May 22, 2020

Preview of power pop's 15-year cycle: "Needles and Pins" in 4 ways

I'm preparing something more in-depth on the cycles of power pop music (including so-called jangle pop). For now, suffice it to say that it emerges during the restless warm-up phase of the 15-year excitement cycle, as people come out of their vulnerable-phase shells and are eager to start mingling with the opposite sex again. Power pop is the sensitive-guy form that this trend takes.

In the meantime, a striking finding as I was going through the history. "Needles and Pins" is a staple of the genre, and most pop music fans will only be familiar with the version by the Searchers. But it was originally recorded a year before by a female singer. Later, two separate cover versions were released, also within a year of each other.

These all came out during a restless warm-up phase of the cycle -- early '60s and late '70s. (Tom Petty and Stevie Nicks played it live in '85, a vulnerable phase, but I'm talking about recording it in the studio for an album or single.)

The Ramones version highlights the multifaceted nature of the zeitgeist, in any phase. They're mostly a punk band, and the explosion of stripped-down 'tude indeed takes place during restless phases -- surf rock of the early '60s, punk of the late '70s, pop-punk (and some grunge) of the early '90s, and pop-punk and emo of the late 2000s.

And yet here they are during the heyday of punk, covering an earnest pining-and-yearning sensitive-guy anthem. Well sure, why not? -- they're two different ways of expressing the same underlying theme of restlessness, the urge to return to socializing and having fun after five years in the vulnerable-phase cocoon.

It would be nice to hear this one again during the just-beginning restless warm-up phase, but remember that music doesn't do cover songs anymore, despite TV and movies being entirely remakes, reboots, etc. Maybe there will be another early '60s prestige TV show like Mad Men (from the late 2000s -- matching phases), and they can work the song into the soundtrack somewhere.

The Searchers (1964):

Jackie DeShannon (1963):

Smokie (1977):

The Ramones (1978):


  1. Other phase-matching covers: "September Gurls," 1974 by Big Star, 1986 by the Bangles. (Representing power pop's depressive side during the vulnerable phase.)

    "She's Not There" -- 1964 by the Zombies, 1977 by Santana, 1979 by UK Subs, 1990 by Crowded House (as well as a couple versions from the late '60s). The most well-attested across multiple cycles, only missing the late 2000s.

    The ones from the late '60s aren't such a contradiction since they're consecutive with the original release -- not so odd, piggy-backing on popularity. It's truly contradictory when it's out of phase, and not consecutive -- e.g., if it had been successfully covered during the manic phase of the early '80s, rather than late '60s.

    "Hanging on the Telephone" -- 1976 by Nerves, 1978 by Blondie. Not the best example, since they're from the same phase of the same cycle, the late '70s.


    "I'll Feel a Whole Lot Better" -- 1965 by the Byrds, 1989 by Tom Petty, and other lesser known versions, but none in a manic phase like the original. The covers are not only from different phases than the original, but separated by awhile and not just consecutive piggy-backing.

    "There She Goes" -- 1990 by the La's, 1997 by Sixpence None the Richer. Consecutive piggy-backing from the early '90s into the late '90s. Not the best counter-example.

    Just some where I knew there was a cover version off the top of my head, not an exhaustive search of all the big power pop songs. Overall, though, pretty solid phase-matching -- if originals for cover songs were chosen at random, only 1/3 would be from the same phase. It's higher than that, because one phase resonates with the others like it in the cycle.

  2. Since you study music trends so closely I thought you would enjoy this. The 100 most lost songs of the 1980s. Songs that got a lot of radio airplay in the 1980s but none or hardly any today.


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