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June 19, 2024

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Gary Pig Gold's All-Time Top Ten Power Pop People
By: Gary "Pig" Gold

Certainly we could all be arguing blue-faced until that mythical Next Big Thing finally arrives over just what exactly IS "Pop," Powerful or otherwise. Why, a good case could be made that Irving Berlin, or either of them Gershwin Bros. for that matter, were actually the undeniable Fathers of All Things Pop. Others will insist the genre dates "only" back to the fine-print on some Pete Townshend-art-directed Who flyer circa East London, 1964. Whatever the case(s) may be, THIS here Pig is more than content to define that damnable pigeonhole known as "Power Pop" as quite simply, quite pimply, "Music that makes you Smile while it makes you Jump." Up and down, preferably. So There! Now, taking only these two mere criteria in hand, and in recognition of this year's gala International Pop Overthrow festival in Los Angeles, I hereby boldly list the ten recording artists that most often make ME grin while I shake:

1. Buddy Holly and the Crickets
The seeds of the (first) British Invasion date quite a bit prior to the release of "Love, Love Me Do," I'll have you 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 British 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 rite, 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 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.

2. 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, and 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.

3. The Dave Clark Five
Like their truest American prodigies the Monkees, the DC5 were mercilessly picked on for such trivial things as wearing silly stage outfits and not playing their own instruments in the studio. While those same potshots can also legitimately be aimed at everyone from the Beach Boys to the 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 song-writing department, while tracks such as "Try Too Hard" and especially "Any Way You Want It" rock 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 "Baby's In Black" onto SGT. PEPPER'S without raising a sore thumb or two--

4. 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 (for example, 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 Jagger-like ferociousness (cool ponytail too!) then just as gamely concoct and soft-sell chewy, bubbledelic confections such as "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' brightest moments (to cite one example) lo these three long, long decades on. No small accomplishment indeed. (PS: and did I mention Mark's cool pony-tail too?)

5. The Who
DAMN that "Tommy"! The Who, thanks to that monstrosity, are cruelly destined for little more than Hard Rawk 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, Power Pop. Period.

6. Raspberries
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 (ie: 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 dowerfully 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 McCartney 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 Linda Ronstadt.

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 erected proudly 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.

8. The Ramones
These true visionaries had the suicidal bad luck to creep above the Underground at just about the same moment as 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 Eagle-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 a decade 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 brain -- or at least a bit more COURAGE, culturally-speaking -- Joey, Johnny, DeeDee and Tommy/Marky/whatever could have easily ruled the airwaves for at least the duration of the Reagan administration. As it is, we'll be lucky if the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame lasts long enough to induct these bloodied-but-unbowed underdogs of all Power Poppers --before some skinny-tie nominates The Cars instead. Joey, AT LEAST, deserves it.

9. Bill Lloyd
Let us not forget the bounty of wicked pop delights which have been faithfully gushing from Nashville, Tennessee 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 this nation'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. Please try to remember, though, that Bill Lloyd did it first -- and, so far, he's done it BEST.

10. The Masticators
I quite innocently happened upon this band at 1998's International Pop Overthrow, inside a tiny club in the Hollywood hinterlands. It was a Sunday afternoon; it was a hundred degrees out in the parking lot and at least TWICE that indoors. But it took less than one song to convince me, and most everybody else in the room, that here was that rarest of cases when, seemingly from out of nowhere, four musicians gathered on stage and proceeded to produce a half-hour of out-and-out, pure pop magic. The Masticators, under the nothing short of bewitching command of Lisa Mychols, shook and spun every ear in the house with one brilliant slice of two-minutes-fifty after another --each casually tossed off as if they were flipping flapjacks at the nearby House of Pies. But who knows? Maybe this band really CAN create such joyous magic at the simple drop of a D-chord! It may yet be a wee bit early to tell, but if bands like the Masticators (and songs like theirs) can still be found wailing down that L.A. basin of oblivion, then Power Pop may very well BE alive and well; all rumors of its demise (or at least exile to the hinterlands of AOL chat rooms) grossly exaggerated. I, for one, predict there is a bounty of fine sounds yet to be experienced which should keep us ALL smiling and jumping far, far into the Makeover Millennium. Everyone now reading this should do their utmost to make sure I'm right, OK? OK!
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