Power pop

Power pop is a popular musical genre that draws its inspiration from 1960s British and American rock music. It typically incorporates a combination of musical devices such as strong melodies, clear vocals and crisp vocal harmonies, economical arrangements and prominent guitar riffs. Instrumental solos are usually kept to a minimum, and blues elements are largely downplayed.

In the 1980s and 1990s, power pop continued as a commercially modest genre but by the mid-1990s through the 2000s, power pop was mainly in the underground.

While its cultural impact has waxed and waned over the decades, power pop is among rock's most enduring subgenres.[1]


Power pop has been described as mixture of hard rock and melodic pop music, thus power pop tends to be more aggressive than pop rock.[2] Author John M. Borack stated in his book Shake Some Action – The Ultimate Guide to Power Pop that the genre has often been applied to varied groups and artists with "blissful indifference" noting labeling of the genre to Britney Spears, Green Day, the Bay City Rollers and Def Leppard.[3]

Origins (1960s–70s)


The Who playing live
The Who performing in 1972

The origins of power pop date back to the early-to-mid 1960's with what Allmusic calls: "a cross between the crunching hard rock of the Who and the sweet melodicism of the Beatles and the Beach Boys, with the ringing guitars of the Byrds thrown in for good measure".[4] It was Pete Townshend, of the English rock band the Who, that 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."[5][nb 1] The Small Faces are often cited as being among the progenitors of power pop.[7] The Who's role in the creation of power pop has been cited by singer-songwriter Eric Carmen of the Raspberries, who has said:

Pete Townshend coined the phrase to define what the Who did. For some reason, it didn't stick to the Who, but it did stick to these groups that came out in the '70s that played kind of melodic songs with crunchy guitars and some wild drumming. It just kind of stuck to us like glue, and that was okay with us because the Who were among our highest role models. We absolutely loved the Who.[8]

Several other groups of the 1960s 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 and the Zombies. Other acts such as the Knickerbockers, the Easybeats and the Outsiders contributed iconic singles. Writer John Borack has noted, "It's also quite easy to draw a not-so-crooked line from garage rock to power pop."[9]


Alex Chilton, of Big Star, seen in 2004

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.[10]

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. In addition to his late 1960s band, Nazz, some of Todd Rundgren's early 1970s solo work touched on power pop, as did the recordings of Blue Ash, the Flamin' Groovies, Artful Dodger and, in particular, the Dwight Twilley Band (whose hit "I'm on Fire" is emblematic of the genre's hybridity).[11] 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–early 1980s)

Cheap Trick playing in 1978

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

Although coined in the 1960s, and used as early as 1973 in reference to Sweet,[12] the term "power pop" was not widely used until around 1978. As the novelist Michael Chabon has written, "Power pop in its essential form... did not come into existence for a number of years after it was first identified. Like so much of the greatest work turned out by popular artists of the 1970s, true power pop is quintessential second-generation stuff."[13] 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.[14][15] 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 Raspberries of the early 1970s.[16]

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. Cheap Trick's 1979 album Cheap Trick at Budokan went triple platinum in the United States,[17] and singles such as "Surrender" and "I Want You To Want Me" brought power pop to an international audience.

Doug Fieger of the Knack performing

Visually taking their cue from 1960s British Invasion groups, some power pop bands decked themselves out in skinny ties and matching suits. Other groups such as the Romantics adopted matching red leather outfits reminiscent of 1950s rock n roll stars such as Little Richard. Some bands such as the Beat adapted the look of punk rocker contemporaries such as the Ramones and the Sex Pistols.

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 by bands such as 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.[18] 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, the Smithereens and the dB's found a home on college radio, where power pop would endure for the remainder of the decade.

United Kingdom

Nick Lowe playing in 1980

The term "power pop" as used in the United Kingdom referred to a somewhat different style of music than it did in the United States. The Evening Standard used the term in January 1978 while writing about the Rich Kids and Tonight.[19]

Additionally, the American new wave group Blondie was often labelled as "power pop" by the UK press. The band's songs "One Way or Another" and "11:59" from Parallel Lines clearly 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 Raspberries".[20]

Having influenced the development of power pop from the beginning, British rock group the Kinks made several well-received songs in the style in their 1984 album Word of Mouth, such as "Do It Again".[21]

Contemporary power pop (1980s–present)

In the 1980s and 1990s, power pop continued as a commercially modest genre with artists such as the Spongetones,[10] Jellyfish,[22] and The Outfield.[23]

In the mid-1990s through the 2000s, power pop flourished in the underground with acts such as 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" (produced by Ric Ocasek of the Cars)[24] and hit single "Buddy Holly".[25] 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/artists such as Mod Fun, Gin Blossoms, Fountains of Wayne, Brendan Benson, the Posies, the New Pornographers, Guided By Voices, Semisonic, The All-American Rejects, Jimmy Eat World, the Click Five, the Dandy Warhols, Sloan, Wheatus, the Brother Kite, the Apples in Stereo, Cotton Mather, The Figgs, Fastball, and Lannie Flowers. The influence of power pop is also apparent in contemporary British groups such as Silver Sun, Snow Patrol, the Futureheads, Maxïmo Park, and Farrah. Acts such as the Jonas Brothers have also been referred to as "power pop."[26]

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 City, Boston, Cleveland, San Francisco, Vancouver, Toronto and Liverpool, England (the latter event included performances at the re-created Cavern Club). Paul Collins of the Beat and the Nerves hosts the annual Power Pop-A-Licious music festival, which features a mixture of classic and rising bands with an emphasis on power pop, punk rock, garage and roots rock. The yearly festival is held in Asbury Park, New Jersey. Paul Collins and his group the Beat headline the two-day event.

