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My Top Ten Power Pop Acts

Jari Mäkeläinen asked me to contribute a sidebar piece to be used in Manifesti, a fanzine published in Finland. The challenge posed to sidebar contributors: name your all-time top ten power pop acts.

In the words of Micky Dolenz: okay, I will.

MY TOP TEN POWER POP ACTS

by Carl Cafarelli

For me, the challenge of naming my all-time top ten power pop acts is in deciding what parameters of power pop I wanna play within. While many view power pop as strictly a post-Beatles phenomenon, I agree with the view expressed by writers Greg Shaw and Gary Sperrazza! in Bomp! magazine’s epic 1978 power pop issue: power pop began in the ’60s. Greg ‘n’ Gary traced power pop back to the early Who, while I go a little bit further back to the Beatles’ “Please Please Me” in 1963. I’ve begun to entertain the notion that power pop predates even that; I don’t think the music of Buddy Hollythe Beach Boys, or the Everly Brothers is quite power pop, but it’s difficult to dismiss the power pop gravitas of some of Eddie Cochran‘s singles, especially “Somethin’ Else” and “Nervous Breakdown.”

But I wouldn’t list the Beatles or the Kinks among my all-time Fave Rave power pop acts, if only because so much of their work falls outside my idea of power pop. The Who were 100 % power pop until Tommy, and really not power pop after that. 

So my power pop Top Ten doesn’t go back to the ’60s. By default, and for different reasons, I wind up agreeing with those who won’t move power pop’s Ground Zero to any date before John, Paul, George, and Ringo settled on separate and individual long and winding roads. I’ve also come to accept the idea that power pop isn’t so much a genre as it an approach, which means relatively few acts are strictly power pop all of the time. With all that said, this list offers ten dynamic rock ‘n’ roll combos I’m comfortable referring to as power pop acts.

THE WHO

Yeah, I was lying. Upon further review, you can’t talk about power pop without talking about the early Who, “I Can’t Explain” through The Who Sell Out. It’s not just because Pete Townshend coined the phrase; it’s because he and his band embodied it. Everything the Who did before Tommy is at least peripheral to power pop, and much of it is the power pop Gospel.

THE FLASHCUBES

Power pop on the radio, where it belongs. The horny singles–“Go All The Way,” “I Wanna Be With You,” “Tonight,” and “Ecstasy”–plus the dreamy “Let’s Pretend” (also covered by the Bay City Rollers) and album track “Play On” combine for a compact summary of the Raspberries’ power pop c.v.

THE RAMONES

A consistently controversial choice for a power pop list, but I side with the Bomp! writers who considered the Ramones an essential part of the power pop story. The first four albums tell the tale: RamonesLeave HomeRocket To Russia, and Road To Ruin, with a little extra oomph provided by the irresistible in-concert document It’s Alive!

BADFINGER

This gets back to the idea that some (many, most) power pop bands aren’t power pop all of the time. Badfinger certainly wasn’t, but then I’ve also gotta get back to that idea of power pop on the radio, where it belongs. “Baby Blue” may be my all-time # 1 favorite track by anybody.

THE ROMANTICS

On the other hand, the Romantics are generally power pop regardless of their intent. It’s their DNA. They tried to make a hard rock album, Strictly Personal, but it came out as hard-rockin’ power pop, and I mean that as a compliment. If you do just one Romantics album, you’ve gotta go with the eponymous debut, which includes “What I Like About You” and “When I Look In Your Eyes.” Their early indie singles are likewise essential, especially “Little White Lies”/”I Can’t Tell You Anything.”

THE GO-GO’S

I continuously waffle on the question of whether or not the Go-Go’s can be considered a power pop act. Their debut album Beauty And The Beat comes close at the very least, and its power remains undiminished forty years on. It’s not just that album’s great singles “We Got The Beat” and “Our Lips Are Sealed,” but also album tracks like “Can’t Stop The World” and “This Town” that make the case on behalf of the Go-Go’s. Add in subsequent tracks from “Vacation” to “Head Over Heels” to “The Whole World Lost Its Head” to “La La Land,” and it’s difficult to deny the truth that this is pop with power.

