The Pooh Sticks were rock's most inside joke, a monumental yet affectionate prank on the very mythology of pop music itself. Cloaked behind ridiculously overblown marketing schemes, made-up histories, and cartoon-character images, the Welsh group punctured the industry's myriad excesses, freely pilfering from the entirety of pop's past by shoplifting titles, lyrics, and melodies at will; wrapping their barbs in cotton-candy singalongs, their subversions worked on many levels -- postmodern cultural criticism, retro-irony, slavish imitation, and power pop manna among them -- to forge an identity as high concept as it was lowbrow.
The Pooh Sticks were ostensibly led by frontman Hue Pooh (born Hue Williams), who in October 1987 teamed with Swansea-area schoolmates Paul, (guitar), Alison (bass), Trudi Tangerine (keyboards), and Stephanie (drums) -- no last names, please -- and debuted with the single "On Tape," a witty jab at indie rock fan boy mentality released on manager/svengali Steve Gregory's Fierce label. (In actuality, Gregory was the real mastermind behind the Pooh Sticks, writing, arranging, and producing their records, designing their cover artwork, and even choreographing their live performances.) Alan McGee -- an ironically lavish box set comprised entirely of one-sided singles including the famed "I Know Someone Who Knows Someone Who Knows Alan McGee Quite Well," a nod to the Creation Records chief -- followed in 1988.
The Pooh Sticks EP, a streamlined collection of the box set material, appeared later in 1988, trailed by Orgasm, a set "recorded live...in Trudi Tangerine's basement" including the wonderful "Indie Pop Ain't Noise Pollution." The 1989 mock-bootleg Trademark of Quality was next, compiling live material from a pair of recent club dates including a cover of the Vaselines' "Dying for It" as well as an early rendition of the group's semi-original "Young People." In 1990, they even finally recorded a proper studio LP, Formula One Generation.
In 1991, the Pooh Sticks added Talulah Gosh and Heavenly vocalist Amelia Fletcher to their ranks; the resulting LP, The Great White Wonder, was their masterpiece, a collection of ace pop songs built entirely around other people's ideas, from the Neil Young "Powderfinger" guitar solo at the heart of "The Rhythm of Love" to the liberal use of Stephen Stills' "Love the one you're with" credo right down to the record's title, borrowed from a legendary Bob Dylan bootleg. 1993's sublime Million Seller took the same path; 1995's Optimistic Fool was the Pooh Sticks' swan song. ~ Jason Ankeny