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Power pop
Stylistic origins Pop rock, rock and roll, beat music, rhythm and blues, garage rock
Cultural origins 1960s United Kingdom and United States
Typical instruments Standard Drum kit - Electric guitar - Keyboard - Bass guitar - Synthesizer
Mainstream popularity Sporadic
Derivative forms BritpopIndie popPop punk - noise pop
Jangle popMod revival
Fusion genres
Geek rockNew WavePsychedelic popSynthpop -
Other topics
Pop rock

Power pop (or powerpop) is a popular musical genre that draws its inspiration from 1960s British and American pop and rock music. It typically incorporates a combination of musical devices such as strong melodies, crisp vocal harmonies, economical arrangements, and prominent guitar riffs. Instrumental solos are usually kept to a minimum, and blues elements are largely downplayed. Recordings tend to display production values that lean toward compression and a forceful drum beat. Instruments usually include one or more electric guitars, an electric bass guitar, a drum kit, and sometimes electric keyboards or synthesizers. While its cultural impact has waxed and waned over the decades, power pop is among rock's most enduring subgenres.[1][2]


Formative years: mid 1960s through the early 1970s

Writing for Allmusic, John Dougan described the genre's origins:

The musical sourcepoint for nearly all power-pop is The Beatles. Virtually all stylistic appropriations begin with them: distinctive harmony singing, strong melodic lines, unforgettable guitar riffs, lyrics about boys and girls in love; they created the model that other power-poppers copied for the next couple of decades. Other profound influences include The Who, The Kinks, and The Move, bands whose aggressive melodies and loud distorted guitars put the "power" in power-pop.[3]

Pete Townshend of The Who coined the term "power pop" in a 1967 interview in which he said "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."[4] As early as 1965, the Everly Brothers were playing music that can be called power pop. The duo's "I'll See Your Light" and "It Only Costs a Dime" displayed jangling guitars and an oblique harmonic approach that built upon the innovations of The Beatles and The Byrds. Those groups, along with The Who, The Small Faces and the Beach Boys, are often cited as the progenitors of power pop.[5]

The Who, inspired by the melodicism of The Beatles and the driving rhythms of American R&B, released several songs — "I Can't Explain", "The Kids Are Alright", "Substitute", "I'm a Boy" and "Happy Jack" — in their early mod phase (1965–1966) that can be considered the first true power pop songs. These songs are propelled by Keith Moon's aggressive drumming and Pete Townshend's distinctive power chords, and have strong melodies and euphonic harmonies.

The Beatles released harder-edged, yet melodic, singles such as "Paperback Writer" and "Day Tripper" in 1965–66, as well as album tracks such as "And Your Bird Can Sing". However, four years before the term "power pop" was coined, The Beatles were already recording a series of influential hits that some have retroactively classified as power pop, including "From Me to You", "She Loves You", "I Want to Hold Your Hand", and "Can't Buy Me Love".

Several groups that arose in the wake of The Beatles' success were important in the evolution and expansion of the power pop style, such as The Hollies and The Monkees, as well as "softer" acts such as The Beau Brummels, The Cowsills, The Zombies, and the "bubblegum" singles of the Kasenetz-Katz production team. Other acts such as the Knickerbockers, The Easybeats, and the Outsiders contributed iconic singles.

By 1970 the distinctive stylistic elements of power pop were clearly evident in recordings by the British group Badfinger, with singles such as "No Matter What", "Baby Blue", and "Day After Day" serving as templates for the power pop sound that would follow [6]:50.

Although the formative influences on the genre were primarily British, the bands that developed and codified power pop in the 1970s were nearly all American. The Raspberries 1972 hit single Go All The Way is an almost perfect embodiment of the elements of power pop and that group's four albums can be considered strongly representative of the genre. Some of Todd Rundgren's early and mid 1970s solo work also touched on power pop, as did the recordings of Blue Ash, The Flamin' Groovies, Artful Dodger, and The Dwight Twilley Band. The most influential group of the period may have been Big Star. Though Big Star's initial early 1970s career met with no commercial success, they developed an avid cult following and members of later bands like R.E.M. and The Replacements spoke enthusiastically of their esteem for the group's work. The Replacements even recorded a song entitled "Alex Chilton" in honor of Big Star's frontman.

Commercial peak: late 1970s to early 1980s

Cheap Trick playing in 1978.

