12-song platter include “Cheri,” (the first single), “Tell Me Why (Can’t Understand You),” and “Obsession.” To be honest, there is not a bad cut among the bunch. This debut definitely merits all of the acclaim it has received over the years.