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I'm the co-host of THIS IS ROCK 'N' ROLL RADIO with Dana & Carl (Sunday nights, 9 to Midnight Eastern, www.westcottradio.org).  As a freelance writer, I contributed to Goldmine magazine from 1986-2006, wrote liner notes for Rhino Records' compilation CD Poptopia!  Power Pop Classics Of The '90s, and for releases by The Flashcubes, The Finkers, Screen Test, 1.4.5., and Jack "Penetrator" Lipton.  I contributed to the books Bubblegum Music Is The Naked Truth, Shake Some Action, Lost In The Grooves, and MusicHound Rock, and to DISCoveries, Amazing Heroes, The Comics Buyer's Guide, Yeah Yeah Yeah, Comics Collector, The Buffalo News, and The Syracuse New Times.  I also wrote the liner notes for the three THIS IS ROCK 'N' ROLL RADIO compilation CDs, because, well, who could stop me?  My standing offer to write liner notes for a Bay City Rollers compilation has remained criminally ignored.  Still intend to write and sell a Batman story someday.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

UNFINISHED AND ABANDONED: Shake Some Action (Power Pop Book Proposal)

Unfinished And Abandoned digs deeeeep into my unpublished archives, and exhumes projects that I started (sometimes barely started) but abandoned, unfinished. I am such a quitter.

 

In 1993, I decided that I wanted to write a book about power pop music. The book would have been called Shake Some Action, named after a song by The Flamin' Groovies. I put together a book proposal, and submitted it to a prospective publisher. I can't find the cover letter for that proposal, but I do have these sample introductory chapters:

SHAKE SOME ACTION (Book proposal--Sample Chapters)

INTRODUCTION

One of the best things that ever happened to me was an accident of birth: I had teen-aged siblings during the mid-1960s.

I was only four years old when The Beatles appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show in 1964. It's possible that an unenlightened four-year-old could have been indifferent to that pivotal moment in pop culture, but living under one roof with a preteen sister and two teen-aged brothers made the Fab four a prevailing and pervasive part of my early musical environment. When The Beatles' first movie, A Hard Day's Night, played the local drive-in, I was there with my sister, one of my brothers, and a couple of cousins. I remember girls, in their cars, screaming at the drive-in screen, and I vividly remember being caught up in this vibrant atmosphere at the impressionable age of four.  This, I thought, is cool!

My love of power pop music can be traced directly back to Beatlemania, to that screening of A Hard Day's Night, and to subsequently hearing great AM fodder like The Bobby Fuller Four's "I Fought The Law" booming out of the tiny speaker in my brother's red convertible. Although the power pop story really begins in the '70s, the music has obvious roots in the mid-'60s, when great rock 'n' roll and AM radio pop were essentially the same thing.


I didn't hear the term "power pop" until I was in college, when it was applied to a seemingly incongruous outgrowth of punk rock, a mutant strain that applied melody to punk's raw energy. Shortly thereafter, I saw a band called The Flashcubes, from my native Syracuse, NY, who wore the power pop label as proudly as one would wear a heart on one's sleeve. When Bomp! magazine published a power pop issue that Spring, I knew I'd found my music--and my music had found me.

This book is intended as an introductory guide to power pop music, and as a compact reference work for power pop fans. It is neither a discography nor a price guide; if you want a discography, track down a copy of Pop Power! by Emmett McAuliffe with Daniel Krasnegor, which is as fine and comprehensive a power pop discography as one could hope for. And if you want a price guide, then you're readin' the wrong book--all the music discussed herein is just plain priceless.

The book is divided into three main sections, covering the general history of power pop, the biographies of some of its artists, and an annotated listing of significant power pop tracks and albums. I'm not going to attempt to list every great power pop band or record from the '70s onward--there are too many great sides out there that I haven't even heard yet, so I'm not gonna pretend to be that comprehensive. Think of this as just a friendly discussion of the music and artists who've thrilled us over the past couple of decades with the power chords and harmonies that characterize melodic rock 'n' roll music.

If you have a favorite power pop band or record that is seemingly snubbed here, it may be because I just don't know about it. If you want to clue me in on some great lost power pop gem that I've missed, I'm all ears--feel free to send me a copy, in care of this publisher. One never knows where one might encounter the next Big Star, Flashcubes, or Spongetones, and one never knows if we might decide to update this book for a second edition some day.

More than anything else, it's my hope that this book will serve to connect fans of this kind of music, perhaps to inform you of some great record you didn't know about but would just die for, or even just to assure you that you're not alone. Really, the whole world doesn't revolve around faceless, corporate music; conversations I've had with like-minded individuals over the years--in person, via the mail or Goldmine letter columns, and on computer bulletin boards--has convinced me that there are lots of us out there, folks who still get off on the thrill of transcendent pop music played with power and passion. If this describes you, then it's time to relax and crank up the stereo--you're among friends now.

Carl Cafarelli
Clay, NY 1993

CHAPTER ONE:  What Is This Thing Called Power Pop?

