The Poptopia Series, Vol. 1
Favorite cut: The Flamin Groovies, "Shake Some Action"
Least favorite cut: Fotomaker, "Where Have You Been All My Life"

This page is a little bit different from my other music pages. Instead of covering only one artists' ouvre, I am reviewing various artist compilations track by track. Some folks have complained that my paragraphs are too long and dense; well, that's not a problem with this page - I'm keeping all my comments short and snappy. After all, it's a bit nuts to write a ponderous treatise on a lone three-minute pop song, isn't it?

Some of you reading this may be asking yourselves, "What are these compilations? What is this power pop?" Well, I can answer the first question pretty easily. Rhino Records released these 18-song each compilations last year, with each one covering the genre referred to as "power pop" during a specific decade: Vol. 1 covers the '70s, Vol. 2 the '80s, and Vol. 3 brings us up to the '90s. These are well-chosen, well-packaged anthologies with extensive liner notes (including comments by many of the acts covered on the discs) - in other words, the typical good work we've come to expect from Rhino reissues. As for the second question... it's a bit harder to answer. You could define power pop as bands with a preference for the Beatles as a working model over this year's trendier (but probably musically weaker) model, whatever that may be - heavy metal, techno, lo-fi, etc. Okay, that's an oversimplification. Suffice it to say that "power pop" is a broad category, as broad as "punk" or "garage" or "soul" or "psychedelic" or "R&B" or "alternative" - and of course, there's plenty of overlap between those genres (all of them). It's just convenient shorthand. Still, power pop does have certain defining characteristics - mainly, it's pop and it's got power. And most bands playing it sound like they want to be the Beatles - though some want to be the Byrds, the Beach Boys, the Who, the Kinks, the Jackson Five, etc. And Big Star of course, who basically invented the style by being a mid-'70s band performing a mid-'60s form of music. Like the blues, power pop is one of those styles that is never going to take over the world, but will remain as a trusty ol'reliable - you can bet even money that any given year will see the release of a handful of great power pop (and blues) albums that will warm the hearts of fans, and maybe even non-fans.


Vol. 1 - Power Pop Classics of the '70s

Here's where it started. A disparate group of individuals who grew of age on classic '60s AM radio and a clutchful of British Invasion records tried to cut records that sounded like their idols. Why should they try to ape Led Zeppelin or go disco? These records have certainly aged better than most '70s "classic rock". After Big Star (of course), Fleetwood Mac were probably the best of the bunch - but then again, they were superstars, and according to Rhino's definition "power pop" excludes superduperstars. But then I've heard Rumours five hundred times and would rather hear some great obscurity, anyway.

P.S. I don't actually own this album, but I have heard all but four of the cuts (on other compilations/albums) and so I am reviewing this given that familiarity.

The Raspberries, "Go All The Way": Their career high point was their first single. Luckily it's as close to defining power pop as it gets: creamy Beach Boys harmonies atop crunchy Cream chords. As for the rest, they're overrated, and Eric Carmen turned into a cross between Paul McCartney and Barry Manilow when he went solo.

Todd Rundgren, "Couldn't I Just Tell You": I don't know about this Rundgren character. He's got a huge rep, but a lot of what I've heard is either bland or icky. However, this is one of his really good songs. When he shouts, "I'm not a coward if that's what you believe," his voice gives him away as exactly that. Wimp rock lives - Jonathan Richman, eat your heart out.

Blue Ash, "Abracadraba (Have You Seen Her?)": Haven't heard this one.

Big Star, "September Gurls": Alex Chilton is not God. But he is as close as any purveyor of Power Pop is to Genius. That ringing guitar break...

Badfinger, "Just A Chance": Haven't heard this.

The Dwight Twilley Band, "I'm On Fire": Hungry neo-rockabilly for hungry neo-moderns. Straight outta Tulsa, which has also given us Garth Brooks, among other cultural delights.

The Flamin' Groovies, "Shake Some Action": If most power-pop bands are the Beatles, then the Groovies are the Stones. Better on singles than on their spotty albums, the Groovies are also grimy and slightly sinister. This song is THE definition of rock'n'roll, as perfect summation of adolescent desire and hang-ups as ANYONE has writ, and if you think that's hyperbole, then you haven't heard it.

Pezband, "Baby It's Cold Outside": Sounds a bit like McCartney. Sounds more than a bit generic. Catchy, but that goes with the territory. I have no strong opinions on this song.

Cheap Trick, "Come On Come On": As pure pop as these heavy popsters get. It's not even one of the best songs on In Color, but it's still good. That Robin Zander sure can sing, can't he?

Fotomaker, "Where Have You Been All My Life?": I would have preferred Dan Hill's "Sometimes When We Touch." And I hate that song, too.

The Rubinoos, "I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend": Not as good as the Ramones' - and that was the weakest song on the Ramones' debut. This isn't a song, it's a handclap.

The Records, "Starry Eyes": The precise, careful recreation of classic Byrdsy jangle should tip you off that this is a critic's band. As should album titles like Sunny Afternoon In Waterloo. Good taste, lads. Great song, too.

Bram Tchaichovsky, "Girl Of My Dreams": Do you think that's his real name? Anyway, the girl of my dreams wouldn't be a mail-order bride.

Nick Lowe, "Cruel To Be Kind": I saw the video of this a while back. Most people wouldn't release footage of their wedding (to that country singer from the Carter family whose name I forget) on MTV, but most people aren't Nick Lowe.

The Knack, "Good Girls Don't": I understand why people hate the Knack. However, that doesn't mean that Get The Knack isn't a very underrated record. Smarm and horny lust and objectifying women define rock'n'roll as much as anything - I mean, why pick on the Knack?

The Shoes, "Too Late": A typically solid Shoes song, but it doesn't do a whole lot for me.

20/20, "Yellow Pills": If you like these Rhino comps, then you ought to check out the Yellow Pills comps - they're equally solid but concentrate on much more obscure material. Does it tell you something about the quality of this song that it had a compilation series named after it? Layers and layers of synthesizers - these guys didn't want to be the Beatles, they wanted to be Roxy Music. Straight outta Tulsa, just like Twilley.

The Beat, "Rock and Roll Girl": Haven't heard this.

Overall Grade: ****1/2: A few weak choices mar an otherwise unassailable collection. But why quibble?

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Reader Comments


This is one of the greatest lines ever written:

"Todd Rundgren, "Couldn't I Just Tell You": I don't know about this Rundgren character. He's got a huge rep, but a lot of what I've heard is either bland or icky. However, this is one of his really good songs. When he shouts, "I'm not a coward if that's what you believe," his voice gives him away as exactly that. Wimp rock lives - Jonathan Richman, eat your heart out.

Pretty darn funny. Actually, I like this album a lot. Raspberries don't do much for me. I like Rundgren, but only in small doses and certain moods. September Gurls is genius. Nuff said. I'm a big Shoes fan, but its an aquired taste. "Cruel You" would be a bit more rockin'. Starry Eyes and Cruel To Be Kind and Good Girls Don't are classic pop tunes. If you don't like them, you have no pulse. Lastly, I have been listening to a lot of Paul Collins lately. The musicianship and enthusiasm are top notch; if the songwriting were more than barely adequate, these guys would have been HUGE!

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