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Power Pop Genre Profile


Power Pop Genre Profile
Album Cover Image Courtesy of CBS Records


The guitar-based rock music known as power pop has not always been the most critically respected style of music, even if it was essentially invented by The Beatles. Even so, a number of generally underground bands have held the genre's flame aloft through distinct periods of the nearly five-decade expanse of the rock era. At its base, power pop is comprised of forceful but melodic guitars along with gentle, often harmonized vocals that tend toward higher pitches. It also happens to be a lot more than mere ear candy, often created by some of the most inventive musicians and talented lyricists from within the pop music talent pool.


Power pop can be traced back at least to the point when pop songs began to be composed frequently and also delivered using prominent electric guitars. This roughly aligns with the mid-'60s British Invasion, including mod bands like The Who, The Kinks and Badfinger in addition to The Beatles. However, American psychedelic and folk rock bands such as The Byrds, Buffalo Springfield and Love certainly helped shape power pop as well through their use of jangly, chiming guitars, vocal harmonies and catchy melodies. Even so, the genre didn't gain official name recognition until the '70s.

Power Pop's Golden Age:

Without a doubt, the early '70s in America served as the fertile breeding ground for power pop's golden age, as largely underground bands like The Raspberries, Big Star and Flamin' Groovies set the template for the form's developing legend. Still, during this period some critics derided the genre as flighty ear candy that suffered from a dearth of substance - even though pure power pop artists enjoyed practically no chart success. Eventually and perhaps ironically, movements influenced heavily by power pop such as pub rock, punk rock and arena rock helped push the genre further out of vogue. But it never faded away entirely, re-emerging just in time for the advent of the '80s.

Into the '80s:

Before new wave, college rock and post-punk even registered as emerging styles, popular bands including The Knack, The Cars and The Romantics held the power pop flag high. As the decade wore on, cult bands The Replacements, Dramarama and The Smithereens continued mining the riches of punchy guitars and Beatlesque melodies. Still, beyond obvious style branches like jangle pop, power pop also extended its influence on the '80s music landscape through unexpected channels. Few fans of the immensely popular hard rock hybrid known variously as hair metal and pop metal knew it at the time, but these bands often drew heavily upon glam rock's power pop fixation for unshakable hooks and melodic guitar riffs. Bands of this ilk like Def Leppard, KISS, Dokken and especially the lesser-known Enuff Z'Nuff delivered plenty of music that was very close to straight-up power pop throughout the '80s.

Power Pop Endures:

The '90s brought a bona fide power pop revival that piggybacked somewhat successfully with the alternative rock explosion. Throwback artists ranging from Teenage Fanclub to Matthew Sweet to The Posies to Fountains of Wayne enjoyed plenty of critical adulation and even modest commercial success throughout the decade. Even so, more music fans than not probably remained relatively unaware of the rich power pop tradition of generations just prior, which in some ways is probably the way it should be anyway. This decade also witnessed some of the earliest momentum for punk-pop, pioneered by the Descendents, realized by Green Day and further popularized by Fall Out Boy.

Ongoing Life of the Genre:

Over the past decade and change, elements of power pop have remained integral to the steady allure of indie rock, whose artists often reveal an affinity for sweet melodies, haunting harmonies and chiming but jagged guitars. Equally influential in both American and British bands, power pop plays a major role in the sound of current, variously popular acts including Best Coast, Pernice Brothers and Bell X1, to name just a very few. Looking to the future, one can only hope the appeal of loud, inventively distorted guitars and ingenious songcraft - championed initially so well by power pop - will always sustain a sizable audience of satisfied listeners.

Other Significant Power Pop Recordings of the '80s:

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