Power pop

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Power pop (also typeset as powerpop) is a form of pop rock [1] based on the early music of bands such as the Who, the Beatles, the Beach Boys, and the Byrds. [2] [3] It originated in the late 1960s as young music fans began to rebel against the emerging pretensions of rock music, and developed mainly among American musicians who came of age during the British Invasion. The genre typically incorporates melodic hooks, vocal harmonies, an energetic performance, and "happy"-sounding music underpinned by a sense of yearning, longing, or despair.

Pop rock is rock music with a greater emphasis on professional songwriting and recording craft, and less emphasis on attitude. Originating in the 1950s as an alternative to normal rock and roll, early pop rock was influenced by the beat, arrangements, and original style of rock and roll. It may be viewed as a distinct genre field, rather than music that overlaps with pop and rock. The detractors of pop rock often deride it as a slick, commercial product, less authentic than rock music.

The Who English rock band

The Who are an English rock band formed in London in 1964. Their classic line-up consisted of lead singer Roger Daltrey, guitarist and singer Pete Townshend, bass guitarist John Entwistle and drummer Keith Moon. They are considered one of the most influential rock bands of the 20th century, selling over 100 million records worldwide.

The Beatles English rock band

The Beatles were an English rock band formed in Liverpool in 1960. With a line-up comprising John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr, they are regarded as the most influential band of all time. The group were integral to the evolution of pop music into an art form and to the development of the counterculture of the 1960s. Their sound, rooted in skiffle, beat and 1950s rock and roll, incorporated elements of classical music and traditional pop in innovative ways. In later years they experimented with unconventional recording techniques and additional music styles, ranging from pop ballads and Indian music to psychedelia and hard rock. As they continued to draw influences from a variety of cultural sources, their musical and lyrical sophistication grew, and they came to be seen as embodying the era's socio-cultural movements.


The term "power pop" was coined by the Who's Pete Townshend in 1967 to describe their style of music. However, the term became more widely identified with subsequent artists from the 1970s who sought to revive Beatles-style pop. The sound of the genre became more established thanks to early 1970s hits by Badfinger, the Raspberries, and Todd Rundgren. Following the rise of new wave and punk, power pop reached its commercial peak with Cheap Trick, the Knack, the Romantics, Nick Lowe, Dave Edmunds, and Dwight Twilley. At the same time, music critics who wrote about the phenomenon popularized the term's usage and sometimes characterized the music as a more commercial counterpart of punk.

Pete Townshend English rock guitarist of The Who, vocalist, songwriter and author

Peter Dennis Blandford Townshend is an English multi-instrumentalist, singer and songwriter best known as the guitarist, backing and secondary lead vocalist, principal songwriter, co-founder and leader of the rock band the Who. His career with the Who spans over 50 years, during which time the band grew to be one of the most important and influential rock bands of the 20th century.

Beatlesque Term explaining a bands remblance to The Beatles.

"Beatlesque" or "Beatles-esque" describes a musical resemblance to the English rock band the Beatles. The term is loosely defined and has been applied inconsistently to a wide variety of disparate artists.

Badfinger Welsh rock band

Badfinger were a Welsh rock band formed in Swansea that were active from the 1960s to the 1980s. Their best-known lineup consisted of Pete Ham, Mike Gibbins, Tom Evans, and Joey Molland. They are recognised for their influence on the 1970s power pop genre.

After a popular and critical backlash to the genre's biggest-ever hit, "My Sharona" (The Knack, 1979), record companies generally stopped signing power pop groups, and most of its bands broke up in the early 1980s. Over the next two decades, power pop continued with modest commercial success. The 1990s saw a new wave of bands that were drawn to 1960s artists because of the 1980s music they influenced. Although not as successful as their predecessors, Jellyfish, the Posies, Redd Kross, Teenage Fanclub, and Material Issue were critical and cult favorites.

