Apr. 27, 2013

In/Out of the 1980’s Music Mainstream

“In and Out of the 1980’s Music Mainstream”
      (Marc Platt’s Vinyl Record Collection)

By Marc Platt

This is a project I have wanted to tackle for many years. I have hundreds of 1980’s vinyl LPs and 45 rpm singles from mainstream to indie alternative music. I will try to notate as much as I can and mention personal anecdotes that I have about many of these artists I had personal experience with in that decade.

Usually these trips down memory lane can bore people who have no interest in this subject. This is my own collection so my personal taste cannot suit everyone’s fancy, BUT I do have a lot of songs on samplers from that era, so I will try to mention as many as I can. I have had to re-listen to stuff I haven’t heard in nearly 30 years. It sounds the same, but different as age has taken over.

My trip through the 1980’s actually begins in 1979. Capitol Records released “Get The Knack” with much Beatlesque fanfare and hype. The Los Angeles music scene was beginning to take off for the first time since the Doors and Buffalo Springfield ruled the scene in the late 1960’s. The 1970’s spawned many singer-songwriter acts and The Eagles (from Los Angeles). New York had the Ramones and New York Dolls happening at points throughout the 1970’s. Blondie exploded in 1977-78. The Knack was just one of many L.A. acts navigating through the club scene. Their huge hit “My Sharona” had a similar rhythmic beat to the Plimsouls self-released “Zero Hour.” There was a lot of borrowing in those days and a lot of these bands had a similar sound and Power Pop flavor in the mainstream sound of Elvis Costello, The Police, U2  and The Pretenders.

There were plenty of mainstream acts continuing their dominance of the pop charts. So let me mention Michael Jackson’s “Thriller,” Madonna’s “Material Girl,” Springsteen’s “Born In The USA,” Tom Petty, Cyndi Lauper, Eurythmics, Blondie, Wham, Don Henley, Thompson Twins, Joan Jett, The Cure, INXS, Simple Minds, Elvis Costello & REM. I have vinyl for most of these artists, but want to focus elsewhere.

Let’s start with the Replacements from Minnesota. Never saw a better (and sometimes) worse live band than the ‘Mats.’ I remember playing pool with bassist Tommy Stinson. He was a lot younger than me, but had already by 1986, had tons more experience as a musician than I ever hoped to have. His late brother Bob was still in the band at the time. That Long Beach show was tremendous. Their records “Let It Be” and “Tim” are the two standouts for me. Love me some Mats anytime still.

The Plimsouls were my favorite LA band and many of my friends felt the same way. I was fortunate enough to become friends with all four original members and Peter Case produced my band in 1985-6. I was a lucky guy, who got to learn from Peter and meet so many famous and successful artists like Bonnie Raitt, Elvis Costello, Steve Earle, drummer Jim Keltner, T-Bone Burnett, guitarist James Burton, John Hiatt and Peter’s lovely wife at the time, Victoria Williams. This was the best education a 25-year-old-pain-in-the-ass ‘wanna be’ could ever get. I have tons of stories about these times, but that is for another piece. “Zero Hour” and “Million Miles Away” stand out as Plimsouls songs to listen to, if you haven’t yet done so.

Oingo Boingo’s “Dead Men’s Party,” the Weasels “Beat Her With A Rake,” Surf Punks “My Wave,” Droogs “Ahead Of My Time” & Furys (personal friends of mine) “Say Goodbye To The Blacksheep”  and 20/20’s “Nuclear Boy” stand out as early L.A. Power Pop and New Wave songs to check out. There are many notable live bands from that time like Rubber City Rebels, Carla Olson (friend) & The Textones, Gary Myrick & the Figures, Surf Punks and Weirdos.

The Red Hot Chilli Peppers ascended at this time. I was at the Roxy the night they headlined for the first time and debuted the glow-in-the-dark ‘Cock Socks.” The girls who danced onstage with the Surf Punks were very well endowed. It was actually gross, they were soooo biiiig. Oy veh. I want to forget that.

I used to follow bands around like the Boxboys (who became Cock Robin) and their ska counterpoints (and High school friends of mine) The Untouchables. On any given night you could see two or three legendary acts on the Sunset Strip like X, Blasters, Rank and File, Plimsouls, The Last, Leaving Trains or Los Lobos.

My old band the Real Impossibles opened for Rank and File at The Music Machine. We also opened a show at the same venue for The Dream Syndicate. We rehearsed in the same space as The Bangles, Concrete Blonde (when they were called Dream 6) and our good friends On The Air. We also hung out with great bands like The Cruzados (formerly The Plugz),  The Furys, The Long Ryders, Three O’Clock as well as countless unheralded long-forgotten LA Bands. There were GREAT club acts like The Moberlys, Balancing Act, House of Freaks, The Wigs, Divine Weeks (formerly The Need), Swinging Madisons (formerly the Mumps).

