Saturday, 5 January 2008

A History of Power Pop Part Four: Flavour of the Month

It's About Time: the Power Pop Boom of the Nineties

When most people think of music in the Nineties, either alternative rock or grunge come to mind. Of course, grunge refers to a subgenre of rock originating in Seattle, known for dirty guitar and angst filled lyrics. While grunge refers to a specific sugenre of rock, arguably "alternative rock" is less a subgenre than it is simply a label that was applied to artists in the late Eighties into the Nineties. The designation "alternative" was applied to groups as diverse as the grunge bands of Seattle to the pop punk bands of the early Nineties. In theory, at least, alternative artists were united in the influence that punk rock had upon their music. That having been said, even in the earliest days that the term "alternative rock" was being used this was not always true. Ultimately, the term "alternative" was simply applied to any artists who did not fit into the mainstream of music of the late Eighties. Perhaps because of this, the term "alternative" had pretty much lost all meaning by 1992, when it seemed as if bands labelled "alternative" had become less an alternative than they had become the mainstream.

Since power pop had more or less been outside of the music mainstream since around 1984, it should come as no surprise that the power pop bands of the early Nineties were often labelled "alternative rock." The fact that, at least in the early Nineties, many power pop bands were counted as "alternative" can be seen that many of the bands of the era emerged on smaller, independent labels. In fact, various power pop bands at the time, such as Sloan, Velvet Crush, and Ash, were also counted as part of the indie pop scene. Like many of the bands labelled "alternative rock," some of the power pop bands of the era were influenced in some degree by punk, some to the point that they are often counted as "pop punk" as well as "power pop." At the same many of the pop punk bands to emerge in this era, such as Green Day and The Offspring, would show some power pop tendencies.

Just as the power pop bands of the Seventies were influenced by the British Invasion bands, and just as the power pop bands of the Eighties were influenced by The Raspberries and Big Star, the power pop bands of the Nineties would be influenced by the Seventies artists, such as Cheap Trick, The Knack, and Marshall Crenshaw. That having been said, the power pop bands of the Nineties did differ from their predecessors in some respects. While still playing songs that owed a great deal to The Beatles and The Byrds, many of the power pop bands of the Nineties would tend more towards intelligent, thoughtful lyrics than the usual power pop subject matter of love and sex.

This was perhaps no truer of any band than The Posies. Sometimes counted as the foremost of the Nineties power pop bands, The Posies were formed in 1986 by Ken Stringfellow and Jon Auer in Bellingham, Washington. They released their first album, Failure, by themselves in 1988. Copies of Failure, often copied on tapes at home, fueled interest in the band in the Seattle area. The Posies soon found themselves playing frequently in both Bellingham and Seattle. Towards the end of 1988 Failure was released on vinyl on the Washington indie label PopLlama. Between their live performances and Failure, The Posies soon drew the attention of several major labels. They were signed to DGC Records, Geffen Records' new alternative label in 1989 and released their first album for a major label, Dear 23, in 1990. Dear 23 would provide the band with their first radio hit, "Golden Blunders," which went to #17 on the Billboard Modern Rock chart. The album also garnered rave reviews from critics and won a cult following for The Posies.

Their second on album on a major label, Frosting on the Beater, would perform even better. Released in 1993, it peaked at #11 on the Billboard Heatseekers chart and produced a radio hit in the form of "Dream All Day." Unfortunately, the band's third album for DGC Records, Amazing Disgrace, would not see the same success. Released three years following Frosting on the Beater, Amazing Disgrace also received good reviews. Unfortunately, DGC Records failed to promote the album and as a result it sold poorly. Ultimately, DGC would drop The Posies. They recorded one last album, Success, on the PopLlama label in 1998 before breaking up.

Although they were gone, The Posies were not forgotten. While they never saw huge success on the charts, The Posies maintained a large and loyal following amongst power pop fans. Their influence would be felt on such bands as Fountains of Wayne, Hopewell, and The Minus 5. Eventually the band would reform and release their first new album in years, Every Kind of Light, in 2005.

While they were not a huge success on the Billboard charts, The Posies signalled power pop's return to the forefront of the American music scene. The following years would see the rise of even more power pop bands, in a boom that matched that of the late Seventies and early Eighties in terms of sheer numbers. And some of the new power pop bands would see success on the charts. Among these were The Gin Blossoms. The Gin Blossoms were formed in 1987 in Tempe, Arizona. By 1989 The Gin Blossoms would release their first album, Dusted, on the small, independent label San Jacinto Records. A local favourite, The Gin Blossoms were signed to A&M Records. Unfortunately, efforts to put out an album proved difficult for the band, and in 1991 they released the EP Up and Crumbling in an effort to buy time. The EP is notable in featuring the song "Allison Road," later a hit for the band.

By 1992 The Gin Blossoms' first album for a major label, New Miserable Experience, was finally released. For both A&M and The Gin Blossoms, the album proved well worth the wait. New Miserable Experience would peak at #30 on the Billboard album charts and would eventually go four times platinum. It would also produce the hits "Hey, Jealousy (which peaked at #25 on the Billboard singles chart)"and "Found Out About You (which also peaked at #25)," as well as the radio hits "Allison Road" and "Until I Fall Away." Unfortunately, The Gin Blossoms would fail to follow up the success of New Miserable Experience. While Congratulations… I'm Sorry, released in 1996, would peak at #10 on the Billboard albums chart, and while it would even produce their second top ten hit ("Follow You Down," which peaked at #9 on the Billboard singles chart--their first was "Till I Hear It From You" from the Empire Records soundtrack), ultimately the album did not sell as well as New Miserable Experience. The Gin Blossoms broke up in 1997, only to reunite for their first album in years, Major Lodge Victory, released in 2006.

Like The Gin Blossoms, The Lemonheads would also see some success on the charts. Formed in 1986 in Boston, The Lemonheads initially began as a pop punk band, although they would evolve to a more varied sound, including power pop. The band released three albums from 1987 to 1989 on the small, independent label Taang!, before being signed to Atlantic. Their first album on a major label, Lovey, failed to chart. It was with their second album for Atlantic, that The Lemonheads saw their first success. It's a Shame about Ray peaked at #68 on the Billboard album chart, largely on the strength of the band's power pop remake of "Mrs. Robinson," their first hit single. Their second album for Atlantic, Come on Feel the Lemonheads, also performed well, going to #56 on the Billboard charts. While their fortunes have declined since that time and the band has seen many membership changes, some incarnation of The Lemonheads has continued to exist to this day.

As with the power pop boom of the late Seventies and early Eighties, some of the important figures in the power pop boom of the Nineties had actually been around for awhile. Danny Wilde had been a part of the short lived power pop band The Quick (whose first album was released in 1974). In the Seventies Phil Solem played with various bands. Eventually the two of them found themselves members of The Great Buildings, a power pop band which released one album on CBS Records in 1981. It was in 1989 that Wilde and Solem became the duo known as The Rembrandts. Signed to Atlantic, The Rembrandts released their self titled debut in 1990. The album did very well, peaking at #88 on the Billboard album charts and producing the hit single "Just the Way It Is, Baby," which went to #14 on the single charts. Their follow up, untitled, also performed well, producing the hit "Johnny Have You Seen Her." The Rembrandts' biggest success would come with a theme song they wrote for a TV show, "I'll Be There for You" for the TV show Friends. The song actually went to #17 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, despite never being released as a single in the United States. Since then, The Rembrandts have not seen the success that they did in the early to mid Nineties.

Just as power pop was making a comeback in the United States, the United Kingdom saw the rise of the movement known as Britpop. Britpop was influenced by a variety of guitar driven movements in British music from the past thirty years--the British Invasion bands (The Beatles, The Who, The Small Faces), the glam rockers (David Bowie, T. Rex, Slade), mod revival bands such as The Jam, and punk bands such as Buzzcocks. The sound of Britpop bands could vary a good deal, from the northern soul sound of Happy Mondays to the psychedelia of Inspiral Carpets. As might be expected, given the influences of British Invasion bands on the movement, some of the Britpop bands were outright power pop. Among the earliest of these bands were The Charlatans. Their first album, Some Friendly, released in 1990, was a smash hit in the UK, hitting #1 on the British albums chart. Their first single, "The Only One I Know," would reach the top ten on the British singles chart. This not only established The Charlatans as a force to be reckoned with in the British music scene, but established beyond a doubt that there was an audience for Britpop. Although they would not see the success of The Charlatans, Oxford band The Candyskins also released their first album, Space I'm In, in 1990.

Although founded in Bellshill, Scotland, in 1989, Teenage Fanclub was not counted as part of the Britpop movement. Influenced by Big Star, The Byrds, and The Beach Boys, Teenage Fanclub was perhaps destined to be a power pop band. While their first two albums were somewhat chaotic, with their third album Bandonwagonesque, released in 1991, Teenage Fanclub fully embraced power pop. Over the years Teenage Fanclub would see a good deal of success on the British charts. And while they have not seen that same success in the United States, they have developed a large cult following here.

While the vast majority of power pop bands had previously come from either the United Kingdom or the United States, the power pop boom of the Nineties saw several bands emerge from Canada. Among these bands were The Odds. Formed in 1987 in Vancouver, they were signed by Zoo Entertainment (the label Matthew Sweet was also on). Until their breakup they would see a good deal of success, some of it in the United States, particularly with the songs "Heterosexual Man," "Eat My Brain," and "Someone Who's Cool." Another Canadian band, Sloan, was formed in Nova Scotia in 1991. Although chart success has escaped them in the United States, Sloan maintains a cult following to this day.

