Category Archives: Punk Rock

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 breathe 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 on 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’s 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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1979. A great year in alternative music.

Ever since I went to art school in the mid-80s, my musical tastes have favored the alternative stuff. And, at the time, I can remember friends of mine with a similar taste in music remarking on how many of our favorite albums came out in 1979. I’m not sure why it was such a good year for alternative music. Perhaps it was that the punk bands getting better at playing their instruments. I guess the world will never know, but so what?

I’ve compiled a top ten list of my favorite punk or post-punk or power pop punk (is there such a thing?) from that great year in music: 1979…

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10) Look Sharp! – Joe Jackson  It may have had a Top 40 hit with Is She Really Going Out With Him?, but Jackson’s punkish pop waves the alternative banner quite well. In 1990, when the thrash metal band Anthrax covered Got The Time a friend said that it surprised him that he liked it so much. I said, “Of course, you do. Joe Jackson wrote it!”

Favorite track: Got The Time

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9) Regatta de Blanc – The Police  This album did fairly well, reaching 25 on the US album chart, but I still consider the band to have been in the alt bin in 1979. I think their brand of punk-infused reggae or reggae-infused punk, whichever, is great. These guys might just make it.

Favorite track: Message In A Bottle

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8) The Specials – The Specials  Produced by Elvis Costello, this album of two-tone British ska is still awfully infectious. Who knew an album filled with songs about unemployment, bad marriages, underage pregnancy, awful tasting beer, and racism could be so much fun.

Favorite track: A Message to You, Rudy

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7) The Undertones – The Undertones  This is what I mean by power pop punk. This Irish punk band produced a debut album of one pogo-inducing song after another. I loved the first time I listened to it.

Favorite track: Get Over You

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6) London Calling – The Clash  I realize having this album by the “only band that matters” in the sixth spot in a top ten list may seem low, but just think how great the rest of the list will be. Even though this album was released in December 1979, Rolling Stone magazine declared it the greatest album of the 80s. Go figure. It is an excellent album that demonstrated punk was so much more than leather jackets, safety pins, and slam dancing.

Favorite track: London Calling

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5) Fear Of Music – Talking Heads  The punk rock of New York City was very different than that of the UK. It was more arty than political. Always artful, this album found Talking Heads beginning to expand their sound, taking on some of that World Music feel they would later cultivate. Depending on what day you might ask me, I usually consider this my favorite Talking Heads effort.

Favorite track: I Zimbra

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4) Entertainment! – Gang of Four  Another hell of a debut album makes this list. Andy Gill is on my list of favorite guitarists; his choppy, feedback-laden rhythm guitar is mesmerizing. The lyrics are challenging in their socialist, anti-capitalist ideals; and the music blends disco and punk seamlessly.

Favorite track: I Found That Essence Rare

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3) Setting Sons – The Jam  If I had to rank my all-time favorite bands The Jam would likely come in number three, behind The Who and XTC, respectively. Being a bit of a Mod myself in those days, The Jam really appealed to me and this is my favorite of their albums.

Favorite track: Thick As Thieves

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2) Drums And Wires – XTC  XTC is my second favorite band and they’re not number one on this list?! Yep. Did The Who release an album in 1979? Yes, but not a new studio album.

This is an excellent album, their first after keyboardist Barry Andrews left and guitarist Dave Gregory joined. The sound is notably different without Andrews’ maniac keyboard playing. But Gregory was able to expand their sound and point the band into a direction away from quirky pop to a more rock heavy sound and then, later, a more pastoral form of pop music.

Favorite track: Making Plans For Nigel

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1) A Different Kind of Tension – Buzzcocks  My goodness, but this is a great album! I hadn’t listened to it in a while, until just recently. And when I did listen to it again, I was blown away.

Buzzcocks are another example of what I call power pop punk. Their songs can be extremely catchy. Listening to this album again had the 25 year-old in me wishing the 51 year-old me could still skank and pogo the way I used to: To exhaustion when seeing this band in concert. The knees and the back just won’t allow it.

These songs are all very tight and driven by some excellent drumming. This album is as much about the drums as it is about the swirling, buzzing guitars and drummer John Maher scores big. The transition from the end of Mad, Mad Judy (with the fantastic closing line, “I’ve got all the answers!”) to Raison D’etre takes my breath away. It’s possibly the greatest such transition between two songs ever!

