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

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Guy E
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Postby Guy E » 04 Jun 2004, 04:48

One of the interesting things about this thread is that the definition of POWER POP started to change almost immediately after the term was coined. Correct me if I'm wrong, but it was a British term describing Glen Matlock's Rich Kids, Eddie & The Hot Rods Do Anything You Wanna Do, The Records Starry Eyes... things like that. I believe I first came across the term in an interview with Glen Matlock describing the sound he was going after in his post-Sex Pistols project. When Shake Some Action and the first Dwight Twilley and Tom Petty albums were current, I don't think anybody was calling it Power Pop.

Am I alone in remembering this evolution?

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Postby Charlie O. » 04 Jun 2004, 05:36

I'm sure you're right, Guy.

I know I first encountered the term in reference to Nick Lowe/Dave Edmunds/Rockpile!
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Postby take5_D » 04 Jun 2004, 05:46

A few brief words about Power Pop:

I disagree that the ur-song is The Who's ``So Sad About Us'' for a number of reasons, these being: there's something clueless and thick about Daltrey (but in a good way!). Power pop at its worst is a smirk, at its best has some pretensions to cleverness. Daltrey could never be accused of either smirking or being clever...ever. Meanwhile, Townshend is and was clever, but in a way that exercised real conceptual ability. I've always thought of Power Pop as being a play on forms over being a play on ideas. Somehow it just then doesn't fit with The Who since, as I said, Townshend's conceptual grasp is his primarly attribute after his ability to destroy instruments. Speaking of which, destroying instruments seems the antithesis of Power Pop, yes? and finally, what makes ``So Sad About Us'' what it is is Moon's drumming. There is nothing clear and contained about the only rock drummer to successfully imitate the sea.

No, the ur-song is ``And Your Bird Can Sing,'' a very good song that illustrated in 1966 all the attractions and limitations that Power Pop would ever have.

A much stronger song that doesn't quite fit but that nonetheless embodies a great deal of what I think Power Pop is about is The Kinks' ``Till the End of the Day'', a song I ultimately enjoy more than ``And Your Bird Can Sing'' and that I find stranger, stranger because its minor chords are unexpectedly bright. This is, to me, the British analog to ``I Get Around'' in the tricks it plays on the way it bends major and minor keys to make a song about exuberance sound tragic or a song about something tragic exuberant, something like Shakespearean pageant written in the bright-red blood of youth.

What then do I mean by Power Pop? Probably something to do on a purely formal level with fairly simple triadic harmonies (not too many major seventh chords), but shifting rapidly in tandem with a semi-angular melodyline.

In the hands of the airheaded, this can come across as pure mannerism. In the hands of Ray Davies though, it is the sound of the young perched on the cusp of inevitable decay.
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Postby Charlie O. » 04 Jun 2004, 07:29

take5_D wrote:I've always thought of Power Pop as being a play on forms over being a play on ideas.


Yes.

... and finally, what makes ``So Sad About Us'' what it is is Moon's drumming.


mmmmm... no more than Townshend's off-beat (blue-beat?) rhythm guitar, I'd say.

No, the ur-song is ``And Your Bird Can Sing,'' a very good song that illustrated in 1966 all the attractions and limitations that Power Pop would ever have.


Sounds about right to me... good one, d.
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Postby Brother Spoon » 04 Jun 2004, 08:45

There has been so much intelligence and first-hand experience in this thread (for which thank you) that I'm almost scared to throw in my own two cents.

For me, much of the magic sway that the best power pop holds over me has to do with the powers of memory. I can't think of any other genre that illustrates as well how memory can be distorted to forget the bad things and remember the good things or, the other way round, to remember the bad things and forget the good things. It's really all about remembering things that didn't happen or at least they didn't happen to you.

Again, for me, this is what ties together most of the things within the power pop genre that I hold dear: the attempts to keep a mythical past that you only experienced through artefacts alive, the many, many songs about childhood, the many songs about the glories of being a teenager when all the time what goes on between the lines makes clear that it wasn't all that glorious for this guy, the dedication to a craft that has become meaningless in an advanced age, ... In short, the comfort of rebuilding your own past when you come to realize that something big did happen in your life but you slept through it and really, what are the odds of lightning striking twice?

