What is Power Pop music?
It is songs characterized and dominated by catchy guitar riffs, sometimes led by piano or organ, filled with vocal harmonies, and stick-in-your-head melodies that usually come in at around three minutes. Although this hybrid style is usually considered to be a Sixties invention, I feel the first inspiration and earliest example of this sound came from Buddy Holly and The Crickets. Holly's blend of melodic singing and playing with the power of a rock 'n' roll combo, forged the foundation for the American and English groups who idolized him. Following his death, there was a gap of five or six years before the same elements would combine again and produce a new strain of pop/rock.
Beginning in about 1964 through late 1966 a group of primarily, but not exclusively, British pop artists took the influences they had from artists in the previous decade or two, and combined it with the power of Rock to create Power Pop music. From the traditional Pop styles of the 1920's-1950's, contemporary Folk, Country, Blues, Soul, Eastern, English Music Hall sounds, and many others, a fusion occurred and something new emerged. This new sound was hard to pigeonhole, but easy to recognize. The immediate sound was appealing to radio programmers and listeners alike, so naturally much of the output was aimed directly at the Top Forty. But even albums, heretofore a repository for mostly unlistenable leftovers, were being filled with these tasty morsels. Thanks in large part to the development of this style, listeners got more than their money's worth with the creation of these "classic" albums and singles of the Rock era.
The Beatles certainly have the top spot in the development of this sound. Although their style is far broader than any single tag, songs like "We Can Work It Out", "Day Tripper", "Ticket To Ride", "Rain", and "Paperback Writer" are blueprints for perfect Power Pop songwriting. And, when groups like The Rolling Stones and The Yardbirds weren't clinging tenaciously to their purist Blues roots, they made some nice Pop tracks themselves. The Kinks were at once the most devoutly British and most primal in their approach, and have an eclectic catalogue to substantiate that. Record Producers like Mickey Most and Andrew Loog Oldham, in an effort to emulate both George Martin and Phil Spector, held forth with svengali like power over their artists trying to continue an unbroken chain of golden Pop hits. But, probably more than any other 60's group, The Who shaped the Power Pop idiom by honing this style for their particular instrumentation, coining the term "Power Pop" in the process. During the British Blues Boom and the advent of "heavy" bands at the end of the decade, even groups like Cream, and The Jimi Hendrix Experience off-set their images with some very pop sounding tracks, while many one-hit-wonder groups continued to issue noteworthy records.
Following the lead of these bands, the groups of the early 1970's expanded and truly defined the form of Power Pop. This brief proliferation of groups and solo artists is largely considered Power Pop's Golden Age. But once again, by the end of the decade, popular music had become ponderous and heavy. It took the industry shake-up from Punk and later New Wave to open the way for a new interest in Power Pop music. And, many of the artists labeled as Punk or more especially, New Wave, such as Nick Lowe, and The Pretenders owed more to Power Pop than razor blades and safety pins. So, the 1980's began as a bright hope for pop groups, but a lack of leadership or direction seemed to dissipate any concentrated new "invasion". By 1985, most, but not all of the new pop sensations were either absorbed by the mainstream or fell by the wayside. For the remainder of the decade, Power Pop would only resurface sporadically. The dawn of the 1990's spawned a type of Power Pop all its own, some of which has endured to this writing. And with the approach of the end of this decade, there is bound to be yet another chapter written in this long saga.
There are many ups and downs in tracing the lineage of this mongrel style, and at times, it seems to disappear altogether. But, the true story of Power Pop is best told through the groups whose names are not listed here. The hundreds of like-minded artists that don't get signed or make a big dent in the music industry wall are the stalwarts of this or any genre of music. Their perseverance in the face of Heavy Metal, Disco, or Grunge continues the sometimes-slim thread that connects them with groups like the ones listed below, and helps fill in the gaps in between. For the large underground of musicians and fans alike that continually search everywhere to get their dose of Power Pop, securing a well-deserved place in Rock history for this music is an important and necessary task.
The underground of enthusiasts is growing every day, and with festivals like Poptopia and Monsters of Pop along with the daily outpouring of great new music, the word "Pop" will be restored to its best usage.
Here are some the better known names that have contributed to the world of Power Pop Music:
- 60's Beatles, Rolling Stones, Kinks, Who, Yardbirds, DC5, Byrds, Donovan, Left Banke, Nazz, Move
- 70's Badfinger, Raspberries, Todd Rundgren, T-Rex, 10cc, Supertramp, Squeeze, ELO, Cheap Trick, Nick Lowe, Dave Edmunds, Elvis Costello, Tom Petty, Pretenders, Knack, Records, Shoes, Romantics
- 80's Blondie, Cars, Producers, Marshall Crenshaw, Plimsouls, Greg Kihn, Hoodoo Gurus, Replacements, Smithereens, Rembrandts, Go Go's, Bangles, Crowded House
- 90's Jellyfish, Phish, Goo Goo Dolls, Posies, Matthew Sweet, Teenage Fanclub, Wallflowers, Gin Blossoms,
Plus many more to come!
If you want to know more, I'd be happy to send you in some new and exciting directions.
-- Chuck Yoakum - The Raves