Listen to this track by former member of pub rockers The Motors and power pop proponent in his own right Bram Tchiakovsky, also the name of the band. It’s “Girl Of My Dreams”, a minor hit as featured on his 1979 solo album Strange Man, Changed Man.
The track scored attention on both sides of the Atlantic, with a sort of stylistic reversal at work. By that I mean that Bram Tchaikovsky was a British musician, playing American-style power pop, a style which had been influenced in turn by British musicians in the ’60s.
Influences in rock music had become pretty permeable by the end of the Seventies in that way, with an incredible and seemingly simultaneous shift back to the musical basics on both sides of the pond that made rock music so vital in the first place; hooks, lyrics that spoke to the experiences of an audience, and a simple is best approach to everything, from solos, to arrangements, to production.
All of that can be found here in this unassuming pop song. So where did it come from?
Bram Tchaikovsky was born Peter Bramall in Lincolnshire, on the scene by the end of the ’60s and into the early ’70s just in time for the burgeoning pub rock scene in Britain. In some ways, the pub rock movement in England was something of a forerunner to punk rock. This had not much to do with similarities in the music of course. But, some of the basic philosophical tenets were the same; back to basics, no flashy endless soloing, and with an emphasis on songs designed to have some resonance with a club (or pub) audience attending a live show. Overall, it was a counter current to prog rock, and later to stadium rock , bringing rock music down to a more human scale.
That’s the tradition out of which this song comes, feeding a certain strain of rock music that fed what became known as new wave. Other songwriters would build upon many of the same influences, and have greater success in the long-term, with Squeeze, Joe Jackson, and Nick Lowe being good examples. But, this song represents a high artistic watermark in that strain, even though it is pretty unassuming, thematically speaking.
And once again, it acknowledges an American influence in a genre that was inspired initially by British musicians, which is an interesting turnaround with a “Born To Run” as played by Blondie-sans-Debbie Harry sort of feel to it. Indeed, this song is about an American girl, a classic power-pop fantasy figure who may not exist anywhere but in the narrator’s mind, and inspired by the pages of a magazine one can receive by U.S Mail. Fantasy girls and power pop go hand in hand, of course, along with male protagonists that range from the shy, to the lonely, to the nervous, to the downright creepy. You decide what kind of narrator you’ve got here.
But, either way, those aforementioned philosophical tenets remain when it comes to the songwriting and presentation you’re hearing here; this is something that an audience could relate to, dealing as it does with fantasy, longing, and loneliness all at once. Those are pretty enduring themes, even if Bram Tchiakovsky, the band and the guy, would disappear from the charts and from the music business by 1981 as pub rock-inspired new wave was beginning to show signs of being past its sell-by date for many fellow songwriters as the 1980s progressed.
For more information about this song, check out this interview with the song’s writer, Ronnie Thomas, also a one-time member of another pub rock band Heavy Metal Kids with a version of their own featured on their 2003 comeback album Hit The Right Button.
And to find out more about Bram Tchaikovsky (the guy and the band) have a read of this article that talks about his career and his later album Funland.