Category Archives: Punk Rock

More Alt Album Greats, This Time From 1978

I have done top ten lists of great alternative albums from 1977, 1979, 1980, 1981, 1982, 1983, 1985, and the combined years of 1986 – 1989. The years for me to draw from are nearly used up, because these years are from my personal era of paying close attention to the alternative music scene (or any music scene for that matter). I guess for most of us there is that time when music is close to an all-consuming obsession, but as we age we just don’t have that need to keep up with what’s going on.

Besides, most of the more recent stuff sucks! Whoops. I slipped into grandpa mode there.

I do have a couple of years left that I can feature, so let’s get on with 1978. By the way, this list clearly disputes the notion of the sophomore slump, the phenomenon that postulates that an artist has their whole life to write their first album, but only a year or so to write their second, so the second album suffers. Half of this list is second releases.

This is also the first great alternative albums list I’ve done that features a band with two entries.

This is my list, your results may vary.

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10) Outlandos d’Amour – The Police It’s true this band would be worldwide rock superstars in less than five years from this album’s release, but in 1978 they were as alternative as a band could get. Far better musicians than many of their punk contemporaries, The Police combined reggae and punk to create their signature sound. Roxanne was a bit of a hit at the time (which they would ruin in concert by drawing it out to the point of shear tedium) and it’s a good song, but it’s not my favorite track. Other stand out tracks include: Next To You, Truth Hits Everybody, and Can’t Stand Losing You.

Favorite track: So Lonely

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9) Give ‘Em Enough Rope – The Clash Overlooked in favor of their debut album or their third album the classic London Calling, Give ‘Em Enough Rope is a very good sophomore effort. The band branches out in their sound a bit more on this album. There’s still the aggressive punk and the reggae influence, but there’s also a touch of Disco (!) to be found in the song Stay Free.

Favorite track: Safe European Home

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8) Chairs Missing – Wire This is another sophomore effort by another pioneering punk band. Wire took their music in a more artful, avant garde direction than most of their punk compatriots. Chairs Missing has the punk aggression (Sand In My Joints, Too Late) alongside the artfully weird (I Am The Fly, I Feel Mysterious Today). And they even deliver as catchy a pop song as any pop band, as my favorite track demonstrates. All with lyrics that are completely inscrutable.

Favorite track: Outdoor Miner

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7) Road To Ruin – Ramones When Modern Rock radio became a commercial success in the Twin Cities market, after Nirvana broke punk rock into the American mainstream consciousness, you might have thought the Ramones had only one song. That is if you were going by what the Modern Rock station was playing. They only played I Wanna Be Sedated. It was infuriating to any Ramones fan. Road To Ruin gave us that song, but it also gave us I Just Want To Have Something To Do, I’m Against It, and She’s The One. For shame, Modern Rock radio, for shame.

Favorite track: Needles And Pins

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6) Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo This debut album by those unusual boys from Ohio set the music world on its head. What is this? What kind of Rolling Stones cover is that? The excellent kind is what! Much more guitar based than later releases, Are We Not Men is full of catchy quirkiness. There’s Jocko Homo, Praying Hands, Gut Feeling/(Slap Your Mammy), and that Stones cover (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction. All great!

Favorite track: Uncontrollable Urge

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5) Love Bites – Buzzcocks Sophomore efforts continue with this release by another of punk rock’s pioneers. Almost from the beginning, Buzzcocks delivered a more pop version of punk. Sure there was the angst and frustration, but all of it was delivered with such great melodies and hooks. And I love hooks! Stand out tracks include Ever Fallen in Love (With Someone You Shouldn’t’ve), Just Lust, Love Is Lies, and the terrific instrumental Walking Distance.

Favorite Track: Nothing Left

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4) More Songs About Buildings And Food – Talking Heads Again we have ourselves a second effort by a punk pioneer. Like Wire, Talking Heads had a more artsy approach to their sound, however they tended not to be as aggressive. As was the case with most of their albums, Brian Eno was co-producer along with the band. This is the one with the excellent cover of Al Green’s Take Me To The River, which was the first song I’d ever heard by this legendary band.

Favorite track: I’m Not In Love

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3) Go 2 – XTC Yep. Sophomore slump be damned! If anything XTC improved upon their songwriting from their debut album White Music (1977). Still in their quirky, edgy, pop/punk phase, this collection of songs is more focused. Bass player Colin Moulding’s songwriting had improved significantly since that first album and keyboardist Barry Andrews contributed two decent songs. But Andy Partridge was still in control.

