GARY PIG GOLD’s ALL-TIME TOP TEN POWER POP PEOPLE
I very recently had the immense pleasure, and honor – as did my fellow DBAWISayers Jaimie Vernon and Our Leader Bob – to be interviewed by the esteemed Bosstown (or Boston, to you cats in Squaresville) director/producer Justin Fielding for his up-coming Power Pop Movie.
Which got me to thinking, as it quite often does:
Just what exactly is, or should I say who, IS “Power Pop” ??
Well, for a start: (in strictly Chronological Order, that is)….
- Buddy Holly and the Crickets
The seeds of the (first) British Invasion date quite a bit before we all began to love, love me do I’ll have everyone know. For it was in the dark, damp Spring of 1958 that those grave Texans Buddy, Joe B. and Jerry “Ivan” made their first and, tragically, only tour of Great Britain – a tour which, in retrospect, was the galvanizing event kick-starting the entire Brit beat boom to follow. Look no farther than them Beatles for evidence of just how profoundly Buddy’s month in England effected that nation’s fledgling power-poppers: both Lennon & McCartney wrote their first songs (“Hello Little Girl” and “I Lost My Little Girl”) under the undeniable spell of Holly’s hic-cupping swagger, and shortly thereafter electrified their skiffle group in order to make the first-ever Beatle recording… of, dare I say it, Buddy’s own “That’ll Be The Day.” But Beatles, Schmeatles! The Crickets were just as fine, fine a group in their own right, as even one listen to any of their Sixties-sounding (though FIFTIES-recorded!) hits prove. For example? “Not Fade Away,” “Maybe Baby,” “Well Allright”: three tracks absolutely without precedence, or precedent in an era then ruled by simple slap-back, side-burned rhythm ‘n’ roll. Power Pop, to me, had its birth the moment Buddy and band first stepped inside a recording studio. If you don’t believe me, just pull out the nearest copy of With the Beatles.
- Del Shannon
Buddy Holly may have somehow fore-shadowed the Swinging Sixties, but the equally great (and equally late) Del Shannon wrote the songs and defined the very attitude which bridged Elvis to the Beatles, Stones, Dylan et al. Shannon’s songs – not to mention his lifestyle, both on and off stage – were loud, captivating, always tinged with a sorrow and fitful resignedness which resonated profoundly across both sides of the musical ocean (from Lennon’s early greats “All I’ve Got To Do” and “I’ll Be Back” to most every note of merit in the Bobby Fuller Four catalog). As few others dared to in the regimented world of pre-’64 Brill Building pop, Del Shannon rocked with an eerie, almost other-worldly abandon which can be heard resonating at the root of most any well-respecting P-pop song (especially in the key of A-minor!) to this day.
- The Dave Clark Five
Like their truest American descendants the Monkees, the DC5 were mercilessly picked on for such trivial things as wearing silly stage outfits and not always playing their own instruments in the studio. While those same potshots can also legitimately be aimed at everyone from Beach Boys to Byrds, Dave and his four jock-rocking buddies rightfully couldn’t care less as they became the first band with a British accent to tour the United States, appear practically non-stop on The Ed Sullivan Show, and throw nearly two-dozen hits effortlessly up the international charts during a brief but mega-impressive six-year run. Sneer if you must, but one bar of “Because” reveals this band had solid pop chops in the songwriting department, while tracks such as “Try Too Hard” and especially “Any Way You Want It” r-a-w-k harder than anything else did on AM Radio circa 1965 (…and yes, that includes the Stones, Who, and even Yardbirds). Points must also be awarded this quintet for their never-wavering loyalty to their chosen (yep, Power-Pop) idiom: You wanna talk Consistency? The DC5 were able to flesh out their 1967 You Got What It Takes album with an out-take or two from a 1964 soundtrack session …and nobody was any the wiser! Now, I’d like anybody out there to try to throw, say, “Baby’s In Black” onto Sgt. Pepper without raising a sore thumb or two…
- Paul Revere and the Raiders
