Desert Island Singles: “Too Late” by Shoes (1979)Posted: July 29, 2014
“At a time when major labels were trying to figure out what punk and new wave could provide, Shoes just found a perfect balance.” – Ned Raggett, Allmusic
If 1966 was the best year ever for rock’n’roll, as I’ve often said, then 1979 was quite possibly the second-best. For one brief shining moment the (ironically) tone-deaf music and radio industries weren’t stuck-on-stupid, and instead of their customary weaksauce they embraced and promoted power pop. And temporarily the airwaves were awash in jangling guitars, chimey power chords, and three-minute pop songs. Yes, kids, good and inventive music was actually popular. It was fated not to last, for reasons I’ve theorized before, but what a great run it was.
Shoes was formed in 1974 in Zion, Illinois by high school friends Gary Klebe and brothers John and Jeff Murphy. They decided to form a band after graduation, though at the time none of the guys knew how to play an instrument. Not really uncommon, so each picked one to learn. Within a year the three got back together to rehearse, and in 1977 recorded their first DIY album and single on a four-track recorder in Jeff’s living room. It must have worked out okay, because Shoes has been recording great power pop for thirty-seven years since.
The group signed to Elektra Records in April 1979 and released their first major label album “Present Tense” that September. Recorded in England, the album peaked at number 50 on the Billboard 200; “Too Late” reached number 75 on the Billboard Hot 100. Four videos, including “Too Late,” were in hot rotation on MTV in its beginning days a couple of years later.
It’s “Shoes,” by the way, not “The Shoes” as some Elektra releases billed them. According to John: “I guess Shoes just sounded right, like ‘look at those cool shoes’ or ‘where are my shoes?’ It was like Sparks or Wings or Faces or even Big Star. The first time we heard the ‘the’ was from a writer. We winced and corrected him: ‘No, no… it’s just Shoes.’ The Shoes just rubbed us wrong.”
“Too Late” is classic late-70s power pop. “A lesson in power pop dynamics,” according to reviewer Perry M. Koons. “Even when the guitars kick in and start crunching on the chorus, the vocals stay soft and sweet.”
Economic forces and a return to stuck-on-stupid would soon steer the music and radio industries back toward their usual weaksauce. But just like in 1966, great music was both happening and popular in 1979 and Shoes were part of it. A Desert Island Single to be sure.