Oh, hello, welcome to the power pop annotated mix. Power pop was a sort of leftover subgenre. It got its start in the 70s being played by bands that didn’t want to give up on 60s guitar pop just yet.
For the most part pop music was getting more complex and polished in the 70s, but power pop stood out from the pack along with glam rock, pub rock, some heavy metal, and eventually punk rock. Those subgenres were keepers of the flame. They influenced a wave of bands that became critical, and sometimes commercial, successes in the 80s, 90s, and beyond.
Power pop bands usually had no hits or one or two hits. Big Star, arguably the greatest band of subgenre, sold virtually no records while they existed. Bands like The Raspberries and Badfinger had a couple of hits. The Romantics had one. Cheap Trick had a bunch.
Track 1- September Gurls/ Big Star. Not my favorite Big Star song, but considered by many as the pinnacle of power pop. Written by the John Lennon of the 70s (I think of Big Star as the band the Beatles would have been if they never gotten famous), Alex Chilton. Alex was in The Box Tops as a teenager, and was semi-well known for singing their hit song “The Letter.” He became an underground hero in the 80s, and provided the title and subject for one of the best Replacements songs- “Children by the million sing for Alex Chilton when he comes ’round. They sing ‘I’m in love, what’s that song? I’m in love with that song.'” I saw him in person at Gabe’s Oasis in Iowa City circa 2000. It was great. He died on St. Patricks day 2010.
Track 2- Baby Blue/ Badfinger (Live). Speaking of bands that could have been the Beatles… Badfinger, signed to the Beatles’ Apple Records, were the first power pop band. Like Big Star they were a tragedy. A band that had a couple of hits, but were never what they should have been because they existed too late and too early. Pete Ham, singer, guitarist, and principle songwriter, killed himself three days short of his 28th birthday, April 24 1975. “I will not be allowed to love and trust everybody. This is better.”
Track 3- I Wanna Be With You/ The Raspberries (Live). The Raspberries, the third of the key founding bands of power pop, playing one of their hits. Although I think Big Star and Badfinger were better, The Raspberries were probably the most influencial, at least in the 70s, of the three.
Track 4 (and 4 1/2)- The Prettiest Girl/ The Neighborhoods. This is a real forgotten classic, as many power pop songs are, and one of my favorite songs. The Neighborhoods were from Boston, and their LP photo was taken in Fenway Park. I have two copies.
Track 5- Iron Woman/ Devin Davis. Here’s a relatively new forgotten power pop song from the 2000s. Good luck getting this out of your head.
Track 6- Hangin’ on the Telephone/ The Nerves. This song was eventually a hit for Blondie. This is the original by The Nerves, a great 70s power pop band from LA, that split after recording one EP, and then became The Beat and The Plimsouls, two excellent bands that have songs coming up.
Track 7- Condition Red/ The Sneakers. Talk about Big Star fans… This band kind of just disappeared, but their influence on 80s power pop and jangle pop was massive. Chris Stamey, later of the dB’s and Le Tigre’s producer, is the one singin’. Mitch Easter, later of Let’s Active and the producer of the first two REM albums- pretty much the mastermind of the jangle pop sound, is on guitar. Future dB Will Rigby was a Sneaker too. Don Dixon, an engineer on The Sneakers’ album, went on to be an important producer of jangle pop, and had a solid solo career.
Track 8- Southern Girls/ Cheap Trick. Maybe the best known and most successful power pop band. This is my favorite song by them. This live version kicks some serious ass.
Track 9- Cruel to be Kind/ Nick Lowe. The biggest hit for “The Jesus of Cool,” Nick Lowe, a key figure in power pop, pub rock, and British punk. He was covered by Wire and Elvis Costello. This song is about as close as one can get to pop perfection.
Track 10-Starry Eyes/ The Records. A great song from one of the best British power pop bands.
Track 11- Rock ‘n Roll Girl/ The Beat, or Paul Collins and the Beat (Live). Paul Collins, formerly of The Nerves, absolutely killing it with The Beat.
Track 12-A Million Miles Away/ The Plimsouls. A bit of a hit for The Plimsouls, and ex- Nerve Peter Case. Very jangly. Also, a great old school video.
