Dancing screaming itching squealing fevered feeling

The-Cure-Kiss-Me-Kiss-Me-Kiss-Me

It was 28 years ago today that The Cure’s Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me was released, and of course I’ve got it playing on my PC while I’m writing this up.

The Cure’s release history up to that date in the US was quite scattershot in the mid-80s…multiple labels over the course of four years (Boys Don’t Cry on PVC, Happily Ever After and Pornography on A&M, the 1982-83 singles and The Top on Sire).  It wasn’t until 1985’s much poppier and upbeat The Head on the Door showed a new and invigorated band, and their new label Elektra made sure they didn’t falter.  The 1986 singles compilation Standing on a Beach only served to push their status ever higher, and by the time Kiss Me (or “Kiss Me Cubed” as my friends and I used to call it) came out, America had finally taken notice.

This sprawling yet exciting double album came out at the same time I was asserting my individualism as a teenager.  A new circle of friends, a burgeoning record collection full of newly-found college rock, and a fresh coat of not giving a fuck anymore of what other kids thought of me.  I’d gone to see them with my sister and a friend that August in Worcester, and came back with a concert tee with Robert Smith’s pasty, lipsticked mug on the front and the lyrics to “Hot Hot Hot!!!” on the back.  I practically wore that shirt out in the ensuing months. I certainly got a lot of guff from both kids and teachers, but I didn’t care. This was the new me.  Forget fitting in, time to figure out who I was.

Kiss Me was indeed a sprawling album, but like Standing on a Beach it got a hell of a lot of play on my tape players.  I was a huge Cure fan by that time, and thanks to Elektra buying out the old contracts, their early releases were finally much easier to find.  I listened to them all on heavy rotation whenever and wherever I could.  I even predicted that “Just Like Heaven” would end up being one of their next (and best, and most famous) singles, and I was not proven wrong.

My friends and I would occasionally take road trips down to Amherst and Northampton to hang out at the record stores, and during the fall of 1987 and into 1988 this album would often be playing.  [This was back in the days before most of our parents’ cars had tape decks, so one of us, usually me, would lug along a boombox and have it playing in the back seat.  During one memorable trip when this was playing, the drinking of many sodas that evening came to its expected fruition and I urged they pulled over.  As I’m running into the woods, they pulled away, leaving me completely alone. Returning a few minutes later, they saw me on the side of the road, running after them, and slammed on the breaks, causing my radio to crash to the car’s floor in a thump! loud enough that I heard it from fifty yards away.]  To this day I still think of the winding Daniel Shays Highway and the back roads of Shutesbury when I listen to this album.

Compared to their earlier, darker albums of the early 80s and the intense frailty of Disintegration just a few years later, this album seems is so much more energetic, even a bit psychedelic.  It kind of reminds me of Prince’s Sign ‘o’ the Times, which had come out almost exactly two months earlier; it’s a beefy double album full of multiple and quite different genres, but it’s also a crowning achievement where nearly all the tracks are memorable, wonderfully produced, and leaves little to no room for boredom.  But also like Prince’s album, Kiss Me was a departure from their earlier albums, where they chose to break down the barriers, both creative and personal, to record something they would be proud of.  I kind of think The Head on the Door was a practice run, Standing on the Beach was the fanbase test, and this was the first official run; it would culminate of course with Disintegration.  It’s of no surprise that this was also the era of one of their best band line-ups, with Simon Gallup on bass, Porl Thompson on guitar, Lol Tolhurst on keyboards and Boris Williams on drums.  This particular quintet remains one of the strongest versions of the band for many older fans, as their sound was amazingly tight and inventive.

