Power Pop as a Genre of Music - Not all that popular

As an old indie music snob (retired), I have to ask what’s wrong with being a young indie music snob? Have the courage of your convictions, man.

As for Big Star, well, they had long hair, but then so did everybody back then. They probably wore bell-bottoms, if the photo on the back of the cover of the vinyl release of Radio City is any indication, but then so did everybody back then. Any resemblance to any of the groups you mention ends there. One of the reasons they were so influential in the punk and post-punk era of the very late 70s and early 80s (and so commercially unsuccessful) is that they were so completely unlike anything on radio or on the charts in their day. Those of us who were around then and who weren’t interested in ever hearing Styx or Lynyrd Skynyrd or Kansas or Boston or god-help-us-Yes ever again were so starved for something better that when we found something like Big Star it was like . . . well, like what Keats describes in “On First Looking into Chapman’s Homer”:

Go forth and buy. Otherwise, you’ll weep bitter tears for every moment that passes in which you could have known the glory that is Big Star but didn’t.

Big Bad Voodoo Lou, like you I’m a young indie snob with no time for Credence, Acca Dacca, Skynyrd or The Eagles, and I’m going to echo rackensack. When I think of early '70s bands, I include Big Star with Lou Reed and Iggy Pop as what all those people should have been listening to if they had any sense. Big Star have strong indie roots (The Replacements have even written a song about them) and should no way be lumped in with the '70s bands you mentioned. Give them a go. You won’t be disappointed.

As for power-pop, here’s my nutty theory, and because it’s only new, I haven’t had time to iron out the holes yet, so be kind.

But if you look at contemporary music, as other posters have alluded to, bands that make pop music with a bit of driving guitar are popular. Everyone remembers that Teenage Dirtbag song from a few years back, right? How about all those Smashmouth songs that get played on the radio. And Green Day and No Doubt, as GargoyleWB mentioned.

So there’s my idea. Powerpop is popular, but, like nearly everything else, the good stuff isn’t popular. Take pop-punk as an example. Now, I’m actually quite a big fan of Blink 182 (and I hope that admission doesn’t make Big Bad Voodoo Lou dismiss my earlier statements on Big Star - I’m usually a lot more snobby, OK? Trust me!), but anyone who believes that Blink 182 are great because of the punk is deluding themselves. When I listen to Blink 182 - and I think everyone else who listens to them is in it for the same thing - I’m listening to them for the melodies. If I want punk, I’ll listen to the Clash; Blink are for the pop thrills. Sure, they’re not exactly power-pop; there’s a bit more power, and the pop isn’t as smart, but the basis is there. After all, if Stacey’s Mom had a bit more snottiness, and was a little bit faster, it’d be a punk-pop song. The same goes with all those Good Charlottes, Sum 41s and Simple Plans. It’s basically power-pop, though certainly not the best out there.

So maybe power-pop is a popular genre, but the popular power-pop isn’t always recognised as power pop.

I’ll also say that genre’s like New Wave had a lot in common with power pop and were very popular. The Cars are certainly power pop. Elvis Costello, though perhaps not strictly power pop, certainly knew his way around a melody and attacked his songs with enough power to qualify.

I agree with whoever said that powerpop isn’t all that popular because most good music isn’t popular, but I think the “pop” in “powerpop” has always indicated a style rather than any measure of popularity, then and now. I believe the term didn’t even come into use until “Pop” turned into what I call DrivelPop(Cher, Brittney, Mariah, Celine, the current boy bands, the idols, etc.) I know it was earlier than that but I pay so little attention to that crap that I can’t think of who the pop artists were 10 years ago. Anyway…when that style took over the pop category, the term powerpop was created to differentiate from that.

Personally, I think Sloan is overrated but agree with everyone about Big Star. Welcome Interstate Managers is ok but I still think FoW’s first album is their best. Badfinger is another of the more famous powerpop bands to check out. Also The Posies, The Plimsouls and the never famous and now defunct Super Deluxe.

Again - I am enjoying the posts. Lots to comment on, not much time:

  1. BBVLou - What rackensack said (where have I heard that before?) - nice job describing them, rack (may I call you rack?). Get them immediately and be thankful.

  2. Like any genre, Power Pop is a working definition that is more gray than black and white. And it is also in the eye of the beholder. IMHO, the Smashing Pumpkins are NOT PP - they are diverse and many times very wonderful, but no band putting out Cherub Rock or Bullet with Butterfly Wings is Power Pop. Weezer is much closer, IMHO, but with a grungier edge and less of an inclination towards the layered production that is a hallmark of Power Pop.

