The other day, I was messing around with Spotify’s “related artists” tab after listening to a song by The Smiths. And I found that in short order I was back listening to music that brought me back to my college years. You know, that brief bubble in time when many of us find music that’s off the beaten path (unless you were already listening to stuff off the beaten path) that’s new, exciting, and helps you shape your identity in terms of music you bond with. For me, it was new wave/modern rock/alternative rock that defined much of my musical tastes. I still love the genre, though I admit that to my aging ears, much of what gets played on the radio that falls under the heading “Alternative rock” sounds stylistically similar. I suppose it’s the nature of the music industry — where a trend is favored, and like any business, they saturate that product until the law of diminishing returns kicks in and people grow tired of the band, the style, or the song. But when those songs that were once riding a wave of popularity gets shelved and take a rest — allowing for listener fatigue to wane — they sound rather good when brought back for a brief spotlight dance. And so, here we go with six songs that, for me, take me back to my college years — when I had hair.
“C’mon Every Beatbox,” Big Audio Dynamite (Download)
What I loved about B.A.D. was their ability to skillfully weave audio clips into their songs that added extra context to what they were singing about. But that’s not all. Because I’m a sucker for great pop hooks, their sense of (and, I’m taking this from another B.A.D. song) rhythm and melody was superior to many pop artists of the day. Listening to this songs 24 years later, it has some dated musical elements, but overall I think it holds up really well.
“Fashion,” David Bowie (Download)
Okay, this song did not come out when I was in college (I was still in middle school), but it resurfaced in the mid to late ’80s as Bowie’s back catalogue got more play from yours truly. Why? Partly because I liked Bowie, but mostly because my girlfriend (who is now my wife) liked Bowie (Go ahead and make whatever joke that’s on the tip of your tongue.) However, when surveying Bowie’s output in the ’80s, I think this song is one of Bowie’s most solid singles. It combines his love of the arty farty with some great guitar work from Robert Fripp.
“Infected,” The The (Download)
Mostly a vehicle for Matt Johnson, The The’s Soul Mining was an impulse buy for me. I knew nothing about the group, but the album art intrigued me, and so I took a chance and was rewarded with an amazing album. When The The/Matt Johnson followed up with Infected in 1986, I hoped he would continue making great neurotic pop songs — and he didn’t disappoint. ”Infected” (the single) had a similar long intro like “I’ve Been Waiting For Tomorrow (All of My Life)” from Soul Mining, and the lyrics certainly wove in allusions to STDs as a metaphor for love and desire. But if Johnson didn’t remain true to his devotion to pop hooks, the song would have been a real downer.
“Bedbugs and Ballyhoo,” Echo and the Bunnymen (Download)
A departure for the Bunnymen –stylistically speaking, that is. With the release of their self-titled album in 1987, Echo and the Bunnymen really scaled back the new wave psychedelia of their earlier records, and, interestingly enough, channeled The Doors on this song. Part of that fascination with the Doors could be because the group contributed a cover of “People are Strange” to The Lost Boys soundtrack and found that they liked their stay in the Morrison Hotel. Nevertheless, the song has a great groove on drums and bass — even though the lyrics are pretty nonsensical.
“F***ing in Rhythm & Sorrow, ” The Sugarcubes (Download)
Before the Internet made everyone a critic, there was a time when I bought the hype and recommendations from music magazines, MTV’s 120 Minutes, and, of course, friends. When The Sugarcubes were being touted as one of best bands ever, I made sure I was at Tower Records the next day to pick up an album I thought I had to have in my possession. I saw the video to “Birthday” and rather liked the song, and the rest of the album did live up to the hype. I played the album for weeks on end, and loved the combination of Bjork’s powerful vocals and Einar Örn Benediktsson’s strange commentaries. Alas, their staying power as the next big thing was short-lived. But what a great debut album from a country that really didn’t produce any kind of rock music.
“All Day Long,” New Order (Download)
I knew very little about New Order prior to 1988. Sure, I was aware of some of their songs, but they weren’t in my record collection — until my girlfriend made me a mix tape that had some of their music on it. After that, I went right to Tower Record (or Rasputin’s) to buy a few LPs. “All Day Long” will always be one of my favorites from New Order because it has such a hypnotic vibe that makes it less a dance song than one that make you want to slip on the headphones and get lost in the layers of nicely crafted synth.