Favorite track: Are You Receiving Me?

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2) All Mod Cons – The Jam It can be said that the sophomore slump did affect UK Mod band, The Jam. Their second album This Is The Modern World (1977) was not nearly as well received as their debut (In The City also from 1977), but they righted the ship with this their third studio release. The album moves by at a brisk 37 minutes, but it is packed with outstanding tunes and sophisticated songwriting as heard on Mr. Clean, ‘A’ Bomb On Wardour Street, and Down In The Tube Station At Midnight.

Favorite track: It’s Too Bad

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1) Another Music In A Different Kitchen – Buzzcocks I said there would be an artist with two entries on this list and it’s the Buzzcocks. It should be obvious that the band was really good in those early years. Crashing by at a faster clip than All Mod Cons, at just under 36 minutes, don’t think you won’t get your money’s worth. The band comes blasting out of the gate with Fast Cars and they don’t let up. I Need, You Tear Me Up, Love Battery, Get On Our Own, and Fiction Romance will have your inner punk wanting get slam dancing to exhaustion, which is what I did whenever I saw these guys in concert. This album is relentless.

Favorite track: Autonomy

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1981: Nine Great Alt Albums And One Album By The Who

Preceded by lists for 1977, 1979, 1980, 1982, 1983, 1985, and 1986 – 1989, my semi-regular series examining ten of my favorite alternative albums of a given year continues with 1981. 1981 wasn’t as abundant of a year for alternative music for me as the previous years I’ve written about have been. It took a bit of scraping to get a list of ten. In fact, I could only find nine that I knew and liked well enough, so I’m including an album by The Who to bring the list to ten.

One artist on this list would move into the mainstream soon enough and another was about to achieve super-stardom. However, I consider them both alternative enough to be included. There are two debuts and four second efforts on this list.

As always, this is my list, your results may vary.

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10) Talk Talk Talk – The Psychedelic Furs A friend and I bought tickets to see these guys in concert just because we liked their name. Right after buying the tickets, that friend picked up one of their albums and listening to it we knew we made the right decision. This isn’t that album, but it’s also really good. It is their second release and it features Pretty In Pink in its first incarnation. It became the band’s signature song when it was re-recorded and slightly altered for the movie it inspired.

Favorite track: Into You Like A Train

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9) Ghost In The Machine – The Police Yes, I know these guys were pretty popular by the time this album came out. It went to number 2 in America. Yes, I know that really does take them out of the alternative category, but I still think they had that alt vibe. Certainly with their next album, Synchronicity, they would become rock superstars. This album is a little on the dark and moody side with stand out tracks including Invisible Sun and Spirits in the Material World.

Favorite track: Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic

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8) Pleasant Dreams – Ramones The opening track had the Ramones declaring We Want The Airwaves in order to keep rock alive. Well, they never did get those airwaves. The music industry just never gave the Ramones their due. The album includes the song The KKK Took My Baby Away, which has been long rumored to have been Joey writing about fellow bandmate Johnny stealing his girlfriend. However, this rumor has been disputed.

Favorite track: Sitting In My Room

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7) Face Dances – The Who Hey, the way I look at it, if I can only find nine alternative albums for a year and there’s a Who album available, put it on the list. This was the legendary rock band’s first studio release after the death of Keith Moon. There were those who thought the band should have folded and, in my opinion, that thinking led to the unfavorable reaction to this record. Sure, the steady beat of Kenney Jones couldn’t hope to capture Moon’s mania, but there are still some pretty solid tracks on this one. And it has the best opening track since Who Next’s Baba O’Riley.

Favorite track: You Better You Bet

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6) Solid Gold – Gang Of Four I love the guitar work of Andy Gill. He is one of my favorite guitarist of all time and Solid Gold, the band’s second album, gives listeners plenty of his edgy, staccato, feedback-laden rhythm and lead guitar. Cheeseburger, If I Could Keep It For Myself, Paralysed, and Outside The Trains Don’t Run On Time are all cool songs. Lots of social commentary on this album.

Favorite track: He’d Send in the Army

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5) Magnets – The Vapors More than one-hit wonders to me, The Vapors only managed to produce two albums. This is their second effort and it’s pretty dark. It explores themes ranging from cult leaders to oppressive governments to police brutality to the assassinations of the Kennedys. There ain’t no Turning Japanese on this one. The album cover was illustrated by Where’s Waldo? artist Martin Handford.