The album is simply relentless and, I my opinion, the best album of 1979.

Favorite track: The whole damn album!

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If it was Tuesday, I must have been at Club Degenerate. Part two.

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It would be Tuesday night, just after 9:00, I would be waiting in the front room of my parents’ house, watching for John to pull up. Almost like clockwork (he didn’t always arrive at the exact same time) there he was and out the door I went. No honk. No call beforehand. It was just that routine. If one of us couldn’t make it, then there would be a phone call. But we didn’t miss more than a couple Tuesday nights at the legendary Minneapolis nightclub: First Avenue & the 7th Street Entry.

That’s how it was for John and me every Tuesday night beginning in the mid 80s. It was something we felt we were required to do. We just had to get to Club Degenerate.

As I explained last week, Club Degenerate was a night of alternative music, cool videos, and some unusual performance art pieces. But mainly John and I were there to dance to music we liked, not that crap the rubes in the St. Paul “nightclubs” shuffled around to in those days. (Paradise By The Dashboard Light?! Seriously! They would attempt to dance to that dreck.) Besides, the reception of two dudes dancing without chicks in those clubs would not have been very good. But at First Avenue we had that freedom. And, as I said, the music way more betterer. Meatloaf was never played at Club Degenerate!

DJ Kevin Cole would spin tunes from The Smiths, New Order, The Cure, Echo and the Bunnymen, Ministry, Nitzer Ebb, Siouxsie & the Banshees, The Jam, Love & Rockets, Bauhaus, Tones On Tail, Peter Murphy, Buzzcocks, Wire, Sex Pistols, Joy Division, The Pale Fountains, Au Pairs, Killing Joke. As well as local favorites Husker Du, Rifle Sport, The Suburbs, The Replacements. I could go on (goon?) but you get the idea.

When Cole wasn’t playing music videos on the big screens in front and beside the stage, he would have visuals from cult films such as Faster Pussycat! Kill! Kill! and the very bizarre Forbidden Zone featuring a very young Danny Elfman. There would also be obscure old black and white cartoons. It all combined for some pretty entertaining alternative entertainment.

But there was more!

Each Tuesday night, in the 7th Street Entry, there would be half a dozen bands participating in Battle of the Bands. That was a showcase for local bands that were playing First Avenue for their first time. There was no crossover charge, so if things felt as though they were waning in the main room, we’d head into the Entry to see if anyone good was giving it a go.

Two bands stand out in my memory from that free showcase. One was Breaking Circus a tough, angry, post punk Minneapolis band via Chicago. Founded and lead by Steve Bjorklund, Breaking Circus put on a great show, even if they did scare us a little bit. The other band never scared us. They were Trip Shakespeare. I can still picture the three piece band (they would later expand to four members when band leader Matt Wilson’s brother Dan joined) each wearing grey suits and looking like they were having a great time. The tunes they played were damned catchy.

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And Club Degenerate consistently had some of the coolest flyers I’ve ever seen. A fellow named Ron Clark appears to have been the designer of them. I wish I had saved all of them. Not just for the art, but on the back would be the monthly schedule of the musical acts that were flowing through First Avenue’s main room and the Entry. Those would have been important historical documents, but did we save them? Noooo. We made paper airplanes out of them to sail across the dance floor. Oh, well. We just weren’t thinking, I guess.

There is a website that features a few of them. Click here to take a look.

It didn’t take long for John and me to feel like we owned the place. We had our spot at the stage end of the dance floor (stage left). And we’d look disapprovingly at the “tourists” dancing so normally together. “Hey! There’s places in St. Paul for you guys!”

I took to skanking around the dance floor, full or not, when the mood hit. And it hit often. I could get moving pretty impressively around that floor, if I say so myself. I would purposefully dash between a dancing couple, just because.

I’ve been told that a photograph exists of John and me skanking and appearing to converge on some “normal” people. I’m told it’s a great picture, but I’ve never seen it. If only I could find it, but I’ve no idea where to look.

There was one occasion, early in the evening, the dancing mood had not hit most the people in the club yet, so the floor was virtually unoccupied. Well, there were two people on it.  I was skanking gracefully along, but I was getting annoyed at the other person on the floor: A “tourist” who dared to be walking on his hands across my dance floor!

