Like the popular drug, heroin, power pop is not for everyone. On paper, it seems like something everyone should enjoy. It makes you feel good. It soothes the brain. It isn’t expensive. But, as encapsulated in the television series, Different Strokes: “one man’s ceiling is another man’s floor”. [FACT CHECK: If there is anything to glean from Different Strokes, it is “Whatchoo talkin’ ’bout, Willis?”. The ceiling quote is from a Paul Simon song of the same name.]
1966: “The Kids Are Alright” by The Who
This song may be the blueprint of power pop. Power? Check. Pop? Certainly. According to Pete Townshend, Pete Townshend coined the term power pop. Pete Townshend plays the opening chord which resonates like a bell at the end of a school day. It’s no wonder that the Ramones would nick the same tone at the beginning of “Rock And Roll High School”. The melody soars atop power chords and raucous Keith Moon drums like an indifferent eagle over a forest fire. This is the sort of ear candy that lingers for days like good power pop should.
1967: “A Little Bit Me, A Little Bit You” by The Monkees
Neil Diamond wrote this ditty while he was still a Brill Building songwriter for the American Beatles, The Monkees. This was the follow up to “I’m A Believer”. Part-“Cherry, Cherry”, part hippy, part jangly all adds up to pop bliss. Although Davy Jones, the height challenged Brit, sings the lead, I would like to state that Mickey Dolenz is an underrated pop singer. I would also like to add that they should name an afro after him.
1967: “Come On Down To My Boat” by Every Mothers’ Son
This is a prime example of subtle power pop. An insistent tribal rhythmic verse ambles its way to that catchy chorus. Harmonies drift in and out as they insist that you visit “my boat, baby”, probably euphemism for penis or poo. When isn’t it?
1968: “Build Me Up Buttercup” by The Foundations
Here’s a DJ tip. The dance floor is emptying out, your audience is 98% Caucasian, and your spider senses tell you that the restless honkies want to dance. Put on “Build Me Up Buttercup”. Listen for that gasp of recognition, turn it up a notch, and now you’ve got three minutes to decide whether you’ll follow up with “Dancing Queen” by Abba or slow it down with “Let’s Get It On” by Marvin Gaye. Deep down, you’re rooting for that awkward couple “dancing” in the corner, so you chose the slow jam. Give the couple your business card, trust me, they’re getting married within the year. [MORAL: White people love “Build Me Up Buttercup”.]
1969: “Hitchin’ A Ride” by Vanity Fare
Back in the day, when 45’s were the mp3’s or video on YouTube™ of today, this buoyant number brightened my outlook like whatever today’s equivalence is to the Quaalude®. It gave me the hope of a better tomorrow, somewhere that wasn’t here. Yet, there I was, sitting in my friend’s bedroom, with a stack of singles to go through, just after rehearing “Hitchin’ A Ride” eight more times. At the 1:30 point of the song, that’s “Venus” by Shocking Blue. Is that a sample? Or did Shocking Blue quickly “borrow” that riff? Both songs were released in late 1969.