Favorite track: Magnets

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4) Of Skins and Heart – The Church This was the debut album by this band out of Australia, which was more on the rocking and New Wave side than subsequent releases. It’s a very good first album with some great tracks including For A Moment We’re Strangers, Too Fast For You, and the epic Is This Where You Live. These guys would quickly become one of my favorite bands of the 80s.

Favorite track: The Unguarded Moment

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3) Pretenders II – The Pretenders It makes absolute sense to call this one Pretenders II, because it is the prefect follow up and companion to their self-titled debut album. It’s a continuation of the band’s tough (The Adultress, Bad Boys Get Spanked) and tender (I Go To Sleep, Birds Of Paradise) songs. There are also some straight up excellent rocking pop songs (Talk Of The Town, Day After Day). It wouldn’t be long after this release that the Pretenders would come to the attention of a wider audience.

Favorite track: Message Of Love

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2) Sorry Ma, Forgot To Take Out The Trash – The Replacements This is the second debut album on this list and it’s one of the best debuts ever. These Minneapolis rockers were in their raw, sloppy, hardcore phase. But there was still some excellent song writing going on, most notably of the track Johnny’s Gonna Die, songwriter Paul Westerberg’s lament about his rock hero, Johnny Thunders, was living too recklessly to live long. He didn’t.

Favorite track: I’m In Trouble

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1) My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts – Brian Eno/David Bryne This is an endlessly fascinating album. Eno and Byrne who had worked together producing excellent albums by Talking Heads, took a break between Talking Heads albums to work on this project. It is a brilliant combination of found sounds, ambient and World music with electronics and voice sampling used as vocals. It is mesmerizing. Several musicians included Chris Frantz, Prairie Prince, and Robert Fripp lend a hand in the production of this landmark album.

Favorite track: The Jezebel Spirit

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The Year Is 1977. The List Is Ten Alternative Albums From That Year.

The world was witnessing the early stages of Punk Rock in 1977, sounding the death knell of Disco. OK, maybe not that dramatic, but the music listening public was seeing the first main wave of Punk albums being released in 1977. Seven of the ten albums I will list are debut releases. 1977 was fertile ground for new recording artists.

One of my entries might not be considered alternative, but it is difficult to categorize. Besides, this is my blog and I can include what I want. Also, the first reggae album I’ve ever ranked is included in this list.

So far I have done lists for 1979, 1980, 1982, 1983, 1985, and 1986-1989. And, as always, this is my list, your results may vary…

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10) Equal Rights – Peter Tosh Right off the bat is the first reggae album to be featured in one of these lists. I like reggae, but I don’t listen to it often and I don’t have many albums of that music from Jamaica. But, I do have this one. The opening track (my favorite) was co-written by Bob Marley and was originally recorded by The Wailers, but I prefer Tosh’s version. I also prefer Tosh’s voice to Marley’s. This is a nice, relaxing album about the need for equal rights and justice with a little religious undertone throughout.

Favorite track: Get Up, Stand Up

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9) Spiral Scratch – Buzzcocks The first debut release on this list is an EP by one of my favorite bands to emerge from UK’s Punk scene. Four pretty raw blasts of Punk energy featuring Howard Devoto on vocals. Devoto would not be with the band for long, but he did help set the tone and direction the band would take in his absence, when Pete Shelley would take over lead vocals.

Favorite track: Boredom

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8) Cheap Trick – Cheap Trick Maybe not exactly alternative, this debut album by the power pop rockers from Illinois is awfully hard edged when to compared to their albums that followed. They address pedophilia (Daddy Should Have Stayed In High School), serial killer Richard Speck (The Ballad of TV Violence), and the suicide of a friend of the band (Oh, Candy). It also features their excellent power ballad Mandocello.

Favorite track: Hot Love

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7) Pink Flag – Wire 21 tracks on this first studio release by these British art punkers. Wire demonstrated that Punk didn’t have to follow any rules. They went where their art took them, including into some very catchy pop (Mannequin). More than half a dozen songs clock in at less than one minute!

Favorite track: 12 X U

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6) Rocket To Russia – Ramones This is the third album by the original punk rockers from New York, so they’ve been showing those Brits how to do it for a while by 1977. A couple excellent covers (Do You Wanna Dance? and Surfin’ Bird) along with plenty of classically twisted Ramones originals (Cretin Hop, We’re A Happy Family, and my favorite track) make this a must-own for any fan of alternative music.

