Friday, August 7, 2020

Ten Super-Cool '80s Bands That Time Has Forgotten!

The Buck Pets

Why did this writer overlook the The Buck Pets on first sight, you ask? Well, for starters, just the mention of the name "Buck" back then inspired thoughts of yet another ambitious southern band trying to emulate R.E.M.'s sound. By 1989, when this Dallas band's Island Records debut hit the streets, we were - to put it mildly - just starting to suffer the first hints of "R.E.M. fatigue".

In hindsight, the band's sound is so "Sub Pop grunge" in nature that one almost can't believe the band isn't from Seattle.

One factoid that should make Chicago alt. rock fans go "Hmmm" is the fact that the band wrote a song about Veruca Salt's Louise Post (called "Song For Louise Post") in 1987, a good five years before Veruca Salt even existed. According to promo materials for the first album, Post was someone singer Chris Savage "knew for a day".

What a day it must have been!

Love Tractor

Speaking of R.E.M., this Athens, GA foursome seems to have gotten shunned just by their geographic proximity to America's favorite indie rock band. Of course, R.E.M. drummer Bill Berry was also one of their first drummers, but that's where the similarities end.

Beginning as an arty instrumental band, the group added vocals for their third album (and major label debut) This Ain't No Outer Space Ship, creating a sound that bands like Tortoise and The Sea & Cake seem to have co-opted to varying degrees over the years.

1989's Themes From Venus (produced by Mitch Easter) upped the ante considerably with a handful of stellar ear-worms ready for MTV airplay, but their RCA-distributed label (Big Time Records, also briefly home to Love & Rockets and Hoodoo Gurus, among others) went belly up the year prior, leaving them with no other option than to return to the same indie label (DB Records) that had released their earlier albums, dooming its commercial fate and that of the band, which broke up in 1992.

Cactus World News

While it was cool of bands like R.E.M. and U2 to champion younger bands by either mentioning them in interviews or producing their records, Ireland's Cactus World News getting the "U2 stamp of approval" should have been enough to launch them into the stratosphere, but acted like a cement block tied to their feet instead.

Of course, it probably didn't help that the band chose to sign to MCA (a.k.a. Music Cemetery of America), but, even so, when one cranks up a tune like "World's Apart" or "Years Later"and hears those ringing guitars and arena-ready hooks, you'll be left scratching your head as to why this band made nary a ripple in the States.

The Bears

Take an immensely popular Ohio-based rock band with impeccably stellar tunes who, quite frankly, should have gotten signed on their own (The Raisins), add guitar-god Adrian Belew to the line-up, sign them as the flagship act for new I.R.S. Records subsidiary (Primitive Man Recording Company) and what could possibly go wrong?

In hindsight, everything!

Not only did the band's superb debut album not sell, it didn't even get the usual smattering of mid-level press attention that Adrian Belew's involvement would normally bring, thereby failing to build any sort of buzz for what was truly one of the most buzz-worthy bands to ever walk the earth.

Coming off of the failure of the band's second album, Belew would score a worldwide hit in 1989 ("Oh Daddy") with young daughter Audie while the rest of the Bears went back to Ohio and resumed life as The Raisins (and later Psychodots).


It might be hard for those of us in Chicago to consider the Insiders as some "lost '80s band" due to WXRT's continuing love affair with the band's first single and title cut to their lone CBS Records album Ghost On The Beach, but the fact that said album remains completely unavailable in any digital format (or on today's popular streaming services) proves that the powers-that-be (whoever they may be) buried this album deeper than Jimmy Hoffa's lifeless corpse.

Of course, those evil jackals also saw fit to make sure the band's second album never ever saw the light of day, either, which is a damn shame because, when it came to introspective heartland rock, few did it better. Meanwhile, Henry Lee Summer (on the same label) scored not one, but two Top 20 singles during the same period.

John Moore and The Expressway

With a singer whose claim to fame was his brief tenure as the drummer in The Jesus & Mary Chain, this short-lived band fit neatly between JAMC and Flesh For Lulu in this writer's record collection, but, if you blinked, you might have missed them entirely, save for the appearance of this song in the film "Class of 1999" in 1990.

A second album, Distortion, was released a year later (but not in the U.S.), sounding more like the proper follow-up to Billy Idol's Rebel Yell than Billy's own Whiplash Smile.

Chiefs of Relief

With a line-up boasting a former member of Bow Wow Wow and the drummer from the Sex Pistols, one would think that a song as catchy as "Freedom To Rock" would have done at least as much business as, say, EMF's "Unbelievable", but what was ultimately unbelievable was just how little interest there was for the futuristic rock this band was peddling circa 1987-88.

Had they shown up three years later, one thinks the world would have beaten a path to their door, but that's the thing about timing and/or the lack thereof in the crazy world of rock & roll.

Think Sigue Sigue Sputnik with better songs and much less campy nonsense.

Darling Buds

After the success of the Primitives' "Crash" in 1988, it seemed every label had to have their own blonde-female-fronted rock band and the best out of them all was this foursome from New South Wales.

Debut album Pop Said was the most immediate of their three albums for Epic, showcasing the band's rapid-fire pop sensibilities as well as singer Andrea Lewis' playfully matter-of-fact vocals.

Whether it was the public's inability (or unwillingness) to see them as anything but a Primitives knock-off or the fact that their entire major label run seemed to take place during that weird transitional period between grunge and techno house music becoming all the rage, there is something almost criminal in how unceremoniously this band was relegated to the dollar bins.

The Railway Children

This writer will always fondly remember this jangly UK guitar band as the first act to be signed to the newly-established US office of Virgin Records and how, sometimes, it just doesn't pay to be first.

While "120 Minutes" aired the band's videos, they were completely ignored by radio programmers, thereby sealing the fate of their two albums (1988's Recurrence and 1990's Native Place).

Prior to that, they'd been part of the esteemed Factory Records roster, which no doubt helped their debut album Reunion Wilderness go to #1 on the UK Indie chart.

Once leaving Factory, it seems, the band's good fortune seemed to run out despite no discernible drop in quality of material or presentation. Perhaps it is that nuanced consistency that many took for granted despite the noteworthy vocals of Gary Newby, who should have been marketed as a solo star after the band called it a day in 1992, but chose to quietly continue releasing records under the Railway Children name.

The Sugarcubes

Mention the name "Bjork" and at least ten hipsters will faint on-sight, but nary a mention seems to be made these days of the groundbreaking band that put her on the map in the first place.

After all, prior to the band's completely unexpected arrival on these shores, the number of Icelandic rock bands to break into the U.S. Billboard charts was precisely ZERO and remains so to this day, yet it was the band themselves (not just Bjork) who crafted the amazing and still waaaaaay ahead of its time Life's Too Good in 1987 with absolutely no plans or expectations for global chart success.

In fact, there formation was driven by a desire to skewer rock conventions, which they did, and to avoid the trappings of the mainstream, which they did not. Despite their best efforts, from the moment their first single "Birthday" was released, it seemed every major label on the planet wanted a piece of them. 

Sure, much of that interest had to do with Bjork's unassuming charisma and powerful vocals, but no group of collaborators have challenged Bjork to reach such musical heights since. 

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