The next several years would see more power pop bands than had been seen in quite some time. Bands such as The La's, Letters to Cleo, Ash, The Dandy Warhols, Cotton Mather, and The Apples in Stereo all appeared on the scene throughout the Nineties. As might be expected, one of the more important bands came from Chicago. Material Issue was founded in 1985 by Jim Ellison. By 1987 they released a self titled EP on their own label. A favourite in the Chicago area, the band's first album, International Pop Overthrow, was produced by none other than Jeff Murphy of Shoes. The album would produce two radio hits for Material Issue, "Valerie Loves Me" and "Diane." Released a year later, in 1992, Destination Universe did even better, producing what may be their best known song, "What Girls Want." Unfortunately, their next album, Freak City Soundtrack (released in 1994) would not do as well, despite producing a radio hit in the form of "Kim the Waitress." Material Issue left the Mercury label in 1995. Still performing to sell out crowds, the band was shopping for a new label when their leader, Jim Ellison, committed suicide on June 26, 1996. Despite the brevity of their career, Material Issue would have a lasting impact. Indeed, the International Pop Overthrow music festival takes its name from Material Issue's first album.

Another band with a short career but lasting influence was Jellyfish. Formed by Andy Sturmer and Robert Joseph Manning Jr. after the breakup of Beatnik Beatch, Jellyfish released their first album, Bellybutton, in 1990. Bellybutton performed very well, producing the radio hit "Baby's Coming Back" Unfortunately, tensions in the band would eventually lead to changes in membership. The band's second album, Spilt Milk, would be recorded by Sturmer, Manning, and a few studio musicians. Despite this, it was arguably their best album, producing the group's best known song "The Ghost at Number One." Unfortunately, artistic differences between Sturmer and Manning would lead to the breakup of the band not long after the release of Spilt Milk.

By 1994 the power pop boom of the Nineties was winding down, but it would not end with a whimper. The Britpop movement was still under way in the United Kingdom. It was in 1995 that the debut album of a band which epitomised British power pop in the Nineties was released. That album was I Should Coco and the band was Supergrass. Supergrass blended the sound of The Kinks with that of T. Rex, The Jam, and Buzzcocks. I Should Coco hit #1 on the British album charts. Since then, not a one of their albums has failed to hit the British top ten on the albums chart.

Back in the United States two important power pop bands would emerge in 1994. Named for the character Veruca Salt from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Veruca Salt was yet another Chicago band, formed in 1993 by Louise Post and Nina Gordon. Their single "Seether" was released in 1994 on Minty Fresh Records. "Seether" managed to crack the Billboard Hot 100 chart, peaking at #53, and peaked at #8 on the Billboard Hot Modern Modern Rock Tracks chart. With the success of "Seether," Veruca Salt released their first album, American Thighs (the title being taken from a line in AC/DC's "You Shook Me All Night Long"). The album would peak on the Billboard albums chart at #69. Their second album, Eight Arms to Hold Me (taken from the working title for The Beatles movie Help!) would do even better. Eight Arms to Hold Me peaked at number 55 on the albums chart. The single "Volcano Girls" cracked the Billboard Hot 100 chart, peaking at #59--it went to #8 on the Hot Modern Tracks chart. Unfortunately, things would soon fall apart for Veruca Salt. Although it has never been clear as to what it was about, a dispute between Louise Post and Nina Gordon would result in Gordon leaving the band in 1998. Louise Post would essentially form a new band using the name "Veruca Salt." This new lineup released the album Resolver in 2000. Unfortunately, it seemed the magic was gone and Resolver did not sell well. Despite this, some incarnation of Veruca Salt has survived to this day.

Weezer would have more lasting success. Releasing their self titled debut in 1994, they had a radio hit with "Undone--The Sweater Song" and an even bigger radio hit with "Buddy Holly." Since then the band has had its ups and downs. Their 1996 album Pinkerton not only bombed, but was critically lambasted as well, but their 2005 album Make Believe was a rousing success. Regardless, they are still together and continue to record.

By 1994 the power pop boom of the Nineties was more or less over. The labels would sign fewer power pop bands for the next few years. At the same time, power pop bands would hit the charts less frequently. Over the next few years, several of the important bands in the power pop boom of the Nineties would break up, among them The Posies and The Gin Blossoms. Unlike the power pop boom of the late Seventies and early Eighties, however, power pop would not nearly disappear from the music scene. Many of the power pop bands of the early Nineties (Teenage Fanclub, Supergrass, Sloan, and others) would continue to record into the Naughts. And the coming years would see the emergence of some major players in the world of power pop.

A Fine Day for a Parade: From the Late Nineties into the Naughts

By the mid-Nineties the power pop boom had run its course. Radio airplay was increasingly dominated by post-grunge and, for a short time, even ska (which isn't even rock 'n' roll as far as I am concerned...). That having been said, power pop would play a more vital role in the late Nineties than it had in the late Eighties. In fact, some of the most important bands currently recording power pop would emerge during this period. In fact, arguably the most important band currently recording power pop today formed at this time: Fountains of Wayne.

Fountains of Wayne was formed by Adam Schlesinger and Chris Collingwood, the name being taken from a lawn ornament store in Wayne, New Jersey. Influenced by artists ranging from The Beatles to Cheap Trick to The Cars to The Posies, Fountains of Wayne was clearly a power pop band. They were signed to Atlantic Records in 1996 and released their self titled debut that same year. At this point it seemed as if Fountains of Wayne was poised for success. "That Thing You Do," the song Adam Schlesinger had written for the movie of the same name, was a current hit and brought the band some attention. Critics gave the album top marks. They also opened for both The Smashing Pumpkins and The Lemonheads. Unfortunately, while the album and its singles did well in the United Kingdom ("Radiation Vibe" hit #32 on the British singles chart), Fountains of Wayne sold poorly in the United States. Sadly, Fountains of Wayne's second album, Utopia Parkway (released in 1999) also sold poorly in the United States.

In the wake of the failure of Utopia Parkway, Fountains of Wayne took a break. The various members pursued their own projects before contributing a cover of "Better Things" for a tribute to The Kinks titled This Is Where I Belong: Songs of Ray Davies and the Kinks in 2001. The band also appeared as animated versions of themselves on the VH1 cartoon Hey, Joel, where they performed the role of Greek Chorus to plot developments on the cartoon. Eventually they were ready to record a new album. The darlings of critics and power pop fans for years, Welcome Interstate Managers would introduce them to a wider audience. The album featured the hit single "Stacy's Mom," which went to #21 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. The album itself went to #115 on the albums chart. Their latest album, Traffic and Weather has yet to produce any hit singles, although it has performed very well.

Scottish band Snow Patrol would also emerge in this period. And like Fountains of Wayne, success for them would come late. Their first album, Songs for Polarbears, released in 1998, failed to chart in the United States, although it went to #143 on the British album chart. Their second album fared no better. With their third album, Final Straw, Snow Patrol hit the jackpot. The album went to #1 on the Billboard album chart and #91 on the British album chart. The singles "Spitting Games," "Run," and "Chocolate" all became radio hits in the United States. Their latest album, Eyes Open, released in 2006, also did fairly well.

While the early work of Fountains of Wayne and Snow Patrol did little business, there were signs that power pop might make a comeback. In 1999 Tal Bachman, the son of The Guess Who's Randy Bachman, released his self titled debut. The album contained the single "She's So High," which went #1 in Canada and went to #14 on the Billboard singles chart. Further proof that the genre would soon return to the forefront could be seen in debut albums from several power pop artists in 2000. The Plain White T's and Hot Hot Heat both released their first albums that year. And while Good Charlotte would skew more towards pop punk in their early work, they would be firmly power pop by their third album. Their debut album was also released in 2000.

Beyond these groups, two other significant power pop bands would also emerge that year. Bowling for Soup had actually been around since 1994. That year they released their debut album on their own label that year. They would release two more albums before their major label debut, Let's Do It For Johnny, was released in 2000. The album featured a minor radio hit in the form of "The Bitch Song." Their second album for a major label would put them on the map. Drunk Enough to Dance, released in 2002, went to #129 on the Billboard albums chart. It also contained the hit single "Girl All the Bad Guys Want," which actually cracked the Billboard Hot 100 at #64. Their next album, Hangover You Don't Deserve, released in 2004, would do even better. It went to #37 on the Billboard albums chart. It also produced the hit singles "1985 (which went to #25 on the Hot 100 chart)" and "Almost (which went to #46 on the Hot 100 chart). Their latest album, The Great Burrito Extortion Case, did not perform as well, although it did go to #88 on the Billboard albums chart. Although often classed as pop punk, given the band's melodies, harmonies, and hook filled songs, it is safe to say that they are power pop.

The other significant band to emerge in 2000 was a Canadian cross between Cheap Trick and The Cars. The New Pornographers first album, Mass Romantic failed to chart in the United States, but since then they have become a major force in the power pop world. Their second album, The Electric Version, sold very well. Their third album, Twin Cinema, did even better. reaching #44 on the Billboard albums chart. Their latest album, Challengers (just released last year) has done phenomenally well. It debuted at #34 on the Billboard albums chart.

Since 2000 yet more power pop bands have emerged: Farrah, Hellogoodbye, Cartel, and The Magic Numbers. What is more, some of these new power pop groups have done quite well. Making their debut in 2000, OK Go (yet another band from Chicago) has produced radio hits in the form of "Get Over It" and "Here It Goes Again." Both of their albums performed well on the Billboard albums chart.

Indeed, by 2003 it could be safe to say we are in the midst of a new power pop boom. It is perhaps significant that old bands such as Fountains of Wayne, Snow Patrol, and Bowling for Soup saw their first hits about this time. Furthermore, since 2003 even more power pop bands have emerged of late: We the Kings, The Magic Numbers, The Click Five, The Hush Sound (another band from Chicago), Boys Like Girls, Cute Is What We Aim For, and Throwback Suburbia. Some of these more recent bands have done very well, too. The 88 released their first album in 2003. Both of their albums performed well and produced such radio hits as "How Good It Can Be" and "Hide Another Mistake." The All-American Rejects, whose first album was released in 2005, have also seen some success. Their single "Dirty Little Secret" went to #9 on the Billboard singles chart, while their song "It Ends Tonight" went to #8. Although often classed as "post punk revival," the influences of The Killers, which apparently range from The Beatles to The Beach Boys to Duran Duran, clearly place them in the category of power pop. Their albums so far have done very well. Their debut, Hot Fuss, went to #7 on the Billboard albums chart, their sophomore effort (Sam's Town), went to #2. Their single "Mr. Brightside" went top ten on the singles chart, while their other singles have performed very well.

