Thirty Years On: April 1988

April 1988 will of course be the month when The Flying Bohemians were born. I’d floated the idea of starting a band of sorts sometime in March if I’m not mistaken, but it wasn’t until the following month that Chris and Nathane and I made any serious plans about it.  It would be after their spring break trip, so the band would have its auspicious debut jam session on the 22nd of that year.  Meanwhile, I’d started songwriting in earnest, pulling out lyrics old and new that could possibly used for our future sessions.  I still had a hell of a lot to learn at that point, but I wasn’t going to let that stop me.

Meanwhile, here’s some of my favorite tunage that was getting play both on college and AOR radio, and on my turntable and tape deck.

Thomas Dolby, Aliens Ate My Buick, released ?? April. Third album from the geekiest synth musician out there. It wasn’t a big seller at all, but it was definitely a fun listen. It’s got some of his goofiest songs on there.

Bright Lights, Big City soundtrack, released ?? April. I’d picked up this soundtrack simply because it’s got an excellent line-up: MARRS, New Order, Depeche Mode, Prince, and Bryan Ferry, to name a few. The movie hasn’t aged well at all, nor has the book (though its unconventional use of telling the story entirely in second-person present tense POV did open my eyes quite a bit as a burgeoning writer at the time), but the soundtrack is still quite excellent.

The Wonder Stuff, “Give Give Give Me More More More” single, released ?? April. A ridiculously fun and witty British band from the Midlands, these guys were a listener’s favorite on college radio almost immediately upon arriving in the US. It would be another few months before their album would drop, but this was an excellent teaser.

Joe Jackson, Live 1980/86, released ?? April. This is an excellent live cross-section of his hits, including an absolutely amazing reinterpretation of his US hit “Steppin’ Out”, turned into a slow, elegiac jazz piece here. I remember ordering this from Columbia House back then just for that one track alone.

Graham Parker, The Mona Lisa’s Sister, released ?? April. WMDK and other AOR stations loved playing Parker’s stuff over the years, and this one got a lot of play as well. I used to love this particular track quite a bit.

In-D, “Virgin in-D Sky’s” single, released ?? April. Ah, Belgian techno…you never quite caught on here in the states, but I loved you just the same. Two club DJs from Antwerp got together and recorded three dance singles (and calling the style ‘New Beat’), and this was the one that somehow caught on with college radio.

John Adams (composer), Nixon in China, released 5 April. I remember this one coming out because it was such an unconventional subject for an opera. That, and Main Street Records down in Northampton had it set up on their endcap at the front of the store, so whenever we walked in, the first thing we’d see was the box set. It would be a few years before I’d finally give it a listen, and many more years until I finally saw it live (with Adams present, as he’s a Bay Area local!). It’s a strange one, sure, but it’s quite fascinating.

The Jesus & Mary Chain, Barbed Wire Kisses, released 18 April. The J&MC’s first collection of b-sides and rarities (they’d release quite a few over the course of their career), it’s an interesting mix that showcases just how far they’d come, from their early feedback screech to their sludgy alt-rock. [Also, the first of a few albums that were ‘borrowed’ from the radio station I worked at then…I mean, was an AM, low-watt, lite-pop, satellite-fed station ever going to play this? I highly doubted it.]

Erasure, The Innocents, released 18 April. I absolutely adored this album when it came out, and “Chains of Love” became one of my favorite tracks of the year to to that point. Another band given a lot of love and promotion by Sire (thanks again, Seymour Stein!), this was heavily played not just on 120 Minutes but during regular daytime MTV. Classic album worth having. [Also, another ‘borrowed’ album. Heh.]

Soul Asylum, Hang Time, released 25 April. One of many punk bands from Minneapolis, these guys were often seen as the slightly less inebriated little brothers of the Replacements, but they rocked just as hard and recorded solid albums right alongside them. They’d finally get their share of major fame in the mid-90s, but this album — their first for a major label — was the one that pricked up the ears of the college radio crowds.