 

Throwback Thursday: Spring 1989

Ah, twenty-five years already, then? A quarter century already since I was a pimply, music-obsessed, self-proclaimed nonconformist and budding writer, twitchy and moody and waiting for my senior year in high school to be over and done with so I could go out and live in the Big Bad World. My senior year felt like a badly scripted, unwanted denouement, to be honest. I really should have been a year ahead. I say this now, well after the fact, because after twenty-five years of contemplation, I realize it wasn’t that I was lazy or had any learning deficiency, it’s that I was bored. And boredom begets distraction. And distraction begets so-so grades. And I never quite got out of that slump, not really. I think if I’d graduated in 1988 instead, it would have forced me to put more effort into it, made me work to my potential. It would have made me mature a hell of a lot quicker. As it happens, I ended up coasting for the rest of my education years instead when I should have excelled.

But that’s a different post altogether. This is a music blog, isn’t it?

Credit: flyerize.com

Credit: flyerize.com

Spring 1989 was right about the time when that beloved radio subgenre of mine, college rock, finally emerged from its late night perch and started making its presence known elsewhere. Well, that’s not entirely true. There’s a lot more to it than a wider audience. Consider the following:

–In late 1988 (the September 10th issue, to be exact), Billboard acknowledged the subgenre for the first time with a “Modern Rock Tracks” chart.

–The Top 40 of the late 80s was in flux, with all different kinds of pop music gaining traction. Top 40 rock was giving way to Top 40 dance music. Many production-ready sounds had emerged as well, thanks to production houses like Stock Aitken Waterman. This was especially embraced by the poppier end of the MTV playlist, thanks to heavy rotation as well as shows like Club MTV. This let the occasional unexpected hit sneak into the charts now and again, giving other subgenres an opening for success.

–The rock sounds of early in the decade and the one before it–the arena rock, the LA glam metal, the Michael-Mann-approved, Miami Vice-ready mood pieces, and the last dregs of 70s bar band sounds–had begun to age, and age badly. Harder, more serious rock like Guns n’ Roses and Metallica became the accepted norm. [Come to think of it, this is probably around the same time many FM rock stations divided between “current rock” and “classic rock” formats.]

credit: discogs.com

credit: discogs.com

–Several British subgenres of rock emerged or were noticed in America about this time as well: shoegaze, Madchester, Britpop, etc. Many were noticed and release by major American labels at this time. They may not have made high chart placement, but they were starting to get noticed. Several local US scenes were gaining traction as well: Seattle, Boston, Athens, and so on.

–Even the American punk scene was in flux, many of its major late-70s/early-80s players (Hüsker Dü, The Replacements, Black Flag, et al) either having broken up, evolved considerably, or on their way to self-destruction. There would always be the hardcore punk in its many sounds and guises, and it would remain in the shadows where it wanted to be, but the newer sounds were more steeped in the post-punk sound–equally as emotional in its delivery, but more melodic and adventurous in its sound. This sound was less influenced by the DIY punk ethos and more by the UK post-punk sounds of just a few years earlier.

credit: thequietus.com

credit: thequietus.com

–Two years earlier in late 1987, we also saw an influx of uniquely college-rock bands releasing highly lauded albums, elevating them past the college-radio-only playlists and onto commercial radio: The Smiths, The Cure, Depeche Mode, REM, Red Hot Chili Peppers, and so on. Many of these were on Warner Bros-related labels, and a number of them had the backing of Sire Records head Seymour Stein. [Seriously, we need a bio of this man, STAT…he was such a big influence on the New Wave scene.]

By 1989, for this music nerd and self-proclaimed nonconformist, I felt both liberated and a little saddened by this change in the weather. On the one hand, I was thrilled that the music I had so loved since that fateful evening in April 1986 was finally getting its due…but at the same time, it felt like it was losing its mystique in the process. After all, this was the music I listened to on my own. It was my music, the songs that spoke to me. I tried to take the high road with this one, though…I felt it was high time my peers stopped listening to the prepackaged crap that radio was feeding us and listen to music with substance.

Credit: discogs.com

Credit: discogs.com

Style versus substance…that was the big debate of the 80s, wasn’t it? Do you want something pleasing to the eyes and ears but superficial, or do you want something of deep meaning but not exactly pretty to look at or listen to? I’d like to think that’s why New Order chose Substance as the title for its 1987 hits collection (and by extension, its Joy Division collection as well); they may also be making sequenced dance music, but put “Blue Monday” side by side with “Never Gonna Give You Up” and one can definitely hear the difference. One was destined for status of classic dance track that’s still embraced today, the other the subject of a hokey (yet admittedly amusing) internet meme. The genre could be similar, but the quality couldn’t be any more different.