My Sharona 1979 single by The Knack

"My Sharona" is the debut single by the Knack. The song was written by Berton Averre and Doug Fieger, and released in 1979 from their album Get the Knack. It reached number one on the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart where it remained for 6 weeks, and was number one on Billboard's 1979 Top Pop Singles year-end chart.

Jellyfish (band) power pop band

Jellyfish was an American rock band formed in San Francisco in 1989. Their original line-up consisted of songwriters Andy Sturmer and Roger Joseph Manning, Jr., guitarist Jason Falkner, and bassist Chris Manning. Sturmer and Manning Jr. led the group and were its only consistent members.

The Posies American band

The Posies are an American power pop group. The band was formed in 1987 in Bellingham, Washington by primary songwriters Jon Auer and Ken Stringfellow. They are best known for their radio hits "Golden Blunders", as well as "Dream All Day", "Solar Sister" and "Flavor of the Month".


The Who Hamburg 1972 2 (cropped).jpg
Televisie-optreden van The Beatles in Treslong te Hillegom vlnr. Paul McCartney, Bestanddeelnr 916-5099.jpg
Sullivan Beach Boys (cropped).jpg
From top: The Who (1972), the Beatles (1964), and the Beach Boys (1964)

Power pop is a more aggressive form of pop rock that is based on catchy, melodic hooks and energetic moods. [4] AllMusic describes the style as "a cross between the crunching hard rock of the Who and the sweet melodicism of the Beatles and the Beach Boys, with the ringing guitars of the Byrds thrown in for good measure". [2] Virtually every artist of the genre has been a rock band consisting of white male musicians who engaged with the song forms, vocal arrangements, chord progressions, rhythm patterns, instrumentation, or overall sound associated with groups of the mid 1960s British Invasion era. [5]

AllMusic Online music database

AllMusic is an online music database. It catalogs more than 3 million album entries and 30 million tracks, as well as information on musical artists and bands. It launched in 1991, predating the World Wide Web.

Hard rock is a loosely defined subgenre of rock music that began in the mid-1960s, with the garage, psychedelic and blues rock movements. It is typified by a heavy use of aggressive vocals, distorted electric guitars, bass guitar, drums, and often accompanied with keyboards.

The Beach Boys Rock band from Hawthorne, California

The Beach Boys are an American rock band formed in Hawthorne, California in 1961. The group's original lineup consisted of brothers Brian, Dennis, and Carl Wilson, their cousin Mike Love, and their friend Al Jardine. Distinguished by their vocal harmonies and early surf songs, they are one of the most influential acts of the rock era. The band drew on the music of jazz-based vocal groups, 1950s rock and roll, and black R&B to create their unique sound, and with Brian as composer, arranger, producer, and de facto leader, they often incorporated classical elements and unconventional recording techniques in innovative ways.

An essential feature of power pop is that its "happy"-sounding arrangements are supported by a sense of "yearning", "longing", or "despair" similar to formative works such as "Wouldn't It Be Nice" (The Beach Boys, 1966) and "Pictures of Lily" (The Who, 1967). This might be achieved with an unexpected harmonic change or lyrics that refer to "tonight", "tomorrow night", "Saturday night", and so on. [6] Power pop was also noted for its lack of irony and its reverence to classic pop craft. [7] Its reconfiguration of 1960s tropes, music journalist Paul Lester argued, could make it one of the first postmodern music genres. [8]

Wouldnt It Be Nice original song written and composed by Brian Wilson

"Wouldn't It Be Nice" is a song written by Brian Wilson, Tony Asher, and Mike Love for the American rock band the Beach Boys. It was released as the opening track on their 1966 album Pet Sounds. The song was also released as a single two months after the album's release with "God Only Knows" as its B-side. In other countries, the sides were flipped, with "Wouldn't It Be Nice" as the single's B-side. Its lyrics describe a couple in love lamenting about being too young to run off to get married, fantasizing about how nice it would be if they were adults.

