|Stylistic origins||Pop rock, rock and roll, beat music, rhythm and blues, garage rock, hard rock|
|Cultural origins||1960s, United Kingdom and United States|
|Typical instruments||Standard drum kit, electric guitar, keyboard, bass guitar and synthesizer|
|Derivative forms||Britpop, pop punk, noise pop, indie pop|
|Jangle pop, mod revival|
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.
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.
Formative years: mid-1960s through the early 1970s
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.
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."
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. and The 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.
Commercial peak: late 1970s to early 1980s
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.
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 Romantics adopted 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 the Ramones 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 accompanying platinum-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 Knack charted 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.
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".
Contemporary power pop: 1980s to 2000s
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, 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 and Liverpool, 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.
Books and internet resources
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".
Notable power pop singles
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" (1980)p. 140
- Marshall Crenshaw – "Someday, Someway" (1982)
- Matthew Sweet – "Girlfriend" (1991)
- Jimmy Eat World – "The Middle" (2001)
- Fountains of Wayne – "Stacy's Mom" (2003)
- Liner notes to The Roots of Powerpop! and the Poptopia! series of CDs.
- "Power Pop : Significant Albums, Artists and Songs, Most Viewed". Allmusic. Retrieved 26, November 2012.
- Borack, John M. (2007). Shake Some Action: The Ultimate Power Pop Guide. Not Lame Recordings. p. 8. ISBN 0979771404. Retrieved November 26, 2012.
- Borack, John M. (2007). Shake Some Action: The Ultimate Power Pop Guide. Not Lame Recordings. p. 7. ISBN 0979771404. Retrieved November 26, 2012.
- Altham, Keith. "Lily Isn't Pornographic, Say Who". NME (20 May 1967).
- Dodd, Philip (2005). The Book of Rock: From the 1950s to Today (Paperback ed.). Thunder's Mouth Press. pp. 36, 109. ISBN 978-1-56025-729-5.
- Dan MacIntosh (4 September 2007). "With Raspberries reunion, Eric Carmen's no longer all by himself". ecentral.my. Retrieved 9 July 2012.
- Borack, John M.; Brodeen, Bruce (4 August 2010). ""25 1960's era Garage Rock Nuggets" by John M. Borack". rockandrolltribe.com. Retrieved 9 July 2012.
- Taylor, Barry. "Riffs" The Village Voice July 19, 1973: 56
- Chabon, Michael. "Tragic Magic: Reflections on Power Pop". Retrieved 30 March 2013.
- Hilburn, Robert. "Costello, Lowe: The Power in Pop" Los Angeles Times April 23, 1978: M72
- Cocks, Jay (1978-06-26). ""Bringing Power to the People" Time June 26, 1978". Time.com. Retrieved 2009-12-04.
- "Bomp! History". Bomp.com. Retrieved 2009-12-04.
- "Cheap Trick – At Budokan (album)". SwissCharts.com. Retrieved 2007-11-10.
- Rockwell, John "Disco vs. Rock and Industry Ills Made the Year Dramatic" The New York Times December 30, 1979: D20
- Strothard, Russ (17 January 1978). "Abba's next album rings up £1m sales". Evening Standard. Retrieved 4 December 2009.
- "Here We Come liner notes" (Press release). Raven Records. 1984. Retrieved 21 September 2009.
- Callaway, Chris (17 March 2010). "Working out the kinks: For Ray Davies, the music goes on". boulderweekly.com. Retrieved 9 July 2012.
- Prato, Greg. "Ric Ocasek - Biography". AllMusic. Retrieved 16 May 2013.
- Tartanella, Emily (30 June 2009). "The Over/Under: Weezer". magnetmagazine.com. Retrieved 9 July 2012.
- Adams, Sam (24 July 2009). "Jonas Brothers: Power-pop, oversung". philly.com. Retrieved 24 July 2010.
- "Nick Jonas Recording Solo Album, Jonas Brothers Deny Breakup". Billboard.com. 30 October 2009. Retrieved 24 July 2010.
- Edwards, Mark (1 February 2009). "Power-pop: Encyclopedia of Modern Music". timesonline.co.uk. Retrieved 23 July 2010. "the slick, more-power-in-reserve coolness of the Cars' 'My Best Friend's Girl' [...] Power pop classics of the 1990s, such as Matthew Sweet's guitartastic 'Girlfriend' [...] power pop gained a new level of success this millennium when it was co-opted by the kind of boybands who protested that they weren't boybands at all [...] The Disney popsters Jonas Brothers are currently continuing this tradition [...] The spring in power pop's step is neatly symbolised in the video for OK Go's 'Here It Goes Again', where the band perform their YouTube-famous dance"
- Rodman, Sarah (15 August 2008). "Jonas Brothers bring power pop". boston.com. Retrieved 24 July 2010.
- Orbezua, Iñaki. "A Conversation with Ken Sharp". torpedopop.com. Retrieved 9 July 2012.
- "Home Page". powerpop.blogspot.com. Retrieved 9 July 2012.
- "Poptopia! The 10 Greatest-Ever Power Pop Bands". Gibson.com. Retrieved 2013-11-28.
- Artist: BRUH (2009-05-01). "Power Pop: Forgotten Gems of the '70s | Indie Articles & Reviews". MadeLoud. Retrieved 2013-11-28.
- Agentcausation (Jan. 8, 2010). "The Top Ten Power Pop Songs". Retrieved March 19, 2010. [dead link]
- The Greatest Songs Ever! Go All the Way. By Johnny Black. Blender. Published July 2006.
- Ray, Austin L. (Dec. 6, 2008). "A Power Pop Primer: 10 Gateway Songs to a Lifelong Addiction". Paste Magazine. Retrieved March 19, 2010.
- Mason, Stewart. "Allmusic: Cruel To Be Kind Song Review". allmusic. Retrieved March 19, 2010.
- Tucker, Jeremiah (March 16, 2010). "Shoes’ album remains a pop power classic". Joplin Globe. CNHI News Service. Retrieved March 27, 2010.
- Krolicki, Frank (Feb. 10, 2009). "The history of Windy City rock: A crash course in Chicago bands through time". Examiner.com.
- Carpenter, Ellen (March 12, 2010). "Flashback: Matthew Sweet’s Early ’90s Power-Pop Perfection". Rock & Roll Daily. Rolling Stone. Retrieved March 19, 2010.
- The Decade In Music: Jimmy Eat World's 'The Middle' (2002) : NPR
- Jimmy Eat World Plays Catch-Up With The Pop-Emo Generation | Music News, Reviews, and Gossip on Idolator.com
- "Gibson Recommends Jimmy Eat World's Chase This Light". Auction.gibson.com. Retrieved 2013-11-28.
- Millikan, Jay (Sept. 9, 2003). "Fountains of Wayne - Welcome Interstate Managers - Review". Stylus Magazine. Retrieved March 19, 2010.
- Layman, Will (April 16, 2007). "Fountains of Wayne: Too Smart to Be a Rock Band, Too Smart to Be Anything Else". PopMatters. Retrieved March 19, 2010.
- Article about power pop from Rolling Stone, 1979
- Power pop at AllMusic
- AV Club's beginner's guide to power pop, 1972-1986