Tag Archives: gang of four

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

Packing Peanuts!

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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!

Packing Peanuts!

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The Punk PBS forgot…

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Earlier this week, I posted to Nostalgia Zone’s Facebook page the six segments of the Punk Rock episode of the 1995 PBS documentary ‘Rock & Roll‘. The documentary series runs 10 episodes in all, covering the many eras and personalities of rock’ n’ roll. I figured I’d post the punk stuff, because that’s the most interesting to me.

But, there was something that bothered me (and at least one YouTube commenter). It was only an hour long episode, so we can’t expect everything to be included, but as the Punk segment came to a close something was missing. The ’80s. The way the episode wrapped up was Blondie had a hit with ‘Heart of Glass’ and then… Nirvana came along.

Uuuuh, guys? There was an entire decade of punk, post-punk, hardcore punk that carried the ball, while mainstream radio waited to stumble upon Nirvana, discovering money could be made now that punk “broke.” There could have at least been some mention of those artists, but, nope. No mention of the Dead Kennedys, Killing Joke, The Minutemen, Black Flag, The Replacements, and the countless other bands keeping the punk ethic alive through the decade between ‘Heart of Glass’ and ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’.

I went through my teenage and young adult years in the ’80s. I hung out at the legendary Minneapolis nightclub First Avenue & 7th Street Entry. (Remember, kids! Before there was Seattle, there was Minneapolis!) I listened to and saw a lot of musical acts, who, apparently didn’t warrant being counted by ‘Rock & Roll’.

OK, so they didn’t have the time. Well, I do. Here’s a list of ten artists, not in any particular order, any one of whom could at least gotten a mention:

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The Descendents https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLB2OvO0jddW4rlkMRy_XHl-PnYIvy9yVy

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Husker Du https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLB2OvO0jddW4rlkMRy_XHl-PnYIvy9yVy

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Dead Kennedys https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U3VXiyS6zl0

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Black Flag https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=om6ho37eSYE

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The Replacements https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q2zkO-pB0LU

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Bad Brains https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1EcNclDR9U0

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Naked Raygun https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLKPRnEKPhTy5wWogy5c_cKzwLiuEewh_p

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Gang of Four https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8xzE9dslFqg

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Wire https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL74iy6KlUOFtmKajhM9i8Mcsoo1DKN0xL

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Big Black https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4afGWPi3th4

You may not agree with each of my choices. But, I think you’ll agree that these and many other artists upheld the punk ethos into and through the ’80s, as the recording industry waited for Nirvana.

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