Pictures of Lily 1967 single by The Who

"Pictures of Lily" is a single by the British rock band the Who, written by guitarist and primary songwriter Pete Townshend. It was released in 1967 as a single, and made the top five in the UK, but failed to break into the top 50 in the United States. In 1971, "Pictures of Lily" was included in the Who album Meaty Beaty Big and Bouncy, a compilation of previously released singles.

Paul Lester is a British music journalist, author and broadcaster from Elstree, North London.

The Who's Pete Townshend coined "power pop" in a May 1967 interview promoting their latest single "Pictures of Lily". [9] [10] 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." [11] Despite other bands following in the power pop continuum since then, the term was not popularized until the rise of new wave music in the late 1970s. [10] Greg Shaw, editor of Bomp! magazine, was the most prominent in the slew of music critics that wrote about power pop (then written as "powerpop"). This mirrored similar developments with the term "punk rock" from earlier in the decade. In light of this, Theo Cateforis, author of Are We Not New Wave? (2011), wrote that "the recognition and formulation of [power pop as a] genre was by no means organic." [12]

Small Faces English band

Small Faces were an English rock band from East London. The group was founded in 1965 by members Steve Marriott, Ronnie Lane, Kenney Jones, and Jimmy Winston, although by 1966 Winston was replaced by Ian McLagan as the band's keyboardist.

Fun, Fun, Fun Single by the Beach Boys

"Fun, Fun, Fun" is a song written by Brian Wilson and Mike Love for American rock band the Beach Boys. It was released in 1964 as a single backed with "Why Do Fools Fall in Love", both later appearing on the band's album Shut Down Volume 2.

New wave is a genre encompassing numerous pop-oriented music styles popular in the late 1970s and the 1980s with ties to mid-1970s punk rock. New wave moved away from traditional blues and rock and roll sounds to create rock music or pop music (later) that incorporated disco, mod, and electronic music. Initially new wave was similar to punk rock, before becoming a distinct genre. It subsequently engendered subgenres and fusions, including synth-pop.

There is significant debate among fans over what should be classed as power pop. [9] Shaw took credit for codifying the genre in 1978, describing it as a hybrid style of pop and punk. He later wrote that "much to my chagrin, the term was snapped up by legions of limp, second-rate bands hoping the majors would see them as a safe alternative to punk." [13] Music journalist John M. Borack also stated in his 2007 book Shake Some Action – The Ultimate Guide to Power Pop that the label is often applied to varied groups and artists with "blissful indifference," noting its use in connection with Britney Spears, Green Day, the Bay City Rollers and Def Leppard. [14]

Power pop has struggled with its critical reception and is sometimes viewed as a shallow style of music associated with teenage audiences. The perception was exacerbated by record labels in the early 1980s who used the term for marketing post-punk styles. [15] Music critic Ken Sharp summarized that power pop is "the Rodney Dangerfield of rock 'n' roll. ... the direct updating of the most revered artists—the Who, the Beach Boys, the Beatles—yet it gets no respect." [9] In 1996, singer-songwriter Tommy Keene commented that any association to the term since the 1980s is to be "compared to a lot of bands that didn't sell records, it's like a disease. If you're labeled that, you're history." [16] Musician Steve Albini said: "I cannot bring myself to use the term 'power pop.' Catchy, mock-descriptive terms are for dilettantes and journalists. I guess you could say I think this music is for pussies and should be stopped." [17]


1960s: Origins and precursors

Power pop originated in the late 1960s as young music fans began to rebel against the emerging pretensions of rock music. [3] During this period, a schism developed between "serious" artists who rejected pop and "crassly commercial" pop acts who embraced their teenybopper audience. [19] Greg Shaw credited the Who as the starting point for power pop, whereas Carl Caferelli (writing in Borack's book) said that "the story really begins circa 1964, with the commercial ascension of the Beatles in America." [1] While acknowledging numerous precedents for the Beatles' style and sound, Caferelli recognized the group for their embodiment of the "pop band" ideal. [20] According to The Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock & Roll, the genre's key influences came from British Invasion bands, particularly the Merseybeat sound first popularised by the Beatles and its "jangly guitars, pleasant melodies, immaculate vocal harmonies, and a general air of teenage innocence". [21]

I believe pop music should be like the TV—something you can turn on and off and shouldn't disturb the mind. ... It's very hard to like "Strawberry Fields" for simply what it is. Some artists are becoming musically unapproachable.

