Sunday, September 14, 2014

My Top 10 Favorite Alternative Bands From the 80's

The 80's are a magical time for me.  I started hitting my stride around 16 and that is when I discovered alternative and punk music.  Then my life pretty much went into a tailspin.  Aaaahhh...those were the days.  Since I am feeling sentimental, let's go back and visit My Top 10 Alternative Bands from the 80's to see if we can relive the collapse.  I am basing my list on media in my collection and listens overall.

Depeche Mode - It was 11th grade.  I hadn't really delved into alternative or punk music yet.  But the moment that changed my life was coming.  We were doing a project for Sociology Class the had us going into Philadelphia for the day to interview the superintendent for a special school.  Afterwards the three of us had time left so we were walking the city before our train was to leave.  We found an incredible basement store call Funk-O-Mart that had an incredible vinyl stash.  I picked up 'Crush' that day by the industrial band Age of Chance.  While shopping some music came on that sounded familiar but I did not know.  I made my way to the counter to see who it was and they were playing the song 'See You' from 'Catching Up With Depeche Mode'.  To this point I had only heard the song 'People are People' by them and could not fathom that they had enough material for a greatest hits. I HAD to have it.  Unfortunately, I had already spent my money.  It haunted me the entire train ride home.  My very next paycheck I went to Wall to Wall sound and purchased it.  The rest was history.  My wardrobe changed to black.  I experimented with make up.  My hair style was shaved and went upwards at the same time.  My first day of 12th grade was meant with a fair share of WTF's!.  I went on to buy 'Black Celebration next, which is still my favorite.  It is dark and danceable.  It helped me through a difficult time in my life as did the rest of their discography which I obsessed over collecting.  I moved on to their 12" singles which were a whole, wonderful entity by themselves.  Then it was on to posters, pins, and postcards.  By the time 'Music for the Masses' came out I was a full out Depeche Mode Junky.  I saw the on that tour with OMD.  It was one of the best times in my life at that point.  I even wore a clip on  After that they exploded  Violator skyrocketed them to stardom (I HATE the song Personal Jesus).  I still collect their material today as I love how their new music has evolved.  They have survived a lot including Dave Gahan's suicide attempts while addicted to heroin.  When I saw the in concert I purchased two tour shirts that are long gone.  They are two more shirts that I wore until they fell apart.  The one is still forever immortalized in the very unfortunate family photo.

The Smiths - I first learned of The Smith in High School.  My  11th grade American Lit teacher gave me a cassette copy of 'The Queen is Dead' and said I just had to listen to it.  And I did.  Until the tape broke. Morrissey's wit was at it's height at that point. There has never been such an unlikely love song like 'There Is A Light That Never Goes Out'.  Like most bands I fall in love with I obsessed.  I have to find the 12" single for my favorite tack on the album, 'The Boy With The Thorn In His Side', which I did and still have today.  From there I went back and played 'How Soon Is Now' about a million times, like most other depressed suburban teenagers.  Perhaps more than any other release though I played 'Louder Than Bombs' the most.  Its mix of soft and sweet like 'Asleep' mixed with danceable anthems like 'Panic' could be my soundtrack for hours.  I listened to that cassette through many snow filled walks to High School on my Walkman.  Shortly after that and another release The Smiths were no more.  I still hope to this day that there is a chance for a reunion.  I doubt it...but I refuse to give up hope.  If that tour ever comes around I will be there...if Morrissey does not cancel.

The Cure - In Pennsylvania it is a tradition that when you graduate high school all of the seniors go to the New Jersey shore for a week and wreak havoc.  My friend and I got a late start and...well...drove in the wrong direction.  Instead of landing in South Jersey in Wildwood we ended up in North Jersey in Asbury Park.  So after the two hour detour we finally landed in Wildwood only to learn that our housemates had already been kicked out of our house.  That night we were sitting on the boardwalk wondering what to do and we met up with a couple friends who had a house and two girls.  The one girl was a red head with half of her head shaved and was dressed in all black on the boardwalk.  She didn't talk all night except to ask us to play her Cure cassette in the car.  That is what the Cure mean to some people.  I even travelled to NYC to purchase a British Import of 'Boys Don't Cry' on cassette.  One of the things I love about The Cure is that they have many phases.  They can be upbeat and quirky, sweet and lovely, or very, very dark.  It his hard to pick even just one song as a representation.  The song that I think most of you would mention would be 'Just Like Heaven'.  That was the song that all of the Goth kids would wait to be played at the local dances so that they could converge onto the dance floor and take it over.  Afterwards, when the dance music came back on they would slink back into the night.  I did see The Cure in concert on the Disintegration Tour.  I still remember that night to this day.  It was like a teen convention in black.  The show was incredible and they played a wonderful mix from their back catalog.  It takes a unique mind like Robert Smith's to create music like that.  My favorite story about Robert Smith is that in an interview for the magazine Smash Hits he told the reporter that he has a home telephone but he keeps the ringer of.  He will just randomly walk by and pick it up to see if anyone is there.