It remains to be seen how long the current power pop boom will last. The initial burst of power pop in the Sixties only lasted about three to four years. The power pop boom of the late Seventies and early Eighties lasted around five years, as did the power pop boom of the Nineties. Given this boom appears to be just getting under way, it is possible we could see power pop in the spotlight for the next three to four years. At the very least, one can always hope.

Power pop is perhaps one of the oldest subgenres in rock music. Through the years it has been immensely popular at times and terribly out of fashion at times. At times critics have praised power pop bands for their harmonies and melodies. At other times critics have attacked power pop bands for being derivative of The Beatles. The Raspberries were labelled "bubblegum" in some quarters. The Knack were labelled misogynists in other quarters. Through it all, power pop has survived. It has outlasted such musical fads as disco and ska. From all signs it will outlast rap. So far power pop has been around for over forty years. I rather suspect it will be around for forty more.

Friday, 4 January 2008

A History of Power Pop Part Three: On Top of the World

That's Entertainment: The Power Pop Boom of the Late Seventies and Early Eighties

Over ten years after Pete Townshend had coined the term and several years after the music press had adopted it, in 1977 the term "power pop" had finally entered common usage. In fact, it can be argued that it was one of the buzz words of 1978, appearing in such media outlets as the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, and the Hartford Courant. It was that year that the phrase first appeared in Time, in the June 26, 1978 issue, in an article on Nick Lowe, Dave Edmunds, and Rockpile. That power pop should finally enter common parlance at this point in history should come as no surprise. After being out of favour for many years, power pop was finally making a comeback.

In many respects, power pop was overdue for a comeback. The music of the early Seventies had been dominated by progressive rock and heavy metal. Both glam rock and punk represented backlashes against some of the excesses of progressive rock and even some of the heavy metal of the era. Later in the decade, just as new power pop bands were in the process of forming, an entirely different genre of music came to dominate the airwaves--disco. And while disco was undoubtedly popular in many circles, most rock fans hated it with a passion. The time was ripe for rock music that was simpler than progressive rock and yet still had a beat one could dance to.

In fact, a group often classed as punk may well have been a harbinger of power pop's return. Although they have long been considered the one of the first American punk rock bands, in truth The Ramones were nothing more than good, old fashioned, American garage rock. Indeed, it can be argued that they had much more in common with Shoes and Rockpile than they ever did with Black Flag, The Dead Kennedys, or The Sex Pistols. Can anyone actually picture Black Flag or the Sex Pistols remaking "Indian Giver" by The Ohio Express? The Ramones did. From their first album in 1975 to their final album in 1995. The Ramones played old fashioned rock 'n' roll, and without the nihilist attitudes of the punk bands. The Ramones' desire to return to the basics was reflected in the power pop bands as well.

At the same time that The Ramones were bringing back the glory days of early American garage rock, another band was shaping up to bring back the hey day of Sixties power pop. Since Epic Records had dropped Fuse, lead guitarist Rick Nielsen and bassist Tom Petersen continued to perform. Initially, this was with a new version of Fuse, which included Nazz veterans Robert "Stewkey" Antoni on keyboards and Thom Mooney on drums. This version of Fuse would evolve into Sick Man of Europe, which can quite rightly be considered Cheap Trick in its earliest stages. Rick Nielsen and Tom Petersen were already in place as the band's lead guitarist and bassist respectively, while Bun E. Carlos took over the drums from Thom Mooney. Like Nielsen and Petersen, Carlos (born Brad Carlson) was a Rockford, Illinois native. And like Nielsen and Petersen, Carlos was not new to the music business. In the Sixties his band, The Paegans, had actually released a remake of The Beatles' "Good Day Sunshine." Sick Man of Europe would tour incessantly, even opening for Foghat. Unfortunately, they failed to win a recording contract and Robert "Stewkey" Antoni left the band.

In 1973 Nielsen, Petersen, and Carlos then regrouped, taking on Randy "Xeno" Hogan as their new lead vocalist. The band played under such names as "The Grim Reapers" and "Sick Man of Europe" before settling on the name by which they would become known--Cheap Trick. Xeno would eventually left the band by 1974, whereupon he was replaced by lead singer Robin Zander. The classic lineup (which has not changed much in the past 34 years) of Cheap Trick was then in place. The band continued to tour relentlessly, finally being signed by Epic Records (the label that had also signed Fuse) in 1976. It was that same year that Cheap Trick's self titled debut was released. This was power pop as had never been seen before. Cheap Trick combined the melodiousness of The Beatles with the guitar work of The Who or The Move. Like Badfinger and The Raspberries, Cheap Trick sounded like The Beatles, but they sounded like a cross between The Beatles on "She Love You" and The Beatles on "Helter Skelter." Arguably, Cheap Trick brought real power to pop. Cheap Trick was not simply revolutionary in their sound, however, but in their lyrics as well. On that first album the subject matter ranged from serial killers ("The Ballad of TV Violence") to suicide ("Oh, Candy"). Unlike Badfinger and The Raspberries, Cheap Trick was not simply content to write love songs.

Cheap Trick's self titled, first album received over all good marks from critics. Unfortunately, it also failed to sell. Their second album, In Color, released in 1977, took a softer approach and was also well received, even getting a sterling review from Dave Marsh in Rolling Stone. Unfortunately, it did not sell well either. At this point it might well have seemed as if Cheap Trick might go the way of Big Star and Artful Dodger, but in the end good word of mouth and the band's incessant touring finally paid off. Released in 1978, their third album Heaven Tonight returned to the harder sound of their first album. Like their first two albums, Heaven Tonight received good notices from the critics, but unlike either Cheap Trick or In Color, Heaven Tonight actually sold quite well. In fact, the album actually cracked Billboard's album chart, peaking at #48. Much of this was due to the album's single "Surrender," which received enough FM airplay to hit #62 on the Billboard singles chart. Cheap Trick were not superstars as of yet, but all of that was about to change.

Already wildly popular in Japan, Cheap Trick performed at Budokan on April 28, 1978. This concert was recorded for the live album At Budokan. No one could have predicted the reception the live album would receive. Released in the United States in 1979, the album produced two hit singles for the band. The live version of "I Want You to Want Me" peaked at #7 on the Billboard singles chart, while their remake of "Ain't That a Shame" peaked at #35. The success of At Budokan marked the beginning of Cheap Trick's golden years and helped establish them as the quintessential, American power pop band. Alongside the Dwight Twilley Band's "I'm on Fire," the success of "I Want You to Want Me" established that there was still an audience for power pop and helped inaugurate the power pop boom of the late Seventies and early Eighties.

Cheap Trick continued their success with the albums Dream Police (featuring what may be their most famous song, the hit song "Dream Police") and All Shook Up. Unfortunately, All Shook Up marked the beginning of a slow decline in popularity for the band, peaking only at #24 on the Billboard album chart. The album's first single, "Stop This Game," only peaked at #48 on the singles chart. Cheap Trick would not see anything approaching the success of the years of At Budokan and Dream Police until the release of Lap of Luxury in 1988. Regardless, the band has remained together all these years and still has a fiercely loyal following. Long ago they established their place in rock history, influencing bands from Enuff Z'Nuff to The New Pornographers to OK Go. If they are sometimes called the greatest power pop band in the world, it may well be because they deserve it.

Of course, before Cheap Trick hit the Billboard top forty with "I Want You to Want Me," Dwight Twilley had already done so with the single "I'm on Fire" four years earlier. The Dwight Twilley Band had formed in 1967 when Twilley was only 16 years old. Eventually the band would be signed to Shelter Records in 1975. That same year they released their first single, "I'm On Fire." In an era when the charts were largely dominated by disco and AOR bands, "I'm On Fire" rose to #16 on the Billboard singles chart. The band's first album, Sincerely, followed in 1976. Unfortunately, the Dwight Twilley Band was unable to build on the success of "I'm On Fire." Shelter Records was experiencing problems in distribution at the time and eventually collapsed completely. The Dwight Twilley Band would release another album, Twilley Don't Mind, in 1977, which only peaked at #70 on the Billboard albums chart. The Dwight Twilley Band dissolved in the wake of the album's failure. As to Dwight Twilley himself, he would see chart success again in 1984 with his solo album Jungle and the hit single "Girls." Although he has seen little success on the charts since then, Twilley has maintained a cult following and continues to release albums to this day.

Even as the Dwight Twilley Band and Cheap Trick were touring and later recording albums, other power pop bands were being formed. The Midwest seemed to be particularly ripe for the growth of power pop bands. Remaining relatively conservative when it comes to music, power pop had never quite gone out of style in the central part of the United States. And, as might be expected, Chicago was one of the epicentres for the power pop boom of the late seventies and early Eighties. Formed in 1974 in Zion, Illinois, Shoes would never see the chart success of Cheap Trick, but became a cult band that has lasted to the present day. They even founded their own recording studio, Short Order Recorder, where Local H and Material Issue recorded some of their earliest material. Influenced by The Raspberries and Badfinger, Pezband was a local favourite in the late Seventies. Their self titled debut album, released in 1977, received high marks from critics. Unfortunately, Pezband had signed with Passport Records, a small label that could not promote the band as they should be promoted. Failing to make a significant dent in the charts, Pezband released their last album in 1979, just as the power pop boom was reaching its peak. Just as Badfinger had been groomed as the heirs apparent to The Beatles, so too it would seem Off Broadway usa was being groomed as the heirs apparent to Cheap Trick. In fact, they were managed by Cheap Trick's manager, Ken Adamany. Off Broadway usa was hardly a Cheap Trick knockoff, however as they possessed their very own style. Their debut, On!, released in 1979, even met with some success. Sadly, its follow up Fun, Fun, Fun, did not do nearly as well and Atlantic dropped the band. To this day, however, Off Broadway usa maintains a cult following and there are those who believe they were the best Chicago band of the era besides Cheap Trick.

