Archive for the ‘Old School’ Category


Threesome: Alt-rock continuity

January 5, 2009

[embedded YouTube video; if you can’t watch it, click here]

I was at the Ted Leo concert with someone who was much younger than me, and she didn’t really know who The Waterboys were. With the Clear Channel-ization of commercial radio, the dearth of good independent and alternative stations, and the general decline of radio listening, it occurs to me that we are losing a certain musical continuity. I grew up with Toronto’s The Edge, and it exposed me to a lot of music that came out before I was too young to hear or appreciate it, but was still in occasional rotation. It meant that everything new that I listened to fit into a context of decades of college and indie radio. If you’re mostly listening to bands from their Myspace pages, you might not be getting exposed to these bands or sounds of yesteryear.

So here are  three songs that are all lost classics from the 1980s – brilliant, emotionally-moving songs. As well as the Waterboys, here’s Australia’s Hunters and Collectors (a live track is below; you can hear the canonical version in the video above). I heard Squeeze‘s “Tempted” coming out of a car parked on my street a few days ago and it reminded me how much I loved it (thank you, whoever you are!).

MP3: The Waterboys – The Whole of the Moon (1985)

MP3: Hunters and Collectors – Throw Your Arms Around Me (live) (1986)

MP3: Squeeze – Tempted (1981)


Old school: Japan

November 26, 2008


Somehow, as a kid, I got my hands on a copy of the album Adolescent Sex by Japan (on vinyl, of course). Their 1978 debut, it was an excellent example of late glam-rock, in the vein of David Bowie and, especially, Roxy Music. However, while it did well in Japan (fittingly) and got some airplay in Canada, it never really broke into either the US or the UK markets.

Over the course of Japan’s next few albums, including 1980’s Gentlemen Take Polaroids and 1981’s Tin Drum, they took a hard left turn into synthesizer-driven music that amalgamated both Western and Eastern sounds. You can hear the transition from the hard, punk-influenced “Adolescent Sex,” through the keyboard-driven “Gentlemen Take Polaroids,” to the startlingly minimalist “Ghosts” (I’m still astonished that it hit #5 on the UK charts). Japan was a bellwether, prefiguring the rise of the New Romantics; their shift was part of a larger cultural scene, where art-oriented bands moved from glam to synth-pop.

Sadly, Japan broke up after only a half-dozen years and five albums. While all the members continued on with musical projects, lead singer David Sylvian’s work is probably the best known. Of these, Secrets of the Beehive was the biggest commercial success, yielding the single “Orpheus.” He’s still active; his work is increasingly experimental, fusing jazz, electronica and other styles in conjunction with collaborators like Robert Fripp and Ryuichi Sakamoto. I had an amusing conversation once with a cabbie, on whose radio a David Sylvian track was playing – I asked after the song, and he dismissively replied, ‘oh, you won’t know it.’ But Sylvian’s baritone is distinctive (and beautiful), even in an unfamiliar context.

More Japan: wikipedia allmusic amazon

MP3: Japan – Adolescent Sex

MP3: Japan – Gentlemen Take Polaroids

MP3: Japan – Ghosts

MP3: David Sylvian – Orpheus


Old school: Kate Bush

October 10, 2008

Rock music, and especially indie music, is still mostly a man’s game.  But only mostly, and Kate Bush is one of the reasons why women have any traction at all. Her first single, “Wuthering Heights” was the first UK number one single that was not just sung by a woman, but self-written as well. The depressing part was that it wasn’t until 1978, but the impressive part was that Bush was only 19 at the time. In the thirty or so years that she’s been in the music business, she’s had a string of critically and commercially successful albums, with hit singles including “The Man With the Child in His Eyes,” “Running Up That Hill,” and “Don’t Give Up,” a duet with Peter Gabriel. She has a well-deserved reputation for following her own path – she dropped out of music for nearly twelve years to give her young son a ‘normal’ childhood, returning in 2005 with the double album “Aerial.” No one could describe it as a commercial album, featuring as it does the song “π” (pi) in which Bush sings its digits. Nevertheless, it was both a critical and UK hit. Nice to know that a pioneering artist like Kate Bush stiill has what it takes.

