The received wisdom is that The Beatles single-handedly invented ‘power pop’ with “And Your Bird Can Sing,” an album track from 1966’s Revolver. The truth, however, is a little more elusive. One could point out that “Paperback Writer” – a song that very much embodies the power pop sound – predates “And Your Bird Can Sing” by thirteen days. Furthermore, Pete Townshend is often give credit for having coined the term when he was famously quoted in 1967 by Keith Altham in New Music Express as having said, “Power pop is what we play—what the Small Faces used to play, and the kind of pop The Beach Boys played in the days of ‘Fun, Fun, Fun’ which I preferred.”
Every Mother’s Son’s second and final album for MGM – 1968’s Every Mother Son’s Back – would find the group charging out of the gate with a song very much in the power pop spirit, “Rain Flowers”:
Note the stirring entrance of the clavinet just prior to the vocal — another early appearance for the relatively new electric keyboard in the year 1968.
How interesting that Carole King – the musical part of the Goffin-King songwriting partnership – had been writing hits since the very beginning of the 1960s and yet had not released her first solo album until 1970 – an album somewhat pointedly entitled, Writer.
The album’s kick-off track is, for Carole, a bit of a rocker – “Spaceship Races” – and a determined one at that. Who knew from Carole’s fairly straight-ahead reading that a joyous power pop of a colt could come thundering out of the same gates albeit when jockeyed by Tom Northcott?
Spaceship Races – Carole King
Spaceship Races – Tom Northcott
[Pssst: Click on the triangles above to play “Spaceship Races” – the first as originally conceived by Carole King and the second as imaginatively interpreted by Tom Northcott.]
Tom Northcott’s more elaborate pop production was likewise the album-opening track on his 1971 album, Upside Downside, on Uni (imprint of MCA) – although a B-side of the single, “Suzanne” (the oft-covered Leonard Cohen classic). What gives?
Northcott (popular in his native Vancouver) recorded 20 sides for Warner Brothers in the mid-to-late 60s and then jumped to MCA’s Uni label for exactly one album – and then nothing more for a long time.
Last year in Philadelphia I picked up a 2-LP various artists compilation (of “previously released material”) called California U.S.A. – originally issued in 1981 on Columbia:
Surprisingly, my buddy, Tom – a gifted record collector – had never heard of it. This hodgepodge of 60s & 70s singles/rarities that originally came out on Columbia/Epic (save one) is unified by a connection to sunny California and its association with the beach, surfing, and fast cars. I was amused to see that one of the songs in this collection was written in 1851: “Swanee River.” Why, you may ask, would a minstrel song that is the official state song of Florida (and better known as “Old Folks at Home” or, more accurately, “Suwannee River”) be included in a California-themed compilation?
Answer: This fresh and original take on Stephen Foster’s crusty classic is pure 70s sunshine/power pop that only could have come from Southern California (or, even better, a UK band clearly besotted with the Beach Boy ideal of Southern California and its lush harmony vocal tradition) – the pastoral “middle eight” section, in particular, being an arrangement straight out of Brian Wilson’s long lost (though recently found) Smile album:
My uncle Chuck might be intrigued to know that this double album also includes “No Surf in Cleveland” by the Euclid Beach Band – a misnomer of a lyric, actually, since not only do Cleveland surfers exist, but they also believe “they are the last remnants of the original surf culture of the 1940s & 50s, when surfing was still a renegade sport of social misfits who scouted virgin breaks, surfed alone, and lived by a code of friendliness to newcomers and respect for the water.”