Tag Archives: The Smiths

And finally, 1984’s 10 great alternative albums

It had to happen eventually. I mean, it was inevitable that I would run out of years from which to compile a list of ten great alternative albums. Most people tend to be like me, I think. We have a window of time when we pay close attention to the new and exciting music, but then we get older and our attention gets pulled in other directions. Oh, sure, there are a few people out there who are able to keep their fingers on the pulse. I’m not one of them. My window began to close in the late 80s.

Looking back over the lists I have done in this series (1977, 1978, 1979, 1980, 1981, 1982, 1983, 1985, and the combined years of 1986-1989), I can see that I have my favorite artists. XTC, Husker Du, The Church, Buzzcocks, and The Replacements all have multiple entries. What can I say? I like what I like. I also like jangly guitars as this list will attest.

I might do a list of 10 albums from the 90s, but I’m certain I won’t be able to muster this sort of list for any more individual years. So, here are my choices for the ten greatest alternative albums from 1984.

It’s my list, your results may vary.

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10) Stop Making Sense – Talking Heads I haven’t listed a live album before on any of these lists, but this one, along with the film, is so good. I never did get to see Talked Heads live, so having this album and the video made for a decent substitute. Once In A Lifetime, Psycho Killer, and Burning Down The House are standout versions of those classic songs. However, my favorite track is a from a David Byrne solo project, The Catherine Wheel, with a new arrangement for Talking Heads.

Favorite track: What A Day That Was

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9) The Smiths – The Smiths There’s loads of melancholy and moaning Morrissey on this debut album by the quintessential 80s UK alternative band, The Smiths. There’s also plenty of excellent guitar work (some of it jangly) by the fantastic Johnny Marr. The darkness of Morrissey’s lyrics is nicely balanced by Marr’s light touch on the guitar. OK, Miserable Lie does tend to get on my nerves as the second half of the song has Morrissey wailing all falsetto to the point of making me say, “Next song!”

Favorite track: What Difference Does It Make?

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8) The Big Express – XTC This album is a little bit of a miss from my number two most favoritest band. I think that’s mostly due to the production. The album is filled with that big, big, BIG 80s drum sound and it’s a little distracting. However, there is plenty of good stuff on here, including You’re The Wish You Are I Had, I Remember The Sun, and the Police-like (and relevant again given today’s political climate) This World Over.

Favorite track: Wake Up

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7) Like This – The dBs A little power pop, a little country. The dB’s had that jangly guitar sound I like so much. There’s some good lyrics, too. Especially on my favorite track, a macabre but catchy tune about suicide. Love Is For Lovers is an excellent opening track for an album filled with excellent songs.

Favorite track: Amplifier

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6) Mirror Moves – The Psychedelic Furs This album demonstrates just how open a friend and I were to new music in 1984. I don’t recall if my friend had heard anything about the band before we bought tickets to see them in concert. I do remember we’d never heard any of their music. We really liked the band name, so we took a chance. Just after buying the tickets, my friend picked up this album. When we listened to it we knew we made the right concert-going decision. It is a terrific album.

Favorite track: The Ghost In You

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5) Zen Arcade – Husker Du This is the magnum opus for these originators of alternative rock from Minnesota. It’s hardcore, but it’s more than that. This is a big record (released as a double album) with the loose concept of following a kid heading out on his own into the big, bad world. It’s brilliant. Half of the songs come in at two minutes or less, but still pack a wallop. The final track, however, is an instrumental that lasts more than 15 minutes.

Favorite track: Newest Industry

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4) Learning To Crawl – The Pretenders This is the album that saw The Pretenders truly break into the mainstream, but their strong sense of independence kept their alternative cred alive. They continued their tough (I Hurt You, My City Was Gone) and tender (Thin Line Between Love And Hate, Show Me) song pattern and scored a couple radio hits (Middle Of The Road and my jangly guitar-laden favorite track). It’s a solid album by a band learning to crawl after the deaths of two of its original members.

Favorite track: Back On The Chain Gang

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3) Remote Luxury – The Church Shortly after signing with Warner Bros. in the US, their new label compiled the songs from two EPs released in their home country Australia, retaining the title of one of them, for this album release in the States. There’s more of a synth pop sound combined with the jangly guitars (I really like those) than on their previous efforts. And it works for the most part. Maybe These Boys is a little much and wasn’t a favorite of the band. Oh, and it took more than 30 years for me to realize the pun title of my favorite track. How embarrassing.

Favorite track: Constant In Opal

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2) Reckoning – REM Depending on when you ask me, this is usually the one I name when I’m asked which is my favorite REM album. And I’m asked constantly. It’s getting a little weird, actually. Anyway, this sophomore effort is crammed with jangly guitars. Have I mentioned I like jangly guitars? Because I really like jangly guitars. Standout tracks include: Pretty Persuasion, Harborcoat, So. Central Rain (I’m Sorry), and Second Guessing.

Favorite track: (Don’t Go Back To) Rockville

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1) Let It Be – The Replacements This is the critic’s darlings from Minneapolis’ last release on the independent label Twin/Tone before going to the major leagues and it just might be their best. The songwriting of Paul Westerberg had become even stronger, clearer, and more heartfelt. He was cooking with gas! Great songs such as Sixteen Blue, Answering Machine, and Unsatisfied showed that Westerberg was a major songwriting talent. Still the band retained its sense of humor and irreverence with a cover of Kiss’ Black Diamond, Tommy Gets His Tonsils Out and Gary’s Got A Boner. Peter Buck of REM appears to lend a little jangly guitar (how I love it so) to my favorite track. And what a great photo on the album cover!

Favorite track: I Will Dare

Packing Peanuts!

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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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