The album collection in chronological order from when it was bought. Revisited one at the time. Part 5.
Sonic Youth | Daydream Nation | Blast First 1988 |
Bought in late October 1988, when this was brand new I guess. I knew Sonic Youth a little bit from before, had been scared off by ‘Confusion is Sex’ and fell in love with ‘Sister’ earlier in the same year. But this is still my gateway album into a band I’ve never tired from. Sonic Youth will forever be one of my definitive favorite bands. ‘Daydream Nation’ was a mind blowing experience back then, and it’s just as good today, 30 years later, ranking as one of the true masterpieces of not only 1980s guitar rock, but as a beacon in American underground culture.
R.E.M. | Green | Warner 1988 |
Is ‘Green’, their major label debut, the last great album of R.E.M.? I don’t know, I’m well aware of the enormous success they were about to enjoy later on, but for me, this was actually the final album I bought and enjoyed from start to finish from a band that was tremendously important to me. “World Leader Pretend” will forever remain an eternal favorite, but the whole album is just gorgeous. A soundtrack to the indian summer of 1988.
Divine Horsemen | Devil’s River | New Rose 1986 |
A Lee & Nancy kinda dark cowpunk romance set in the LA gutter, based on equal love for punk rock and honky tonk; Divine Horsemen are one of the true alt.country pioneers – but arrived a bit too early to cash in on the thing. ‘Devil’s River’ is their finest moment, and it has aged well too. Chris D and Julie Christensen was a mighty fine unit back in those days. And hey, it’s engineered by Mr Brett over at Westbeach.
Black Flag | My War | SST 1984 |
How much damage did this album cause for a young innocent kid, unaware of the sludgy nightmare on the b-side? I was already a fan of early Black Flag, “Six Pack”, TV Party” and such stuff, but this was a whole other ballgame. Little did I know that ‘My War’ became the gateway album to my grunge phase, right around the corner. The Pettibon cover is brilliant, too.
Green On Red | Green On Red | Down There/Enigma 1982 |
The musical roots to this EP can be traced back to the 1960s and bands like the Seeds and Electric Prunes, infused with the nervous tension of the early 1980s. ‘Green On Red’ is a dense masterpiece from a band in its very infancy, a night road trip from the Arizona desert to the backstreets of Los Angeles, where our protagonists evolves from youthful naivists to dark-eyed realists. “I made a pact with the devil that night” snarls Dan Stuart, while Chris Cacavas clings on to a steady organ drone. This might be a prediction of greater albums to come, but Green On Red never captured this almost dreamlike state of past and present ever again. I love it.
Thin White Rope | Red Sun EP | Demon 1988 |
“Red Sun” is the one majestic centerpiece in a catalog full of them, and it’s still the perfect song for those sweltering 100 degrees summer evenings on the porch. The grinding cover version of “Some Velvet Morning” is also worth mentioning, those guitars stems from a whole other solar system. Such a great EP, such a great band.
The Long Ryders | 10-5-60 | Zippo 1987 |
Six wonderful tracks of paisley power, where ‘60s folk rock meets ‘80s garage revival. “Born To Believe In You” was my favorite back then, and it still is.
True West | Drifters | Zippo 1984 |
The combination of chiming guitars, rootsy sound and retro-friendly jangle pop sure is irresistible. True West did it better than most of their peers, and ‘Drifters’ is their masterpiece. Especially side 2, including some of their most memorable songs, “And Then the Rain”, “Morning Light” and others, is standout. ‘Drifters’ is a mighty fine album.
Lee Clayton | Naked Child | Capitol 1979/1983 |
Where the heck is Lee Clayton today??
Motörhead | Ace Of Spades | Bronze 1980 |
Everything is cool about this album. I believe I bought it – in the fall of 1988 – mostly because of the cover art – I mean, what’s not to dig about those three mighty grim lookin’ cowboys posing in the desert. But the songs are killer too, of course. Timeless on all levels.
Having remade Pink Floyd’s The Dark Side Of The Moon in 2009 as well as releasing a very rare take of The Stone Roses’ self titled debut in 2013, The Flaming Lips have made a name for themselves as a band unafraid to tackle classic material on their own terms. They continue in that same vein with their new rendition of The Beatles’ 1967 Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.
Says Lips’ Wayne Coyne: ‘Mostly we do it because it’s fun… I don’t think we have any agenda. I mean we make so, so much music that it can be a relief not to be working on your own songs…everyone who makes their own music has this secret joy of playing songs that aren’t theirs.’
Coyne goes on to suggest that these albums we call ‘classics’ aren’t as sacred as we hold them to be, their resonance in people being, to an extent, ‘dumb luck.’ While there may be some truth to this statement, any artist so bold as to take on one of these works ought to anticipate the expectations they are setting up for themselves.
An act far beyond covering a single track, and far more rare, remaking a full album is a risky business, especially when it comes to legends as the Pink Floyd or The Beatles. The Flaming Lips do it their own way and for their own reasons, but they’re not the only ones stepping into thin air. Here are 10 other interesting attempts at full album covers.
Dub Side Of The Moon
(Easy Star, 2003)
The Dark Side Of The Moon
(Harvest, 1973) The Dark Side Of The Moon is quite simply one of the most iconic, best known and best-selling albums of all time, remaining on the Billboard charts for a stunning 741 weeks in a row. That’s 14 years, folks! Using some of the most advanced studio techniques, such as multi track recording and tape loops, this was state-of-the-art at the time – but its the human quality of the songs and the artistry of entire album that make it simply timeless.