Well, this could not be tolerated. I kept on skanking and made my way over to the inverted fellow and just subtly leaned into him as I swept by, knocking him to the floor. He was immediately on his feet and moving along the floor with me. Just inches from my face. I never broke stride as I put on my most innocent face and gave him a look that said, “What?!”

He took no further action. Whew.

Time moved on and Club Degenerate morphed into Club 2 4 1 and eventually First Avenue gave up DJ nights in the main room altogether.

Boy! How I do miss those days!

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It was my Tuesday night requirement. Part one.

Starting in 1984 or ’85 and running through the late 80s, it was something I almost never missed on Tuesday nights. It was Club Degenerate held at the legendary Minneapolis nightclub: First Avenue & the 7th Street Entry.

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1983 to 1986 were my art school years. It was a time of intense study and effort to improve my artistic skills, but it was also a time to shed some of that high school conformity and unleash my inner weirdo. (Truth be told, I was pretty weird throughout my entire schooling and even since then.) It was also a time of my learning about all that alternative music that couldn’t be found on the radio. At least, not in our market. Not every metro area of the country was fortunate enough to have a KROQ.

Minneapolis was alive with a thriving, vibrant local music scene. Sure, there was Prince and his spin off bands and proteges, but there were dozens of punk, post-punk, alt rock, Goth, new wave, no wave, neo-psychedelic, avant garde, garage and what have you bands playing the clubs of Minneapolis. It was an exciting time.

Incidentally, I hear every now and then the host of a hugely popular podcast remark about how excellent the music scene in Minneapolis is today. He’ll compare it to Austin of today and Seattle of the ’90s. I grind my teeth just a little as he is apparently ignorant of the music scene of Minneapolis of the late ’70s and through the ’80s. Hey, man! Minneapolis was Seattle before Seattle was Seattle!

He’s a West Coast guy and he hates Prince. Oh, well.

So, it was ’84 or ’85, I was in lettering class, I think, when my friend and fellow art student, Troy, excitedly talked to the group he and I hung with about going to First Avenue for something called Club Degenerate that coming Sunday (Club Degenerate was held on Sundays for a month or so, before moving to Tuesdays). Troy said it would be a night of DJ spun music filled with the bands we liked!

So, I got my friend John interested in going. John was a friend from high school with whom I had seen The Who for the first time. He and I had become huge Who fans and that interest partially lead us to discovering the joys of punk rock. My attending art school also helped in that discovery. He liked that music too, so he joined the group heading to First Avenue.

John and I had been to First Avenue a couple times for concerts by then, but we didn’t feel like owned the place. Yet.

Club Degenerate was the brainchild of First Avenue DJ Kevin Cole. He had (probably still does) a deep knowledge of music. And he had a strong feel for what was hip and interesting. He’d play loads of the new, alternative stuff, but he’d also play the roots of that music. T Rex, David Bowie, Lou Reed, Iggy Pop were all liberally folded into the mix. As were songs by ABBA, Nancy Sinatra, The Jackson 5. Whatever struck Cole’s fancy. And he made it all work. Most of the time. Nobody’s perfect.

The night might also feature a cameo appearance by a local artist or two. I can recall seeing The Magnolias play a three of four song set once. There was even a cameo by a very early version of Babes In Toyland with their original lead singer, Cindy Russell, who was also a regular of the Tuesday night tradition and became a friend to John and me. (Steve Albini, record producer and, in those days, member of the band Big Black recommended Russell be ousted, because her vocals didn’t quite fit.)

There might be some kind of performance art piece or dance routine. There would even be nights when the normal programming would be preempted and a guest artist would perform a full concert. Skinny Puppy was one such act. As was The Cramps with their opening act: The super-awesome, criminally over-looked, Screaming Blue Messiahs.

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Taking in the glorious, sloppy noise of The F—in’ S— Biscuits. The fellow in the circle could very well be my friend John.

But, by far, our favorite act to make frequent welcome intrusions into our Club D was The F—in’ S— Biscuits. The Biscuits were a bunch of dudes who we were never sure could even play their instruments. Their music was loud and brash and sloppy. Their stage shows had their share of nudity and vulgarity and were also sloppy, because, there was free beer!

As the screen at the front of the stage came up to reveal The Biscuits, lined up along the front of the stage were several plastic cups of tap beer. The lead singer (or should I say lead howler?) would let us know there was free beer, so come and get it. That led to the throwing of said beers. At the band. They would be absolutely soaked with beer by the end of their twenty minute set, which would also mess up the floor for dancing. Normally, that would piss John and me off, but after the fun of The Biscuits we just didn’t care.

