The Pitchfork 500 Power Pop! – The Only Ones to The Cars

The Only Ones – Another Girl, Another Planet
The Undertones – Teenage Kicks
Plastic Bertrand – Ca Plane Pour Moi
The Records – Starry Eyes
Cheap Trick – Surrender
The Cars – Just What I Needed

Power pop, first originated by bands like The Who and Big Star, was given a huge shot in the arm by punk in the late ’70’s. Power pop is catchy, guitar-driven, just the kind of thing you can sing along to loudly in a convertible on a sunny day.

The Only Ones were one of the sad casualties of late 70’s music. They were power-pop in excelsis, with great tunes, clever songs, with enough bite to keep them interesting. But rampant drug abuse tore the band apart and they were never able to capitalise on their obvious talent in songs like “Another Girl, Another Planet”. They reformed a couple of years back, so best of luck to them.

The Undertones, however, at least made something of their talents. A bunch of young lads from London/Derry¹, which was a pretty grim place in those days, they made pithy numbers about teenage life and its various pitfalls. Mostly girls, of course, but also familial expectations (“My Perfect Cousin”) and suicide (“Jimmy Jimmy”). But this track keeps to the unrequited love template. “Teenage Kicks” is all about that simplest thing, seeing a girl in your neighbourhood and wishing she was yours. Let’s face it, about 75% of music is about this, but few songs have expressed it in such a charming yet direct way. Maybe it’s the twin guitar assault of the O’Neill brothers, maybe it’s Feargal Sharkey’s voice, maybe it’s the simple yearning of the words, but everything comes together to make a three-minute hormonal rush.

John Peel famously cited it as his favourite ever song, and it was played at his funeral and memorial service (and is played every time there’s a programme on the TV or radio about him²).  It’s a song that brings a smile to my face every time I hear it.  At one of The Pixies reunion concerts at Brixton Academy, it was put on the PA before they came on, and I swear most of the crowd were singing it (in fairness, most of us remember it the first time round, it being full of 30-40 somethings).  Arsenal have taken to playing it too, partly because half the team are teenagers, and also because the person responsible for match-day music has a sly sense of humour³.  Brings a smile to my face every time I hear it. Great song.

As an aside, the O’Neill brothers went on to form the fantastic That Petrol Emotion and a chain of Oirish pubs in the UK4. And Feargal Sharkey used his squeaky voice to start a successful solo career. He really must have one of the oddest voices ever in popular music. Still, I guess its stops people trying to copy you.

Belgians, eh? Responsible for such fine cultural exports as Tintin and, er, someone else, and getting annoyed because everyone thinks they are French, Plastic Bertrand cunningly stole a little bit of a song from another band he’d been in, and re-used it in this little bit of chirpy fluff. Ok, he nicked the whole tune. But who cares when it’s this catchy? Ah-whoo-eee-woo! The lyrics concern, well, no-one is 100% sure, but what comes through is that he’s as happy as a three year old stuffed to the gills with sugar, and he wants to tell everyone about it. Bless.

You've Got To Love Belgians

You've Got To Love Belgians

The Records sound like they’ve been listening to a whole load of The Who and Big Star, to fine effect, on thier first single “Starry Eyes”. At first glance it sounds like he’s having a pop at a girlfriend who’s let him down, but closer listening reveals a three-minute rant against a useless manager. “While you were in the pool, we were meeting with the boys upstairs\Talking to the money men, and carrying out affairs.”. Ooh, get her. Top song, with Who-like toughness counteracting the Byrdsian jangle. Here’s a poor quality video of them performing the song in a shop window.

To me, Cheap Trick have more than a bit of a whiff of the pub rocker about them. “Surrender” sounds like an Alarm off-cut. Or one of Steve Harley’s weaker moments. Ah well. Can’t like all the songs on this list, I suppose.

The Cars’s “Just What I Needed” finds them before they finally sank into the AM MOR drive-time radio abyss of “Drive”. Saying that, whilst there is a certain New Wave poise to it, the song definitely rests within the MOR world. And for that, I’m afraid I can’t say I care much for it.

So, one nailed-on absolute classic, one frothy bit of Belgian pop-punk, two slices of fine power-pop, and two MOR hits. More power-pop next time, folks.

Ca Plane Pour Moi by Plastic Bertrand

Starry Eyes by The Records

¹ I’m not even going to start on that one.
² Whilst I absolutely adore this song, I wish Peely had named a song by The Fall, or better, Extreme Noise Terror, just so program makers would have to use them instead of a charming power-pop ditty like this.
³ Such as playing “Grounds for Divorce” by Elbow recently – yeah, there’s a hole in my neighbourhood I’d like to drop Eboue in.
4 Not strictly speaking true.

The whole list is available here.

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2 Comments

  1. Several of these songs are on my list of the 100 greatest power pop songs at http://digitaldreamdoor.nutsie.com/pages/best_songs-Power-Pop.html (part of Digital Dream Door). I didn’t put “Teenage Kicks” on the list but I think I will when I update it. I’d love to hear input from power pop fans, so check it out and you can join the discussion on the linked site. Thanks for the post! (But, really, how does anyone not like “Surrender”? I don’t understand! B^)

  2. Daniel

     /  July 23, 2009

    Have spent the morning of a rare day off reading through these posts and discovering some great new (old) artists. Outstanding work, keep it up sir

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