What is this about?
This is the debut album by the New York-based reggae collective Easy Star All-Stars, and one that gave them instant stardom. Just as the original album has been a regular on the world’s sales charts since the release, Dub Side of the Moon has steadily remained on the Reggae charts all the way since 2003. The band followed up their success with Radiodread (2006) and Easy Star’s Lonely Hearts Dub Band (2009), and of course, Dubber Side of the Moon in 2010.
Why should I listen to it?
Does a dub-reggae interpretation of The Dark Side of the Moon sound a good idea? Well, not really, but this actually works out amazingly well. This is a complete makeover, though with the actual song structures kept fairly intact, even sticking to the same time-pace as Pink Floyd, which many have said synchs perfectly with the first hour of The Wizard of Oz. Try to leave your stoner jokes at the door, but it’s hard not to giggle when the chiming of clocks on “Time” is replaced with the bubbling of a bong, followed by a smokey cough. Bringing their own kind of psychedelic haze into the magical mystery tour of the original songs, including roots reggae, jungle and dancehall, Dub Side of the Moon is heading for the same directions, but on a different space shuttle.
The Dirty Projectors:
(Dead Oceans, 2007)
A true hardcore cornerstone; Damaged is one of the most influential punk albums of all time. Black Flag defined the entire L.A punk scene and paved way for American underground rock with ferocious anger and rambling anthems like “Gimmie Gimmie Gimmie,” “T.V. Party,” and “Police Story.”
What is this about?
Dirty Projector mastermind Dave Longstreth hadn’t heard Damaged in 15 years when he decided to remake it basically from how he remembered it in his youth. Longstreth, being a complete opposite of Henry Rollins in every way, turns angry riffs into lush orchestration, and angry yelling into sweet harmonies.
Why should I listen to it?
This is something completely different, that’s for sure, and not an album aimed at the typical Black Flag-fan – or hardcore enthusiast at all. Longstreth and his Dirty Projectors reache far beyond such categorization, and this is probably a love-hate kind of work. The critic’s stayed mainly positive, ‘That the album has a concept – a song-by-song ‘reimagining’ of Black Flag’s Damaged – scarcely matters to the listener, although it seems good for Longstreth: It gives the illusion of an anchor,’ wrote Pitchfork (8.1/10), while in a more lukewarm response, Paste Magazine stated, ‘This is either one of 2007’s most refreshing or most grating albums, and there’s a hair’s breadth in between.’
Let It Be
Let It Be
The final studio album released by The Beatles, even though it was mostly recorded prior to Abbey Road in the early months of 1969. The quartet was already in steaming ruins at the time of its release in May 1970, but the grandiose, orchestral production of Phil Spector manages to even out the frictions within the band. A second proper version of the album was released in 2003 without his heavy-handed touch, as Let It Be… Naked.
What is this about?
In the history of odd combinations, this one really stands out. The industrial/neo-classical Slovenian outfit Laibach doesn’t compromise their strict, military sound and guttural singing when turning towards the gentle pop of The Beatles. Their beautiful version of “Across The Universe” aside, this shows another side of The Beatles. Laibach decided to drop the title track on their version, and replaced “Maggie Mae” with a German folk tune.
Why should I listen to it?
For Beatles-lovers, mainly because you’ve never heard The Beatles like this before. As All Music Guide puts it, ‘In some respects, Let It Be wasn’t that hard of an effort – songs like “Get Back”, “I Me Mine,” and “One After 909” simply had to have the Laibach elements applied (growled vocals, martial drums, chanting choirs, overpowering orchestrations, insanely over-the-top guitar solos) to be turned into bizarre doppelgängers. The sheer creepiness of hearing such well-known songs transformed, though, is more than enough reason to listen in.” But this is also a political statement. Made at the dawn of the Slovenian independence movement, it evokes living behind the Iron Curtain at a time when the people no longer would ‘let it be.’
Booker T. & M.G.’s:
The real swan song by The Beatles, and the last sessions where they all participated, is nothing short of a masterpiece, bringing them into brave new musical directions (again and for the last time), completed with standout tracks like “Something,” “Sun King,” and “Come Together” – and of course the iconic cover art. Fun fact: a 19-year-old Alan Parsons worked as an assistant engineer in the studio. Known not only for his own subsequent artistic career, he also did the engineering on the aforementioned The Dark Side of the Moon.
What is this about?
Booker T. Jones was so awestruck when he heard Abbey Road, he just had to pay immediate homage to it, and together with Donald “Duck” Dunn, drummer Al Jackson and the rest of the M.G’s, he made McLemore Avenue just a couple of weeks after its release. The album cover is even a remake of the original, McLemore Avenue being the street passing Stax studios in Memphis. You can even spot the famous “Hitsville USA” sign back there.
Why should I listen to it?
This is a soulful, instrumental and quite improvisational interpretation, where the single tracks are bundled into three lengthy medleys – except for “Something”, the only standalone track – securing a sweet Southern flow that suits the songs surprisingly well.
Petra Haden Sings the Who Sell Out
The Who Sell Out
A concept based tribute album to pirate radio, complete with fake commercials and jingles in-between the songs. A milestone in their catalog, The Who Sell Out is far from a sell-out. This masterpiece is a perfect blend of mod pop and hard rock, wonderful vocal harmonies and with some of the bands finest songs, including “I Can See For Miles.”