Oh, there’s more to tell. Tune in next week for part two of my tales of Club Degenerate.

Packing Peanuts!

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More Than Just Wanting To Be Flintstones

Pulled from the archives of dimland.com and rewritten for your pleasure is another bit of self-indulgence. I hope you don’t mind.

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In my younger days, I had the time, inclination, and some disposable income for going to concerts. I started a little later than many of my peers, but I did see a fair amount of some pretty decent rock ‘n’ roll shows. My concert-going days may have started when I was in my later teens and that first show was nothing to write home about (Kansas in the summer of 1982), but once I was in my 20s and had discovered the excellent Minneapolis venue of First Avenue & 7th Street Entry the quantity and quality of shows soared.

My passion became music of the underground scene: Punk, Post-Punk, New Wave, No Wave, and the like. Popular music of the day was something to be sneered at, ridiculed. I was way too cool for that pablum being lapped up by the masses. And First Avenue was the perfect place to catch the music that mattered.

Beginning in the mid 80s at First Avenue, Tuesday nights were called Club Degenerate. The creation of DJ Kevin Cole, Club Degenerate featured the best prerecorded alternative music the mid to late 80s and earlier had to offer. And whatever else Cole wanted to play. My friend John and I were there every week to skank, pogo, and slam dance to the music so few people would ever know. There’s a blog in me dedicated to Club Degenerate on its own, but I’ll save that for another time.

I want to tell you about one of the best shows I’ve ever seen at First Avenue or anywhere else. And it came as a total surprise.

On occasion, Club Degenerate would set aside the prerecorded tunes for a special concert appearance. And on July 22, 1986, it was a special Club Degenerate concert night featuring The Cramps.

So, yeah, The Cramps were The Cramps were The Cramps. Punkabilly, whiskey drinking, leather, Lux Interior’s ass hanging out of his pants, etc., etc., etc. They were entertaining enough, but the truly revelatory act was the opener. It’s a rare thing to be so impressed with an opening band. Especially one you’ve barely or never heard of.

I’m not exaggerating (ok, maybe a little)… That opening act blew The Cramps right off the stage! This is one of those shows that stands out as a true gem in my memory. If you weren’t there you really missed something.

They were a three piece band that absolutely kicked ass. They were so amazing. I knew, at most, one of their songs before seeing them play. That didn’t matter, because despite my ignorance of their material, they were so good I was enraptured.

The rhythm section was fantastic. They kept the songs together while the lead guitarist/vocalist attacked his guitar. He even dropped it to the stage and danced on it at one point. And when he played it in his unique finger-picking style, he was incredible. The sound those guys made! You should have been there!

Because they were the opening act and most of the people there were more interested in seeing The Cramps, there was plenty of room at the front of the stage. John and I and a growing number of folks were down front and were being greatly entertained by this fairly unknown band. I say unknown because a fellow approached me and asked, enthusiastically, “Who are these guys?!”

My mind went blank. I couldn’t remember, at first. I told him I didn’t know and we went back to basking in the glory of these musical masters. Then I recalled the Club Degenerate night from the week before when, at the end of the night, Kevin Cole reminded us that the next week would feature The Cramps and The Screaming Blue Messiahs.

I went over to that fellow and told him who they were. He shouted, “These guys are f@#&ing great!”

Indeed they were. They were so good (I forget where I read this) that the roadies for The Cramps would attempt to sabotage the Messiahs‘ sets. They had been booked to support The Cramps on a nine city stretch (Minneapolis was the first of these) and it soon became evident the Messiahs were upstaging the headliner.  Well, they couldn’t have that!

Man! You should have been there!

The Messiahs should have made it bigger than they did. They released three full length albums (Gun Shy, Bikini Red, and Totally Religious) over a five year period (1984 – 89) and then they were done. Vanished.

It is a little sad that if they are remembered at all it will likely be for their one “hit”, I Wanna be a Flintstone. It’s very good song, but, let’s face it, despite the fantastic sound, lyrically, it’s essentially a novelty song. But the best novelty song ever!

I’ll paraphrase Blade Runner: “The light that burns twice as bright lasts half as long.” The Screaming Blue Messiahs had “burned so very, very brightly.”

That show was their only appearance in the Twin Cities.

And I was there!

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