  3. gex gex does a nice job describing it - I would approach it slightly differently - to me, Power Pop is a style that focuses on: First, a standard structure song (verse/chorus/verse/chorus/bridge/verse/chorus/out or thereabouts - what I would call a “Brill Building” rock single structure perfected by Motown, the Beatles, etc.), very catchy melodic hook. In other words, there is craft in the songwriting. Second, layered production - in addition to standard instrumentation, again, there is craft to the production - layered guitars, vocals, unorthodox sounds, handclaps, etc. Finally, to make it Power, there is a bit of an edge - Weezer is on the outer edge, Paperback Writer is square in the middle. Day Tripper is a little bluesier, but still fits in nicely. Edgy guitars, layered production, songwriting craft.

  4. gex’s characterization of the Mall Punk bands as basically being Power Pop with a punk vocabulary works for me. Also agree with the Cars (fit very nicely with my definition above) and Elvis Costello, who has become clarified as a songwriting craftsman of the highest order. Also - Squeeze, anyone? Talk about sublime, perfect power pop that never got as popular as it should’ve, Difford and Tilbrook are amazing craftsmen. Crowded House got a little syrupy for my tastes, but they rock, too. matchbox twenty on the other hand, besides not being to my tastes at all , craft structured songs, but are trying for more of a “singer/songwriter” genre-type-of-appeal, not power pop. Even though they are guitar based and have songcraft and use layered production. It’s subtle.

Hmmm, may have to check out Sloan…I have been listening to Big Star every day for a month (can you say obsessed?) and may need a break soon.

According to allmusic.com, they’re indie pop and not power pop, but I recommend the Apples in Stereo and Dressy Bessy. Dressy Bessy’s self-titled album is one of my favorites from last year. And I think they sound similar enough to the New Pornographers to qualify for this thread. (Also, anyone who liked Electric Version should pick up the NPs’ first album, Mass Romantic, which is also aces.)

Actually, I tend to put Elvis Costello, Squeeze, Split Enz/Crowded House, Mental As Anything, Joe Jackson, etc. in a category of their own – they’re all more pop than power (though I bow to no one in my admiration for them all). Jackson, Costello, and Difford/Tilbrook in particular I think of as heirs to the great American pop song tradition, except that they’re all British. The difference is, as you say, subtle, but I think of it as “crunch” – the crunchy stuff is power pop, while the stuff that isn’t really crunchy is classic pop. The best definition I’ve been able to come up with for power pop is that it “stays crunchy even in milk”. It’s characterized by melody, harmony vocals, and may be (as you say) heavily produced (i.e., the milk), but still has multiple guitars at the forefront, at least one of which is usually playing a simple chord progression on power chords (the crunch), while at least one of the others is playing a riff or hook that’s most often based on a major chord or scale rather than a blues scale, even if the progression is a standard I-IV-V. These are all generalizations, of course, and you could turn up dozens of exceptions without even thinking hard, but it’s a start at a provisional definition. And by that standard, most of Elvis Costello, Squeeze, et al don’t quite have the crunch I associate with power pop. Which isn’t intended to be a criticism, merely a distinction.

I bow to your argument, rackensack - you are correct, to my mind, in your distinction.

Oh, and Interrobang?! - I have only heard Apples in Stereo’s song off the PowerPuff Girls CD - and the video they show on the Cartoon Network - and love it. If they are that good throughout, I would appreciate a specific recommendation.

As for Dressy Bessy, have been starting to get hits on them on my Pattern Recognition Radar™, but not enough yet to formulate a “Must. Listen. To. Or. Buy. Now.” impulse in my amygdala (the primitive part of the brain regulating instinctive behavior)…

“I never travel far, without a little Big Star”

– The Replacements, Alex Chilton

Interesting thread.

One thing I have stopped doing-- because it has proven far to frustrating-- is to join in on discussions regarding what defines one genre of music.

Has The dB’s been mentioned yet? Their records ''Stands for Decibels" and “Repercussion” are landmark albums, and they are far superior too most other ‘‘power pop’’ bands mentioned in this thread. Also I think early R.E.M should also be given a fair mention-- Chronic Town, Murmur and Reckoning-- are all highly influenced by Big Star.

Big Bad Voodoo Lou, The Velvet Underground and The Stooges are standard music snob name check darlings, but to limit your interest in 70’s and pre-70’s rock to those two bands-- or just proto-punk-- is pretty limiting. First of, 80’s and modern indie-rock draw a huge amount of influence from ‘‘classic 70’s rock,’’ such as Creedence Clearwater Revival*, The Byrds, Neil Young and yes, especially Big Star.

