10 Buried Treasures From the ’80s You Need to Hear
The amount of records released each year is mind-blowing. It’s a small miracle that even a small fraction of them actually make it music fans’ ears. Even if you ignore the biggest artists and focus only on the cult bands, the gates are only so wide. The list of the unheard, the forgotten and the cruelly ignored is far larger than that list of bands that made it to the top. Our list of 10 Buried Treasures From the ’80s You Need to Hear doesn’t even begin to mine the great lost artifacts that are out there. But we hope it inspires you to do more digging and excavating. There’s plenty out there.
The Leaving Trains
With their first three albums, the Leaving Trains made some of the finest albums of the decade, but it was their 1984 debut, ‘Well Down Blue Highway,’ that still rings loudest 30 years later. The band was led by the charismatic Falling James Moreland, certainly one of the most under-appreciated songwriters of the era. The Trains’ sound began as a wonderful union of the light and the dark, mixing elements of the Doors and Creedence Clearwater Revivial with the blistering approach of the Saints and the Clash. From start to finish, ‘Well Down Blue Highway’ is a classic album with songs like ‘Always Between Wars,’ ‘Going Down To Town’ and ‘Creeping Coastline of Lights’ that still resonate loudly all these years later.
If you want to talk about one of the ultimate lost classics of power pop, this is it. The Mice were from Cleveland, and formed in 1985. Three kids, and we mean kids: Drummer Tommy Fox was barely 14 at the time of their first, self-released single. The band released their debut EP ‘For Almost Ever,’ in 1986. The following year, they put out ‘Scooter,’ which is stocked from top to bottom with brilliant, catchy songs like ‘Bye Bye Kitty Cat’ that are dripping with melodies to die for. The songs, all written by guitarist Bill Fox, bring a smile to any self-respecting power pop fan, without succumbing to that genre’s usual cliches. Fox collapsed the band not long after the album’s release. He would eventually follow a more acoustic based solo path, releasing a pair of critically acclaimed albums a decade later. The Mice, however, live on in the hearts of fans.
Human Sexual Response
Formed in Boston in the late ’70s, Human Sexual Response were a product of the times, combining smarts with sass. Elements of the Velvet Underground, the Modern Lovers and Talking Heads,with a dose of punk-inspired energy, made the band a force onstage and on record. That artsy edge set them apart from other bands following a similar path, and their sense of melody and dynamics were ace. Their first album, ‘Fig. 14,’ featured the college radio favorite ‘What Does Sex Mean To Me?,’ but their second album, ‘In a Roman Mood,’ from 1981, is their true shining moment. ‘Andy Fell’ is a shimmering pop gem, while ‘Land of the Glass Pinecones’ basks in an art-school glow. ‘Pound’ bursts through in blistering, post-punk style, while ‘Marone Offering’ is a full-on rocker and another great lost song from the era.
The Salvation Army
With their first single, the Salvation Army combined Buzzcocks-like melodic punk with elements of psychedelia. Those elements came out even more on the band’s 1982 self-titled debut. Backward guitars hang in the air as ‘She Turns to Flowers’ kicks in. ‘Upside Down,’ ‘ While We Were in Your Room Talking to Your Wall’ and ‘Going Home’ cross lines of garage, psychedelia and pure pop effortlessly to create one magnificent trip. The distinct vocals, and unique songwriting of Michael Quercio, helped set the band apart.The band soon changed their name to the Three O’ Clock and, as a huge part of the fabled Paisley Underground, adopted a far more pop approach that was truly great in its own right. But it never fully delivered on the promise of the Salvation Army album.
The Gun Club
The Gun Club burst onto the Los Angeles music scene at the dawn of the ’80s. Led by Jeffery Lee Pierce (a onetime president of the Blondie fan club), the Gun Club’s performances were often electric and volatile. Pierce significantly mixed elements of blues, country and folk with the raw energy of punk and the spirit of original rock ‘n’ roll. While their debut, ‘Fire of Love,’ is often heralded as their masterpiece, it’s ‘Miami’ that finds all the elements coalescing perfectly, as Pierce’s songwriting skills come more into bloom. The band would go on to make more great records before Pierce’s tragic death in 1996.
The Raybeats made surf-based instrumentals with New York City attitude and ready for the dance floor or the beach. They hold a distinct place in the catalog of surf instrumentals, embracing many of the genre’s cliches while discarding just as many of them to create their own sound that was both retro and contemporary. ‘Guitar Beat’ was their full-length debut and their finest hour. Tracks like ‘Calhoun’ Surf’ still shine brightly. Guitarist Danny Amis, who began in the Overtones and ended up in Los Straitjackets, is an overlooked guitar hero of sorts. Slap this on and it’s guaranteed to get any party movin’ and groovin’.
From the start, it was clear that T.S.O.L. were not going to be a cut-and-paste punk band. Their early releases — ‘Weathered Statues,’ ‘Dance With Me’ and their self-titled EP — all had variety and something singular about them: high energy with a strong melodic sense, as well as a flair for drama, due in no small part to singer Jack Grisham. With their 1982 album, ‘Beneath the Shadows,’ the band took its sound even further away from punk’s constraints, adding keyboards and an even stronger melodic sense to things. The band soon splintered with Grisham leaving and the rest of the band adopting a generic hard-rock approach, more in line with what was happening on the Sunset Strip in the ’80s. The early lineup would eventually reunite in the late ’90s and still play occasional gigs. ‘Beneath the Shadows’ is where it all came together for one wonderful, if fleeting, moment.
Slightly manic, always engaging, the Bongos’ music was punchy guitar pop with plenty of snap and crackle. Plus, they had some great songs. The band hailed from Hoboken and got rolling right at the start of the decade. With influences like the Beatles and Marc Bolan, their sound was never derivative, only eclectic and exciting. Along with other similarly minded bands like the dB’s, the Individuals and R.E.M., they helped usher in what would soon be referred to as college rock, and they become fixtures in the early days of the scene. They got slicker on subsequent releases, ‘Drums Along the Hudson’ is their masterpiece.
The Dwarves are one of the most notorious bands to ever exist. Their infamous time spent on the Sub Pop label as merchants of loud, fast hardcore-style punk brought them to the spotlight. During those grunge years, the Dwarves delivered no-frills, speed-freak punk rock that was as violent as it was ridiculous and fun. Their shows are the stuff of legend (audience members receiving beat downs from the band, firecrackers casually tossed into crowds — stuff like that). Long before the sped up and sped on, they were a somewhat unassuming ’60s-inspired garage band from Illinois called Suburban Nightmare. They released one lone LP before changing their name and releasing ‘Horror Stories’ in 1986. The band retains its garage-rock roots here, but those roots are mangled with the spirit of the Cramps, the Sex Pistols and general chaos. These guys were insane, plain and simple, and ‘Horror Stories’ is a brilliant document of this chapter. Turn it up loud, and let it peel the paint from your walls.
Tex and the Horseheads
Crawling out of Los Angels’ ’80s underground, Tex and the Horseheads were as gritty and dirty as they came. Call it cowpunk or even Americana if you like, but their take on rock ‘n’ roll was the real deal. Down and dirty meets sweet and sentimental. The Horseheads kicked plenty of ass along their route, and their live shows are legendary. Singer Texicalia Jones was like some wild-eyed gene splice of Janis Joplin and Patti Smith: tough as nails with a heart full of soul, evident on songs like ‘Oh Mother,’ while guitarist Mike Martt provided raw rock ‘n’ roll guitar fire. Both of their studio albums are first rate, but their 1984 debut from 1984 wins out.