Tag Archives: XTC

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

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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 – 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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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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1982 Gave Us These 10 Excellent Alternative (Mostly) Albums

Continuing with my look at excellent alternative albums from the days of yore (or from when I was young and kept up with what was going on), this week I’ll be listing ten albums released in 1982. I have previously covered 1979, 1980, 1985, and in one blog the combined years 1986-1989. Yes, I’m jumping around, but it keeps you on your toes.

Since I do only ten albums, there are years that some great releases are left off my list. I limit my choices to albums I know, so some really good albums don’t make the cut because I don’t know them well enough. For example, Devo released their fifth album – Oh, No! It’s Devo!– in 1982. I’m only familiar with three or four of the tracks, so it’s not on the list.

Enough preamble! On with the list.

As always, these are my choices. Your results may vary.

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10) Pleasure Victim – Berlin This EP didn’t make the cut initially, but Wikipedia goofed up and I had to replace an album on this list (see correction below). Good thing, too, because I really like this record, even if it might not be considered high art. It produced a minor hit for the group – Sex (I’m A…), before they exploded in popularity by having a song on some airplane movie soundtrack a couple years later. Very synthy and very catchy. And more than a little kitschy.

Favorite Track : The Metro

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9) The Gift – The Jam By the time The Jam, one of the UK’s most popular bands to emerge from the Punk/New Wave scene, recorded this their last album, their sound was far more ’60s Pop than the crashing drums, clanging guitar, and thumping bass of their first few releases. They were much more refined in the sound and, as it turned out, Paul Weller was ready to move on. As swan song albums go, this one is awfully good.

Favorite Track: Town Called Malice

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8) The Sky’s Gone Out – Bauhaus This third album by the Godfathers of Goth is my favorite by the band. There’s an excellent opening track which is a cover of Brian Eno’s Third Uncle and plenty of other dark and brooding tunes to be found. Spirit would have gotten the favorite track status, but I prefer the single version.

Favorite Track: All We Ever Wanted Was Everything

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7) All The Best Cowboys Have Chinese Eyes – Pete Townshend Of course, this entry explains the use of “mostly” in the headline. Townshend really can’t be considered alternative, but he’s my favorite songwriter, so he’s on the list. This album was more musically challenging than the more accessible Empty Glass (1980), Townshend’s most commercially successful solo effort. Among the more challenging songs such as The Sea Refuses No River, Stardom In Acton, and Exquisitely Bored can be found the pop gems Face Dances Pt2 and Stop Hurting People.

Favorite Track: Slit Skirts

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6) Chronic Town – REM This EP announced the arrival of a small college town band that would become superstars of rock by the end of the decade. Five tight, bouncy, jangly guitar-dominated tunes with mumbled lyrics are all that is offered, but it was enough to change the direction of alternative music for decades to come. It’s a landmark.

Favorite Track: Gardening At Night

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5) Peter Gabriel (Security) – Peter Gabriel Gabriel was still reluctant to name his albums, but this album was labeled Security when released in the States and in Canada. Whatever its name, it may be my favorite album by the former member of the UK prog band Genesis. My favorite track turned out to be a hit and the video of the song demonstrated that videos could be (should be) more than just featuring the artist miming the song in a faux concert performance. Videos could be (should be) art.

Favorite Track: Shock The Monkey

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4) Stink – The Replacements Another EP makes the list with the second release by the critic’s darlings from Minneapolis. Just eight blazingly quick tracks, none lasting more than three minutes and most under two, showcase the punk ethos of these rock ‘n’ rollers. There are glimpses of the more refined pop sound that would come with age and experience. For now the boys are still pretty hardcore.

Favorite Track: Kids Don’t Follow

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3) Combat Rock – The Clash Sure, this album made it to #7 on the US album charts and earned double platinum status also in the States, but The Clash were still a bunch of punk rockers. Joe Strummer went on walkabout and disappeared from the public eye for a time because he was overwhelmed by the band’s success. Well, it is a very good album that produced a couple of hits: Should I Stay Or Should I Go and Rock The Casbah.

Favorite Track: Know Your Rights

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2) English Settlement – XTC This was the last album XTC would record before the band stopped touring. It’s a transition album showing how the band was moving from the heavy guitar pop/rock with a little quirk thrown in to more lush productions. No Thugs In Our House is really the only rocker on this double album which is giving over to a more pop yet pastoral sound. Stand out tracks include Runaways, English Roundabout, Snowman, All Of A Sudden, and Jason And The Argonauts.

Favorite Track: Senses Working Overtime

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1) The Blurred Crusade – The Church This sophomore effort by Australia’s The Church might just be their best. The guitar playing is fantastic and Steve Kilbey’s vocals are mesmerizing. There is plenty of the ethereal atmosphere that was signature to the band’s sound included in the more rocking tunes (my favorite track is a good example). Almost With You is a great opening track and To Be In Your Eyes is one of my favorite loves songs of all time. The band would produce other terrific albums, but I don’t think they ever quite matched this one.