Echo & The Bunnymen - I had an Echo & The Bunnymen shirt that I wore so often that it literally fell apart while I was wearing it.  At school I had started to get the nickname Bunnyman because of that shirt.  I still miss that shirt.  Echo & The Bunnymen were a lovely part of my existence.  There was something just a little dark behind the guitars and string arrangements.  Songs like 'The Killing Moon' seemed to relate with what you were feeling without even really knowing what it was you were feeling.  A fact that seems to work oh so well for Richard Kelly when he used the song in the movie 'Donnie Darko'.  Their early material was a little heavier and it became more melodic as it progressed.  'Bring on the Dancing Horses' was another John Hughes staple.  My favorite to this day is still their self titled album.  Their last great Hurrah in my opinion.  'All My Life' was a perfect way to end that album.  The Bunnymen will be in concert in Philadelphia next week and I am hoping to get to see them. The band is now only singer Ian McCulluch and guitarist Will Sargeant as Les Pattinson has left and Pete de Freitas passed in a motorcycle accident in 1989 at the age of 27.  (Edit:  I got to seem them last week!!!  Go here for the review.)

New Order - I think that to tell you about how I first learned of New Order I have to paint a picture.  A girl from high school that I liked called me one day and asked my if I wanted to hang out with her and her friend.  They picked me up in their Volkswagen Beetle and of we went.  Our day consisted of circling a local supermarket.  It had rained the night before and there was a large puddle in the street in front of the sidewalk.  They would drive around until someone would walk down the sidewalk and then they would speed through the puddle and splash them.  The whole time we did this they had a cassette of New Order's 'Bizarre Love Triangle' playing in a Boombox.  It is ironic that something as poppy as New Order was born out of the gloom of Joy Division.  However it does seem to very fitting.  New Order ruled the dance floors with classics like Blue Monday.  Peter Hook's bass lines are more recognizable than most others of that time.  This is another band I wished I had seen in concert.  Even still, I managed to get my hands on one of their concert shirts and still wear it to this day.

Psychedelic Furs - How can you not think of the movie Pretty in Pink without thinking of the theme song by the Psychedelic Furs???  Along with all of John Hughes movies at the time the song was just fitting.  The raspy voice of Richard Butler crooned so many of my favorite songs of the 80's like 'Heaven', 'Love My Way' and 'The Ghost In You'.  I would wait for so long to see one of these videos on MTV.  Occasionally we would even hear them on our local radio station 97.5 WPST.  It was also the favorite band of the teacher that gave me my first copy of The Smith's 'The Queen is Dead'.  It says something about a band if I went to see them in the 80's.  Specifically, because I had no money.  And I saw this band twice, including my first ever show at the legendary City Gardens.  They reached their pinnacle of radio airplay with 'Heartbreak Beat'.  I loved that song but unfortunately the album was no where as strong as previous released.  After that it was all down hill.  I recently heard that they have reformed and are back on tour.  I have to make sure that I get tickets for that show!

