20/20: Yellow Pills & Beyond

The late 70s power pop band is still getting “discovered” 40+ years later.

20/20 was an LA-based group with deep Oklahoma roots. Songs like “Yellow Pills” and “Remember The Lightning” from their self-titled debut album have made them a favorite with power pop fans ever since.

Dick Clark’s 1980 American Bandstand interview with 20/20 presents a young band on their way up. Fresh-faced and outfitted in stylish New Wave gear, they have everything a guitar pop group needed to top the charts—chops, looks and killer hooks. The appearance was in support of their self-titled, debut album (Portrait Records, 1979) which has become a cult classic over the last 40 years, constantly being “discovered” by successive power pop generations. This sustained reconsideration is well deserved given flawless songs like “Yellow Pills,” “Cheri,” “Jet Lag” and “Remember The Lighting.”

The conversation with Clark bounces from Chris Silagyi (guitar/keys/vocals) to Steve Allen (guitar/vocals) and his lifelong friend Ron Flynt (bass/vocals), with nods to their smiling second drummer, Joel Turrisi (who replaced co-founder, Mike Gallo). Clark describes the band’s sound as “familiar,” adding that it’s “electric, it moves.” That familiarity (steeped in the British Invasion) and that electricity (driving, melodic songs with punk energy) is a near perfect definition of “power pop.”

This was during the genre’s brief golden era, when the Knack’s meteoric rise (powered by their massive 1979 hit, “My Sharona”) created a feeding frenzy with record labels. It was only a couple of years later that the power pop descriptor would become a “kiss of death” for bands seeking commercial success—but in that moment, the future was bright for 20/20. Interesting then that when pressed to describe their music, a starstruck Allen gropes for the appropriate response: “It’s kind of new music. New pop. New something…it’s kind of third generation rock.” The words “power pop” never cross his lips or maybe even his mind.

There are many reasons why I’ve watched this video several times in the past year. First and foremost, I’m a 20/20 fan. Secondly, I play drums in a band called the Brothers Steve who recently recorded a cover of “Beat City” for the Action Now: 20/20 Re-Envisioned tribute compilation (Futureman Records/Big Stir Records)—an excellent if too often overlooked song written by Silagyi for their second album, Look Out! Probably most importantly, I interviewed Allen and Flynt for my essay, “Yellow Pills (And Other Gateway Drugs),” in the upcoming book I co-edited with Paul Myers, Go Further: More Literary Appreciations of Power Pop (Rare Bird Books, May 2021).

My essay explores the specific history of these two elementary school friends and their LA band’s fascinating Oklahoma roots. The focus is on Allen and Flynt’s early musical influences and experiences, and follows them through the national tours in support of 20/20’s first album. Here’s an Allen quote from my essay: “Our moms started talking and both found out we were learning guitar so they arranged for us to get together and play. How cool looking back. I could play chords and Ron could play melody…We were on our way. Spending the night, watching Beatles cartoons in the morning, and trying to learn how to make music. That just continued on and on through the years.”

And Flynt had this to say about about how it felt making the debut album with his longtime musical partner in crime: “We made the first record at Sound City. We’d drive out there in the late afternoon and drive back into Hollywood early in the morning after having recorded all night. I really loved those drives. We’d talk about the record, girls, movies; it was fun being in a band and doing something important.”

Why 20/20 never enjoyed much commercial success is still a head-scratcher for devoted fans, but the music speaks for itself—and in some ways it’s speaking louder than ever. So if you’re new to 20/20, welcome to the party. And if you’re already among the converted, hopefully this gives you another reason to celebrate a great band that many of us in the power pop community still want more people to know about it.

LA-based writer and drummer. I publish crime novels, and non-fiction essay collections about music. Medium focus: Music, Books, Culture. Twitter: @swlauden

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