—Pete Townshend, 1967 [10]

When Pete Townshend coined the term, he suggested that songs like "I Can't Explain" (1965) and "Substitute" (1966) were more accessible than the changing, more experimental directions other groups such as the Beatles were taking. [10] However, the term did not become widely identified with the Who, [22] and it would take a few years before the genre's stylistic elements coalesced into a more recognizable form. [6] The A.V. Club 's Noel Murray said that "once the sound became more viable and widely imitated, it was easier to trace the roots of the genre back to rockabilly, doo-wop, girl groups, and the early records of The Beatles, The Byrds, The Beach Boys, The Kinks, and The Who." [3] Robert Hilburn traced the genre "chiefly from the way the Beatles and the Beach Boys mixed rock character and pure Top 40 instincts in such records as the latter's 'California Girls'." [23] Borack noted, "It's also quite easy to draw a not-so-crooked line from garage rock to power pop." [24]

One of the earliest examples of the type of nostalgia that became central to power pop was the Beach Boys' 1968 single "Do It Again", a throwback to the band's early hits. [25] Townshend himself was heavily influenced by the guitar work of Beach Boy Carl Wilson, [26] while the Who's debut single "I Can't Explain" was indebted to the Kinks' "You Really Got Me" (1964). [19] Roy Shuker identified the leading American power pop acts of the time as the Byrds, Tommy James and the Shondells, and Paul Revere and the Raiders. [15] Also significant to power pop in the 1960s was the Dave Clark Five, [27] the Creation, [28] the Easybeats, [28] the Move, [3] [15] and the Nazz. [9]

1970s: Emergence

Todd Rundgren's work with Nazz in the 1960s and as a solo artist in the 1970s was significant to the development of the genre. Todd Rungreen.jpg
Todd Rundgren's work with Nazz in the 1960s and as a solo artist in the 1970s was significant to the development of the genre.

In the 1970s, the rock scene fragmented into many new styles. Artists drifted away from the influence of early Beatles songs, and any who cited the Beatles or the Who as influences were a minority. [10] In Paul Lester's description, "powerpop is really a 70s invention. It's about young musicians missing the 60s but taking its sound in new directions. ... not just an alternative to prog and the hippy troubadours, but a cousin to glam." [8] Novelist Michael Chabon believed that the genre did not truly come into its own until the emergence of "second generation" power pop acts in the early 1970s. [6] Lester added that it was "essentially an American response to the British Invasion, made by Anglophiles a couple of years too young to have been in bands the first time round." [8]

For many fans of power pop, the "bloated and sterile" feeling of much 1970s rock was a reflection of the Beatles' breakup in 1970. [20] During the early to middle part of the decade, there were only a few acts that continued the tradition of Beatles-style pop. Some were younger glam/glitter bands, while others were "'60s holdovers" that refused to update their sound. [20] One of the most prominent groups in the latter category was Badfinger, the first artists signed to the Beatles' Apple Records. Although they had international top 10 chart success with "Come and Get It" (1969), "No Matter What" (1970), and "Day After Day" (1971), they were criticized in the music press as Beatles imitators. [29] Caferelli described them as "one of the earliest--and finest purveyors" of power pop. [29] Conversely, AllMusic states that while Badfinger were among the groups that established the genre's sound, the Raspberries were the only power pop band of the era to have hit singles. [2] Noel Murray wrote that Badfinger had "some key songs" that were power pop "before the genre really existed". [3]

