Putting Power Pop in Perspective, Part I

(Editor's Note: After the debates concerning the Dave Clark Five and power pop that erupted this spring, in "The Dave Clark Five? Who is Kidding Whom?" and "iVoryTowerz Radio: Shame on the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame," this post attempts to set the musical record straight. This is the first part of a three-part series.)

by Rick Rockwell

Pete Townshend of The Who is widely credited with inventing the term power pop to describe his band, but it’s debatable if The Who actually played that style of music. Or played it for very long.

Those who play power pop and the critics who write about it usually define it as drawing from the pop influences of The Beach Boys, The Beatles, and The Byrds. However, the power in the name means creating a harder sonic edge: power chords, thrashing lead guitar solos, and dynamic drumming, all condensed into tight three- and four-minute packages.

Several musical generations after Townshend talked about power pop, you can still hear elements of the genre in bands from this decade such as the All-American Rejects (whose wimpy sound borders on emo), Fall Out Boy (inconsistent, superficial, but occasionally inspired), and Weezer (this band has the genre down cold, and is usually a joy to hear).

The Who, which began as a Beatles knock off group specializing in playing to the gangs of the U.K. in the 1960s, became one of the leading bands of the second wave of the British Invasion. The sound of The Who, The Kinks, and other British acts actually may have reverberated back influencing The Beatles to toughen their sound with tracks like “Taxman,” “Day Tripper,” and “Paperback Writer.” But The Who went on quickly to rock operas with Tommy and Quadrophenia, and the rock press rarely applied Townshend’s description of his band’s music to The Who.

The Who, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Kinks and other huge bands of the British Invasion were actually elevating pop beyond mere musical trifles. Meanwhile, acts like the Dave Clark Five were churning out more of the trifling music that many called bubblegum. Despite the Dave Clark Five’s inclusion in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, many musicologists, including Italy’s influential Piero Scaruffi, mark the Dave Clark Five as a mere musical asterisk in the 1960s, while bands such as Paul Revere and the Raiders and The Standells from the U.S. would prove potent influences in both garage rock and later power pop. (Wrongly, Rolling Stone wrote in the 1970s that power pop was a term invented as a euphemism for punk rock, and also mixed up the bubblegum sounds of the Dave Clark Five with the edgier garage rockers, like the Raiders. Perhaps this is the origin of the popular misconceptions about both the Dave Clark Five and power pop. As many know, Rolling Stone still often gets it wrong.) Notably, the bubblegum essence of the Dave Clark Five was spent by 1970, while many of the powerful bands of the British Invasion continued onward.

When it comes to the search for the first true power pop act, some actually point to Badfinger, the band The Beatles shaped as one of the first signed to The Beatles’ Apple Records. Badfinger released a number of energetic singles in 1969 which became part of the band's 1970 debut. However, like The Beatles, many found Badfinger's sound to be many more parts pop, without much of the power.

However, the 1970s would actually produce the true beginnings of power pop as a genre on to itself. The Raspberries in 1972 (a band that produced a number of charted hits) and Big Star (which had a cult following and even found it hard to get played on FM) emerged as the first pure power pop bands in the U.S. And although power pop precedes many of the musical upheavals of the 1970s, it would be carried along in the tidal wave later in the decade that produced the punk and new wave movements.

(To read the second part of this series, please go here.)

(The promotional photo of The Raspberries is the cover of their debut from Capitol Records in 1972. To see The Raspberries play "Go All the Way," what some call the first power pop hit, please check below.)

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TarBabyJim said...

I enjoyed reading your blog. Look forward to part 2.

James Baldwin
Spokane WA
My personal fan site:
LetHerIn dot org

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