What is this about?
This daring project came to life when Mike Watt (of Minutemen fame) handed his friend, singer-violinist Petra Haden (that dog, The Decemberists, many others), an 8-track cassette tape with the original Who album recorded onto one track and the other seven empty, for her to fill with intricate vocal harmonies. Haden decided to remake the classic by herself, and only herself. This a cappella version features just her, singing all the voices, all the instruments and yeah, even the jingles and the mock radio commercials.
Why should I listen to it?
This could’ve ended up a total train wreck in the hands of others, but Petra Haden has the vocal capability and keen musical understanding to transform one masterpiece into another. And Pete Townsend himself approved of it, speaking with Entertainment Weekly in 2005, ‘”I heard the music as if for the first time. I listened all the way through in one sitting and was struck by how beautiful a lot of the music was. Petra’s approach is so tender and generous. I adore it.”
Camper Van Beethoven:
Actually the most expensive album made at that time, with a stunning $1 million price tag. According to author Rob Trucks’ in his 33 1/3 book Fleetwood Mac’s Tusk, the group started their recording session with a cocaine fueled celebration of Mick Fleetwood’s new $70,000 sports car, before he got a phone call saying that the uninsured car was broadsided and demolished while being towed to his home. The album itself also became a commercial car crash, selling ‘only’ four million copies – something like 20 millions less than Rumours. It is now generally hailed as a keystone album within the AOR segment.
What is this about?
This is nothing less than a re-recording of a re-recording. First done by Camper Van Beethoven in 1987 around spare time of making their delightful Our Beloved Revolutionary Sweetheart. This song-for-song remake didn’t get a proper release until 2003 when they returned from a 12-year long hiatus. They dug up these old demo tapes, and decided to give it another shot, more or less as an experiment to see if they still could play together and work as a group.
Why should I listen to it?
And they sure could. Camper Van Beethoven gained popularity as one the most beloved alternative rock bands in the mid ‘80s; combining garage/punk roots with jangle pop, ska and country-folk. All elements are present here, on a collection where the song material of course is excellent – the performance loose and joyous. Even if it’s not up there with Camper’s best albums, it’s still a treat.
An undisputed classic from the glorious creative highpoint of Stevie Wonder; Talking Book secured him multi-platinum sales, several hit songs (“Superstition”, “You Are The Sunshine Of My Life”) and a swath of Grammys.
What is this about?
Not promoted as a covers album, but rather labeled a ‘love letter’ to Stevie Wonder on the occasion of the original’s 40th anniversary, Macy Gray did her tribute in a pretty straightforward way, leaning on her raspy voice and keeping the funky edge more or less intact.
Why should I listen to it?
This album received various critics. Popmatters.com stated that ‘some of these versions just seem unnecessary, more a product of the let’s-cover-the-whole-album concept rather than songs that anyone was dying to re-record;’ while The New Yorker wrote in a much more positive review, ‘Gray hits all the right notes, both as a singer and an interpreter: it’s a marvelous, expansive, eccentric performance that lifts off into gospel toward the end. The original version was about romantic love. This one may be about matters more divine (there’s one explicit mention of prayer), unless it’s just Gray’s way of reiterating her devotion for Talking Book itself. Either way, it’s a stirring closer, and a reminder that the most important thing about a love letter is how it ends,’ referencing the closer, “I Believe (When I Fall In Love It Will Be Forever).”
(Record Collection, 2006)
In 1974 John Lennon temporarily separated from Yoko Ono and left New York for a period, settling in Los Angeles and rambling around with Harry Nilsson in what is commonly known as the “Lost Weekend.” Fueled by large amounts of booze, the pair entered the studio together and recorded Pussy Cats, with a worn-out Harry Nilsson at the microphone and Lennon filling in as producer. The album is guested by, amongst others, Ringo Starr, Jim Keltner and Keith Moon. It must have been a hell of a party.
What is this about?
It started out as a joke, but ended up as a full album. Indie/post-punk outfit The Walkmen did a track-by-track, note-by-note remake of one their favorite albums, recorded in the last days of their Marcata studio in New York City. Together with a bunch of friends they created their own Lost Weekend while the studio fell apart around them. Oddly enough, we get a couple of covers of covers here as well, since Nilsson/Lennon themselves versions of “Many Rivers To Cross” and Dylan’s “Subterranean Homesick Blues.”
Why should I listen to it?
It’s kind of hard to revitalize the ramblings of the drinking buddies, and wisely enough, singer Hamilton Leithauser does not try to impersonate Nilsson growls. As the little sister to the band’s main album of that year, A Hundred Miles Off, this one might be considered a parenthesis in their own catalog; but it’s in some ways just as good. The band catches the vibe while creating their own mood into it. And hopefully it helped gain more attention to an often-overlooked gem from the mid-‘70s.
Red Headed Stranger
(DiCristina Stairbuilders, 2003)
Red Headed Stranger
Being dissatisfied with is relations with Atlantic Records, outlaw cowboy Willie Nelson turned to Columbia in 1975 for more artistic freedom. His first statement was Red Headed Stranger, a concept album about a fugitive on the run from the law after killing his wife and her lover. With a production so sparse even Columbia thought it was just demo tapes, but they kept their promise of artistic liberty and hesitantly released Stranger – to wide acclaim from the public and critics alike. It was Nelson’s big breakthrough, sold multi-platinum and is generally ranked among his finest works to date.
What is this about?
