Posts Tagged ‘1985’

'80s neo-psychedelic post-punk band Crippled PilgrimsMid-eighties Washington D.C. band Crippled Pilgrims were a bit ahead of their time, and this most likely contributed to their lack of commercial success. The best way to describe their music is neo-psychedelic combined with guitar-driven post-punk, which resulted in an indie sound that would come into popularity later in the decade. The band’s debut release was 1984’s EP Head Down-Hand Out. By the time their first full-length album came out, 1985’s Under Water, they had called it quits. The track “Undone” is off the ‘Under Water’ LP.

 

'80s post-punk band Blue In HeavenStrongly championed by U2, Irish band Blue In Heaven never came close to reaching their countrymen’s heights. Starting out as a hard-edge post-punk band in 1983, they soon garnered a cult following and released a couple of singles under U2’s Mother Records. By the time they released their debut album, 1985’s All The Gods’ Men, they had moved to a darker, more atmospheric sound. This is no surprise, as they worked with Joy Division producer Martin Hannett on the LP. They had a few more releases before calling it quits in 1989, only to reform as the Blue Angles in the ‘90s. The song “In Your Eyes” is off the ’85 debut album.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        

It’s time for another installment of ‘80s protest songs. In my last post, I focused on the anti-apartheid movement and how artists helped bring this issue to a broader audience. This time around I’ll be focusing on songs that dealt with the backlash against Ronald Reagan and his policies. There were countless artists who spoke out against the administration’s policies, such as cuts to social programs and taxes for the wealthy, deregulating the EPA, and the rise of capitalism. It would take another post to cover protests over the administration’s military policies.

The B-52s’ song “Channel Z” is pretty much an indictment of the Reagan administration as a whole wrapped up in a fun, upbeat tempo. But mostly this song is a condemnation of the deregulation of the media under the administration and the constant feeding of mass information to an all too eager public. It was the debut single off the 1989 album Cosmic Thing. Although not achieving the success of other songs from the album, such as “Love Shack,” and “Roam,” it did reach #61 on the UK Singles Chart.

 

One of my favorite songs off R.E.M.’s 1987 album Document is the opening track, “Finest Worksong.” The song is basically a rousing call to arms against Reagan capitalism delivered in an almost sermon-like form. It was the third, and last, single to be released off the album. It reached #50 in the UK but failed to chart in the U.S. A slightly lighter-sounding version of the song is included on the greatest hits compilation, Eponymous. It’s the brighter version that Pete Buck felt should have been on Document but I think I’ll have to disagree with Mr. Buck on this one.

 

The Ramones also joined the fray with their song “Bonzo Goes to Bitburg.” The single, released in 1985, was a protest to a visit Ronald Reagan paid to a military cemetery in Bitburg, Germany. Along with members of the German army, there were also several members of the Waffen SS (a branch of the Third Reich) buried there. The Ramones were joined in protest by holocaust survivors, US politicians from both sides of the aisle, and many countries in Europe. To stem the tide of criticism, a visit to a concentration camp was added to Reagan’s agenda. The single was not released in the US and as an import became a minor success on college radio. Retitled “My Brain is Hanging Upside Down (Bonzo Goes to Bitburg),” the song was included on the 1986 album Animal Boy.

 

When it comes to classic songs of the eighties, you can’t get more classic than The Smiths’ “How Soon Is Now?” Some have called it the “Stairway to Heaven” of the eighties. I remember hearing the song on college radio in the mid-eighties but didn’t see the video until years later. Included on the album Meat is Murder, which was released 30 years ago today, the song was originally intended as a B-side. But with the perfect combination of Johnny Marr’s haunting guitar and Morrissey’s somber lyrics, it was destined to be the group’s biggest and most enduring song.

Known for its swirling, dreamy guitar work, the song was the result of much experimentation with reverb, rhythm tracks, and harmonization. Marr told Guitar Magazine that achieving the changing pitch of the guitar (vibrato) took some time and he has since forgotten how to recreate the slide guitar sound. He also lamented that not writing down the process on the slide part has been “one of the banes of my life.”

Upon hearing the single, the record company, Rough Trade, didn’t think much of it and felt it didn’t represent The Smiths’ sound. Plans for the song as an A-side were thrown out and it became a B-side to the 1984 single “William, It Was Really Nothing.” Despite this, the song was picked up by British DJs and later that year was the most requested song on many prominent shows. Although it failed to chart upon its initial release, it wasn’t until its re-release as a single in 1985 that it made the UK charts (reaching #24).

