11:36 a.m. - May 26, 2006
Eighties music means a lot of different things to different people, sure.
To some, the 80’s is the hair band era, like Poison, Warrant or Cinderfella. (Tell me, please, that the lead singer dude for Cinderella didn’t look like Jerry Mathers with extensions!)
We can extend that to Motley Crue, Def Leppard, Iron Maiden, and Judas Priest as well.
To others, it’s the beginning of rap, so artists like Run / DMC, Kool Moe Dee, LL Cool J, and Kurtis Blow were the 80’s to them.
To some it’s the dance pop like Nu Shooz, or Stacy Q, or Pebbles.
To others, it’s the English New Wave / New Romantic sounds of Spandau Ballet, Ultravox, ABC, Duran Duran, or Haircut 100.
To some, it’s punk rock, like Husker Du, The Minutemen, The Violent Femmes, The Replacements, Black Flag, and X.
And to others, it’s bands like the Police, the Psychedelic Furs, the Fixx, the Cars, or A Flock of Seagulls.
(Mind you, these are broad categories up there, not a comprehensive list at all. So please, stop hyperventilating, you.)
The 80’s to me were my high school and college days. Believe it or not, I tried to be trendy and hip and be up with what was happening.
In high school I bought R. E. M. records before anyone else did. I KNOW I was the first one at CHS to buy a Violent Femmes album. I watched MTV and bought records based on one or two views of a cool video.
In college, I worked at the college radio station so I got to hear a lot of interesting sounds (though our college station was TRYING to be commercial as well – a very long story that deserves its own tale) and kept up with the hot, underground bands (thanks to a subscription to the CMJ).
Also, MTV was a force back in the day. Yeah, it’s odd to think that a station named “Music Television” would actually PLAY videos, but play them they did, and they really did try to show some unique and interesting bands once in a while.
So I heard a lot of bands in the 80’s. And you know what, most of them are forgotten.
Some of them are forgotten for good reason. For instance, there’s the Unforgiven which had a semi-hit with “I Hear The Call”. They dressed like they were extras in “Young Guns” and were as lame and generic as they come. (Though the guitarist did form Cracker with David Lowery in a later life – much like Tom Morello escaped Lock Up, somehow, to form RATM.)
But there are a lot of great bands that are probably long forgotten except for a few diehards, like me, and deserve to be heard again.
Unfortunately, a lot of this stuff may be hard to find / out of print / not easy to find legally. And yes, that includes me, as I need to go out and find some of this stuff.
Martha & The Muffins, if remembered at all, are known for a great single called “Echo Beach” that was popular in Canada and maybe seeped into some markets back in the early 80’s. Now, mind you, this is one where I’m totally wondering why I didn’t go investigate them further.
They kind of remind me of Quarterflash with a definite new wave kick, and that can’t be that bad of a thing, really!
The Monroes could have been huge, and should have been huge. They had a single, “What Do All The People Know” that people were buying and radio stations were playing. And then, poof, the record company goes bust.
The single stalls at #59 on the charts and the band basically calls it a day. That’s a shame, because the song is almost perfect for its time, mood and theme.
The dB’s really got the short end of it. They released two absolute classic records Stands for Decibels and Repercussion, but no US label wanted them, so they were available only as imports. That meant only the cool kids in the big cities got to hear them and they paid dearly for them.
What was not to love about the dB’s? They were clever, catchy and smart. Oh, they were smart. “Bad Reputation”, “Black and White”, “Dynamite”, “The Fight”, “Ask For Jill” and “Amplifier” are proof positive that they should have been contenders!
After leaving the Nerves, Paul Collins formed a band called The Beat, which unfortunately shared a name with another band in England at the time. They became the English Beat, while Paul’s group was known as Paul Collins’ Beat.
Sporting a simple, yet direct, sound, they released two tremendous power pop albums in the early 80’s that got some acclaim but no airplay. Songs like “Dreaming”, “Don’t Wait Up For Me”, “You Won’t Be Happy” and “It’s Just A Matter Of Time” were definitely worth a few spins on the radio. The band got frustrated and splintered, but Collins carried on into the 80’s with other musicians. But it wasn’t the same. The Knack got the airplay, but the Beat was the real deal.