If you read a lot of rock writing, especially record reviews, then you've no doubt run across the term "power pop" on several occasions. The term may seem self-explanatory, but when it's applied with blissful indifference to acts as diverse as The Ramones, R.E.M., Def Leppard, and The Bay City Rollers, one can be forgiven for wondering what power pop really means.

In purest terms, power pop is literally pop music with power, but it's a bit more specific than that. It refers to an energetic interpretation of pure pop music, based in equal parts on melodic hooks and killer instinct. It draws obvious inspiration from mid-1960s rock 'n' roll, especially from groups like The Beatles, The Kinks, and the early Who, but it's not exactly nostalgia; it's too vital to be consigned to the dustbin of history, and besides, what's cool once is cool forever. It's the sweet taste of poisoned candy, a sugar-coated razor blade, the allure of a pretty young girl holding a smoking gun.

But if that sounds a bit too dangerous, power pop also incorporates an inherent innocence, its physical presence frequently derived simply from the power of pure pop itself. At the end of the day, power pop is best summed up in the words Phonograph Record Magazine once used to describe Big Star's "September Gurls": "Innocent, but deadly."

Getting carried away with labels is a mistake--good music is good music, regardless of whether you'd describe it as power pop, reggae, swing, R & B, or that old standby, rock 'n' roll. Although it's a necessary function of a book like this to establish some parameters, one should be aware that no style of music exists in a vacuum. In practical terms, few records adhere strictly to any mythical Power Pop Ideal; many of the recordings we'll be discussing here will inevitably skew more toward pop or toward power, rather than an equal mix of both. Such records should still be considered power pop,if only because they seem to fit in context. Really, the labels only matter to rock writers (a superstitious and cowardly lot).

What's that? You say you're still not sure what this power pop stuff is? Perhaps some quick comparison tables will help you out some:

POWER POP

BANDS:
The Raspberries
The Dwight Twilley Band
The Knack (grudgingly)

INFLUENCES:
The Beatles
The Kinks
The Who (pre-Tommy)

SONGS:
"Go All The Way"--The Raspberries
"A Million Miles Away"--The Plimsouls
"What I Like About You"--The Romantics

POWER POP NOT

BANDS:
Pink Floyd
The Marshall Tucker Band
Beatlemania!

INFLUENCES:
The Grateful Dead
Led Zeppelin
The Who (post-Tommy)

SONGS:
"Freebird"--Lynyrd Skynyrd
"Roundabout"--Yes
"Aqualung"--Jethro Tull

And if that still doesn't give you the picture, let's just say that any guitar-driven tune that's catchy and has some oomph to it is power pop in this book. Fair enough?

Who cares about power pop, anyway? Well, while power pop has rarely seemed poised to really capture the minds of the great unwashed, an informal but vocal pop underground has existed since at least the early '70s. Ill-served by the vapid fare of AM Top 40 and the self-consciously hip drone of progressive FM, those disaffected by the heavy vibe of capital-R Rock as capital-A Art longed for a return to the engagingly simple charm of mid-'60s pop.

This may have begun as mere nostalgia, but then someone got the bright idea of combining those halcyon pop hooks with contemporary power. The resulting power pop sound garnered some hits (for groups like The Raspberries and The Dwight Twilley Band) and lots of stiffs (for groups like The Flamin' Groovies, whose "Shake Some Action" would make a helluva book title). Whether a hit or miss with the mass audience, the sound and approach attracted its own rabid devotees.

For our purposes, we're going to examine the power pop story in three separate chunks: the history, the artists, and the music. The next several chapters will be our history lesson, as we take a look at the development of power pop. That history begins with power pop's roots in the mid-'60s, so set your Wayback Machine to 1964 and turn the page.  Ready, steady...GO!

[The original proposal also included a sample chapter on The Bay City Rollers, which looked an awful lot like an earlier version of this.]

--
The publisher passed.  I kicked the idea around some more, and even had an initial discussion of collaborating with John M. Borack and Ken Sharp on a similar book, but nothing came of it.  Ken, of course, has gone on to write a big ol' passel o' books, including his first-person power pop series, Play On! And John wrote his own cool pop book, also called Shake Some Action (and yeah, that is just a coincidence; I don't think John even knew the title of my proposed book). I re-wrote and expanded what I had into a long, comprehensive power pop history called "The Kids Are Alright!," which was first published in Goldmine in 1996, and subsequently revamped for inclusion for John Borack's Shake Some Action book.  Plus, y'know, it's on my blog: The Kids Are Alright!

(Oh, and Gary Pig Gold and I also collaborated on a debate about The Secret History Of Power Pop, which was written for John's Shake Some Action but unpublished at the time.)

My thinking on the definition of power pop has evolved a little since 1993. I now include '60s music by The Beatles, The Kinks, and The Who as an integral part of power pop, rather than just an early influence. Reading the original proposal now, I'm surprised I don't mention The Ramones, nor much of punk beyond a brief note that the power pop term came into vogue (sorta) in punk's aftermath. Then, as now, I regard The Ramones' '70s singles as prime power pop, and I imagine I would have made that point as the book progressed.

But it didn't progress.  So think of this as a jangly little look back at what might have been.