They were, by definition, misfits. They were artists who truly could not be pigeonholed by the schlockmeisters pushing Styx and REO-Speedwagon product like used-car salesmen, because their music was unlike anything that came before.
| Honorable Mentions: Here are 25 other albums that helped bring the underground out of the basement |
Bad Brains, Rock for Light (Caroline, 1983)
Big Black, Atomizer (Touch & Go, 1986)
Butthole Surfers, Rembrandt Pussyhorse (Latino Bugger Veil, 1986)
Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, From Her to Eternity (Mute/Elektra, 1984)
Cocteau Twins, Treasure (4AD, 1984)
The Cure, The Head on the Door (Elektra, 1985)
Descendents, Milo Goes to College (SST, 1982)
Dream Syndicate, The Days of Wine and Roses (Slash, 1982)
The Fall, This Nation’s Saving Grace (Beggars Banquet, 1985)
Flipper, Generic Flipper (Subterranean, 1982)
Government Issue, You (Giant, 1987)
Gun Club, Fire of Love (Ruby, 1981)
Meat Puppets, Meat Puppets II (SST, 1984)
Melvins, Gluey Porch Treatments (Boner, 1987)
Minor Threat, Out of Step (Dischord, 1983)
Mission of Burma, Vs. (Ace of Hearts, 1982)
Moving Targets, Burning Acid (Taang!, 1986)
Naked Raygun, All Rise (Homestead, 1986)
Rites of Spring, Rites of Spring (Dischord, 1985)
Soul Asylum, Made to Be Broken (Twin/Tone, 1986)
Squirrel Bait, Squirrel Bait (Homestead, 1985)
Swans, Children of God (Caroline, 1987)
Throwing Muses, Throwing Muses (4AD, 1986)
Wipers, Youth of America (Park Avenue, 1981)
X, Wild Gift (Slash, 1981)
When alternative rock was a genre yet to be coined, when underground was truly subterranean, while MTV beckoned with piles of cash, these artists blazed new trails, created new paradigms, and ignored commercial prospects.
They were a handful of inspired mavericks who created the raw materials for an alternative future.
The setting for all this was the 1980s, a decade in which the demographic fragmentation following the punk rebellion took hold, leaving a great cultural and commercial chasm between the underground and just about everything else.
Of course, it wasn’t all as serious as that may sound. The bands and artists who made a difference in the ’80s weren’t afraid to poke fun at themselves and others, or, at times, to be sophomoric idiots. It’s no accident that so many of them, tongues firmly in cheek, covered classics they’d grown up on, recasting songs like Kiss’s “Black Diamond” (the Replacements) and Peter Frampton’s “Show Me the Way” (Dinosaur Jr.) as sources of genuine inspiration, even as they took the piss.
Ultimately, the inmates took over the asylum. Alternative rock found a place in the mainstream, and indie labels like Sub Pop, Matador, Merge, and Epitaph became training grounds for commercial success. We know that now. But before 1991 and the Nirvana juggernaut, none of that was clear.
One of the albums that embodied the spirit of the ’80s hodgepodge movement, Sonic Youth’s 1988 double-LP Daydream Nation, has over the past year finally started to receive the attention it was always due. In 2006, the Library of Congress honored the disc by placing it in the National Recording Registry. This year, Daydream Nation was re-released as a deluxe two-CD set, and Sonic Youth are celebrating by playing the entire album live, start to finish, in a US tour that begins this weekend.