Power pop and related: define, deride, defend...

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Power pop and related: define, deride, defend...

Postby Quaco » 01 Jun 2004, 21:09

For this thread, let's consider "power pop" in a broader sense. Really, there should be another term for this genre, which to me encompasses not only power pop in its traditional sense (Raspberries, 20/20, The Knack) but also melodic rock from Redd Kross to the Webb Brothers to Jellyfish to the Flaming Lips' newer stuff to the Lilys. I'm not sure where to stop with whom to include. In a way, Elliot Smith seems to fit too.

The original definition of power pop is more or less an idealized version of '60s pantheonic rock: the songs of the Beatles with the drive of the Who and the naivete and harmonies of the Beach Boys. The aforementioned melodic rock bands have now incorporated a wider range of influences, like Queen, Todd Rundgren, Free Design, Sergio Mendes, and Os Mutantes even.

Recently, two friends of mine have independently expressed extreme suspicion of some of this melodic rock, and at times, I have to agree with them. But neverrtheless, it's the kind of music I gravitate to. If I read a review that says Rundgren-Beach Boys-Beatles, I still hold out hope that it'll be this great music that its influences seem to suggest it will be.

I'm not after any answers here, just a discussion of melodic rock/power pop in general, and whether too much craft and melody makes you suspicious or turns you off. Especially for people who like this sort of thing, what is the cutoff? Who do you not like even though they're similar to people you do like? And what are the differences between the two?
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Billy

Postby Billy » 01 Jun 2004, 21:23

The sound of the Rickenbacker:

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Never rated at the time, but a marvel of chiming guitars ....

... I rest my case m'lud ...

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Postby Quaco » 01 Jun 2004, 21:44

Womble, I've never heard the album you pictured there, but that cover is definitely the kind of fetishizing I find myself distrusting more and more these days. Ahhh, beautiful guitars ... old drums ... mellotrons ... it's the kind of thing I used to drool over, but now it seems emotionally stunted in a way. Still, though, it's easy to fall back into.

Goldie, I should've mentioned Teenage Fanclub in my original post. They're a great example of a band actually being as good as their influences, though I'm not sure what non-power-pop influences you're talking about. (Neil Young?) One of the few bands with bona fide classics to their name (in my book).
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Postby king feeb » 01 Jun 2004, 21:46

I have a love/hate relationship with power pop. When it's done well, with a bit of grit and melodic invention, it's some of the greatest music ever made. But when it's poorly-done, too slickly produced, or merely too contrived in its quest for hooks, it is horrible like an overdose of sweet icing.

Just like Chuck Berry's music- easy to play, but hard to play "right".
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Postby Piggly Wiggly » 01 Jun 2004, 21:50

king beef wrote:Just like Chuck Berry's music- easy to play, but hard to play "right".


In lieu of the lengthy post that I feel compelled to write when I have a moment (whenever that might be), may I just say that king beef's closing gambit gets to the heart of the matter quite aptly?

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Postby el gringo mysterioso » 01 Jun 2004, 21:51

The first one's the PUSH KINGS....overlooked power pop from Boston.
The other two are great as well....SLOAN and MATERIAL ISSUE


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Re: Power pop and related: define, deride, defend...

Postby Still Baron » 01 Jun 2004, 21:55

Mr. Jim wrote:whether too much craft and melody makes you suspicious or turns you off


Like loveless, I shall return to this soon. However, I am more annoyed by bands who give short shrift to the craft and I wish most alleged power pop purveyors (sorry) would pay more attention to the craft. Or to put it another way, I prefer it to be tightly wound. The Beatle, Kinks, and Byrds classics of the mid 60's would be the ideal* (and a few Brian Wilson hits from the same era).

And I think Elliott Smith definitely counts as power pop (most of the time).



*As a rough illustration of what I mean, I believe that the Kinks lost this around the time of "Village Green Preservation" which is why, though it is a great collection of catchy songs, I prefer the earlier Kink tunes. When I think Pop, there is a snap and crackle implied.
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Postby Still Baron » 01 Jun 2004, 22:21

goldwaxxx wrote:The reason that TFC could get away with ripping off Big Star so completely is that they poured their hearts--and own little personality quirks--into it. Most bands of the Material Issue or Yellow Pills ilk, were uninspired copyists. So I don't know about "craft." I think it's "heart."