Los Angeles had GREAT girl bands like The Go Gos, my friends The Bangles (formerly the Bangs), On The Air (very underrated pop band), my good friends Wednesday Week  and The Pandoras, who were a grungy 60’s-psychedelic cavewoman act. They were fun and they were my pals also. If we didn’t play shows with these bands, we certainly followed them and were friendly with them. They were all pretty accessible at that time.

I loved British acts like the Waterboys and Katrina & The Waves, Joe Jackson and World Party. I bought their records and went to their shows. I saw dozens of Costello shows all over the southland. I saw The Replacements, Plimsouls and REM at Al’s Bar downtown L.A. I saw REM at McCabes Guitar Shop in Santa Monica. I hung out with Elvis Costello at sound check for the Pogues at the Palace Theatre. His then-wife Caitlin O’Reardon was the bass player for that fabulous band. Elvis took a liking to me and invited me the NEXT DAY to Sunset Sound Studio.

I show up after work around 3:00pm the next day and Elvis sits me in the big chair right in the middle of the room and puts on “Little Palaces,” a beautiful song from “King of America” with just a mandolin and his voice: “Marc, what do you think of that mandolin?” I told him I loved the track and the mandolin. He said “Well I’ll leave it if you like it that much, despite the fact that I played it and I think it is MISERABLE.” I had many more experiences like that in the next 3 years. Like I said, a great education for an L.A. kid with a lot of music heroes.

I loved other great acts like Paul Collins Beat, Clash, Jam, The English Beat, The Pop, The Walking Wounded, Cindy Lee Berryhill, Lone Justice. I walked out on Guns N Roses at the Music Machine. I even walked out on my old pals Los Lobos one time during the Mariachi portion of their set.

There were some great New York acts like The Fleshtones and my friends The Dancing Hoods, who I would come to know and love over time.

I hung out a bit with Peter Buck from REM. I have a story about a party up at Peter Case’s Laurel Canyon house after Buck played “Million Miles Away” at Club Lingerie with Case’s band that night. I had been playing mandolin in a civil war band called the Horse Soldiers. I was boring the crap out of Buck telling him how great my new instrument was. Buck totally gave me a line…”It’s all about guitars, Marc. Rock and Roll is loud grungy guitars.” A few years later Buck would go on to win a Grammy Award for his mandolin-laced “Losing My Religion.” The next time I saw Buck and reminded him, he said “I guess I found religion in the mandolin.”

The Minutemen, Divynyls, Joan Jett, Missing Persons, Berlin, Rain Parade, Green On Red, Let’s Active, Williams Brothers, Guadalcanal Diary, The Feelies, Television and The Flamin Groovies all made an impact in the 80’s. Fear, Black Flag and The Circle Jerks (who we played an acoustic show with once….It is true..At the Lhasa Club. Phast Phreddie and thee Precisions, Trotsky Icepick, Rave Ups, Kimm Rogers, Patti Smith, Immitation Life, Danny Wilde, Semitwang, Walkabouts, Social Distortion, BoDeans, Wake, Point, Wedge and Atlanta’s Drivin’ and Cryin’.

I loved the Violent Femmes. Saw them twice. The Motels were great with Martha Davis. Their drummer Brian Glasscock was my band The Real Impossibles final drummer.

I loved rootsy bands like Boston’s Del Fuegos (Dan and Warren Zanes), The Lyres (also from Boston).  BUT my favorite roots band was The Blasters. These guys had the spirit of Carl Perkins and Elvis Presley in them. They were fantastic live. X was great live and on record.

My final anecdote concerns The Unforgiven (Spagetti Western twang sounding outfit). Gods gift to guitars (4 guitar players lined up on the stage). There was a bidding war in Los Angeles that started in late 1985. I knew a lot of the players at the labels. One night at the Music Machine, no less than 7 major labels showed up to see the band showcase. Elektra Records were the big Unforgiven sweepstakes winners. The record tanked, the hype machine in L.A. was never the same after that fiasco and the band quickly disappeared.

The music scene in Los Angeles was a main focal point for the labels when the Knack hit with “My Sharona.” They quickly signed most bands in L.A. in 1980, whether they were developed at all or not. The excesses of the 70’s with corporate rock were taking its toll on the business and CDs were overpriced and contained mostly crap songs to go with the single. The bell started chiming and now we have a non-existent machine to push music into the public eye. The consumers are on our own now and maybe that is for the better. Someday soon I hope we will figure out how to make a living from music and get people excited about what is out there.