Summer Power Pop: Liner Notes

I have a new column (or playlisticle) up at the Federalist, “12 Summer Power Pop Gems You Need In Your Life Right Now.”  For the majority of you here for politics, consider it a look at one small facet of cultural conservatism, given the genre’s emphases on pop classicism and nostalgia.  Indeed, the genre’s de-emphasis of blues influences in favor of traditional pop and folk-rock would even lend itself to an analysis of whether the genre is due for a cultural anxiety-based resurgence at the moment rap and hip-hop have become the dominant force in pop.  But it’s the weekend, so I was trying to be a little lighter about it.

What got left out for space?  To begin with, everything.  As Mary Katherine Ham would note, science says that Power Pop was destined to be my lifelong musical comfort food, so I could have written twice or thrice as much about virtually everything mentioned in the column.  About Cheap Trick as a seminal Power Pop band given their marriage of Beatlesque melodicism with the musical power of the Who.  Indeed, “power pop” is generally considered to be a term invented by Pete Townshend to describe his band’s sound in the mid-60s.

I could have expanded on the odd interpersonal dynamics of the Beach Boys that were amazingly set aside for “Do It Again,” and what its success said about the late 60s writ larger.  Although we now metabolize this period of Rock as being about the Jefferson Airplane, Jimi Hendrix, etc., the Top 40 format — being the product of an American monoculture — was always more diverse than that.  In the 70s, it was the sort of space where you might hear Led Zeppelin, Smokey Robinson, and Dolly Parton within the space of an hour.  At the turn of the century, TRL served this sort of function.  But in the late 60s, you were just as likely to hear the instant nostalgia of the Beach Boys — or even Frank Sinatra — as you were to hear the bands that played Woodstock (though in fairness, even Woodstock included the 50s nostalgia act Sha Na Na).

I certainly could have written an entire column just about Big Star and the alternative bands that followed in frontman Alex Chilton’s wake (with the near-obligatory note that Chilton got his start as a teenager, singing hits like “The Letter” and “Soul Deep” for The Box Tops).  I mentioned the dB’s, Hoodoo Gurus and Redd Kross (even The Bangles at the outset), but it extends to bands like Game Theory, the Windbreakers, even The Replacements to name just a few more.  And it was a small world.  For example, Redd Kross has backing vocals on “Bubblegum Factory” from Susan Cowsill — formerly of The Cowsills, the real-life inspiration for the Partridge Family.  She married Peter Holsapple of the dB’s; they later formed a band (the Continental Drifters) with The Bangles’ Vicki Petersen (who later married John Cowsill).  Game Theory’s frontman, the late Scott Miller, was a contemporary of Susanna Hoffs, whose post-Bangles career includes a series of covers albums (“Under The Covers”) with Matthew Sweet.  Jeff “Mutt” Lange produced not only The Records’ debut, but The Cars’ Heartbeat City, including the Summer Power Pop classic  “Magic.”  Indeed, Cheap Trick even got the commission to rework Big Star’s “In The Street” as the theme for That 70s Show.

I had to leave out that the Katrina & The Waves LPs came out on a Canadian hard rock label because that label had previously distributed songwriter-guitarist Kimberley Rew’s prior band, The Soft Boys, a psychedelic postpunk pop band fronted by Robyn Hitchcock (Rock’s answer to Lewis Carroll).  Or that Fountains of Wayne’s main songwriter, Adam Schlesinger, is so steeped in pop classicism that he also wrote the titular song for the movie That Thing You Do, as well as the George Michael homages for Music and Lyrics.

I could go on, but it’s probably better if you just click over for my observation about the human condition at the end of the piece (I always try to add a little something, even to a playlisticle) and enjoy the music.

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