Erasure - I bought my first Erasure tape without ever hearing the band.  In the 80's sometimes you had to do that just to hear a band that did not get radio play.  It was even a bigger risk because I was young and had little money.  To top it off, to find a cassette of something you didn't hear on the radio meant you had to drive a long distance to a larger record store that would carry it.  I had read of the duo in the magazine Star Hits (the American version of Smash Hits).  Once I read that Vince Clarke was one half of the duo I was in.  I had already loved his work with Depeche Mode and Yaz so I knew that I would love this also.  My friends and I made the trip to Tower Records in Philadelphia and I bought 'The Circus' on cassette.  I listened to that cassette for two weeks straight. There was something different about it.  Vince Clarke's poppy synth hooks were there but vocalist Any Bell was bringing something different.  There difference was not his incredible range but the honesty and emotion that he was singing with.  Real things, not just words on paper.  He was dealing with real topics like being homosexual in a world that wasn't ready for homosexuals.  It was a breath of fresh air that made them stand out.  When 'The Innocents' came out I was heading to the mall and I was so upset that I did not have any money to buy it.  While I was witing for my ride my mother came outside and put money in my hand.  I was so ecstatic that I came home right afterwards and played the entire cassette for her.  That is probably one of the few bonding moments that I have had with her.  I did see Erasure in concert at The Tower Theatre in Philadelphia on the Wild Tour.  The song that stands out most was a 'B' side called Supernature.  I can still see Andy dancing on the stage with a spacesuit on.

A Flock Of Seagulls - wasn't just the hair. Ok...maybe a little.  Behind their biggest hit, 'I Ran', A Flock Of Seagulls had a strong run of singles.  Not that the average person in America would know that.  'Space Age Love Song' and the rest of their debut album was very strong.  Perhaps some of my favorites were off of their second LP 'Listen'.  The release from that album were a little darker, including the minor hit 'Wishing (If I Had A Photograph Of You).  'Nightmares' was quirky and dark and I liked it.  I had a collection of their video singles on VHS.  That is dedication.  Their third album included the MTV hit 'The More You Live The More You Love'.  After this turmoil in the band and perhaps loss of hair tore the band apart.  They did briefly get back together on VH1's Bands Reunited.  Now Mike Score has an alternate version that tours and constantly re-records the classics.  Still, nothing beats the original. 

Love and Rockets - I am not sure that Goth would be the same without Bauhaus.  Bauhaus was long gone before I found alternative music but Love and Rockets were just getting going.  A friend of mine had just purchased the CD for Earth, Sun, Moon and gave me his old cassette. I wasn't quite sure what I was listening to but I couldn't stop listening.  It was disjointed and fluent all at once.  There were so many unique things about it that made it whole.  I quickly experimented with their back catalog falling in love.  Especially with songs like their remake of 'Ball of Confusion'.  It led me to Bauhaus and to Tones on Tails and to Peter Murphy.  All of which are things that I love.  My only beef with Love and Rockets is 'So Alive'.  I do not hate it because it was their biggest hit and brought them into the mainstream.  I hate it because I felt it was a sell out and that it wasn't them at all.  Who knows, maybe it is who they are, but it wasn't who I wanted them to be.  This is another band that I would still love to see.  I am still kicking myself that I didn't go to see the Bauhaus reunion while it lasted. 

The Cult - This is the band that took me into a different direction.  Discovering The Cult led me to discover Sisters of Mercy and The Mission.  From there it led me to Industrial like Nine Inch Nails, Front 242, and Ministry.  The Cult were my gateway drug.  I was at the age where we could drive and find Alternative dances like City Gardens, Club Shadows, and Revival.  'She Sells Sanctuary' was a staple.  A song that can still get me pumped up to this day.  Their sound became more rock with later releases but the spirit remained the same.  I first saw them perform on David Letterman when they released 'Electric'.  I can't imagine even sitting down while 'Love Removal Machine' is being played.  The energy of that album truly is electric coupled with Ian Asbury's unique vocal style..  It is hard to imagine that after The Cult, lead singer Ian Asbury became the lead singer of the newly reformed Doors.

Honorable Mention/ Thompson Twins - Without realizing it, I have almost their entire discography in my vinyl collection.  Their harmonies and dance beats did get plenty of airplay in their time which was uncommon for most alternative bands.  You could almost say that their sound was pop but there was something quite different from them than your average pop star of the 80's.  Perhaps it was the fact that is was a man, a woman, and a black man all with weird haircuts united to make beautiful music.  Regardless the had a string of hits on the charts from 1981 to 1986.  They do not hold as dear a spot in my heart as the other bands listed but I felt that they at least needed a mention.

Well there you have it.  The story of a musically obsessed, socially inept youth.  I enjoyed the trip down memory lane.

I will see you when the needle drops!



  1. Replies
    1. I think that Depeche Mode was definitely my favorite at that point.

  2. Love the pic of you and the guys! Excellent choices - Depeche Mode & The Thompson Twins!!!! - Kim


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