1972, according to Magnet 's Andrew Earles, was "year zero" for power pop: Big Star and the Raspberries emerged, Todd Rundgren released Something/Anything? , the Flamin' Groovies recorded "Shake Some Action", and many garage bands stopped emulating the Rolling Stones. [9] Chabon additionally credited the Raspberries, Badfinger, Big Star, and Rundgren's "Couldn't I Just Tell You" and "I Saw the Light" with "inventing" the genre. [6] On a television performance from that year, Rundgren introduced "Couldn't I Just Tell You" as a part of "the latest musical trend, power pop." [30] Lester called the studio recording of the song a "masterclass in compression" and said that Rundgren "staked his claim to powerpop immortality [and] set the whole ball rolling". [8]

Raspberries were the only American band that had hit singles. [9] Murray recognized the Raspberries as the most representative power pop band and described their 1972 US top 10 "Go All The Way" as "practically a template for everything the genre could be, from the heavy arena-rock hook to the cooing, teenybopper-friendly verses and chorus." [3] Caferelli described the follow-up "I Wanna Be with You" (1972) as "perhaps the definitive power pop single". [31] However, like Badfinger, the Raspberries were derided as "Beatles clones". [32] Singer Eric Carmen remembered that there "were a lot of people in 1972 who were not ready for any band that even remotely resembled the Beatles." [31] Raspberries dissolved in 1977 as Carmen pursued a solo career. [9]

1970s–1980s: Commercial peak

Cheap Trick playing in 1978 Cheaptrick1.jpg
Cheap Trick playing in 1978

A recognizable movement of power pop bands following in the tradition of the Raspberries started emerging in the late 1970s, [2] with groups such as Cheap Trick, the Jam, the Romantics, the Shoes, and the Flamin' Groovies, who were seen as 1960s revivalist bands. [33] Much of these newer bands were influenced by late 1960s AM radio, which fell in a rapid decline due to the popularity of the AOR and progressive rock FM radio format. [34] By 1977, there was a renewed interest in the music and culture of the 1960s, with examples such as the Beatlemania musical and the growing mod revival. [35] AABA forms and double backbeats also made their return after many years of disuse in popular music. [36]

Spurred on by the emergence of punk rock and new wave, power pop enjoyed a prolific and commercially successful period from the late 1970s into the early 1980s. [9] Throughout the two decades, the genre existed parallel to and occasionally drew from developments such as glam rock, pub rock, punk, new wave, college rock, and neo-psychedelia. [3] AllMusic states that these new groups were "swept along with the new wave because their brief, catchy songs fit into the post-punk aesthetic." [2] Most bands rejected the irreverence, cynicism, and irony that characterized new wave, believing that pop music was an art that reached its apex in the mid 1960s, sometimes referred to as the "poptopia". This in turn led many critics to dismiss power pop as derivative work. [37]

Ultimately, the groups with the best-selling records were Cheap Trick, the Knack, the Romantics, and Dwight Twilley, whereas Shoes, the Records, the Nerves, and 20/20 only drew cult followings. [2] Writing for Time in 1978, Jay Cocks cited Nick Lowe and Dave Edmunds as "the most accomplished purveyors of power pop", which he described as "the well-groomed stepbrother of punk rock". Edmunds was quoted: "Before the New Wave ... There was no chance for the little guy who buys a guitar and starts a band. What we're doing is kids' music, really, just four-four time and good songs." [38] Cheap Trick became the most successful act in the genre's history thanks to the band's constant touring schedule and stage theatrics. According to Andrew Earles, the group's "astonishing acceptance in Japan (documented on 1979's At Budokan ) and hits 'Surrender' and 'I Want You To Want Me,' the Trick took power pop to an arena level and attained a degree of success that the genre had never seen, nor would ever see again." [9]

The biggest chart hit by a power pop band was the Knack's debut single, "My Sharona", which topped the Billboard Hot 100 chart for six weeks in August–September 1979. However, the song'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. [33] Once the Knack failed to maintain their commercial momentum, record companies generally stopped signing power pop groups. [23] Most bands of the 1970s milieu broke up in the early 1980s. [2]

