Sooner or Later: The great lost power pop song of The Innocents

The song had everything a great 45 should have, including a catchy hook and a strong lead voice delivering

Sooner or Later: The great lost power pop song of The Innocents

Timing is everything in music, isn’t it? I don’t mean whether or not the drummer can keep time, although that matters, obviously, which is one of the reasons that The Beatles brought in Ringo to replace Pete Best. I don’t mean how many beats-per-minute are needed to get you out on the floor either, or how long a record can run without losing radio play, although both of these things matter, too. No, what I am thinking of is that, more than any of these, what matters is the time that you bring your record to market. Get it right, and you ride the zeitgeist to the top of the charts. Get it wrong, and you’re yesterday’s news before you even get started. Which brings me to The Innocents…

“Sooner or Later” is one of the great, lost power pop 45s. Issued, according to various discographies, in June 1980, just as the Australian winter set in, it had everything a great 45 should have: a catchy hook, strong lead voice delivering simple, engaging lyrics, counterpoint vocals, polished harmonies, a tidy guitar riff and an endearing sense of joie de vivre that every band wants to emulate but which very few can manage. The band promoted it on the leading TV music show of the day, Countdown (there is a clip on YouTube, with American visitor Rocky Burnette introducing them), stepping out as a stylishly retrofitted pop outfit whose visual image fitted the music perfectly. Generous radio play followed (not least in their native Tasmania), their pictures appeared in the teen and music press, everything was set for success and yet…

Creeping into the Australian top 100 on 11th August, the record bounced around the lower reaches of the chart for a few months, cresting at # 58 before fading away. How? It absolutely beggars belief that a record this bright, this infectious, this commercial – this good, damn it – failed to find an audience and yet, to all intents and purposes, that’s exactly what happened. Why? In a word – timing.

The band had been around for a few years, originally trading under the name Beathoven, in which guise, complete with top hats and matching suits, they had played the high school circuit and made a bid for glory back in 1978 with “Shy Girl”, another great lost pop single that met a similar fate. Why? You guessed it. Timing. Had they surfaced four years earlier, when the Raspberries were at their peak in the States, or even two years back, when teen scream mania was at its height in Australia (Sherbet, Skyhooks, John Paul Young), they would have been a shoo-in for success but by 1978 the wheel had turned. Punk had shaken things up a little but the big news was the birth of the great Australian pub rock sound, with more aggressive (the Angels), hard-hitting (Cold Chisel) or downright dangerous (Dragon) bands beginning to take over the airwaves. True, there was still a pop market outside of the pubs but that was dominated by the soundtrack from Grease and the growing popularity of disco. Beathoven fell into the gaps and disappeared, re-emerging bigger and better than before as the Innocents in 1980.

Once again though, the timing was wrong. Punk had given way to new wave, but the Beatlesque end of the market had been cornered the year before by the Knack, whose LA power pop had swept the globe before generating a vicious and powerful backlash (remember “Nuke the Knack” T-shirts?). Australian radio was awash with disco and MOR pop – the soundtracks to both Xanadu and the Village People vehicle Can’t Stop the Music were among the year’s best sellers. Neat, tidy, sixties-styled pop songs were nowhere to be heard. It was the dawn of a new decade, and nobody wanted to remember the past. Fast forward a few years, after John Lennon’s murder had reconnected the world with the Beatles, as the Paisley underground went overground and the Monkees revival got underway, the song would have been a natural fit but it was far too late for radio stations to dig it out, if they even remembered it.

Still, the band have never quite given up. A collection of unreleased material appeared in the mid-eighties, and two brand new albums have appeared since 2000, belatedly delivering on the promise of that great, lost single. All that is needed now is for some enterprising advertising executive or film director to pick it up and get it into general circulation and justice will be done. Sooner or later, it has to happen….

Watch The Innocents performing “Sooner or Later” in 1980




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Gareth Jones

Gareth Jones is a music connoisseur and the author of the book "French Pop: from Music Hall to Yé-Yé"

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