Category Archives: Rock Music

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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My Favorite Band?

Over the last couple of days, on the Facebook, people have been posting lists of ten musical artists they have seen in concert, with one entry being a lie. Those willing to participate were challenged to guess which of the ten their Facebook friend hadn’t seen. In my enthusiasm, I posted two lists.

List one:
Let’s Active
Reverend Horton Heat
Johnny Thunders
Liz Phair
Buzzcocks
The Screaming Blue Messiahs
Pretenders
Rush
The Guess Who
Hunters & Collectors

List two:
The Fleshtones
The Screaming Tribesmen
David Byrne
Stereolab
Jefferson Starship
Kansas
Pete Townshend
Duran Duran
Husker Du
Skinny Puppy

A lot of folks hopped on and had some fun with this latest social media meme. A few cynics lashed out. And a special few made rather clever and funny parody lists. My favorite was a list of ten chemicals – “one of them is a lye.” Get it?

My first list reminded me of a night from the summer of 1984. I went with a group of high school buds, all Class of ’83, to The Cabooze to see The Guess Who. It turned out to be a night of inebriated over-enjoyment of that middle-of-the-road, classic rock band from Canada.

The Cabooze is an interesting and intimate live music club in Minneapolis. It’s not as famous as the legendary First Avenue & 7th Street Entry, but it is a good place to watch a band play. The layout of the venue is unconventional. It’s long and narrow, much like a caboose. Cabooze. Get it? Its stage was not much more that four feet high and it isn’t very deep, so larger bands tend to get rather cramped in when they perform.

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Galactic performing before a packed house at The Cabooze 4/11/07. Photo by Cory Funk.

But the audience can get right up there. Right up close. Very intimate.

Well, that summer night not only offered the finest of classic rock from the Great White North, it was also two-for-one beer night. For some reason, the fellows I was with would give me their free beers. Now, I won’t say I got hammered, but I was a little lit up by the time the band took the stage.

This being the summer of ’84, I had been through my first year of art school. Halfway through that year, I had embraced the punk/post punk/Mod/Gothic music scene and I had begun to dress and wear my hair unconventionally. I was breaking away from my high school identity and stretching out to express and explore my weirdness.

I had also started going to concerts at which slam dancing (I hate the term moshing) was likely to happen. And I enjoyed getting into the pit and flailing around. In my drunkenness, I brought a little of that enjoyment to the floor in front of the stage as The Guess Who played hit after hit. Now, I wasn’t exactly being violent. It’s just that, in my enthusiasm for hearing those familiar tunes, I began to be less considerate of the folks around me and I bumped into them as I danced around.

Before my friends could settle me down, two dudes, not bouncers, who were there to enjoy the show gently took me aside. They were actually pretty cool about it. As I recall, they told me they appreciated the fact I was really enjoying the show, but I was getting out of hand and being a bit of a jerk to those around me. Honestly, I hadn’t even thought about it. I wasn’t trying to be a jerk, but in my buzzed state I hadn’t noticed that’s exactly what I was.

I apologized to the fellows and I settled down. Everyone was then able to enjoy the show. And I didn’t get beat up.

As the band’s set was coming to an end they played their song Share The Land. At the end of the song, most of the instrumentation dropped away and they harmonized the line “shake your hand, share the land.” While they did so the band members reached out to shake hands with the fans.

Two guesses as to who the two dudes were who climbed over my back and the backs of others in front of me to get their hands shook. Yep. They were my two advisors on public etiquette. How ironic.

From that night and for years after, my friend John, who was one of the people before whom I had drunkenly over-enthused myself, took to referring to The Guess Who as my favorite band.

Well, they were that night.

Oh! The two musical artists I haven’t seen in concert are Liz Phair and Pete Townshend.

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