"Go All The Way" defines power pop.
Debuting in the top 40 25 years ago this past Aug. 19, the
Raspberries' signature hit begins with crunchy, insistent, monster
power chords, then shifts unexpectedly into Eric Carmen (hold
on... before he went solo he was actually good!!) singing a
dramatic, downright pretty pop melody in his sweetest, breathiest
vocal. More than simply guitar pop that is powerful in some way,
"Go All The Way" is a study in contrasts that have been strained to
Before "Go All The Way," there was no power pop. The elements
of the sound
had been around for awhile but had previously only been
isolation: the giant power chords of the Who's Pete Townshend,
early Kinks' Dave Davies and the Beatles' John Lennon, to name
only a few important figures; the pushing-precious harmonies of
the Beach Boys and the most sweet-tart melodies of Townshend,
Davies and, especially, Paul McCartney were also key influences.
(Interestingly, though the Beatles are surely the most important
influence on the creation of the power-pop style, they never
recorded a truly power pop song of their own.)
So, just as it should, Rhino's three disc Poptopia!: Power Pop
Classics collection (there's one disc each for the '70s, '80s and
begins at the beginning: "Go All The Way." And the overwhelming
of the anthology's remaining 53 tracks are nearly as wonderful.
There's just one small problem. The overwhelming majority of the
anthology's remaining 53 tracks are not necessarily power pop.
What they are is a bunch of jangly, guitar-riff-driven pop songs,
albeit very good ones.
But power pop they ain't.
That's because power pop, as I hear it, does not jangle and it is
not riff-driven. Power pop includes power chords. See how that
works? Power pop.
Power chords. It's very simple, really.
Let's look at the collection's first disc, the one that tries to
power pop's 1970s glory days. I can't imagine it even crossing
mind that Nick Lowe's "Cruel To Be Kind" is a power-pop song.
(Not even "in
spirit if not sound," as the liner notes claim, since its spirit is far
more cynical than innocent.) But most of the other songs here
pop either: Dwight Twilley's "I'm On Fire" is just slicked up roots
The Records' "Starry Eyes" is built around the far stiffer rhythms
melodies of new wave; Blue Ash's "Abracadabra" sounds exactly
early less-potent Who; The Rubinoos' "I Wanna Be Your
Boyfriend" is catchy chanting, not catchy melodic.
Cheap Trick's "Everything Works (If You Let It)" -- not included
here -- is power pop, but "Come On, Come On," which is included,
isn't. I'm certain that Big Star recorded songs that could fairly be
called power pop, but the track that is included here, the way-
jangly "September Gurls," was not one of them.
Maybe that's the problem. Poptopia! wants to make power
pop into a
genre when it's actually only a sound that may come and go from
song. Badfinger, for example, may have recorded power-pop
classics such as "No Matter What" and "Baby Blue" (both not
included here due to problems
securing the rights), but that doesn't mean that their "Day After
automatically power pop too. Even the Raspberries didn't make a
record every time out.
At any rate, with few exceptions (say, Badfinger's truly classic and
truly power pop "Just A Chance"), Poptopia! follows the
jangly guitar path set down by the Byrds' Roger McGuinn and the
Beatles' George Harrison through acts such as Todd Rundgren
and Flamin' Groovies into new wave entries such as Shoes and
the Knack on into the college-rock cuts featured on the set's '80s
disc, including more guitar janglers such as Let's Active, The dB's,
Crenshaw and the Bangles. (The Bangles?) Consequently, the set
mistaken and probably snobbish impression that, even in the 70s,
was an underground sound.
In reality, though, power pop was as above ground as it got.
Besides "Go All The Way" and Badfinger's hits, there were also
Sweet's "Little Willy," "Ballroom Blitz" and "Fox On The Run,"
ELO's "Do Ya" and Queen's "Killer Queen," just to name the first
few that (power) pop into my head. Each of these singles went top
25, and most of them cracked the top 10. None of them are
included on Poptopia!: Power Pop Classics.
Now, I like to think of myself as a fair guy, so I should at least
entertain the possibility that I'm the one that's nuts here, that I've
been laboring for two decades under a faulty, too-specific
definition. Well, OK then (big swallow), fine. But if that's the case,
and if the cuts included here are meant to document the power-
pop sound in all its possibilities, then the set still has problems.
For one thing, the big hits remain MIA, and the selections that do
make the cut just seem more arbitrary than definitive. A few quick
examples: why Bram Tchaikovsky's "Girl Of My Dreams" instead
of, say, Sniff And The Tears' "Driver's Seat"? If The Greenberry
Woods' "Trampoline" can make it, then why not something by The
Replacements? Where's The Secret's marvelous "Uniform"? And if
Poptopia's broader definition is correct after all, then why
isn't Tom Petty's "American Girl" here? Or, I dunno, what's the
catchiest Gin Blossoms' single?
Oh well. Let's just say this: Poptopia! is filled with great
music. I love
all of the songs mentioned above, and I love the La's "There She
Plimsouls' "A Million Miles Away," The Hoodoo Gurus' "I Want You
The Tearaways' "Jessica Something" even more. If you want a
great guitar pop, you need Poptopia!.
On the other hand, if you were looking for a definitive power-pop
collection, you probably still have a long way to go. No matter what
definition you're going by.