Of course, Chicago was not the only place producing power pop artists in the mid to late Seventies. Nick Lowe was born in Walton-on-Thames in England and started his recording career all the way back in 1966. Playing with the band Brinsley Schwarz for much of his early career, Lowe eventually joined Dave Edmunds and formed a new incarnation of Rockpile in 1976. Lowe and Edmunds being on different labels prevented the band from releasing an official album until 1980's Seconds of Pleasure. That having been said, Dave Edmunds and Nick Lowe's solo albums of the era should probably be regarded as Rockpile albums given the band played on them. While Dave Edmund's albums tended more towards rockabilly, Nick Lowe's albums tended more towards power pop. Nick Lowe's solo albums did respectfully well in the late Seventies and he would even produce a hit in the form of the song "Cruel to be Kind," now regarded as a classic of the era.

The Boston band The Cars should perhaps not be considered a power pop band, but they would have a lasting effect on the subgenre. From their self titled debut in 1978 (reaching #18 on the Billboard albums chart) to their 1987 album Door to Door, The Cars were one of the most successful bands in America in the Eighties. They would have a lasting impact on power pop, influencing such bands as Fountains of Wayne (whose hit single "Stacey's Mom" was a tribute to the band) and The New Pornographers.

Just as the power pop boom was getting under way in the United States, a mod revival was developing in the United Kingdom. Began by the release of the motion picture Quadrophenia (based on The Who's concept album of the same name), the mod revival saw the return of mod fashions and culture to Britain. Strangely enough, many of the bands to emerge from the mod revival did not emulate the mod bands of the Sixties, such as Small Faces and The Who. That having been said, there were a few who did. In fact, the band which brought the mod revival to music, The Jam, is identifiably power pop. Heavily influenced by bands such as The Who and The Move, The Jam dominated the British charts from the late Seventies into the early Eighties. Like The Jam, The Chords were another mod revival band whose music drew upon the mod bands of the Sixties. Unfortunately, they would not meet with the same success as The Jam. The Records were formed prior to the mod revival and they were not counted as a part of it, yet their songs sounded more mod than many of the bands labelled as part of the mod revival. Influenced by The Beatles, The Kinks, and Badfinger, The Records were one of the few British power pop bands of the era to see success on both sides of the Pond. Their debut album peaked at #41 on the Billboard albums chart in 1979.

While success in the United States eluded many of the mod revival bands, this was not always the case. Influenced by both the mod revival and New Wave music, The Vapours released their first album, New Clear Days, in 1980. The album produced the hit single "Turning Japanese," a top 40 hit in the United States. Sadly, they were not albe to follow up the single's success and the group broke up in 1981. While The Vapours would become a one hit wonder, the British band Squeeze would see more lasting success on both sides of the Pond. Formed prior to the mod revival, Squeeze was nonetheless counted as part of it. The band saw success in Britain starting with their very first single, "Take Me, I'm Yours," released in 1978. While they would not see the same success in the United States, they did develop a cult following here and had a hit in the form of the song "Tempted," now considered an Eighties classic. Squeeze would also have one of the longest careers of any of the British bands of the period. In various incarnations they have continued to exist to this day.

While many of the power pop bands of the late Seventies and early Eighties emerged from Chicago and Britain, Los Angeles would also produce their share of power pop groups. The Nerves toured with The Ramones and released only one self titled EP in 1976. That having been said, they would leave a lasting legacy in the form of the song "Hanging on the Telephone," remade by Blondie among others. From the ashes of The Nerves would rise two other power pop bands, The Beat (called The Paul Collins Beat in Europe) and The Plimsouls. The Beat would see little chart success, but lasted in some form until nearly the Nineties. The Plimsouls would not have the long career that The Beat would, forming in 1978 and breaking up around 1983, but they would have some success on the charts with the song "A Million Miles Away (featured on the Valley Girl soundtrack). Other California power pop bands of the period included The Cretones, The dBs, and Red Kross.

While success escaped the grasp of many of the California power pop bands, this was not the case for one formed by Doug Fieger in the late Seventies. Originally from Detroit, Michigan, Fieger was not new to the music business. In the early Seventies Fieger had been part of the country rock band Sky. Sky opened for acts ranging from Traffic to The Who. When Sky broke up, Fieger remained in Los Angeles where he formed The Knack in 1978. Heavily influenced by Buddy Holly, Phil Spector, The Beatles, and especially The Kinks, The Knack was firmly cast in the power pop mould--their name was even taken from Richard Lester's classic film portrayal of Swinging London, The Knack …and How to Get It. Late in 1978 the band found themselves courted by no less than thirteen different recording companies. In the end they signed with Capitol Records.

Recorded in only eleven days, The Knack's first album, Get The Knack, proved to be the smash hit of 1979. Get the Knack took only 13 days to be certified gold. It went platinum in a little less than seven weeks. Much of this was based on the strength of the album's first single, "My Sharona." Released on June 18, 1979, "My Sharona" hit #1 on the Billboard singles chart the week of August 25. In the end it was the best selling single of 1979. It has gone on to become one of the quintessential power pop songs. The success of The Knack brought with it a backlash from critics, who attacked everything from the misogyny in their songs (apparently missing the misogyny in many of The Rollings Stones' from the Sixties onwards) to the songs themselves (claiming they were derivative of The Beatles, although The Knack honestly owed more to The Kinks than any other British Invasion band).

If the critics' attacks upon the band were not enough, The Knack failed to capitalise on the success of their first album. Their second album, ...But The Little Girls Understand, was recorded in only two weeks and released only eight months after Get the Knack. It was perhaps for this reason that ...But The Little Girls Understand did not perform nearly as well, going only to #15 on the Billboard album chart. Perhaps realising why ...But The Little Girls Understand failed, The Knack would wait a whole year before recording their third album, Round Trip. Released in 1981, Round Trip produced no hit singles and only managed to hit #93 on the Billboard albums chart. The Knack would not get another chance to repeat their previous success. They broke up only three weeks into the tour to support Round Trip. Despite the brevity of their career in the late Seventies and early Eighties, and despite a backlash from critics, The Knack continue to be regarded as one of the quintessential power pop bands. Their influence would even extend beyond power pop into other subgenres of rock.

The Knack were perhaps the most phenomenal success of the power pop boom of the late Seventies and early Eighties. While they did not come near The Knack's success, The Romantics were another power pop band whose songs hit the Billboard singles chart. Formed on Valentine's Day in 1977 (hence the name), The Romantics hailed from Detroit, Michigan. Despite coming from the same area as Mitch Ryder and MC5, The Romantics played a softer variation of power pop than either Cheap Trick or The Knack. Signed to Nemperor Records, The Romantics' self-titled debut album was released in 1980. The album managed to reach #61 on the Billboard albums chart, while their single "What I Like About You" received a good deal of FM airplay and hit #49 on the singles chart. While their second and third albums did not match the success of the first (their third album, Strictly Personal, only managed #182 on the Billboard album chart), The Romantics would have a hit on their hands with their third album, In Heat, released in 1983. The album produced the hit singles "Talking in Your Sleep" and "One in a Million" and itself went to #14 on the Billboard albums chart. Unfortunately for The Romantics, by 1986 power pop was well on its way out, pushed aside by heavy metal and other subgenres of rock. Their next album, Rhythm Romance, would not do nearly as well. By this point The Romantics had discovered that their management had been mismanaging money, and the resultant lawsuit would keep them from recording for another eight years. For The Romantics, success was short lived.

Marshall Crenshaw would not see the chart success of The Romantics, let alone The Knack, but he would make up for it with a long career. Crenshaw would draw upon the whole of rock 'n' roll history, from rockabilly to Motown to the British Invasion. Signed by Warner Brothers in 1981, he released his self titled debut album in 1982. Although it was not a hit on the charts, that album would be hailed as one of the great power pop albums and Crenshaw developed a cult following. His second album, Field Day, released in 1983, would do no better on the charts than the first album. That having been said, it is perhaps better regarded than even the first album and would also be considered a power pop classic. Although Crenshaw would never see huge success on the charts, he has maintained a cult following and continues to record to this day.

The power pop boom reached its peak in 1979 and 1980 with the success of Get the Knack by The Knack and At Budokan and Dream Police by Cheap Trick. Thereafter power pop gradually lost favour with listeners. The Knack would be unable to repeat the success they had experienced with Get the Knack. Cheap Trick's albums would perform more and more poorly on the charts. Their 1983 album, Next Position Please, would only spend a scant 11 weeks on the Billboard album charts. Worse yet, many of the power pop bands of the era would break up in the early Eighties, while at the same time the labels were signing no new power pop bands. By 1984 one could truly say that the power pop boom of the late Seventies and early Eighties was over. After several years of popularity, power pop found itself pushed aside for a return of heavy metal and dance music of the sort recorded by Madonna and Michael Jackson. While the power pop boom of the late Seventies and early Eighties had ended, power pop would not be gone for long.

Only a Memory: the Late Eighties

While the power pop boom of the late Seventies and early Eighties was finally over, this did not mean that there were no new power pop artists to emerge in the late Eighties. While not as popular as it once was, power pop did see a few new acts emerge in the later part of the decade.

Indeed, The Smithereens had formed in 1980 in Carteret, New Jersey, when the power pop boom was in full swing. Like many power pop bands, The Smithereens were heavily influenced by Buddy Holly, The Beatles, and The Who. That having been said, they were also influenced by such latter day power pop bands as Cheap Trick, utilising a heavier, guitar driven sound. The Smitheerens would release their first EP, Girls About Town, on the tiny D-Tone label in 1980. Another EP, Beauty and Sadness, would be released in 1983. Finally signed to Capitol's alternative label, Enigma Records, in 1985, their first full length album, Especially for You, was released in 1986. The album would produce the band's first hit singles, "Blood and Roses" and "Behind the Wall of Sleep." The band reached their peak with the album 11, which actually hit #41 on the Billboard album chart in 1990. The album also produced their biggest single, "A Girl Like You," which went to #38 on the Billboard singles chart. While The Smithereens would not see the success of the power pop bands of the late Seventies and early Eighties boom, they would have a long career (they are still recording to this day) and would have a lasting influence on rock music. Indeed, Kurt Cobain of Nirvana counted The Smithereens as being among his favourite bands.

