THE ALBUM "Working Class Dog" RCA (AFL1-3697).; The personal APPEARANCES On June 17, Rick Springfield will be at Variety Records in Tysons's Corner at noon, and 5 to 7 at the Pierce Street Annex, 1210 19th Street NW.

Good power pop is trickier than it sounds. It takes a surprisingly subtle turn of phrase (even deceptively straightforward) and an unerring instinct for hook and acceleration. In the past couple of years, the car radio productions of Tom Petty, the Cars, the Police and the Doobie Brothers (whose earlier hits, "Without Love," "Listen to the Music" et al . were primary sources for the genre) have demonstrated just how well a wit can be served by a knowing arrangement.

So far, the 1981 power-pop single of the year is Rick Springfield's "Jessie's Girl" -- a flabbergasting Frankenstein's monster whose sum is even more powerful than its parts. Out of Springfield's restive retirement comes this insinuating evocation of baffled sentiment and agonizing physical awareness, matched perfectly by a relentless rhythm and a melody that teeters between major and minor. Already at No. 12 with a bullet, "Jessie's Girl" is assured of making the Top 10 and quite possibly No. 1.

And about time: Since he debuted to great fanfare (and subsequent silence) almost 10 years ago, Springfield has never scored higher than the No. 14 he charted in 1972 with "Speak to the Sky." Meanwhile, he's been moonlighting as an actor; he's drifted through episodic TV (one of his old "Rockford Files" aired a couple of weeks ago) and at the moment is among the "General Hospital" staff. He's had plenty of time to study the music business and master the formula; unfortunately, the new album can't keep up with the single. m

"Working Class Dog" is a thickly produced, driving album with an astounding breadth of reference but only occasional conviction.

In trying to walk the tightrope between little girls and big boys, Springfield sometimes writes right out from under himself. In "Red Hot and Blue," a pleasant but predictable jazz-riff torcher, he husks:

When we touch there's a shock

Like the static from a pylon

When we love I'm on a rocket

Running up and down your nylons.

He keeps trying out roles -- the experienced lover, the callow youth, the sucker, the romantic -- but he feels none of them, or translates none, so well as he does Jessie's shamefaced jealous friend.

There are two other cuts that seem predestined for radio play. "Love Is Alright Tonight," from which comes "Working Class Dog," is a bouncy number in a bowdlerized Springsteen idiom:

I'm picking up my baby tonite

Tho' picking up my baby tonite

Tho' her daddy's making trouble

It'll be alright . . .

Tonite I'm crawling out from in it

And tho' we're living on the brink

Second by second

By minute by minute

Love is alright tonite

The other is a lush ballad called "Inside Sylvia," a perfect "new FM" blend of sexual innuendo and romanticism: "I'll be dancing in the night inside Sylvia."

Speaking of Springsteen, while the backcover photograph is a relatively funny turn of the title phrase -- a pit bull terrier in a shirt and tie, pens and fan photo clipped to his pocket -- the front cover is a Madison Avenue-goes-New Wave copy of "Darkness on the Edge of Town," or Rock Hero as Stanley Kowalski. And that's an act Springfield's in no shape to follow.