Then there’s also the change that comes with the change in decades as well. It’s often been noted that the last few years of a decade tend to show a decline in the interests that once defined them–the flower power of 1967 gave way to the high-octane politics of 1968; the blissful haze of the 70s gave way to the discontent of the late 70s. The paranoia and the wackiness of the early 80s was giving way to the more serious and reflective late 80s. There was also the fact we were coming in on the last decade of the millennia as well. We wondered what the 90s would bring us–the promised jetpacks? World peace? Information at our fingertips? The possibilities!

I’d like to think that this calmer introspection was yet another piece in the puzzle that led to college rock, and in effect other rock subgenres, becoming more acceptable. Yes, I know, it might be a stretch, but think about it–when you’re thirteen, things you dislike are stupid (or in the 80s New England parlance, fucken retahded), but when you’re hitting eighteen and about to head off to college, these things aren’t as important on your popularity scale and you start accepting different things easier. Where Metallica was once only listenable to those long-haired smoking weirdos who wore denim jackets and drove to school in Camaros, in 1989 they had a massive hit with the song “One”–a song based on a 30s war novel at that. By 1989 we had chart hits from Faith No More, Fine Young Cannibals, Love and Rockets, REM, The B-52s, Nine Inch Nails, and more.

Credit: discogs.com

Credit: discogs.com

In early May, just as I was finally winding down my educational years in my small hometown, The Cure released what would be considered their best album ever, Disintegration. It was prefaced by two different singles: in the UK, the slinky and creepy “Lullaby” reached all the way to #5, and in the US the darker and angrier “Fascination Street” became their first US chart hit, hitting #1 on the new Modern Rock Tracks list. This was new stuff for those unfamiliar with the band, and for those like me and my close friends, this was definitely new stuff. The Cure had always retained a darker sound since their inception, but after the much brighter sounds of 1985’s The Head on the Door and the poppier, more psychedelic sounds of 1987’s Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Disintegration was an altogether different affair. It was epic not only in scope but in sound, “mixed to be played loud so turn it up” as the liner notes suggest. It was as dark, it was moody, and it was absolutely, stunningly gorgeous.

This album fit perfectly as a final step towards the end of the decade, and it was the soundtrack to the last remaining days I spent in my hometown. I’d spend the summer working for the DPW in the town cemeteries, and I’d be listening to this album on repeat on my Walkman while I pushed lawn mowers all over the place. I’d listen to it at night that summer, now that WAMH out of Amherst College was off the air for the season. I’d been writing a gloriously doom-laden teen roman à clef and several poems/lyrics at the time (you know how it is when you’re that age), and used this album as a soundtrack as well. And when August rolled around and my buddy Chris had his first of a few “fiasco” parties as his grandfather’s cabin out on Packard Pond, this album got heavy airplay both on our tape players while we laughed, played cards and did other silly things, and again on my Walkman as I finally climbed into bed later that night.

On the last day of that party, after we all cleaned and straightened up and headed back to our homes, I sat on the front porch at my parents’ house and listened to it one more time on my headphones, composition book in hand in case inspiration arose. “Homesick” came on, and I latched on to the lyrics: “So just one more, just one more go / inspire in me, the desire in me, to never go home.” It was the perfect ending quote to my life up to that time–not that I don’t like it here, but PLEASE give me a reason to move on. It was the end of summer, I’d be heading to Boston for college in a month, and I was just itching to get started with the new chapter of my life. And to add to the bittersweet end of the season, the last track, “Untitled”, came on with its slightly-offkey melodica intro, creating a melody that would repeat ad nauseum until all the instruments left again, leaving the offkey melodica drifting way. The lyrics to “Untitled” were the polar opposite of “Homesick”, a last tearful goodbye delivered with such a mortal finality it felt like heartache. While the former was “okay, time to move on and embrace the future”, the latter was “oh, and by the way–you can never return to the past.”

