In 1977, CBs interfered with radio and TV signals; “Roots” was the highest-rated program ever; “Beatlemania” opened on Broadway, and A.J. Foyt won his fourth Indy 500.
Tim Wheeler, lead singer-guitarist for the power pop trio Ash, was in diapers and listening to lullabies in his native Downpatrick, Northern Ireland.
Little did Wheeler know that 19 years later, Ash would have an album on Reprise Records, titled “1977,” named for the year that the group’s favorite movie, “Star Wars,” was released.
“I’m not obsessed with that period,” Wheeler said during a recent stop in the trio’s U.S. tour with Stabbing Westward, “but I do have an appreciation for the music and the pop culture. There were a lot of good solid pop tunes back then.”
Good pop tunes was what Wheeler and bandmates Mark Hamilton (bass) and drummer Rick “Rock” McMurray were after when they formed Ash in 1989 while their middle school classmates were sweating small stuff like who to go steady with and fretting over who is going to be picked last for intramural basketball teams.
By the time they reached senior year in high school, Ash’s 7-inch version of “Jack Names the Planets” earned them wide airplay throughout Britain and an international deal with Infectious Records. More singles followed – “Petrol” and “Uncle Pat” – and a mini-album, “Trailer,” soon turned into a full-fledged disc by the same name for Reprise in the United States. A U.K. tour with Elastica opened more doors.
Just before they received their final exams, Ash members recorded their blistering EP “Girl From Mars.” That title track appears on “1977” and recently was issued as the followup U.S. single to the brilliant, T. Rex-ish “Goldfinger.”
Still not old enough to drink beer in nightclubs, Ash members have crisscrossed the states to broaden their alternative-rock appeal.
“We’re slowly but surely starting to turn people around,” Wheeler said. “This album isn’t exploding yet, but who knows, anything can happen.
“It takes a lot of touring to get the word out, and I think when people see us live, they understand what we’re all about.”
Playing to a few dozen fans recently in Salt Lake City didn’t dampen their spirits. Memories of soldout shows in Europe, Japan and Australia keep them going.
“I’m just glad it’s gotten this far,” Wheeler said. “I can still remember us just wanting to start a band. We had raided a friend’s record catalog and listened to everything from Neil Young to Frank Sinatra, and we went from there. And here I am now, going into Reprise’s offices and they’re letting us go home with freebie CDs from some of those artists. It’s a real good feeling.”
Ash hooks up with Weezer in a few weeks, then hopefully they will be home for the holidays, Wheeler said. Afterward, they will settle down to plot their next album.
“All I know is, it’s definitely going to be a better album,” he said. “The songwriting will be stronger. We’ve learned a lot over the past year. We’re playing better, and I think that will be reflected in the music on the next album.”
BWF (before we forget): The band performed the title track from the film “A Life Less Ordinary” in the fall of 1997.