Monday, August 11, 2008

[James Wallace recalls] Some Memories From the Past

This is a guest post from James Wallace.
I became a teenager in the late 1980’s (I was born in 1973) and like most kids, I was interested in music. Having spent my elementary and middle school years being saturated with the commercial pop of the day such as Michael Jackson, Duran Duran, Bananarama, Corey Hart and Phil Collins, I began to suspect that there might be more interesting music out there to listen too. I always suspected that the pop of the eighties was based far more on hype and media saturation, rather than real substance. I could see a direct parallel between the way which this music was consumed and the desire of many of my classmates to wear all the hip brands like Polo, Roots, Ocean Pacific or Lacoste. There was a certain disposability to these songs.

My instinct about the nature of this music was confirmed for me when I began listening to music from the 1960’s and 70’s such as The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Pink Floyd, Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath. Now here was music that was rich, passionate and seemed to place a greater emphasis on creativity and artistic vision rather than commercial marketing. I began to feel cheated that I was living in the culturally vapid acid wash jeans wearing era of the late eighties. I wished that I had been entering grade nine in the late sixties or early seventies.

However, as my knowledge of music expanded, I soon realized the time I was living in was not as bleak as I had once thought. I began to discover the huge underground music scene of the eighties. This music represented numerous genres and I soon found myself listening to everything from The Violent Femmes to Danzig, from the Forgotten Rebels to Bauhaus, from Bad Brains to Sonic Youth. This music had the same focus on creativity as the music from the sixties and seventies that I loved so much. What was also interesting to me was that the vast majority of my high school classmates seemed to have no clue that any of these bands or artists even existed. This rich tapestry of sounds was there for me and my friends to enjoy.

When Nirvana’s breakthrough came in 1991(I was in my final year of high school), a whole generation of music listeners felt that they had been waken out of a cationic state of bad eighties music. “Grunge” and “Alternative” had become the soundtrack of a new generation and it seemed that some really decent rock music had finally permeated the mainstream. It was great to see bands like Nirvana and Soundgarden at the top of the charts and bands like Mudhoney and even The Melvins getting all kinds of press coverage. Much harder edge bands like Ministry, Helmet and The Rollins Band were even becoming better known. What I found tragic about this situation though was that all the bands that were the pre-cursors to this current crop of bands didn’t get anywhere the same amount of recognition. Bands such as Black Flag (well at least Rollins was getting his due), Hüsker Dü, Flipper, Killdozer and Mission of Burma remained relatively unknown to mainstream ears and were not touched by commercial alternative radio. The musical revolution that had hit mainstream radio in 1991 had been in fact at least ten years in the making. But it was still wonderful to see decent music becoming part of the mainstream.

It only took a couple of years before the mainstream tamed and reformed this “new” musical sound. Soon we were subjected to The Presidents of the United States, Sugar Ray and other easily digested forms of pop. The good music was generally back in the underground. Since then there have been a few moments where really good underground music has punctured the mainstream, but in my opinion the state of mainstream rock radio is as boring and uninteresting as ever. Please no more Nickelback!

Here is a sizeable list of great bands from the Eighties American (and Canadian) underground. I am sure there are many more that I have missed.

  1. Black Flag
  2. Flipper
  3. Scratch Acid
  4. No Means No
  5. Mission Of Burma
  6. Minutemen/Firehose
  7. Misfits/Samhain
  8. Band of Susans
  9. The Wipers
  10. The Gun Club
  11. Voivoid
  12. Big Black
  13. Bad Brains
  14. Dead Kennedys
  15. Whitehouse
  16. Husker Du
  17. Minor Threat/Embrace/Fugazi
  18. Rites of Spring
  19. Live Skull
  20. Savage Republic
  21. The Dream Syndicate
  22. The Big Boys
  23. Killdozer
  24. Swans
  25. Butthole Surfers
  26. The Replacements
  27. The Feelies
  28. Sonic Youth
  29. Social Distortion
  30. Die Kreuzen
-James Wallace (