Spurred on by the emergence of punk rock and new wave, power pop enjoyed a very prolific and commercially successful period in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

Although coined in the 1960s, the term "power pop" was not widely used until around 1978. However, the term had been used as early as 1973 in reference to Sweet.[7] The term was often used in reference to critics' favorites Elvis Costello and Nick Lowe, whose style was viewed as a less-threatening version of punk rock.[8][9] Los Angeles-based Bomp! magazine championed power pop in its March 1978 issue, tying the genre's roots to 1960s groups like The Who and The Easybeats through The Raspberries of the early 1970s.[10]

Like their punk brethren, late–1970s power pop groups favored a leaner and punchier sound than their early–1970s predecessors. Some occasionally incorporated synthesizers into their music, though not to the same degree as did their new wave counterparts. Representative singles from the period include releases from the Bomp! Records label by 20/20 ("Giving It All"), Shoes ("Tomorrow Night") and The Romantics ("Tell It to Carrie"). Major label groups like Cheap Trick, The Cars and Blondie merged power pop influences with other styles and achieved their first mainstream success with albums released in 1978.

Visually, taking their cue from the tie-wearing, matching white-suited Raspberries (who had taken their own visual cues from the early 1960s British Invasion groups), some of the young power poppers decked themselves out in skinny ties, matching shirts, or, in the case of the Romantics, matching red leather outfits.[11]

The biggest chart hit by a pure power pop band was The Knack's debut single, "My Sharona", which topped the Billboard Hot 100 chart for six weeks in the summer of 1979. The accompanying platinum-selling album, Get the Knack, paved the way for major label debuts that fall by The Pop, Shoes, 20/20 and The Beat. However, "My Sharona"'s ubiquitous radio presence that summer spawned a popular and critical backlash against the band, which in turn led to a backlash against the power pop genre in general. Few of the power pop albums which followed Get the Knack charted at all, and those that did attained only middling positions on the Billboard 200. The Romantics had a minor hit with "What I Like About You" in early 1980, but, by then, power pop was seen as a passing fad by many critics.[12] Most of this crop of bands continued to release albums throughout the early 1980s, but with the exception of The Romantics' In Heat (1983), none garnered much attention. Other groups such as The Plimsouls and the dB's found a home on college radio, where power pop would endure for the remainder of the decade.

United Kingdom

The term power pop, as used in the United Kingdom, referred to a somewhat different style of music than that of the United States. The Evening Standard used the term in January 1978 while writing about The Rich Kids and Tonight.[13] Other British bands labelled as power pop included The Jam,The Boys, Squeeze, Buzzcocks, The Vapors, and The Chords. The term became something of a catchall, as many of these groups have also been described as mod revival, punk rock, or new wave. Lacking the influence of American pioneers such as Big Star and The Raspberries, these bands were more directly inspired by 1960s beat music bands, particularly The Who, The Kinks and The Beatles. They also took a cue from the energy and aesthetics of the contemporary punk movement, speeding up the tempo of their music.

Other UK artists of the late 1970s commonly identified as power pop were the new wave bands XTC and Elvis Costello & The Attractions. They played driving, melodic music, but neither group sported the mod image or overt 1960s influence of The Jam and their followers. A handful of successful bands in the United Kingdom did boast the traditional power pop sound as inspired by The Raspberries and Big Star. Singles from such groups, such as The Records' "Starry Eyes", Nick Lowe's "Cruel to be Kind", and Bram Tchaikovsky's "Girl of My Dreams", rivaled or even surpassed their American counterparts in capturing the essential elements of power pop. Perhaps as a consequence, these bands were more commercially successful in the United States than in their homeland.

Additionally, the American New Wave group Blondie was often labelled as "power pop" by the UK press. The band's cover of The Nerves' "Hanging on the Telephone," demonstrated Blondie's power pop side. The most notable Australian power pop band of the period was probably The Innocents; rock historian Glenn A Baker claimed they were "the greatest power pop band since the demise of The Raspberries.".[14]

Contemporary power pop: 1980s to 2000s

In the 1980s and 1990s, power pop continued as a commercially modest genre. Artists such as the Spongetones,[6]p. 58 Marshall Crenshaw, Del Amitri, The Smithereens, Matthew Sweet, Tommy Keene, Redd Kross, Material Issue, and The Posies drew inspiration from Big Star, the Beatles, and glam rock groups of the early 1970s like T.Rex and Sweet.[15] Albums such as Jellyfish's Bellybutton (1990) and Teenage Fanclub's Bandwagonesque (1991) would be greatly influential within the genre, but few translated to mainstream success.