I’ve written a lot about The Three O’Clock, which started out as a punk band called the Salvation Army, but later fused punk and psychedelia into a sound called “The Paisley Underground”. The Three O’Clock released a fantastic EP and LP, and then joined the big leagues in 1985 for a passably decent album Arrive Without Traveling. However, the train was about ready to leave the station. The guitarist left for Mary’s Danish, and Michael Quercio basically succumbed to his cute, twinkly tendencies and ran the band into the ground.
But for a while, The Three O’Clock had it all. If you can find Sixteen Tambourines and Baroque Hoedown, snap them up. Then, you can explain to me what a cantaloupe girlfriend is, because with a cantaloupe girlfriend you are everywhere.
Green On Red and The Dream Syndicate were brethren Paisley Underground bands. While Green on Red wasn’t as consistent, they had a few good moments, such as “Death And Angels”, while the Dream Syndicate was shot, basically, after their fine first record The Days of Wine And Roses, which is all you need to get by them. They did carry on for a long time, but it just wasn’t the same – there wasn’t the tension or edge.
Translator was a band that had some fine new wave power pop tunes. They are remembered, if at all, for “Everywhere I’m Not”, but some of their others songs (which I had on a vinyl compilation) were also pretty spiffy.
Rank And File would have made it in the 90’s, possibly, as an alt-country band. They definitely had a country element to their songs, but their vocal sound was pretty darn unique as the two singers (the Kinman brothers) sang in octaves instead of in harmony. It sounds pretty groovy. Sundown is the record to have, though side one is really all you need to hear.
Also crawling up from the 80’s country / roots pile is Jason and the Scorchers and The Long Ryders. Now I adore the Long Ryders. I think they are a fabulous and tremendous band that got a short shrift by the record companies and the public. You can still find some of their stuff around. They fuse folk, country, and good old fashion rock and roll into a great sound.
Jason & The Scorchers were a Nashville band that could definitely rock. For a while, they were real contenders to break out, but radio at the time wasn’t ready for country elements in their rock and roll. But they could flat out kick ass too, as anyone who heard them could attest. They released a couple of great albums in the 90’s as well.
I have a weakness for some novelty sounds, and Trio had one record (Trio And Errorthat had at least four great songs with unique sounds. Everyone knows “Da Da Da”, thanks to VW, but “Anna – Letmeinletme out”, “Boom Boom” and “Hearts Are Trump” are also fine pieces.
(Some trivia –the formal title is “Da Da Da I Don’t Love You You Don’t Love Me Aha Aha Aha”)
I also have a weakness for pop, and Let’s Active brought the pop. Sure, it was a bit cutesy-pie, but Mitch Easter, the early producer of REM, could be excused for that. One EP (Afoot) and one LPCypress) was all you needed (well, basically, because Easter broke up the band and recorded as a solo artist, in theory, afterwards). There is lots of great poppy stuff, though some of the pop had a dark edge to it. You can’t resist the charms of “Every Word Means No”, or “Ring True” very long, can you?
Doug and the Slugs weren’t attractive guys, and they had an interesting sound that wasn’t very 80’s esque. But they were huge in Vancouver, and a lot of fun. Doug Bennett had an interesting voice and an interesting way with a turn of phrase.
The Producers should have been stars. MTV played the heck out of “She Sheila”, “Certain Kind Of Girl” and “What’s He Got?” and the other songs on their first two albums were pretty nifty as well (especially “Breakaway” and “Operation”). But for some reason, they didn’t stick, and they are mostly known now for the bald guy (Wayne Famous) that played the key-tar. (Oh, yes he did!)
I need to mention a few other bands. The Rainmakers were somewhat of a novelty act with “Let My People Go Go” and “Government Cheese” but the two albums they released were pretty good. I saw the Swimming Pool Q’s open up for Lou Reed and one song, “Celestion”, sticks with me to this day, though I can never find it anywhere.
I’m sure I missed a lot of 80’s bands that you know, and not many other people remember. But as you can see, the 80’s were a time of varied music, and fun music, and well, music in general! And that’s a good thing, isn’t it??