Favorite track: Teenage Lobotomy

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5) Never Mind The Bollocks, Here’s The Sex Pistols – Sex Pistols A tighter collection of songs than you might expect from the kings of the UK Punk Rock scene. This is the only official studio album released by the Pistols and that seems completely proper considering the volatile nature of this band. This album set the template for a great number of lesser punk bands to follow. It has plenty of kick ass tracks including Holiday in the Sun, Anarchy in the UK, God Save the Queen and EMI, the band’s screed against their record label and the music industry itself.

Favorite Track: Pretty Vacant

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4) The Clash – The Clash Another debut album, this one is by what would become known as “the only band that matters.” It’s the US version of which I am more familiar, so I’m kinda bending the rule here, because, technically, that version was released in 1979. Oh, well, the US version is being used here because it’s the Punk thing to do and it does contain my favorite track. There are plenty of good songs on this one: Janie Jones, White Riot, Career Opportunities, and (White Man) In Hammersmith Palais to name a few.

Favorite track: I Fought the Law

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3) Talking Heads: 77 – Talking Heads Yep, another debut album. New York’s Talking Heads took a more artful approach to the Punk Rock sound. David Byrne’s unusual and detached vocals preside over a really tight band. They explored and embraced a kind of quirky worldview both lyrically and musically. (Can you explore a worldview musically? Oh, well, it sounded good when I wrote it.) And there’s a sense of fun to this album that is missing from much of the alternative music of this time.

Favorite track: Psycho Killer

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2) Low – David Bowie Part of his “Berlin Trilogy,” Low is my favorite album by Bowie. Much of the music was written with the intent of being used as the score for Bowie’s film debut, The Man Who Fell To Earth, but the director didn’t think it worked. The second half of the album consists of mostly instrumental tracks. Very moody.

Favorite track: Sound And Vision

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1) In The City – The Jam Heavily influenced by my favorite band The Who, how could this debut album from the UK’s top Mod rock band not be number one on my list? Filled with forceful, brash, and blaring rock songs with power chords aplenty, The Jam quickly shot to the top of my list of favorite bands. The Jam were also influenced by 60s garage rock and the Motown sound, mixing all of it to become one to the UK’s most popular acts. They even cover the Batman Theme!

Favorite track (Tie): In The City and Art School

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Another Ten Pretty Passable Alt Albums, This Time From 1983

Well, they are more than merely passable. They’re pretty damn good and a few are great, in my opinion. The year is 1983 and these albums all fall into the alternative category, although a couple of them are by artists who were on their way to the big time. One of these bands was about to become rock superstars. Hint: It wasn’t The Replacements.

So far I have done lists for 1979, 1980, 1982, 1985, and the combined years of 1986 – 1989.

As I always say, this is my list. Your results may vary.

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10) Burning From The Inside – Bauhaus Due to illness, Peter Murphy’s contribution to this the fourth album by UK Gothic rock pioneers was lessened. David J and Daniel Ash did more of the song writing than before and took on more lead vocals. It’s been suggested that Murphy’s absence and the increased involvement of J and Ash led to the break-up of the band shortly after its release. The dark and disturbing title track, along with Slice Of Life, Honeymoon Croon, and the uplifting Hope are all standout tracks.

Favorite track: She’s In Parties

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9) Violent Femmes – Violent Femmes The debut album of this sex-angst-ridden band out of Wisconsin is largely acoustic in sound, but punk to its core. However, who could possibly have known in 1983 that the opening track – Blister In The Sun – would become a staple song clip played at sporting events all over America? Weird. Oh! Did I mentioned there’s xylophone! Well, there is!

Favorite track: Gone Daddy Gone

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8) Subterranean Jungle – Ramones Three cover songs (Little Bit O’ Soul, I Need Your Love, and Time Has Come Today) and a harder edge to most of their original songs for the album had critics describing Subterranean Jungle as somewhat of a return to these New York punkers’ roots. Of course, the album didn’t sell as well as any by REO Speedwagon, but I do recall hearing Little Bit O’ Soul on the radio, however briefly. And ever the romantic, Joey delivers one of the band’s better love songs – My-My Kind Of A Girl.

Favorite track: Psycho Therapy

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7) Hootenanny – The Replacements A little disjointed with a couple of the tracks capturing this Minneapolis band’s legendary drunkenness, but the album also sees Paul Westerberg maturing as a songwriter with such songs as Color Me Impressed and Willpower. Lovelines is an entertaining trip through the personals ads with lyrics pulled directly from actual ads.

