Most rock critics hold Elvis Costello responsible for the start of the power pop movement.
Up until the waspish English singer songwriter's arrival on the recording scene in 1977, new wave music had not yet progressed beyond the primitive three-chord hardcore punk stage; rock fans had to choose between the ear-shattering bashings of the Sex Pistols and the Ramones, or the portentous progressive rock doodlings of bands like Yes and Emerson, Lake and Palmer, who dominated much of the FM airwaves back then.
But with the release of Costello's first album, a refreshing breath of both melody and structure was brought back to rock 'n' roll.
The new music was labeled power pop in one of its first reviews and the name has stuck. It combined the urgency and brevity of punk rock with the strong sense of melody and abundance of hooks that had characterized the best of middle 1960s pop rock.
It caught on almost immediately, and within a year had spawned a legion of imitators (the Knack, the Pop, the Romantics, and countless others), most of whom were not as talented as Costello.
Within several years songs like "Alison," "Watching The Detectives," and "The Angels Want to Wear My Red Shoes" had established Costello as one of the most important and creative musical forces of the 1970s and his songs, it seems, were being covered by everyone from Dave Edmunds to Linda Ronstadt.
But, for reasons that can only be surmised, he never really caught on with the public the way everyone seemed to think he would. His albums crested near the top of the charts, but never reached it; radio stations preferred to play songs by such Costello-copiers as the Knack, rather than Costello himself.
And, to this day, he remains mostly a critic's darling.
In San Diego, however, where he appears July 24 at San Diego State's Open Air Theater, he has always fared a little better than he has elsewhere in the country — as is evidenced by the fact that nearly every bar band in the city plays at least a couple of Costello covers.