In the mid-1990s through the 2000s, power pop flourished in the underground with acts such as The Shazam and Sloan. Independent record labels such as Not Lame Recordings, Parasol, Kool Kat Musik and Jam Recordings specialized in the genre. The sound made a mainstream appearance in 1994 with Weezer's commercially successful Blue Album and hit single "Buddy Holly".[16] In the late 1990s, several Scandinavian power pop groups such as the Cardigans, Merrymakers, and Wannadies enjoyed a modicum of critical favor.

Power pop traits are also currently displayed by North American bands such as Fountains of Wayne, The New Pornographers, Semisonic, Jimmy Eat World, The Dandy Warhols, The Click Five, Sloan, The All-American Rejects, and Fastball and by pop punk bands such as Simple Plan, Bowling for Soup, and Good Charlotte. The influence of power pop is also readily apparent in contemporary British groups such as Silver Sun, the Futureheads, Maxïmo Park, Farrah, The Feeling, Razorlight, Babyshambles and The Libertines.

Festival bills

International Pop Overthrow - named after the song of the same name by Material Issue - is a power pop festival that has been organizing events since 1997. Originally taking place in Los Angeles, the festival has expanded to several locations over the years including Chicago, New York, Boston, San Francisco, Vancouver, Toronto, and Liverpool, England (the latter event included performances at the re-created Cavern Club).


Ken Sharp and Doug Sulpy released Power Pop: Conversations With the Power Pop Elite in 1997. The book contained interviews with power pop artists from throughout the genre's history. Sharp has also written books on The Raspberries and Cheap Trick.[17] In 2007, John Borack published Shake Some Action: The Ultimate Power Pop Guide in association with power pop label/retailer Not Lame Records. The book contained essays by several writers including Borack, a list of 200 "essential albums," and an accompanying CD.

Notable power pop singles

Certain power pop songs have had substantial mainstream visibility or commercial success, have been critically described as being emblematic of the genre, or are regularly cited as being influential to later performers. These include:


  1. ^ A User's Guide to Shoes - eMusic Spotlight
  2. ^ Liner notes to 'The Roots of Power Pop' and the 'Poptopia' series of CDs
  3. ^ Allmusic Essay Power Pop John Dougan
  4. ^ Altham, Keith. "Lily Isn't Pornographic, Say Who" New Musical Express May 20, 1967
  5. ^ Dodd, Philip (2005). The Book of Rock: From the 1950s to Today (Paperback ed.). Thunder's Mouth Press. pp. 36, 109. ISBN 978-1560257295. 
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h Borack, John M. (2007). Shake Some Action. Not Lame. p. 58. ISBN 978-0-9797714-0-8. 
  7. ^ Taylor, Barry. "Riffs" The Village Voice July 19, 1973: 56
  8. ^ Hilburn, Robert. "Costello, Lowe: The Power in Pop" Los Angeles Times April 23, 1978: M72
  9. ^ Cocks, Jay (1978-06-26). ""Bringing Power to the People" Time June 26, 1978".,9171,916235,00.html. Retrieved 2009-12-04. 
  10. ^ "Bomp! History". Retrieved 2009-12-04. 
  11. ^ "Power Pop - Alternative/Punk - Music -". Retrieved 2009-12-04. 
  12. ^ Rockwell, John "Disco vs. Rock and Industry Ills Made the Year Dramatic" The New York Times December 30, 1979: D20
  13. ^ Russ Strothard (2009-10-14). ""Abba's next album rings up £1m sales" ''Evening Standard'' January 17, 1978". Retrieved 2009-12-04. 
  14. ^ Raven Records (1984). "Here We Come liner notes". Press release. Retrieved 2009-09-21. 
  15. ^ "Bot generated title ->". allmusic<!. Retrieved 2009-12-04. 
  16. ^
  17. ^ Orbezua, IÑAKI. "A Conversation with Ken Sharp". 
  18. ^ The Greatest Songs Ever! Go All the Way. By Johnny Black. Blender. Published July 2006.
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