Those who might snicker derisively over the DC5’s milk-white dickies (not to mention similarly pasteurized choice of songs) probably double over in hysterics at the mere thought of Revere and his Raiders, garbed in their red, white ‘n’ blue “idiot costumes,” lip-syncing to “Ooh Poo Pah Doo” on some distant afternoon-TV frug-fest. Well, what the Raiders – like Dave’s Five – may have had to endure in the way of disrespect, they way more than made up for with a veritable string of hard-popping classics (e.g.: their “Steppin’ Stone” absolutely SHREDS the Monkees’, and only those once-sexy Pistols came close to ever topping the Raiders’ raunchy rendering thereof). Indeed, the wildly versatile Mark Lindsay could at once drive home ravers like “Let Me” and “The Great Airplane Strike,” to name but two, with a Burdon-like ferociousness (cool ponytail too!) then just as gamely concoct and soft-sell chewy, bubbledelic confections like “It Happens Every Day,” “Cinderella Sunshine” and especially the incomparable “Mr. Sun Mr. Moon” with the wave of a tri-cornered hat. Such indelibly dayglo-bright sounds as these last three-mentioned, which the Raiders evolved towards in their oft-forgotten later years, can still be heard coloring the Wondermints/Jellyfish’s brightest moments (to cite one or two examples) lo these five long, long decades on. No small accomplishment indeed.
PS: and did I mention Mark’s cool pony-tail too?
- The Who
DAMN that Tommy! The Who, thanks to that monstrosity, are cruelly destined for little more than EnormoDome Immortality, to be spoken of in the same musty breath as Zeppelin or even (gasp!) Grand Funk to the uninformed, unwashed masses. But let us remember that in the long-gone daze before Roger Daltrey had forsaken his tube of Dippity-Do haircreme to become the lion-tressed, chest-pounding Mountain Man of Woodstock, the Who created a stunning series of 45-RPM gems (roughly “I Can’t Explain” thru “Call Me Lightning”) and one pants-down masterpiece of a long-player (The Who Sell Out, their undeniably crowning achievement) which laid the veritable groundwork for all which became, and remains, mod(ern) Power Pop. Period.
Many would have inserted Badfinger (at least!) at this crucial point in our little History Lesson. But to me, that most luckless of Apple bands far too often frayed their musical edges with directionless detours towards Yank-styled b-boogie when they should have been sticking to what they knew – and did – best (such as? most anything from the magic pen of Pete Ham). The Raspberries too often struggled with that early-Seventies duality between the bitter and the sweet as well (or, as no less an expert as Scott McCarl once explained to me, “Eric Carmen never really could figure out if he wanted to be Brian Wilson or Paul McCartney”). But for a while anyways, Cleveland’s Finest saw fit to brave even the dolefully denimed sea of Sabbath and Purple with defiant cries of “Go All The Way” and “I Wanna Be With You.” Clad at their zenith in little more than ice cream-white stagesuits – not to mention supremely confident front-cover grins unseen since the hey!daze of the afore-mentioned DC5 and Raiders – the Raspberries’ brave battle against the all-encroaching FM bile that was soon to become The Seventies was, ultimately, in vain. For no sooner had they’d Started Over (with the ironic-in-bucketsful “Overnight Sensation”) than it truly was already over for the band …and Mr. Carmen then wasted little time in becoming the McC. many had feared he’d always aspired to. Still, what those Raspberries achieved in their criminally short reign almost single-in-handedly rescued All Things Power Pop from a fate worse than Eagles.
It was deep inside an ancient issue of Bomp! Magazine where Greg Shaw first warned us that, yes, the Groovies’ new Shake Some Action was a beaut, but equal turntable-time was also deserved by this new (to America) Swedish (?!!) quartet who seemed to be picking up where no less than our beloved Mamas & Papas had once left off. It took but one spin of “Ring Ring” to convince me that Mr. Spector’s fabled but creaking Wall of Sound had been proudly erected anew, and that sweet, shimmering Powerful Pop was once again being created in some far-flung land across the Atlantic. Well, suffice to say that by the time Agnetha, Frida, Benny and Bjorn had finally invaded the American Top Ten, it was in their slick new guise as Dancing Queens (alongside those similarly once-p-poppin’ Brothers Gibb… ahh, my). Nevertheless, from ABBA’s very first record to their very last (1982’s criminally over-looked “Under Attack”), these four polar poppers created deep, unimaginable magic in each and every groove they manufactured …why, they even made Armed Forces (by that OTHER Elvis) sound semi-palpable to American ears! Sorta.