Favorite Track: You Took

Correction! 3-30-17: While preparing another 10 albums list, this time for 1983, I noticed Wikipedia had led me astray. I use Wikipedia to see which albums were released in a given year. When looking through the list of albums released in 1983, I saw that Wikipedia had the debut album by Violent Femmes on that year’s list – April 1983. But, they also had it on the 1982 list – November 1982. You can check for yourself.

Well, I had to fix that. Violent Femmes was released in 1983, so I’ve replaced it with Berlin’s second release – Pleasure Victim.

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Ranking XTC: Less Great to Most Great

There’s a thing about lists ranking movies, TV shows, albums, etc. by their level of quality – subjectivity. These kinds of lists are just opinions and, no matter how reasoned the list-makers think they’ve been, someone is bound to disagree. At best, the list gives people unfamiliar with the topic an overview and recommendations on where to start exploring the theme. At worst, it gives the list-maker the chance to smack talk about a subject they might think to be overrated in general.

A list ranking the British Pop band XTC‘s albums from worst to best has surfaced on an XTC Facebook fan page. It has stirred up some controversy. First of all, even though I understand the technicality of language when describing a ranking list, how can a consistently great recording artist, such as XTC, have a worst album? In my opinion, they just don’t have one. They may have worst songs, some I flat out don’t like or even hate, but not a worst album in the bunch.

That’s why my list goes from less great to most great. I will handle this list in much the same way as my other ranking lists, but I might include a song pick which demonstrates a failure, in my opinion, in the band’s usual high quality. I’m also including the two albums by XTC‘s alter-ego: The Dukes of Stratosphear.

Again, this is my list, my opinion. Your results may vary.

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14) White Music (1978) This one is a bit uneven, I think mainly due to the band attempting to find its voice. Overall, the album has all that quirkiness that defined the band in their early years, which works most of the time. It seems Colin Moulding is trying a little too hard to be quirky on two of the three songs he wrote, but I’ll Set Myself On Fire is a good early effort. Radios In Motion is a fantastic opening track and Andy Partridge also scores well with Into The Atom Age, New Town Animal, and This Is Pop? (I do agree with that other list-maker that the later single version of this song is much better). However, their cover of Dylan’s All Along The Watchtower really does fall flat.

Favorite track: Statue Of Liberty

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13) The Big Express (1984) Plenty of greatness to be found, but for me the album tends to go a little heavy on the bashing drums side, as on Reign Of Blows and Train Running Low On Soul Coal. However, there is some quiet subtlety to be found on This World Over. Other stand-outs include You’re The Wish You Are I Had and I Remember The Sun. And my favorite song on the album is another fantastic opening track.

Favorite track: Wake Up

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12) Go 2 (1978) Released the same year as their first album, Go 2 shows Partridge and Moulding getting better at their songwriting. They are more focused on this their sophomore effort. Keyboardist Barry Andrews contributes two songs (My Weapon and Super-Tuff) which are early efforts for him and are OK. There’s some quirkiness still to be found on Meccanik Dancing (Oh We Go!), Buzz City Talking, and Jumping In Gomorrah; but more thoughtful songwriting emerges with Battery Brides (Andy Paints Brian).

Favorite track: Are You Receiving Me?

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11) Psonic Psunspot – The Dukes Of Stratosphear (1987) This is the second album for which the fellows donned their disguise as a 60s Psychedelic band. If you are a fan of 60s Pop and Psychedelic music, you will be a fan of the Dukes. Lots of catchy tunes and another terrific opening track : The Vanishing Girl. Other greats include Pale And Precious, Collideascope, and Shiny Cage.

Favorite track: Brainiac’s Daughter

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10) Mummer (1983) Continuing in the direction of more a pastoral Pop sound that was started on 1982’s English Settlement (I’ll get to it!), Mummer was XTC’s first studio album after the band decided to stop touring. It sounds like an album that wasn’t intended to be played live. Softer, more acoustic songs (Ladybird, Wonderland, In Loving Memory Of A Name) dominate, with the exception of Funk Pop A Roll, written by Partridge when he thought the band was about to be dropped by their record label.

Favorite track: Great Fire

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9) Wasp Star (Apple Venus Vol. 2) (2000) XTC’s swan song album is better than some folks give it credit as being. It’s got plenty of catchy tunes, including what I think is Moulding’s best song since My Bird Performs from 1992’s Nonsuch (Yes, I’ll get to that one, too!): Standing In For Joe. The band’s tradition of excellent opening tracks continues with Playground. And there are other gems to be found: I’m The Man Who Murdered Love, In Another Life, and Church Of Women.

Favorite track: The Wheel And The Maypole

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8) Nonsuch (1992) XTC’s last album before their seven year strike against and subsequent liberation from the Virgin label builds on the groundwork laid by their 1989 album, Oranges & Lemons. (Yes, yes! Be patient.) Some have said it’s a little too similar to that previous effort. Perhaps, but there’s still some really good stuff on here. Dear Madam Barnum, The Disappointed, That Wave, Omnibus, the aforementioned My Bird Performs, and Wrapped In Grey. All great tunes. But I was never fond of Rook and Bungalow. They just don’t work for me.