Favorite track: Within Your Reach

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6) Speaking In Tongues – Talking Heads It took five albums, but the artsy fartsy punk band from New York finally got a Top 10 single with the opening track – Burning Down The House. The band was on its way to becoming stars in the rock world, but they are not the superstars to which I was referring.

Favorite track: This Must Be The Place (Naive Melody)

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5) War – U2 This is the band I meant when I mentioned rock superstars. They hadn’t gotten there as of 1983. It would take a another four years and the release of The Joshua Tree to make these Irish rockers kings of the world of rock and pop. However, this album was awfully damn successful, selling 11 million copies worldwide. Sunday Bloody Sunday, Seconds, Two Hearts Beat As One, and Surrender are all great tracks.

Favorite track: New Year’s Day

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4) Metal Circus – Husker Du Main rivals of The Replacements, these hardcore punks out of St. Paul were rising fast in the indie/college rock scene. It’s been said Husker Du practically invented alternative music. Technically an EP, Metal Circus had the band transitioning from the speed/thrash hardcore of their earlier efforts to the more melodic alternative sound of their next two albums – Zen Arcade and New Day Rising.

Favorite track: First Of The Last Calls

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3) Mummer – XTC The first album recorded by this band from Swindon, England after they had confined themselves to the studio due to Andy Partridge’s live performance ending stage fright. No longer concerned about playing the songs live opened new avenues and textures for the band to explore. Drummer Terry Chambers would leave the band before the recording of Mummer was complete, because he preferred to be in a band that would play live. Their music continued moving away from the early quirkiness and then more rocking sound to a more acoustic and pastoral sound, the one exception being the last track – Funk Pop A Roll. Notable songs include Wonderland, Great Fire, and In Loving Memory Of A Name.

Favorite track: Love On A Farmboy’s Wages

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2) Murmur – REM REM could be considered to have reached that same rock superstardom as was achieved by U2. Maybe not quite as super, but they got close. Along with Husker Du, REM was instrumental in setting the foundation of what would come to be known as alternative rock. And Murmur is a landmark album. Indistinct vocals by Michael Stipe were surrounded by the driving, jangly guitar sound of Peter Buck throughout this collection of catchy college radio pop featuring such terrific songs as Catapult, Moral Kiosk, Laughing, and Pilgrimage.

Favorite track: Radio Free Europe

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1) Soul Mining – The The As this debut album was made, Matt Johnson was essentially the only member of the band. He did have several musicians lend a hand, but there was no official band. From the opening track – I’ve Been Waitin’ For Tomorrow (All Of My Life) – to the final track (on the American vinly release) – Perfect – it’s nothing but fantastic songs. Sophisticated and danceable and totally pleasurable. Jools Holland of Squeeze sits in to play my most favoritest piano solo on my favorite track. It’s killer!

Favorite track: Uncertain Smile

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10 Excellent Alternative Albums From 1980…

I am continuing with my love of the alternative rock/pop music of my youth with the year 1980. 1980 was a pretty good year for alternative music, having so many excellent debut releases. In fact, half of this list is made up of first albums. You might disagree as to my rankings, but this is my list which, I admit, is completely subjective. Your results may vary.

So far, I’ve covered 1979 and 1985 each on their own. And I did a combo top ten pulled from the second half of the 1980s. Just in case you are keeping track.

Here’s my list for 1980:

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10) In Combo – The Suburbs Part of that first wave of punk, New Wave, DIY bands from the 80s’ alternative music capitol, Minneapolis, The Suburbs are difficult to categorize. Staccato guitars, throbbing basslines, cascading keyboards, driving drums and inscrutable lyrics fill this fantastically slamdanceable debut album. These guys were a blast to see play live.

Favorite track: Cows

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9) New Clear Days – The Vapors Thought by most to be a One Hit Wonder, which they pretty much are, The Vapors did produce plenty of catchy guitar-driven tunes on this their debut album. Of course, there’s their one hit – Turning Japanese – but there are a few other highlights including News At Ten, Spring Collection, and Sixty Second Interval.

Favorite track: Waiting For The Weekend

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8) Crocodiles – Echo & The Bunnymen This is the third debut album on my list so far and it also is pretty damn good. Hailing from The Beatles‘ hometown, Echo & the Bunnymen had a sound more akin to The Doors. But, don’t hold that against them. They could produce aggressive punk songs such as title track and more arty tracks as demonstrated by Villiers Terrace. And they could craft a mighty good pop song such as my favorite track on the album.

