POWER OF POP ALONG THE ILLINOIS PLAINS
Power Pop. It goes together like the straight and narrow or a bow and an arrow. The Power is aimed at the heart with tight chords, nothing too fancy but always appointed. The Pop is melodic and playful. There is no option but to “Surrender,” as Rockford’s Cheap Trick sang in 1978.
Pop music was a smooth creation of the 1950s and early 1960s that was grounded in song structure. Illinois proved to be a fertile ground for mid-1960s pop bands like the Cryan’ Shames, the New Colony Six, and Shadows of Knight because of hormone-charged high school gymnasiums and teen clubs like the nomadic Dex Card’s Wild Goose in the Chicago area. By the 1970s tireless Central Illinois promoter Len Trumper was booking pop and rock into the Illinois State Armory and the Ice Chateau in Springfield as well as the Pekin Memorial Arena.
Power pop amped up in the late 1970s with blazing guitars, drums, occasional keyboards, and driving harmonies. Tommy Gauvenda, guitarist for the Oak Park Pop band Pezband once said that, if New York was the Stones, Chicago was the Beatles. And there was an accessible groove to the heartland sound.
Power Pop exploded across Illinois. For every band that scored major radio airplay, like Cheap Trick, Zion’s Shoes, and Blue Island’s Enuff z’ Nuff, so many others were toiling away in the garages and basements of Champaign-Urbana, Carbondale, Peoria, and other ports. During the mid-1980s Chicago bands the Slugs and Green dipped into the “Mod” movement along with Champaign’s the Outnumbered. These nattily dressed groups were influenced by the Who’s “Quadrophenia.” “Mods” regularly gathered at the small Chicago rock club the West End which was the precursor to the iconic Lounge Ax.
Illinois has been a linchpin of Power Pop for sixty years. It never hoped to die before it got old. It evolved with joy and discovery. Power Pop musicians were devoted to blowing off steam and that was all that mattered. Music captured with such uncompromising passion is often the most memorable.