My fascination with power pop is a cyclical thing. At times I can't listen to anything else, at times I can't listen to it at all. I admit that sometimes a power pop cycle is due to personal recognition of these things (Oh, come on, everyone has days where you only get out of bed to lay down on the floor until it's time to go to sleep again.), at other times it's because there is something heartbreakingly noble about dedicating your life to a goal which you know is pointless and futile. Indeed, it being a futile cause is what makes it worth dedicating yourself to. Even Cyril Jordan...

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Postby The Write Profile » 04 Jun 2004, 09:46

Firstly, I'm loving this thread (it should be saved for posterity) and don't really have that much in the way of constructive criticism to offer either way in regards to what is/isn't power-pop.

In fact I have a few questions in regards to it.

1. Are closed harmonies essential to this genre? it seems to be Teenage Fanclub's stock-in-trade, for instance.

2. Is this a confined subject matter to go with the template? Forgive me for asking, but is power pop mostly concerned with the sun, and love in the summer. It sounds like a bit of an odd question, but it seems that weather seems to be a big preocupation, along with wide open spaces, when it comes to the lyrics (?)

3. Is it very much an enclosed, regional genre? (Cedric mentioned that TF were "too Scottish")

4. Do people here think that power-pop is more or less limited in terms of musical scope in relation to "pure" punk (as in three chords/no solos etc)


Thanks very much in advance
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Postby aloysius » 04 Jun 2004, 10:24

qui fais goldwax wrote:
Mr. Jim wrote:
Le Narob wrote:*Then again, maybe the beginning of power pop can be traced to the chiming guitars and harmonies of side two of "Abbey Road."

In my view, The Who's "So Sad About Us" is the Ur-power pop song. Badfinger and then Big Star were the first bands to look backwards to The Beatles in that way. The Raspberries was the first proper power pop band.


Oops, missed this. I guess I pretty much agree with most of this. It's true that a lot of what Big Star and Badfinger did could not really be called power pop, though there are definite power pop classics there. So you're right that The Raspberries were the first power pop band, but No Matter What is the first power pop song.

Thus spake Goldwax!


This discussion of the first power-pop song/act seems odd to me. Probably wrongly, it ihas always seemed to me an essentially retro genre. This relates I guess to Guy's point about different waves of the term's usage - rather like how 'mod' had its original and new wave variants.

Musically speaking, and this will sound a bit Spinal Tapp I'm afraid, I've always thought that what made power-pop was the increase in power (whatever that is) without any sense of heaviness creeping in. Not exactly sure what that means but its a kind of musical alchemy.
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Postby Still Baron » 04 Jun 2004, 13:45

Aloysius wrote:
qui fais goldwax wrote:
Mr. Jim wrote:
Le Narob wrote:*Then again, maybe the beginning of power pop can be traced to the chiming guitars and harmonies of side two of "Abbey Road."

In my view, The Who's "So Sad About Us" is the Ur-power pop song. Badfinger and then Big Star were the first bands to look backwards to The Beatles in that way. The Raspberries was the first proper power pop band.


Oops, missed this. I guess I pretty much agree with most of this. It's true that a lot of what Big Star and Badfinger did could not really be called power pop, though there are definite power pop classics there. So you're right that The Raspberries were the first power pop band, but No Matter What is the first power pop song.

Thus spake Goldwax!


This discussion of the first power-pop song/act seems odd to me. Probably wrongly, it ihas always seemed to me an essentially retro genre. This relates I guess to Guy's point about different waves of the term's usage - rather like how 'mod' had its original and new wave variants.


I think it is an essentially retro genre and these examples prove the point. Both Badfinger and Big Star seemed to be looking backwards from their inception while most of the sixties masters tossed off a few songs that would create the foundation before moving on.
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Postby king feeb » 04 Jun 2004, 15:25

Guy E wrote:One of the interesting things about this thread is that the definition of POWER POP started to change almost immediately after the term was coined. Correct me if I'm wrong, but it was a British term describing Glen Matlock's Rich Kids, Eddie & The Hot Rods Do Anything You Wanna Do, The Records Starry Eyes... things like that. I believe I first came across the term in an interview with Glen Matlock describing the sound he was going after in his post-Sex Pistols project. When Shake Some Action and the first Dwight Twilley and Tom Petty albums were current, I don't think anybody was calling it Power Pop.

