20/20 – 20/20-Look Out

January 01, 1970

(Epic/Real Gone Music)





At first glance, 20/20 is one of many power pop acts swept up in the usual major label signing frenzy
whenever a representative of a certain style takes the charts by storm. Unlike
the Knack, who kicked open the door to the short-lived top 40 revival of
Beatles/Kinks/Who guitar melodicism in 1979, the Tulsa-to-L.A. transplants had released an
indie single (“Giving It All”) on legendary tastemaker Greg Shaw’s Bomp! label
in 1978, and the band was already prepping the release of its major label debut
when “My Sharona” was topping the charts. And what a debut it is. Tightly
arranged and energetically performed, the brash “Yellow Pills” and the blazing
“Remember the Lightning” stand as the best-known tracks, and deservedly so. But
they’re hardly the only gems on offer: the soaring “Cheri,” the bittersweet
“Leaving Your World Behind,” the rollicking “Tonight We Fly,” the bristling
“Action Now” and the plaintive “Tell Me Why” just as thoroughly show off the
band’s talents for tight harmonies, inventive arrangements (kudos also to
producer Earle Mankey) and, most importantly, memorable tunes.  In a genre where artists tend to have one
classic tune and a bunch of pleasant filler, 20/20 stands as a landmark: a LP packed with potential hit singles.


Released in 1981, Look
, 20/20’s second and final album for a major corporation, suffers from a
lack of cohesion – despite the preponderance of collaborative writing, it
sounds as if the unified vision that made the first LP so powerful has
fractured. The stomping “Nuclear Boy” contrasts widely with the brittle “Out of
My Head,” while the sweetly tuneful “A Girl Like You” sits uneasily beside the
angular “Alien.” “Life in the U.S.A.”
nods to rootsy bar band rock & roll, while “The Night I Heard a Scream”
puts a dark spin on the Byrds’ chiming folk rock. “American Dream” dives into
the synth pop that was beginning to infiltrate the charts during the New Wave. All
of these are fine songs, mind you, but they sometimes diverge so much the
record sounds like a various artists compilation – more White Album than Revolver, in other words. Trading a lot
of the personal politics that drove the debut for a more worldly (and worried)
outlook, the quartet creates a collection of songs, most of which are
individually striking, rather than a statement of purpose.  


This two-fer reissue includes “Childs Play” and “People in
Your Life,” a pair of excellent Look Out B-sides never before digitized, as well as liner notes that delineate the story
of the band and these two records. Leaders Steve Allen and Ron Flynt are still
active, both together and separately, keeping faith with melody-driven rock
& roll.



Pills,” “Remember the Lightning,” “Alien” MICHAEL TOLAND

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