Coined by Pete Townshend in the ’60s to describe the Who’s music, the term power pop has since evolved to encompass songs crafted around sterling melodies, airtight arrangements, three-minute song lengths, and a thrilling guitar sound. From the start, beginning with Badfinger and continuing today with the Redwalls, Gibson guitars have been at the forefront of the genre. The Raspberries’ “Go All the Way,” Big Star’s “In the Street,” and the Replacements’ “Alex Chilton” are just three among countless power pop classics that were played on SGs, Les Pauls, or ES-335s.

“That magical thing we saw in the Who, the Stones, the Small Faces, and the Beatles seemed to be disappearing,” the Raspberries’ Eric Carmen once said, when asked what sparked his band's power pop approach. “It had been replaced by extended jamming, and by more emphasis on individuality instead of the group. We didn’t want to see the next decade pass without anyone picking up the torch from those bands. No one else was taking it, so we grabbed it.” As evidenced in the following band profiles, other groups soon came along to pick up the torch as well.

Big Star
No group had a bigger impact on the best of the ’80s post-punk bands than Big Star. Often alternating between an ES-335 and a Les Paul Goldtop, main songwriters Alex Chilton and Chris Bell drew upon all the ingredients of British Invasion pop, then flavored that mix with wildly infectious guitar riffs. As was the case with the Raspberries, Big Star’s pristine pop confections—as showcased on songs like “September Gurls,” “In The Street,” and “Back of a Car”—were out of step with the post-hippie times, which favored groups like Grand Funk Railroad and Wishbone Ash. But whereas today those latter bands sound like anachronisms, Big Star’s work has the same freshness and vitality it had more than three decades ago. “We were struck most by the clean sparkle and Byrdsiness of the sound, and by the way the guitars were produced,” Teenage Fanclub’s Norman Blake said, not long ago. “On those Big Star records, the chords are really brilliant against the melodies.”


The Raspberries

Sporting unfashionably short hair and matching suits, the Raspberries were dismissed by many as a teen-pop gimmick when they burst on the scene in 1972. What a difference a few decades makes. Today, on the basis of guitar-based gems like “I Wanna Be With You” and “Ecstasy,” the Cleveland-based band is hailed as one of power-pop’s all-time greats. Centered on the two-guitar tangle of main songwriter Eric Carmen and lead guitarist Wally Bryson—who often played his hook-laden riffs on a Flying V or an SG Standard—Raspberries’ songs like “Go All the Way,” “Let’s Pretend,” and “Overnight Sensation” are rightly regarded as classics. In fact, no less a fan than Bruce Springsteen penned the liner notes for the band’s recently-released concert reunion disc. “I see the Raspberries as the American Badfinger,” former band member Scott McCarl said. “Our songs were pretty much boy-girl songs. That's the type of Beatles and '60s music we liked best.”

Badfinger
If ever there was a band destined to carry the Beatles’ torch, it was Badfinger. Signed to the Beatles’ Apple Records label in 1968, the group kickstarted their career with the Paul McCartney-penned hit “Come and Get It,” and then immediately began crafting original, guitar-based power pop inspired by their Fab Four mentors. Simply put, “No Matter What,” “Day After Day,” and “Baby Blue” rank not just as three of the best songs of the early ’70s, but as timeless pop standards. Composing unforgettable riffs and churning chords on their SG Standards, guitarists/vocalists Pete Ham and Tom Evans combined six-string muscle and shimmering melodies in a way that was perfect for AM radio. Tragically, business troubles and personal problems dogged the band, and in harrowing losses that haunt pop-rock history to this day, both Ham and Evans eventually took their own lives. “Badfinger tried to be pure about the music,” surviving band member Joey Molland said. “I don’t think Pete Ham wrote ‘No Matter What’ to make money from it. He wrote it because it was a genuine song he had within him.”

Teenage Fanclub
Few bands have so cleverly assimilated their influences as Teenage Fanclub. Formed in 1989, the Scottish group released a masterpiece in 1991 with Bandwagonesque, an album that couched broken-glass lyrics in pristinely crafted pop songs that evoked the likes of Big Star and the Hollies. Since then the group’s albums have followed that same tradition. Alternating between a Les Paul Custom and an Epiphone Casino, guitarist-singer Norman Blake often applies molten distortion to sunshine-y riffs, giving a grunge-style modernity to the band's throwback harmonies and hooks. “I always liked ’60s bands like Love, but at the same time I like Sonic Youth,” Blake said recently. “I suppose the idea is to marry those things and bring in our own harmonies. These days all my listening time is taken up with ‘Nuggets’-style bands.”

Fountains of Wayne
Wry humor has been a mainstay of a certain segment of power pop, and no one does it better than Fountains of Wayne. On songs like the modern classic “Stacy’s Mom,” the songwriting duo of Chris Collingwood and Adam Schlesinger occupy a stylistic niche that brings to mind the smartly-rendered songs of the Cars and early 10cc. Collingwood favors an ES-335 to achieve a clarion pop radiance, while lead guitarist Jody Porter punctuates Fountain of Wayne's choruses with wall-of-sound chords played on a Les Paul Custom. Both guitarists play Gibson acoustics as well, with Porter’s SJ-200 often adding strummy color to the prevailing uptempo approach. “Part of what’s kept us going, as a band, is that we’ve embraced the idea of being able to do different kinds of styles,” Schlesinger once said. “Not everything needs to be loud guitars, and not everything needs to have a four-on-the-floor rock beat.”

Redwalls
No band is better positioned than the Redwalls to carry on the power pop mantle. On De Nova, the group's 2005 major label debut, the Chicago-based quartet showcased a style deeply rooted in the mid ’60s Mersey Beat side of the British Invasion, with hints of a Stax influence tossed in for good measure. Often playing a Les Paul Goldtop, lead guitarist Andrew Langer underscores singer/rhythm guitarist Logan Baren's sandpaper-y, John Lennon-inspired vocals with melodically sophisticated riffs that belie the fact he's barely in his ’20s. That sort of exhilarating combination is perfect for the band's radio-ready gems, more of which are set to appear on a new CD scheduled for release later this year. “Those were the bands we used to cover,” Baren said recently, when asked about the British Invasion influence. “Naturally it had an effect. We took our lessons from the greats and now we're making our own place in music.”