X, Live at the Whisky a Go Go (On the Fabulous Sunset Strip), released 29 April. Another live album that got a lot of airplay on the college radio and AOR stations, it’s an excellent mix of all their classic underground favorites. This was actually the first X album I owned (again, thanks to Columbia House) and “Hungry Wolf” soon became one of my favorite tracks of theirs.

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Up next: May 1988!

Thirty Years On: More March 1988

Welcome to another edition of Thirty Years On!  This one finishes up March 1988 with a mix of many differing styles and sounds. and ending with a classic that remains influential to this day.

Camouflage, Voices & Images, released 4 March. By 1988 there were quite a few synth-centric bands out there with more than just a passing resemblance to Depeche Mode. But Camouflage — who came from the birthplace of dark synthpop, Germany — made a name for themselves by writing gorgeous, catchy melodies and often uplifting lyrics. Their debut is worth checking out, especially for the lovely opener, “That Smiling Face”.

The Beatles, Past Masters Vols 1 & 2, released 7 March. These two volumes are important in that it completed the campaign to release the entire Beatles discography on CD, which had started in 1987. Collecting all the non-album tracks from singles, EPs and elsewhere, it contains an amazing number of their hits that we all know and love.

Love and Rockets, “No New Tale to Tell” single, released 8 March. A surprisingly late UK release coming nearly six months after their psychedelic folk-tinged Earth Sun Moon album (it was released as a single in the US much closer to its release date), it’s a classic alt-pop track from the trio that remains a fan favorite.

The Mighty Lemon Drops, World Without End, released 8 March. This British power-pop band was a critical favorite back in 1986 to the point that they even had a following here in the States, thanks to their signing to Sire (thank you, Seymour Stein!). Their second album is more electric than their quieter, dream-poppier debut, but their songs are still infectiously catchy.

Morrissey, Viva Hate, released 14 March. Moz’s post-Smiths debut remains one of his strongest albums, working directly with producer Stephen Street and Vini Reilly from The Durutti Column. It’s very similar to The Queen Is Dead in terms of songwriting, though with the moodier feel of Strangeways Here We Come.  It’s dark, at times angry and other times wistful…just as we’ve come to expect from Morrissey.

The Smithereens, Green Thoughts, released 16 March. The Smithereens’ second album after 1986’s fantastic Especially for You continues their signature sound of drop-tuned, hard-edged bluesy rock. Their sound is heavier and louder here, and would continue that way to 1989’s 11.

Throwing Muses, House Tornado, released 21 March. One of two amazing releases this day from the classic 4AD label. It sadly was eclipsed by the below release, but it’s still a stunner. It’s a perfect example of the disparate writing styles of Kristin Hersh (angular and full of off-kilter imagery) and Tanya Donelly (poppier and dreamlike)…and how easily they can play off each other.

Pixies, Surfer Rosa, released 21 March. The second of two 4AD releases on this day, this one stunned everyone, from critics to fans alike. Their strange and unique sound was crafted into a monster by producer Steve Albini, who pushed the power of their music to the extreme. It sounds like everyone’s levels are pushed almost into the red, with Dave Lovering’s drums just as thunderous as Black Francis’ howls and screams, Kim Deal’s insistent bass and Joey Santiago’s wailing guitar.

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Coming soon: April 1988!

Thirty Years On: More February 1988

In this episode of Thirty Years On

She’s Having a Baby soundtrack, released 2 February. John Hughes once again shines with a brilliant mix for his movie about growing up and realizing you need to be an adult, even and especially when you don’t want to be one. Side one features the men (Dave Wakeling, XTC, Love and Rockets), and Side two features the women (Kate Bush, Kirsty MacColl, Everything But the Girl). It’s a solid mix and still one of my favorite soundtracks of his.

The Cure, “Hot Hot Hot!!!” single, released 9 February. The last single from 1987’s sugary, upbeat Kiss Me Kiss Me Kiss Me album, it features the lighter, sillier side of the Cure… and Robert Smith with short hair! They’d do a complete one-eighty a little over a year later with the dark and amazing Disintegration.