Track 13- My Sharona/ The Knack. LA power pop band, The Knack’s biggest hit. This song is about a real girl, Sharona, that singer/songwriter Doug Fieger was dating at the time. My Sharona is from 1979, a time when a band like this would have a hit or two.
Track 14- What I Like About You/ The Romantics. Another 1+ hit wonder from the late 70s ealry 80s power pop scene. Their self titled debut album, which features this song leading off side two, is all killer, no filler. PS- Another great band from Detroit.
Track 15- Tomorrow Night/ The Shoes. I don’t know much about the Shoes, but they were from Illinois, and I want to know more.
Track 16- You and Your Sister/ Chris Bell. Chris Bell was the Paul to Alex Chilton’s John in Big Star. This song isn’t really a power pop song, but it’s just such a fucking stunner. I almost cry every time I hear it. Alex on backing vocals in the chorus. Chris struggled with the lack of success of Big Star’s first record, #1 Record. He became depressed and left the band, although he contributed to the second album, Radio City. He went to Europe and recorded some songs, this is one of them. They were never released during his lifetime. He came back to Memphis and worked in his family’s fast food restaurant chain. He hit a tree with his car and died instantly on December 27, 1978 at 27. His songs were finally collected and released as “I am the Cosmos” in 1992. “You and Your Sister” has been covered a number of times, most famously by This Mortal Coil.
Track 17- I am the Cosmos/ Chris Bell
Track 18- Shake Some Action/ The Flamin’ Groovies. The Flamin’ Groovies were a badass band from San Francisco in the late 60s early 70s. They were kind of the American Rolling Stones, and they were definitely out of place in peaceful SF with songs like “Slow Death,” and “Teenage Head.” After their original lead singer, Roy Loney, left the band they transformed into a power popesque band. This is one of their best songs from that era.
Track 19- Black and White/ The dB’s. My favorite song from the dB’s first album “Stands for Decibels.” This song is by Peter Holsapple, but ex-Sneaker Chris Stamey was the other of the dB’s songwriters. The dB’s are maybe more accurately described as jangle pop, but I think this song power pop enough for this mix.
Track 20- Yellow Pills/ 20/20. From their self titled 1979 album, this song is classic power pop, but also kind unusual. It’s a little psychedelic, but I guess it is about pills. (PS- it’s a total accident that this song by 20/20 is track 20)
Track 21- Teenage Kicks/ The Undertones. Probably more of a “punk” song, but there is definitely a lot of power pop in here. There are a lot of punk songs, and bands, that could fairly accurately be described as power pop- The Undertones, The Buzzcocks, The Soft Boys, and maybe even The Ramones. This was famous UK DJ John Peel’s favorite song.
Track 22- Another Girl Another Planet/ The Only Ones (Live). This is The Only Ones’ classic track. It is another song that might not be most accurately described as power pop, but it’s close enough.
Track 23- Buddy Holly/ Weezer. I’ve never been a huge Weezer fan, and they aren’t really a true power pop band, but they are about as close as the 90s alternative revolution came to giving us a super popular successful power pop band. Also, I prefer them to most of the more traditional power pop bands from the 90s.
Track 24- Dream All Day/ The Posies. This is a total 100% power pop classic from the 90s. It has a little grunge in it, but it’s a real power pop song for sure.
Track 25- K Street/ Fastbacks. Maybe the greatest 80s- 90s power pop, Seattle’s Fastbacks. They were the only punk era band in Seattle that survived to see the grunge explosion in the 90s, and were a key to making that explosion happen. Also, Kurt Bloch on guitar. He’s in a battle with Rick Nielson for the title of power pop guitar god.
Track 26- 28- Thirteen, In the Street, Holocaust/ Big Star. Maybe my favorite band ever. The pop version of The Velvet Underground, only even less successful in their own time. Thirteen, covered by Elliot Smith, Wilco, etc, is an absolute knockout. In the Street, covered by Big Star fans Cheap Trick as the theme song for That 70s Show, is probably their best known track. Holocaust is from the album 3rd/ Sister Lovers, which was never officially released when the band existed. Over the course of the band’s career you can hear them getting more and more bitter and depressed. This is the bottom- “you’re a sad eyed lie, you’re a wasted face, you’re a holocaust.”