Powerpop: 10 0f the Best
In the 1970s, US powerpop musicians turned away from jamming and noodling in favour of concise, 60s-inspired songcraft – here are 10 classics
By Paul Lester
1 Todd Rundgren - Couldn’t I Just Tell You
Powerpop, some say, began with Emitt Rhodes’s 1970 debut album or Badfinger’s Magic Christian Music (also 1970), but really those were more like late Beatles works. Powerpop may have drawn on the 60s – in fact, there is a school of thought that has the Beatles, the Beach Boys, the Who and the Small Faces as original powerpoppers – but powerpop is really a 70s invention. It’s about young musicians missing the 60s but taking its sound in new directions. In its insistence on brevity, energy and melody, powerpop was not just an alternative to prog and the hippy troubadours, but a cousin to glam. And like glam, it has a claim to being one of the first postmodern genres.
This is largely a 70s list because powerpop is era-specific. You can re-create it outside the time from which it came, but it becomes something different. So you’ll read arguments in favour of 90s musicians such as the Rooks, Brad Jones and more, but they lack powerpop’s edge, which arises from the tension between the music and the audience’s expectations. They just weren’t meant to make music like this in the early 70s. That created problems for powerpop’s main players, as their commercial, catchy material failed to catch on, resulting in a preponderance of tortured artists and casualties.
Talking of glam, Todd Rundgren could easily feature in a 10 of the best list on glitter rock, just as he could be on a list of piano ballads, blue-eyed soul, proto-electronica, even prog. But he staked his claim to powerpop immortality with this track, which set the whole ball rolling (look out for 1972-73 and 1977-78, because they’re key periods within the overall powerpop time frame). If Something/Anything?, its parent double album, featured multiple styles, then Couldn’t I Just Tell You was a masterclass in compression, from the deceptively sweet acoustic intro and opening salvo – “Keep your head and everything will be cool/ You didn’t have to make me feel like a fool” – to the incandescent 15-second guitar solo, the breathtaking “drop” at 2min 36sec and the climactic eruption of guitars, bass and drums, of which Rundgren played and produced every last note.
You can read the rest at the link; I don't agree with all of his choices -- I would have picked "Surrender" instead of "I Want You to Want Me", for example -- but I think the piece is consistently well argued.