Those who poured their heart in it were more willing to work hard and get it right. Though I enjoyed Material Issue at the time, it seemed pretty slapdash.
take5_d_shorterer wrote:If John Bonham simply didn't listen to enough Tommy Johnson or Blind Willie Mctell, that's his doing.

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Re: Power pop and related: define, deride, defend...

Postby Piggly Wiggly » 01 Jun 2004, 22:36

Le Narob wrote:And I think Elliott Smith definitely counts as power pop (most of the time).


Not at his best, he doesn't.

What power pop means in theory/on paper has been all but erased by the type of limp and uncompelling fetishism that the adult diaper brigade (Yellow Pills, etc.) have so dearly clung to.

When Elliot Smith's music was at it's most soulful and multidimensional, it scarcely warranted comparisons to the type of acts who seemingly believe that a) the right make of guitar/amp, b) the right record collection, and c) a misguided and paper thin copy of the perceived characteristics of their heroes qualify them as successors to the Who, Big Star, Buzzcocks, or even the Knack.

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Postby Piggly Wiggly » 01 Jun 2004, 22:50

goldwaxxx wrote:The other thing is that most revivalists, like Chris Von Sneidern and others, simply had nothing to say. That gets to the heart issue, I think.


Absolutely.

Even the simplest lyrics can carry quite a bit of gravity when the music appears to have some depth or sense of purpose.

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Postby Quaco » 01 Jun 2004, 23:02

What is it that makes "power pop" seem emotionally stunted? We all had heroes at one point, and I'd be willing to bet more than half of us counted The Beatles among them. I certainly did, perhaps at the very top. So, it's a fine line I walk when I hear certain melodic obviously Beatle-derived music. One BCB poster sent me a disc by a guy named Bill Lloyd. It's easy to dismiss him as purely a copycat when he has songs like "Turn Me On Dead Man" and Dr. Robert's Second Opinion." (He sounds a little like Matthew Sweet, but with a more biting, Revolver-esque guitar sound.) On the other hand, the songs are good songs and are well-crafted and don't fall too much into the "I wish I was a little boy again" emotional level of much post-Pet Sounds-reevaluation power pop. So I like the music, but it will probably never inspire me. It's a dead end, but one which I happen to enjoy. A guilty pleasure. But to not be a dead end, the artist really has to add something of their own of significant value to the mix. Supergrass doesn't sound that different from a lot of other bands, but they do have a distinct personality and voice, so I don't feel guilty listening to them. But then again, Jellyfish also had a distinct personality and voice, and yet are loathesome to many.
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Postby Piggly Wiggly » 02 Jun 2004, 05:46

Mr. Jim wrote:What is it that makes "power pop" seem emotionally stunted? We all had heroes at one point, and I'd be willing to bet more than half of us counted The Beatles among them. I certainly did, perhaps at the very top. So, it's a fine line I walk when I hear certain melodic obviously Beatle-derived music. I like the music, but it will probably never inspire me. It's a dead end, but one which I happen to enjoy. A guilty pleasure. But to not be a dead end, the artist really has to add something of their own of significant value to the mix. Supergrass doesn't sound that different from a lot of other bands, but they do have a distinct personality and voice, so I don't feel guilty listening to them. But then again, Jellyfish also had a distinct personality and voice, and yet are loathesome to many.


I would endorse all of that.

Heroes aren't a bad thing, but do they provide inspiration or do they merely provide an extremely literal minded blueprint for what is (in essence) a civil war re-enactment?

A vocalist who phrases like a 1966 John Lennon is all very well and good, but minus the many other qualities which make Lennon so compelling (or - better still - comparable maverick tendencies), it's little more than a party trick.

One might be able to execute a passable imitation of Louis Armstrong's vocal phrasing on "What A Wonderful World" or "Duke's Place", but......it doesn't warrant airports and parks being named in honour of the imitator.

Truly, the very notion of a "new Beatles" or "new Dylan" is fundamentally lame. Which would you rather hear - a new artist with originality, depth, and appeal in similar measure to your favorite artists, or an artist with a handful of the same "apparent" qualities as your hero?

