Friday’s Tunes: Flashback to the 80’s

If a blog that is less than one month old can be so presumptuous as to claim that it has any traditions, then let musical Friday be this blog’s first tradition. Not one to let my loyal readers down, I present this week’s selections of what I’m listening to. I welcome comments and I’m open to requests or suggestions for future playlists. 

For some reason I awoke today thinking about the 80’s. I was born in the early 70’s and spent the 80’s listening to Casey Kasem (RIP) count down the American Top 40 every week (here’s a long distance dedication to you, Casey, keep your feet on the ground and keep reaching for the stars, wherever that crazy wife of yours is trying to bury you). Casey was serious and somber, a class act, unlike that cad Rick Dees on The Weekly Top 40.

But the best music of the 80’s was never aired on Rick’s or Casey’s programs. These songs never made the top 40, and never played on mainstream radio. They were being played on small college radio stations and MTV’s 120 Minutes. Since I was not yet in college in the 80’s and we didn’t have cable, much less MTV, I grew up not hearing most of this music until much later, when I went off to college and started to open up my cloistered little mind. Without further ado, here’s this week’s time capsule trip back in time 30 years.

I usually save the best for last, but I’m going to start with one of the best this time.  New Order is one of the best bands of the 80’s. They sounded unlike anything else at the time, and weren’t afraid to experiment with sound and noise. I think it’s safe to say that without them bands like Radiohead would never have existed. If you had any doubt that this was the 80’s, one glimpse of Bernard’s tiny shorts will remove all doubt:

Of course New Order would never have existed without Joy Division. When founding member and singer Ian Curtis killed himself in 1980, the surviving Joy Division members picked up the pieces and carried on as New Order. Since Ian barely made it into the 80’s some could argue this is more correctly music of the late 70’s, but JD’s influence carried on well into the 80’s, 90’s and today. You can almost hear the hurt in Ian’s voice that comes through every song, which is part of what makes Joy Division so powerful.

I know that Joy Division is kind of a downer, but the 80’s weren’t all about shoe-gazing. Some bands like Camper von Beethoven were just having fun. Dave Lowery went on to found Cracker and achieve significant success in the 90’s alternative scene that grew out of this early college radio genre. Here’s one of their more irreverent songs, I have no idea what it means. Dave Lowery apparently said it was intentionally nonsensical as a way of rebelling against all the very serious music being made at the time (1985).

For some reason Minneapolis became an important spot for alternative and indie music in the 80’s. I’m not sure how many people realize that Prince is from Minneapolis? The band Husker Du became one of the more popular indie bands to emerge from Minneapolis/St. Paul. Bob Mould went on to form the band Sugar and produce a few hits in the 90’s, but this is one of Husker Du’s better known songs.

The Replacements were the other big alternative band to emerge from Minneapolis. Paul Westerberg had a pretty big influence on the 90’s music scene, but one of my favorite songs of theirs is his tribute to Alex Chilton of Big Star, one of the best bands of the 70’s, which influenced untold bands.

Lest you think the 80’s was all dudes, let me impose some gender balance. Chicks were rocking, too, and making their presence known. The British band Siouxsie and the Banshees had huge influence on both sides of the Atlantic, but didn’t start to gain recognition in the US until the tail end of the 80’s.

The Pixies were another great band to emerge in the 80’s. Frank Black did most of the singing, but bassist Kim Deal did backup vocals and sang lead on a couple of songs. She later went on to form The Breeders with her twin sister Kelley and make some hits in the 90’s.

And of course we can’t forget one of the strangest female singers to rise from the 80’s, Iceland’s Bjork, who started out with the band Sugarcubes before going solo in the 90’s. I admit that I was never a huge fan, I think something may have gotten lost in translation. Either that or Iceland is just a very strange place. But she certainly is memorable.

And speaking of iconic female singers, who can forget that shorn-haired Irish lass who set the world afire at the tail end of the 80’s? Sinead O’Conner had an impressive start on the indie/alt scene before she made it in the mainstream. I highly suspect she was lip-syncing in this Grammy performance, because it sounds exactly like the studio version, but oh well, she still has great pipes.

Okay, I lied about saving the best for last. This is unquestionably the best in my opinion. REM were pioneers of the indie scene for years before they broke out and became international superstars. Their early music is their best, and this is their first ever TV appearance, back when Michael Stipe was so shy he wouldn’t even speak on camera. Dave Letterman was a youngster back then, too.  Until next Friday, happy listening!

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