new toys cdSay It - New Toys (13th Street Records)

The years 1979-82 were stellar for power-pop, with many pundits looking back with a great deal of affection for bands such as The Knack, the Romantics, Nick Lowe, Greg Kihn, Dwight Twilley and so on. All giants of the genre, with lesser-known acts such as the Shoes, the Records, 20/20 and The Beat also holding their place amongst power pop fans.

Yet there was one band from New York City on par with any of them: New Toys.

New Toys released one album of stupendous, melodic power pop called “Say It” in 1982. Long out of print, it was recently re-issued by 13th Street Records with all songs restored, remixed, and remastered from the original multi-track tapes.

To say the album sounds sonically superb is an understatement. Aside from the original 10 tracks, there are four bonus tunes with the entire package presented in a digipack format with original sleeve artwork. So it looks and sounds amazing.

You can’t talk about the New Toys without talking about the band that came before , the Toys. The Toys played great original pop-punk and formed out of Buffalo, New York in the late 1970s by brothers Kevin K (alias Kevin Starr) on drums and vocals, and Alan K (known as Rocky Starr) on guitar and vocals, after the dissolution of their previous band, Aunt Helen. Joining them were Doug Tyler, (aka Mick Tyler), on vocals and guitar and Joel Slazyk (“Meat Cleaver”) on vocals and bass.

The band’s first gig was at the famous McVan’s Capricorn Club, one of the premier punk venues in Buffalo in the late ‘70s.The band’s popularity grew due their outlandish theatrics, dynamic stage presence and strong original material. Musically – they were like an amalgam of Alice Cooper, the Dead Boys, and The Tubes.

The band gigged relentlessly as momentum built, packing clubs in Buffalo, Toronto, Albany, Fredonia and Rochester. It wasn’t long after they opened up for Pat Benatar at Stage One in Buffalo that local concert promoter Eddie Tice approached them about being their manager. Tice also managed Talas (featuring Billy Sheehan) at that time.

During 1980 and early ‘81, the Toys opened up for such acts as Split Enz, The Romantics, The Tourists, Squeeze, and Bauhaus. (For more Toys stories, pick up a copy of Kevin K’s book “Hey Aunt Helen – Livin’ Fast On The Road to CBGB”.)

By early ‘82 the winds of musical change were blowing hard, ushering in more new wave sounds as the embers of the punk scene began to die out. Despite heavy touring in places like Boston, Cleveland, Detroit, and New York City, the Toys recognised the changing music scene early on and embraced the sound of the oncoming power-pop/new wave era. This ethos was reflected in their 1982 album release, “Say It”.

Though “Say It” maintained some of the band’s signature punk elements with the gritty power pop of the K Brothers, it also leaned into the commercial elements of power pop. Shortly after the album’s release, the band relocated to New York City with their first gig at CBGBs on December 20, 1982.

The group eventually became friends with artists like Dirty Looks, Johnny Thunders, Cheetah Chrome and Iggy Pop, as they began to play regularly at CBGBs, Gildersleeve’s, the Peppermint Lounge, and Zappa’s.

(Again, this is all context about the history of the band and you can find out a stack more at the 13th Street Records website. Kudos to Ted Sterns who has done a simply magnificent job with that website in terms of band history, bios, as well as a wealth of information about Kevin K, the Toys, New Toys and much much more.)

So, onto the album. The first song – the title tune - is an absolute monster. Right out of the blocks – super catchy, short and sharp and a ton of melody. Doug Tyler on vocals, nice break down in the middle, harmonies, this has all the ingredients to make it a timeless pop classic and the new production really adds significantly in terms of lifting the sound.

This is superb, and I’m not the only one who thinks so. Rodney Bingenheimer played this tune on his Underground Radio show only last week – and if it’s good enough for Rodney – that should be all you need to know.

Second tune is “Wrong Side Of You”– all new wave stimuli but very punchy, a great Alan K vocal, super strong chorus and multi layered harmonies. Again, really tight power pop as is “Watchin You”, which is quite possibly my favourite tune on the album. Straight out of the blocks and BAM – locked into the groove, all solid pop/rock foundation with well-placed hooks.

This is a dance floor hit and super radio friendly. How was this not a hit in 1982? Doug Tyler’s highly charged use of rhythm and melody on this tune is stunning. What more can I say except that this is massive.

‘Time Will Tell’ is reminiscent of the Toys’ earlier material, an Alan K vocal and again, super infectious with pop-led hooks. Great harmonica intro too. The brooding “It’s Over” is next, another great Alan and Kevin K tune with Doug Tyler on vocals – albeit more a melancholic bluesy post punk tune driven by jagged guitars and a darker theme.

“Let Me Down” opens with a boisterous Kevin K drum intro and is great post punk with a massive chorus. This was also recently rerecorded by Kevin K and appears on his “Cadallac Man” album from a couple of years back. Timeless.  

Really dig the catchy and clean power pop of “Where Ya Goin’. Man”, Doug Tyler really had it on a string back then in terms of song writing with melodic sensibility. The harder edged “Please Come Home” is another example of the some of the great power-pop he was penning.

I absolutely love the jangle pop of “No Not Again”, another great tune with an emphasis on hook and melody, exuberant new wave that is on par with anything coming out at that time when bands like Blondie and The Cars were riding high. Can you imagine if Mike Chapman had produced this album? That is indeed something to ponder.

The last tune on the album is the snarling punk classic “F.Y.Y.B’”, bassist Joel Slazyk’s signature tune and this still cooks. As a bonus, also included on the CD is the Toys long out-of-print single from 1980, “Livin Fast” and its B side, “I’m Telling You Now’” Again, remastered and sounding superb. Two other tunes were recorded at that same session and are also included here, being “Running Away” and “Instant Suicide”. The second Toys single that never was. These four songs from the Toys are hi-energy heavy pop with a punk edge and sound killer. 

To summarise, on this album the hooks cascade and Doug Tyler and Alan K belt out the tunes with confident expressiveness. Pop roller coasters like the title tune, “Wrong Side Of You” and “Watchin You” illustrate that the band had the songs to go to the next level, with strong melody lines and original catchy chorus’. The tight vocal harmonies are really something else.

The New Toys songs are a glorious pastiche of period pop styles (power pop/punk/ new wave). This remastered version puts both the hooks and the energy up front where they belong, and for sheer power pop exuberance, this album is hard to beat.

More than 40 years after its initial release,”Say It” stands up as an exhilarating power pop LP that has stood the test of time. Theres can be no better testament to the quality of the songs than that. Thanks to 13th Street Records, this killer album is now available again for new ears to discover.

The Say It album is available worldwide via MVD distribution. For purchasing details go to Hi-Fi Hits or 13th Street Records.