I've got an old powerpop-obsessed coworker to thank for turning me on to Van Duren. The guy had forgotten more about 60's and 70's folk, psych, powerpop, and rock than I'll ever know. I picked up a lot from him, which will likely filter into these entries pretty often.
Out of all the obscurities that found their way into my record collection (and, let's be honest, my iPod) during that time, I think Van Duren is a personal favorite. Forgotten now, he came out of the Memphis powerpop scene in the early 70's. He was initially in a band with Big Star's drummer, and went on to form the Baker Street Regulars, who were around in '76 or so. I think the pinnacle of his work, though, is the fantastic record Are You Serious? (or Staring at the Ceiling in Europe), which was recorded and released in 1978 after he moved to New England. He released one more solo record after this, but Are You Serious? is solid gold from front to back. He's still around, located in Memphis, and still plays shows.
Van Duren - Grow Yourself Up
This song, the fifth track off of Are You Serious?, draws immediate comparison to Nilsson. I'm hearing a little of the aforementioned Badfinger (circa Wish You Were Here) right off the bat, too...it's probably the bouncy piano that carries most of the melody. There's a fantastic wave of melancholy that comes at a point about a minute into the song where everything but the piano drops off. I like powerpop with hints of bitterness (or large helpings of it - see Joe Jackson's early stuff). It's one of the more upbeat tracks on the record, although it's also one of the most lyrically acidic. The vocal and overly noisy guitar freakout at the end are pretty fantastic, and a bit beyond the boundaries Costello, Lowe, Jackson, and his other contemporaries would set for themselves. You can tell this guy had more than a little love for the massive, squalling, T.Rex side of glam/powerpop.
After this album, and the followup Idiot Optimism that was recorded in 1978-1979 but remained unreleased until 1999, Duren returned from the New England area to Memphis and performed in the band Good Question from 1981-1999. As mentioned previously, he still plays shows under his solo moniker in and around Memphis.