Favorite track: Then She Appeared

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7) Oranges & Lemons (1989) Another great opening track, Garden Of Earthly Delights, leads to an album filled with earthly delights: King For A Day, The Loving, Scarecrow People, One Of The Millions, Pink Thing… Whew! I haven’t even gotten to my favorite track yet. There’s also Poor Skeleton Steps Out, in which I learned I wasn’t the only person in the world who thought of our skeletons as separate living entities trapped inside our bodies. Andy and I are on the same page there.

Favorite track: (And just how the hell wasn’t this a mega-hit?!) Mayor Of Simpleton

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6) 25 O’Clock – The Dukes Of Stratosphear (1985) This was the first time the boys adopted new identities and brought in Dave Gregory’s brother Ian to play drums to produce an homage to their favorite tunes and artists of the 60s. The budget wasn’t big, which is why it was kept to a mere six songs, but they put every penny’s worth on the vinyl. It’s great from start to finish.

Favorite track: The Mole From The Ministry

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5) Drums & Wires (1979) Barry Andrews was out and Dave Gregory was in on this the third XTC album. Gregory’s entry not only eliminated Andrew’s manic keyboards, it expanded the guitar sound of the group. He also helped lead the band into their more pastoral, less quirky sound of their later releases. Moulding’s songwriting had greatly improved by this album and he steals the show by contributing all its best songs, which includes my favorite track and Day In Day Out, Ten Feet Tall, and That Is The Way. They all outshine Partridge’s songs. Not that Andy’s songs are bad. Oh, no. When You’re Near Me I Have Difficulty, Millions, and the terrific Complicated Game are nothing to sneeze at.

Favorite track: Making Plans For Nigel

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4) Apple Venus Vol. 1 (1999) It had been seven years since XTC fans had some new material from their favorite band. Did they break up? What had they been doing? The band went on strike against Virgin in 1992. They didn’t like their deal and the way Virgin didn’t promote them. The band finally won their freedom and went to work on this masterful album. Partridge called it an orchoustic effort, combining orchestral arrangments with mainly acoustic songs. It really is very good. Moulding’s songs, two in total, are fine, but they just don’t quite measure up to his prestrike songwriting. Partridge, however, is firing on all cylinders. Greenman, The Last Balloon, Easter Theatre, I Can’t Own Her, Harvest Festival are all lush and beautiful. The circular orchestration of the brassy River of Orchids may make it a challenging opening track, but it is a piece of excellent songwriting. Even the bitter and sad song about the dissolution of a marriage, Your Dictionary,  has its beauty and manages to uplift by the end. This album was worth the wait.

Favorite track: I’d Like That

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3) English Settlement (1982) This is where XTC began to go into more acoustic and pastoral songs. A lushness began to find its way into their sound on songs such as Runaways, All Of A Sudden, Jason And The Argonauts, Yacht Dance, and Snowman. There’s even a couple attempts at straight up dance songs: Melt The Guns, Down In The Cockpit. This double album also has the distinction of containing both my favorite and my most hated XTC songs. I can’t stand, and never could, Leisure. Its herky-jerky, start and stop pacing punctuated by Partridge barking, “Leisure!” really puts me off. The song only gets going at the very end just as it begins to fade. But my favorite XTC song is there to balance everything out.

Favorite track: Senses Working Overtime

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2) Black Sea (1980) This is the first XTC album I ever heard. It also contains the first XTC song I ever heard, Respectable Street. This album has the group almost completely losing their quirk factor and rocking out some very hook-laden pop tunes. I don’t think there’s a dud on the entire album. Partridge might disagree as he wasn’t too fond of Sgt. Rock (Is Going To Help Me), but I think that song has a certain light-hearted charm. Moulding only contributes two tracks, but they do include the excellent Generals & Majors. But it’s Partridge who is in complete command of this album. Living Through Another Cuba, Rocket From A Bottle, Paper & Iron, Burning With Optimism’s Flame, No Language In Our Lungs…Whoa! Outstanding!

Favorite track: Towers Of London

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1) Skylarking (1986) That controversial list that inspired this blog at least got this one right. The writer also put this album at number one. And it is brilliant. Out of the struggles between Partridge and producer Todd Rundgren, came this loose concept album of the passing of a single summer day. Rundgren came up with the concept and the running order of the songs they were to record after listening to the demos, but before consulting with Andy. Contentious recording sessions still yielded this masterpiece. From start to finish it is a brilliant piece of Pop music. And it provided XTC their first radio hit in America. Sort of. The song was Dear God, but it wasn’t included on the first pressing of the album. It was a B-side for the first single, Grass. American DJs liked it and played it into a hit and onto the second pressing. Stand out tracks on an album of nothing but stand outs include Summer’s Cauldron, Season Cycle, The Meeting Place, and The Man Who Sailed Around His Soul. In 2010, the album was remastered and an audio problem was corrected and it was re-released on vinyl. The song Mermaid Smiled was returned to the album, it had been removed to make room for Dear God, but the atheist anthem was still included. The original album art concept by Partridge was also used for this reissue, but it’s a little too risque to go with here. You can Google it if you are curious.

Favorite track: Earn Enough For Us

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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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