Another power pop band from the late Eighties was The Pursuit of Happiness. Formed in Toronto, Ontario in 1985, The Pursuit of Happiness released their first single, "I'm an Adult Now," in 1986. The song became a hit all across Canada. Strangely enough, rather than sign to a label, The Pursuit of Happiness simply released another single, "Killed by Love," in 1988. It was that year that they were signed to Chrysalis Records. Their first album, Love Junk, was produced by none other than Todd Rundgren himself. Love Junk went platinum in Canada. While the group did not do nearly as well in the United States, they develop a cult following here. While The Pursuit of Happiness has seen membership changes since then and a switch in labels (from Chrysalis to Mercury Records to the now defunct Iron Music), the band remains together and remains one of the more popular bands in Canada.

Among the power pop bands of the late Eighties was yet another band from Chicago. Enuff Z'Nuff would not only be influenced by The Beatles, The Move, The Raspberries, and Badfinger, but the Chicago bands of the power pop boom of the late Seventies and early Eighties as well--Cheap Trick, Off Broadway usa, and Pezband. Founded in 1984 by Donnie Vie and Chip Z'nuff, Enuff Z'Nuff quickly developed a strong following in the Chicago area. Their song "Fingers on It" would be featured in the film Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer before they were even signed to a label. Eventually Enuff Z'Nuff would be signed to Atco Records, something which in retrospect may have been a mistake.

Even though Enuff Z'Nuff was clearly a power pop band, sounding more like Cheap Trick than any other band around, Atco Records chose to promote Enuff Z'Nuff with a glam rock image not unlike the pop metal bands Motley Crue and Poison. As a result many people who might have become fans of the group were probably driven away. Regardless, Enuff Z'Nuff's self titled debut album would sell well, producing two singles that almost hit the Billboard top 40--"New Thing" and "Fly High, Michelle." Their second album, Strength, released in 1991 was stronger than their first. Strength received high marks from critics and Rolling Stone even went so far as to name them "Hot New Band of the Year." For the album Enuff Z'Nuff did away with the glam image that had been foisted upon them. Despite raves from critics and a good deal of promotion, Strength did not do as well as the first album. It may well have been the case that the glam image had hurt them enough that no amount of good reviews and promotion would help them. To make matters worse, Enuff Z'Nuff would fall victim to mismanagement, Eventually the band would have to leave Atco Records and file for bankruptcy.

Despite this setback, Enuff Z'Nuff would recover. Despite changes in membership (including the death of drummer Vikki Foxx) and shifting from label to label, the band remains together to this day and continues to record. Although they would never have the success that their first album brought them, Enuff Z'Nuff continues to garner good marks from critics and maintains a cult following to this day.

Matthew Sweet was another power pop artist to emerge in the late Eighties. Born in Lincoln, Nebraska, Sweet had even played with Michael Stipe of REM by the time he was signed to Columbia Records in 1985. His first album, Inside (released in 1986), garnered very good reviews, but sold poorly. Dropped by Columbia, Sweet moved to A&M Records and it was on that label that he released his second album, Earth in 1989. That album also failed. A&M released Matthew Sweet from his contract. Signing with Zoo Entertainment, Matthew Sweet would finally have success with his third album, Girlfriend, released in 1991. The title song proved to be his first hit single, followed by minor hits from the album in the form of "I'll Be Waiting" and "Divine Intervention." Although not as successful as Girlfriend, Matthew Sweet's following albums (Altered Beast and 100% Fun) would also do well. Although not as popular as he once was, Matthew Sweet still continues to record to this day.

The late Eighties were a rather barren period for power pop. Considered somewhat passé by many and overshadowed by other subgenres at the time, power pop was not particularly popular during the period. Indeed, this could be much of the reason that Atco decided to market Enuff Z'Nuff as a glam metal band, despite the fact that Enuff Z'Nuff sounded more like Cheap Trick than LA Guns. It was also probably the reason that success would come late for Matthew Sweet. When Sweet's first album was released in 1986, power pop was at the lowest point of its popularity that had been for some years. By 1991, however, power pop was set for a comeback. In fact, the early Nineties would see more power pop bands than even the late Seventies and early Eighties had.

Thursday, 3 January 2008

A History of Power Pop Part Two: Maybe Tomorrow

Try Again: The Calm Before the Storm

In the early Sixties power pop was born in England, in the industrial cities of Liverpool and Manchester. It was brought to the United States by The Beatles and the legion of other British bands who followed them across the Pond. With the success of the British bands, American bands soon adopted the sound for their own. From 1964 to 1967, power pop was arguably the most popular subgenre of rock on either side of the Atlantic.

By 1967 new subgenres of rock had developed that would ultimately overtake power pop. Chief among these was progressive rock. The roots of progressive rock can be seen in the work of The Beatles, The Byrds, and other artists, who had started experimenting with recording techniques and song structure as early as 1965. By 1967 progressive rock had nearly emerged as a full fledged subgenre of rock. It was that year that The Moody Blues released their influential album Days of Future Passed and Pink Floyd released their first album, The Piper at the Gates of Dawn. For the next several years, progressive rock would be a force with which to be reckoned in the world of rock music.

At the same time that progressive rock was emerging, so too was psychedelia. The roots of psychedelia are to be found in the American folk music revival of the early Sixties, American garage rock of the early Sixties, and the British Invasion. It was in 1965 that Bob Dylan went electric, and many other folk artists followed suit. At the same time British Invasion bands and American garage rock bands began experimenting with song structure and recording techniques. By 1966 psychedelia had emerged in the form of such songs as "Happenings Ten Years Time Ago" by The Yardbirds, "Tomorrow Never Knows" by The Beatles, and "Sunshine Superman" by Donovan. While the British recorded many of the first psychedelic songs, however, it would be California that would become the centre of psychedelia. It was there that such bands emerged as Jefferson Airplane, Big Brother and the Holding Company, Quicksilver Messenger Service, and The Grateful Dead all emerged. Psychedelia did not mean the death of power pop. In fact, many songs from the era could quite rightfully be considered both power pop and psychedelia. Examples of such are "I Can Hear the Grass Grow" by The Move and "Open Your Eyes" by Nazz.

Regardless, there can be little doubt that psychedelia and, perhaps more importantly, progressive rock pushed power pop aside as the dominant form of rock at the time. Even so, in the late Sixties three bands would emerge that can be counted among the earliest practitioners of power pop. One of these bands originated in Philadelphia with a young man named Todd Rundgren. With Carson Van Osten, Thom Mooney, and Robert "Stewkey" Antoni, Rundgren formed Nazz. Although often considered psychedelic rock, Nazz are more accurately termed "power pop." Influenced by British bands from The Beatles to The Who to The Move, Nazz had a guitar driven sound with clean harmonies.

Unfortunately, emerging in an era dominated by progressive rock and eventually falling victim to disagreements between members, Nazz never really had a chance. Their self titled debut, released in 1968, received good marks from critics, particularly for the songs "Open My Eyes" and "Hello, It's Me (later a hit for Todd Rundgren)." Unfortunately, it did not sell very well. Their second album, eventually titled Nazz Nazz, was meant to be a double album. Eventually, the album was shortened to a single LP which sold no better than the first. By this time internal strife was taking place in the band, and Todd Rundgren left shortly after the release of Nazz Nazz. The band released one last album, Nazz III, in 1970.

Although he would become better known for his more experimental work with Utopia, Todd Rundgren never completely abandoned power pop. His first three solo albums (Runt, Runt: The Ballad of Todd Rundgren, and Something/Anything) contained a good deal of power pop. Even once Rundgren moved more towards progressive rock, many of his albums would contain songs that were pure, simple power pop.

While Rundgren was pioneering power pop in Philadelphia, yet another young man would pioneer power pop in Rockford, Illinois. Rick Nielsen, who would later go on to found Cheap Trick, formed his first band, The Phaetons, all the way back in 1962 (he was all of 16 at the time). That band would evolve into The Grim Reapers. At the same time that The Grim Reapers were playing various venues, so too was another band called Toast and Jam. Among its members Toast and Jam featured a bassist named Tom Petersen (later the bassist of Cheap Trick). Eventually, Rick Nielsen would propose that The Grim Reapers and Toast and Jam merge, resulting in the band called Fuse. Managed by Ken Adamany (yes, he would later manage Cheap Trick...), the band released a single in 1968 ("Hound Dog"/"Crusin' for Burgers") on Smack Records to little notice. It was in 1969 that the band was signed by Epic Records (the same company who released Cheap Trick's first many albums). That same year they released their self titled, debut album. Sadly, it would be the only album that they ever released. Fuse did not sell well. While Fuse continued playing various venues and even opened for REO Speedwagon, behind the scenes things were falling apart for the band. In the end, Epic wound up dropping Fuse. As to Rick Nielsen, he would go onto found Cheap Trick (more on that later).

Interestingly, the histories of Nazz and Fuse are tied together in more than the fact that they were contemporaries who both played power pop. Following the breakup of Nazz and the departure of members from Fuse, Thom Mooney and Robert Antoni would join Fuse in 1970. In their early days Cheap Trick opened for Utopia on various dates. Later Todd Rundgren would produce the Cheap Trick album Next Position Please.

The third important power pop band to emerge in the late Sixties did not emerge from the Untied States. Instead they emerged from Britain, and from under The Beatles' wings at that. The Iveys were founded in Swansea in the mid-Sixites by Peter Ham and Tom Evans. The Welsh band was influenced heavily by the bands of the British Invasion, in particular The Beatles, The Who, and The Yardbirds. In 1966 they moved to London and began playing there. It was there that The Iveys caught the attention of Mal Evans, road manager and assistant to The Beatles. Evans convinced the Fab Four to sign them to their Apple label. It was under the name The Iveys that they released their first album, Maybe Tomorrow. Although released in Japan, West Germany and Italy, the album was not released in either the UK or U.S.

