(Photo by Abi Reimold) Playing Favorites is an interview series where creative people pick a topic and tell us their five favorite things about it. Opinions expressed in this series are those of the interviewees and do not reflect the opinions of S.W. Lauden or The Big Takeover.
Peter Gill wrote and recorded 2nd Grade’s debut, Wish You Were Here Tour, over two weekends in 2018, playing all the instruments himself. 2nd Grade’s more fully-imagined sophomore album, Hit to Hit, features a five-piece band including Gill (vocals), Catherine Dwyer (guitar/vocals), Jon Samuels (guitar), Jack Washburn (bass/vocals) and Will Kennedy (drums). The same outfit recently rerecorded and rereleased Gill’s one-man debut as the reimagined Wish You Were Here Tour Revisited. Gill’s short, hooky songs often draw comparison’s to Guided by Voices, but there is also an undeniable power pop foundation to 2nd Grade’s music that conjures bands like Big Star, Teenage Fanclub and Fountains of Wayne. So, I asked Gill to share his Top 5 favorite power pop albums.
PLAYINGFAVORITES: PETERGILL’S TOP 5 FAVORITEPOWERPOPALBUMS
The following albums are what I would consider my five favorite power pop albums of all time. Warning: My working definition of “power pop” is probably looser than most.
5. Greatest Hits by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers
The first power pop album I ever owned and one I still love, so I have to include it here. Imagine being 13 and hearing an opening hook that goes “You think you’re gonna take her away/With your money and your cocaine.” Of course I was instantly hooked! The dude managed to scrape together between one and four bonafide classic songs per each otherwise medicore album over what ended up being a long and distinguished (and therefore arguably not power poppy) career. Hey, even the losers get lucky sometimes.
4. Bee Thousand by Guided by Voices
Yeah, I know, I know—it’s not exactly power pop in the traditional sense of snappy production, I-IV-V, sweet harmonies, 1-2-3-4 let’s-make-love-tonight. But it is a conveyor belt of genius hooks, rock ‘n roll bravado, and almost adolescent naivety but for the 37-year-old frontman behind the controls. Of all GBV records I think the Beatles/Who flavors are consistently most apparent here, and coupled with the patented Big Star 3:1 rocker-ballad ratio it’s just enough to qualify as my Fourth Favorite Power Pop Album Of All Time.
3. Over The Edge Soundtrack by Various Artists
This movie was recommended to me by Jason Roy who created the artwork and layout for our record Hit To Hit. The listless teenagers of a late ’70s humdrum American suburb slip further and further into a life of drugs, violence, and vandalism to the sounds of Cheap Trick, the Cars, and Ramones. It starts with heartwarming coming-of-age vibes à la Dazed and Confused, but mutates into something very different—the teens kill a cop at one point! There’s a poignant scene where the main teen, Carl, goes into his bedroom, closes the door, lies down, dons his headphones, and drifts away to the perfect chorus of “Surrender.” If that doesn’t capture the true spirit of power pop then I don’t know what does.
2. One Way Ticket by The Nerves
Snappy, snotty, punky, unquestionably the apex of a specific strain of power pop that has never really gone out of style. The Nerves dared to ask the question, “What if we form a power pop band where every song is actually good?” Your typical power pop fanatic spends most of their time scraping the bottom of the barrel and artificially inflating the worth of whatever scraps they find, so to find a body of work as consistently fantastic as One Way Ticket is a deeply appreciated aberration.
1. Radio City by Big Star
It’s simply gotta be number one. I’ve been obsessed with Radio City for a decade now and have never gotten sick of it (last year I even recorded a reimagined version of the whole album that you can find HERE). To me, Radio City achieves tremendous balance in a classical or high-art sense, but seemingly does so unconsciously. Chilton’s discovery of what I consider the all-time ideal rock guitar style does sound intentional (the “Thelonious Monk of rhythm guitar” as Tom Waits once remarked), as do some of the more tightly composed/arranged songs like “September Gurls,” but there’s a lot of unexplainable alchemy going on here—of moods, impulses, destructive energies—that feels too aesthetically and spiritually perfect to have been purposely calculated by anyone involved. Radio City is my Old Testament with Like Flies On Sherbert being my New Testament… wait, what was I saying about power pop fans and artificial inflation of worth? To be clear, Big Star slots quite comfortably at the top of this list precisely because they are the archetypical underdogs of classic rock.