Saturday, September 5, 2015

Bad Music Era 84-85-86 part 203

The most boring of the boring?

They used to top critics polls, Los Lobos. Mystified me then, mystifies me now.

Close behind, boringness-wise.

Actually bought this group's live album - look, things were desperate in '85!

Groups often ruined (beyond even the dismal intent / outlook) by the Eighties production, drum sound

Some cultural context via real-time coverage - intro to Barney Hoskyns's May 85 piece in NME on Lone Justice

"Eight years on and it's official — we are no longer bored with the USA.

In fact, so bored are we with the remorseless turnover of homegrown piffle that the dearly-loathed land is almost the only thing to get steamed up about anymore. (I mean, tell me, am I really supposed to be excited by Working Week?)
True, certain esteemed cultural spokespersons [he means Biba Kopf, Don Watson - the New Flesh Sick Noise supporters]  deem all this new yankee trad-ism to be regressive in the extreme, a way of copping out of confrontation with present realities, and they have a point.
But then R.E.M. and the Long Ryders write better tunes than Sonic Youth, so it's hardly surprising that people are more eager to swallow their version of America.
Perhaps there is the danger of an overly romantic view of these bands — these Bangles and Blasters and Beat Farmers — as though they had consciously set out to wage sonic war on the FM giants. Or as though covering some obscure relic by a Seattle garage band of the '60s were some kind of revolutionary statement. Finding genuine innovators in a pack of psychedelic country punks is a tricky business, and one has to agree with the Village Voice reviewer who observed that Jason And The Scorchers, for all their "reckless country soul", probably just want to be the next Rolling Stones.
And yet the awakening of young Americans to their musical legacy, the legacy of blues and country and "punk rock", is throwing up some remarkable raw talent — voices, players, songwriters grabbing hole of a few scrawny roots and taking a stand. These are kids raised on Zep and Aerosmith, people who probably first heard the names George Jones and Gram Parsons in an Elvis Costello interview. (In turn their records may get a British release on F-Beat subsidiary Zippo and the circle will be complete.)
With a fine irony, it is Los Angeles, bastion of everything most vile and unspeakable in American rock, which has nurtured the successive schools of revival. From hardcore beach punk to Sunset Strip power pop, from synthesizer noowave to the Paisley Underground, and from Hollywood rockabilly to suburban cowpunk, the smogopolis has been through as many in-crowd scenes as London. For seven years its garage-bound peasants have been revolting against the Bel-Air rockocracy." 

In all honesty I would vastly rather listen to the sounds being made by the Bel-Air rockocracy in the mid-Eighties than this sorry lot of faux-shitkickers. 

Probably even back then, in 85-86, I'd have preferred the soft-rock lot  -  did buy, like so many others, "Boys of Summer" [and the Eagles were country-rock 15 years before LJustice et al] and I succumbed deliciously to Fleetwood Mac's Tango In the Night (and retroactively bought Mirage and the Stevie Nicks solo albums along with the Obvious Towering Masterworks Rumours and Tusk and self-titled).

The one band / song of all the roots-punk that really shook my tree - Blood On the Saddle, "Wish I Was A Single Girl Again"

Oh and I did like The Gun Club....

Melody Maker was even more gung-ho and totally on top of this (Original Wave of) New Americana action in 84-85 than NME  was - this is before me and Stubbs et al joined - and  the paper continued to give it time and space long into the Arsequake/Blissrock era with the likes of Green On Red, Thin White Rope, etc - thanks to editor in chief Allan Jones love of all things dust-blown and Wild Bunch-y.

TWR I recall had a certain majesty and/or  blasting power

Seem to recall quite liking a Giant Sand album or maybe it was a solo thing by Howe Gelb....

To me though Meat Puppets II and Up On The Sun dealt with this area so much more sublimely - kosmik shit-kicker


  1. It's impossible to dislike The Gun Club, also thinking about Allan Jones being the NME editor banging the drum for Americana explains all the love that genre was shown roughly 10 years ago in Uncut. I never really cottoned to the stuff myself, made me think I was piss poor at being a punk rocker

  2. I' d like to disagree, at least partly. I was born in 1979 so I was actually too young to have those years' popmusic witnessed, but the music lover I am I tried to get grips on those years via old music mags (cheaply off Ebay) and countless hours wading through youtube vids. And, I shall add, I am looking through mid-european eyes as well since I am Austrian. To get to the point, from my musci-archeologie regarding those years, 1984 was pretty damn good - there was Italo Disco still in full swing, there was HI NRG and still shitloads of great electro/early hip Hop being put out. Plus, FGTH/Trevor Horn was in full bloom. Or, if you liked polished but perfectly produced (mainstream) funk, 1984 was a great year there,too.