Nearly from the beginning, The Iveys had been confused with the band The Ivy League due to the similarity in names. It was then in 1969 that the group changed their name to Badfinger. That year also saw Paul McCartney give the band what could have been the biggest break of their career. He gave them a song he had written called "Come and Get It." Featured on the Magic Christian soundtrack, it was their first big hit, reaching #7 on the United States' Billboard singles chart. Their first album as Badfinger, No Dice, released in 1970, would produce another hit for the band, "No Matter What." Their third album, Day After Day, would produce yet another hit--the title track went to #4 on the Billboard chart. Although Badfinger was not the next Beatles as they were often touted, they were on their way to becoming a very successful band.

Unfortunately for Badfinger, things would soon fall apart for the band. The group did not get along with Allen Klein, who had been put in charge of Apple in late 1969. As a result the band moved to Warner Brothers. As if switching labels was not enough, internal strife was growing within the band. This was complicated by mismanagement on the part of manager Stan Polley. Any hope that Badfinger would return to its former prominence was squashed when their leader Pete Ham committed suicide in 1975. Although Badfinger never achieved the heights they might have because of poor circumstances, their legacy on power pop would last. Their influence was felt on bands ranging from Pezband to Enuff Z'Nuff. As to Pete Ham and Tom Evans, they would leave a lasting legacy in the form of one of the most successful ballads of the Seventies. That song was "Without You," which would provide Harry Nilsson with his biggest hit.

Go All the Way: Power Pop Reemerges

The late Sixties and early Seventies were an era dominated by progressive rock and later heavy metal. With songs sometimes extending beyond six minutes and solos (guitar and otherwise) that sometimes lasted nearly as long, it was perhaps inevitable that there would be a backlash. One response to the excesses of the progressive rock came in the form of glam rock. Popularised by such artists as David Bowie, Gary Glitter, and T. Rex, glam rock returned to poppy songs of two to three minutes in length. Another response would come in the form of punk rock, which centred on short songs with the least instrumentation possible. With its concentration on short songs filled with hooks and generally using basic instrumentation (lead guitar, rhythm guitar, bass, and drums), another natural response to the excesses of the progressive rock of the era was power pop.

Indeed, what may have been the most successful power pop band to emerge was not even recognised as power pop at the time. In the press of the era, Sweet was most often classified as a glam rock band. This may have been due in part to the fact that the term "power pop" had not yet came into common usage, as well as the fact that Sweet utilised the same trappings as the various glam rock acts (T. Rex, Slade, David Bowie, and so on). That having been said, it seems clear that while Sweet may have looked like glam rockers, their music sounded like power pop.

Sweet was founded in 1968 by Brian Connolly and Mick Tucker as The Sweetshop. Signed to the Fontana label, they shortened their name simply to "Sweet" upon learning of another band called "The Sweetshop." They released one single on Fontana, "Slow Motion," in 1968. The single failed and Fontana dropped the band. It was in 1969 that Sweet was signed to EMI's Parlophone label. Sweet released three singles at Parlophone, none of which charted. When it came to record deals, however, the third time was a charm for Sweet. They signed with RCA in 1970 and found themselves aligned with the writing team of Nicky Chinn and Mike Chapman. Like their earliest songs, their initial output for RCA was essentially bubblegum, with songs such as "Lollipop Man" and "Funny, Funny." It would not be long before all of that would change.

Quite simply, Sweet disliked playing bubblegum music and soon demanded that Nicky Chinn and Mike Chapman provide them with better material. Beginning with singles such as "Wig Wam Bam" and "Little Willy," Sweet's sound shifted from bubblegum to a blend of the sound of the Boyce/Hart songs of The Monkees with the guitars of The Who. It was following this that Sweet would enter their golden age, releasing songs that would be hits on both sides of the Atlantic: "Little Willy," "Ballroom Blitz," "Teenage Rampage," "Fox on the Run," "Action," and "Love is Like Oxygen." Sadly, as the Seventies wore on, Sweet would decline in popularity--"Love Is Like Oxygen" would be their last hit in either the United Kingdom or the United States.

In their time Sweet was labelled "glam rock," perhaps largely because the term "power pop" had not yet come into popular usage. The same would not be true for a band some have claimed to be the first true power pop band (although, as I pointed out in Part One, that honour should go to The Beatles). The Raspberries may well have been the first band to be labelled "power pop (an example being an article in the February 1975 issue of Beetle Magazine)."

The Raspberries emerged from two Cleveland bands: The Choir (a few of whose singles actually made the lower half of the Billboard Hot 100) and Cyrus Erie (who had a good deal of local success). When the two bands disbanded for various reasons, the remaining members formed The Raspberries in 1970. Playing music that drew upon the sounds of the British Invasion, the music of Phil Spector, and The Beach Boys, The Raspberries were courted by several labels. They eventually signed with Capitol Records. Their self titled debut album was released in 1972 and The Raspberries soon found themselves the darlings of critics. They also saw their first taste of success. While the first single, "Don't Want to Say Goodbye" only hit #86 on the Billboard singles chart, their next single, "Go All the Way" went all the way to #4. It seemed The Raspberries were poised for stardom. The Raspberries' second album, Fresh Raspberries, was also released in 1972, producing the single "I Wanna Be With You," which went to #18 on the Billboard singles chart.

Sadly, following the release of their second album, The Raspberries found themselves torn apart by internal strife. The band fought amongst themselves throughout the recording of their third album, Side 3. Complicating matters, Side 3 would be the first Raspberries album to produce no hit singles. Internal tension eating away at the band, bassist Dave Smalley was kicked out. Drummer Jim Bonfanti left of his own accord. They were replaced by bassist Scott McCarl and drummer Michael McBride. They recorded their fourth and final album Starting Over, which produced the hit "Overnight Sensation (Hit Record)." Despite this, The Raspberries still found themselves at odds. In June 1975 the band announced their breakup.

The Raspberries were not the only American power pop band in the early Seventies. Big Star was formed in Memphis in 1971 by Chris Bell and Alex Chilton (they took the name from the Big Star Markets grocery store chain). Like The Raspberries, Big Star drew upon British Invasion bands such as The Beatles, The Kinks, The Zombies, and The Who, throwing in influences from Badfinger, The Beach Boys, and the Stax Records catalogue for good measure. Fittingly, their first album, #1 Record, was released on the Stax label in 1972. #1 Record received a good deal of critical acclaim. Unfortunately, at that time Stax's distribution was not exactly efficient, so that #1 Record sold very poorly.

Following the release of their first album, Chris Bell found himself suffering from depression and left the band, although he would continue to write for them. The band regrouped and released their second album, Radio City in 1974. Radio City brought Big Star even more critical acclaim. Indeed, it features one of their most famous songs "September Gurls." Sadly, it sold no better than #1 Record. Despite this and more changes in their lineup, Big Star moved forward with plans for a double album. Upon completing the album in 1974, Big Star broke up. As to the album itself, Third was not released until four years later in 1978.

Big Star was one of the many critically acclaimed bands who failed on the charts. What set them apart from other critics' darlings is that their music actually stood the test of time. Big Star would prove to be an influence on such bands as The Posies, Teenage Fanclub, and The Replacements. They may have received their widest exposure when Cheap Trick remade their song "In the Streets" as the theme song for That Seventies Show.

Badfinger, Sweet, The Raspberries, and Big Star were not the only power pop artists in the early Seventies. Nor were the United Kingdom and United States the only sources of power pop. In the Sixties Australia had produced The Easybeats (best known for the song "Friday on My Mind"). In the early Seventies they would produce Rick Springfield. It was in 1969 that Springfield joined the popular Australian power pop quartet called Zoot. Following their break up, he went solo and released a song called "Speak to the Sky," which went to #1 on the Australian singles charts. Springfield then emigrated to the United States. Signed by Capitol Records, he recorded his first album, Beginnings. "Speak to the Sky" went to #14 on the Billboard singles charts.

Unfortunately, two problems would develop for Springfield. First, he found himself cast in the mould of "teen idol," even though his music was a bit more sophisticated than that of Shaun Cassidy and Leif Garrett. He was even featured in a Saturday morning cartoon, Mission: Magic, which ran on ABC for the 1973-1974 season. Of course, being a teen idol was the least of Springfield's worries. Rumours emerged that Capitol Records was paying people to buy Springfield's album Beginnings. As a result, radio stations ceased playing the album. Capitol Records denied the rumours and promptly dropped Rick Springfield. He signed with Columbia Records and released a second album, Comic Book Heroes, in 1974. Although receiving good reviews, it failed to chart. A third album, Wait the Night, released in 1976 also bombed. Taking a break to concentrate on acting, Rick Springield would not have another hit until the album Working Class Dog and the single "Jesse's Girl," both released in 1981. For the early part of the Eighties, Rick Springfield would regularly hit the charts.

Big Star and Rick Springfield were hardly the only power pop artists whose careers faltered during this period. Artful Dodger (not to be confused with the British band of the Naughts) was formed as Brat in Fairfax, Virginia in 1973. The band was heavily influenced by the British Invasion, in particular The Beatles and The Small Faces. The band was eventually signed to Capitol Records, but had to change their name to Artful Dodger because there was already another band named Brat.Their self titled debut was produced by Jack Douglas (who has worked with both Aerosmith and Alice Cooper), and was released in 1975. Unfortunately, the album failed to sell. The same held true for Artful Dodger's next two albums. The band left Capitol Records and signed with Arista, releasing one last album in 1980. Unfortunately, that album, Rave On did no better. Not long afterwards, Artful Dodger broke up.

More than anything else, Artful Dodger appears to have suffered from ill timing. Their failure was hardly due to their music, which compares favourably to both The Raspberries and Big Star. Instead, they entered the market at a time when disco ruled the airwaves and punk was emerging. The bitter irony was that Artful Dodger came about just shortly before power pop would become more popular than it had been since the days of the British Invasion. Indeed, the first volley in a new invasion of power pop bands would be fired only a scant year after Artful Dodger released their first album. That shot would come from the most unexpected of places, the city of Rockford, Illinois...

Wednesday, 2 January 2008

A History of Power Pop Part One: Something Better Beginning

Defining Power Pop

Everyone has their favourite genres of music. For me that genre has always been rock. And it seems most rock fans have their favourite subgenres of rock. While I have always been a big heavy metal fan, in the end I must confess that my heart belongs to power pop. I was perhaps destined to be a power pop fan, almost from birth. I was born less than a year before The Beatles came to the United States, the band from whom all power pop stems. And by the time I was in junior high and high school there was a new wave of power pop bands filling the air waves, including such notables as Cheap Trick and The Knack.