In fact Big Star-- after more well known standards such as VU, The Stooges, The Beatles and possibly The Who-- have been one of the biggest influences on underground rock music, and will most likely continue to be so for years to come.

  • For example: I can’t imagine Minutemen’s punk rock masterpiece “Double Nickels On The Dime,” would have been made, were it not for the influence of CCR’s brilliant “Cosmo’s Factory.”

I see I came off wrong, and I figured I’d get called out on it. :slight_smile: I’m honestly not an elitist music snob (OK, maybe a little). I like Meat Loaf, I dig some songs from Styx and Kansas, I even love “Ice Ice Baby”!

I’m just honestly not a fan of a lot of late-'60s, early-'70s rock bands. I think the fact that “classic rock” radio stations have always pushed the same songs from the same bands down our throats had a lot to do with it, and I just burned out on that stuff. I love some: Queen, the Who, the Stones, the Beatles, even Simon and Garfunkel. But I just never really liked the sound of CCR or Neil Young or the Eagles, and I could go on and on. Purely a matter of personal taste. And I acknowledge the influence they’ve had on bands ever since, for better or for worse.

That said, the little I’ve heard from Dressy Bessy and Apples In Stereo is pretty good: cute girly-pop, very easy on the ears, lots of fun, but nothing like “Advil” Lavigne or the dance-pop Britney clones. Another band you guys might like is the All Girl Summer Fun Band, although their cute girly-pop sound is a lot more raw than the others.

Whoa, BBVLou - steady on, there! Meat Loaf, Styx, Kansas and Vanilla Ice are NOT the names to drop in a Power Pop thread. I love most of the music you’ve mentioned in previous threads but (adopting elitest tone) Yeechhhh!

One thing that is funny about Power Pop - it really is a style of music, not especially popular, per se - hence the thread. But it is often a darling of critics - which means, of course, it is fodder for music snobs - read rackensack’s posts encouraging well-directed snobbishness, and Husker Dude’s, too, if you don’t agree.

I agree with the others - be proud of being a music snob! - just don’t mention Styx, okay? (I mean, a little Bon Scott AC/DC or Junior Walker’s sax solo during the bridge of Foreigner’s “Urgent” - NOW we’re talking guilty pleasures that a music snob would appreciate! And don’t get me started about the Ramones, who are simply gods…)

I totally understand dude, I’m sorry if I came of as condescending, that was not my intent.

I just think ‘‘classic rock’’ has a lot more going for it than it usually gets credited with in indie circles, and your post gave me a window to vent some personal gripes. The Stooges and VU are both two of my all-time favorite bands (I’ve probably listened to Funhouse over 300 times), but still, I can’t stand the inane attitude – which is pretty common amongst young music snobs as myself – that they – and a handful of other proto-punk bands, were the sole inspiration for all future underground rock. That’s just ignorance.

End highjack.

WordMan, what do you think of Big Star’s third, and last studio album, Third/Sister Lovers?

Husker Dude - I have it on order and can hardly wait to get it. You have to understand, I have been meaning to get their first 2 albums for 20 years (no exaggeration) and simply not gotten around to it - finally did (about the one thing I thank Rolling Stone’s 500 greatest albums issue for - I think the list is crap, but seeing Big Star at #438 - what a joke, now that I have listened to it, it should be top 5 - reminded me yet again to get it and I actually did this time…) and have become instantly fanatical. I have the live album and Chris Bell’s I Am the Cosmos in my shopping cart at Amazon, too. I know Third/Sister Lover is supposed to be completely different than the other two, but worthy in its own right. Given my currently obsessed state, it will probably be many years before I am willing to concede that it is possible to Big Star to do any wrong, so I will approach listening with an eager and open mind.

And - stick to your guns regarding being condescending! I agree with you, lots of classic rock is worthy (I mean really, how far apart is AC/DC from the Ramones in terms of basic song structure and simplistic chords with catchy melodies?), but I agree with BBVLou about some “classic rock” bands just not cutting it. Then, of course, my buddy Lou had to go name-check Styx and Kansas on me and shake my faith. But he has wonderful taste otherwise, so I will forgive him this one transgression (oh, man, Lou - Kansas?! I fully admit to liking Point of No Return in high school when it came out - but do so only as part of a full disclosure process not unlike a music-snob 12-step program - to be rid of the band’s pernicious influence!!

Many, many fantastic bands mentioned here. A couple from a few years back that’ve been missed – Material Issue and The Best Kissers In The World. Love 'em!

Another power pop fan checking in. I’ve always defined power pop as groups that wanted to sound like the Beatles and the Who at the same time. I look at Wilco as a power pop band (especially Summerteeth) and the Jayhawks to a lesser degree. Wilco’s “I’m Always in Love” and “Nothingsevergonnastandinmyway (again)” to me are perfect pop tunes.