1980s–1990s: Resurgence

The Posies, 2000 The Posies - Bumbershoot 2000.jpg
The Posies, 2000

In the 1980s and 1990s, power pop continued as a commercially modest genre with artists such as Redd Kross and the Spongetones, [39] The later records of XTC also became a touchstone for bands such as Jellyfish and the Apples in Stereo, [40] while Big Star developed an avid cult following among members of later bands like R.E.M. and the Replacements who expressed esteem for the group's work. [41] Many bands who were primarily influenced by Big Star blended power pop with the ethos and sounds of alternative rock. AllMusic cited Teenage Fanclub, Material Issue, and the Posies as "critical and cult favorites". [2]

In 1991, The Los Angeles Times ' Chris Willman identified Jellyfish, the Posies, and Redd Kross as the leaders of a "new wave of rambunctious Power Pop bands that recall the days when moptops were geniuses, songs were around three minutes long and a great hook--a catchy melodic phrase that "hooks" the listener—was godhead." [42] Members of Jellyfish and Posies said that they were drawn to 1960s artists because of the 1980s music they influenced. At the time, it was uncertain whether the movement could have mainstream success. Karen Glauber, editor of Hits magazine, said that "The popular conception is that these bands are 'retro,' or not post-modern enough because they're not grunge and because the Posies are from Seattle and don't sound like Mudhoney." [42]

Velvet Crush's Ric Menck credited Nirvana with ultimately making it "possible for people like Matthew [Sweet] and the Posies and Material Issue and, to some extent, us to get college radio play." [16] As power pop "gained the attention of hip circles", many older bands reformed to record new material that was released on independent labels. Chicago label Numeru Uno issued a series of albums called Yellow Pills that compiled new tracks by these groups as well as contemporary bands. For the rest of decade, AllMusic writes, "this group of independent, grass-roots power-pop bands gained a small but dedicated cult following in the United States." [2]

1990s–present: Festival bills

In 1998, International Pop Overthrow (IPO)—named after the album of the same name by Material Issue—began holding a yearly festival for power pop bands. Originally taking place in Los Angeles, the festival expanded to several locations over the years, including Canada and Liverpool, England (the latter event included performances at the Cavern Club). [43] Paul Collins of the Beat and the Nerves hosted the Power Pop-A-Licious music festival in 2011 and 2013, featuring a mixture of classic and rising bands with an emphasis on power pop, punk rock, garage and roots rock. The concerts were held at Asbury Lanes in Asbury Park, New Jersey and the Cake Shop in New York City. Paul Collins and his group the Beat headlined the two-day events. [44]

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Art pop is a loosely defined style of pop music influenced by pop art's integration of high and low culture, and which emphasizes the manipulation of signs, style, and gesture over personal expression. Art pop artists may be inspired by postmodern approaches or art theories as well as other forms of art, such as fashion, fine art, cinema, and avant-garde literature. They may deviate from traditional pop audiences and rock music conventions, instead exploring ideas such as pop's status as commercial art, notions of artifice and the self, and questions of historical authenticity.

Experimental rock is a subgenre of rock music which pushes the boundaries of common composition and performance technique or which experiments with the basic elements of the genre. Artists aim to liberate and innovate, with some of the genre's distinguishing characteristics being improvisational performances, avant-garde influences, odd instrumentation, opaque lyrics, unorthodox structures and rhythms, and an underlying rejection of commercial aspirations.

Progressive pop is pop music that attempts to break with the genre's standard formula, or an offshoot of the progressive rock genre that was commonly heard on AM radio in the 1970s and 1980s. It was originally termed for the early progressive rock of the 1960s. Some stylistic features of progressive pop include changes in key and rhythm, experiments with larger forms, and unexpected, disruptive, or ironic treatments of past conventions.


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Further reading