The Church, Starfish, released 16 February. You knew this would come eventually, right? Heh. Still, I’ll admit THIS SONG didn’t completely resonate with me right away. It was lovely and reminiscent of their reverb-drenched jangle of previous albums, and it only grew on me a month or so later when I’d hear it constantly on 120 Minutes and occasionally when MTV played it during the day. Anyway…this is their strongest and most commercially accessible album, but this was also their make-or-break album and was quite a laborious and tense recording project. On the plus side it would give them a template for their next few albums into the mid-90s, providing much airplay and sales for them, until they retreated back to their semi-psychedelic indie roots. This remains one of their best albums, highly suggested.

Morrissey, “Suedehead” single, released 27 February. Moz finally appears from the ashes of the Smiths after their acrimonious breakup months previous, with a lovely single from his forthcoming solo debut. It feels like the breeziness of the Smiths, as he’s working with their producer here (Stephen Street) and would continue to do so until the early 90s.

The Sisters of Mercy, “Dominion” single, released 29 February. The second single from the classic 1987 album Floodland (one of my favorite albums of that year), this continues his work with the always epic Jim Steinman; somehow he manages to create an intense and driven song using just three chords!

Robert Plant, Now and Zen, released 29 February. After a handful of great but meandering solo albums, Plant nails it here with a solid record full of wonderful, catchy tracks. I’ll even forgive him for that painful last line in the chorus of “Heaven Knows”…

The Fall, The Frenz Experiment, released 29 February. RIP Mark E Smith, who recently passed away at 60. This was one of their sort-of-breakthrough albums of the late 80s, which saw them finally catch on with a lot of US fans via college radio and 120 Minutes. Still confrontational, still abrasive, but always a fun listen.

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Coming up soon: Various March 1988 releases!

Thirty Years On: January 1988

Hello and welcome to another edition of Thirty Years On, in which we take a look at that year I have an unhealthy obsession with.  Heh.  This episode features the few albums I have solid release dates for!  Hope you enjoy!

The Godfathers, Birth, School, Work, Death, released 11 January. Much-needed Brit-punk in a season of American hardcore, these guys channeled the Clash and mixed it up with a bit of garage punk psychedelia, creating a fantastic blend of kick-ass rock and a solid album from start to finish. Highly recommended for your collection.

The Fall, “Victoria” single, released 11 January. The Fall’s mid-80s output was surprisingly upbeat and melodic, even despite singer Mark E Smith’s eternal crankiness. A wonderful cover of the classic by the Kinks, and a song that still pops into my head at the mention of that queen or the underground line.

The Pogues, If I Should Fall from Grace with God, released 18 January. The album that also features that perennial Christmas classic, The Pogues’ third album was a huge favorite for the AOR stations in New England. I believe I owned this as a dub from my British exchange student friend for a time before I finally owned it on digital many years later.

Recoil, Hydrology, released 25 January. Essentially a solo experimental project by Depeche Mode’s Alan Wilder, it’s an interesting album worth listening to, especially if you’re a big DM fan. Take all the cold industrial-synth sounds from that band’s mid-to-late 80s albums, take away Martin Gore’s lyrics, and this is what you’re left with.

George Harrison, “When We Was Fab” single, released 25 January. Okay, it’s not college rock, but it was an ex-Beatle! The second single from 1987’s comeback album Cloud Nine, this one’s an obvious and loving nod to his past.  I used to listen to this single repeatedly when it came out.

David Lee Roth, Skyscraper, released 26 January. DLR’s second post-Van Halen album was a surprisingly mature and experimental affair, focusing more on the rock and less on the flash. I particularly loved this wonderful ballad featuring some fantastic guitar work from Steve Vai.

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Next Up: February 1988!

Thirty Years On: Random January 1988

One problem with going into a chronological overview like this is that sometimes it’s hard to pin down a release date. Quite often, before the Tuesday release date plan started up around 1988-89, labels would drop an album with minimal fanfare and a ‘soft release’…basically putting it out there whenever it just happened to be ready to go.  I’m sure someone at the label office has the date on record somewhere, but they’ve never made it known.