Singer/songwriter Carla Bozulich first gained attention as the singer in Ethyl Meatplow and country-based post-punk band The Geraldine Fibbers, later performing as Evangelista. Red Headed Stranger is her first solo album, and an escape from the pressure of writing new songs. She turned to this classic, aided by, amongst others, longtime partner Nels Cline, Alan Sparhawk of Low – and hey, Willie Nelson himself.
Why should I listen to it?
The result is nothing short of gorgeous. Adding instruments like Autoharp, electric mbira and tamboura into the mix, Bozulich does more than a remake, this is a true rediscovery with new soundscapes within a whole different aural texture. As All Music sums it up in their rave review, ‘As downtrodden and spiritually haunting as its predecessor, this new Red Headed Stranger is vital and necessary, a work of new Americana — not the radio format, but the mythos itself.’
The RAM Project
The second solo album from Macca, made in the shadows of breaking up The Beatles and darkened by his sour relationship with John Lennon. Ram was not received favorably in its time (nothing less than “monumentally irrelevant” according to Rolling Stone’s Jon Landau), but its reputation has grown steadily throughout the years, and it is now considered as on his best solo albums. Same Rolling Stone, different writer, called it, in-retrospect, a ‘daffy masterpiece.’
What is this about?
In 2010 Dave Depper decided to re-do Paul McCartney’s Ram completely by himself in is own bedroom. For one month he carefully recorded every single instrument, with just a little aid from Joan Hiller in the role of Linda McCartney. What started as a bedroom project turned out to be a proper release, and one that has continued to live on for Depper, being something much bigger than he initially intended.
Why should I listen to it?
This is a pretty impressive piece of work, clearly done with lots of passion and love. More a re-built creation than anything else, an exercise in imitation. As with the approach of the Flaming Lips, sometimes music is just about having a good time, and stumble upon brilliance now and then, even if that brilliance belongs to other people.
Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain was 27 years old when he ended his life in his Seattle home on April 5, 1994 – leaving this earth perhaps the most iconic cultural figure of his time. As Cobain biographer Charles R. Cross emphasized, ‘He isn’t the last star in rock ’n’ roll, but he is the last true Rock Star that we’ve had to date who earned Icon status. He existed in a period that is now lost to history, when a rock artist could be played on all formats of radio, when rock was the dominant musical form.’
The tragic story of Nirvana’s rise and fall, and grunge’s parallel emergence from underground cult to worldwide phenomenon, have been duly told and retold over the years. This article instead looks closely at the musical building blocks that set the foundation for Nirvana, illuminated by 15 selected albums, in an attempt to grasp the essence of their subsequent sound – and thus get a little closer to explaining their unlikely success.
As Cobain himself said, ‘I think we sound like The Knack and the Bay City Rollers being molested by Black Flag and Black Sabbath.’ An assessment not without accuracy or charm.
Nirvana leaned against the obvious persuasions of hardcore and hard rock, but this was interspersed with a broad and more commercially friendly side that appealed far beyond the inner clique. Sub Pop’s Jonathan Poneman put it this way, ‘Part of what was so captivating about Nirvana’s music was not so much its stunning originality, but its remarkable fusion of so many different strands of influence.’
Kurt Cobain was very open to the music he liked and took inspiration from, and shared passing lists of Nirvana’s favorite bands, albums, and songs. Such was the case in this famous paper in which Kurt scribbled down Nirvana’s Top 50 favorite albums – a list that has led many fans to increase the volume of the album collection.
These were not necessarily Cobain’s favorites, but rather 15 bands and albums that are co-responsible for laying the musical groundwork for Nirvana – and by extension, for the development of the alternative rock into the ’90s.
* * *
Black Sabbath: Black Sabbath (1970)
Black Sabbath were the foundation for what would become heavy metal, and, naturally enough, their debut album is one of rock’s dark mastodons. The rainy intro opens the gates to a post-industrial wasteland in 1970 Birmingham, with a resonance that carried itself to the ears of a couple of boy ears on the west coast 10-15 years later.
Black Sabbath‘s leaden sound spawned many bastard children over the years, not least of which includes Nirvana’s debut album. Bleach plods though the same muddy tracks – which would help define grunge in the late 1980s.
Iggy & The Stooges: Raw Power (1973)
Iggy Pop was one of Cobain’s role models, with similarities in both music and attitude. Iggy was a demon on the stage, writhing on the floor, rolling around in broken glass; he was as an out of control force of ‘raw power’, destructive drug use and uncontainable energy. Cobain absorbed this persona into Nirvana, not least in their early gigs where anarchy and chaos were prevailing forces. Musically, of course, proto-punk machinery from Detroit also had an obvious effect on Nirvana. The Stooges – and Raw Power especially – are punk rock required reading.
Kiss: Destroyer (1976)
There’s an obvious superficial distance between the cynical, flannel-clad Seattle rockers’, and pyrotechnically-aided arena rock of four men dressed like superheroes. Yet Kiss was an integral part of growing up in the ’70s and ’80s, and they offered a sense of escapism to the misfit youth of the time. Like it or not, Nirvana has roots elementary school scribbles of Starchild. They recorded a cover of ”Do You Love Me” off of Destroyer, which also includes “Detroit Rock City” – later paraphrased as “Sub Pop Rock City” by Soundgarden. And as fate would have it, on a December’s day in 2013, Kiss and Nirvana were both inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Sex Pistols: Never Mind The Bollocks Here’s The Sex Pistols (1977)
With their first and only album, Sex Pistols sent shock waves into the establishment, catapulting punk into a mass movement that shaped culture and opened up opportunities for a new generation of artists in its wake – a similar effect to what Nirvana would repeat 15 years later. Could it be a coincidence that Nevermind and Never Mind the Bollocks… made their greatest mark not by shaping musical trends but in shaking the music industry and the cultural establishment? Both mark the boiling over point of an underground phenomenon – the beginning of a new era where the boundaries between alternative and mainstream became more porous. A game-changing work of its time and a killer plate of punk rock to boot.
