Gray Flannel Mixtape: Power Pop for Now People
Ask a dozen people to define the term “power pop” and you’ll likely get a dozen variations of the same concept. For my part, any music with killer melodies, crisp songwriting and arranging, and (usually) big guitars probably qualifies. Or to get more specific, here’s what the All Music Guide says:
Power Pop is a cross between the crunching hard rock of the Who and the sweet melodicism of the Beatles and Beach Boys, with the ringing guitars of the Byrds thrown in for good measure.
Yeah, that’s about it. So anyway, power pop probably offers more value for your listening dollar than any other style I can think of. Here is but a handful of some of the most choice power pop ever committed to tape.
1. Nick Lowe, “So It Goes” (from Jesus of Cool, 1978) — Power pop aficionados will recognize the title of this post as my little homage to the man known as Basher. For those who aren’t in the know, Lowe’s brilliant debut album, Jesus of Cool, was sold in the U.S. as Pure Pop for Now People. Whatever name you want to call it, it’s an ace record and this is one of the best cuts.
2. Georgie James, “More Lights” (from Places, 2007) — Sadly, this is likely the only album we’ll ever get from the pairing of Q and Not U drummer John Davis and singer/songwriter Laura Burhenn, as they split in 2008. Still, I’ll always remember Places as one of 2007’s best albums and “More Lights” as one of the catchiest songs I’ve heard in years.
3. Kiss, “Tomorrow” (from Unmasked, 1980) — That Kiss? Yes, that Kiss. I can’t imagine power pop was what most of the Kiss Army wanted to hear in 1980 but that’s what they got. I say to them, why not enjoy this for what it is rather than bitch about what it should’ve been?
4. Field Music, “She Can Do What She Wants” (from Tones of Town, 2007) — A lot of so-called indie pop really is just power pop minus the mainstream success. In another time perhaps, Field Music would be huge. But at least they’re here.
5. Badfinger, “No Matter What” (from No Dice, 1970) — It’s hard to separate the great music this band produced from the absolute train wreck they became in the mid-’70s. This was a star-crossed group if ever there was one. Still, it’s hard to argue against the brilliance of “No Matter What,” written in the days when there was nothing but promise in Badfinger’s future.
6. Jellyfish, “The King Is Half-Undressed” (from Bellybutton, 1990) — That Jellyfish only put out two records is a crime, plain and simple. Check out this gem from their 1990 debut and feel the same frustration I do.
8. Sloan, “She Says What She Means” (from Navy Blues, 1998) — Look, there’s no rule that power pop has to be wholly original to be awesome. So if these guys want to be the Canadian Beatles (or in this case the Canadian Big Star), God bless ’em.
10. The Duckworth Lewis Method, “Mason on the Boundary” (from The Duckworth Lewis Method, 2009) — When this song pops up in my car, I’ve been known to hit repeat and just lose myself in that chorus again and again. That I’ve never once been in an accident while doing so can only be chalked up to sheer dumb luck.
11. Big Star, “In the Street” (from #1 Record, 1972) — Most people will recognize this as the theme song from That ’70s Show, although the Big Star original was never used. In its place were covers by Ben Vaughn and then Cheap Trick.
12. Be Bop Deluxe, “Maid in Heaven” (from Futurama, 1975) — Few acts in the ’70s so brilliantly walked the line between glam rock, power pop, and progressive rock. Bill Nelson’s Be Bop Deluxe was one of them.
14. The New Pornographers, “Mutiny, I Promise You” (from Challengers, 2007) — One of the most ebullient numbers from the relatively muted Challengers disc, this A.C. Newman composition is a prime example of his songwriting potency.
15. Raspberries, “I Don’t Know What I Want” (from Starting Over, 1974) — Well, if you’re gonna model a song after the Who you might as well do it right. Let’s just call this “Won’t Get Fooled Again, Pt. 2.”
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