The downside to this is that sometimes one can only guess when it dropped. Sometimes the band will have a rough date (though that’s a big if — most bands will have little to no idea), but more often it relies on someone’s memories. I’ve managed to narrow down some dates due to my memories of listening to them during a specific timeframe, or that it was on the charts at a particular time, or that one of their songs appeared on a mixtape I’d made on a certain date.

That said…here’s a few releases that, to the best of my knowledge, came out in January of 1988.

Hugo Largo, Drum. Predating the quiet minimalism of early Belle & Sebastian and the off-kilter melodies of later Bjork, Hugo Largo’s strange alt-folk was embraced fully by the college crowds. Some of it might seem a bit too twee or precious now, but it’s still a fascinating listen. They were championed by Michael Stipe, who definitely helped them gain a following. Also: check out a fantastic cover of the Kinks’ “Fancy” from the same album.

Two Men, a Drum Machine and a Trumpet, “I’m Tired of Getting Pushed Around”. A band with a longer name than their discography — this one single. Essentially Andy Cox and David Steele (formerly of The Beat, and at the time part of Fine Young Cannibals), they dropped this one house track that found its way through dance clubs and even a music bed for Entertainment Tonight segments. It’s a silly throwaway track, but it’s a classic one.

The Other Ones, Learning to Walk. You may remember this band from their late-1986 self-titled album and the minor radio favorites “We Are What We Are” and “Holiday”…or not. They were a bit of an obscure pop favorite on the US shores, and alas, this second album was never released here. I only recently found it online, and I’m kind of surprised at how good it actually is. It’s definitely of its time, but it holds up quite nicely to the first album.

Lowlife, Swirl, It Swings EP. If that bass sounds familiar, it’s because it’s Will Heggie, the original bassist for Cocteau Twins. They’re kind of similar to The Comsat Angels or Joy Division.

Moev,Yeah Whatever. One of those bands on the Nettwerk label I always had a hard time locating back in the day, they were sort of an EBM-goth hybrid that reminded me of a less aggro Front 242.  They’d get a lot of college radio airplay thanks to “Yeah Whatever” and “Crucify Me”. Definitely an album to have in your collection.

Next Up: More January releases, this time with actual release dates!

Thirty Years On

Yeah, I’m pretty sure y’all saw this coming some time ago.  My unhealthy obsession with the music of 1988 deems it necessary that I do the occasional thirty-years-on post this year.  But hey!  This time I’ll focus only on the music and spare you the personal stories you’ve heard enough times already.  This’ll be like my Blogging the Beatles posts from a few years back, taking my favorite music from my favorite year specifically from a listener’s point of view.  I don’t have any set schedule or plan for this series , so it’ll most likely be sporadic, depending on the release dates and so on.

I decided to use the classic Guns n’ Roses “Welcome to the Jungle” (or as my friend Chris once call it back then, “Welcome to my Uncle’s”) as my header video for this introduction for a few reasons.  Even though the track had been released back in July of 1987, it was still getting heavy airplay alongside their other classic single “Sweet Child o’ Mine”.  Originally I was not a GnR fan at all, lumping them in with all the other hair metal bands of the day.  But on the same token, they were essentially the hardest-sounding band out there at the time.  A quick look at the early January pop charts and you’ll notice that pop music was leaning perilously towards the ‘lite’ side.  It was refreshingly inclusive and included multiple genres and performers, sure, but you’ve got to admit that there wasn’t much of a spine to many of those songs.  GnR was the much-needed exception to that rule.

It was time to look a bit deeper into the independents if I was going to satiate my need for exciting music.

WiS Notes: 1988 – The Best Year Ever

When I started my research for the Walk in Silence project last year, I’d decided to write some personal notes and reflections on how college radio affected me in the late 80′s.  It was a brief overview of what I want to cover in this book that lasted for twenty-five installments, a sort of a detailed outline of memories, thoughts on influential (to me) bands and albums, friendships, and such.  I’ll be posting these sporadically on the site over the next few weeks or so.