Indeed, I could not, no matter how much I may have wanted to.

*

I’ve returned to my past many times over the years, mostly with writing works in progress, song lyrics and poems, and quite a few blog posts, but I understand that I can’t stay there indefinitely. It took me little while in college to understand that, but I eventually got over it. Now, I enjoy heading back to the days of the late 80s, especially with my overly large music collection. I like to listen to what came out back then and compare it to what’s out now. I can see and hear the cycles now, the songs of yesterday hidden in the songs of today. I talk with many of the same people in that circle of friends online now, even though a continent separates us. I might not be the twitchy self-proclaimed nonconformist anymore, though I am still that writer and music nerd.

So I think after twenty-five years, it’s a good balance.

Walk in Silence: Love and Rockets, 5 Albums

[Hi all! And welcome to a new feature here at WiS–using the title of the blog (and my book project) as the main theme, I’ll be featuring albums from the college rock years of the 80s that have been personal favorites of mine. The entries will be similar to the Blogging the Beatles series–featuring overviews of some (if not all) songs from that release, personal reactions, and maybe a brief history as well. Hope you enjoy!]

* * *

Credit: Discogs.com

Credit: Discogs.com

Love and Rockets: 5 Albums box set
Released: 13 May 2013 (UK)

Love and Rockets was a very influential band in my younger years. Back in autumn 1986, MTV had been pushing their second album, Express, by playing commercials for it, as well as playing the videos for “Ball of Confusion” and “All In My Mind” on their late night rotation (as well as on 120 Minutes when it went on the air that November). That was right about the same time I’d returned to listening to college radio after discovering it earlier that year, so that band became one of the foundation points when I jumped straight into the alternative rock sound. I’d picked up Express at the Rietta Ranch flea market in Hubbardston, of all places–and it became one of my favorite albums of that year. Over the course of four albums in the late 80s, I fell in love with their distinct sound of dreamy acoustic guitars, neo-psychedelia, and post-punk. They ended up influencing my own songwriting style as well.

The band itself has quite the pre-band history–it’s comprised of the three musicians from Bauhaus: guitarist/singer/songwriter Daniel Ash, bassist/singer/songwriter David J, and David’s brother, drummer Kevin Haskins. After the break-up of Bauhaus and singer Peter Murphy going solo, they kept themselves quite busy…Daniel Ash and Kevin Haskins turned their part-time project Tones on Tail into a short-lived but full-time project, releasing one album and a handful of great singles. David J kept busy with both an impressive solo career (including work with comic writer Alan Moore, creating music for his V for Vendetta series) as well as studio assistance with The Jazz Butcher. By 1985 they’d reconvened and started up a new band. Taking their name from the highly acclaimed comic book of the same name by Jaime and Gilbert Hernandez, they created a unique body of music that borrowed not just from their previous bands’ sounds but also of the guitar-centric soundscapes gaining ground at the time, such as those of XTC and Cocteau Twins.

5 Albums is part of a new box set series from the UK Beggars Banquet label; this one comprises Love and Rockets’ four 80s albums–1985’s Seventh Dream of Teenage Heaven, 1986’s Express, 1987’s Earth Sun Moon and 1989’s Love and Rockets–plus an additional collection called Assorted! which contains a number of b-sides and rarities, including their one-off Bubblemen “side project” EP. The four main albums are for the most part the same as the 2000-2003 reissues with little change (the version of the self-titled album here omits the bonus cd, most of which was moved to Assorted, minus the radio interview and performance), and for those who have these already, only Assorted is of interest, as it contains many b-sides not available elsewhere, as well as the unreleased track “Sorted”. This box is mainly for those who are completists (like me), but it’s an absolutely wonderful–and cheap!–way to introduce yourself to a phenomenal band. Let’s take a look at a few of the albums and tracks therein:


The debut Seventh Dream of Teenage Heaven, originally released in October 1985, is steeped in acoustic post-punk and drenched in atmospheric reverb–all the tracks save one are over five minutes long and contain deliberately calculated instrumental passages that make the songs soar. Lyrically the band showed a complete 180 from the gothic references in Bauhaus, or even the trippiness of Tones on Tail, instead focusing on personal introspection. This one was only released in the UK at first, only making an appearance in the US in November of 1988 with a reshuffled track listing and two single b-sides added, after their second and third albums had been released.