Am I alone in remembering this evolution?


Actually the first time I saw the phrase "power pop" used, it was by critic/label honcho Greg Shaw in an article or review about The Raspberries and The Sidewinders (the Paley Bros. first band) in Creem in the mid-seventies. Shaw, of course, went on to form the power pop-based label and magazine Bomp.
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Postby take5_D » 04 Jun 2004, 17:00

Addendum to ``So Sad About Us''

To the extent that ``So Sad About Us'' is Power Pop is to the extent that the song could be covered* by The Jam. That's not meant to be a direct criticism of The Jam, but in the end, it probably is. What is PowerPoppish is what is easiest to appropriate in the song (and the part that one expects The Jam to latch onto). The hardest part is the way Keith sounds like a locomotive about to blow up. There is a part of the song that should have been covered by Coltrane and Eric Dolphy (this is not totally insane. Coltrane did cover things like ``Inchworm'' as well as write things like ``Chasing the Trane''.)


--------------------------
*It was in 1978 according to
http://www.thewho.net/discography/songs ... outUs.html .

See also what may be essentially a rewrite of the PowerPoppish aspects of that song in ``It's Too Bad,'' which is similar in its chords and even lyrically.




This is what the OED has to say about ``power pop''.

power pop n., a style of pop music characterized by loud volume, a strong melodic line with simple rhythms, heavy use of guitars and keyboards, and often sentimental or romantic lyrics.

1976 G. SCULATTI in Crawdaddy Sept.81/1 The track suggests a totally novel brand of *power pop (with cursory hat-tips to Tommy James and late Mott the Hoople). 1983 Washington Post 1 Dec. D9/1 This so-called psychedelic movement, embodying both revisionists and revivalists, touches on diverse styles: garage, folk-rock, power pop, psychedelia and mid-period Dylan. 1992 Tucson (Arizona) Weekly 21 Dec. 15/1 Def Leppard..the premier power pop band in the world has its share of horror stories. 2001 Vanity Fair Nov. 280/2 Hence the inclusion of early-1970s power-pop band Badfinger, a prime example of the revisionist-Snob penchant for elevating the reputations of flagrantly second-rate bands.



power popster n., a person who sings or plays power pop.

1993 Albuquerque (New Mexico) Jrnl. 16 Sept. (Rio Suppl.) E7/1 These punk *power popsters have an edge that bubble-gummy Hollywood bands rarely have. 1994 Rolling Stone 2 June 25/1 It may be a million miles away musically from Peter Case's days as the leader of the power popsters the Plimsouls, but fans of the gifted singer/songwriter will want to check out his latest and decidedly stripped-down effort, ‘Peter Case Sings Like Hell’. 2002 Rolling Stone 31 Oct. 152 (album review) Matthew Sweet To UnderstandThe Early Recordings... Lost nuggets from the power popster.



I don't know about anyone else here, but for all the weight and authority that the OED has, isn't what the OED has to say above just about the lamest thing contributed thus far on this thread, especially the bit about ``and often sentimental or romantic lyrics''? Well, yes, but it's a lot more complicated than that. Sentimental, perhaps--but I would consider whatever romance in Power Pop usually to be heavily leavened with irony* both in its initial incarnation (where it could be quite powerful) and in latter-day representations.

There is just so much about Power Pop that the OED completely fails to get in its definition.

It's hard to get at the bottom of words. They don't yield their meaning easily, you know.


*See my comments about ``Bus Stop,'' which I've contended is powerful only as much as it is about fantasy--meaning, the marriage never took place; it's all made up. Something happened that the singer is not saying but the minor chords are.



A word about terms

``Power Pop'' seems like a debased, tired term, but that may be not just because of its association with music that we might or might not find tired and overused itself, but because the term appears so often. Consider the term compared with what Phil Spector once called his own work. He thought of his singles as being ``blues pop'' or was it ``pop blues''?