MP3: Kate Bush – Wuthering Heights

More: website wikipedia allmusic


Listen local, old school-style: Morphine

September 16, 2008

Lots of bands are described as having a unique sound. At the risk of offending high school English teachers, who remind us that ‘unique’ is definitively singular, I submit that some bands are more unique-sounding than others. Case in point, Morphine. Founded in Cambridge, MA, by Mark Sandman and Dana Colley, Morphine really didn’t sound like any other mid-90s indie bands (or anyone since, for that matter). Sandman’s description of the band as ‘low rock’ is a play on words in at least two ways – the first is for the downtempo, crooning style of the songs. But what really made Morphine sound different from anything else on the radio was the musical line-up, which consisted of Mark Sandman’s baritone vocals, his two-stringed bass guitar played with a slide, Colley’s baritone sax, and drums – a distinctively low-pitched sound. They broke out with their sophomore album, Cure for Pain, and achieved modest college-radio success in North America, together with more mainstream success in Europe. Shockingly, however, Mark Sandman suffered a fatal heart attack on stage in Rome at a 1999 show, and the band disbanded shortly thereafter—a short but notable chapter in Boston and indie-rock history.

MP3: Morphine – Super Sex


Old school: The Buzzcocks

September 1, 2008

Finishing up our inadvertent long weekend retrospective on (read: obsession with) with British punk, the Buzzcocks are probably my favourite band from the era. Unlike many of their contemporaries like the Clash and the Sex Pistols, their lyrics focused more closely on the personal than the political, in songs like, “Ever Fallen In Love” “What Do I Get?”. Unsurprisingly, the BBC refused to play their first single, “Orgasm Addict” (it was 1977, after all). It still sold pretty well, likely bolstered by the striking Linder Sterling-designed single sleeve – vicious and funny, disturbing and feminist, it is a credible candidate for best single sleeve of all time. Appropriately enough, the song has been picked up for the new Chuck Palahniuk movie Choke, scheduled for release in September.

More Buzzcocks: website myspace

MP3: Buzzcocks – Orgasm Addict


Old school: Bauhaus

June 25, 2008

Depending on how you count, it’s been a generation, maybe two, since the rise of what we’d consider independent music. So there’s a lot of good stuff that you may not have heard if you are new to the scene, either by age or inclination. Following up on my posting of an early-80s punk classic, I think I’m going to interpret ‘old school’ like ‘driving school’ and provide the odd bit of education on the old, starting with Bauhaus.

Despite its deeply Modernist name, cult favourite Bauhaus is often considered to be the sire of all goth bands. Their first single, 1979’s “Bela Lugosi’s Dead,” (if the name doesn’t ring a bell, click here) pretty much laid the groundwork for the genre – bleak, moody, and obsessed with vampires . Over the four or so years of their initial incarnation, they had several singles on the UK charts, including their brilliant cover of David Bowie’s “Ziggy Stardust.” As far as I know, however, Bauhaus was never more than a cult band in the US or Canada.

However, the members found more success in their post-breakup projects. Minus Peter Murphy, the remainder of the band went on to start Love and Rockets, which released a number of singles that received airplay in North America, including ‘Ball of Confusion,’ ‘No New Tale to Tell,’ and the surprise top-ten single ‘So Alive,’ which helped their 1989 self-titled album to go gold. For his part, Peter Murphy‘s solo career has also resulted in a number of hits, including 1989’s ‘Cuts You Up‘ (which topped the modern rock charts for 7 weeks), ‘The Sweetest Drop,’ and ‘Indigo Eyes.’ Murphy is still active and touring, and in fact will be bringing his lovely rich voice and amazingly high cheekbones to the Roxy in Boston on Saturday, June 28th.

MP3: Bauhaus – Bela Lugosi’s Dead

MP3: Love and Rockets – Ball of Confusion

MP3: Peter Murphy – The Sweetest Drop

More about: bauhaus love and rockets peter murphy


Old school: Suicidal Tendencies

June 11, 2008

Suicidal Tendencies

I went to see Air Conditioning Iron Man yesterday (which is definitely a movie calculated to appeal to my geeky comic-book-fan heart, especially the post-credits teaser). But what made me absolutely convulse in my seat was hearing Suicidal Tendencies’ “Institutionalized” over the scene of Tony Stark working in his garage. Suicidal Tendencies were distinguished from their hardcore peers by Mike Muir’s satirical and heartbreaking lyrics, and this song (from their self-titled debut album) was one of the first punk songs to receive significant airplay on MTV. It remains a punk classic.

MP3: Suicidal Tendencies – Institutionalized

More Suicidal Tendecies: website myspace emusic