Today marks the 30th anniversary of the newly opened Bar/None Records labels shipping its first release, catalogue number AHAON 001. This was the self-titled debut album by Rage To Live, a band led by label founder Tom Prendergast’s good friend, Glenn Morrow, formerly of The Individuals and “a” – the first band to call Maxwell’s home base (the other 3 members of “a” became The Bongos).
Rage To Live managed to get on MTV for a moment and garnered some commercial radio support but never got out on the road, because of family and day job commitments. Instead, Glenn managed to convince Tom into making him his partner. His first contribution was a band he’d discovered in a wild and woolly Brooklyn neighborhood with the quaint appellation “Williamsburg,” the act having an even more unlikely name: “They Might Be Giants.” Strangest of all, the band were a huge, immediate success and Bar/None was off to the races!
Prendergast recently came across ledger entries that show some of the costs involved with setting up an independent record release in the days before computers, downloads and streaming. The records show that Bar/None shipped to all the main indie rock distributors of the day. Some of these still exist like Caroline and Important (now Sony-Red). Others, like Dutch East India Trading, Systematic, Jem and Twin Cities are long gone. The label also sold direct New York City stores like Venus and Midnight. Peter Pan Industries of Newark, NJ pressed that first album (it’s always good to have a history lesson in labels and distributors – seriously).
In the three decades since, the label has maintained an active roster of veteran and newfound artists and is currently celebrating the longevity of The Feelies and the burgeoning popularity of The Front Bottoms. A lot of great music has appeared on Bar/None throughout the years including the initial releases from Of Montreal and Freedy Johnston, the breakthrough albums for Edwyn Collins and Yo la Tengo, returns to active duty for Alex Chilton, Luka Bloom, Juliana Hatfield, Richard Barone and The dB’s. Bar/None sparked the lounge music revival with their re-issues of Esquivel’s “space- age bachelor pad music.” The vintage recordings of a grammar school kids’ choir performing dark, visionary rock of the times – Bowie, Klaatu, Wings – touched listeners with its unsettling blend of “innocence and despair” (which came to be the album’s title), selling 40,000 copies overnight.
In the past 30 years, Bar/None has often thrived and at other times barely survived. Something always seemed to turn up to get the label through times of crisis and back debt would duly be paid up in times of prosperity. Through it all their greatest pride is in the consistent quality of the artists they’ve worked with and the music they’ve made. Bar/None recordings tend to be singular and surprising and always contain powerful songwriting. Simply put, as a body of work, the Bar/None catalogue stands the test of time.
Here’s to another 30 years of Bar/None. Long may you run, indeed. And thanks.