Even though it has been around longer than many subgenres of rock and even though it maintained a following for the entire length of that time, power pop is not the easiest rock subgenre to define. The term was coined by none other than Pete Townshend of The Who; he said in an interview with the New Music Express in 1966, "Power-pop is what we play - what the Small Faces used to play, and the kind of pop the Beach Boys played in the days of 'Fun Fun Fun' which I preferred." While most people these days would not count The Beach Boys as "power pop (although they certainly influenced the genre)," there are many who would most certainly count the early music of The Who and The Small Faces as such. While the term "power pop" would not become popular for almost another decade, when it did it would be applied to bands that sounded a lot like The Who and The Small Faces.

Indeed, power pop is characterised by the same things that characterised many of the British Invasion bands in their early days. Power pop is a guitar driven subgenre of rock with strong melodies and clear harmonies, often making use of musical hooks. And while power pop can include other instruments, the basic instruments of power pop are the electric guitar (usually a lead and a rhythm), the electric bass, and drums. Of course, this definition of power pop is rather broad and vague. Looking to Townshend's use of the term, a simpler and superior definition of power pop might be that it is any music that sounds like the early work of The Beatles and similar groups of the British Invasion era (The Who, The Kinks, and so on). Ultimately, it may be as Dan MacIntosh said in an interview with Eric Carmen in PopMatters, "You just know it when you hear it..."

To complicate matters, I must point out that in the Seventies and Eighties, the British press included such artists as XTC, Elvis Costello, and Blondie under the heading of "power pop." While particular songs of these groups could indeed be counted as power pop under the American definition of the term at the time, I rather suspect very few Americans then (and certainly very few now) would recognise them as power pop.

Not only is power pop not particularly easy to define, but there really isn't much agreement as to when full fledged power pop emerged. Some people point to such early Seventies bands as Big Star and The Raspberries as the first power pop bands. Others go back just a little bit further to the group Badfinger. Yet others maintain that The Who was the first true power pop band. My own thought is that if power pop can be defined simply as "music that sounds like The Beatles," then The Beatles would be the first true proponents of the subgenre.

That'll Be the Day: Early Influences

Even if one considers The Beatles to be the first power pop band, it is safe to say that they did not invent the music form out of whole cloth. Living in Liverpool, where they were exposed to a good deal of American music coming from across the Pond, The Beatles and other early Sixties British bands were influenced by a wide variety of artists. And some of those artists would prove to be pivotal in the development of power pop.

Foremost among these artists were Buddy Holly and The Crickets. When compared to the music of most of his contemporaries, Holly's songs contained more complex melodies and harmonies. And while most of Holly's songs were dominated by guitar, he used a wide array of instruments rarely used in rock 'n' roll at the time: violins, cellos,the celesta, and so on. In some instances Holly's songs are so close to power pop that they can be transformed into such simply through amping up the guitars (as numerous groups have done so over the years).

Besides Buddy Holly, the Everly Brothers would also mark an influential stage in the development of power pop. Like Buddy Holly, the majority of the Everly Brothers' early work was guitar driven, but it was also characterised by clear, crisp harmonies. In fact, the Everly Brothers' harmonies sometimes even served as the melody line. Like Holly, the Everly Brothers would have a large impact on the bands of the British Invasion. Indeed, it is a mark of the Everly Brothers' influence on power pop that in the Sixties they would become among the first American artists to actually adopt the form.

The last group to have an impact on power pop were not a strong influence on The Beatles, more or less being contemporaries to the Fab Four. Like the British Invasion bands, The Beach Boys were heavily influenced by the Everly Brothers, as well as vocal groups such as the Four Freshmen. As a result they evolved a style of music that made use of complex harmonies and strong melody lines. While they may not have had an immediate influence on the British Invasion bands, The Beach Boys would have a lasting impact on the subgenre of power pop.

Buddy Holly, the Everly Brothers, and the Beach Boys were instrumental in introducing to rock music sophisticated harmonies and often complex melodies. All that was needed was a band who would give the guitars a more pivotal position in the music. When that band arrived, they would change the world of music forever.

Catch Us If You Can: The British Invasion

While the United States was amidst a surf music craze led by the Beach Boys in the early Sixties, another kind of revolution was taking place in the United Kingdom. Prior to the Sixties, Britain had very little success when it came to rock 'n' roll. Many of the British rock artists would prove to be successful in the United Kingdom, only to fail here in the United States. There is perhaps no better example of this than Cliff Richard, who was an outright phenomenon in the UK, but never had much impact on the charts in the United States. Around 1960, however, there would arise a new breed of British rock groups who would change all of that. It was in the early Sixties that the British music scene was overtaken by what was then called "beat music."

Liverpool would become the centre of the beat music craze in Britain. One of the UK's most prominent ports, American rock 'n' roll records were often brought to Liverpool by British seamen before they had even been released in the United Kingdom. As a result, Liverpudlian musicians were exposed to a wide array of American rock acts before anyone else in Britain. The Liverpudlian bands then developed a music form that was strong on both guitars and harmonies. They also went a step further than American rock 'n' roll musicians, often incorporating minor chords (particularly in the middle eight). This new music was termed beat music or, as most of the bands came from Liverpool and Manchester, "Merseybeat."

A number of bands would emerge from the Merseybeat scene, among them Gerry and the Pacemakers, The Searchers, Billy J. Kramer and The Dakotas, and The Fourmost. Eventually, one band would become prominent among the various beat groups, a band simply called The Beatles. By 1962 The Beatles would have their first hit single with "Love Me Do." They would have even greater success with their following singles, "Please Please Me," "From Me to You," and "She Loves You." The Beatles would add fuel to the ongoing beat music craze in Britain, at the same time creating a whole new phenomenon--Beatlemania. They were also pivotal in creating a whole new subgenre of rock--power pop.

Although there are those who might argue otherwise, it seems obvious to me that The Beatles' earliest works were also the first manifestations of power pop. In particular, "She Loves You" is dominated by the subgere's chief characteristics: a strong melody, crisp harmonies, prominent guitar, and one of the greatest musical hooks of all time (its "Yeah, yeah, yeah" chorus). Indeed, I must point out that if power pop is simply defined as "music that sounds like The Beatles," then by default The Beatles must have produced, if not the first works in the subgenre, then at least among its earliest works.

Of course, The Beatles were responsible for more than making the already popular form of beat music even more popular in Britain. Ultimately, their arrival in the United States would commence what would become called "the British Invasion," an influx of British bands to the United States in the mid-Sixties. While claims of British domination of American charts in the mid-Sixties are often exaggerated, there can be little doubt that the British had taken the Colonies by storm. In The Beatles' wake other bands would come to the United States and many of these bands would be fundamental in shaping power pop as we know it.

Foremost among these bands were The Kinks. Like The Beatles, The Kinks performed songs with strong melodies, even if their harmonies were not as clean as those of the Fab Four. That having been said, The Kinks went even further than The Beatles in giving the guitar a prominent place in power pop. Their first hit, "You Really Got Me," featured hard driving, distorted guitar that would prove influential in the future of rock music. The lasting influence of The Kinks can be seen in such power pop bands as The Knack and The Jam.

Of course, another prominent band in shaping power pop as we know it was the one to which the man who coined the term belonged--The Who. Influenced by both The Beatles and The Kinks, The Who wrote songs which featured complex harmonies, plenty of musical hooks, and very powerful guitars. The Who was also notable for being one of the first British Invasion bands to write lyrics on a wide variety of topics, from deadly arachnids ("Boris the Spider") to divorce ("A Legal Matter"). The Who would not only be central in the development of power pop, but in the development of heavy metal as well. Their influence would be felt on bands ranging from Cheap Trick to Judas Priest.

Like The Beatles, The Kinks, and The Who, many of the other British Invasion bands could be considered early examples of power pop. Like The Who, The Zombies played songs that were dominated by crisp harmonies and powerful guitars. Heavily influenced by the Everly Brothers, The Hollies' songs were dominated by complex harmonies and jangly guitars. And while they often have not been taken seriously, the Dave Clark Five cannot be discounted as having an impact on power pop. At one time the primary rivals to The Beatles on both sides of the Pond, the Dave Clark Five wrote songs that were not only dominated by harmonies and guitars, but an extraordinarily strong drumbeat as well.

Among the most influential of the early, British power pop bands was The Move. Led by Ron Wood, The Move actually arrived late on the scene, performing their first shows in 1966 and releasing their first single ("Night of Fear") in 1967. Although often considered psychedelic rock, the sound of the early Move may better be classed as power pop. Influenced by The Beach Boys, The Beatles, and The Byrds, The Move utlilised complex harmonies. Influenced by The Who, the band was definitely guitar driven. Although they made no real impact on the American charts, they would prove to have a lasting impact on future power pop bands, including Cheap Trick (whose sound can easily be described as a cross between The Beatles and The Move), The Replacements, Split Enz, and many others. Beyond their influence on power pop, The Move would also leave their mark in rock history as the band that would give birth to the Electric Light Orchestra.

Of course, not every British Invasion band can be considered power pop. Although they would have a lasting impact on rock music, including power pop, both The Rolling Stones and The Yardbirds tended towards a sound that was too bluesy to be counted as power pop. Beginning with a bluesy sound, The Moody Blues would move more towards the progressive rock sound for which they were best known. Gerry and the Pacemakers tended to be among the softest of the beat groups, to the point that they could be considered pioneers of soft rock rather than power pop. Artists such as Chad and Jeremy tended towards more of a folk sound. While most people think of groups such as The Beatles and The Who when they think of the British Invasion, in truth the British groups of the era were a rather wide and varied lot, performing a wide variety of subgenres of rock. Regardless, it was perhaps the early, British power pop bands that would have the biggest impact in the British Invasion. And it would not be long before Americans would adopt the sound for their own.