The "power pop ideal" as I see it ("Pictures Of Lily", "I Can See For Miles", the Raspberries' "Go All The Way", Cheap Trick's "Surrender", and the Buzzcocks' "Ever Fallen In Love" - to pick five quite successful distillations of both power and pop) sounds like a wonderful thing in theory.

Yet in practice, the artists who long to fall under the power pop umbrella could scarcely fall shorter of this particular ideal. Where, exactly, is the power? And where is the pop?

It would be fair and accurate to say that a 20 something Stevie Wonder, Prince, Morrissey/Marr, Ozzy Osbourne, or even Billy Corgan offered a great deal more in the area of striking and inspiring melodies than so many of the retro fetishists who claim these qualities as their own. None of the above mentioned names fall squarely within the "pop" umbrella, but....read em and weep - without even trying, even the least of these artists can (by my standards) claim a greater command of the genre than the vast majority of it's practitioners.

To call something "pop" or "powerpop" simply isn't good enough.

Doubtless I'll write more, should this thread prosper.

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Postby Charlie O. » 02 Jun 2004, 09:07

There are a number of examples of this music that I like, even love.

But as one of those who expressed "distrust" of the genre, I'll take the offensive.

Point 1: To my ears, it tends to be rooted in denial. For an extreme example, consider poor Cyril Jordan of the Flamin' Groovies - who was already practically bald in his silly Beatles suit in 1975 - still trying to get the sound of Brian Jones circa 1965, and still somehow just missing it.

There's nothing wrong with having influences and inspirations, from whatever time; every artist does. But if you make a record in 2004, there will be something that gives the vintage away, no matter what lengths you go to to make it sound like, say, a '68 record; and even if you get close, what value could it have in the here and now? (Even those records we rate as "timeless classics" are in truth very much of their time - could Pet Sounds really have been made at any time but 1966?)

Refusal (as in, rejecting those aspects of your time and culture which you disdain) can be powerful; but denial never is. You are the person you are, living in the ever changing world in which you live in. You either deal with it, or you don't.

Point 2: It also tends to be very insular, for lack of a better word.

Of course, artists are pretty much always introspective. But in the mid-'60s, when the bands that inspired the early-'70s power-poppers were doing their thing, they weren't even allowed to say they were artists, much less act like them.

Just look at the Beatles - now there was a band with outreach! And that has a lot to do with why their music (and other music from that time) remains so powerful. It included everybody. And still does.

In a piece I wrote years ago on Big Star (one band I do love), I contrasted Chris Bell's approach with Alex Chilton's, speculating that had the former never discovered the Beatles, "one imagines that he would have whiled away his hours in a basement workshop, constructing staggeringly intricate miniature replicas of old bi-planes and frigates, and not getting enough fresh air."

Chilton may not have gotten a lot of fresh air, but at least he got out a bit. The Flamin' Groovies? Not a lot of fresh air, no (to judge from their records, at least).* The Raspberries? Air conditioning. (Todd Rundgren seemed to dodge this particular bullet, at least on Something/Anything? - and if I knew just how he did it, I'd be emulating him even more than I do.)


Point 3: The more recent bands aren't imitating the Beatles et al - they're imitating the worst, most superficial characteristics of bands that imitated the bands that imitated the Beatles et al. With each generation the guitars and drums get louder, and the soul gets fainter.

Or so says the not-so-old-but-getting-older fart.


Point 4: It's after 4 in the morning here, and I'm just hoping that some of this sloppy rant makes some kind of sense.

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* I'm speaking here of the Groovies after Jordan took them over; the earlier Roy Loney-fronted lineup was quite a different kettle of fish. And you know what? I like the Flamin' Groovies - both versions. I contradict myself? Very well - I contradict myself.
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Postby aloysius » 02 Jun 2004, 09:36

goldwaxxx wrote:Oh, and can I just give a shout-out to The Plimsouls, one of my favorite power pop bands?


On that tack, can I mention Shoes - to me some of the purest 'power-pop'.

I've always been suspicious about whether we should include groups like The Wondermints or Jellyfish - they always seem to be a slightly different genre to me (and one I like much much less).
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Re: Power pop and related: define, deride, defend...

