Surrender to Power Pop

Power pop lyrics, hewn from the same stone as the prose of Chekov’s plays or Dostoevsky’s novels.

What I like about you, you hold me tight
Tell me I’m the only one, gonna come over tonight

Okay, that one’s kind of simplistic. Perhaps another classic song will supply some erudite words.

Baby, please, go all the way
It feels so right (feels so right)
Being with you here tonight

 Hmm. That does not seem particularly… insightful. Perhaps a final example?

Mother told me, yes, she told me
That I’d meet girls like you
She also told me, “Stay away
You never know what you’ll catch”

Well, perhaps it’s all not as heady as I remember it to be. In fact, there seems to be an obsession with S-E-X. “Sex, sex, sex. That’s all they think about,” as Brian’s mum says in The Life of Brian. In this case, they refers to those prodigious purveyors of power pop, The Romantics, Raspberries and Cheap Trick.

Which leads to the question: What is power pop?

Most people could name examples of pop music: Pink, One Direction, Johnny Mathis… All are artists who perform popular music, even though there is a fair amount of diversity in the music they produce. Power pop is rooted in the catchy melodies and memorable choruses of pop, but its style is more aggressive: crunchy guitars, power chords and high energy.

In order to understand power pop characteristics, let’s take a look at Cheap Trick’s I Want You To Want Me (1978).

cheap trick

 

I want you to want me.
I need you to need me.
I’d love you to love me.
I’m beggin’ you to beg me.



Robert Frost it ain’t. But, that’s kind of the point. These are lyrics at their most banal, an embracing of the uber-vapidity that is pop music lyrics. And the music? Same as the lyrics, but with a twist! Cheap Trick created the ultimate exaggeration of a pop song and then made it heavy, crispy and punchy (a breakfast cereal slogan if ever I’ve heard one). And this is power pop!

badfinger

 

If you want it, here it is, come and get it
Mm mm mm mm, make your mind up fast
If you want it, any time, I can give it
But you’d better hurry ’cause it may not last

Badfinger’s Come and Get It, an even earlier example of power pop (1969), was written and produced by Paul McCartney. The song first appeared in The Magic Christian, a movie that highlights the extremes people will go to for money (If you want it, here it is, come and get it). While lacking the edginess of Cheap Trick, this early power pop classic is lathered in drippingly sweet harmonies, hooks that could catch a blue whale and fab Beatlesque production. Soon to be followed by Big Star (1971-1974), Raspberries (Go All The Way in 1972) and Sweet (Little Willy in 1972 and Ballroom Blitz in 1973), Badfinger opened the power pop floodgates for future generations and beyond!

Power pop never caught on hugely, but it continues to be purveyed by countless bands. In fact, you can find a variety of PNW power pop bands at Everett Public Library, including The New Pornographers, Nevada Bachelors, Visqueen, Hot Hot Heat and The Cute Lepers. Take some time to check out this fabulous music, but most of all remember:

Mommy’s all right,
Daddy’s all right,
They just seem a little weird.

Rockers in Walkers

We humans are fascinated by car wrecks on the road of life, and aging rock stars provide a plethora of accidents for our viewing pleasure. It is with eager anticipation that we await the release of a new album by a dozing giant, hoping against hope that it’s a flop. Or maybe I just speak for myself.

It’s difficult, improbable even, for an artist to make a good album 30 to 40 years after their heyday. The Sonics were an exception in 2015. So it’s with morbid fascination that I search for albums by former stars or stars-on-the-decline, and 2016 has provided more than its share. Today we look at an ancient rock group, an ancient ex-lead singer and a slightly-less-ancient pop star.

Group1

Cheap Trick hit the big time with the release of Cheap Trick at Budokan in 1979. Although they continued to create high-quality albums for the next 30 years, the band’s success peaked soon after Budokan. 30 years later, 2009’s release, The Latest, showed that the lads … er, gentlemen, could still create amazing songs in their trademark power pop/hard rock wheelhouse. But following this album the band entered the longest silence of their career and seven years passed before the release of another album, 2016’s Bang, Zoom, Crazy… Hello.

So the question is: Do they still have it? And the answer is an unqualified, Yes! Bang, Zoom is not without a clunker or two, but overall the songs are very well-written, performed and produced. I’m not a huge Cheap Trick fan (although, wait for it, I do like their early stuff), but this is an album I could see listening to repeatedly. These fogies fellas have passed the litmus test of time, presenting fans with another gem.

Group2

Aerosmith first came into the public eye in 1973 with the release of Aerosmith. They are a rare band, one that has maintained a high level of success over the decades. At nearly age 70 it’s no longer so easy to Walk this Way (pause for laughter), but the fellows are still performing, be it somewhat sporadically. And over 40 years after the release of Aerosmith, lead singer Steven Tyler has released his first solo album, We’re All Somebody from Somewhere, an alleged foray into the country music world.

Many times over the years aging rockers have released country albums, so it would be easy to assume that Mr. Tyler is going down a well-trod path. However, to paraphrase a review of his album: country is no longer a genre, it’s a marketing scheme. If I had not read that We’re All Somebody was country before listening to it, I never would have suspected. The songs are power ballads, pop and some bluesiness, with a bit of mandolin, pedal steel, banjo and fiddle thrown in for that country feel. But in reality, there are no songs that could even remotely be classified as country. However, the album is well-done and if you like Aerosmith and Tyler’s voice you will probably enjoy it.

Group3

Cyndi Lauper exploded on the scene in 1983, which some of us think of as recently, others as 33 years ago. Spokeswoman for a generation of female music fans, actress and activist, Lauper released nine more albums after her debut, the last in 2010. Then in 2016 at 63-years-old, a time when singers’ voices often change for the worse, Lauper returned with a (wait for it again) country album.

Unlike Steven Tyler’s latest, Lauper’s album Detour uses immortal songs from the annals of country music. Since the songs are already beloved, this leaves the success of the album in the hands of her voice (so to speak), which is a brilliant concept since the voice in question is still going strong. The mix of beautiful interpretations with classic country repertoire results in an album of highly listenable music.

So, no roadkill or dismemberments for today. Maybe next time. We are simply left with a trio of good-to-great albums by a collection of geezers. And I mean that fondly, as a near-geezer myself. As Ringo Starr said in Honey Don’t, “Rock on George, for Ringo, one time!”

Which clearly doesn’t apply to this review.