 

1988 – THE BEST YEAR EVER

I suppose most of my love for the year 1988 comes from the fact that it was the second half of my junior year, the school year where I had the most fun and have the most fond memories.  After a good few years of feeling out of place and trying to find myself, meeting up with my friends of that year was definitely a positive for me.

There was also the burst of creativity I’d had as well.  Just before Christmas break in 1987 I’d had this goofy idea of wanting to meet up and jam with others to play this alternative stuff, now that I’d bought that bass guitar.  When I returned after break, I’d put up a flyer sometime in March  or April, looking for like-minded musicians.  Most people scoffed, but two people took the bait—Chris and Nathane.  On April 22nd we became the Flying Bohemians.

Which meant someone—all three of us, really—had to get writing with music.

This, in turn, gave me a new push that I needed for my writing.  Before then, I’d been writing (or at least attempting to write) novels, the major one being the Infamous War Novel.  During 1987 I wrote and finished a silly John Hughes-inspired screenplay, and started many later-aborted stories.  Once I started the Bohemians, however, this gave me the outlet of writing lyrics and poetry.  The early stuff was pretty bad, considering I was new to to the format (or at least coming back to it—I wrote poetry in fifth grade for a special project and still have that stuff lying around somewhere), but I got the hang of it pretty quickly.

A lot of the poetry was, at the time, inspired by the music I listened to.  A lot of the darker and weirder passages were inspired by the Cure (with a nice dollop of weird dreams I’d had that I’d use as a starting point), to the point that some were given subtitles of “The Cure.”  Another was called “Wire Sisters” as it had been inspired by the angular wordplay of Wire and the goth darkness of The Sisters of Mercy.

It would also be much later in 1988-early-1989 (my senior year) that I’d revive a story I’d toyed with earlier that would become Belief in Fate, a second person narrative (POV inspired by Jay McInerney’s Bright Lights Big City, which had just recently been made into a movie), a roman a clef about trying to get the hell out of a small town and yet still being anchored to it.  That story would, like the IWN, go through many different versions over the years until it became a non-fiction book—this one.

As for music, this was a year that just seemed to click for me and everyone else.  Many key albums came out this year (or had come out in late 1987 and were hot during 1988).  To wit:

Sinead O’Connor, The Lion and the Cobra.  This was released early November 1987, but it really took off in early 1988.  O’Connor played against all kinds of feminine stereotypes here–a bald head instead of long flowing locks, an occasionally booming voice that spiked your heart rather than soothed it, and lyrics that held nothing back.  It’s a stunning debut that has funk, Celtic, balladry, and gritty rock all in one place–no wonder so many American reviewers weren’t quite sure what to do with her.  The opening track “Jackie” is a perfect introduction: quiet and plaintive (and mixed low), ascending into deafening and primal (and overmodulated), all within the span of a minute or so.

Public Image Limited, Happy?  A lot of PiL fans tend to like 1986’s Album more (or perhaps their more adventurous early post-punk albums), and I believe even John Lydon thinks this album’s a bit too mainstream, but I quite like this one, and it got a lot of play on my walkman.  It starts with their excellent single “Seattle” and never lets up until the bizarre “Fat Chance Hotel”.

Depeche Mode, Music for the Masses.  An album from September 1987, and a massive breakthrough for the band.  After years of loyal fans but very little radio play in the States, this one featured some of their best songwriting and production (“Never Let Me Down Again”, “Strangelove”, and “Behind the Wheel” were the big singles) and gave them scores of new fans.  It paved the way for their next studio album two years later, Violator, which would of course bring them even more fame.

The Smiths, Strangeways, Here We Come.  Released on the same day as Depeche Mode’s album, this last studio album from the Smiths would be released soon after they’d broken up, but it remains a stellar final release.  Like most Smiths albums, it’s all too short and most of the titles seem longer than the songs, but many are catchy as hell.  This one also has a slightly different sound than most Smiths releases, perhaps a more mature sound, and it ended up being a good hint at what Morrissey’s solo album would sound like.

