::Literate Blather::
Monday, March 17, 2008
5 Underrated Bands from the 1980s
(Every decade has those musical acts that flirt with rock god status, but for one reason or another fail to make the final ascent. The 1980s were littered with these kinds of bands. They all were neck-to-neck with U2, R.E.M., and the Police for defining the musical genre of the decade. But they didn't. Here are our picks for some of the better bands of the 1980s -- that really should have made it further.)

The Fixx

Origin: The Fixx was a British new wave band formed in 1980 by a group of college buddies.

Band Members: Cy Curin (vocals), Jamie West-Oram (guitar), Rupert Greenall (keyboards), Adam Woods (drums), Dan K. Brown (bass)

Best Album: “Reach the Beach” (1983)

Next Best Album: “Shuttered Room” (1982)

Best Song: “Red Skies”

Second Best Song: “Saved by Zero”

Third Best Song: “One Thing Leads to Another”

Why They Should Have Made It: The Fixx made some excellent pop music with that 1980s alternative sound. They were on the cusp of making it big with “Reach the Beach,” which hit number 12 on the U.S. charts (with the single “One Thing Leads to Another” climbing to number 4). The album is one of the best new wave albums of 1983 and still holds up well even today.

Why They Remain Underrated: The Fixx had a couple of minuses and one of them was lead singer Cy Curin’s lack of charisma. In the heyday of MTV, the Fixx’s videos were long and boring and Cy’s flowing blond locks on top of his skinny body looked… well, strange. Their 1984 album “Phantoms” also took the band into a more esoteric artistic direction with oddly named songs such as “Less Cities, More Moving People” and “Are We Ourselves?” The band could have used less intensity and tried to relax a bit (they never seemed to be having much fun).

Where Are They Now?: The band – minus bassist Dan K. Brown – is back together and preparing a world tour.

Violent Femmes

Origin: A three-piece alternative that was formed in Milwaukee in 1980.

Band Members: Gordon Gano (guitar, lead vocals), Brian Ritchie (bass), Victor DeLorenzo (drums)

Best Album: “Violent Femmes” (1982)

Next Best Album: “The Blind Leading the Naked” (1986)

Best Song: “Kiss Off”

Second Best Song: “Add It Up”

Third Best Song: “Gone Daddy Gone”

Why They Should Have Made It: The Violent Femmes first album is a classic punk-infused alternative album. It’s gritty, angry, and possesses a wry streak. It’s also confident and brimming with angst.

Why They Remain Underrated: They Violent Femmes were never able to capture lightning in a bottle again. Each subsequent album got worse and the music never had the same smarmy energy of the first one.

Where Are They Now?: Gano released a solo album in 2002 and has had minor success as an actor. Brian Ritchie lives in Australia and plays with a band. He’s also suing Gano for not being properly credited for writing some of the Femmes original songs. Victor DeLorenzo still plays and owns Joe’s Real Recording studio.

The Feelies

Origin: A rock band formed in Haledon, New Jersey in 1976. They became one of the most popular bands at Maxwell’s, a live music bar in the 1980s.

Band Members: Glenn Mercer (guitars, vocals), Bill Million (guitars, vocals), Andy Fier (drums, percussion), Keith DeNunzio (bass)

Best Album: “Crazy Rhythms” (1980)

Next Best Album: “Only Life” (1988)

Best Song: “Away”

Second Best Song: “Too Far Gone”

Third Best Song: “Crazy Rhythms”

Why They Should Have Made It: The Feelies were music critics darlings in 1980 after their first album. The Village Voice named “Crazy Rhythms” the 17th best album of 1980 and Rolling Stone has it ranked number 49 among its best albums of the 1980s. The Feelies mixed driving guitars – rattling out at a machine gun like intensity with improvised percussion for a sound like no other.

Why They Remain Underrated: Egos got in the way – along with side projects. The band went through a revolving door of members and didn’t produce their second album until six years after the first – the disappointing “The Good Earth” (1986). They roared back with the very underrated “Only Life” in 1988, but by then it was just too late.

Where Are They Now?: The band broke up in 1992 and the members have scattered into other bands and side projects.

The Alarm

Origin: The band was formed in Rhyl, Wales in 1978 and originally toured with the Stray Cats under the name Seventeen. They officially changed their name to The Alarm in 1981.

Band Members: Mike Peters (vocals, guitars, harmonica), Dave Sharp (lead guitar), Eddie MacDonald (bass), Nigel Twist (drums)

Best Album: “Declaration” (1984)

Next Best Album: “Strength” (1985)

Best Song: “The Stand”

Second Best Song: “Where Were You Hiding When the Storm Broke?”

Third Best Song: “Rain in the Summertime”

Why They Should Have Made It: The Alarm was a punk-infused rock band that wrote some anthem like standards that got heavy rotation on college radio stations in the early to mid 1980s. They toured with U2 and were often compared to them.

Why They Remain Underrated: The Alarm seemed to rebel against the U2 comparisons and left their politically infused alt-rock anthems behind and tried to make it as a straight rock band. They started wearing leather and lost their raw edgy sound. It just didn’t catch on.

Where Are They Now?: Mike Peters has been diagnosed with cancer, but seems to be recovering. He has launched a new version of the Alarm and is working on an EP.

Hoodoo Gurus

Origin: Formed from the remains of several bands in Sydney, Australia in 1981.