Favorite track: Rescue

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7) End Of The Century – Ramones This is the godfathers of punk meets the genius of Motown album. The original punk rockers teamed up with producer Phil Spector creating a more lush sounding version of their high-powered punk. Stand out tracks include Rock’n’Roll High School, Chinese Rock, and the cover of The Ronnettes classic Baby, I Love You.

Favorite track: Do You Remember Rock’n’Roll Radio?

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6) Remain In Light – Talking Heads Picked by Rolling Stone as one of the best albums of the decade, Remain In Light had Talking Heads teamed once again with producer Brian Eno. The band continued to explore African rhythms and worked with other musical artists including Nona Hendyrx, Adrian Belew, and Robert Palmer.

Favorite track: Once In A Lifetime

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5) Peter Gabriel (Melt) – Peter Gabriel On this, the third of his four self-titled albums (fans called this one Melt due to the album cover artwork), Gabriel continued to craft artful pop and rock songs, inching closer to the highly successful pop sound realized on his fifth solo album, So. Much like Talking Heads, Peter Gabriel brought in several talented musicians to help record this album, including Paul Weller, Dave Gregory, Robert Fripp, and, former Genesis bandmate, Phil Collins.

Favorite track: Games Without Frontiers

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4) Sound Affects – The Jam Intentionally spelled incorrectly to indicate the title is an action rather than a thing, this fifth release by the UK Mods introduced a funkier and heavier bass sound, as on Pretty Green and Start!, and a smattering of horns on the track Dream Time.

Favorite track: That’s Entertainment

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3) Pretenders – Pretenders Another fantastic debut album, one of the best ever, enters the list. Chrissie Hynde’s vocals and attitude were a breath of fresh air in the male dominated world of rock music. Tough (Precious, Tattooed Love Boys) and tender (Kid, Lovers Of Today) describe this album. Awesome also describes it.

Favorite track: Brass In Pocket

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2) Underwater Moonlight – The Soft Boys This band was introduced to me by a DJ spinning records for the radio station on the Beloit College campus. She told me and two of my friends as we watched her work that The Soft Boys were a brilliant band and that we had to check them out. She was right. Led by British surrealist rocker Robyn Hitchcock, this album is great from start to finish. Catchy tunes, soaring guitars, tight harmonies, and some pretty odd lyrics make this debut so irresistible.

Favorite track: Queen Of Eyes

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1) Black Sea – XTC It’s no secret this criminally underappreciated band from Swindon, England is one of my most favorite in all of rock/pop music. And this was the first album of theirs that I had ever heard. A harder, more straight forward rocking album than their previous releases, Black Sea still has loads of great hooks and pop melodies. The opening track Respectable Street was the first XTC song I ever heard and I loved it instantly. I cannot over-stress just how good I think this album is. It is well deserving of being number one on this list.

Favorite track: Towers Of London

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10 Great Alternative Albums From The Second Half Of The ’80s

I have previously written about some of the great alternative albums from the years 1979 and 1985, this time I will pull ten excellent albums from 1986, 1987, 1988, and 1989. I know you’re asking why I don’t dedicate a blog to ten albums from each of those years. Well, it’s because the alt music of those years just didn’t have the same appeal for me, making it difficult to come up with ten for each year. Perhaps I became more focused on certain artists, so newer ones got short shrift. I don’t know.

The second half of the ’80s, a time just prior to the music industry discovering a way to market this music, saw Nirvana‘s first album Bleach (1989) released. The seed was sown, but it would be another couple of years and the smell of spirited teens before punk or alternative or modern rock or whatever you call it began to earn big money in the States.

Enough of my prattling, here’s my list:

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10) 54-40 – 54-40 (1986) Hailing from British Columbia, Canada 54-40 was a group of socially conscious, leftist rockers. This album has plenty of that big ’80s drum sound echoing throughout, but they still manage some tender moments such as on I Go Blind, a song that was a charting success when covered by the terribly bland Hootie & the Blowfish. Other stand out tracks include Me Island, the funky I Wanna Know, and Take My Hand.

Favorite track : Baby Ran

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9) Mind Bomb – The The (1989) The The had mainly consisted of singer/songwriter/musician Matt Johnson until just prior to recording this album. He then formed a band which included the legendary Johnny Marr, former guitarist of the ’80s alternative icons, The Smiths. On Mind Bomb, Johnson takes a critical look at world religions. The album’s first track Good Morning Beautiful opens with the Islamic call to prayer and then has Johnson asking listeners a series of questions to challenge whose voice we are heeding. Sinead O’Connor lends her dynamic vocals to the duet Kingdom Of Rain.