    You seem about right tho regarding 1985/86. Those years were indeed very dry, also in hindsight, the highlights being those first proto-house tracks emerging from the USA.

  3. Chad - Allan J was in charge at Melody Maker, not NME, but yeah you're right he did continue the alt-Americana agenda at Uncut

    Stefan - well the European perspective could well be different - much more electronic (if you'd been older in 85-86 you would have all that Electronic Body Music to be into, which we did cover at Melody Maker quite heavily in the late Eighties- front cover for Front 242, etc). There was also generally a lot of good club music at that time, all through the Eighties really, from NYC, UK, and Europe generally But at the same time, I'm not sure it's possible to really possible to reconstruct how it felt at the time retroactively, by going back and looking at the high points of what was available. It doesn't create the feeling of it in real-time - where you have to live through all the shit and mediocrity between the high points. Certainly in terms of rock music, it was getting fairly desperate mid-decade. At the time it started to feel like things were going into decline (after New Pop and postpunk) starting from 83, got worse (despite ZTT) in 84, and then really sank in 85-86. I saw some thread somewhere (I Love Music maybe?) suggesting that 86 was one of the worst years ever for both pop and rock. With 1976 being equally bad chart wise (punk's impact only really came through in 77 and 78). But 1986, I remember starting out as a music journalist at MM and really struggling to find anything to enthuse about. Stump and The Three Johns were about it. .The independent music scene was much worse than the charts, in fact.

    1. Yes, reconstructing a musical era (or any era for that matter) is a dodgy affair, I give you that. Just an example: I checked for the music/bands that got mentioned in those old music mags who I didn't know and I was able to find about 80% of the tracks/songs mentioned on youtube. But, no one had the access to this amount of music at the very time, not even DJs and/or record shop owners. Plus, I heard loads of crap naturally, but that doesn't stick. So you might get a distorted picture, indeed. Nevertheless I say from the music I encountered - 1984 still rocked, 1985 was a big decline and 1986 was indeed mainly dreadful.

  4. oops, clumsy half-awake finger accidentally deletes comment by Enda Connaughton

    Enda says: "Reactionary stuff, Reaganism affected them badly. Revert to what u know and what comforts u cf: B Movie by Gil Scott Heron. Internet having same effect on music"

    i got a funny feeling a lot of the new shitkickers would have been anti-Reagan. And in the Barney Hoskyns piece he suggests that these were actually - being from LA in a lot of cases - fairly culturally rootless types who got into country in an odd once-removed way (via Elvis Costello, Gram Parsons and Byrds perhaps, other outliers like Joe Ely - country, blues, roots as somewhere to go after punk). But who knows? They must had had little interest in or any truck with contemporary Country & Western which probably at that point - mid-80s - would have been about to enter the Garth Brooks nu-country era.

  5. While I dig The Gun Club, Cramps and even the first couple of Green On Red records, that was the end of that barrel for me.

    Los Lobos ditto! Never understood the love for them at all. Roots music people eh? (There's a topic for another day- How un-rootsy is this so called term roots music?)

    Soul Jazz released that v good compilation Chicano Power (Tierra's Sun God - Wow) many years ago which contained Latin American bands gettin fonky in the States at the end of the 60s up to the mid 70s. I guess Los Lobos were supposed to be coming from this tradition but jesus....they were you said....fucking boring....there is no other word for it Simon.

    Mid 80s country was my Dad's thing. I recall the group Alabama who were the big name then and gee wiz they were shite, although I recall liking a couple of their cheesier tunes. I never thought I'd want my old man to start playing his Fats Domino records again but commercial 80s country had that affect.

  6. Actually my mum had this box set live thing by Trini Lopez.....I'd way rather listen to that than have to put up with Los Lobos for another minute in my life.

  7. Deleting my posts is probably no harm sometimes or always ✌. But none of the acts u just featured above betray any post punk influence; rather, earnestness and willingness to cleave to folk or country tropes made them what they were. The critical acclaim they got I would put as a reaction to the Second British Invasion who had begun stinking out the charts then after failing to maintain their early momentum. Those acts were always synonymous with the right wing 80s after the fact however lazily so. The mediocrities above were the "antidote" like the Wedding Present, Men they Cdn't Hang were in UK. Sid Griffin wrote for music press himself after I think.

  8. That point about a Bad Music Era being a feature of lived experience rather than the verdict of history is important, isn't it?

