Friday, April 29, 2011

Friday 80s Flashback for April 29, 2011

[College Rock] -- I turn 43 this week. Now, how do I work my birthday into one of my weekly 80s post? By looking at the years that, in my opinion, most defined me. I'm a believer in the saying that home is where you find out who you are. For me, that would be college ("We are! Penn State!"). And my college years coincided with the heyday of the musical genre known as College Rock, so named because this "alternative" to pop mainstream found a home on many a college radio station. Although known for many independent artists and giving the world "Alternative Rock" (right after its biggest acts went mainstream), College Radio gave rise to such (now) well-known bands as U2 and R.E.M. So, for my birthday, you 80s-philes get quite a gift with this flashback. You know, of course, I won't go the "easy" route with my selections. But can you guess what gems we'll unwrap this week? Read and hear more after the jump.

Flashback #1
"And the ones that love us least  |  are the ones we'll try to please  |  If it's any consolation, I don't begin to understand."

If any one band of the 80s could capture the combination of angst, rebellion, and skewed self-image that accompanied most students as they navigated their college years, The Replacements would be that band. The Mats, as they are often called by their fans, formed in 1979 and were active up until the advent of the 90s. Inspired in equal parts by 70s punk as well as the more melodic offerings of bands such as The Beatles and Big Star, The Mats were a drunken revelation with their self-deprecating lyrics and brusing live shows. Our first flashback of the day is lifted from their 1985 release, Tim, which ranks on Rolling Stone's 2003 list of the greatest 500 albums of all time and sits at #4 on the Alternative Press list of the top 99 albums of 1985-1995. But even with all the advance and critical praise Tim received, it barely cracked Billboard Music's top 200. "Bastards of Young" is a swaggering, jangled and nearly abusive ode to the struggles of working class Americans. College students, at least those who had to keep their grades up while working to pay for their books and education, took it as their anthem as well. If you've never heard of The Replacements, it's high time we complete your, um, education. 

Flashback #2
"Wish I new what you were looking for | I might have known what you would find."

Toward the end of the 80s, many of the harbingers of College Rock (U2, R.E.M., even The Replacements) moved from independent to major label deals. A significant percentage of fans were highly disappointed with such signings. But the moves were likely due more to evolution in the record industry than a simple desire to "sell-out." As these bands moved into the mainstream, their recordings took on more polish. This is to be expected when there is more money to spend and better equipment at one's disposal. An excellent example of an independent darling taking on a slicker sheen is The Church's fifth studio album, Starfish (1988). During the recording of this album, the "Australian hippies" of the band found themselves at odds with their LA record producers. Steve Kilbey, lead vocalist and bassist, was even pressured to take singing lessons. But all that work was good for something as this album yielded the band's only international hit, "Under the Milky Way." 

Flashback #3
"Sometimes I even weep | But I dream of her behind the wall of sleep."

Our last flashback of the day comes from band that named themselves after a Yosemite Sam catchphrase: "Varmint! I'm a-gonna blow you to smithereens!" Formed in 1980, The Smithereens were known for playing power pop, with a marked emphasis on the power part of that moniker. They took their 1960s influences and cranked the knob off their Marshall amplifier stacks. Their sound was bold, melodic, and carried by an undercurrent of aural power. I first found The Smithereens via MTV's 120 Minutes. I was up late and caught the music video for "Behind the Wall of Sleep," a single from their first full-length album, Especially for You (1986). This is the album that put them on the map. And they have had minor brushes with celebrity since then (their "Blood and Roses" was used in an episode of Miami Vice, they played themselves in the film Class of Nuke 'Em High, almost had a song on the Say Anything soundtrack, and they performed a music video with Jean Claude Van Dammes for their cover of "Time Won't Let Me"), but they still remain deliciously under the mainstream radar. They are, however, no longer off your radar.

Once again, I remind you that the rule of three applies when doing Flashbacks. As I've made my three offerings, that's all till next week. But if you 80s-philes need more flashbacks, please visit the archives. As always, your comments are welcome on today's, or any other, flashback post. And if you like what I'm doing here, please share the link with your friends. If you don't like the flashback, share it with your enemies.

I'll see you in seven!

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