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Power Pop It Ain't

"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

their limits.

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

encountered in

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

'90s)

begins at the beginning: "Go All The Way." And the overwhelming

majority

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

document

power pop's 1970s glory days. I can't imagine it even crossing

anyone's

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

aren't power

pop either: Dwight Twilley's "I'm On Fire" is just slicked up roots

rock;

The Records' "Starry Eyes" is built around the far stiffer rhythms

and

melodies of new wave; Blue Ash's "Abracadabra" sounds exactly

like the

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 to

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

Day" is

automatically power pop too. Even the Raspberries didn't make a

power pop

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,

Marshall

Crenshaw and the Bangles. (The Bangles?) Consequently, the set

gives the

mistaken and probably snobbish impression that, even in the 70s,

power pop

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

Goes," The

Plimsouls' "A Million Miles Away," The Hoodoo Gurus' "I Want You

Back" and

The Tearaways' "Jessica Something" even more. If you want a

collection of

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.