Mix Six: “Up From the Underground”

Written by Mix Six, Music

Hey, Popsters! You’re back for more weekly mixing fun, eh? Good. I’m glad you’re here, and I hope this week’s mix starts to spark some discussion about when a particular genre of music surfaced from the underground and became mainstreamed. You’ll probably quibble with my choices, but that’s okay, because it’s tough to find one song that basically says, “This is the definitive point where, say, hard rock, grunge, ’90s bubblegum pop, new wave, or disco started.”

So what I’ve assembled for your enjoyment is a collection of songs that, for me, signaled that a musical genre had come up from the underground to become part of the mainstream.

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First up …

“War Pigs,” Black Sabbath

Sure, Led Zeppelin’s first album came out two years prior to Black Sabbath’s Paranoid, but this song (and album) really says hard rock to me. While Zep pretty much stayed in their comfort zone of hard rock, Sabbath just kept going deeper and deeper until they hit metal. Ozzy may have been a cartoon character by the time he did the reality show for MTV, but here he shows what being a real rocker is all about.

“Smells Like Teen Spirit,” Nirvana

I was doing a lot of mobile DJ work when this album came out, and it was pretty clear that the musical ground had shifted quite dramatically by 1991. Rap was huge, grunge was popular, and country music was making quite an impact on people who didn’t like rap and grunge. Try mixing those three genres at a wedding reception or party! Oh, and there are very few songs that make you want to play air drums instead of air guitar, but it’s clear that Dave Grohl’s “four on the floor” drumming provided the right magic to make grungy air drummers of us all.

“Walk This Way,” Run-D.M.C.

If you were musically conscious when this tune hit the airwaves on FM rock stations in the U.S., you were treated to a large-scale reaction that went something like this: “What kind of shit are you playing?! Turn it off!” On the surface, the marriage of rap and Aerosmith’s 1975 gem was all too perfect. I mean, the song, in its original form, is basically rap — but don’t try telling that to the FM rock radio crowd in 1986. Judging by the staying power of Run-D.M.C.’s Raising Hell LP, it’s pretty obvious those who denounced the intrusion of rap into popular music were on the wrong side of history.

“Whip It,” Devo

Man oh man, new wave never really tasted this good, did it? Drenched in synth with guitars and — “Hey, ma!” — real drums for heft, “Whip It” balanced the “old” and “new” elements to create a timeless song that, oddly enough, conjures up images of the early 80s. Yeah, I’m confused by what I just wrote too. :-)

“… Baby One More Time,” Britney Spears

Honestly, I struggled with this one. I was originally going to go with Hanson’s “MMMBop” because it came out two years before Britney’s tune and really screamed, “’90s pop is here! Death to grunge!” But Hanson faded into the background after they plateaued with “MMMBop” and the follow-up singles, while Britney opened the floodgates for clones like Christina, Jessica, Mandy, and … am I leaving anyone out?

“Love to Love You Baby/I Feel Love,” Donna Summer

When I think of the birth of disco, I think of both of these songs. Yeah, I know, “Love to Love You Baby” came out in 1975 and “I Feel Love” surfaced around ’77, but taken together (and indeed I’ve done just that by mixing the two, much like Bronski Beat did with their cover in ’85), these two songs are disco. And if you’re just hankering for the full 16-minute version of “Love to Love You Baby,” moans and all, here ’tis: (download).

That was fun, wasn’t it? See you back here next week for more Mix Six goodness!