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Sunday, January 30, 2005
I was college aged in the mid 1980's as I suspect a fair number of you were, right around the time the term "college-rock" became a term you'd hear being bandied about. It's a very ephemeral term; I've seen R.E.M., Husker Du, 10,000 Maniacs, Green On Red, The Minutemen, and Living Colour lumped together under that banner, despite their obvious dissimilarities.
College Rock essentially refers to any music from the early 80's-early 90's that was played on college radio stations. Which was usually indie stuff; college stations helped create the concept of 'alternative rock'
I don't know what your 80's were like, but mine were slim pickins. I was utterly alienated by MTV; first off, I didn't have cable, and secondly, I just couldn't get excited over the haircut bands and synth-bands, and foppish Brits in dresses. I stubbornly clung to my old standbys, even when it became utterly uncool to do so (some of those oldies acts have come back into style, but in the 80's, rock appeared dead once and for all). Jefferson Starship, The Rolling Stones, Paul Simon, and Bob Dylan were who I was listening to in 1983. I didn't even like them much anymore, but at least they seemed organic; they had come up from somewhere.
You've got to understand the tone of the times. The anything-goes 1970's were over, and a creativity-stifling chilly wind blew across the newly conservative nation. Out were drugs, hippies, sex (well, it was still in, but AIDS, which was new, made it something furtive), bands with guitars and attitudes. John Lennon was shot dead. Yuppies were the new cultural phenomenon.
Thank god for the Village Voice, who tipped me off to a little unknown band some pretty hip people were starting to champion: R.E.M.
R.E.M. got me through that whole, cold decade. And R.E.M. introduced me to Pylon, and 10,000 Maniacs, and from there I discovered the hidden pleasures of Eleventh Dream Day, The Long Riders, Chris Isaak, The Violent Femmes, Squirrel Bait, and a list too long to complete.
It saved the decade for me; it made me want to live. And it was cool before it became institutionalized as "alternative rock".
So: let's set the random playlist generator to 1983-1988, college rock's heyday. I'll set the genre filter to "college rock" and see what comes up:
(From an auto-generated Media Center playlist; Jam Tags, 1-5 stars, follow)
Here's what we get:
1. U2: Bullet The Blue Sky ****
Okay, by the time of Joshua Tree, U2 were mainstream MTV favorites. Still, few albums ever got played more than Joshua Tree in college dorms in the late 80's, so I'll let this one through the filters. When I first heard this eerie take on America (especially the live version on Rattle and Hum), it sent shivers up my spine. Now, it sounds a little silly. But I still play it.
2. Sonic Youth: The Sprawl *****
Daydream Nation is where a lot of people got on the bus for the first time with Sonic Youth, myself included. Their earlier albums were too noisy and atonal for my AOR-weened youthful palette. Daydream Nation, and The Sprawl in particular, is where they got it all together; the noise and atonalities are directed into the service of some completely idiosyncratic modal jamming. Bipolar lyrics. A real keeper.
3. Dream Syndicate: My Old Haunts ****
Dream Syndicate began life as a paisley underground neo-psychedelic band, but evolved into its own over the course of its career. This one is a cross between Tom Waits and Nick Cave, which might not appeal to everyone. Fans of either of those guys might like this tune, though.
4. The Replacements: Radio Free Europe (live CBGB's, 1984) *
Insane, rude, out-of-tune cover version of R.E.M.'s single. The Replacements were among contenders for critic's favorite band of the mid 80's, with some justification. You won't here it on this recording; a gag run-through with garbled lyrics (who does know the lyrics to Radio Free Europe?)
5. Galaxie 500: Tugboat ****
Galaxie 500 are among the architects of the sadcore sound; a wistful roots-rock style usually accompanied by sensitive vocals. Tugboat is their most well-known song, and a good place to begin for the curious. Nice acoustic playing, if a little twee in the rhythm and soul departments.
6. Echo & The Bunnymen: The Killing Moon ***
Echo & the Bunnymen were one of the few British bands of the 80's I had a stomach for. This track is not unlike a quiet Smiths tune; with nice guitar and overwrought vocals. The production sounds a little dated --that can't be a mellotron I hear in the background, can it?
7. The Bangles: September Gurls ****
The Bangles hit the big time with this album (and cat-fought themselves out of a career within two years). September Gurls is a cover version of power-pop pioneers Big Star's most well-known song. The Bangles do a fine version of it, and the sighing vocals are a nice touch. But the original is the one to hear; nobody can touch Alex Chilton for quivering adolescent angst.
8. Tracy Chapman: Fast Car ****
Like I said, I'll forever equate the 1980's with Reagan's Big Chill. My Democrat friends, all older than me, and a lot more depressed, liked Tracy Chapman a lot in those days. She was one of the only quasi-folkies working in the 80's, and lyrically recalled a soft-focus Bruce Springsteen. But there wasn't much an adrenaline and testosterone-filled young male could find in her music. Fast Car was her biggest 80's hit, and I never had anything bad to say about it. But I never bonded to it like my lefty friends did.
9. The English Beat: Ranking Full Stop (live) ****
The ska-revivalists English Beat, borne from the ashes of the Specials, turn in a good hardcore ska performance here. The Specials and the English Beat are the only guys outside of Jamaica who can get away with this shit. From the album Dance Craze, an out-of-print sampler.
10. Rain Parade: Don't Feel Bad ****
I've mentioned them a few times. This was from Rain Parade's final LP, a big-label release on Island that vanished upon landing. Chiming guitars, sinewy, melodic bass, lyrics from the center of a kaleidoscope. Never issued on CD, this was taken from a vinyl-to-mp3 transfer.
I loved the English Beat!!!! Nobody in my circles listened to ska but me - and it drives me nuts today when they talk about "ska" bands and don't even mention the great ones from the 80's.Post a Comment
Sonic Youth are also great.