Open main menu

Power pop is a rock music genre which borrows elements from hard rock[1] and pop rock[2], rooted in 1960s British and American rock music. It typically incorporates a combination of musical devices including strong melodies, clear vocals, economical arrangements and prominent guitar riffs. Instrumental solos are usually kept to a minimum, and blues elements are largely downplayed.

The term "power pop" was coined by the Who's Pete Townshend to describe their 1967 single "Pictures of Lily", however, the term became more widely identified with subsequent groups from the 1970s. 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.[3]



Power pop is a more aggressive form of pop rock that is based on catchy, melodic hooks and energetic moods.[2] Author John M. Borack stated in his book Shake Some Action – The Ultimate Guide to Power Pop that the label has often been applied to varied groups and artists with "blissful indifference," noting its use in connection with Britney Spears, Green Day, the Bay City Rollers and Def Leppard.[4]


Origins (1960s–1970s)Edit

The Who performing in 1972

The origins of power pop date back to the mid-1960s 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".[1] According to The Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock & Roll, the sub-genre's key influences came from British Invasion bands, particularly the Merseybeat sound first popularised by the Beatles and its "jangly guitars, pleasant melodies, immaculate vocal harmonies, and a general air of teenage innocence".[5] Greg Shaw, publisher of Bomp! magazine, traced the origins of power pop to the Who and other mod bands such as the Small Faces, the Creation and the Easybeats.[6] Several other groups of the 1960s were important in the evolution and expansion of the power pop style, such as the Kinks and the Dave Clark Five.[7] Writer John Borack has noted, "It's also quite easy to draw a not-so-crooked line from garage rock to power pop."[8]

It was Pete Townshend, the guitarist and songwriter for the Who, that coined the term "power pop" in a 1967 interview in order to describe their then-current single "Pictures of Lily"; 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."[9][nb 1] 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.[11]

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.[12]

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.[6] 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).[13] Another influential group of the period was Big Star. Though Big Star's 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 expressed esteem for the group's work.[14]

Commercial peak (late 1970s–early 1980s)Edit

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. [15]

Although coined in the 1960s, and used as early as 1973 in reference to the Raspberries and the Sweet,[16][17] the term "power pop" was not widely used until around 1978. As 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."[18] 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.[19][20] 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.[21]

Like their punk contemporaries, 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, and singles such as "Surrender" and "I Want You To Want Me" brought power pop to an international audience. [22]

Doug Fieger of the Knack performing

Visually taking their cue from 1960s British Invasion groups, some power pop bands dressed themselves in skinny ties and matching suits. [23] Other groups such as the Romantics adopted matching red leather outfits reminiscent of 1950s rock 'n' roll stars such as Little Richard.

The biggest chart hit by a power pop band was the Knack's debut single, "My Sharona", which topped the Billboard Hot 100 chart for six weeks in August–September 1979. The accompanying platinum-selling album, Get the Knack, paved the way for major label debuts by bands such as the Beat (not the UK 2 Tone ska band). 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.[24] 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. [25]

Contemporary power pop (1980s–present)Edit

In the 1980s and 1990s, power pop continued as a commercially modest genre with artists such as Redd Kross, the Spongetones,[12] Jellyfish,[26] and the Outfield.[27]

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)[28] and hit single "Buddy Holly".[29]

Festival billsEdit

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).[30] 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.[31]


  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".[10]


  1. ^ a b "Power Pop : Significant Albums, Artists and Songs, Most Viewed". AllMusic. Retrieved 26 November 2012. 
  2. ^ a b Borack 2007, p. 8.
  3. ^ Liner notes to The Roots of Powerpop! and the Poptopia! series of CDs.
  4. ^ Borack 2007, p. 7.
  5. ^ Romanowski, Patricia; George-Warren, Holly (eds) (1995). The New Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock & Roll. New York, NY: Fireside/Rolling Stone Press. p. 117. ISBN 0-684-81044-1. 
  6. ^ a b Shaw, Greg (March 1978). "Power Pop!". Bomp!. Vol. 13. North Hollywood, California. Any way you look at it, Powerpop began with the Who. 
  7. ^ Borack 2007, p. 8,9.
  8. ^ Borack, John M.; Brodeen, Bruce (4 August 2010). ""25 1960s era Garage Rock Nuggets" by John M. Borack". Archived from the original on March 10, 2012. Retrieved 9 July 2012. 
  9. ^ Altham, Keith. "Lily Isn't Pornographic, Say Who". NME (20 May 1967). 
  10. ^ March, Dave (1976). The Rolling Stone Illustrated History of Rock & Roll. 
  11. ^ Dan MacIntosh (4 September 2007). "With Raspberries reunion, Eric Carmen's no longer all by himself". Archived from the original on 24 March 2012. Retrieved 9 July 2012. 
  12. ^ a b Borack 2007, p. 58.
  13. ^ Mack, Adrian. "Dwight Twilley Interview" Archived February 5, 2012, at the Wayback Machine.. Nerve Magazine, June 2005. Retrieved 8-22-2007.
  14. ^ Borack 2007, p. 13, 29.
  15. ^ [1]
  16. ^ Taylor, Barry (October 13, 1973). "Raspberries—the golden era". Record Mirror. London: Cardfont Publishers Ltd. 
  17. ^ Taylor, Barry. "Riffs" The Village Voice July 19, 1973: 56
  18. ^ Chabon, Michael. "Tragic Magic: Reflections on Power Pop". Archived from the original on 11 April 2013. Retrieved 30 March 2013. 
  19. ^ Hilburn, Robert. "Costello, Lowe: The Power in Pop" Los Angeles Times April 23, 1978: M72
  20. ^ Cocks, Jay (1978-06-26). ""Bringing Power to the People" Time June 26, 1978". Retrieved 2009-12-04. 
  21. ^ "Bomp! History". Archived from the original on 2009-12-12. Retrieved 2009-12-04. 
  22. ^ [2]
  23. ^ [3]
  24. ^ Rockwell, John "Disco vs. Rock and Industry Ills Made the Year Dramatic" The New York Times December 30, 1979: D20
  25. ^ 12 Summer Power Pop Gems You Need In Your Life Right Now-The Federalist
  26. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2016-02-12. Retrieved 2016-09-21. 
  27. ^ Murray, Noel. "A beginners' guide to the heyday of power-pop, 1972-1986". The A.V. Club. Retrieved 16 Jan 2016. 
  28. ^ Prato, Greg. "Ric Ocasek - Biography". AllMusic. Retrieved 16 May 2013. 
  29. ^ Tartanella, Emily (30 June 2009). "The Over/Under: Weezer". Retrieved 9 July 2012. 
  30. ^ Borack 2007, p. 32.
  31. ^ Sugrim, Angie (April 12, 2011). "First Annual POWER POP-A-LICIOUS! Music Fest Kicks Off in Asbury Park, NJ". Retrieved January 5, 2018. 


Further readingEdit

  • Power Pop: Conversations with the Power Pop Elite Ken Sharp, Doug Sulpy (1997)
  • Shake Some Action: The Ultimate Power Pop Guide John M. Borack (2007)

External linksEdit