“Melodic guitar pop-rock inspired by the 60s/70s” is probably the best definition I can come up with of ‘The Pop Underground’. Personally, I believe this ‘genre’ encapsulates several pop-rock styles like Rock ’n’ Roll, Power Pop, Chamber Pop, Orchestral Pop, Glam, Punk, Mod, Merseybeat, Psychedelic Rock, Garage, Alt-Country and the like. Simply put, this is retro rock music that thrived initially in the 90s but has been truly under the radar since 2000 and continues to struggle to gain prominence, dismissed as ‘irrelevant’ by the hip and the cool. Fuck ‘em, cuz GOOD music is GOOD music. Some jumping on points from way in the beginning.
JELLYFISH – THE KING IS HALF UNDRESSED (1990)
Signed to Charisma Records, Jellyfish released two seminal albums that influenced many of the bands that would pop up in the Pop Underground in the 90s and beyond. Made no impact commercially (sadly) and that depressing trend would have an adverse effect on most ‘classic’ pop-rock bands – to the present day.
THEY MIGHT BE GIANTS – BIRDHOUSE IN YOUR SOUL (1990)
Flood, the band’s major label debut on Elektra, went platinum and represented a victory for quirky, offbeat eclectic pop-rock music. Utterly unimaginable to have an album like this do anything commercial in 2016 but just before the grunge deluge, this was one of the last pop-rock holdovers from the 80s. TMBG continue to make music today but their legacy is inspiring similar geeky bands like Barenaked Ladies and Weezer.
THE LA’S – THERE SHE GOES (1990)
Lee Mavers and the La’s took the 80s indie pop agenda of assimilating the influences of the Velvets and The Byrds and applied an unashamedly retro sound that also revealed his Merseybeat roots. Unwittingly, Mavers provided the subsequent ‘Britpop’ movement with its raison d’être and it’s impossible to think of current British indie rock with considering the influence of The La’s.
UNCLE TUPELO – FACTORY BELT (1990)
Credited with kickstarting the ‘alt-country’ scene, Uncle Tupelo (fronted by Jay Farrar and Jeff Tweedy) brought together the key elements of country-folk and alternative rock to update the country rock of the 70s (i.e. Gram Parsons, The Eagles, Poco etc). This sub-genre continues to flourish today, and is an integral part of the Pop Underground.
TEENAGE FANCLUB – THE CONCEPT (1991)
Erroneously classified as a ‘grunge’ or ‘alternative’ rock band, the Fannies actually take their cues from Big Star and Alex Chilton and further back, the Byrds, the Kinks and The Beatles. Their 2nd LP, Bandwagonesque benefited from Nirvana’s success but clearly, the Pop Underground bands consider the Fannies as one of their very own. Modern indie pop-rockers like Yuck and Christopher Owens definitely owe a musical debt.
… still there’s more …