Favorite track: The Beat(en) Generation

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8) A Bell Is A Cup…Until It Is Struck – Wire (1988) I was tempted to go with The Ideal Copy (1987) which has the excellent song Ahead, but this album works better for me as a complete project. There’s a cool smoothness to their blend of guitars, keyboards, and vocals, especially so on the opening track Silk Skin Paws.

Favorite track: Kidney Bingos

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7) Fisherman’s Blues – The Waterboys (1988) I really, really like this album. It’s a more folksy, Celtic effort than their previous horn-filled albums. Strings replace the horns this time around for a fine effect. The album feels traditional, but there is only one traditional song – When Will We Be Married. And there is a cover of Van Morrison’s Sweet Thing which works very well in this mix, despite my general dislike of Van Morrison songs. I guess when sung by someone else the songs are more agreeable to me.

Favorite track: And A Bang On The Ear

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6) Animal Boy – Ramones (1986) This is my favorite of the Ramones‘ ’80s releases. The production might be a little slicker than their ’70s output, but it’s still a Ramones album with tracks such as Apeman Hop, Eat That Rat, and Crummy Stuff. The opening track, Somebody Put Something In My Drink, features Joey Ramone at his growling best.

Favorite track (tie): My Brain Is Hanging Upside Down (Bonzo Goes To Bitburg) and Something To Believe In

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5) Pleased To Meet Me – The Replacements (1987) This is the first Replacements album after the departure of original lead guitarist Bob Stinson. Another guitarist hadn’t been found yet; so, while Tommy Stinson, Luther Dickinson, and Alex Chilton each lent a hand, it’s Paul Westerberg who does most the guitar playing. I particularly like the guitar sound on the song The Ledge. I don’t know if it’s Westerberg or Chilton, but it’s great. This album also includes the longingly sad Skyway, which soon became a singalong favorite at their shows. How my favorite track never became a number one hit on the American pop charts, I’ll never know.

Favorite track: Can’t Hardly Wait

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4) Psonic Psunspot – The Dukes Of Stratosphear (1987) The Dukes’ follow-up to their classic mini-LP 25 O’Clock (1985) is a continuation of their homage to the eclectic sounds of ’60s pop. You can hear echos of The Byrds, Cream, The Hollies, The Beach Boys, and The Beatles all in there. And the band was also quite generous to other musical acts. The Dukes allowed their guitars to be used to record the number one album on this list. Wink, wink, nod, nod.

Favorite track: Brainiac’s Daughter

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3) Heyday – The Church (1986) This is The Church‘s fourth album, which sees the band’s always guitar-driven sound becoming more ethereal and mid-tempo. Heyday also saw the introduction of horns on the rocking Tantalized. And Steve Kilby’s voice is at its best, especially on the opening track Myrrh.

Favorite track: Disenchanted

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2) Doolittle – Pixies (1989) Oh, man, did I dig this album when it came out. One night when hanging out with friends, we were going to head off to some other location and more than one person was driving. A friend won the battle as to which car I would ride in when he told me he would be playing Doolittle. The choice was easy! Pixies were honing their sound on this album, making it more accessible to a wider audience, while still holding onto their angry, artsy, punkish roots. There’s lots of screaming by Black Francis, but also lots of catchy hooks.

Favorite track: Here Comes Your Man

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1) Skylarking – XTC (1986) My favorite album by my second favorite band. (You know WHO my favorite is, don’t you?) The first pressing did not include their first hit in the States – Dear God. That was one of the two B-side songs of the single Grass. But radio DJs liked it and played it into a hit and onto the album’s second pressing it went. I bought the first pressing, which was the first new XTC album I bought since discovering them a year or two earlier. The album is filled with pop music gems including: Summer’s Cauldron/Grass (the opening two songs that were actually played together while recording); That’s Really Super, Supergirl; The Meeting Place; and Season Cycle.

Favorite track: Earn Enough For Us

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1985. A Great Year in (Mostly) Alternative Music

Last month, I looked at the year 1979 as it pertained to alternative music. The reason was that I noticed that 1979 saw a lot of really good alternative music albums being released.

