Power pop is a popular musical genre that draws its inspiration from 1960s British and American pop and rock music. It typically incorporates a combination of musical devices such as strong melodies, clear vocals and crisp vocal harmonies, economical arrangements and prominent guitar riffs. Instrumental solos are usually kept to a minimum, and blues elements are largely downplayed.
Recordings tend to display production values that lean toward compression and a forceful drum beat. Instruments usually include one or more electric guitars, an electric bass guitar, a drum kit and sometimes electric keyboards or synthesizers.
While its cultural impact has waxed and waned over the decades, power pop is among rock's most enduring subgenres.
- 2 Formative years: mid-1960s through the early 1970s
- 3 Commercial peak: late 1970s to early 1980s
- 4 Contemporary power pop: 1980s to 2000s
- 5 Festival bills
- 6 Books and internet resources
- 7 Notable power pop singles
- 8 References
- 9 External links
Author John M. Borack has stated in his book the genre is often been applied to varied groups and artists with "blissful indifference" noting incorrect labeling of the genre to Britney Spears, Green Day, The Bay City Rollers and Def Leppard.
Writing for Allmusic, John Dougan described the genre's origins:
The musical sourcepoint for nearly all power pop is The Beatles. Virtually all stylistic appropriations begin with them: distinctive harmony singing, strong melodic lines, unforgettable guitar riffs, lyrics about boys and girls in love; they created the model that other power poppers copied for the next couple of decades. Other profound influences include The Who, The Kinks and The Move, bands whose aggressive melodies and loud distorted guitars put the "power" in power pop.
Pete Townshend of The Who coined the term "power pop" in a 1967 interview in which he said: "Power pop is what we play—what the Small Faces used to play, and the kind of pop The Beach Boys played in the days of 'Fun, Fun, Fun' which I preferred." The Beatles and The Byrds, along with The Who, The Small Faces and The Beach Boys, are often cited as the progenitors of power pop.Influential British rock band The Kinks in 1965
The Who, inspired by the melodicism of The Beatles and the driving rhythms of American R&B, released several songs—"I Can't Explain", "The Kids Are Alright", "Substitute", "I'm a Boy" and "Happy Jack"—in their early mod phase (1965–1966) that can be considered the first true power pop songs. These songs are propelled by Keith Moon's aggressive drumming and Pete Townshend's distinctive power chords, and have strong melodies and euphonic harmonies.
Pete Townshend coined the phrase to define what The Who did. For some reason, it didn't stick to The Who, but it did stick to these groups that came out in the '70s that played kind of melodic songs with crunchy guitars and some wild drumming. It just kind of stuck to us like glue, and that was okay with us because The Who were among our highest role models. We absolutely loved The Who.
The Beatles released similar-sounding singles such as "Paperback Writer" and "Day Tripper" in 1965–66, as well as guitar-driven but melodic album tracks such as "And Your Bird Can Sing". However, four years before the term "power pop" was coined, The Beatles were already recording pop hits that some have retroactively classified as power pop, including "From Me to You", "She Loves You", "I Want to Hold Your Hand" and "Can't Buy Me Love".
Several groups that arose in the wake of The Beatles' success were important in the evolution and expansion of the power pop style, such as The Hollies and The Monkees, as well as "softer" acts such as The Beau Brummels, The Cowsills, The Zombies and the "bubblegum" singles of the Kasenetz-Katz production team. Other acts such as The Knickerbockers, The Easybeats and The Outsiders contributed iconic singles. Writer John Borack has noted, "It's also quite easy to draw a not-so-crooked line from garage rock to power pop."Alex Chilton, of Big Star, seen in 2004
By 1970 the distinctive stylistic elements of power pop were clearly evident in recordings by the British group Badfinger, with singles such as "No Matter What", "Baby Blue" and "Day After Day" serving as templates for the power pop sound that would follow.
