Friday, January 11, 2008

Those Jangly Eighties, Vol 3: Guadalcanal Diary

[For the background on this series, see here.]

Guadalcanal Diary were the quintessential '80's jangly rock band. Not only were they really jangly, but their music had that wonderful '80s sense of fun. They never got famous (most likely due to their unmarketable name or quirkiness), but they meant a lot to me.

If it weren't for Guadalcanal Diary I might never have become such a music-obsessed kid. This would have caused me to receive better grades in college, which in turn would have caused me to miss out on five accomplishment-free post-college years working in bars and record stores while playing the electric bass in obscure rock bands.

So, thank you Guadalcanal Diary...

Although they released four albums, the first two, Walking In The Shadow Of The Big Man (1984) and Jamboree (1985) are stand outs.

I can still remember the day I picked up Jamboree from Schoolkids Records (my then-future employer). It was a muggy July afternoon in Ann Arbor and a thunderstorm was kicking up. I had to run back to my old car in parked in front of the Hill Auditorium to avoid getting caught in the downpour. There aren't many albums can I remember purchasing (down to my parking place) twenty-three years later. But this was an event.

Now for the music. I'll start with two highlights from Jamboree:

Guadalcanal Diary - Michael Rockefeller. This song is about Michael Rockefeller, the youngest son of Nelson Rockefeller, who may have been eaten by cannibals (if not sharks or crocodiles) in 1961.

Guadalcanal Diary - Jamboree. My favorite GD song. Not really sure why, but for some reason it really evokes fond memories of my carefree college days bumming around Ann Arbor.

The band's most critically acclaimed album was their 1984 debut, Walking In The Shadow Of The Big Man. Here are two from that album:

Guadalcanal Diary - Watusi Rodeo. This song really displays the band's quirky sense of humor, complete with surf guitar. It's about some cowboys who decide to stage a rodeo in the congo: "Oh they look like cows but they're water buffaloes, ropin' and a-riding in the Watusi Rodeo..." They don't write 'em like that anymore.

Guadalcanal Diary - Pillow Talk. This is a funny song about some poor guy who sits up at night and listens to his girlfriend talk in her sleep about all the other guys in town. He's bummed because she never mentions him, even out of "common courtesy."

One more quick story. A problem faced by Guadalcanal Diary, who hailed from Marietta, Georgia, were comparisons to R.E.M. This was probably due, in large part, to the fact that they came from the same state. Anyway, I feel a bit guilty because the only time I met Guadalcanal Diary (outside of Traxx Nightclub in Detroit, before a show they were playing with the True Believers), I was wearing an R.E.M. T-shirt. Nervous talking to my favorite band, I blurted out that I was a big fan of R.E.M. while pointing to my shirt. Duh! I wish I had explained to them that I only liked R.E.M. because they sounded like Guadalcanal Diary. Oh well.

Although the original vinyl is long out of print, you can buy both of these albums as a two-fer CD package here. It's well worth it, especially for the song "Trail of Tears," which I've left for some other day.


frankenslade said...

Was it this band that had to change their name at one point? I'm thinking of some name relating to psychiatry - or am I thinking of another Southern jangle band?

Paul said...

I believe you are thinking of the band Zeitgeist, which changed its name to The Reivers. They definitely fall within the Southern jangly rock category.

Marc said...

I'm looking forward to Trail of Tears, and anything else from that first Guadalcanal Diary album. WHFS in Washington played it constantly when it came out, and to my mind none of their later records were as good. In fact, that was true of a lot of jangly and country-influenced bands from the '80s. The Bodeans, the Beat Farmers, and the Blasters never topped their debut albums either.

Anyway, I love your blog -- keep up the good work!

Paul said...

Thanks Marc. I probably like the first one best too (that's why I was so excited to get Jamboree). Walking In The Shadows is more consistent and the quirky songs work better than the quirky songs on Jamboree (Michael Rockefeller excepted).

The Beat Farmers got more love for "Van Go" than their debut, but I liked the first one better too. And it really is true for most jangle rock bands.

-tom said...

This series is great Paul.
Really takes me back to what was a pretty amazing era musically.

Paul said...


Thanks a lot. That's exactly the effect I was hoping for. I've got a lot more lined up for the next few weeks...