Cocteau Twins’ Blue Bell Knoll.  After years of being distributed stateside by the indie label Relativity, the band signed with major label Capitol and released a very strong album.  A little more upbeat than previous albums and EPs (and definitely more radio friendly than their previous two, the etherial Victorialand and The Moon and the Melodies), this one caught the ear of many a new fan and critic.  The track “Carolyn’s Fingers”, while not an actual single, got quite a bit of airplay on alternative stations and even had a video that got heavy play on 120 Minutes.  This one hit me as a gorgeous album that somehow aurally captured the mood and feel of a New England spring.  Very heavy play on my headphones that year, and a key album in my learning how to play the bass guitar.

The Church, StarfishTheir make-it-or-break-it album, according to their history.  Many of their albums up to 1986’s Heyday were great albums, but never quite reached the heights they were looking for, even in their native Australia.  They decided to relocate to Los Angeles for this one, and their feeling of dislocation (so to speak) influenced the urgency and tension of these newer songs.  The opener “Destination”, for instance, is evidence of that.  Their big hit—at least in the US, as it barely made a dent in Australia the first time out—“Under the Milky Way”, is a thing of simple and beautiful brilliance.  Written about a nightclub they had frequented in Europe, it became their biggest and most well known hit, and my all-time favorite song.  It, as well as the rest of the album, oddly enough remind me of the feeling of sad inevitability that my friends were leaving for college in September.  Not necessarily the sadness I felt, but the determination that I would have as much fun hanging with them was I could until they left.  To this day this album reminds me of how close we were.  It also, through its jangly reverb sound, reminds me of Athol in the autumn.

Morrissey, Viva Hate.  Morrissey’s debut solo album.  After the acrimonious breakup of the Smiths, a lot of people wondered if Mozz could go it alone, without the songwriting of Johnny Marr.  With lyrics (and Stephen Street) on his side, he came out with a stunning debut that expanded the sound, something no one expected.  Gone was the trademark Marr jangle, replaced by strings and wistful melodies.  The first single, “Suedehead”, went over well, giving listeners a hint of things to come.  The second single, “Everyday Is Like Sunday”, went even further, encompassing both the strong writing and Mozz’s trademark lyrics of despair.  Out of all the former Smiths, he would end up being the most popular and successful.

Peter Murphy, Love Hysteria.  Murphy had been relatively quiet over the last few years after Bauhaus split…the other three kept themselves busy, David J going solo, and Daniel Ash and Kevin Haskins forming Tones on Tail before the three reunited and formed the enormously successful Love and Rockets.  Murphy, on the other hand, released an album with Japan’s Mick Karn under the name Dalis Car, before releasing a moderately successful debut, Should the World Fail to Fall Apart.  In 1988, however, he formed a new backing band (The Hundred Men, named after one of his lyrics) and recorded a fantastic sophomore album.  It was certainly an adventurous one, working from dark ballads like “All Night Long” and “Socrates the Python” to poppy and radio friendly atmospherics like “Indigo Eyes”, to anthems like “Time Has Got Nothing to Do With It”.  Unlike the harshness of the previous album, this one embraced the moodier, more ambient sound that Bauhaus was known for on their later albums, and would become his signature sound.  The first single “All Night Long” became a radio hit both on college stations and elsewhere, and its grainy-8mm, sepia-toned video was put on heavy-rotation on 120 Minutes.

Wire, A Bell Is a Cup Until It Is Struck.  During the mid-to-late 80s, a number of bands and musicians mentioned this once-obscure British post-punk band as a major influence—many from Husker Du to REM looked to the band’s early albums and singles from the late 70s for their unique “angular” sound—punk that didn’t go where you expected it to.  The band originally split in 1982 for solo endeavors, but in 1986 they surprised everyone with a return, a new EP (Snakedrill) and a new sound they jokingly called “beat combo”.  They followed the EP with a new album (The Ideal Copy), and in 1988 they released an even more melodic follow-up, led by the poppy single “Kidney Bingos”.  Considered the most “pop” of their albums of this time, it was a welcome return for longtime fans, and a perfect introduction for new fans like myself.  Along with the follow-up single “Silk Skin Paws”, this album connected with many fans of challenging and interesting music.

