Saturday, January 05, 2008

Those Jangly Eighties: Lone Justice

About this series: When it comes to music, the 1980s don't get much respect. The 1950s saw the birth of rock and roll. The 1960s saw Dylan, the British invasion, and the Summer of Love. The now-fashionable 1970s saw glam rock, Zeppelin, and the punk revolution. Even the 1990s, the decade when most music bloggers came of age, saw grunge and the explosion of hip hop into the mainstream. So what do the 1980s have to offer?

Quite a lot, actually.

For starters, the 1980's gave us a bunch of fun pop acts like Cyndi Lauper, Culture Club, Men At Work, Men Without Hats, Toni Basil, Flock of Seagulls, Frankie Goes To Hollywood, Pet Shop Boys, and Duran Duran. The top 40 was a wacky place back then! The 1980s also gave birth to rap music (Grandmaster Flash, Run DMC, the Beastie Boys, N.W.A., Public Enemy) and a handful of pop superstars (U2, Michael Jackson, Madonna, Prince).

But that's not what I'm here to talk about. This series is about my favorite part of the 1980s musical map: jangly rock. By this I mean rootsy guitar bands like The Replacements, Lone Justice, Hoodoo Gurus, Guadalcanal Diary, The dBs, R.E.M., The BoDeans, Green On Red, Jason & The Scorchers, X, Los Lobos, Wire Train, The Rave Ups, The Blasters, Camper Van Beethoven, Marti Jones, The Plimsouls, The Long Ryders, The Windbreakers, Rank & File, and The Beat Farmers. These bands fall into a number of discrete sub-genres with names like Jangle Pop, Cow Punk, Paisely Underground, Power Pop and College Rock, but I like to lump them all together as "jangly rock."

If you were to travel back in time to a college town like Ann Arbor or Athens circa 1985, you'd hear stuff like this "left of the dial." But jangly rock never got very popular. (The hits of R.E.M., 10,000 Maniacs, B-52s, and the Bangles came after those acts softened their sound.) Still, it was good stuff, and important too. The 1980s roots rockers were influenced by great artists like The Byrds, The Kinks, The Velvet Underground, The Stooges, Gram Parsons, Big Star, and The Sex Pistols. While most of the American jangly rock bands failed to reach the critical and popular heights of their influences, they paved the way for the more popular alternative (Pixies, Flaming Lips, Pavement, Nirvana) and alt-country (Uncle Tupelo, Whiskeytown, Old 97s) styles of the next decade. So jangly rock deserves attention. Plus, it's a lot of fun!

But enough of my yacking, let's get to the music.
The first featured band is Lone Justice from Los Angeles. They're not the most important band from the era, but they're a good example of the style I'm talking about (with a little extra country flair). The lead singer and star of the band was a young lady named Maria McKee (whose older half-brother penned the brilliant song "Alone Again or" for the band Love). Read about Lone Justice here.

Check out these tracks from their 1985 debut album, which was their best effort and is well worth owning:

Lone Justice - Pass It On (written by Maria McKee)
Lone Justice - Don't Toss Us Away (written by Bryan MacLean)

(buy album).

In addition to fronting Lone Justice, then 19-year old McKee also wrote a great pop song called "A Good Heart," which became a hit for Feargal Sharkey (ex Undertones). Here's a recent live version by Ms. McKee.

Maria McKee - A Good Heart (Live) (buy album).

If anybody has a copy of Sharkey's version, I would love to post it here. It's out of print now, but I remember it sounding pretty good to my young ears. [***Update: I found a copy. It REALLY sounds dated. All the 1980's cliches. Yikes!***]

Check back soon for Vol. 2! Also, I'm working on an exciting new feature called "Searching For Tom T. Hall..."


davesap said...

Great post, great band. Can't wait to hear some of the others that you will be writing about. I'm a happy boy indeed.

Paul said...

Thanks Dave. I know you like that kind of music--especially the stuff from L.A. I'm going to be milking this 1980's thing for awhile, 'cos I'm on a real nostalgia kick. (And I've gathered lots of good Rickenbacher guitar photos to use for artwork.) Not sure which band will be next (after LJ & the dBs). Maybe I need a guest post from you on X or something from the LA scene....? Hint. Hint.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, I'm excited about this series as well. I never knew what jangly meant until quite recently, and from Wikipedia I gathered it meant "that byrds double rick-guitar sound!"

Apart from the Long Ryders I don't know any of these groups, though Jason has recommended me Rank & File, so this is just the edification I need. STWOF FTW.

someday i will own one of these beautiful guitars.

Paul said...

That's an excellent definition, though I suspect many of my "jangly" bands may have been playing Fender products. If I ever get a big enough bonus at work (hasn't happened yet) I'm definitely buying a Rick. To me they are just the coolest guitars.

Iren said...

I just came across your blog, and two things stuck me reading though your Jangly 80's intro post... first I was a teenager in Ann Arbor in 1985, and on that left of the dial you talk about it was all: weird noise stuff, Capt Beefheart, Zappa, Jazz and blues. Honestly WCBN, our local college radio station, was always more about servicing older listeners and scaring away new listeners with DJs that were hipper than thou because they could stand to play an hour of german marches, a speech by nixon and a kids sing along LP all at the same time.

Also... The Jet Black Berries are missing from the list of cowpunk groups... along with The Divine Horsemen and Blood on the Saddle...

anyway, I have really enjoyed what I have read of your blog so far..

Jim said...

Of course, a lot of jangly rock goes directly back to the Byrds, Love, and that sort of thing, but it's frustrating how little later generations know about that. Even weird. When IK was a late teen, punk was new (not reinterpreted or third-generation imitation), yet I was still hungrily snapping up 25 cent garage sale LPs asd 45s of stuff that was recorded before I was born, as well as stuff I was too young to notice when it was released (Hollies, Byrds, the great MI garage bands). With access the way it is today, there's no excuse not to follow the gene pool of rock in any direction desired.

Anonymous said...

I recall hearing WCBN in the '80s, backward, speeded-up records, lots of dada. Sill wondering which (possibly) Canadian station played the sounds of crickets for maybe an hour one time.