Listen to this track by 90s power pop kingpins The Posies. It’s ‘Solar Sister’ as taken from their masterpiece 1993 LP Frosting on the Beater. Is it possible to wedge in more crunchy guitars, intertwined harmonies, and pure melodious punch into one song? I don’t think so!
Markets for rock music in the early 90s were pretty strikingly allied to grunge. The scene here in the Pacific Northwest was like a shining beacon to rock radio, music publications, and of course by record-buyers too, all over the world. In some ways, grunge was almost too ubiquitous if you weren’t inclined to dig deeper.
Yet just a short drive to the south of where I’m writing this, across the border in Bellingham,Washington were two musicians – Jon Auer and Ken Stringfellow – who were also carving out a musical destiny by the end of the 80s, much like the grungers further to the south. Instead of the Pixies, The Melvins, and the Meat Puppets, which fed Nirvana, Auer and Stringfellow went even further back to the Hollies, Simon & Garfunkel, and of course the Beatles, to help to map their sound. And by 1993, they put out their most celebrated work, Frosting on the Beater, a power pop gem for the times.
On this cut, you can hear that the Posies were not adverse to wattage and the snarling sound of grunge. They just took the power pop of the Raspberries and Big Star from the 70s and brought it into the new rock paradigm. Yet, to me this isn’t a tactic – it’s just great songwriting and production. And this song is both melodic and pop, while also being a bit unpredictable. This pop tune is a walk in the park, but it cuts through the alley on the way. Magic.
The Posies output slowed after this record, with a number of side projects and collaborations which leaders Auer and Stringfellow undertook both together and apart, taking up their time between Posies albums by the end of the decade. But while on the way, they helped to make guitar-based songwriting a viable option for bands coming up behind them, including one of my favourites Fountains of Wayne.
In 2005, they put out the critically acclaimed Every Kind of Light.
For more information about The Posies, check out theposies.net.
And it should be noted that both Jon Auer and Ken Stringfellow are on Twitter. Follow them on @JonAuer and @KenStringfellow respectively.
And of course if you’re really feeling a Posies jones, check out the official @ThePosies Twitter account as well.
5 thoughts on “The Posies Perform ‘Solar Sister’”
Another new band to look a little deeper into after hearing this wonderful track.
Well, it reminds me a little of the Vancouver band, The Odds. Their album, Bedbugs, which appeared the same year as this one (Frosting the Beater) has a very similar power pop feel to it, and they went on to do Good Weird Feeling a couple of years later … another irresistible album. I remember seeing an earlier incarnation of the Odds, called Dawn Patrol – a legendary covers group – around Vancouver for years. I heard something along the lines that the Odds were re-forming, but I’ve kinda lost track of that. They were a great band … it would be nice to hear them again!
Thanks again, Rob!
Yeah I love Odds, particularly their Nest album which came out about three years after the Posies record. There was some great power pop released during that decade.
Speaking of Odds, I saw Elvis Costello at the Vogue a number of years ago, and who was opening other than Odds frontman Craig Northey. What a pleasant surprise that was. More recently, Northey collborated with members of the Tragically Hip on a side project Stripper’s Union Local 518. And I believe the New Odds are a going concern. Check out Craignorthey.com for more details on that.
Thanks for comments as always!
Great choice of song. Honestly, they’ve never released anything I thought was bad, but there was a period of a few years where they were magical both on record and in person and could absolutely do no wrong. For a power pop geek like me (and everyone I knew who loved those things called, uh, what are they again?… oh yeah, melody, power and intelligence), they were the band to see no matter HOW MANY times they came through town.
I’d seen them a couple times, but the first time I met them was at WHFS, a radio station in Baltimore/D.C. where I was a DJ. Frosting On The Beater had just come out and I absolutely loved every song on it. We had them in to play a couple of songs on air & chat for a few minutes. Much to my squealing little girl fantasy, they asked squealing little fan me what I wanted to hear. I requested “Flavor Of The Month” and “Solar Sister”, not realizing I’d probably sucked up to them quite adequately by naming one song by each writer.
They proved to be smart, personable, funny, and quite able to pull off the vocals in person.
After this meeting I saw them more and more over the years. On our second meeting, Ken was actually a little jealous that I owned a copy of the Chris Bell “I Am The Cosmos/You And Your Sister” 45 and he didn’t. He signed an autograph for me that said “Chris Bell wears frilly pants”. So fine, he was in my favorite band in the world that year, but I had an original Chris Bell 7″!