Although the formative influences on the genre were primarily British, the bands that developed and codified power pop in the 1970s were nearly all American. The Raspberries' 1972 hit single "Go All The Way" is an almost perfect embodiment of the elements of power pop and that group's four albums can be considered strongly representative of the genre. Some of Todd Rundgren's early and mid-1970s solo work also touched on power pop, as did the recordings of Blue Ash, the Flamin' Groovies, Artful Dodger and The Dwight Twilley Band. The most influential group of the period may have been Big Star. Though Big Star's initial early 1970s career met with no commercial success, they developed an avid cult following and members of later bands like R.E.M. andThe Replacements spoke enthusiastically of their esteem for the group's work. The Replacements even recorded a song entitled "Alex Chilton" in honor of Big Star's frontman.Cheap Trick playing in 1978
Although coined in the 1960s, and used as early as 1973 in reference to Sweet, the term "power pop" was not widely used until around 1978. As the novelist Michael Chabon has written, "Power pop in its essential form... did not come into existence for a number of years after it was first identified. Like so much of the greatest work turned out by popular artists of the 1970s, true power pop is quintessential second-generation stuff." The term was often used in reference to critics' favorites Elvis Costello and Nick Lowe, whose style was viewed as a less-threatening version of punk rock. Los Angeles-based Bomp! magazine championed power pop in its March 1978 issue, tying the genre's roots to 1960s groups like The Who and The Easybeats through Raspberries of the early 1970s.
Like their punk brethren, late–1970s power pop groups favored a leaner and punchier sound than their early–1970s predecessors. Some occasionally incorporated synthesizers into their music, though not to the same degree as did their new wave counterparts. Representative singles from the period include releases from the Bomp! Records label by 20/20 ("Giving It All"), Shoes("Tomorrow Night") and The Romantics ("Tell It to Carrie"). Major label groups like Cheap Trick, The Cars and Blondie merged power pop influences with other styles and achieved their first mainstream success with albums released in 1978. Cheap Trick's 1979 album Cheap Trick at Budokan went triple platinum in the United States, and singles such as "Surrender" and "I Want You To Want Me" brought power pop to an international audience.Doug Fieger of The Knack performing
Visually taking their cue from 1960s British Invasion groups, some power pop bands decked themselves out in skinny ties and matching suits. Other groups such as the The Romanticsadopted matching red leather outfits reminiscent of 1950s rock n roll stars such as Little Richard. Some bands such as The Beat adapted the look of punk rocker contemporaries such as theRamones and the Sex Pistols.
The biggest chart hit by a pure power pop band was The Knack's debut single, "My Sharona", which topped the Billboard Hot 100 chart for six weeks in the summer of 1979. The accompanyingplatinum-selling album, Get the Knack, paved the way for major label debuts that fall by The Pop, Shoes, 20/20 and The Beat. However, "My Sharona"'s ubiquitous radio presence that summer spawned a popular and critical backlash against the band, which in turn led to a backlash against the power pop genre in general. Few of the power pop albums which followed Get the Knackcharted at all, and those that did attained only middling positions on the Billboard 200. The Romantics had a minor hit with "What I Like About You" in early 1980, but, by then, power pop was seen as a passing fad by many critics. Most of this crop of bands continued to release albums throughout the early 1980s, but with the exception of The Romantics' In Heat (1983), none garnered much attention. Other groups such as The Plimsouls, The Smithereens and the dB's found a home on college radio, where power pop would endure for the remainder of the decade.Nick Lowe playing in 1980
The term "power pop", as used in the United Kingdom, referred to a somewhat different style of music than that of the United States. The Evening Standard used the term in January 1978 while writing about The Rich Kids and Tonight. Other British bands labelled as power pop included The Jam, The Incredible Kidda Band, The Amber Squad, The Boys, The Pleasers, The Stukas, The Monos!, The Boyfriends, Squeeze, Buzzcocks, Starjets, The Vapors, The Soft Boys, and The Chords. The term became something of a catchall, as many of these groups have also been described as "mod revival", "punk rock" or "new wave". Lacking the influence of American pioneers such as Big Star and Raspberries, these bands were more directly inspired by 1960s beat music bands, particularly The Who, The Kinks and The Beatles. They also took a cue from the energy and aesthetics of the contemporary punk movement, speeding up the tempo of their music.
Other UK artists of the late 1970s commonly identified as power pop were the new wave bands XTC and Elvis Costello & The Attractions. They played driving, melodic music, but neither group sported the mod image or overt 1960s influence of The Jam and their followers. A handful of successful bands in the United Kingdom did boast the traditional power pop sound as inspired by the Raspberries and Big Star. Singles from such groups, such as The Records' "Starry Eyes", Nick Lowe's "Cruel to be Kind" and Bram Tchaikovsky's "Girl of My Dreams", rivaled or even surpassed their American counterparts in capturing the essential elements of power pop. Perhaps as a consequence, these bands were more commercially successful in the United States than in their homeland.
