80–82: A Mixtape by DJ sneJ
This is a shameless personal exercise in nostalgia — remembering the way I discovered new wave and punk-rock music in the time from the summer of 1980 (when I first started listening to Top 40 and rock radio) through the summer of 1982 (just before I left home for college.) These are the songs that had the greatest impact on me at the time, not necessarily the ones that I consider the "best" or "most significant". They are arranged in, roughly, the order in which I first heard them, not the order they were released.
Now, I don't mean to give the impression that this is all I listened to. During these same years, I was discovering the classic rock music of the '60s and '70s, especially the "progressive" variety; so bands like Led Zeppelin, Genesis and Pink Floyd were just as important to me. But (in more ways than one) they wouldn't fit on this disc. Maybe later I'll make a parallel-universe 80–82 compilation with "When The Levee Breaks", "The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway", "Set The Controls For The Heart Of The Sun" ...
Gary Numan: "Cars" I grew up listening to the Beatles, and to the Monkees as a sort of ersatz Beatles, and not much else. Gradually I started listening to the radio, first a jazz-fusion station where I discovered Pat Metheny and Rickie Lee Jones, and then in 1980, listening in to the Top 40 stations my sister got into. There was a lot of crap on Top 40 ("Xanadu", "The Gambler"...) but some some songs that sounded really weird and different. I think I heard the first several songs on this mix at more or less the same time, but I think this one came first. Picture me listening in the living room, on a big pair of headphones plugged into my parents' stereo, leaping for the Record button on the cassette deck when a song I liked came on.
Devo: "Gates Of Steel" The radio played "Whip It", of course, but back then some stations would sometimes play an entire album (this was the "Home Taping Is Destroying Music" era), and I liked "Whip It" enough to tune in and record all of Freedom Of Choice. So can we consider that my first new wave album?
The Cars: "Candy-O" I moved on to KOME 98.5 ("Slightly Below Normal!"), a local album-rock station. The format hadn't fossilized into Classic Rock yet, so interspersed with the usual suspects like Zep 'n' AC/DC 'n' Floyd 'n' Foreigner were a fair number of new wave tracks. And somehow the mullets and the skinny-ties alike could agree that the Cars ruled, and lo, many were their smash hits. Forced to pick just one, I grabbed "Candy-O".
The B-52's: "Private Idaho" Also triffically popular. I think the B-52's defined New Wave for a lot of people: they looked goofy, their album covers had blinding colors, they had bloopy keyboard basslines and big guitars and yelpy voices and silly lyrics. The B-52's were my introduction to irony and self-mockery in music, a vital alternative to the Terribly Important album-length statements of Pink Floyd and Genesis that I was also fascinated by.
The Police: "Driven To Tears" Oh, how I loved the Police. I had a poster of Zenyatta Mondatta on my wall right next to The Wall. They were the first band I ever went to see live. I don't think I bought this album till after its radio presence had peaked, but I listened to it constantly. And even if they subsequently collapsed under the weight of Sting's ego, we'll still have this album to remember them by.
Bow Wow Wow: "See Jungle! See Jungle! Go Join Your Gang Yeah! City All Over! Go Ape Crazy!" My sister Karen had an EP of theirs, and this was definitely the best track, from the awesome title to the pounding rhythm and Afrobeat guitar.
Talking Heads: "Crosseyed And Painless" To be honest, the Talking Heads didn't make it into my pantheon until later on in college, when my roommate M@ bought all their albums and played them incessantly, and suddenly Remain In Light all made sense and was listened to and worshipped regularly on headphones, untangling its zillions of overdubs. But back in high school, I already liked this song. I checked out the record from the library, and couldn't quite figure it out.
Peter Gabriel: "I Don't Remember" Yes, KOME played this, though not as much as "Games Without Frontiers". Peter Gabriel was the bridge between my digging into the past and exploring the future. And I would run into the players on this album later on — Robert Fripp and Tony Levin in King Crimson, and Kate Bush on her own albums.
The Ramones: "I Wanna Be Sedated" The Ramones are, as ever, cartoonish; but this song shares an undercurrent of anxiety with the last two.
Romeo Void: "Never Say Never" By 1981 I was occasionally listening to KFJC, the scary college station at the left end of the dial. A lot of the time the noise sent me back to the comforts of KOME, but more and more I became accustomed to it — angry, discordant, mysterious, knowing more about the world than I did. Romeo Void were one of the mainstays of the San Francisco punk scene and KFJC played this song a lot. It's kept growing on me over the years — I've owned it on a vinyl EP, on a CD new-wave compilation, and then for this mix I downloaded the original long version from iTunes.