Cheap Trick: Cheap Trick (1977)
‘I’ll be the first to admit that we’re the ’90s version of Cheap Trick or the Knack’ stated Kurt Cobain in his liner notes for the compilation album Incesticide. Cheap Trick had a penchant for British pop invasion (think The Kinks) which they used as the foundation for their fusion of power pop and hard rock, with a dash of punk. Their eponymous debut is chopped a bit rougher than their later more radio friendly sound. If you’re wondering whether Cobain was referencing the same Knack that produced the one hit wonder, “My Sharona”, you’d be right. In the Cobain biography Heavier Than Heaven Kurt meets up with a friend in 1988: ‘There’s this great record that I’ve discovered that you HAVE to hear. Kurt pulled out Get the Knack. Romero thought Kurt was being sarcastic, and inquired, ‘Are you serious?’ ‘You’ve got to listen to this – it’s an awesome pop album,’ was Kurt’s deadpan reply.’
Neil Young & Crazy Horse: Rust Never Sleeps (1979)
‘It’s better to burn out than fade away.’ The stanza, taken from Neil Young’s “Hey Hey, My My (Into the Black)”, is the penultimate line of Kurt Cobain’s suicide not. Young would dedicate the entirety of his 1994 album Sleeps With Angels to Cobain. Like Iggy Pop, Young had been trying to contact Cobain shortly before he died. In Young’s autobiography, he writes: “I, coincidentally, had been trying two reach him through our offices to tell him That I thought he was great and he should do exactly what he thought he should do and fuck everybody else…” Neil Young was early to popularize the flannel shirt as the preferred rock uniform. The echo of his thundering guitar rang deep into the forests the northwest, earning him the title, ‘Grandfather Of Grunge.’
Young Marble Giants: Colossal Youth (1980)
Minimalist and magical: Young Marble Giants’ first album from 1980 is a something of a forgotten masterpiece, and it has its natural place here as a representative of the British post-punk that Cobain felt most at home in. Far from the angry, snot-nosed punk image his stage persona let on, Cobain shared much of their introversion, as well as their self-destructiveness. Together with their Scottish counterparts, The Vaselines, these Welsh were among Cobain’s most relatable artists. In an interview with MTV Brazil in 1993 Kurt Cobain underlines that he was ‘heavily influenced by them’ – less in sound than in terms of ‘their emotions, the feeling, the sincerity and their fantastic songwriting.’
Flipper: Album – Generic Flipper (1982)
Kurt Cobain could make a band cool by simply muttering their name in passing – as he did The Vaselines – or by sporting a concert T-shirt in public – as he did with his well-worn Flipper shirt. And glory to him for that – if there’s a band that deserves to be lifted out of obscurity, it’s Flipper. The San Francisco band’s epic debut from 1982 check’s every box in the rock handbook: rule breaking, destructive, infantile and reckless. Flipper slowly cranked their songs through a meat grinder, without fully knowing what would come out the other side. En route, they stumbled upon such punk anthems as “Sex Bomb” while blazing a magnificent trail to madness.
Black Flag: My War (1984)
As pioneers of American underground rock into the ’80s, and originators of the California hardcore sound, Black Flag is obvious primary school curriculum for Nirvana. On their later album, My War, the band took punk into a slower, heavier and more militant territory. This had a clear effect on bands like Melvins and Nirvana. Black Flag frontman Greg Ginn started the SST label in 1978, which went on to become one of the most important publishers of the ’80s – and a role model for Sub Pop’s rise some years later.
Hüsker Dü: New Day Rising (1985)
New Day Rising marks an important transition for the power trio of Hüsker Dü. Without losing their frenetic power and strength, here they write pop-flavored melodies that shine through the layers of treble fuzz, albeit not overpoweringly. With a little more polishing, New Day Rising could have been the Nevermind of the ’80s. As Krist Novoselic admitted, ‘Nirvana’s blend of pop, punk and metal was nothing new, Hüsker Dü did it before us.’ From the same circuit and time period, it is also worthy to mention the parallel developments by The Replacements, Butthole Surfers, and Meat Puppets – all of whom were significant fertilizers for the ripening of Nirvana.
Beat Happening: Jamboree (1988)
Sub Pop rapidly grew into a multinational brand in the ’90s, but they initially came from a proud tradition of strong underground labels from the heyday of SST, Touch & Go – and K Records in nearby Olympia, Washington. K was formed in 1982 by Calvin Johnson, the frontman of Beat Happening. Lo-fi aesthetics dominated the label’s releases, casually produced by friends and acquaintances in the region, which helped chart course for the “alternative revolution” and the rise of indie rock as a mainstream phenomenon. Musically, there is a certain distance between the compact guitar rock of Nirvana and the more quirky indie pop of Beat Happenings, but the relationship can be illustrated by this quote from the band: ‘We are Beat Happening, and we do not do Nirvana covers. They do Beat Happening covers, so let’s get that straight.’
