Brinsley Schwarz - Thinking Back: The Anthology 1970 - 1975 (2023)

I've written about Brinsley Schwarz before, but in case you're not familiar with them a little history may help you fully understand the significance of the recently released box set, Thinking Back: The Anthology 1970 - 1975. It contains all sixty-eight tracks from Brinsley Schwarz's seven studio albums including It's All Over Now that was recorded in the mid-70s but not released until 1988.

Pub-rock is frequently mentioned as the precursor to punk, but personally I don't hear it in the music of Brinsley Schwarz even with the knowledge that someone possessing a punk sensibility like the young Elvis Costello was obsessed with the British quintet. The view from here is that garage-rock and power-pop describe the band's music far more accurately.

The group's lineup for their first two LPs included the guitarist they are named after, Brinsley Schwarz, and keyboard player Bob Andrews. Billy Rankin played drums - and most importantly -  bassist Nick Lowe was their primary composer. Beginning with their third album, Silver Pistol, they were joined by rhythm guitar player, Ian Gomm.

On those early albums - their eponymous debut and their sophomore LP, Despite It All - the band was searching for a style that worked for them. They combined a little prog-rock that included meandering instrumental passages with Southern California harmonies to little public attention or critical approval. Then, on Silver Pistol the group found their niche, and for the rest of their career they became the kind of outfit you couldn't wait to see play in your local bar on a Saturday night.

Brinsley Schwarz displayed excellent taste in cover versions. Among the oldies they revived were "Hey Baby, They're Playing Our Song," "I Like It Like That," "Everybody," and a cover of the Rolling Stones song that gave the quintet the name of their last album.

Lowe wrote many of the group's original songs, and it's where he debuted "What's So Funny About Peace, Love and Understanding" - co-written with Gomm - that later became a very popular song for Costello; "Play That Fast Thing One More Time," the opening track on Rockpile's classic Seconds Of Pleasure LP from 1980; and Lowe's only major American hit single, "Cruel To Be Kind," that made it to #12 on the Hot 100. All of them are included in this anthology.

The clamshell box set also includes sixty-four bonus tracks. Most of them are live performances that were never released until now, and the accompanying booklet - mostly written by Gomm - provides a very nice history of the band. 

Many of the great musicians from the early classic rock era have sadly gone to the great beyond, but all of the Brinsleys are still with us, albeit separately. Lowe - of course - became a star. Schwarz and Andrews played with Graham Parker's Rumour for many years, and Schwarz now works as a solo act who released his second critically acclaimed album in 2021. Andrews later became a record producer. Gomm had a #18 hit in 1979 with "Hold On," and Rankin drummed with Frankie Miller, Dave Edmunds, Ducks Deluxe plus a few other outfits before leaving the music business to pursue other ventures.

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