The US release of the song, by Sire Records, was accompanied by an unauthorized video. The band was not a fan of the video and thought it was degrading. Regardless, it gave the band great exposure in the US and helped make it their most famous song. The track has gone on to make numerous lists of best songs of the eighties, topping some lists as the greatest song. Although it might not be the greatest representation of The Smiths’ “sound,” it definitely earned all the accolades and its place in the annals of best and most influential songs of the decade.

 

What would the eighties have been without protest songs? Just as every decade prior, and since, the eighties were filled with protest songs. There were protest songs about nuclear war, oppressive regimes, gang violence, and anyone who was president at the time. The whole of 1982’s Combat Rock album from The Clash was pretty much a protest to all things wrong in the world. Besides the videos of the impending doom of a nuclear holocaust, the ones that readily come to mind had to do with anti-apartheid.

For all its faults, one good thing that came out of MTV was bringing awareness to causes outside my small world. Before being exposed to these videos, I wasn’t even aware of apartheid or Nelson Mandela. Musicians from all genres were getting involved. Artists such as Stevie Wonder, Peter Gabriel, The Specials, and the whole eclectic mix of musicians in Artists United Against Apartheid all participated in this effort and it was hard to not take notice.

One of the first references I have of Nelson Mandela, and apartheid, was the video “Nelson Mandela” by The Special A.K.A. The song was released in 1984 and became a hit around the world, except the U.S. where it didn’t chart. With its upbeat African rhythms and catchy beats it’s easy to see why this became a hit. Some say this song was focal in the anti-apartheid movement, largely due to its mass appeal.

 

Recorded under the name Artists United Against Apartheid, and led by Steven Van Zandt, the song “Sun City” brought together the likes of Bruce Springsteen, The Fat Boys, Bob Dylan, Ringo Starr, Lou Reed, Afrika Bambaataa, U2, George Clinton, Stiv Bators, Keith Richards, Hall & Oates, and Joey Ramone among many others. Released in 1985, the song was a pledge by these artists to not perform at this large resort town. The song is a fusion of hip hop, rock, and African beats. It peaked at #38 on the U.S. charts with only half of radio stations giving it airplay – the other half having issues with its anti-Reagan sentiments.

 

Then there is Peter Gabriel’s song “Biko,” a song about Steve Biko, a well-known anti-apartheid activist who was arrested and jailed in South Africa in 1977. He died in police custody a month later. Released in 1980, the single was off of Gabriel’s self-titled album. It reached #38 on the British charts but didn’t get much airplay in the U.S. until its promotional use for the 1987 film Cry Freedom.

 

 

Some of my favorite bands in the eighties were from the goth genre. Bands such as The Sisters of Mercy, The Mission, The Cure, Siouxsie & the Banshees, and T.S.O.L. These bands had heavy rotation on MTV and had plenty of airplay on college radio. This was a genre I thought I was well-versed in until recently when I decided to dive in and take another look and see what I had missed back in the goth heyday. Zero Le Creche is a band I stumbled upon while scouring the internet for “the best goth songs ever.” I kept seeing the single “Last Year’s Wife” on many best of lists and decided to seek them out.

It turns out that I couldn’t find much on this band, for good reason – they only released two singles. An English band formed in the early eighties, Zero Le Creche were just taking off when the lead singer, Andy Nkanza, left the band and inexplicably disappeared. They quickly got a new lead singer and released one more single in 1985 before disbanding. They were categorized as goth because there was no other genre that really fit. The band was said to bridge the gap between the Psychedelic Furs and Bauhaus. A record company cobbled together enough studio recordings to release an album in 2008, which pays tribute to how much interest there still is in the band. I plan on purchasing this album in the near future and I suggest you give it a listen. You won’t be disappointed.

“Last Year’s Wife” was the first single released by the band in 1984. With soaring vocals and a catchy guitar hook, it had me from the beginning. Considered one of the great goth classics of the eighties, it makes you wonder what else this short-lived band could have accomplished. I wasn’t able to track down any footage of the band and not sure if any exists.

 

The second (and last) single was 1985’s “Falling,” featuring a new lead singer sounding very much like Richard Butler. It’s another catchy tune with an irresistible chorus that matches anything put out by the Psychedelic Furs, the band which they are so often compared.