A true teen anthem, In The Street expresses the joys and innocence of just hanging out with nothing to do. Driving aimlessly around hoping to score a joint, or something exciting, but in the end just enjoying friends and singing along to the radio, as is seen by its later use as the opening theme to That ‘70s Show. “From the opening guitar riffs to the cowbell at the bridge, it deserves repeated listening. This is definitely one to listen to while driving.
As had been said about The Velvet Underground, “they didn’t sell many records while a band, but everybody who bought their records started a band. Big Star, who do cover The Velvet’s “Femme Fatale,” on their third album would have a cult following and influence many bands for years after.
Though hailing from Memphis, and taking their name from the southern chain of grocery stores, Big Star would show more influences from the British Invasion than from Elvis Presley. Although you could generally apply the term “power-pop,” especially to In The Street, it would not do justice to the broad range of their music: from straight rock and roll to ballads, it was more often a baroque chamber pop blending many elements in one song.
Started by primary songwriters Chris Bell and Alex Chilton (who had a number one hit in The Letter with The Box Tops at age sixteen) they would make only three albums. After the poor sales of their initial album, Chris Bell left the band, although he would contribute to some of the song writing.
The second album, Radio City, would feature a cover photo by William Eggleston, a friend of Chilton’s.
This is a band whose work was probably too eclectic to have been embraced by the public at large, but sharing the love of their music is luckily another precious secret that bonds hipsters and outsiders alike.
There are three essential elements to power pop. Keep in mind; if I were a musician I could probably explain this in better detail.
1) The songs are based on a simple and driving, most often guitar driven, chord structure—-although this can be varied; think Lady Madonna by The Beatles, which is piano based.
2) There are very prominent vocal harmonies that work with the chord structure.
3) There is “the hook.” This can be any part of the above, usually in combination– even a bass line (think of Paul McCartney’s very melodic bass playing)– that is the thing you find yourself singing or humming all day after hearing the song: the infectious part of the song that is like nothing else you have ever heard and only by listening to it or recalling it are you satisfied. You are hooked.
Most likely, the first Power Pop hit would be The Kink’s You Really Got Me. One of the keepers of the flame are The db’s, who’s founder Chris Stamey recently curated a tribute to Big Star’s third album, titled: Big Star’s Third, which included this moving version of Kangaroo with lead vocals by Brett Harris.