Dedicated Followers of Fashion: the American Response

In the week of April 4, 1964, the top five singles in the United States according to the Billboard singles charts were all by The Beatles ("Can't Buy Me Love," "Twist and Shout," "She Loves You," "I Want to Hold Your Hand," and "Please Please Me"). Such success was not lost on American musicians, who soon adopted the British sound for their own. In fact, it was not new and upcoming bands who initially embraced power pop, but artists who had been around for some time.

Indeed, among the first artists to embrace power pop were two whose early sound had influenced this new subgenre of rock. Starting in 1965 the Everly Brothers recorded songs that could quite rightfully be considered power pop. "I'll See Your Light" and "It Only Costs A Dime" were obviously influenced by the British Invasion, with harmonies reminiscent of The Beatles and jangly guitars not unlike those of The Hollies. The British influence on the Everly Brothers was strong enough that they would eventually go to London to record. Their 1966 album Two Yanks in England even featured The Hollies as their backing band, as well as songs written by the group.

Unlike the Everly Brothers, The Byrds did not predate power pop, being signed to their first record contract in November 1964. That having been said, the band had grown out of the folk music revival of the early Sixties and as a result most of their earliest offerings (such as Dylan's "Mr. Tambourine Man") were folk rock. Even on their first album, Mr, Tambourine Man, however, there was an unmistakable influence from the power pop of the day in the form of the song "I'll Feel a Whole Lot Better." Their second album, Turn, Turn, Turn featured the title single, whose jangly guitars and clear harmonies would seem to mark it as more power pop than folk rock. The Byrds would never fully embrace power pop as the Everly Brothers did, continuing to churn out folk rock songs, but most of their albums in the Sixties would feature at least one song that could be considered power pop. Indeed, both "Eight Miles High" and "So You Want to Be a Rock 'N' Roll Star" could be considered full fledged power pop songs. Regardless, The Byrds would have a lasting influence on power pop, particularly on such power pop bands as The dBs and Teenage Fanclub.

While The Byrds were a fairly young American band who never embraced power pop, Paul Revere and the Raiders were a fairly old band who embraced it wholeheartedly. In fact, save for one other band, they may have been the most successful American practitioners of the form. Paul Revere and the Raiders had been founded in 1958 and adopted the name "Paul Revere and the Raiders" in 1960. Their early music is perhaps best described by the rather vague term "garage rock"--a term also used of their fellow Oregonians The Kingsmen. In fact, like The Kingsmen, Paul Revere and the Raiders also recorded "Louie, Louie." Although the two bands recorded the song at the same time, it was The Kingsmen's version who made the charts.

Despite that setback, Paul Revere and the Raiders continued to record from 1960 to 1964, with little impact on the charts. All of this changed when Terry Melcher (son of Doris Day and legendary record producer) became the band's producer in 1965. Starting with "Just Like Me," Melcher crafted a sound for Paul Revere and the Raiders that drew upon the music of The Beatles, The Dave Clark Five, and The Kinks, while at the same time maintaining a touch of American R&B to it. For the next several years Paul Revere and the Raiders would record heavy, guitar driven songs with strong melody lines and crisp harmonies. They would have several hits, including "Just Like Me," "Hungry," "Kicks," and "Good Thing." Unfortunately, as the band underwent membership changes and power pop gave way to psychedelia in the late Sixties, the band's career declined as well.

There are those who would argue that the band who kept Paul Revere and the Raiders from being America's premiere power pop group wasn't really a band at all. The Monkees were hired to perform on the television sitcom of the same name and were not allowed to play their own instruments on their albums until Mike Nesmith led a rebellion against the show's music supervisor Don Kirshner (who would later wind up being fired). To provide music for the show, creator and executive producer of The Monkees Bob Rafelson (yes, Bob Rafelson the movie director) brought in the song writing team of Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart. Boyce and Hart not only produced most of the songs for The Monkees' first album, but wrote most of the songs as well. In creating the sound of The Monkees, Boyce and Hart drew upon the sound of such guitar driven British bands as The Who and The Kinks and crossed it with a more American sound. The result was early power pop. Even once The Monkees got control of their own music, they would continue to record songs written by Boyce and Hart and most of their songs would still be in the subgenre of power pop. Sadly, their popularity would take a nosedive once NBC cancelled The Monkees. As to Boyce and Hart themselves, they attempted to launch their own career as rock performers. They released three albums on A&M, all of which could be considered early power pop. Unfortunately, save for the song "I Wonder What She's Doing Tonight," they did not make much impact on the charts.

Of course, there were up and coming American bands formed in mid-Sixties that would adopt power pop as their own sound. Among these were The Beau Brummels. Like The Byrds, The Beau Brummels could be considered folk rock. Indeed, they were obviously influenced by the Kingston Trio. That having been said, they were also influenced by the Everly Brothers and the British Invasion bands as well. Their songs tended to be dominated by complex harmonies and were usually driven by guitars. Unfortunately, they would not have a hugely successful career, producing only three top forty hits

If there is a capital of power pop in the United States, it would probably be Chicago. Over the years the Chicago area has produced such bands as Cheap Trick, Enuff Z'Nuff, Shoes, Pezband, and OK Go. Chicago's position as the crown city of power pop did not start in the Seventies with Cheap Trick and Pezband, but actually goes all the way back to the Sixties. The mid-Sixties saw Chicago dominated by bands that were heavily influenced by Van Morrison's Them, such as The Shadows Of Knight and The American Breed. But other bands looked not to Ireland for inspiration, but rather to England instead. A prime example of such a band was the Ides of March. Formed in 1964 as The Shon-Dels, they recorded their first single, "Like It Or Lump It," in 1965. It was in 1966 that the band changed their name to the Ides of March. They would have an early hit with "You Wouldn’t Listen" that same year. As the Sixties progressed the Ides of March moved away from power pop, introducing a brass section to their recordings. They would achieve their biggest success in the Seventies, with the single "Vehicle."

Another band from Chicago influenced by the British Invasion was The Buckinghams. In fact, the band's name was chosen because it sounded British, while at the same time referring to the Chicago landmark, the Buckingham Fountain. The Buckinghams formed in 1965 and had a recording contract by 1966. Their early work, in particular the song "Kind of a Drag," has an unmistakable British Invasion sound to it. Like The Ides of March, The Buckinghams would move away from the power pop sound by introducing a brass section. Unfortunately, they were never able to repeat their early success.

The New Colony Six was one of the many Chicago bands influenced by Them. At the same time, however, they boasted harmonies that bore the influence of such British bands as The Hollies and guitar work that bore the influence of The Who. Like Paul Revere and the Raiders (and many other bands of the era),The New Colony Six dressed in Colonial era garb. While the band never made an huge impact nationally, they maintained a loyal following in the Midwest, where they produced several minor hits.

By 1967 the power pop of the mid-Sixties was giving way to psychedelia and progressive rock. Many of the early British Invasion bands began to change their styles. The Kinks shifted away from power pop to Ray Davies' signature, English flavoured social commentary. The Hollies moved from power pop into a more psychedelic vein. Bands that remained with power pop found often found their careers floundering. The Dave Clark Five's last top 40 hit in the United States was "You Must Have Been A Beautiful Baby" in June 1967 (perhaps not coincidentally, the month their old rivals released an album called Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band...). Paul Revere and the Raiders' singles continued to chart into 1969, but they would not have another smash hit until "Indian Reservation" was released in 1971. The Monkees' career more or less died with their TV show. On the surface it would seem that power pop was dead, but that would be wholly an illusion. Indeed, the late Sixties would see the emergence of two of the most influential men in power pop, Todd Rundgren and Rick Nielsen. Power pop may have been out of style in the late Sixties, but already the groundwork was being laid for a spectacular return in the Seventies...

Tuesday, 1 January 2008

The Challenge for 2008

Wow. It seems like it was last year since I posted in this blog... Anyhow, I hope that all of you had a very happy New Year's Eve and that you remembered to eat your black eyed peas and collard greens (doing so is supposed to be good luck). As it is, 2008 has started off on a very good note for me. The Missouri Tigers beat the Arkansas Razorbacks 38 to 7 in the Cotton Bowl (take that, BCS....).

For those of you wondering about the title of this post, it is in reference to a game proposed by Mike of the blog Fevered Mutterings. I found out about it through Beth of Finding My Voice. Here are the rules of the game, in Mike's own words:

"1. You give me a Challenge for 2008. This Challenge is of the 'fun' and 'personally enriching' variety. Yes, that means snide comments along the lines of "Acquire A Life" will be ignored.

2. I mull the Challenge over, and then I decide whether to accept or not.

3. It goes in writing, on this post, in this blog.

4. Then I set YOU a Challenge. Ditto. Ditto.

5. Then, with all Challenges set......I check up on you, and put up an update post every once in a while, to summarise how it's going, including how I'm doing with my Challenges.

It's all a bit like New Year's Resolutions, except with public culpability and reminders.

Those of you with blogs - I also Challenge you to run this game within your own posts......"

Beth set down a challenge for Mike and posted it in Finding My Voice. Beth also invited others to play. I laid down a challenge to Beth that she has to read at least one fiction book a month. It can be any sort of book--mystery, sci-fi, romance--just as long as it is fiction. Beth must then post a review of each book in her blog. My thought in putting down the challenge is that we don't read enough for entertainment these days. I must confess that I am particularly guilty of that--I have about twenty books I've bought lately and have yet to read any of them!

As to Beth's challenge to me, I am to create and post one pop culture quiz a month in A Shroud of Thoughts. The quizzes can have a single theme or simply be a collection of random things. At the end of 2008, the reader who has accumulated the most points throughout the year will win a pop culture related prize (I am considering a cute Shrek and Donkey keychain, although I am not firm on that as of yet--let me know what you think).

As Beth did, I will go ahead and make the offer for others to play. I only have two ground rules with regards to challenges to me. First, since A Shroud of Thoughts is dedicated to pop culture in all its forms, any challenge must be pop culture oriented. Second, challenges should not involve travel outside of any states that border Missouri and Missouri itself. As the rules of the game specify, I have the right to refuse any challenge.

So, any takers?