Friday, May 3, 2013

My Favorite Power Pop Bands

A recent post over at the very cool blog White Trash Soul commanded, "Name your favorite power pop band quickly." It was a really neat write-up on the flaws of some of the perceived "greats" of the genre versus the near perfection of The Nerves. It got me to thinking. Who are my favorite power pop bands? If I had to list a top ten, who would make the cut? This is not really an attempt to list the greatest power pop bands. It's more the ones that I personally like the best. So I went back into my entire history of power pop fandom and tried to think of the bands I've listened to the most. And let me say that this was really, really hard. I tried to steer clear of groups who were big influences on power pop but not really power pop bands per se (Cheap Trick, Big Star). And I also avoided punk bands that sometimes get lumped in with power pop (Undertones, Exploding Hearts). I had to make some tough decisions (Holly and the Italians were an agonizing final cut), but ultimately I came up  with a top ten I'm pretty happy with. So let's get to it!

10. The Figgs
Okay, so The Figgs probably outgrew the "power pop" tag years ago. But their first two albums plus the later effort Sucking In Stereo fit the bill to a T. And if you've ever had the privilege of seeing The Figgs live, you know they're the very epitome of pop with power. Lo-Fi At Society High and Banda Macho were major label issues that should have been huge. I hope Capitol Records fired the guy who chose "Girl, Kill Your Boyfriend" as a single over "Bad Luck Sammie"!

9. The Plimsouls
Perhaps it's a bit of an upset that the Paul Collins Beat didn't make this list (they would have been #12). But my favorite post-Nerves band has to be The Plimsouls. Their first EP and debut album are classics of the power pop genre. And Peter Case has to be one of my favorite songwriters, period. "Zero Hour" = perfection.

8. The Yum Yums
Probably the best of the modern-day power pop "revivalists", Norway's Yum Yums have been at it since 1993 and made four LPs including the classic debut Sweet As Candy.

7. Romantics
I always dug how cool these guys looked on the cover of their first LP- the whole band clad in red leather jackets. And the feel of that album is classic power pop to me - punchy, fuzzed out rock n' roll steeped in a love for the British Invasion. Subsequent albums weren't the best but definitely had their moments.

6. Teenage Fanclub
TFC has run the gamut of power pop sub-styles, from the Big Star meets grunge brilliance of Bandwagonesque to the Byrdsy splendor of their masterpiece Songs From Northern Britain. After 24 years and ten albums, it's safe to say the Fannies have withstood the test of time.

5. Candy
This band improbably combined a glam image with a teen hearththrob pop sound and made it all work. Whatever Happened To Fun is hands down one of the greatest pop albums ever made. For a good time, check out "Kids In The City".

4. The Knack
Massive success may have made this band the enemy of the underground back in the day. But 34 years later, all that hating just doesn't hold up. Get The Knack is stacked with perfect pop songs inspired by Buddy Holly and the early Beatles. "My Sharona" is a classic rock n' roll anthem, not a joke song that should be enjoyed ironically. If I catch you enjoying it ironically, I'm kicking you where it hurts.

3. 20/20
If I had to pick just one favorite power pop album, it would be 20/20's self-titled debut. It's pretty much a perfect record. Favorite song has to be "Cheri". Nah, it's "Backyard Guys". Make that "Jet Lag". Or better yet, "Remember the Lightning". Ah, I give up!

2. The Vapors
This band will always remind me of being a kid at the height of the Cold War. New Clear Days is one of my all-time favorite albums in any genre, and the very strange follow-up Magnets was at least half a great record. If you've written this band off as a one-hit wonder, you're really missing out. "News At Ten" is pretty much the best song ever.

1. Material Issue
If you've ever heard live recordings of Material Issue (or were lucky enough to see them play), you know this band injected plenty of power into their pop. That didn't always come through in their studio records, but the songs were so brilliant that I never quibbled about the production. First two albums are stone cold classics, and 1994's criminally overlooked Freak City Soundtrack finally nailed the power component thanks to producer Mike Chapman. Jim Ellison remains one of my two or three favorite songwriters of all-time. He is greatly missed. Someone please upload "Li'l Christine" to YouTube!



Marc said...

I don't think i could come up with a Top10, but #1 would definately be The Incredible Kidda Band. That's the ultimate perfect powerpop band, no doubt.

Anonymous said...

Hey Lord! I think this song from their last record is actually the closest thing to a "power pop" song that they have ever done. Thanks for keeping The Figgs in your thoughts! Best, Phil Donnelly

Anonymous said...

RIP Jim Ellison. My band plays "Going Through Your Purse" every gig and it never fails to thrill the crowd!