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   Now in our fifth calendar year
    PCR #204  (Vol. 5, No. 8)  This edition is for the week of February 16--22, 2004.
The Digital Divide by Terence Nuzum

30 bands that made the '80s NOT suck Part II
In last week's issue we covered bands 1 through 10. This week, we take up with bands 11--20.

11. R.E.M. -- Murmur (1983) Before Michael Stipe put on all the mascara, shaved his head, and went all modern Beach Boys on us, his band was considered The Beatles of the '80s. Pushing the envelope by starting with Lo-Fi folk rock and eventually progressing on to kalaidescope pop, they were at their best and most honest on their debut, Murmur. For a band out of Georgia they sounded nothing like Lynard Skynard. Instead of embracing redneck guitar rock the band delved farther back and ressurected roots rock. Not only does it include the now legendary single "Radio Free Europe" but also the soaring "Catapult". '80s lo-fi pop at its best, this is just one album that shows how influential they were and one of many more to come.
12. Cowboy Junkies -- The Trinity Sessions (1988) While The Byrds Sweetheart of the Rodeo and Bob Dylan's Nashville Skyline both laid the groundwork it wasn't until 20 years later that Cowboy Junkies perfected the form we now call Alt-Country. On The Trinity Sessions "Mining For Gold" is a gothic Dusty Springfield banging Lou Reed while the Hank Williams cover "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry" is so downbeat and sad that if you don't cry after hearing it you might not be human. Margo Timmins hushed yet cigarette-addict vocals have been copped to no end proving the band's vitality. But don't think the whole thing is 'tonk and twang. The great Velvet Underground cover "Sweet Jane" adds the alt to the country.
13. Metallica -- Ride The Lightning (1984) After the speed thrash mindf@#$ that was Kill 'Em All, Metallica harnessed their fury and locked it inside sprawling Black Sabbath-esque epics for their second LP. Decked out in work boots and jeans they did not fit in with the heavy metal uniform of the glam '80s. But neither did their music because under all the thrash Motor Head homages they still played basically classic Led Zeppelin heavy metal thunder. What they added on tracks like " Fight Fire With Fire" was fury and anger. It was on "Fade To Black" that they introduced the Metallica ballad, a sound that would go on to be part of their repertoire for the next 20 years. Closing the album with "The Call of Ktulu" only verifies what they had become, a heavy metal monster that ever since has not yet been toppled.
14. The Descendents -- Milo Goes To College (1982) The forefathers of all the 20-something mall punks of today. The Descendents gave us two minute punk songs that at the same time invoked the tunes of the Ramones while keeping up with the speed punk of their '80s contemporaries Bad Religion. They never really fit into the '80s punk scene as evident in the album title (singer Milo got a 1420 score on his S.A.T.'s and eventually studied biochemistry) and the classic "I'm Not A Punk", which houses the line "I'm a square going nowhere". The pop-punk "Hope" was an oddity in the early American punk-hardcore scene of the '80s and definitely paved the way for the vocal stylings of bands like Blink-182. In 1987, the band split, and as Bad Religion sang years later "Milo went to college but you knew about that....."
15. Tom Waits -- Rain Dogs (1985) So it was on Swordfishtrombone that the dusty lounge troubadour finally evovled and shed his skin invoking some demonic bluesmen playing German burlesque shows into his soul. As great as that album was it was on Rain Dogs that he brought it to complete fruition and entered the public conciousness. All that we know and love about mad 'Ol Tom is found here. Unveiling his demonic Louis Armstrong on "Singapore", the creepy beat poet on "9th & Henepin", and his inner Capt. Beefheart on "Union Square". Trading lounge singer for art-freak was a classic move as was experimenting with his love for folk/blues songs and ragtime jazz. I defy anyone no matter how much they hate Rod Stewart's cover not to hum along to Waits' original version of "Downtown Train".
16. The Jesus & Mary Chain -- Psychocandy (1985) Ever dream of hearing The Ronettes backed by White Light/White Heat-era Velvet Underground? Well, enter The Jesus & Mary Chain. Harnessing their love of '50's doo woop, girl groups, "that Phil Spector sound", and mixing it with fuzzy guitars that just dripped with sour sweets, The Jesus & Mary Chain ruled their subgenre, 'cuz they were the only ones! One of the best pop albums albums of the decade, Psychocandy also put in the record buyers' mind that pop could be heavy and distorted as long as the vocals were lush and syrupy. So even though you never thought about it songs like "Just Like Honey" were musical harbingers.
17. Cocteau Twins -- Treasure (1984) While The Jesus & Mary Chain wove shoegaze rock with an edge, The Cocteau Twins were all operatic soundscape. But after exiting their goth phase with Garlands and their ambient experiments on Victorialand the gals embraced pop on Treasure. Their trademark singing style, which is English whether you can understand it or not, was never better than on the epic "Ivo" and the added drum-machine punch of "Lorelei". The Cocteau Twins were huge influences on the entire shoegazer movement of the '90s and inspired even the almighty My Bloody Valentine's Loveless. But it was Treasure that started the genre and some would say ended it.
18. Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds -- From Her To Eternity (1984) After sending us to hell with his visceral and manic band The Birthday Party, Australia's Nick Cave went solo (sort of) and entered our nightmares. Playing a mix of gothic country and swamp blues, Cave and guitarist Mick Harvey chug through Hades' jukebox. On From Her To Eternity they still had the punk sound, this was still long before the piano balladry of No More Shall We Part, and it remains a stark document of post-punk. On "Cabin Fever" we are strung along on pirate ship terrors, a Poe-esque funeral with "A Box For Black Paul", the Mark Twain homage that is just downright disturbing "Saint Huck", and calming us with the classic cover of Elvis Presley's "In The Ghetto". The most harrowing music ever laid to wax.
19. Spacemen 3 -- Playing With Fire (1989) Jason Pierce formed his landmark band Spiritualized after the foundations he laid down on Playing With Fire. Sparse electronica and hazy guitar epics, which eventually turned into the genre we now call ambient, populate this late '80s release and were in pure form here. The vast expanse and space heard on these songs may be the most effective heard on record since the live portion of Pink Floyd's Ummagumma. Not to mention it also includes the stunning original version of "Lord Can You Hear Me?"
20. Mission Of Burma -- Vs. (1982) Though it may not have been apparent at the time, now in retrospect, it is obvious that Mission Of Burma were the Wire of the '80's. The artsy punk band for the smart kids who couldn't get into Black Flag's beer party anthems. Even though they followed Wire's lead on dark and choppy punk for "Secrets" they were always less self-contained than Wire. Their diversity on the album Vs. shows on tracks like "Dead Pool", which is obviously the single reason for the band Tool's very existence (ok, so King Crimson gets the credit, too), and if "Ballad Of Johnny Burma" isn't what got Boston's other famous kids The Pixies started, then what did?

Next Week: 21--30

"The Digital Divide" is ©2004 by Terence Nuzum..  Webpage design and all graphics herein (except where otherwise noted) are creations of Nolan B. Canova.  All contents of Nolan's Pop Culture Review are ©2004 by Nolan B. Canova.