Has anyone mentioned the Raspberries yet? Songs about getting out of school, going “all the way” and driving around. Beautiful stuff.

allmusic.com has some stuff on power pop. Type in power pop in their search feature, click on “styles” and it has links to album reviews and prominent artists. Every music snob, young or old, should be aware of allmusic.com

I can’t believe that no one has mentioned The Buzzcocks yet! They were one of the first things to jump to mind when I saw this tread.
Anyway, I’ll back up all the votes for Big Star and also chuck in my support for Sloan.
I’ve always had a huge place in my heart for the powerpop genre… leaning more to the punk-edged types. Maybe they are pop-punk instead <shrug>.
Anyway, here’s some of the albums I think of when I think of powerpop:

The Barracudas - Drop Out with the Barracudas
Big Star - #1 Record
Blondie - Eat to the Beat
The Buzzcocks - Love Bites
Cheap Trick - Live at Budokan
Elvis Costello - My Aim is True
The Descendents - The Incredible Shrinking Dickies
The Dickies - The Incredible Shrinking Dickies
The Fastbacks - … and His Orchestra
The Flamin’ Groovies - Shake Some Action
Flop - & the Fall of the Mopsqueezer
Fur Packed Action - The Dull Thud of Fur
Joe Jackson - Look Sharp!
Liz Phair - Exile in Guyville
The Pretenders - S/T
Radio Birdman - Radios Appear
Redd Kross - Neurotica
The Rezillos - Can’t Stand the…
Sloan - Smeared
The Sweet - Desolation Boulevard
The Undertones - Hypnotised
The Young Fresh Fellows - The Men Who Loved Music
V/A - The Roots of Powerpop

Ummm, make that The Descendents - Milo Goes to College

WordMan, I don’t own that record either, but I’m planning on picking it up in the near future, from the bargain bin at my local record shop. It’s there, waiting.

Hugh Jass, I totally agree with Wilco being a power pop band. Summerteeth and especially Yankee Hotel Foxtrot can hardly be considered alt. country; Jeff Tweedy himself, has downright admitted that they wanted to sound like Big Star.

Also – and I’m probably going way, way out on a limb here – but I think Pavement’s “Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain” can be considered power pop as well, just compare CR, CR with Big Stars best album, Radio City, sure it’s a bit noisier, but the similarities are there, and it’s a hell of a lot better than anything Fountains of Wayne has ever released. Still who cares if it’s power pop or not? Fans of Big Star would most likely cream their jeans over that record, and the other way around, which is what happened to me, about two years ago.

“Holy shit, this sounds like Crooked Rain! Wait… 1974?”

I didn’t actually talk out loud.

Ummm, Husker, buddy, I love Big Star and will defend them to the death, so everything is relative. But you’re gonna put Radio City before #1 Record? Wow. That is profound to me. I mean, I can’t see putting much, other than maybe - maybe - Revolver and Rubber Soul before #1 Record. Don’t get me wrong, She’s A Mover, September Gurls and a number of others on Radio City are amazing, but Chilton needed Bell. Let’s be clear on that.

:smiley: Lovin’ the fact that we have to have this discussion. It’s all good!

Cool. I love almost all of the bands mentioned in this thread but I’d never really thought to group them all under the same genre label. The importance of Big Star as an influence really does seem to be a common factor.

Count me as another huge fan of Sloan. I think One Chord To Another is one of the best albums of the 1990s. Check out the few clips available on Amazon, especially the lead track The Good In Everyone.

Another thumbs up for Badfinger as well (their debut album excluded). Their gorgeous Day After Day ranks right beside Here Comes The Sun as one of my alltime favourite pop songs.

Another retro-pick that hasn’t been mentioned is The Hollies. I don’t know whether British Invasion R&B is a perfect fit for the genre but Long Cool Woman In A Black Dress is just too kick-ass not to be mentioned.

A more recent favourite is The Eels. As far as I’m concerned, E’s been tragically neglected. His melodic sensibilites can be almost pure pop at times but the sophistication of the production, dark themes and occasionally jarring clashes of industrial noise lend his albums an edge lacking in most radio pop. I recommend listening to Electro-Shock Blues and Daisies Of The Galaxy in succession to experience an emotionally exhausting meditation on grief and insanity (Elizabeth On The Bathroom Floor, My Descent Into Madness, Last Stop This Town) and then to come out into the sunshine again (sort of) with Grace Kelly’s Blues, Daisies Of The Galaxy and A Daisy Through Concrete.