The inspiration for this blog came about because I periodically guest blog on the Stuck in the 80s blog. My main contributions to that blog is to profile musical artists of the alternative scene in the 80s. These artists did not chart on the Top 40 Pop charts in America. A wider audience was, for some reason, denied them, so I dubbed them to be Never Found in the 80s. And I was looking at my list of artists that I have yet to write about. I realized the songs I picked to post with the write ups were very often from 1985. So, I thought, “Why not do my Top Ten of alternative albums for the year 1985?” I couldn’t think of a reason not to, so here it is…

(Oh, one of the albums isn’t exactly alternative, but I like it, so what are ya gonna do?)

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10) The Wishing Chair – 10,000 Maniacs  I was reading an interview of REM‘s Michael Stipe in those mid-80s days and in it he was asked if there was anything interesting he was listening to at that time. One of the bands he mentioned was 10,000 Maniacs. And just on that recommendation I picked up this their debut album and I discovered an excellent folksy rock album with the terrific lead vocals of Natalie Merchant.

Favorite track: Scorpio Rising

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9) Meat Is Murder – The Smiths  Aside from the unlistenable, preachy, veganny title track, this is a solid album by the quintessential 80s alt band. The American release included the awesome How Soon Is Now? making it damn near perfect, except for that “cows are beautiful, so eating them is murder” track. Eh, I’m a meat eater, perhaps I’m wrong and Morrissey is right.

Favorite track: What She Said

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8) Our Favourite Shop – The Style Council  This is former front man of UK’s The Jam Paul Weller and Mick Talbot’s second full length album as The Style Council and it is my favorite. Heavily socialist in its message, it was the band’s most successful release, earning gold record status in the UK. (I sure hope they didn’t feel guilty about all the money it earned.) In the states, this album was released with different cover art and song order and was called Internationalists.

Favorite track: Boy Who Cried Wolf

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7) The Head on the Door – The Cure  This was the sixth album by these moody Goth rockers and it has some awfully cool songs. I love the great thumping bass open of the song Screw. This was also The Cure’s first album to crack the US Top 100 Album chart. It reached 59. Even greater charting success was yet to come.

Favorite track: In Between Days

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6) Night Time – Killing Joke  So far this list has been pretty sensitive and, perhaps, a bit on the navel gazing side, but that changes with this album by UK post punkers Killing Joke. Intense is a good word to describe this band, especially front man Jaz Coleman. The album is an ass kicker.

Favorite track: Eighties

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5) Fables of the Reconstruction – REM  This was REM’s third full length album and it was becoming clear that these guys might get some traction on the charts. Stipe’s vocals were also becoming clearer. He was muttering and mumbling less on this album than on their previous efforts. And there was the welcome addition of horns. Horns almost always boost a song to greatness.

Favorite track: Can’t Get There From Here

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4) New Day Rising – Husker Du  Hardcore punk with harmonies and a do it yourself attitude pretty much describes this band out of St. Paul, MN. Released just six months after their magnum opus Zen Arcade, New Day Rising continued their buzzing feedback screech with tight catchy melodies that had some people taking notice. And if this wasn’t enough material for fans, the boys would release Flip Your Wig in a mere eight months.

Favorite track: Celebrated Summer

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3) Tim – The Replacements  Critics’ darlings from Minneapolis were on the verge of breaking it big (but the band themselves made sure that didn’t happen) with this their first release on a major label. It is a more cleanly produced (by the late Tommy Erdeyli, formerly Tommy Ramone original member of The Ramones) than their previous records and, perhaps, less appealing to their hardcore fans. But, I think it is a fine album, which contains one of Paul Westerberg’s best songs (see my favorite track).

Favorite track: Here Comes A Regular

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2) White City: A Novel – Pete Townshend  Yeah, this is the one I warned you about. It’s not quite an alternative album, but I really like it and Townshend is my all time favorite songwriter, so on the list it goes. It has all that Townshend pretentious goodness (the album is being called a novel?) and some great songs. Not his best solo album, but pretty damn close!

Favorite track: Give Blood

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1) Suzanne Vega – Suzanna Vega  I don’t know what it is about this album, but it is one of my very most favorite albums of all time. OK, this may also not be what people think of when they think of alternative music, but its folksy simplicity and directness certainly set it apart from everything else in 1985. This album must have come to my attention at the right time of my life that it has come to be so important to me. Vega continued to create great music, but nothing ever came up to this one’s level. At least, in my eyes. I just love this album.

Favorite track: Marlene on the Wall

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