Music ranks among the most subjective of all art forms. Therefore, a wise critic understands the difference between what they like and what the public likes. Progressive rock? I grew up on it and adore it, although most modern listeners don’t. Mumble rap? It sells millions, but to my ears represents the malign collapse of human civilization. Opinions differ, and we can argue about who’s right or wrong until the sun burns out.
But there is one category of music that everyone with ears should appreciate regardless of age, background, or prior preferences. With its soaring harmonies, chiming guitars, and generally sunny motif, one has to be dead or in jail not to get a rush out of jangle pop. Who doesn’t love a gorgeous summer day? It’s my stubborn contention that nobody – not punk fans, not metalheads, not gangsta rappers – can sample this list and not fall instantly in love with every one of these joyous songs. That’s how much fun jangle pop can be.
The genre has its roots in 1960s folk rock, with indie revivals seemingly occurring every eight years or so. The Byrds‘ shiny covers of “Turn! Turn! Turn!” and “Mr. Tambourine Man” hit number one in 1965, perhaps the style’s popular zenith. One could probably stock this entire list with Byrds tunes from top to bottom while tossing in a few by R.E.M., the Smiths, and power-pop icons Big Star to round things out.
But that’s not the point here. Our goal is to introduce new fans to a wonderful genre of indie rock with a rich history – one that gets short shrift in today’s pop-music landscape. Each of these tracks represents an album and band well worth consuming in their entirety. There’s also the ‘Vatican Basement’ surprise factor, in which an unheralded 50-year-old song somehow becomes the basis for everything that came after. A few fan favorites inevitably missed the cut, but that’s rock and roll.
So here we go. And take it from a highly-trained music professional: You’d better love these songs. That’s an order.
15. The Hollies – “Look Through Any Window” (1965)
We begin with some ancient history and a track that, in a sane world, should probably rank first on any list. Whatever the Byrds or the Beatles were doing in 1965, this gem absolutely nails the formula Mike Mills and so many others would mine for decades afterward. Play that opening time-warp riff for any history-challenged R.E.M. fan, and watch their jaw hit the floor: “So that’s where it all came from!” Yes, it did.
14. The Soft Boys – “Queen of Eyes” (1980)
Another protean jangle-pop archetype, just in time for the 1980s. Prolific Robyn Hitchcock penned this kaleidoscopic two-minute rush of chiming goodness for the Soft Boys’ LP opus, Underwater Moonlight. R.E.M., the Replacements, and many Paisley Underground giants credit this retro psych-pop classic as a major influence, and so should you.
13. The Blow Pops – “I Know Nancy” (1993)
Still criminally unknown, the Blow Pops were an irresistible cotton candy confection whose two hard-to-find albums demonstrate what rewarding power-pop should sound like. “I Know Nancy” is one of those eerie “Norwegian Wood”-style carousels that spin round and round without ever touching earth, plus lots more chime and harmony. The trailing piano at the end is also too cool for words.
12. Terry vs. Tori – “Ohio Blue Tips” (2020)
Released during the depths of pandemic misery, this jangly little miracle came seemingly out of nowhere (Spain, to be precise, although the band sings in English). Terry vs. Tori’s excellent Heathers LP features several tracks that could have made this list, but the guitar magic in “Ohio Blue Tips” carries the jangle-torch into a brand new decade.
11. Todd Rundgren – “Couldn’t I Just Tell You” (1972)
Another chiming evolutionary classic from one of rock’s first great studio wizards. The second half of Todd Rundgren‘s double album Something/Anything? was recorded live in-studio, complete with timing call-outs and background chatter. This ‘in-the-moment’ sensation adds a thrilling vitality still audible fifty years later, particularly on this seminal, endlessly-imitated track.
10. The Hummingbirds – “Tuesday” (1989)
Talk about beloved but unknown, at least outside their native Australia! Produced by the great Mitch Easter, 1989’s LoveBUZZ remains an obscure critical and fan favorite, even if nobody Stateside remembers them. “Tuesday” offers a swirling curtain of chiming guitars, with Robyn St. Clare’s deadpan vocals culminating in a delirious whirlwind finale.
9. Orange Humble Band – “Down in Your Dreams” (1998)
More Mitch Easter, and more Australia. Our lone ‘Supergroup’ consists of Easter, Lyme Spiders guitarist Darryl Mather, and Ken Stringfellow of the Posies. The entire Assorted Creams LP dazzles from start to finish, but “Down in Your Dreams” hooked this reviewer at first listen. Do you want to transform your drab workday into an instant summer picnic? Play this sparkling single, close your eyes, and hum along in wonder.