Postby Roygbiv » 02 Jun 2004, 09:45

Mr. Jim wrote:
I'm not after any answers here, just a discussion of melodic rock/power pop in general, and whether too much craft and melody makes you suspicious or turns you off. Especially for people who like this sort of thing, what is the cutoff? Who do you not like even though they're similar to people you do like? And what are the differences between the two?


That last question is a good one. Even though I'm a relative late-comer to all things power pop (particularly of the 1970s variety) I'm a sucker for that type of 3-minute Beatles/Byrds/Big Star influenced guitar song. But like with other 'genres' (i.e. the Nick Drake imitators) you're going to get your fair share of good and bad.

As a fan of recent albums by the likes of Teenage Fanclub and the Pernice Brothers (yep, I consider them power pop) I went back to investigate some of the 'classic' power pop records of the early 90s that I had missed out on. So I got Matthew Sweet 'Girlfriend' and The Posies 'Frosting On The Beater'. Both decent albums but not earth shattering. And certainly not a patch on the best power pop album of recent years, Brendan Benson's 'Lapalco'. Perhaps the admiration and devotion for those came from a reaction to grunge. After all, you can have nice crisp production, chunky riffs and the right haircut, but you have to have some decent songs.

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Postby My name is Spaulding » 02 Jun 2004, 18:14

Aloysius wrote:I've always been suspicious about whether we should include groups like The Wondermints or Jellyfish - they always seem to be a slightly different genre to me (and one I like much much less).


I would include them in another genre (one I like more than most power pop, mind you).

Jon Brion called it "Unpopular Pop" for lack of a better term.
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Postby Cédric » 02 Jun 2004, 20:32

These ones are among the best ones I've heard recently...

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Postby Snarfyguy » 02 Jun 2004, 20:48

goldwaxxx wrote:
Aloysius wrote:
goldwaxxx wrote:Oh, and can I just give a shout-out to The Plimsouls, one of my favorite power pop bands?


On that tack, can I mention Shoes - to me some of the purest 'power-pop'.

I've always been suspicious about whether we should include groups like The Wondermints or Jellyfish - they always seem to be a slightly different genre to me (and one I like much much less).


You can mention the Shoes. However, they never did much for me, despite being championed by Trouser Press et al. They somehow seemed too formulaic. Sorry!


I recently re-discovered (literally - it was lost in my apartment for years) 'Black Vinyl Shoes.' What a nifty album.

What do you do when power pop gets out of control? The Lilys' 'Better Can't Make Your Life Better' was superb, or so I thought. When the follow-up came out, it sounded like they'd tried the same thing but times ten.

It was too much; I thought I was going to get a toothache listening to that record. Not coincidentally, my attitute toward 'Better' cooled shortly thereafter.

Writing clever melodies is all well and good - just don't overdo it!

(PS - Someone tried to sell me on Mattew Sweet. What a bunch of shit!)
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Postby Piggly Wiggly » 02 Jun 2004, 22:10

Charlie O. wrote:(Todd Rundgren seemed to dodge this particular bullet, at least on Something/Anything? - and if I knew just how he did it, I'd be emulating him even more than I do.)


Personality, character, and imagination are what separate Todd from the skinny tie minstrel show.

I'm not even positive why Todd gets lumped in with these bullshit merchants - even Something/Anything? is filled with the likes of "The Night The Carousel Burned Down", and "Song Of The Viking" (just to name two examples of his extremely active and fertile imagination and ambitious nature - circa 72-74, I hasten to add). Musically, at least, he had quite a bit to say at one point. Could you picture the Shoes, Dwight Twilley, the Records, the Rubinoos, the Scruffs, or Fountains of Wayne coming up with something like "International Feel", or "Don't You Ever Learn"?

Todd's nadir, in powerpop terms, of course comes shortly thereafter with ill-advised exercises like Deface The Music, or side one of Faithful. At last he did finally degenerate into Sha Na Na levels of artistic poverty, but......at his peak he was anything but a "powerpop guy" (and despite his stature in that world, even the oft-cited "Couldn't I Just Tell You" seems like more of a precursor to Boston than it does to the likes of Matthew Sweet or the Webb Brothers).

Charlie, you really should write more. Your writing here was superb, and - though I only responded to your Todd reference - there is not one point in your post that doesn't stimulate further discourse. In time, my friend.