Two albums to listen to: Genre-defining power pop records

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Photo Credit: Courtesy of Weezer

Editor’s note: In this recurring column, music writer Chris Duncan suggests two albums to listen to this week. Have a suggestion? Send a tweet to @chr_dunc, and your pick might appear in next week’s Two Albums To Listen To.

#1 Record – Big Star

In 1972, power pop was barely an idea. The Beatles and The Byrds had flirted with a combination of American and British harmonies and melodies, but neither dedicated a record to the relatively undefined genre. #1 Record is one of the first moments in modern music when power pop became a fully fleshed-out idea.

Chris Bell and Alex Chilton started writing music together when they were both 13, inspired by John Lennon and Paul McCartney of The Beatles. They might not have ever reached the fame of their idols, but Bell and Chilton wrote some of the greatest singles of their era on their band’s first album, #1 Record.

Anyone hearing this record decades later will likely be reminded of Tom Petty, R.E.M. and The Replacements. Each song is extremely simple, featuring the catchy harmonies and jangling guitar chords to make hit after hit.

After #1 Record became a commercial success, Big Star slowly fell apart, with Bell quitting the group the same year their first album came out. Their time on top might have been short-lived, but Big Star helped establish one of the most influential genres of ’80s music.

Tracks to listen to: “Ballad of El Goodo,” “Thirteen,” “Watch the Sunrise”

Weezer – Weezer

When Weezer formed in 1992, rock fans hated their lighter sound, demanding more grunge music. However, just two years later, Weezer became an overnight success when their self-titled debut album sky-rocketed in popularity.

Weezer marks the beginning of a short-lived collaboration between lead singer Rivers Cuomo and bassist Matt Sharp. Sharp forced himself to develop his falsetto backing vocals, helping create the album’s distinct barbershop quartet style.

Affectionately referred to as “The Blue Album” because of its color, Weezer brings together influences from Led Zeppelin, KISS and Cheap Trick to show exactly why arena rock and power pop still belonged after the grunge era. Cuomo’s guitar riffs and solos are the highlights of this album, with his lyrics expressing deep meaning and often dark origins.

Cuomo eventually grew to hate the life of a rock star. He ditched the band to undergo corrective surgery on his left leg and enroll at Harvard University, with his pain culminating in Weezer’s sophomore release, Pinkerton. The album was so poorly received upon initial release, the band splintered, and Sharp ended up quitting the group.

Tracks to listen to: “Undone – The Sweater Song,” “Say It Ain’t So,” “Only In Dreams”