There’s some lovely work here, especially the pastoral “A Private Future” and the absolutely stunning instrumental “Saudade”, both showcasing Daniel Ash’s phenomenal guitar work. There’s also a few curiosities like the deliberately plodding “The Game”, but there’s also bluesy rockers “Dog-End of a Day Gone By” and “Haunted When the Minutes Drag”. The latter track would get a boost in early 1988 when John Hughes featured it on the soundtrack to his movie She’s Having a Baby. This current version also contains their debut single, a cover of The Temptations’ “Ball of Confusion”, which would also show up on the original US version of Express. All told, Seventh Dream is a stunning debut for the band–it’s not an album full of hit singles, but it’s certainly full of great musicianship and tight songwriting.

Express was released in mid-September of 1986, a banner year for quite a few bands that would define college rock–The Smiths, the Cure, Depeche Mode, The Mighty Lemon Drops, The Chameleons, and more. Their second album is much more upbeat and a lot trippier, infusing their love for sixties’ psychedelic rock into all sorts of places. The one-two punch on the first tracks “It Could Be Sunshine” and “Kundalini Express” hint at garage psych with mystical lyrics and spacey guitars, setting the tone for a much more electric and eclectic album than the previous one. They’re followed up with the American single “All In My Mind”, which eerily predates and predicts the dreamy sound of shoegaze, which would surface nearly three years later. The album also has its share of acoustic tracks similar to those on Seventh Dream, including a much slower version of “All In My Mind”, as well as the closer “An American Dream”. But the ultimate psychedelic track on this album is the speedy “Yin and Yang (The Flowerpot Man)”, a six-minute psychedelic freak-out of weird sounds, disjointed lyrics, and Bo Diddley strumming amped up to eleven. As mentioned earlier, many US fans were introduced to the band with this album, and it’s a great place to start.

Earth Sun Moon was released almost exactly one year later in September 1987–the same month that featured highly-lauded (and often game-changing) albums by The Smiths, Depeche Mode, Public Image Ltd, REM, and the Red Hot Chili Peppers–but instead the band had decided to go an altogether different route than the previous two albums. While Seventh Dream felt almost prog-rock in its scope and Express focused on psych-pop, this new track delved into the sound of late sixties San Francisco folk. It was no ‘peace-and-love’ album to be sure, but it had the philosophical ‘who are we and where are we headed’ vibe. The first track “Mirror People” sets the scene for the entire album, a self-aware metaphorical fence-sitter watching everyone act like everyone else, but deep down he knows he’s just as bad (“quite content to sit on this fence, quite content now a little bit older…”). This is a band that wants to have peace and love…but knows quite well that in reality, true peace and love, even inner peace, is hard to come by. The rest of the album focuses on this theme–the single “No New Tale to Tell” (Just how unique are we, compared to everyone else?), “Here On Earth” (Life goes on, with or without our participation), and “Waiting for the Flood” (We face what we’re afraid of in order to live) are just a few examples of how layered this album can be, despite its lack of strong sound. It’s one of my favorites of theirs, even though it’s considered one of their weakest.