Pretenders: "Precious" I'm sure most people have an album that's the soundtrack to being sixteen and drinking your first beer and falling in love and riding around Berkeley perched unsafely in the back of a tiny sports car, roaring with laughter. The Pretenders' first album is mine; isn't it a fine choice? The girl in question shared an old house with several people with excellent record collections, and while we drank Heineken and played D&D, I taped a lot of great music. You may not think Pretenders has much in common with Pink Floyd's Ummagumma, but both of them still take me back to that house.
Dead Kennedys: "California Über Alles" Driving to Palo Alto one evening, friend-of-a-friend Tom Dobrov stuck in a tape of the DK's Fresh Fruit For Rotting Vegetables, and suddenly I understood punk rock: loud and offensive and mad as hell and deeply sarcastic. This is the original version of this song — in hindsight it's amusing that the leftist DKs would turn their anger on ... Jerry Brown. A year or two later Reagan was in office, and the DKs quickly rewrote the song about him.
The Fall: "Totally Wired" Another KFJC mainstay. Stripped-down, repetitive, oddly endearing. I wasn't sure at the time who did this song, and later on in college I mistakenly (but understandably) attributed it to the Stranglers, until the circumference of M@'s ever-growing Fall collection expanded to encompass it.
The Normal: "Warm Leatherette" Weirdness incarnate; one of the origins of both synth-pop and industrial music. Serves as foreshadowing of the van crash during the ArTrek trip [q.v.] in which we all nearly died and I was left with a cracked boombox and a trash-bag of boxless cassettes that reeked of gasoline. J G Ballard would be proud.
Throbbing Gristle: "Hot On The Heels Of Love" Speaking of industrial music: I kept running into the influence of TG. First as a hilarious name in my friend David Patmore's record collection, then a review of their final show (in San Francisco) in KFJC's newsletter, from which I cut out the headline "THR-R-R-ROBBING GRISTLE" and taped it onto the cover of my school binder; then later on at college I heard their best-of compilation Entertainment Through Pain and the horrific "Hamburger Lady" made its mark on me. But back in the timeline of this mix, "Hot On The Heels Of Love" was both in heavy rotation on KFJC's synth-pop show, and also brilliantly used as the bed behind their news announcements.
The Psychedelic Furs: "Sister Europe" Sitting with my friend (sort-of girlfriend, the girl of the Berkeley house) Summer in her car in the twilight, pulled up at the house we were driving to, this song still on the radio, silently staying in the car listening to it, not breaking the spell.
A Flock Of Seagulls: "Space Age Love Song" Yes, even snooty indier-than-thou college radio stations played A Flock Of Seagulls in 1982. And if I look past the dopey haircuts and forget the innumerable bands [not least the Fixx] that later turned those chorusy echoey guitar sounds into clichés ... then this is still a damn good song.
Laurie Anderson: "From The Air" These last three tracks need some introduction, so bear with me. Senior year I took an incredible Art History class from an incredible teacher, Chas. Garoian. It changed my life. So I signed up for his summer "ArTrek", a month-long journey by van to Los Angeles, the desert, and Telluride Colorado. Despite my continued lack of drawing skills, it was another life-changing experience. And on the day we left, somebody put in a tape and I discovered Laurie Anderson. During the trip I'd borrow the tape and listen to it on headphones in my sleeping bag, exploring the worlds she dryly described.
X: "Los Angeles" This song is dedicated to our first stop, at UCLA, where we walked into a theater on campus, saw The Decline Of Western Civilization, and pogo-ed out, high on gleeful punk anarchy. Never mind that half the bands in the film were in obvious death spirals (none more so than the Germs) — the movie said that you could Do It Yourself. Amen. LA was endless sprawl and doing crazy performance art with Rachel Rosenthal and meeting a 20-something painter with a crew-cut and a tail hanging all the way down her back. Soon thereafter I began my own tail, which I've kept since.
Joy Division: "She's Lost Control" The desert was heat, and getting lost on the way to famous earth-work sculptures like the Sun Tunnels and Double Negative, and blasting "Dazed And Confused" on our way across the salt flats only to find the Spiral Jetty all but submerged in the Great Salt Lake. The cool heights of Telluride, Colorado were a relief, except for the day I spent nauseous with altitude sickness. One of the chaperones played Unknown Pleasures, and from my sick-bed I wasn't sure what to make of it, but it stuck with me. Later on, back home, I bought the record at Tower and still wasn't sure what to make of it. I knew nothing about the band, couldn't even tell what country they were from. I just had the music and a stark black cover with white graph tracings across it.
Next In The Series: 1983: In which Jens goes to college, forms a lasting but expensive friendship with Poo Bah Records, meets a girl, loses the girl, witnesses the decline and fall of New Wave, and becomes a cognoscento of unfathomably obscure bands you've never heard of, like … the Cure.