    I mean, we might look back at 1970, with the Stooges and Sabbath both at their peaks, as the absolute apogee of rock in its purest sense. But both bands were largely derided or ignored by the critical establishment of the day, and so most listeners either missed them completely or didn't take them seriously. The same, perhaps, as what happened in 93-94-95 (another Bad Music Era?) with hardcore / jungle / drum and bass.

    Which raises the question: if at any time you think you are living through a Bad Music Era, perhaps you are just listening to the wrong music.

  9. That said, I heard Traffic for the first time the other day, from the BME 68-69-70, and they were spectacularly awful. Bad enough to damn an entire era just on their own, in fact.

    (And Enda, I think you're right about Sid Griffin. Completing the circle, isn't he now a writer for Uncut? Critic->Musician is a fairly well-established career path. Not so often you see it going the other way.)

  10. One thing that needs to be said though is that Green On Red's "The Killer Inside Me" has the best production (by Jim Dickinson) of any record of the 1980's - just listen to the title track, it is absolutely gorgeous, like an even better version of his production for the third Big Star album. Also GoR were very left-wing, albeit with some unsightly lingering misogyny.

    THE most boring of the 1980's Americana revival were easily The Rain Parade.

  11. Simon, your final remarks (re, Meat Puppets) sums up my feelings of the time perfectly.

    Yeah, I remember many of these acts (and others like them) flooding the scene in the mid 1980s. Lots of my college-age friends like it, bought the records, etc.. Me, I was bored by it all, and was glad when it all evaporated within a few years. But for a while it was everywhere -- with the above acts getting lots of promo in the pages of Spin, on MTV’s “120 Minutes,” and taking up lots of the Heavy Rotation slots on college radio stations. Spin tried to slap the umbrella label “Cow Punk” on much of it. (No...seriously.)

    Gun Club: Yeah, there were a few outliers to that whole trend -- Gun Club and a few others that had a raker, slightly goth or sludgey aspect to ‘em, and were darker and kinda hardboiled in a Jim Thompson kinda way. And they were often much preferable to the rest.

    Phil, re Rain Parade: Agreed. Aside from the (Chris D-produced) debut LP by the Dream Syndicate, at the time I found most of the west coast “Paisley Underground” hoo-hah unimpressive to the point of tedium.

    I’m inclined to disagree with the Reaganite verdict. While one can argue that it was a default to an early ‘70s country-rock MOR mode, I tended to see as a resurgence of a more “rootsy”/”folky” flavor. For example, wasn’t this around the same time that the Pogues turned up? And that the Mekons transitioned into their own folk/unplugged stage?

  12. yeah i think the back-to-American thing was much more attuned to a populist (or Populist in the late 19th Century political party sense) sentiment .... not dissimilar to John Mellencamp who'd go on about small towns, little pink houses, etc but i think is on the left politically.... and there was a similarly leftist drift towards folky expressions going on in the U.K. as you say Graham .... the Men They Couldn't Hang, who wanted to be a sort of folk Clash... The Pogues to some extent... also the Mekons, very left wing (and actually way more interested in US country 'n' folk than in the UK stuff - remember them telling me they never liked Fairport Convention, but loved The Band) ... a few other examples....

    i think it was much more connected to anti-Reagan-Thatcher than to pro... after all the reality of monetarism is finance capital running rampant, etc - stomping on the little people, breaking up long-existing communities etc etc

  13. I think if the American I’d say that if the above were "reactionary" in any way, it was more pointed a reaction against the U.K. domination of the music scene throughout the early 1980s -- all the post-punk, “new-/ synth-pop stuff. I think by the time the U.K. scene started trotting out acts like the Blow Monkeys, American listeners of various stripes said “enough” -- especially those who turned instead toward homegrown post-REM college-rock fare. Which is why much of the "Era of Bad British Music" was roundly ignored in the U.S..

    I guess it could’ve been an expression one could’ve adopted a few years later: “What a load of cow punk.”

  14. exactly - to use another 19th Century analogy (and another short-lived political party of the 19th Century) (can you tell i specialised in US history in my history degree?) it was a nativist upsurge against those synthetic Brit fops prancing about on MTV (and, aurally, on stations like KROQ which i imagine a lot of the LA back-to-roots lot would have seen as the enemy).

    in Rip It Up i think i used the word 'intifada' to describe the Anglophobe upsurge. fact.

  15. Heh.

    Re, Hoskyn's verdict about: "people who probably first heard the names George Jones and Gram Parsons in an Elvis Costello interview." From experience, I'd say that much is right on the money. Because back then, people I knew who bought Lone Justice were a few years later buying Maria McKee's solo albums at the same time they were also buying albums by "new traditionalist" types like Dwight Yoakam, K.D. Lang, and Lyle Lovett.