Love and Rockets was released in September of 1989, and after a two year absence, their sound had moved in another direction…this time with loud, dissonant guitars, sparse, demo-like workouts, and even alternative pop. In some ways it sounds like they’d taken a page from the Jesus and Mary Chain, and in retrospect it was a perfect choice–by late 1989, the sound of “college rock” had morphed into the harder-edged “alternative rock” (and soon to splinter into all kinds of subgenres from Britpop to Grunge). For many who loved the more acoustic ballads of the previous albums, this was certainly a jolt. Preceded nine months earlier by the single “Motorcycle” / “I Feel Speed” (two completely different iterations of the same song, the former a ballsy rocker and the latter a dreamy blues played mostly on a bass guitar), this album also produced the band’s first Billboard Top 10 hit (it reached #3, and hit #1 on the Modern Rock chart) with the slinky, sexy “So Alive”. That hit track is the exception, though–while that one is perfect pop production, the rest of the album deliberately alternates between loud and clunky (“**** (Jungle Law)”, a middle-finger to one of their worst critics, and an industrial take on the 12-bar blues, “No Big Deal”) and quiet and dreamy (the lovely, jazzy “The Teardrop Collector” and the Bowie-esque “Rock and Roll Babylon”). It’s as if this album is self-titled on purpose; half blissful Love and half aggressive Rockets.

[This would be the last we see of the band for a good few years; they would finally reconvene in late 1994 with the electronica-heavy Hot Trip to Heaven, follow it up with the more organic Sweet FA in 1996, and finish their recording career with 1998’s disjointed Lift. These albums are interesting on their own, but aren’t quite as strong as the original first four.]

The new Assorted! compilation (only found as part of this box at this time) collects many b-sides and curiosities that aren’t already found on the repackaged previous albums. As mentioned earlier, most of the second disc of the reissue of the 1989 album is found here, including the unreleased Swing! EP, the lone Bubblemen EP, as well as the live b-sides found on “No New Tale to Tell” and “Mirror People ’88” singles which were not previously available. The only surprise here is an otherwise unreleased “Sorted”, an upbeat acoustic track that sounds like a demo stuck between Earth Sun Moon and Love and Rockets.

* * *

 

I’ve been known to listen to all four of these albums in chronological order in one go, as they fit so well together, going from meandering acoustic noodling to heavily distorted noise. Love and Rockets are no more, but they’ve become one of the many important alternative bands of the 80s, not just through their heritage but through their excellent songwriting and musicianship. Many might know of them only through the “So Alive” single, but there’s quite a lot more to the band than just the hit. Sure, I picked it up because I’m a completist and needed the missing b-sides, but I also picked it up because they’re some of my favorite albums of the late 80s, and well worth coming back to time and again.

1981: The Unguarded Moment

In doing some recent research for Walk in Silence, it dawned on me that the debut singles (or at least their first important singles after a the first few misses) of some major alternative bands–bands that would become historical in the genre–all came out within six months or so of each other in 1981. I’m sure this is common knowledge for some music journalists, but I’m fascinated by this idea nonetheless, especially in the context of the book I’m writing. This could very well be the moment in time where college radio in the US started to gel into what would later become the “college rock” sound. The late 70s and early 80s alt.rock were an interesting mix of UK synthpop, American hardcore, German krautrock (itself the inspiration for synthpop), and postpunk, but it must have been around 1980 or 1981 when it all came together and started making sense.

To wit:

(date unknown) February: Hüsker Dü, “Statues”
In the cold and snowy midwest of Minneapolis MN, while a diminutive funk singer named Prince Rogers Nelson grooved to his own brand of sexy soul, a trio of guys–one college student, one record store employee and one hanger-on–got together and started playing a fierce brand of postpunk that was nothing like anyone else had heard. It wasn’t the sloppy, breakneck speed of hardcore, and it wasn’t the regular rock and roll you’d hear anywhere else. It was a hybrid of everything–it was Ramones meets Velvet Underground meets Byrds. “Statues” was a hastily-recorded track that didn’t do too much of anything, considering it was recorded at the very start of their career, but by the following year and the years beyond, they’d record some of the best postpunk out there.