I think you know where this set-up is going.
Eventually, he practically became Chris Bell as he became a member of Alex Chilton reformed Posies.
I have weird funny memories. I introduced them in front of 60,000 screaming fans at one of our HFStivals. They put on an AMAZING show. (I have video, by the way. I believe it’s illegal to bootleg it, but if you’re ever at my house…)
When they were done on stage it was my fault to hang around, round them up, and help them get back to their dressing room. Ken put his guitar down on the stage, turned to me and said “Here, drink some water out of my mouth!” (I think it was just kind of his way to freak out anyone in the vicinity. Ask one of the most well-known DJs sponsoring the event to drink water from your rockstar head)
That’s the story of how I, The Johnny Riggs drank water out of Ken’s mouth on stage in front of 10’s of thousands of humans.
Another time, right in the middle of a breathtakingly strong set (this was the era with Joe Bass and Mike Musburger on skins), I was sitting on one of the private balconies behind the stage, right above it, and heard Ken lean into the microphone and ask for me. They waited until they figured out where I was and gave me time to get there. I had no idea what was happening. They asked me to sit down. Then they all surrounded me and crooned one of the most beautiful versions of “Solar Sister” ever performed.
At least a couple of years later, Ken & girlfriend at the time stayed at my band’s headquarters, the Cinnamon Toasthouse & spent a couple of days playing gigs with Juliana Hatfield, hanging out, and going to see Blonde Redhead live. I have some cool things from that visit. He showed me secret Posies guitar tunings. I discovered that, like me, his favorite Led Zeppelin album is III. I shot a little video of him singing a couple of songs on my couch. Somewhere, they exist. I’ve never seen them, but they exist. Also, at the same time I started shooting with a 3D camera. I have some pretty cool shots of Mr. Stringfellow. (One involves Ken in 3-D, with bleached-blond hair holding two Vanilla Ice dolls to the camera) I don’t have 3D of Ken’s pard’ner, but I also have some photos of the talented Jon Auer, both Polaroid and 35mm.
They’re in my flickr photostream. Well, a couple of Posies shots are. You’ll have to wait for my book of Polaroids coming in the next few months for more shots of the boys, as well as other power pop gods, rock stars you hate and love, ugly nobody’s, beautiful, nobody’s.
If the article above, or just your love of certain songs, made you a fan of the Zombies, I have something cool for you. Firstly, let’s make sure you ARE a fan. Do you LOVE Odyssey and Oracle? I mean, do you realize that it contains some of the most perfect sublime melodies ever constructed by a god blessed with superpowers? Do you have a version with all those extra songs? Did you ever hear Elliott Smith cover Rose/Emily? How about Big Star “Thirteen”?
OKAY OKAY. The point is this: If you really really REALLY love that specific Zombies record, you are absolutely going to wet your behind if you can find a copy of the ORANGE BICYCLE cd compilation. The first couple of songs, about flowers and being stranded on an island should convince you. If I’m wrong, I will take the disc off of your hands. For free!
Once again, it’s always great to meet another Posies freak. They are one of those bands who inspire closeness and camaraderie amongst fans. It’s like I always feel that anyone wise enough to appreciate the beauty, brains, and power i their music, and cool enough to “get” the kind of charisma and playfulness the exude live, especially while singing so perfectly together.
Over the years,we stayed in touch. I would call out of the blue while I was working for XM Satellite radio and just ask him weird questions. And he’s so funny and personable that he’d always make a good guest, even if it had nothing to do with the Posies or his work.
Maybe you can start sending your name, address, and reasons why I should leave you all of my Posies artifacts when I die.
You’ll get videos, both at home and live.
You’ll get quite a collection of vinyl, cds, cassettes…recordings exclusive to our radio station. Full concerts and in-studio recordings and appearances. Things you can’t buy ANYWHERE.
Personal letters and photographs. Many with autographs. Promotional-only Specialty Show Radio Programs.
Other gift-ish items.
If you ever get to know me, you’ll see that one of my worst traits is that I tend to ramble. And talk to much about myself. And run at the mouth. And talk a lot. And have verbal diarrhea. And waste space with my face.
Wow – thanks for the tales of Posie-hood, Johnny.
And as for the Zombies, you might want to take a read of this article about the Zombies to tell me what you think.
Thanks for comments!
Just watched a youtube video of Ken performing BG’s Harry Braff in Tel Aviv. And yes I have the Orange Bicycle cd and it is everything you claim that it is!