Killdozer: Twelve Point Buck (1989)
Madison, Wisconsin band Killdozer ruled the 1980s underground, along with acts like Butthole Surfers, Laughing Hyenas, and Scratch Acid (pre-Jesus Lizard). Their slow, sludgy punk-on-downers sound distinguished them as early predecessors to grunge, especially for the periphery scene outside of Seattle. The band became known for its original and unexpected cover songs – such as a throaty rendition Don McLean’s “American Pie” – a talent Cobain and Co. also became known for after the live recording, MTV Unplugged in New York. They worked repeatedly with technician Butch Vig in Madison’s Smart Studios. As a result of hearing Killdozer’s 1989 LP Twelve Point Buck, Nirvana hired Vig to work on In Utero. After Cobain’s death, Killdozer also record 1995’s God Hears Pleas of the Innocent with Steve Albini.
Dead Moon: In The Graveyard (1988)
Barbarous garage rock has a long history in the Pacific Northwest, with bands such as The Kingsmen (“Louie Louie”) and The Sonics as key originators. Portland-band Dead Moon push forward this rich legacy and remind us that neither Nirvana, nor grunge as a whole, appeared from nowhere. Unlike Nirvana and the landslide that followed in their wake, the Dead Moon remained in the garage while the other left the scene in limousines. And there they still had it pretty good until dissolving in 2006.
Pixies: Surfer Rosa (1988)
Telling the story behind “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” Kurt Cobain confessed, ‘I was trying to write the ultimate pop song. I was basically trying two rip off the Pixies.’ And indeed, Nevermind shares countless similarities with Pixies, in song structure and, notably, in the powerful soft-loud dynamics that Nirvana would further perfect. Sound engineer and producer Steve Albini was commissioned to produce In Utero as a result of his signature work on Surfer Rosa.
Melvins: Ozma (1989)
Seattle rock’s anomalous emergence came out nowhere, and in a matter of years the city’s musical profile transitioned from a loser-like sense of coolness to streamlined factory for mass culture. But one band never changed. Melvins were heavier, stickier and gloomier than all the others – and they were among Cobain’s biggest musical influences, especially noticeable on Bleach. Melvins would later serve as role models for an even heavier, slower and more somber drone rock formulated by bands like Earth and Sunn O))). Melvins have definitely left a heavy imprint in the rock history books, and their first two albums are authentic sludge rock at its best.
Bjørn Hammershaug Originally published on read.tidal.com October 12, 2014.
Av de utallige punkbandene som sprang ut fra den amerikanske undergrunnen på sent 70-/tidlig 80-tall, står Zero Boys og deres debut Vicious Circle (1982) fremdeles igjen som et landemerke av en skive. I 2009 samlet Secretly Canadian hele bandets tidlige katalog over to nyoppussede utgivelser: Den klassiske debuten og deres aldri fullførte andreplate + EP’en Livin In The 80’s.
Zero Boys ga et frampek mot det som ble kjent som ‘american hardcore’; raskere, hardere og tyngre enn den britiske punken. Parallelt – om ikke forut for – mer kjente navn som Bad Religion, Hüsker Dü, Descendents og T.S.O.L., og i det umiddelbare kjølvannet av pionerband som Black Flag, Minor Threat og Bad Brains oppstod Zero Boys, midt i Amerika. De fleste andre amerikanske band hadde (og har) gjerne utspring fra kulturelle metropoler som San Francisco, Austin, Chicago, Boston eller New York. Zero Boys kom fra Indianapolis, et sted uten særlig dype tradisjoner for motkulturelle uttrykk. Men den amerikanske punken hadde stor innflytelse og utbredelse på grasrotnivå, og bidro til å skape grobunn for nye scener fordelt over et større geografisk område (Necros kom fra Maumee, Ohio, Meatmen fra Lansing, Michigan, 7 Seconds fra Reno etc.). I et intervju med Maximum Rock’n’Roll fra 1982 sier vokalist Paul-Z (Paul Mahern):
I stay here because it feels real. The kids around here appreciate the few shows they do get to see. Also, to be a punk from Indiana means that you went looking for punk rock – not because all the kids at school are punks. It’s real rebellion.
Zero Boys: Vicious Circle (Nimrod, 1982)
Historien om Zero Boys tør være kjent for mange fra småsteder som føler misnøye med forholdene og søker ut. Paul Mahern trålet byen rundt på jakt etter plater på slutten av 70-tallet, en fan av Kiss, Sabbath og Aerosmith. Han rasker med seg en utgave av Creem med Sex Pistols på omslaget, og dermed var det gjort. Han startet band umiddelbart, og i 1979 var Zero Boys en realitet.
Etter EP’en Livin’ In The 80’s intensiverte de øvingen og satte seg fôre og lage en plate i stilen til Germs, Dead Kennedys og Circle Jerks. Vicious Circle er huggende riff, bjeffende vokal og frenetiske gitarsoloer, men også med en viss pop-sensibilitet som gir seg utslag i fengende melodier Ramones-style. Bandets sosiopolitiske profil gir seg utslag i tekster både om skyting mot maktpersoner i samtiden og retter en langfinger mot gamle dinosaurer (’Don’t wanna hear no more ’bout Mick Jagger’s old bones…’). Legg merke til den hvasse lyden, det ekstremt tighte uttrykket og den fandenivoldske viljen som lyser gjennom hele albumet. Vicious Circle frigjør enorme mengder energi og en låttittel som ”Amphetamine Addiction” virker ikke være tilfeldig. Dette er motsatsen av hippienes fredsæle tåkemantra.