Books and internet resources

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 Raspberries and Cheap Trick.[27] In 2007, John Borack published Shake Some Action: The Ultimate Power Pop Guide in association with power pop label-retailer Not Lame Recordings. The book contained essays by several writers including Borack, a list of 200 "essential albums" and an accompanying CD.

The popular blog PowerPop includes daily entries on "the precursors, the practioners [sic] and the descendants of power pop".[28]


  1. In 1976, Dave Marsh wrote in The Rolling Stone Illustrated History of Rock & Roll that Townshend expanded on both R&B and white rock "influenced heavily by Beach Boy Carl Wilson".[6]


  1. Liner notes to The Roots of Powerpop! and the Poptopia! series of CDs.
  2. Borack, John M. (2007). Shake Some Action: The Ultimate Power Pop Guide. Not Lame Recordings. p. 8. ISBN 0979771404. Retrieved November 26, 2012.
  3. Borack, John M. (2007). Shake Some Action: The Ultimate Power Pop Guide. Not Lame Recordings. p. 7. ISBN 0979771404. Retrieved November 26, 2012.
  4. "Power Pop : Significant Albums, Artists and Songs, Most Viewed". AllMusic. Retrieved 26 November 2012.
  5. Altham, Keith. "Lily Isn't Pornographic, Say Who". NME (20 May 1967).
  6. March, Dave (1976). The Rolling Stone Illustrated History of Rock & Roll.
  7. Dodd, Philip (2005). The Book of Rock: From the 1950s to Today (Paperback ed.). Thunder's Mouth Press. pp. 36, 109. ISBN 978-1-56025-729-5.
  8. Dan MacIntosh (4 September 2007). "With Raspberries reunion, Eric Carmen's no longer all by himself". ecentral.my. Retrieved 9 July 2012.
  9. Borack, John M.; Brodeen, Bruce (4 August 2010). ""25 1960's era Garage Rock Nuggets" by John M. Borack". rockandrolltribe.com. Archived from the original on March 10, 2012. Retrieved 9 July 2012.
  10. 1 2 Borack, John M. (2007). Shake Some Action. Not Lame. p. 58. ISBN 978-0-9797714-0-8.
  11. Mack, Adrian. "Dwight Twilley Interview" Archived February 5, 2012, at the Wayback Machine.. Nerve Magazine, June 2005. Retrieved 8-22-2007.
  12. Taylor, Barry. "Riffs" The Village Voice July 19, 1973: 56
  13. Chabon, Michael. "Tragic Magic: Reflections on Power Pop". Retrieved 30 March 2013.
  14. Hilburn, Robert. "Costello, Lowe: The Power in Pop" Los Angeles Times April 23, 1978: M72
  15. Cocks, Jay (1978-06-26). ""Bringing Power to the People" Time June 26, 1978". Time.com. Retrieved 2009-12-04.
  16. "Bomp! History". Bomp.com. Retrieved 2009-12-04.
  17. "Cheap Trick – At Budokan (album)". SwissCharts.com. Retrieved 2007-11-10.
  18. Rockwell, John "Disco vs. Rock and Industry Ills Made the Year Dramatic" The New York Times December 30, 1979: D20
  19. Strothard, Russ (17 January 1978). "Abba's next album rings up £1m sales". Evening Standard. Retrieved 4 December 2009.
  20. "Here We Come liner notes" (Press release). Raven Records. 1984. Retrieved 21 September 2009.
  21. Callaway, Chris (17 March 2010). "Working out the kinks: For Ray Davies, the music goes on". boulderweekly.com. Retrieved 9 July 2012.
  22. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2016-02-12. Retrieved 2016-09-21.
  23. Murray, Noel. "A beginners' guide to the heyday of power-pop, 1972-1986". The A.V. Club. Retrieved 16 Jan 2016.
  24. Prato, Greg. "Ric Ocasek - Biography". AllMusic. Retrieved 16 May 2013.
  25. Tartanella, Emily (30 June 2009). "The Over/Under: Weezer". magnetmagazine.com. Retrieved 9 July 2012.
  26. "Jonas Brothers' 10 Biggest Billboard Hits". Billboard.
  27. Orbezua, Iñaki. "A Conversation with Ken Sharp". torpedopop.com. Retrieved 9 July 2012.
  28. "Home Page". powerpop.blogspot.com. Retrieved 9 July 2012.
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