Additionally, the American new wave group Blondie was often labelled as "power pop" by the UK press. The band's songs "One Way or Another" and "11:59" from Parallel Lines clearly demonstrated Blondie's power pop side. The most notable Australian power pop band of the period was probably The Innocents; rock historian Glenn A Baker claimed they were "the greatest power pop band since the demise of Raspberries".
Having influenced the development of power pop from the beginning, British rock group The Kinks made several well-received songs in the style in their 1984 album Word of Mouth, such as "Do It Again".The New Pornographers in concert
In the 1980s and 1990s, power pop continued as a commercially modest genre. Artists such as The Spongetones, Marshall Crenshaw, Del Amitri, The Smithereens, Enuff Z'Nuff, Matthew Sweet,Tommy Keene, Redd Kross, Material Issue, Let's Active and The Posies drew inspiration from Big Star, The Beatles and glam rock groups of the early 1970s like T. Rex and Sweet. Albums such as Material Issue's International Pop Overthrow (1991), Jellyfish's Bellybutton (1990) and Teenage Fanclub's Bandwagonesque (1991) would be greatly influential within the genre, but few translated to mainstream success.
In the mid-1990s through the 2000s, power pop flourished in the underground with acts such as Sloan. Independent record labels such as Not Lame Recordings, Parasol, Kool Kat Musik and Jam Recordings specialized in the genre. The sound made a mainstream appearance in 1994 with Weezer's commercially successful "blue album" (produced by Ric Ocasek of The Cars) and hit single "Buddy Holly". In the late 1990s, several Scandinavian power pop groups such as the The Cardigans, Merrymakers and Wannadies enjoyed a modicum of critical favor.
Power pop traits are also currently displayed by North American bands such as Gin Blossoms, Fountains of Wayne, Brendan Benson, The Posies, The New Pornographers,Guided By Voices, Semisonic, Jimmy Eat World, The Click Five, The Dandy Warhols, Sloan, Wheatus, The Brother Kite, The Apples in Stereo, Cotton Mather and Fastball. The influence of power pop is also apparent in contemporary British groups such as Silver Sun, Snow Patrol, The Futureheads, Maxïmo Park, Farrah, 1970s. Acts such as the Jonas Brothers have also sometimes been referred to as "power pop."
International Pop Overthrow – named after the song of the same name by Material Issue – is a power pop festival that has been organizing events since 1997. Originally taking place in Los Angeles, the festival has expanded to several locations over the years including Chicago, New York, Boston, Cleveland, San Francisco, Vancouver, Toronto andLiverpool, England (the latter event included performances at the re-created Cavern Club). Paul Collins of The Beat and The Nerves hosts the annual Power Pop-A-Licious music festival, which features a mixture of classic and rising bands with an emphasis on power pop, punk rock, garage and roots rock. The yearly festival is held in Asbury Park, New Jersey. Paul Collins and his group The Beat headline the two-day event.
Ken Sharp and Doug Sulpy released Power Pop: Conversations with the Power Pop Elite in 1997. The book contained interviews with power pop artists from throughout the genre's history. Sharp has also written books on Raspberries and Cheap Trick. In 2007, John Borack published Shake Some Action: The Ultimate Power Pop Guide in association with power pop label-retailer Not Lame Recordings. The book contained essays by several writers including Borack, a list of 200 "essential albums" and an accompanying CD.
The popular blog PowerPop includes daily entries on "the precursors, the practioners and the descendants of power pop".
Certain power pop songs have had substantial mainstream visibility or commercial success, have been critically described as being emblematic of the genre, or are regularly cited as being influential to later performers. These include:
- The Who – "I Can See for Miles" (1967)
- Badfinger – "No Matter What" (1970)
- Todd Rundgren - "Couldn't I Just Tell You" (1972)p. 10
- Raspberries – "Go All the Way" (1972)p. 13
- Big Star – "September Gurls" (1974)p. 13
- Cheap Trick – "Surrender" (1978)p. 16
- The Cars – "Just What I Needed" (1978)p. 10
- The Buzzcocks - "Ever Fallen In Love" (1978)
- The Records – "Starry Eyes" (1979)p. 140
- Nick Lowe - "Cruel to Be Kind" (1979)
- The Knack – "My Sharona" (1979)p. 59
- Shoes - "Too Late" (1979)
- The Romantics – "What I Like About You" (1979)p. 140
- Marshall Crenshaw – "Someday, Someway" (1982)
- Matthew Sweet – "Girlfriend" (1991)
- Jimmy Eat World – "The Middle" (2001)
- Weezer - "Buddy Holly" (1995)
- Fountains of Wayne – "Stacy's Mom" (2003)