Article on Power Pop
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Fri Jul 23 22:12:22 CDT 2004
Q&A with Fountains of Wayne
Friday, July 23, 2004
By Scott Mervis, Post-Gazette Weekend editor, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
What is power pop?
Well, pop with power. In essence, it's the bright sound of two guitars, bass
and drums as defined by the Beatles at the Cavern in the early '60s. The
emphasis is on big hooks, catchy melodies and up-tempo beats. It also helps
to have a nice suit. Bands can feel free to add a dash of keyboards, but
they better not sound like Keith Emerson. And if you go beyond three
minutes, you're probably headed into a different genre.
Who coined the term?
It's credited to Pete Townshend, who used it in the mid-'60s to describe the
sound of The Who.
What's the poetry of power pop?
Well, it's not about fairies and gnomes or bustles in your hedgerows, that's
for sure. In the liner notes to the Rhino series "Poptopia! Power Pop
Classics ..." Keith Gorman writes, "Power pop is puberty with all the
annoying parts pruned away. Power pop is life stripped down to its most
essential elements: you, her, what you wish you'd said, how you wish you'd
acted. It's no accident that nearly all power pop songs are love songs, in
one way or another."
Who were the early power pop bands?
The Beatles, of course, the Beach Boys, The Who, the Kinks, the Byrds, all
of which started to get more arty by the late '60s. Badfinger, who signed
with Apple in 1968, picked up the ball and created power pop hits such as
"No Matter What" and the McCartney-penned "Come and Get It."
As rock music got more expansive in the early '70s, with complicated
structures, far-out lyrics and more indulgent soloing, acts like the
Raspberries ("Go All the Way"), Todd Rundgren ("Couldn't I Just Tell You")
and the lesser-known Big Star ("September Girls") and The Flamin' Groovies
("Shake Some Action") were keeping alive the bright melodic style of the
How did it survive the '70s?
Power pop had a rough time competing with the prog rock and pop metal of the
mid- to late '70s. A shining example, though, of its vitality was Cheap
Trick, whose hard-rocking "Surrender" is considered one of the genre's
classics. ELO also had its power-pop leanings.
This was also a period when power-pop acts -- taking on a more sonic sheen
-- found themselves packaged as part of the New Wave, among them Nick Lowe
("Cruel to be Kind"), Elvis Costello ("The Angels Want to Wear My Red
Shoes"), Squeeze ("Pulling Mussels (From the Shell)"), the Romantics ("What
I Like About You") and Shoes ("Too Late").
The Knack is renowned as the source of the power pop's great backlash in the
wake of its propulsive 1979 hit "My Sharona."
How did power pop change in the mid-'80s?
Power pop doesn't change a whole lot -- that's part of the beauty. But once
the New Wave explosion died down, it did start to sound less synthesized and
more rootsy. Keeping the tradition were bands such as The Plimsouls ("A
Million Miles Away"), Marshall Crenshaw ("Someday Someway"), The Smithereens
("Behind the Wall of Sleep") and, on the eccentric psychedelic side, the
dB's. Checking in from overseas were favorites like the Hoodoo Gurus
(Australia) and Teenage Fanclub (Scotland).
How did it get along with grunge?
Power pop is a far cry from Pearl Jam and Alice in Chains, but Kurt Cobain
seemed to have one foot in the power-pop world. Oasis definitely had Beatles
sense with songs like "Wonderwall." The Posies had a touch of the Hollies.
Matthew Sweet had the more American touch of "Girlfriend." Weezer, an
occasional power-pop band, also came along to brighten the decade with
Will Fountains of Wayne object to their association to this whole power-pop
Perhaps. While songs like "Stacy's Mom" have already been added to the
power-pop canon, the band doesn't like the tag much, contending that it's
limiting and doesn't help sales much. Fountains of Wayne singer Collingwood
told the Orange County Register, "That expression is like the kiss of death.
Bands who are called power pop are continually talked about, and people say,
'Oh, what a great band!' But then they never get on the radio and suffer a
Will power pop ever go away?
No. It's already made it 40-some years, and there's always someone around to
revive it when it seems to be losing its pulse. Power pop can still be heard
in Fountains of Wayne, Weezer, They Might Be Giants, The Minus 5, Jet,
Shazam and Pittsburgh's own Breakup Society. Some of those bands even get on
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