Listen to this track by college radio darlings and grunge-era forebears The Pixies. It’s “Monkey Gone To Heaven” , a single as taken from their seminal 1989 record Doolittle.
The song made impact on the alternative rock charts with a top ten showing. It scored well in the UK as well, with the NME praising it for, among other things, it’s integrated use of strings with rock instruments. It’s not as if this is the first time this arrangement was employed. But, it was a first for the Pixies, who’d otherwise traded on hard-edged instrumentation; guitar-bass-drums-shouting . Here, those elements are taken to another level in one of their best statements as a band.
The song seems to hold an apocalyptic vision, with oceans, skies, and burning planets right out of the book of revelation. Of course, the numerology section of man as five, the devil as six, and GOD AS SEVEN! helps to create that effect pretty handily all by itself.
But, I think this song is less about lofty cosmology, and more about issues that are far more down to earth. Read more
Listen to this song by Queens New York garage-dwellers The Fleshtones. It’s ‘Shadow Line’ as taken from the band’s 1982 debut album Roman Gods.
In some ways, the band hearkens back to the 1965-1968 garage band era, yet also captures some of the darkness of late 70s post-punk. This made them something of a throwback, and a welcome addition to early 80s college alternative radio in the modern era as well. It can be argued of course that it is the pursuit of that 60s sound which fueled college radio at that time, when the simplicity of garage rock was something of a touchstone for post-punk groups like the Fleshtones.
Yet, with this song in particular, it is something of a curious listen in the sense that it sounds entirely timeless, even if at the same time it is tied to a specific era. There is as much Joy Division in there as there is the rough-shod R&B influence of bands like the 13th Floor Elevators.
The result is a highly potent strain of guitar-driven rock music that was able to endure the changing sounds of the 80s, through to the 90s when guitar bands had won back their favour, and onto this decade where the Fleshtones enjoyed something of an renaissance at Yep Roc records with a new release in 2003, Do You Swing?. Since then, they’ve put out a number of releases without any sign of slowing.
For more information about the Fleshtones, be sure to investigate The Fleshtones on Yep Roc.
Listen to this song by wingnut genius singer-songwriter and psych-pop revivalist Robyn Hitchcock with his late 80s-early 90s band The Egyptians: “So You Think You’re in Love” from his 1991 album Perspex Island.
This song and the record off of which it comes was Hitchcock’s shot at ‘breaking America’, something of a cliche perhaps among English pop musicians. At the end of the 80s, Hitchcock found a friend in REM, who were also interested in the jangly-60s Byrdsian approach to pop songwriting. But, where REM had established an audience in the mainstream by then, Hitchcock was still trolling the waters of cult and college radio hipness. Yet, the two bands toured together at the height of REM’s success, exposing the Egyptians to a crowd who might never have otherwise heard them.
In some ways, Hitchcock never really stood a chance at being the biggest band in the world. Although this song is totally accessible and in a classic Beatles-Byrds pop vein, Hitchcock’s lyrical interests are still way off of the beaten track and into the trees. This is what I love about him, of course. Well, that and he still knows enough to write good tunes as well. But, a mainstream audience would never be ready for a guy who likes to write about food and insects, in addition to being able to write cool love songs like this one.
For more information about Robyn Hitchcock, check out his site.
Here’s a clip of the Replacements performing their song “I Will Dare” from their landmark 1984 album, Let It Be.
Were I to compile a list of songs entitled “Songs That Should Have Been Hits”, then this song would make top twenty at least. What’s not to love about this track? A great hook, some great lyrics from head writer Paul Westerberg (“How young are you? /How old am I? / Let’s count the rings/Around my eyes…”), and some great guest playing on it by none other than Peter Buck from REM. It should have been all over mainstream radio.
The ‘Mats (as they are known...) were an unstable unit in many ways, with brilliance lurking beneath a slovenly approach to the stage, with rock deity clashing with too much drink on a regular basis. Perhaps it’s this which kept them from breaking through to the mainstream, yet grew their legend as an underground attraction. There again, their lack of pop success could have been their seemingly willful refusal to play to a specific genre, which was a cardinal sin starting in the 80s and continuing today. The album off of which the track comes is known as one of their high points, taking a pot shot at rock classicism not only by putting a folk rock tune (“Unsatisfied”), a KISS cover (“Black Diamond”), and a hard-core punk tune (“We’re Coming Out”) on the same record, but in naming the record in question after a Beatles album.
Paul Westerberg would go on to success as a solo artist, while Tommy Stinson would join the latest version of Guns n’ Roses with sole original member Axl Rose. Guitarist Bob Stinson died in 1995 of a drug overdose, regrettably succumbing to the rock n roll lifestyle that the Replacements would embody for many.
Despite burning out as a collective, the Replacements are considered to be influential, informing the sounds of bands like Nirvana, Green Day, and Wilco, among others.