Den profilerte skribenten Jack Rabid (fra The Big Takeover) har sørget for innsiktsfulle liner notes, og jeg lar hans ord virke støttende til mine egne vurderinger:
The young Midwest quartet was surprisingly tight, with a precision rarely associated with the new American hardcore: leaner, faster, meaner, more riotous, and eight times more explosive than on their previous, respected Livin’ in the ’80s 7″ EP. And the recording quality was impeccable, zooming past like an amplified dragster.
Etter Vicious Circle spilte Zero Boys en del konserter i midt-vesten, sammen med Beastie Boys i New York, men kom ikke noe særlig videre og brøt raskt sammen av alle de opplagte årsakene. Et par skiver midt på 90-tallet er mest for komplettister. Vicious Circle er stedet å starte, og det er egentlig sjokkerende hvor fet denne platen låter over 25 år etter at den ble spilt inn – og det i løpet av to kjappe dager!
Denne reutgivelsen, remastret fra de opprinnelige tapene, inkluderer også de to sporene som ikke ble med på originalplaten: ”She Said Goodbye” og ”Slam And Worm”.
Zero Boys: Histoy Of (Secretly Canadian, 2009)
Zero Boys’ første utgivelse var singlen ”Livin’ In The 80’s”, med det smått fantastiske tittelkuttet og ditto ”I’m Bored”. To år med intens jobbing resulterte i debuten Vicious Circle, og etter ytterligere turnévirksomhet begynte de på sitt andre album. Før de rakk å gjøre dette ferdig, ramlet bandet sammen. En kassettutgave av History Of ble skrapet sammen i cirka 100 eksemplarer.
History Of har ikke debutens stramme fokus, men viser et band som kanskje kunne utviklet seg i andre og vel så spennende retninger som det hardcore-rammene kunne by på, både i form av et mer metallisk sound og noe seigere rock-orientert uttrykk. Det er ikke riktig å si at de rakk å finpusse veien videre, og opptakene viser i like stor grad et band som ’kunne blitt’ enn et band som ’ble’. Gitarist Terry Howe lar for øvrig sitt mørke livssyn prege deler av låtmaterialet, hans tekster omhandler stort sett enten å dope seg eller å forsøke å streite seg opp. I følge den noe rotete coverteksten til Eric Weddle dreier en låt som ”Splish Splash” om å ikke ende opp som Germs’ Darby Crash. Crash tok livet sitt med en overdose heroin i 1980 (dagen før John Lennon ble skutt). Howe holdt seg helt til 2001 før han gikk samme vei.
Zero Boys vil nok, tross et par 90-tallsskiver og jevnlige reunions, for alltid bli husket for Vicious Circle. Og det er da ikke alle forunt å etterlate seg såpass!
Første gang publisert: 06.08.05 – i forbindelse med bandets konsert på Øyafestivalen 2005
I 1991 besørget J. Mascis for at undertegnede fikk nesten varige hørselsskader da Dinosaur Jr. spilte på Aker Brygge i Oslo. I en av konsertens ytterst få feedback-avbrekk rekker en publikummer å smette inn med utropet: «Hey J, we don’t hear your voooice!!» J ser opp fra de lange hårflokene, smiler(!) og mumler: «That’s good» før han trøkker ned et par av de mange fuzzboksene med en bestemt fot og fortsetter med sitt. Når han 15 år senere står på scenen i samme by (Øyafestivalen 2005) er det ikke lenger i kraft å være blant de ledende artister i sin samtid, men med visshet om at han har etterlatt seg et legat som vil vare lenge etter at siste gitarskrik har stilnet. En av de sterkeste i så måte heter You’re Living All Over Me og ble gitt ut i 1987.
1987 huskes som et særs godt plateår for oss som begynner å dra litt på årene. Bare sånn i farten kan nevnes Sonic Youths Sister, Hüsker Düs Warehouse: Songs and Stories, Pixies’ debut-EP, Butthole Surfers’ Locust Abortion Technician og The Replacements’ Pleased To Meet Me. Alle står de trygt på hedersplass, om enn med litt støv på, og sannelig dannet de presedens for det meste annet som har kommet opp der i ettertid. Sammen med disse 80-tallspionerene innen amerikansk indierock (og det ordet hadde faktisk en betydning på den tiden) finner vi selvsagt Dinosaur Jr med sin andre utgivelse. Det er ikke bare en kultklassiker fra sin tid, det er en plate som også står seg svært godt snart tjue år senere.
You’re Living All Over Me var et stort sprang fra den fine, men noe usikre og ujevne debutplaten til trioen fra Amherst, Mass. De tre var på den tiden. J. Mascis, et slacker-ikon før termen ble oppfunnet og et idol det var lett å identifisere seg med for ungdom som sluntret skolen, røykte pot, snublet i kjærlighetslivet og spilte luftgitar. Sammen med den «nerdete» bassisten Lou Barlow og alltid trofaste Murph stødig hamrende bak trommene utgjorde de en merkelig, sprikende og sterk enhet både musikalsk og personlig. Bakgrunnen hadde de i hardcore/punk, noe de tok med seg videre i karrieren, men det var med en mer sensibel stil de skulle vekke oppmerksomhet. Hjulpet frem av datidens kultlabel #1 SST (Meat Puppets, Soundgarden, Sonic Youth, Hüsker Dü) havnet Dinosaur Jr. raskt i samme toppdivisjon.