Joy Division, Substance.  I mention this one, because the US had finally paid attention to New Order in 1987 with their compilation of the same name.  many were familiar with New Order by this time via that album and the movie Pretty in Pink (which featured three of their songs), so it only made sense for their American label to release a compilation of their previous incarnation—one that had a legend of its own in their tortured singer, Ian Curtis.  This album introduced Joy Division to many new fans (including myself), compiling early tracks with well known singles (“Transmission”, “She’s Lost Control”, “Atmosphere” and “Love Will Tear Us Apart”).  They were by no means brilliant musicians, but their hooks were definitely memorable, and inspired a whole new generation of musicians and lyricists.  “Atmosphere” is another of my all-time favorite songs (and as stated earlier, the origin of the title of this project) and one I equate to my senior year in high school…it was very much the soundtrack song of my last few days in my hometown.

The Sugarcubes, Life’s Too Good.  America’s introduction to Bjork started here with the deceptively poppy and quirky single “Birthday” (deceptive in that the song’s lyrics are a bit disturbing once you realize what it’s about).  The pixie-ish singer and her cohorts played a very off-kilter brand of Icelandic pop that was both danceable and weird.  Picked up by Warner and distributed with a bright highlighter-green cover, this was a big favorite on campuses everywhere.  They would eventually break out with a US tour alongside Public Image Limited and New Order.  The band only lasted for two more albums, but Bjork is still high-profile, both onstage and off.

The Godfathers, Birth School Work Death.  Not exactly a big name stateside, but a great punk album that has a pretty decent following.  These guys, formerly a psychedelic garage band called the Sid Presley Experience, took on the image of pinstripe suit-wearing gangsters and projected a frustrated anger different from any other punk bands of the time.  Think Johnny Cash if he was British and really pissed off.  My British friend Eric introduced me to this band, which would soon become a mainstay that year on 120 Minutes.  The title song was a frustrated, angry take on the “life’s hard then you die” theme, and a big college radio hit as well.  The album was all rockers, even the slower love song “Just Like You”.

Living Colour, Vivid.  I mention this one next because they shared a bill with the Godfathers on an MTV college campus tour later in 1989, which I want to see at UMass Amherst with Chris and Nathane.  I originally saw these guys as a more mainstream, less controversial Bad Brains, though in retrospect they were more of a Funkadelic-meets-Chili Peppers-meets-metal band.  Either way, their explosive debut single “Cult of Personality”, with its blaring guitar and drums and soulful voice of Corey Glover (LC fans will remember him in a bit part in Oliver Stone’s Platoon a few years previous), hit the airwaves in a huge way—enough that even straight rock stations were picking it up.  Years later this is still a staple on alt.rock radio.  The rest of the album is equally strong, loud and topical.

I could go on with more great albums that came out in 1988…at first I thought the only reason I enjoy these releases so much is because of the time frame—a happy time for my teenage years.  The more I look at it, however, the more I look at the history behind what prompted these releases, the more I realize that this was indeed a year of serendipity for many well-known and well loved musicians.  Some were coming off a tenure with a popular band.  Some were coming into their own after struggling without success.  Still others recorded a make-or-break album that pushed them further in the right direction.

When I read about how 1992 was supposedly “the year punk broke”, I always interpreted that as “the year it went mainstream,” and not exactly in a good way.  Not to sound like an indie poseur, but by 1992 there was such a glut of alternative bands that it all started getting watered down.

In 1988, though…that was the year when “college rock made its presence known”—it became a bit more acceptable to listen to the stuff without fear of contempt, when it started to infiltrate the rock airwaves on the right side of the dial.

15-19 October 2010, edited/amended 8 November 2011