Unpopular Opinion: Katrina & the Waves Picked Up Where The Pretenders Left Off
Back in the ’80s, people made music with instruments.
It might surprise you to hear this, but I take far greater pleasure in talking up bands than shitting all over your personal favorite. It’s far more fun to interact with people who either already share a love of, for example, Gordon Lightfoot or who discover that yes, Virginia, Hall and Oates might be the best musical act of the last 40 years. I eagerly look forward to interacting with those who have the good taste to understand just how eminently listenable and fun this week’s target of my love letter is:
Katrina and the Waves.
Sure, they sound like a store-brand Pretenders, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. After the third Pretenders record, someone needed to pick up where they left off. Cue Katrina and the Waves, formerly The Waves, formerly Mama’s Cookin’.
Like The Pretenders, they were Anglo-American, with members from both sides of the Atlantic. Like The Pretenders, they have a stunning lady singer who can actually sing (as opposed to what Chrissie Hynde once derisively called “belting” and “screeching”) and a rock-solid rhythm section with a bass that totally cooks. And like The Pretenders, they're known by the masses for a single mega-hit but have an outstanding catalog worth checking out.
Allow me to point you in the direction of Katrina and the Waves. The American release from which the band’s smash hit “Walking on Sunshine” is culled — a beast of a song, by the way — most of the tracks are rerecorded or overdubbed versions of older songs from Katrina and the gang. I think they beat the originals, mostly because I favor decent production over something that sounds like it was recorded in a cave. Your mileage may vary.
“Red Wine and Whiskey” is a lovely, dark and brooding tune that introduces you to the band. At their core, they’re just a bar band who got a record contract. In my estimation, that’s some of the highest praise I can give. (See also: Faces, Bob Seger, The Band.) The best bands are the ones who get just how rich a mine basic rock & roll is. After that we’ve got what might be the chief scorcher of the album, “Do You Want Crying.” I defy you to listen to this track without a little bit of air guitaring.
There’s the elephant in the room, of course, “Walking on Sunshine.” You’ve heard it 10,001 times, in film soundtracks, at baseball games, on the radio. You know why? Because it’s a great track. Some songs you’ve heard a million times and never need to hear again (“Smells Like Teen Spirit,” for example), while others just get better every time (“The Boys Are Back in Town,” anyone?). “Walking on Sunshine” falls into the latter category. If I could have one song play every time I entered a room for the rest of my life, I pick this one.
“The Game of Love” is a standout, the classic “she don’t know how to rock & roll but I love her anyway” track, this time told from the girl’s perspective. “Machine Gun Smith” has a touch of ’80s dance pop in it, but don’t let that deter you. It’s a rocking good track and possibly the song that sounds the most like The Pretenders.
Listen, my apologies from Katrina and the Waves for relying so heavily upon the Pretenders comparison here. I’m sure they were tired of it 30 years ago and that it hasn’t made them any happier as the years have progressed. What I’m basically saying here is that if you like The Pretenders as much as I do and you’re looking for a band who do what they did at their peak, check out Katrina and the Waves. It’s a damn shame they’re widely perceived as a one-hit-wonder band. They deserve more.
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