If Back to the Future taught us anything – aside from the fact that the Delorean is the most bad ass vehicle ever to exist – viewing moments in time, particularly our past, is very achievable. From Vinyl, to a slight detour with 8-track (Come on, at least those babies had length, or is that what she said? Can’t be too certain.), cassette, CD, digital, and a reemergence of vinyl, these mediums represent a musical, souped up Delorean, complete with it’s own Dr. Emmett Brown. The decade that was the 80’s has always shown up at your door, and gone on the most dismal and awkward dates imaginable. If you could picture it, it would look like the date that Louis CK goes on in the first episode of his FX show Louie (If you haven’t seen it, WTF; you have Netflix, fucking watch it!).
Awkward kisses at the door aside, the 80’s were awfully dreadful for music. Who could forget bands like Johnny Hates Jazz (Jazz is better than you ever were.), a-ha (You were really trying with that band name weren’t you.), and Dexy’s Midnight Runners (“Come On, Eileen” has to be the most boring, overused porn title in the existence of the industry.). Through the muck of sewer sludge that is out there, bands emerged in the 80’s to, as Chris Jericho has done in the past, save us.
I will first note that, despite the greatness that was Appetite for Destruction, you will not find Guns ‘N Roses on here. While AFD is an instant classic, that really is the only album of theirs that is worthy of greatness, whereas most of the bands here had a full catalog of material to listen to. While G’NR justified my birth in this decade a smidge more, it’s these five bands that really saved my existence. And if life can be saved by pop culture, than hot damn meet these worthy heroes.
This is the band that took Garage Rock/Punk and made it accessible in many ways to the current generation. At times, The Replacements are known more for their wild, drunken, and chaotic shows. But don’t sell the music short, with their infusion of pure punk rock and jangle pop, the only thing that makes The Replacements sound 80’s was the production of their records. The band got their name after being thrown out of a bar for rowdy behavior, and hilariously, if you listen to records like Let It Be and Tim, the music doesn’t fit the profile. Granted it took a few records to get there; Hootenanny in particular, paved the way for the bands later sound, and while that record still had a punk edge to it, the softer pop side did start to emerge. The band barely made it out of the decade, but what remains of their discography is still being discovered by young minds today.
Stevie Ray Vaughan & Double Trouble
When Stevie Ray Vaughan & Double Trouble hit the scene in the early 80’s, blues had practically gone the way of the dinosaur. It had lost it’s appeal since the last time had the genre had been saved by Albert King’s legendary album Born Under a Bad Sign. Fast forward 20 or so years later and Vaughan puts forth Texas Flood, the greatest debut album in history (Yeah, I’m going that far to say it.). Vaughan’s greatest attribute was his ability to make blues so widely appealing. For example, the track “Voodoo Child,” a Jimi Hendrix classic; from the songs opening guitar jam, to the crispness of the bass, to Vaughan’s “hey look how easy I can do this” style; Vaughan could make rough blues music with touches of produces Rick Rubin or Brendan O’Brien in his head to drive the ship. You could say it was all production there, but fuck you. Most jam bands can’t do this either, and fail miserably at the studio album. SRV was the pioneer of rocking in a reliable and relevant way, a way that bands like Grateful Dead needed many years before, or bands like Widespread Panic today, who put out lackluster studio albums. SRV’s death – while not trying to be a jackass – is one of the most devastating, if not the most devestating to the music community. Who knows what this guy could have put out, but if his four studio albums are any indication, it would have been pure genius.
There is one simple formula when it comes to Talking Heads; Talking Heads = David Byrne, or so he’d like you to think. But together with Chris Frantz, Tina Weymouth, and Jerry Harrison, Talking Heads became a defining force in the 80’s. What bothers me the most when discussing this band is that, from the large amount of people I have talked to about music in general over the years, most primarily know Talking heads through the song “Burning Down the House.” Seriously? While it’s not there worst song, it is far from their best. In the late 70’s, Talking Heads released three of the best records of their career: Talking Heads 77, More Songs About Buildings and Food, and Fear of Music. Strangely enough, it wasn’t until their fourth, Remain in Light, that they really captured the attention of listeners. This album should be the bands least accessible work. I mean, who wants to listen to African polyrhythms laced with groove tracks? Not only do they pull it off, they fucking own it. On top of this, Talking Heads released the juggernaut of all juggernaut live albums, called Stop Making Sense. This is a live release that all others should be trying to live up to, unless your album’s title is At Filmore East and the name of your band is the Allman Brothers. The album had a slight concept which added more musicians over time and who could go wrong with seeing David Byrne in an over sized suit? Talking Heads may have been the smartest band of the 80’s, perhaps too smart, falling to the demise of David Byrne. However, their back catalog is impressive enough to warrant a spot on this list.
The Smiths were the first band in England to throw down the synths and embrace an indie rock sound that would dominate England, well into the 90’s. The strange thing about the Smiths’ is that they really didn’t save the 80’s within the time frame. It took years before the band were recognized, outside the U.S. and in their own home country, and by then they were no longer a band. Within their discography – which contains four albums, a number of unnecessary compilations, and a single live album – the band accomplished more than a large number of 80’s bands, including Guns ‘N Roses. Sadly, most people only know the Smiths through one song, “How Soon Is Now?” and while that track is great, it’s far from their greatest material. Of all the bands listed here, The Smiths influence was a lot more far reaching; not only did they influence bands like Blur, Oasis, and The Libertines, but they’ve also influenced a number of playwrights and novelists as well, including Shaun Duggan, Mark Spitz, and Andrew Collins. Whenever people ask what Smiths’ album is the best, one answer is sufficient; is all of them.
Athens, Georgia has one of the most rich music scenes in existence today. The city has spawned such legendary acts as the B-52s, Widespread Panic, and Drive-By Truckers. Their most famous, however, is R.E.M. and it’s in this band that we find the decades most pioneering sound. In the early 80’s, the band took post-punk music and turned it into what we call alternative rock, today. A sound that has influenced bands from Sonic Youth to Nirvana to Pavement, and others like The Replacements, Live, and Butt Hole Surfers. The band first garnered attention through Peter Buck’s knack for arpeggio notes and ringing guitar sounds, while Michael Stipe brought the strange vocal content. The band initially signed to I.R.S. records, releasing a string of solid albums, but it wasn’t until their 1987 release, Document that the band gained major label attention. The single that did it? “The One I Love” of course, and the albums more muscular, rock driven guitar riffs helped push the band into the mainstream. Regardless, R.E.M. put out a really solid body of work in the 80’s, one not to be rivaled by most bands in the most abysmal decade of musical history.
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