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Tuesday, February 2, 2010

What is Power Pop?



So I've christened February "Power Pop Month", but what the hell do I mean when I use the term? Just so you know where I'm coming from, I'll define it for you. Your definition might be totally different by the way, and that's fine.

While I believe that Power Pop actually arrived in the 70's, I think all of Power Popdom has it's roots in the three B's of the 1960's (Beatles, Beach Boys and Byrds) plus the Kinks and the Who. However, that's not nearly enough. What about the 50s influence of Buddy Holly and pre-war Elvis (Dave Edmunds)? Or the Girl Group sound of the 60's (Blondie)? Or classic R&B (The Nerves)? Really tough to peg it down but here's what I look for:

Mandatory: Hooks, melody, guitars (I'll make an exception for Ben Folds), sing-along choruses, power chords, harmony background vocals, and simple verse-chorus-verse structure.

Optional but recommended: Hand claps, boy-girl vocals, boy-loses-girl theme or boy-wants-girl theme (preferably with said girl's name in title of song).

Whenever I put together a Power Pop compilation, I struggle with differentiating certain styles of Pop. In particular, there are many similarities between Garage, Glam, Punk and Power Pop. I can't put it into words, it's just a gut reaction: "Yes this fits!" or "No that would be better on some other type of compilation."

When I think of Power Pop, I immediately think of these bands (in loose chronological order):

Badfinger, Big Star, Raspberries, Cheap Trick, Flamin' Groovies, Shoes, 20/20, Romantics, Records, Real Kids, Shoes, The Knack, Tom Petty, Dwitght Twilley/Phil Seymour, Stamey/Holsapple, Nick Lowe/Dave Edmunds/Rockpile/the Rumour, The Nerves, Jack Lee, Paul Collins, Plimsouls, the Toms, Barracudas, Replacements, Bangles, Spongetones, Hoodoo Gurus, Smithereens, Lemonheads, Cavedogs, Material Issue, Richard X. Heyman, Matthew Sweet, Teenage Fanclub, Superdrag, Pernice Brothers, Sloan, Posies, Velvet Crush, Fountains of Wayne, Brendon Benson. . . That's a good representation, I think.

Here is a smattering of some of my favorite Power albums (mostly from the 70's because that's what I've been listening to most over the last few weeks):

Badfinger, Their entire discograpy.
The Rasberries, Their entire discograpy
Cheap Trick, All of their 70's records.
Emmit Rhodes, Emmitt Rhodes (1970).
Big Star, #1 Record (1972) & Radio City (1974)
Blue, Blue (1973)
The Shivvers, Lost Hits from Milwaukee's First Family of Power Pop: 1979-82 (2006).
The Nerves, The Nerves EP (1976).
Joe Jackson, Look Sharp! (1979) and I'm the Man (1980).
Greg Kihn, Greg Kihn (1976) and Greg Kihn Again (1977).
Pezband, Pezband (1977)
Off Broadway, On (1979).
The Last, L.A. Explosion! (1979).
Squeeze, Cool For Cats (1979).
Dwight Twilley Band, Sincerely (1976) and Twilley Don't Mind (1977).
Milk'n'Cookies, Milk'n'Cookies (1975)
Phil Seymour, Phil Seymour (1980).
The Real Kids, The Real Kids (1977).
Tom Petty, Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers (1976) or pretty much any TP release!
The Diodes, first two albums conveniently on one CD: Tired of Waking Up Tired: The Best of the Diodes (1998).
Chris Bell, I Am the Cosmos (1992 but recorded circa late 70s).
Flamin' Groovies, All three of the Chris Wilson era albums (1976-1979).
The Boys, Alternative Chartbusters (1979).
The Hudson Brothers, Totally Out of Control (1974).
Bram Tchaikovsky, Strange Man, Changed Man (1979).
The Rubinoos, The Rubinoos (1977).
The Scruffs, Wanna Meet the Scruffs? (1977) and the unreleased until 1998 follow-up Teenage Gurls.
The Barracudas, Drop Out With the Barracudas (1981).
The Tourists, The Tourists (1979).
Grin, 1 + 1 (1972).
Nick Lowe, Jesus of Cool (1978), Labour of Lust (1979) and Nick the Knife (1982).
Richard Lloyd, Alchemy (1979).
20/20, 20/20 (1979) and Lookout! (1981).
The Toms, The Toms (1979)
The Plimsouls, The Plimsouls (1981) and Everywhere at Once (1983).

Apologies to the ones I've forgotten.

So, you may be thinking to yourself, is there any bad Power Pop? I suppose there is, but I probably wouldn't call it Power Pop at that point. I reserve the term for bands or songs I like (it's all subjective). For the most part-- and I've sifted through many mediocre records-- I can find at least a gem or two from any so-called, seminal Power Pop band or album. If I had to pick one that has never really clicked though, it would have to be Enuff Z'Nuff. There's your task. Convince me that Enuff Z'Nuff is worthy of inclusion on any list of Power Pop Goodness.

4 comments:

Curty Ray said...

Hear Hear!!

Jim H. said...

Totally looking forward to your Power Pop month.

I tend to agree with your definition. On my iTunes, I have approx. 12,000 songs I've labeled Power Pop. Only about 100-200 are rated one star or two stars. Simply by being a Power Pop song (by my def.) usually gets you a three. Having a Rickenbacker automatically gets you a four, and a twelve-string Rick pretty much guarantees you a five.

Indeed, melody is key.

I have trouble differentiating b/w, let's say, songs labeled Alternative (some) or Indie Pop (most) or Brit Pop (all) or Jangle Pop (all) songs. It's truly subjective.

Best,
Jim H.

Maximum Jack said...

12,000 Power Pop Songs!! I hope you'll be able to find something here you haven't heard. Thanks for stopping by.

Ralph Alfonso said...

New Diodes vinyl coming Feb 15.
http://www.raveuprecords.com/