Band Members: Dave Faulkner (vocals, guitar), Mark Kingsmill (drums), Brad Shepherd (guitar, harmonica), Richard Grossman (bass)

Best Album: “Stoneage Romeos” (1984)

Next Best Album: “Mars Needs Guitars!” (1985)

Best Song: “I Want You Back”

Second Best Song: “Lelani”

Third Best Song: “Bittersweet”

Why They Should Have Made It: The Hoodoo Gurus were fun. Their pop infused tunes mixed punk, alternative, surf, and New Wave into joyful songs ready for dancing or driving fast. They were the hits of the college radio in the early to mid-1980s.

Why They Remain Underrated: The band may have been too talented. Their music was all over the map and they experimented with different styles and sounds. Listeners are notoriously impatient with bands like the Hoodoo Gurus.

Where Are They Now?: After breaking up in 1998, the band is back together again. They went back into the studio to record “That’s My Team,” a takeoff on “That’s My Scene” for the National Rugby League in Australia and decided to stay together.

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Blogger Daniel said...
Why They Remain Underrated: Egos got in the way – along with side projects. The band went through a revolving door of members and didn’t produce their second album until six years after the first – the disappointing “The Good Earth” (1986).

Wow, that doesn't accurately describe anything about the Feelies. It's true that their second album wasn't made until six years had passed since the first one, but it had nothing to do with egos or a constantly changing line-up of members. They simply stopped being the Feelies after getting dumped by Stiff Records. Their 'side projects' were just the bands they were in during those years. No one was playing or recording under the name Feelies. It was only when Peter Buck convinced them to reform and put out The Good Earth did they become the Feelies again. And while you may have been disappointed with The Good Earth, you should know that most fans of the band rank it as their best or second best album. It was and remains a favorite among music critics, too, and it got them signed to A&M. (Also, Crazy Rhythms got ranked #17 in the Village Voice critics poll of 1980, not #1.)

Blogger GFS3 said...
Hi Daniel:
There has been an almost complete turnover of members in the band with most of the Feelies being involved in other bands at the same time (at least six projects at my count).

After "Crazy Rhythms" half the band quit and the band went into limbo for a long time. Six years between a debut and a second album is too long if you expect to keep an audience.

I'm not a big fan of "The Good Earth" but I respect other people's opinions about it. I don't think its as powerful as "Crazy Rhythms" or "Still Life."

You are, however, right about the #17 ranking and I'll change that.

Don't get me wrong -- I think the Feelies were one of the best bands of the 1980s and had talent galore. They should have been big. Hell, they deserved to be big.

But it didn't happen.

Blogger Bybee said...
my ex husband sneered at me for liking "One Thing Leads To Another". Asshole! That's not why we broke up, but still...

Did the recent movie, "Gone Baby Gone" get its title from the Violent Femmes song?

Blogger GFS3 said...
Well, the movie was an adaptation of the Dennis Lehane mystery novel by the same title. I don't know if Lehane was a Femmes fan -- but he's 42 years old so he probably grew up listening to them.

Blogger Chrees said...
Nice list and wonderful reminder of the time. Some bands I loved straddled the decade cutoff, but one I'd probably include is Gang of Four. Post-punk pretension can be fun sometimes. Limiting to only five is a tough choice!

Blogger Daniel said...


Blogger GFS3 said...
I'd go to that show.

Although in the post you linked to the blogger says the Feelies were even better than R.E.M. in their prime. R.E.M. has always had a reputation for being a sub-par live band (Stipe apparently still gets bad stage fright).

I've never seen the Feelies live, but I've heard they're really good.

Blogger TJK_HAYWOOD said...
Origin: A rock band formed in Haledon, New Jersey in 1976. They became one of the most popular bands at Maxwell’s, a live music bar in the 1980s.
Glenn Mercer, Bill Million, Dave Weckerman, Brenda Saughter, Stan Demenski.
Best Album ; The Good Earth
Most criticly aclaimed Albums ; Crazy Rhthems , The Good Earth.
Best selling album; Crazy Rhythems, Only Life, The Good Earth.
Look up "Yung Wu Shore Leave".
Google it and get you ears on a copie of that record if you can.
"Slippin into somethin'" comes to mind, and " The Boy with perpetual nervousness" (I just saw them last night, their first show in about 16 years!)
Second best song: "The Last Round up" or " Let's Go" check out "Waiting" from their "Time for a wittness" album.
Third Best song: "The High Road", "Mosco nights"
Why the should have made it: They did make it! They were highly influential!!! There were bands allover NJ and Pa. and NY that were practicly emulating them. Big bands like R.E.M. were sighting them as an influence.
There was a folk rock renasaunce happening in the 80's in a way, it was rock with folk sensibilities and the Feelies brought the guitar bass and drums into a new light.
Why they remain underrated:
Are they? They did what they did and it was enough for then. They are well remembered and have reunited and will be opening up for Sonic Youth on July 4th. But that'll be it for a while, They should relax and not have any presure on them. Europe remembers them well and some great entusiasm awaits there.

Blogger GFS3 said...
Wow Haywood -- you're a Feelies fan. But they didn't make it. Making it means you're BIG -- you have hit songs, hit records -- you can live off the royalties. That didn't happen for the Feelies. But it should have.

Blogger Steve Ulfelder said...
Lists are for quibbles: here are mine!

First, I don't think of the Femmes as underrated, but rather as more of a cult/influential outfit, like Jonathon Richman and the Modern Lovers. That is, I think the Femmes were exactly what they were destined to be, as far as popularity and sales went.

On a similar note, I think the Fixx (I saw them sometime in '82 or '83 in NYC) are correctly remembered as a not-quite-U2 Nu Wave band with about a hit and a half.

For a band that couldashoulda made your list, I nominate the Pixies!

Blogger GFS3 said...
Pixies are a good addition. Hard rocking with some excellent songs (and critics just adored them). Yet they didn't reach hearts and minds.

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