In our weekly MKE Music Rewind, we revisit a notable Milwaukee song that was released before Milwaukee Record became a thing in April 2014.
It’s sometimes said that the Midwest rocks the hardest. That may or may not be true, but one thing’s for sure: the Midwest has a strong affinity for power pop. The genre has maintained a cult following since its birth, particularly here in Milwaukee. Through the magic of radio airwaves, power pop’s slick, infectious melodies made their way to the shores of Lake Michigan and haven’t left since. Even the most casual local music listener can’t deny the genre’s enduring influence in the Milwaukee music community.
Power pop’s resilience in Milwaukee should come as no surprise. During the genre’s short-lived peak, Milwaukee was home to a band that should have been crowned power pop royalty. Though their popularity may pale in comparison to their power pop peers, The Shivvers continue to hold a special place in the heart of Milwaukee music lovers young and old.
If you Google “The Shivvers Milwaukee,” many of the search results on the first page include the word “lost.” The Shivvers undoubtedly had both talent and charm, but they never achieved the same success as Cheap Trick, Paul Collins’ Beat, and other ’80s power pop bands. They found little fame outside of Milwaukee, and they remain one of those “lost” bands that lacked the resources to achieve mainstream success. Their Midwestern stomping grounds left the band in the wrong place at the right time.
The Shivvers have never been “lost” in Milwaukee, especially among those who consider themselves Milwaukee music history buffs. I stumbled upon The Shivvers a few years ago, in the midst of a hyper-obsessive power pop phase. My love for the genre began with Big Star, another “forgotten” band who have only recently began to receive the attention they never got during their 1970s heyday. I was inclined to check out Big Star after hearing The Replacements’ loving tribute to the band’s frontman, a single aptly titled “Alex Chilton.”
Honestly, power pop is hard not to fall in love with. It’s rock and roll with pop music sensibility, guitar riffs and drum beats you can dance to until your feet hurt. I was instantly smitten with The Shivvers, especially with frontwoman Jill Kossoris. I watched countless Shivvers performances on YouTube as I danced around my bedroom. I was elated to discover a rare female-fronted power pop band from my very own city. How could I not be enamored?
I was fortunate enough to interview Kossoris last winter, and I can wholeheartedly say it was one of the highlights of my “Milwaukee-based freelance culture writer” career. Kossoris told me that if the band would have been able to record a second album, their sound would have become similar to “Remember Tonight,” the final track off their first (and only) LP.
“Remember Tonight” is noticeably different from the 11 other songs off of The Shivvers. The track’s drum beat is remarkably similar to the iconic drumbeat from The Ronettes’ 1963 track “Be My Baby.” Though that beat has been imitated hundreds—maybe thousands—of times, it sounds brand new behind Kossoris’ sweet, striking voice. The song features haunting harmonies and melodic keyboard arrangements that move much more smoothly than the rest of the album’s poppy tunes. It’s still power pop, but it’s slower and darker. It’s kind of spooky.
Even though The Shivvers’ greatest hits are “Teen Line” and “No Substitute,” I find “Remember Tonight” to be the most memorable track in the band’s small discography. Given their longstanding reputation as a “lost” band, it’s hard not to imagine what the group’s second, third, or fourth album could have sounded like. “Remember Tonight” was a glimpse into the band’s nonexistent future, an open-ended journey into what could have been. We’ll never know what The Shivvers could have accomplished, but we do have one legendary album that we’ll always remember.