Defining power pop is the ultimate argument-starter. Explaining the genre without inciting fisticuffs, tears or yearlong grudges is a mountainous socio-cultural accomplishment. Pop is supposed to be fun, beautiful and, if done right, the flame underneath transcendent human desire. The well-written hook is the world’s most underrated aphrodisiac, right? You’d be sorely mistaken if you think any of that entered into the two months of e-mail discussions between MAGNET staffers as to what is and isn’t power pop. The real point, for writer and reader, isn’t to set boundaries or fish for phantom discrepancies—it’s to be turned on to this music of holy grails, doe-eyed dreamers and out-of-time progenitors.
Along with American power pop’s inception in the ‘70s came its almost immediate tendency to perpetually approach the puckering lips of failure. Ken Sharp, author of books on the Raspberries, Cheap Trick (pictured) and power pop itself, says it best: “Power pop is the Rodney Dangerfield of rock ‘n’ roll. It is the direct updating of the most revered artists—the Who, the Beach Boys, the Beatles—yet it gets no respect.”
But if you take away the extreme gender imbalance (there are more females making death metal), power pop—when broken down to its variables—is very cool. The makers and lovers of it tend to dress well and look healthy, and the fan base actually features real live women. The music is sexy and about girls. By comparison, the great unwashed and unlaid of today’s math-rock, laptop and noise scenes are a far more depressing, slovenly and uncool demographic.
Appropriately enough, the zillion-dollar term was coined by Pete Townshend. It popped from his tea hole in 1967 when asked by a journalist what the Who’s next single, “Pictures Of Lily,” would sound like. “Power pop is what we play,” he said. British bands in the ‘60s would plainly shape the American sound of the ‘70s: the Who, Zombies, Hollies, Easybeats, Move, Small Faces, Creation and, of course, Beatles. As for the U.S., Gene Clark’s compositions on the first two Byrds LPs, the Left Banke and the Nazz (Todd Rundgren’s Anglophilic pop group) provided some glaring precursors, but the real power in the pop was on the other side of the Atlantic.