That's a remarkably evocative term. When I hear it I think of Howlin' Wolf's Rocking Chair album or early Van Morrison with Them. I'm not sure I think about Phil Spector, but I can understand why he would want to be associated with Howlin' Wolf and Them. I would, too.
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Postby king feeb » 04 Jun 2004, 17:38

The Right Scarfie Profile wrote:Firstly, I'm loving this thread (it should be saved for posterity) and don't really have that much in the way of constructive criticism to offer either way in regards to what is/isn't power-pop.

In fact I have a few questions in regards to it.

1. Are closed harmonies essential to this genre? it seems to be Teenage Fanclub's stock-in-trade, for instance.

2. Is this a confined subject matter to go with the template? Forgive me for asking, but is power pop mostly concerned with the sun, and love in the summer. It sounds like a bit of an odd question, but it seems that weather seems to be a big preocupation, along with wide open spaces, when it comes to the lyrics (?)

3. Is it very much an enclosed, regional genre? (Cedric mentioned that TF were "too Scottish")

4. Do people here think that power-pop is more or less limited in terms of musical scope in relation to "pure" punk (as in three chords/no solos etc)


Thanks very much in advance


I think we're still having a bit of discussion of what the genre actually IS. Power Pop is more open ended to me than it seems to be to others... for instance, I don't think there are any boundaries on nationality or lyrical subject matter, though some will disagree with me. I do think it's a somewhat limited genre. Additionally, I think many bands have a handful of power pop tracks, while many other songs in their canon wouldn't fit the genre's definition at all. One I can think of is the early 80s "paisley underground" band, The Three O' Clock. They have two songs that I would consider fine examples of Power Pop: "Jet Fighter" and "With A Cantaloupe Girlfriend", but the rest of their material falls into a neo-psych catagory. I feel the same about Cheap Trick... very little of their post-Dream Police material is power pop, though their earlier albums are full of excellent examples of the genre.
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Postby Bungo the Mungo » 04 Jun 2004, 17:53

i'd like to put in a shout for 'squire'. mod revivalists maybe, but they wrote some fine power pop tunes too. in fact it was their version of 'september gurls' which made me discover 'big star' way back in the early 80's. i'd recommend this album to any fan of power pop:

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Postby This Here Dream Machine » 04 Jun 2004, 19:01

Guy E wrote:One of the interesting things about this thread is that the definition of POWER POP started to change almost immediately after the term was coined. Correct me if I'm wrong, but it was a British term describing Glen Matlock's Rich Kids, Eddie & The Hot Rods Do Anything You Wanna Do, The Records Starry Eyes... things like that. I believe I first came across the term in an interview with Glen Matlock describing the sound he was going after in his post-Sex Pistols project. When Shake Some Action and the first Dwight Twilley and Tom Petty albums were current, I don't think anybody was calling it Power Pop.

Am I alone in remembering this evolution?


Actually, I used to have an old issue of Bomp! magazine, the cover article of which described just the bands you mention (Dwight Twilley, Tom Petty) exactly thus. This would have been '78 or '79?

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Postby This Here Dream Machine » 04 Jun 2004, 19:03

Uh...that's supposed to link to an image of Bomp Magazine's "Power Pop" issue. Never mind.

Ah, Bomp. Finest music magazine of its time, if not indeed of *any* time...
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Postby Snarfyguy » 04 Jun 2004, 19:08

Mspecktor wrote:Uh...that's supposed to link to an image of Bomp Magazine's "Power Pop" issue. Never mind.

Ah, Bomp. Finest music magazine of its time, if not indeed of *any* time...


There's a copy of that somewhere in my closet. I'm proud to say I've kept all the music magazines I bought in the 70's / 80's, which is a lot.
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Postby Piggly Wiggly » 05 Jun 2004, 01:30

As for the style over substance factor that has been periodically discussed on this thread:

Occasionally, one or another well meaning friend or acquaintance lays some pretty bland music on me, typically on the basis of (affects wide eyed enthusiasm): "Oh, you like Big Star/Kinks/Beatles, right? You'll LOVE this!"