Mascis hadde til gode å polere det elegante gitarspillet som skulle dominere senere plater på 90-tallet, men til gjengjeld hadde de på You’re Living All Over Me en jomfruelig råskap som bare Bug (1988) eventuelt kan måle seg opp mot. Her er det dissonans, vreng, wah-wah og flanger i en mer post-punka attitude som gjelder, der senere Dinosaur-skiver gjerne henfalt i mer sober kledning, med bedre lyd, et mer gjennomtenkt sound og enda tristere sanger. For Dinosaur Jr. bragte først og fremst gitaren til heder og verdighet – inkludert gitarsoloen – i indiekretser. Mer enn noen andre benyttet Mascis instrumentet som forlengende talerør av sitt akk så sorgtunge blikk på tilværelsen, og han viste at det fantes en middelvei mellom hardrocken, Hendrix, punken og «wall of sound»-støyen à la Hüsker Dü, noe som kommer sterkt frem på You’re Living All Over Me. Her spilles det HØYT. Høyt, desperat og hjerteskjærende med effektiv pedalbruk som hjelpemiddel, men også drivende, melodisk og strukturert. Som en syntese av, tja, la oss si Black Flag, Sonic Youth, The Cure og Neil Young er You’re Living All Over Me en av de store platene innen pre-grunge amerikansk gitarrock. Mascis’ gitarstil, bandets slacker-image og deres balanse mellom melodier og støyutbrudd, samspillet mellom dynamikk og energi, kan dessuten høres som en direkte foranledning til Nirvana og deres suksessformel på Nevermind noen år senere.
Dinosaur ville likevel ikke hevdet seg med den alltid dominerende gitarbruken alene. J. Mascis skrev i tillegg låter med en melodisk kraft og en underliggende sårhet som få andre. You’re Living All Over Me er ikke nødvendigvis den beste samlingen låter samlet på en Dinosaur-skive, selv om ”Little Fury Things”, ”Sludgefeast”, ”Raisans” og ”In A Jar” alle er av klassisk materiale. Men ingen av de senere platene deres fanget riktig den samme gløden og villskapen, med foreningen av slow-motion støyrock, hardcore og fengende popmelodier. Dette blir klart allerede på anslaget, ”Little Fury Things”, som åpner med forrykende gitarer og desperate skrik («What is it? Who is it? Where is it?») før melodien slår inn og Mascis kommer inn med sin søvnige, vablete stemme: «A rabbit falls away from me, I guess I’ll crawl, A rabbit always smashes me, again I’ll crawl…» I løpet av tre minutter er platen signert, selv om den aldri faller inn i ett spor og blir forutsigbar, i sin kombinasjon av gråtkvalte melodier og gjennomtrengende slagkraft.
Selv om lyden på You’re Living All Over Me kanter over mot det søplete, og av og til druknes i gitarslam, kan ingenting skjule den suggererende flyten som preger denne platen. I tillegg til ovennevnte signaturlåter gis det også rom for bandets mer eksperimentelle sider, som Lou Barlows «Lose» og «Poledo». Særlig sistnevnte kom lofi-bølgen i forkjøpet, en trend Barlow selv skulle bli den fremste eksponent for med sine mange prosjekter (Sebadoh, Sentridoh, Folk Implosion). Peter Framptons ”Show Me The Way” virker som den naturlige avslutter på en plate som fremdeles tangerer det meste av gitarrocken som slippes i dag.
You’re Living All Over Me er stoner-rock for slacker-kids, hardcore for softcore-fans og støyrock for pophoder – og står igjen som en av 80-tallets fremste undergrunnsplater. Bjørn Hammershaug
Urinals eksisterte i tre korte år – fra 1978 til 1981 – og utga kun en håndfull singler/EP’er i løpet av sin karriere. Deres innflytelse på undergrunnsscenen utover på 80-tallet kan likevel ikke undervurderes, med band som Minutemen og Mission Of Burma som et par opplagte arvtakere og britiske Wire som et mulig forbilde.
Urinals hylles gjerne for sin minimalistiske, nedstrippede stil, men deres effektive togrepslåter (eller helst ett) og tilknappede tekster hadde sin naturlige forklaring: Medlemmene, alle studenter på UCLA i California, startet prosjektet uten musikalsk bakgrunn i det hele tatt, mest som en ren parodi på populærkulturen og punkrocken. De ville skrive så korte og enkle låter at de kunne bli spilt av alle (uten sammenligning for øvrig, har de senere blitt tolket av band som Yo La Tengo, Gun Club og No Age). Forsøket var likevel så morsomt at de bestemte seg for å kjøre på, og Urinals ble raskt en del av punkscenen i California, og delte scene med blant andre Black Flag og Circle Jerks. Etter tre år var de såpass drevne at Urinals-konseptet hadde utspilt sin rolle. De endret navn til 100 Flowers og ble et relativt anerkjent post-punkband.
Negative Capability… Check It Out! samler vel opp det meste av det de spilte inn, blant annet deres tre legendariske sjutommere og en haug liveopptak. 31 låter – inkludert en herlig cover av Soft Machines «Why Are We Sleeping» – 47 minutter med klassisk punkhistorie av den primale typen. «Hologram» er kanskje ikke den mest representative låten i deres lille katalog, men det er en av de beste.