The awkward and awesome contribution to music from the 1980s deserves some form of recognition. Michael Jackson, Madonna or Men at Work, or the one-hit wonders from Buckner and Garcia in “Pac Man Fever” or Red Riders “Lunatic Fringe” were all, for better or worse, memorable contributions to the decade.
It was also an Atlantis of early independent music, a treasure of great country, punk and heavy metal still yet to be discovered by some ears, and continued to be celebrated by those from the first time around. It laid a foundation for independent rock, rap and alternative country. Some of the following are favorites, others with impact deserving of eternal recognition.
10. The Beastie Boys
Their career spanned decades, but it was the 1980s that saw the release of “Paul’s Boutique,” lyrically an eternity of references and a sampling masterpiece.
9. The Beat Farmers
The cow-punk outfit was the drunken bull in a china shop of a band, playing rock the shit-kickers could like and country the burnouts and punks could dig. On stage they were a juggernaut, breaking glass and spilling drinks while swimming in rock and country.
Recent years have made purists question Metallica. Yet between 1983 and 1986, they released “Kill Em’ All,” “Ride the Lightning” and “Master of Puppets,” three of the greatest metal records ever made.
7. The Talking Heads
While debuting in the ’70s as an early CBGB’s band, the 1980s brought radio hits, commercial success and recognition of David Byrne’s musical and genre-hopping genius.
The vocal pairing of Excene Cervenka and John Doe will forever remain the two voices I hear when anyone mentions the word “duet.” More musically sophisticated than their contemporaries, they were a punk band that lyrically captured seedy Los Angeles.
5. Hüsker Dü
An early part of the legendary SST Records lineup, Hüsker Dü moved beyond punk, using speed and power along with form and function in their songwriting.
4. Public Enemy
They hit the latter part of the decade like a bomb. Lyrically intelligent and musically powerful, they made sure rap was a social battle cry, not a novelty.
3. Minor Threat
Even though only a four-year run as a band, the D.C. hardcore outfit is still known for riff-heavy fury and motivational lyrics. They were a blunt, early author of the DIY ethos, providing anger and inspiration in two-minute, musical blasts.
2. The Minutemen
This trio is still recognized in any genre as innovators lyrically, musically and ethically. They defied the limits of 1980s hardcore but were more punk than any of their contemporaries, letting free jazz, beat poetry and slicing guitar and rhythms define the genre.
1. The Replacements
The celebrated Replacements were beautifully disheveled and dangerously destructive. They were an unpredictable mess of rock with fantastic songs, led by a lyrical genius capable of inspiring slam-dancing moments after making you cry in your beer.
Let’s not forget: The Big Boys, The Bad Brains, The English Beat, Camper Van Beethoven, or Iron Maiden, Sonic Youth, Jesus and Mary Chain, Meat Puppets, The Pixies.
Bryant Liggett is a freelance writer and KDUR station manager. [email protected]