I mentioned this to a friend recently, and his reply seems worth quoting:

As for the "friends" problem, I first realized about a decade ago that the biggest difference between me and most other music enthusiasts was that I'm primarily a "song person" whereas a lot of folks are into a sound. Like I've met a lot of people who go for that "chiming Rickenbacker" thing in a BIG WAY, and don't really care if the songs are weak so long as those twelve-strings are in there a-jinglin' and a-janglin'. Whereas I'd rather listen to a great song through an inappropriate production/arrangement/performance (within reason!) than a lousy song with a pleasing surface. I get that "you'd like this, it sounds like the Beatles" or "this is real psychedelic" thing all the time. Friends - what can you do, they mean well.


I thought was exceptionally well stated.

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Postby Quaco » 05 Jun 2004, 01:35

Obviously, the terms is used in different ways by different people and publications. (And the OED thinks Def Leppard is power pop! I'll have to remember that.) I think in general we can all pretty much agree that power pop, by any definition, involves looking backward to an idealized past that affects the musicians' lives almost as a form of "positive trauma" that cannot be shaken off.

Because the majority of power pop musicians weren't actually in London '66 or Liverpool '62, the musicians idealize their experience of listening to the music rather than the actual zeitgeist at the time. Hence, the fetishization of big headphones (Matthew Sweet, Superdrag) and children's clothes/Cat in the Hat hats (Jellyfish).

This living in an idealized past affects the lyrical attitude too. Many power pop songs seem to take aim at issues from the musicians' past, in particular the following three areas: love songs for remote obsessed-over girls, vengeance "fuck you" songs aimed at past rivals, and dreamlike evocations of brilliant and colo(u)rful youth. All three are removed from their subjects by time. Power pop is truly the music of missed opportunities. (I wonder if Proust would've played power pop.)

Power pop has always seemed a boy's pastime to me, but I know that there were many girls involved in the '80s and '90s revival. Being male, I can understand what the boys feel (watching Melody for the first time about a year ago, I very nearly submitted); I still wonder how the girl power poppers feel. They tend to try to look like '60s models or go-go dancers, even if they're trying to play like The Beatles. It's a very strange combination because much '60s attire -- such as high white boots and miniskirts -- is not really good for playing in onstage.

I feel that all power pop is in essence introverted music, no matter how noisy it may get. This is why Def Leppard is not power pop; their energy is turned outwards. Even the most rocking power pop songs are all ultimately aimed inward. Cheap Trick is perhaps the most notable exception to this, and that is interesting because they're without a doubt power pop's finest exponent. Like The Beatles, they (to borrow from Charlie O.) had outreach. They are the one band that used all the standard power pop influences for, if you will, the world's greater good, rather than as a form of narcissism -- in spite of the fact that they marketed themselves cannily (one could see their album covers as narcissistic) and that their arguably signature song ("Surrender") is about growing up, parents, and listening to records. They do not look back entirely fondly in that song.
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Postby This Here Dream Machine » 05 Jun 2004, 02:16

I thought I was being clever bringing up that issue of Bomp (yeah, that's the one Goldie,) but on closer perusal I see King Feeb brought it up before me.

His majesty is also spot on with his earlier post noting that a track like "Jet Fighter" is prime power pop, whereas most of the Three O'Clock's stuff is not precisely so. Ditto the first two (and about half of the third) Cheap Trick albums.

Just giving credit where due.
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Postby Guy E » 05 Jun 2004, 04:16

Mspecktor wrote:
Guy E wrote:One of the interesting things about this thread is that the definition of POWER POP started to change almost immediately after the term was coined. Correct me if I'm wrong, but it was a British term describing Glen Matlock's Rich Kids, Eddie & The Hot Rods Do Anything You Wanna Do, The Records Starry Eyes... things like that. I believe I first came across the term in an interview with Glen Matlock describing the sound he was going after in his post-Sex Pistols project. When Shake Some Action and the first Dwight Twilley and Tom Petty albums were current, I don't think anybody was calling it Power Pop.

Am I alone in remembering this evolution?


Actually, I used to have an old issue of Bomp! magazine, the cover article of which described just the bands you mention (Dwight Twilley, Tom Petty) exactly thus. This would have been '78 or '79?

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I stand corrected and I'm glad to hear that it was a phrase from Greg Shaw. I never heard it in that context though - Bomp didn't seem to make it out to the East Coast.