This week’s mix features a focus on power pop ballads. I use the term “ballad” somewhat loosely, but all the songs contain a feel/emotion that can be somewhat hard to describe. That being said, there’s no arguing about the pure poppy nature of every song on this list.
Big Star – “Life Is White“
Big Star are power pop legends, and are essential listening for any true music fan. Alex Chilton (R.I.P) was the master of packing a song with hooks and raw emotion. The lyrics on “Life is White” are a perfect example of this, as Chilton croons about his conflicted feelings towards a girl. One of the first power pop greats starting out in 1971, Big Star influenced the likes of The Replacements, R.E.M, and countless more.
Teenage Fanclub – “Alchoholiday“
Scottish group Teenage Fanclub picks up right where Big Star left off with Bandwagonesque (20 years later). Full of laid back jams with infectious guitar melodies, the album has a bunch of timeless power pop classics. “Alcoholiday” takes sunny guitar tones with gloomy, conflicted vocals for a result that really mirrors the feeling of love that has run off course.
Guided by Voices – “The Official Ironmen Rally Song“
Under the Bushes Under the Stars is the swan song–the last great work–of the lo-fi era of Guided by Voices. It was the bands’ first album to be produced with any semblance of high fidelity, and features some of their most traditional songwriting. “The Official Iron Men Rally Song” is a highlight on the album, featuring a somber guitar riff that persists throughout the verse and chorus.
Zwan – “Honestly“
While Zwan may be considered a joke by many music fans, you would be hard pressed to find someone who doesn’t enjoy this song. Certainly the highlight of their debut album, “Honestly” features the layered guitar tracks that Billy Corgan is famous for. However, compared to the angst of many Smashing Pumpkins songs, “Honestly”’s guitars are notably sunnier but still retain enough sadness to make it ballad material.
Spoon – “Reservations“
Many Spoon fans overlook their earlier work, which is a mistake, as A Series of Sneaks is easily their most well-rounded album. Spoon is known for their relatively minimal instrumentation, and “Reservations” is no different. Britt Daniel almost sounds mournful at the beginning of the song, yet by the end sounds anthemic. “Reservations” is surely a classic in Spoon’s large catalogue of music.
Wolf Parade – “Shine A Light“
Of the many projects Spencer Krug or Dan Boeckner have worked on in the past ten years, Apologies to the Queen Mary is by far the strongest and most cohesive effort. “Shine A Light” shows just why that is. The synths meld perfectly with cymbal-loaded drums and droning guitars. From a superb album, this is truly the best of the best.
Guided by Voices – “Jane of the Waking Universe“
A list of power pop ballads wouldn’t be complete without at least two Guided By Voices songs. Jane of the Waking Universe is one of the last Guided by Voices songs recorded with the original lineup – and what a way for them to go out. The song is irresistibly catchy, yet still retains the tinge of melancholy that is prevalent in many of their songs.
Buzzcocks – “Why Can’t I Touch It?“
The Buzzcocks most well known album is densely packed with pop gems, but isn’t really an album at all. Singles Going Steady is actually a compilation of 17 singles released in the late seventies. “Why Can’t I Touch It?” is the ‘Cocks least aggressive song on the album and really shows their prowess for an intricate pop melody that you might miss due to speed of their other songs. At over six minutes you really get a sense of what builds the magic of their songs.
Wipers – “Wait a Minute”
Wipers deserve to be more well known. An interesting link between punk and post punk, Wipers feature the aggression of the former with the more complex and angular sensibilities of that latter. “Wait A Minute” opens up with more traditional guitar tones before busting into the tuned-down roughly distorted guitar and bass combo that really defines their sound. Warning: you may feel compelled to sing (yell) along.
Weezer – “Only in Dreams“
Just about anyone can relate to Rivers Cuomo’s lyrics in this song, a ballad about a guy who can only imagine dating his dream girl while asleep. “Only in Dreams” is the perfect song to close out this playlist, just as it is the perfect song to end the Blue Album. The climax of the song wholly captures the various emotions that come with having an unrequited love.