Power pop, I've asserted before, was actually an industry euphemism coined to market punk to the masses. (I am looking, holy grail-style, for confirmation of this fact, but it's one of those things it seems I've always known. When I find it, I'll post it.) But "power pop" quickly became a separate generic definition, as follows:
Rock music based on an aesthetic developed in the mid 1960's, primarily by The Beatles, The Who, and The Kinks, refined a bit later by The Byrds and The Move (but not delving into full-scale psychedelia, which is something else). Power pop refined itself post-punk, adopting that energy and drive.
This is what I, at least, take to be the defining aesthetic. I'd also argue for: short songs, generally structured fairly traditionally, guitar-based (though keyboards can be used sparingly), melodic, usually lyrically direct, often lyrically witty.
From the articulation of this aesthetic, there has been a consistent power pop movement, usually subterranean. (The same can probably be said of any genre, I suppose, though the subterranean narrative of, say, death metal is not so interesting to me.) The form asserts itself, then gets swamped by the Next Big Thing.
1965-66, swamped by psychedelia
1972-74, swamped by disco
1978-81, swamped by synth-pop
1989-91, swamped by grunge
And so on. But it never goes away, not really, though a lot depends, of course, on how one defines the aforementioned boundaries. (In the last two cases, I'd argue, power pop was somewhat coopted by the forms which replaced it, as plenty of synth bands fed off the power pop aesthetic, and "alternative" frequently has a strong thread of the same sound.)
I was ruminating about this some time ago when someone whose opinions I take very seriously in this regard asked a question which floored me. "What about The Ramones?"
What about The Ramones?
Initially, I dismissed them from this consideration, not because I don't love the Ramones, but because they don't seem to fit, generically. They're punk, right? The look and the shtick and the songs--a different thing, it seemed to me. But then I went back and listened again, and I'm rethinking a bit.
One of the things that's so striking about The Ramones and The Sex Pistols and The Clash, listening with the historian's prescribed distance of 25 years, is how surprisingly melodic they really are. L.A. punk seems a bit different to me in this regard, less melody, more pure energy. (I'm thinking Fear, X, that sort of thing.) The NY and British scenes, however, seemed to allow punk and pop to intermingle more freely. That punk is more melodic, that pop is edgier, the hybrid form can be seen in action.
(And I know it's a movie, but the essay-style digression about "tribes" in the excellent film SLC Punk! does a pretty good job of separating the strands. "New Wavers didn't fight anybody. They were the new hippies.")
Comments? Like I said, thinking out loud.