Most bands start out trying to bang their songs together in someone’s living room, but Shoes certainly made more of that experience than most people. Jeff Murphy, Gary Klebe, and John Murphy were three pop obsessives from Zion, IL, who bought a four-track, found a drummer (Skip Meyer), and started putting songs on tape in Murphy’s living room with all the care their primitive circumstances would allow. While the results were intended to be used only as a demo, Black Vinyl Shoes eventually attracted the attention of PVC Records, who gave the homemade set a nationwide release; the album’s positive press eventually earned the band a major-label deal. Like their contemporaries and kindred spirits the Scruffs, Shoes were one of the few interesting pop bands to emerge in the mid- to late ’70s who were very obviously not new wave; Shoes were pop classicists in the manner of the Beatles and the Raspberries, and if their low-tech recording setup dictated a leaner and more basic approach than the Fab Four, the thick guitar lines, smooth backing harmonies, and trickier-than-they-sound melodic structures made it clear their back-to-basic style was a nod to past rock glories as much as a call to jangly arms. But Shoes also had their own set of quirks to bring to the table (again like the Scruffs, Shoes had an unusual perspective on the male/female relationship), and there’s an understated, off-kilter wit to songs like “Tragedy,” “Do You Wanna Get Lucky?,” and “Capital Gains” that’s as delicious as the band’s rich, satisfying songcraft. Black Vinyl Shoes is an album whose somewhat primitive production actually works in its favor; with 15 tunes to record and only four tracks on hand, Shoes made a record that was about melodies, hooks, and harmonies, and the result was an album that helped kick start the ’80s pop revival — and still sounds fine almost a quarter of a century later. [Mark Deming]
The first of Shoes’ three Elektra albums, Present Tense is almost a happy accident in ways not that the band hadn’t already shown its particular approach beautifully with earlier efforts, but at a time when major labels were trying to figure out what punk and new wave could provide, Shoes just found a perfect balance. Recorded in England and co-produced by the band, Present Tense didn’t end up sounding like a Cheap Trick clone, had a winsome, cool air thanks to the brilliant harmonies that distinguished the group from the Knack, and in the end traded off power and wistfulness in equal measure. The harmonies in particular are just lovely — as distinct and band-defining as those of the Beach Boys — on songs like “Too Late,” “Three Times,” and “Your Very Eyes.” Gary Klebe and Jeff Murphy have enough crunch and sting in their guitars to add some downright swagger to things — check out the glammish kick of “Hangin’ Around With You” and the combination soar and snarl of “Now and Then” while keeping an eye on economy throughout. The fragile acoustic lead on “Every Girl” provides an especially striking dimension to the song. The punch of Skip Meyer’s drums adds further heft, John Murphy’s bass also can cut through the mix — the introduction to “In My Arms Again” and “I Don’t Miss You” in particular showcases both nicely. Much of the sound of the album finds a sound that could easily be called timeless — it’s inspired by the past but sets a template that so many groups would follow in the future. [Ned Raggett]
First two and best albums of american power pop icons the Shoes. It’s a power pop wet dream, a must for new wave popsters!