Tag Archives: Sweet Talk

The New Face of Power Pop

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By the early ’70s, the Beatles had become something of a whipping boy amongst more experimental rock bands. Groups like The Stooges and The Velvet Underground favored raw riffs over layered harmonies and, in direct contrast to the sumptuousness of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, kept production minimal and gritty.

But despite this growing insurgency, there were still a number acts who fondly remembered the Beatles’ mop-top era. Badfinger, The Raspberries, and Cheap Trick all worked Who-style riffage through their early-Fab-Four template, and while they all netted some radio play for their songwriting prowess, they too were nonetheless often tossed off as “throwbacks” both by critics as well as stadium rock-oriented FM programmers. But by the end of the decade, those three bands—along with Big Star’s slow-burn influence—had sketched out the template for power pop, creating a light at the end of punk’s increasingly dark tunnel for bands who didn’t join hardcore’s macho march into the Reagan years.

The Knack were arguably the best known of the bunch, distilling the ’70s neo-Help! twists into tight, two-minute tunes with just the right amount of lyrical naughtiness. They had the sole huge hit of the first wave of power pop with “My Sharona,” in 1979. Toss in the Flamin’ Groovies, The Romantics, and then a hefty pile of awesome also-rans (the Shoes, Dwight Twilley, Paul Collins Beat, Holly & the Italians), and sure as hell shoulda-beens (Real Kids, The Nerves, Niki & the Corvettes, Milk ‘n’ Cookies, Shivvers), and the industry had itself a certifiable trend from about 1978-81.

That moment came bubbling back in the mid ’90s, in the midst of grunge’s big, moaning moment. As an antidote, loads of garage bands started turning to power pop reissues, like Rhino’s excellent DIY series, as well as the more accessible late ‘80s bands that sprang from the original trend. It was easy to find used copies of ‘80s major label power pop acts like the Go-Gos, the Plimsouls, the Bangles, and the Smithereens, and soon, The Posies, Teenage Fanclub, Lemonheads, Matthew Sweet, and Weezer were bringing a jangly sound to predominantly heavy alternative rock radio playlists.

Today, power pop’s influence continues to be felt in a host of new bands. Despite varying production budgets, all these artists stick to power pop’s basic themes: the timeless desire to get over that missed kiss, that jerk math teacher, or the waning weeks of summer. All of them specialize in under-three minute tunes, with three ringing chords and gum-chewing beats.

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