The final round of metal madness will have to wait for a round of the indie/alternative division. Rock music, at first was not always a super-popular or commercial form. It really mainstreamed in the 70’s, particularly as baby boomers got older. Production quality improved and albums and artists became more sophisticated and in many ways professional. But there was a counter to that. Inspired by the Velvet Underground, the Stooges and MC5, bands like The Replacements, Big Star, and Television avoided the big rock star trappings of Eagles, Pink Floyd or Led Zeppelin, with a simple, straight forward, less polished sound. Influenced by punk, but not always punks themselves, they often worked outside the mainstream of big record labels, stadium concerts and FM radio by releasing their music on smaller labels, playing clubs and college radio. Not that they necessarily chose to avoid the mainstream and the financial success that came with it, but they carved a path that would subsequently be followed by groups like The Pixies, Ani DiFranco, Nirvana and the White Stripes.
The Jam started off as a punk band, but even then, with their suits (and alleged conservative politics) were different. Instead of rejecting their musical heritage, they embraced it, and thus were labeled “new mods.” As they evolved, their music became much more melodic and even soulful, thanks in part to Bruce Foxton’s strong and distinctive bass lines. But Paul Weller really set the group apart with his sharp lyrics and proto-Morrisey vocals. Another entry in the “much bigger in Briton” category, they influenced the new wave acts (The Smiths) that followed as well as blue-eyed soul (Simply Red) and later Brit-pop groups (Oasis, Blur and all those others).
Sonic Youth. I’m totally mesmerized by them. Somehow their mix of noise and distortion and fuzz and Kim Gordon’s sultry voice puts me in a trance and I can’t turn away. And I’m not the only one. Kurt Cobain cited them as one of his prime influences. Really, every ‘grunge’ band owes them a lot. Pavement? Totally. They take some Velvet Underground attitude, mix in some John Cage experimentalism, add a touch of Neil Young free-form distortion and a sprinkle of The Carpenters pop hooks and you end up with fuzzy, raw, dirty, danceable, groovy rock. Throughout their careers, they’ve supported young and upcoming bands, from touring with Nirvana to producing Blonde Redhead. I read somewhere that they were influential before they were good (not just because they used skateboard video director Spike Jonze and skateboarder Jason Lee in a video), but I disagree. They’ve always remained true to their unique muse, crafting music that’s complex, challenging and out of this world.
Next game: Steppenwolf v. Def Leppard
Previous game: Billy Idol v. X
I know everyone is on pins and needles waiting for my next installment. I have it written (The Jam v. Sonic Youth), but I’m having trouble finding videos to imbed. Many of them are restricted or not available in this country (wtf?) or Universal or BMI or whomever won’t allow them to be imbedded. Good strategy, there. Let’s not introduce too many people to The Jam or Sonic Youth (or any of these other acts). If they got too popular, they wouldn’t be ‘cool’. Heaven forbid these bands should crawl out of obscurity. We wouldn’t want the hordes of people who read my blog (about 5 in the last week) to see a video — that would ruin the extensive marketing strategy the corporate giants who own the rights to these videos have. I know, you’re all sick of seeing ads for The Jam all over the internet. Can’t stand to see any more promos for Sonic Youth’s latest album on TV. Gawd, enough already.
And, I want to apologize for the 30 second ads that more frequently appear before each 4 minute video. With all that ad time that’s being sold, it’s hard to feel sorry for the music industry that cried poverty at every turn.
This match-up is a tough one for me. Two artists very close to my heart are going head-to-head. One, a hard rock superstar from the 80’s. The other a hugely influential punk rock band who never had nearly the commercial success. Billy Idol versus X!
In 1981 the first brigade of punk had (mostly) burnt out (rather than fade away) and disco had overdosed on cocaine. So when former Generation X singer Billy Idol released a remixed version of a Gen X song with a dance beat, “Dancing with Myself” became a big hit and launched him as a radio and MTV superstar. His new music wasn’t quite punk, it wasn’t quite metal (although guitarist Steve Stevens could shred like any metal guitarist), but it had a good beat and you could dance and bang your head to it. For the next several years he was the sneer of hard rock on MTV: Rebel Yell, Eyes Without a Face, Mony, Mony, Cradle of Love. Always innovative, he released the first album to be recorded on a computer (it came with a bonus floppy disc — with a screensaver!). But before that, he did something that will always endear him to my heart, he played a concert in my home town and became my first live rock show.
Detroit had The Stooges and the MC5, New York had The Ramones. London had The Sex Pistols and The Clash. Los Angeles still has their archetypical punk band: X (and in 1981 they had not burnt out). They weren’t the first LA punks to record an album (I think that honor is generally given to The Germs, but who was the first LA punk band? Maybe Black Flag or The Screamers or Zolar X or… the list goes on). But X sounds like Los Angeles to me. A mix of hard rock with a hint of rockabilly, folk and Bakersfield country music. Also one of the few punk bands to feature a woman (But let’s not forget about another LA band not in the hall, The Runaways) They were never big commercially, but their influence can be heard in almost every LA band that came after them. Their sound can be aggressive or tender, angry or wistful. Don’t blame John Doe (in The Bodyguard his cover of “I Will Always Love You.” plays when Kevin Costner and Whitney Houston dance), and don’t be jealous of Exene Cervenka (for having been married to Aragorn). This band rocks and is one of the best things to come out of LA.
Voting is patriotic
previous game: Iron Maiden v. Motörhead
next game: The Jam v. Sonic Youth
Not quite part of the tournament, but only because I didn’t put them in the bracket. But The Cars are getting back together with new music and touring! Two members of the band toured in 2005 as “The New Cars” with Todd Rundgren (another notable absence from the HoF) singing lead. But now it’s all 4 surviving original members.