THE NERVES

Cheating, but I don’t care. The Nerves’ eponymous 1976 EP inspired Blondie with “Hanging On The Telephone” (written by the Nerves’ Jack Lee), but Lee’s fellow Nerves Paul Collins and Peter Case went on to have significant and prevailing impact on power pop with their post-Nerves work in Paul Collins’ Beat and the Plimsouls, respectively.

BIG STAR

Big Star’s story also sprawls, spills, and bleeds beyond power pop territory, and I’m sympathetic to those who claim the group’s records didn’t have the pure power one would expect from power pop. Nonetheless: “Back Of A Car” delivers, and “September Gurls” transcends our silly little labels to assume the description a rock journalist bestowed upon it decades ago: “Innocent, but deadly.” First two albums, # 1 Record and Radio CityThird, however, is most definitely not power pop.

THE SPONGETONES

North Carolina’s phenomenal pop combo the Spongetones have always taken their love of rock and pop and Beatles and British Invasion and channeled it into something unerringly Fab. You know that can’t be bad.

With a limit of ten acts in this exercise, I can’t go on to tell you about the RubinoosPezbandHolly and the Italiansthe Flamin’ Grooviesthe RecordsShoesthe BuzzcocksGeneration XDirty Looksthe Shivversthe ScruffsSorrowsArtful DodgerBlue Ashthe Knack, and dozens more, then and now. Good thing that, in real life, we’re not limited to just ten favorite power pop acts, right? Play on.

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I’m on Twitter @CafarelliCarl.

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Pezband / The Power Pop Hall Of Fame

Sparkling power pop! Chicago’s musical DNA is understood to be that of a blues town. Rightly so; the Windy City’s seminal role in developing and shaping the blues as we know it is beyond question, and Chicago deserves further specific recognition as the home of the mighty Chess Records label. But Chicago is large; it contains multitudes. It’s not a contradiction for a city to produce and embrace more than one style of music. For power pop–sparkling power pop–Chicago’s favorite sons would have to be Pezband.

Pezband denied comparisons to The Raspberries, but the similarities were always too obvious to ignore.  Influenced by The Beatles and other ’60s pop juggernauts? Check! Breathy vocals over hook-filled jangle ‘n’ buzz, tailor-made for the best AM radio station ever?  Right-o, daddy-o. Harmonies? Guitars? Oomph? Yeah, yeah, yeah. Pezband released three albums of pleasantly Beatlesque pop, commencing with 1977’s Pezband.  That debut album included Pezband’s signature tune “Baby It’s Cold Outside,” and it carried a proud advisory to File Under: Pop Vocal. Pezband seemed primed for the poppermost’s elusive toppermost. And while the frenzied mass adulation of Pezbandmania never materialized, Pezband remains one of the all-time great power pop acts.

Pezband’s second album, 1978’s Laughing In The Dark, overtly embraced power pop as a marketing approach, its above-cited Sparkling power pop ad line beating The Knack to the punch by a year or so. 1979’s Cover To Cover was Pezband’s final album, and the group disbanded shortly thereafter. There have been reunions and scattered archival releases, but the U.S. market is sadly lacking the comprehensive Pezband reissue series pop fans deserve. Even a best-of set, collecting Pezband essentials like “Baby It’s Cold Outside,” “Stop! Wait A Minute,” “Love Goes Underground,” “Come On Madeline,” “Please Be Somewhere Tonight,” and “Waiting In Line” would serve as a potent reminder of Pezband’s status among the all-time giants of power pop. Pezband frontman Mimi Betinis remains active, crafting pure pop for new and old people, a national treasure waiting in line for overdue recognition. That recognition begins with Pezband’s induction into The Power Pop Hall Of Fame. Just another power pop band from Chicago? No. Chicago’s phenomenal pop combo, a blues town’s favorite power pop sons. Love goes underground. The bright sound of Pezband reverberates still.


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