2 February: Duran Duran, “Planet Earth”
Come on, who doesn’t know Duran Duran now? They’re ridiculously famous, and they’re currently on tour supporting their All You Need Is Now album. But back then, these dandy-looking Brits had lucked out by being one of the original handful of videos playing on the fledgling music channel MTV. They were a part of the New Romantic scene in London, which mixed the surge of synthpop sound with Bowiesque glam fashion. Their debut single was an instant hit in the UK, and thanks to its rotation on MTV, they picked up a sizable fanbase here in the states. They may not exactly be the true “alternative” some fans think of, but they certainly played their part in its evolution.

20 February: Depeche Mode, “Dreaming of Me”
Basildon is a postwar hamlet very much similar to an American Leavittown in its planned creation as a “new town” for British citizens wanting to leave London, and four local guys with a love for Krautrock and owning cheap synthesizers were bored and in need of excitement. Vince Clarke rounded up his friends Martin Gore and Andy Fletcher, snagged local hanger-on Dave Gahan, and started writing music and playing local community centers. After a stretch of tightening their chops, writing poppy, danceable songs, and playing an endless run of shows, Daniel Miller, head of Mute Records, fell in love and signed them right away. The infectiously simple “Dreaming of Me” was their first single, and the rest is history.

(date unknown) February: Thomas Dolby, “Urges”
We all know him from 1982’s “She Blinded Me with Science”, but he had quite the background before that. He’d been a session musician for all kinds of bands and performers including Lene Lovich and Foreigner. This track was his first single, released a good year or so before his hit solo album The Golden Age of Wireless. Though his solo recording history is sparse, he continued to be an in-demand session musician. He just released his first solo album in nearly two decades just last year.

6 March: New Order, “Ceremony”
Joy Division was no more when their lead singer Ian Curtis took his own life in May of 1980. However, the three remaining members of the band soldiered on, adding drummer Stephen Morris’ girlfriend (later wife) Gillian Gilbert, and changing their name to New Order. Their debut single contained two songs that had originally been songs written as Joy Division tracks: “Ceremony” and “In a Lonely Place”. Both tracks hold traces of their previous incarnations (especially the low rumbling of “Lonely Place”), but also contained a much richer, more positive vibe that would become their trademark.

14 March: The Church, “The Unguarded Moment”
Well before their genre-defining hit “Under the Milky Way”, this Australian band had a small but dedicated following since the early 80s. After one single that went nowhere, this track became their first minor hit and a fan favorite. This track is indicative of their poppier origins as part of the Australian Neo-Psychedelia scene, which would be their sound until a few albums in, when after an aborted session (which became the Sing-Songs EP), they embraced their now-trademark sound of acoustics, jangly guitars and heavy reverb.

27 March: U2, “I Will Follow”
U2 had been around for a good few years, and had an album and a number of singles out in the UK, but they never quite made it stateside…that is, until a fateful run of shows at the Paradise in Boston MA, a big push by various radio stations (and an especially frenetic push by one DJ, Carter Alan), and the debut American single of “I Will Follow”. The rest is history.

(date unknown) June: Mission of Burma, Signals, Calls and Marches EP
Speaking of Boston…the collegiate town has quite the history of indie bands since the 60s, thanks to the rabid fanbase and the large number of places to play. Three guys got together and formed one of the loudest postpunk bands in the city, and in a surprisingly short amount of time (and with only one album, one EP, and a few singles in their first incarnation), became one of the most important postpunk bands in the genre. This EP contains their seminal hit “That’s When I Reach for My Revolver” (the link above goes to that track) as the first track, introducing the band to even more fans outside the Metro Boston area. They broke up soon after due to guitarist Roger Miller’s tinnitus, but have since reunited and released new albums, including one last month, Unsound.

8 July: REM, “Radio Free Europe”
Meanwhile, four guys with a love for jangly guitars and the collegiate sound of Athens GA’s nightlife (including Pylon and The B-52s), got together and started playing their own unique brand of folk rock with intellectual, perhaps even philosophical lyrics. REM released the original version of “Radio Free Europe” on local label Hib-Tone in summer of 1981, while still perfecting their chops. It would be nearly a year later when they’d drop their next release, the Chronic Town EP, and you can definitely tell they’d improved by then. The band would become critics’ darlings and have an extremely loyal fanbase well until their breakup in 2011.

