Back in 2001, Michael Azerrad published a book entitled "Our Band Could Be Your Life", a vividly detailed portrait of the American independent music landscape of the 1980s, told from the perspectives of the musicians, label owners and scenesters who defined the generation. To this day it remains one of my favorite books and it is essential reading for anyone interested in hardcore or the general indie movement that took place and changed the face of American rock music in the 1980s. The book covers 13 bands, of which I have included 12 on this Playlist (Beat Happening were excised due to their aesthetic differences, certainly not because of quality). However, I have rounded the total out to the normal 15, adding Rites of Spring, X and the Pixies, three bands who fall well in-line with the ones contained in Azerrad's book. Here are 15 reasons why the 80s remain my most cherished decade for music.
***If you're new to this, just click that big arrow in the side bar and let it play every song in full (randomly), or click individual songs for 30 second previews.
Black Flag - Rise Above: The defining band of the early hardcore movement, Black Flag decimated stages, fans and expectations alike. And then they added Henry Rollins. From 1981s landmark Damaged LP.
Minutemen - Political Song for Michael Jackson to Sing: The Minutemen's funk-inflected indie rock has always struck me as the oddest inclusion in the hardcore lexicon. But it wasn't the sound that mattered, it was the intent and the attitude. D. Boon, Mike Watt and George Hurley's legacies loom large over modern indie rock, and their double LP Double Nickels on the Dime gives 44 reasons why. Here's but one.
Mission of Burma - Einstein's Day: This Boston art-rock group released just one EP and one LP during their initial run (they've since regrouped and released 2 great records), using an invisible 4th member to loop and manipulate guitar tones into shards of undulating feedback bursts, giving them a sound much greater than the sum of their parts. From the appropriately titled Vs.
Hüsker Dü - Something I Learned Today: To their immense credit, Hüsker Dü were the first band to really see the limitations of hardcore, eventually branching out with greater conceptual range than most bands of their ilk. They never sacrificed the intensity though, which is made abundantly clear by "Something I Learned Today", the ferocious lead off track from their classic double concept record Zen Arcade.
Minor Threat - Straight Edge: The band and the song that launch an entire movement, one that burnt brightly but quickly, leaving thousands of pale imitators in it's wake. Maybe the most influential 46 seconds in 80s rock music.
The Replacements - I Will Dare: There is simply no reason why The Replacements weren't the biggest band in the world. Their brand of off-kilter pop-rock remains fresh over 20 years later. You know you have balls when you name your breakthrough record Let it Be, but as "I Will Dare" proves, these guys were more than up to the challenge.
Butthole Surfers - Human Cannonball: Perhaps more renown for their literally fire-starting live shows, the Surfers released a number of great records in the 80s, particularly Locust Abortion Technician, which is where you'll find the minimal thud of "Human Cannonball".
Sonic Youth - In the Kingdom #19: As any longtime SY fan will tell you, as great as their recent records are, there is just no topping their mid-to-late 80s output, especially their abrasively murky early days. They stepped out of the sludge ever so slightly from album to album, but the work they did on EVOL is unmatched for eerie darkness and sublime understatement. It may have been the one time that SY were unequivocally beautiful."In the Kingdom #19" was one of the first great Lee Ranaldo spoken word pieces.
Big Black - Kerosene: It's like pulling teeth for me to single out only one Big Black song, but "Kerosene" embodies everything that was so good (and so evil) about the Steve Albini led noise trio. There's the sheet metal guitar noise, the industrial throb of the drum machine and of course Albini, who had that great knack for exposing the underbelly of society and sticking your nose in it. Choice lyric: "Never anything to do in this town/Live here my whole life/Probably learn to die in this town/Live here my whole life/Nothing to do, sit around at home/Sit around at home, stare at the walls/Stare at each other and wait til we die/Stare at each other and wait til we die/Probably come to die in this town". From the Atomizer LP.
Fugazi - Bulldog Front: I wasn't around during the time, but it must have come as quite the shock to see the front man of arguably the most confrontational hardcore band of all time, Minor Threat, jump ship into angular, dub-out guitar rock. Going all the way back to their first EP though it isn't hard to see why these guys broke so much ground in so little time. "Bulldog Front" - one of Guy Picciotto's first contributions to the band -helped put the final nail into hardcore's coffin, while simultaneously announcing the arrival of quite possibly the quintessential American independent rock band.
Mudhoney - No One Has: Yeah, they are probably best known for helping to coin the term "grunge", but Mudhoney remain one of the more unique bands of the era, combining sludgy riffs and throat ravaging moans into a sweaty cauldron of mussed hair and amplifier buzz. Plus, they single handedly launched Sub Pop Records with their immortal debut single, 1988s "Touch Me I'm Sick". "No One Has" came a year later and kicked off the Superfuzz Bigmuff EP.
Dinosaur Jr. - Forget the Swan: Like The Replacements, Dinosaur took the classic rock template and turned it on it's head, layering ear shattering noise over top J. Mascis's Neil Youngish whine, creating a soothing yet mind-frying juxtaposition. They would go on to release one of the decades best records (1987's You're Living All Over Me), but "Forget the Swan" was one of the first inclinations that these three were onto something special. From Dinosaur.
Pixies - I've Been Tired: No band left a bigger mark on the coming decade than the Pixies, whose quiet-quiet-LOUD dynamic was cherry picked by (among others) Kurt Cobain and appropriated into millions of dollars in record sales. I, like most people, prefer early Pixies (although it all rules), and you can't get much earlier than Come on Pilgrim, their debut EP, where Black Francis would squeal, shriek and yelp out oddly disturbing lyrics over buzz saw guitar and shimmying bass grooves. Note: Last.fm has this song filed under the band's Surfer Rosa album, but I assure you it is from Come on Pilgrim)
Rites of Spring: Guy Picciotto, who would go on to co-lead Fugazi, had his first taste of greatness with his proto-emo band Rites of Spring. If nothing else, Rites of Spring hearkens back to a time when emo wasn't a four letter word and pure unadulterated emotion could carry an entire song. From their self-titled and only full length album.
X - Johny Hit and Run Pauline: Many people attribute X as being the first West Coast punk band, and certainly their early work fits the bill. Of course now they've become Guitar Hero fodder, but no licensing company in the world would touch a song as ominous and disturbing as "Johny Hit and Run Pauline".
Check Out Previous Stereo Sanctity Playlists