- The Ramones
These true visionaries had the suicidal bad luck to creep above the Underground at just about the same moment their mutant offspring the Sex Pistols, Clash, etc. etc. did, and as a result what should have become the greatest American cartoon series since The Archies ended up as little more than the leather-jacketed, New Yawk punch-line to several of the music industry’s least flattering bathroom jokes. The Ramones deserved better …and Still Do, by the way. In deftly trolling the best of pop’s past (Beach Boys’ song-craft buoyed by vocals which somehow crossed Ronnie Spector with Peter Noone!) and by buzz-sawing it savagely into the Doobie-infested wasteland known as Rock ‘n’ Roll 1976-vintage, the Ramones – and the Ramones alone – kept the truest-of-blue Power Pop spirit alive when few others had the guts, not to mention brains, to produce much better than roteful sub-Rumours riff-offs. These guys’ landmark first shows in Britain had as profound an affect on that nation as Buddy Holly’s tour nearly two decades earlier (it was said that most everybody in the Ramones’ initial U.K. audiences either started a band or a fanzine the morning after those concerts), and had America half a wit – or at least a bit more courage, culturally-speaking – Joey, Johnny, Dee Dee and Tommy/Marky/whatever could have easily ruled the airwaves for at least the duration of the Reagan administration.
- Bill Lloyd
Let us not forget the bounty of wicked pop delights which have been faithfully gushing from Nashville, TN since nigh on before you or I were born. Forever mistreated as pop’s poorer (and dumber) cousin, Country Music has provided warm and loving homes for some of America’s greatest-ever song-smiths. Two such one-four-five wizards got together in the mid-Eighties, called themselves Foster & Lloyd, and all but revived the ragged legacy of Don & Phil Everly (themselves long-standing, down-south P-pop giants) with a guitar-driven, bigger-than-the-sky sound which was a lone howl of sanity in an otherwise increasingly diverse, sonically-challenged audio landscape. Within three glorious years however, after routinely being branded too-rock-for-country-radio and/or too-country-for-rock, Radney Foster set out upon his own way, leaving Bill to finally indulge his Big Star-meets-Bacharach fantasies to the utter fullest. The results to date have been a clutch of albums (especially the wholly magnificent Set to Pop) which are destined to be forever-after recognized as no less than rock-solid totems to the entire great new “Nash-Pop” scene …a scene which, by the way, is just now beginning to percolate out of Music City towards the ears and hearts of power-poppers everywhere. And I don’t mean Taylor Swift, I don’t think. Please try to remember, though, that Bill Lloyd did it first – and, so far by far, he’s done it BEST.
- Whatever YOU’RE spinning right now!
(me? It’s a toss-up today between The Lolas and Puffy AmiYumi)
Because, as always,
Where there’s Noise, there’s Hope.
so everybody: Keep searching, Keep purchasing, Keep listening to (and, whenever possible, heading out to see) any and all sounds around which strike your particular fancy by continuing down the noble melodic paths of the above-mentioned past masters.
Gary appears here whenever he wants
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Gary Pig Gold may have grown up in Port Credit, run away to Hamilton to join his first rock ‘n’ roll group, hung out with Joe Strummer on his first-ever night in the UK, returned to T.O. to publish Canada’s first-ever rock ‘n’ roll (fan)zine, run away again to Surf City to (almost) tour Australia with Jan & Dean, come home again to tour O Canada with that country’s first-ever (authorized!) Beach Boys tribute band …but STILL, he had to travel all the way back to the USSR to secure his first-ever recording contract www.GaryPigGold.com