7 August: The Replacements, “I’m in Trouble”
Meanwhile, on the other side of Minneapolis, four losers dropped out of school and started playing in their parents’ basements, hoping something would come out of it. Some people loved it, some people hated it–it really depended, honestly, on how much the band had to drink beforehand. But all that aside, their debut single, released around the same time as their debut album (fittingly entitled Sorry Ma, Forgot to Take Out the Trash), was a sloppy yet catchy piece of postpunk that would become their stock in trade. They’d last almost ten years before breaking up, but during their tenure they’d release a startlingly large number of genre-defining songs and albums.

Each of these bands have a decidedly different and unique sound and you would not be able to confuse one with another, which makes this bit of history all that much more fascinating–each band was traveling their own road without the influence of one another (even if they had known each other in passing or from hearing them on the radio), and yet each of the above became bands that defined the alternative rock genre, especially during the “college rock” years.

Walk in Silence: References, Homework and Sounds

[Note: This was posted on my LiveJournal blog a few days ago, but thought I’d share it here as well.]

 

 

First off, I have to share this absolutely brilliant quote about from Bob Mould in his autobiography, See a Little Light: The Trail of Rage and Melody, which talks about his tour with Husker Du in the early 80s, which I believe brilliantly captures what I’m aiming for in this book:

“We were quickly discovering that the East Coast had a unique mentality that might be summed up best in two words: college rock. A lot of it came down to the clustering of high-quality schools in the Northeast, particularly in the Boston area, where the tour took us next. There were many more college radio stations in the Northeast than in the Midwest, and they gave rise to the likes of the Bongos, Violent Femmes, and the dBs, bands who had a more accessible, more melodic sound than hardcore.”

Seriously, I need this as the preface quote.

The research for Walk in Silence continues apace, with much reading and note taking.  I probably should be doing some more pencil-marking in the books I’m reading, but I’m one of those book geeks who cringes at doing that.  (Which is funny, considering how my Dad’s been doing that for years with his own hometown history research.)  Still, I’m finding a lot of interesting information that I can play with, and I’ve ordered a few books from Amazon that should be coming my way soon that could help.

It’s kind of interesting, looking for the history of college radio.  Not college rock, per se–one just needs to look for biographies of the genres, bands and scenes, and there are many–but when it comes to college radio in particular, it’s kind of a desert when it comes to books, or even online resources for that matter.  There’s a few books out there on the technical and historical sides of college radio stations, and there’s a ridiculously huge number of band/scene biographies…and crazy as it sounds, I’d like to marry the two in this project.

Why, you might ask, would I want to do something like that?  Would anyone really care about why some backwater college played The Smiths instead of Kylie Minogue, or The Cure instead of Van Halen back then?  But that’s part of why I want to write it:  because if that backwater college hadn’t played the Smiths or the Cure, they may not have been as huge and influential here in the States.  Sure, some of this music filtered through in other ways–hardcore and punk pretty much survived on DIY and word of mouth–but a lot of these bands that I’m focusing on weren’t DIY punks from LA or DC or wherever.  I’m not focusing on the hardcore punk scene anyway–there’s quite a glut of those books out there already.  I’m focusing on British post-punk bands and local American bands that were rarely carried in chain stores because they weren’t fast, big sellers.  They were bands that caught the ears of the collegiate crowd in the early 80s and were played on their stations, and maybe by some fluke (or some brilliant producer or director) showed up on a tv or movie soundtrack.  In my opinion, it wasn’t so much the hardcore punk as it was this particular post-punk genre that became the basis of today’s indie rock, and I think that story needs to be told.  We’ve already celebrated “The Year Punk Broke” in 1991/92, but again–that’s just a subgenre of a much larger musical movement.  I’m not looking to tell the story of its grand entrance into the mainstream; I’m looking to tell of the story of how it eventually got there, something that’s very much glossed over.  My idea is to explain why this music came to be important in the mid-to-late 80s, show its origins, and how it eventually became the norm.