Bash On Pop-The Power Pop Hall of Fame
With all the hoopla and brouhaha surrounding the recent inductees into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, I thought it might be fun to put together a list of artists who I feel worthy of inclusion in a Power Pop Hall of Fame. I urge you to please read the entire article (aka, “the disclaimers”) and not merely the list, so that, while you ultimately may not agree with my selections and even call me an “American Idiot,” (hint, hint) you’ll at least know where I’m coming from with some of the more controversial ones.
First of all, the term “power pop” is almost as nebulous as “pop” itself, and while there is mass agreement about whether or not some artists are truly “power pop,” there are others which certainly beg debate. So rather than trying to answer the unanswerable, I decided to use common sense and include two types of artists:
a. Those that fit into the power pop category by anyone’s definition.
b. Those whose style may fall, by strict definition, outside of the purview of power pop, but are loved by the general consensus of power pop fans and are therefore often labeled as “power pop.”
I made my selections based on similar factors to which the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame purports to use, with longevity and influence being the major ones. Popularity did play a role in my decision, but of course that’s within the framework of power pop, rather than rock music as a whole.
I decided not to include those who most consider to be the “progenitors of power pop,” e.g. The Beatles, The Who, and other ‘60s bands of that ilk. Yes, Pete Townshend coined the term to describe his band’s music, but to me, it all starts with artists like Emitt Rhodes and Badfinger, and “No Matter What” may be the quintessential power pop song.
I didn’t go for that nonsense of limiting the first group of inductees to only five or ten when so many more are qualified, but I did decide to invoke the “20 year rule” – only artists whose first album was released at least 20 years ago (1996 or earlier) are eligible for induction. This allows for longevity, both with respect to career length or temporal perspective. If there’s enough general interest in this, I may decide to add five or 10 inductees each year, and have a fan vote play a part in that. We’ll see…
Without further ado, here are my initial inductees for the Power Pop Hall of Fame:
The Flamin’ Groovies
Fountains of Wayne
The Grip Weeds
The Three O’Clock
How’s that for a Top 40??
I put the inductees in alphabetical order because there’s no need for ranking here: if you’re in, you’re in.
I won’t try to explain the obvious choices, but I thought I’d go into some of those for which there may be some disagreement:
The Ramones, The Cars, and Squeeze: there is by no means a consensus that these bands should be labeled as power pop, and I can certainly see that argument, but to me they all contain the hallmarks of what true power pop should be: strong hooks and melodies by the boatload, vocal harmonies, and fealty to those who came before them. Call The Ramones punk-pop if you’d like, and call The Cars and Squeeze New Wave, but to me all three of them also cross the line into power pop, and that’s why they belong in a Power Pop Hall of Fame.
Big Star: I may be wrong that there is any sort of disagreement here, but if there is, it would be due to their relatively small output, paltry record sales, and non-major label status. Yes, it’s true, they only had three albums (none of which sold), but those albums influenced – and continue to influence- countless bands, including some rather huge ones such as R.E.M. In fact, one could argue that Big Star is one of the more influential bands in rock ‘n roll history, which is why I feel they should also be included in the Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame; hey, if Velvet Underground is in, by the same criteria Big Star should be as well. (I’ll get into why I think they haven’t been elected yet some other time.)
The Spongetones: No, they never sold a ton of records, and, unlike Big Star, they’re not really cited as a major influence on very many bands, but they released several excellent albums over a period of almost 30 years, and no, they are *not* all Beatle rips…and their melodies and harmonies are a thing to behold. If you haven’t heard them, or stopped after Beat and Torn, you owe it to yourself to delve further into their catalogue.
Oasis: Many readers, I presume, will think of Oasis as being “too rock” to be in the power pop category, but by the mid-‘90s (which was when the “power pop renaissance” began), we needed to be taking into consideration the NEW power pop, which is louder and harder-edged than what we grew up on while still retaining those signature melodies and harmonies…and Oasis does that as well as anyone.
Green Day: Yes, Green Day. What’s the problem here? Are they too “punk” for you? Yeah, maybe some of their earlier records are more punk than pop, but beginning in the mid ‘90s that changed, and their recorded ouput in the New Millennium is everything modern power pop should be, featuring faster and louder guitars, but with tremendous melodies and harmonies…and Billie Joe Armstrong can really sing when he wants to. Trust me, if Green Day was around in the late ‘70s, Greg Shaw would have hailed them as the next Power Pop Heroes, and as far as I’m concerned, they are the paragons of The New Power Pop.
Supergrass: Anyone who doesn’t think Supergrass is a quintessential power pop band hasn’t heard their albums. ‘Nuff said. Well, maybe some more does need to be said: some might argue that Supergrass, Oasis, etc. should be labeled “Britpop” rather than power pop, and to this I respond that power pop is a subset of Britpop, so one can certainly be both. However, not all Britpop is power pop, in my opinion; e.g. Blur is more along the lines of indie-rock than power pop. Confused? Go listen to some Supergrass and then get back to me.
One may wonder why I didn’t include artists such as Todd Rundgren, Game Theory, XTC, et al. Okay, one by one: Rundgren, while being an amazing songwriter and performer, is all over the map, and power pop is just a small corner of what he does. A classic like “Couldn’t I Just Tell You” notwithstanding, most of his stuff is way too far outside the parameters of true power pop. I would definitely put him in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame – and I’m frankly astonished that he’s not there – but he doesn’t belong in a Power Pop Hall of Fame in my opinion. As great as they are, XTC is more about quirk and whimsy than power pop. Game Theory is another wonderful band, but they also traversed outside the boundaries of power pop; if there’s ever an Alt. Rock Hall of Fame, they should be the charter members.
The general rule here is that power pop *can* be a subset of other genres, and in the cases where I found that to be true, I was inclined to give that artist serious consideration.
Disclaimer #2: There will likely be some friends and acquaintances reading this who were not selected to be among the “initial 40” who feel they should have been included. I totally get that, and acknowledge that, in some instances, there will be legitimate cases to be made. Please know that it was never anything personal: I did my best to use my extensive knowledge on the subject, along with weighing factors in a way I felt held validity. In many cases, these artists will be added to The Power Pop Hall of Fame in future years; in some cases, not. Only time will tell.
Ok, enough of that. I’d love to hear your thoughts, so let the games (i.e. agreements and disagreements) begin!
I’d like to thank Justin Fielding and John Borack for their input.
Addendum: in early February I implemented a fan vote. I asked fans, over a period of one week, to vote for up to five candidates who were not in my original 40. The Top five vote-getters are as follows:
All five are now accorded full membership into the Power Pop Hall of Fame, bringing our total number of inductees to 45, which, if you think about it, is the perfect number as the 45 RPM record pretty much codifies the genre. 🙂