Rockin Mower: 80’s American Alternative Edition

Following up the English 80’s alt., it is time to focus on the homeland. This was the soundtrack of my college days. Making this list was a lot harder list as the English alt scene had more of similar sound. American alternative was more diverse reflecting the differences in the vast country we live in.

Kiss Me On the Bus- The Replacements

This song most reminds me of college radio. I went to the University of Iowa and since the Twin Cities was so close, the Mats made regular stops. While others point to Let It Be, Tim was the record that most connected with me. This song showed Westerberg at his most romantic. Oh and check out what a local video show used to look like. EEEK.

See a Little Light- Bob Mould

The other most celebrated Twin City alt band of the 80s was Husker Du. I was always held back by their shitty production values. I have no problem saying I thought Bob Mould’s 90s solo work and stuff with Sugar was far superior to my ears. This jangly XTC-like pop masterpiece was the beginning of it.

Fall on Me- REM

How do you pick just 1 song from the dominant American alt. rock band of the 80’s? I choose this 1 because it was the song where Mike Stipe first trusted his lyrics and enunciation enough to be clear with his words.

Skills of Summer- Wire Train

This forgotten band of the 80s had a classic British alt sound. While it sounds a little dated, it still holds up better than most from this decade.

Hero Takes a Fall- Bangles

Great clip from them performing on Late Nite with Dave showing the tight rock 4some they were from the beginning.

The French Song- Joan Jett

Joan gets forgotten with her quick radio success, but she has always has added a punk feel to her Chuck Berry licks. She is at her sexiest in this clip.

Turn to You- Go Go’s

Another fun clip with the G0 Go’s on Solid Gold lip-synched by the chubby, but cute Brenda Carlisle.

4th of July- X

By far the most overrated band of college radio, I will give X credit for this song.

You Don’t Get Much- BoDeans

What is forgotten about 80s alternative was how most of the best of its bands were not from the Coast. This was this band from Madison, WI take on U-2.

Everywhere I Go- The Call

The most underrated band of the 80s college radio. Michael Been had all the passion of Bono and I saw this band blow away the Psychedelic Furs when they were the opening act for them. Get their Greatest Hits record!

Welcome to the Boomtown- David & David

Hard band to classify, as they had Springsteen like lyrical imagery, but there atmospheric sound put them somewhere between college and classic radio stations. Their debut is a great record.

Behind the Wall of Sleep- Smithereens

This might be the most forgotten great alt band. Killed by being scary looking dudes in the middle of the Duran Duran music video era. They never put out a record that wasn’t at least good. I lie in bed and think of her–sometimes I even weep.

I’m an Adult Now- Pursuit of Happiness

Great single by the one Canadian band listed here. One of the best power-pop bands of all-time, this was them at their most edgy. I’m guessing they ruled the MUCH music channel for a few years.

Rock Lobster- B52’s

Now here’s one that came out of far left field. Crazy voices singing over dance club beats with insane lyrics. A total American original.

Little Girls- Oingo Boingo

Maybe the only band I can think to even put next to the B52’s. Before Danny Elfman started doing soundtracks for every other movie released in the 90’s, his band was pretty great. Bonus: Video features early Peter Dinklage with moustache.

Add It Up- Violent Femmes

Another upper midwest band (Milwaukee), the Femmes burst on the scene sounding like no one else. I still have never heard a band who sounded quite like them.

Punk Rock Girl- Dead Milkmen

The kings of goofy rock with a punk rock edge, this Philly band scored biggest with this quirky number.

Ana Ng- They Might Be Giants

Another group with a nerdy edge to them, they were part of a list of bands over the next decade that made funny, clever songs. I’m guessing they were inspired to a certain extent by…

Freedom of Choice- Devo

While people always discuss the Talking Heads, it was Devo that was the first edgy alt. band who hit it big on MTV. After Firestone was established, but before LeBron, Devo was Akron’s greatest export.

Misfit Kid- The Cars

With all their chart success I think it’s forgotten how close the Cars were to Devo. They just wrote better hooks and had a more commercial polish to their stuff. Time to put the Cars in the rock and roll hall of fame.

Psycho Therapy- Ramones

While their classic period was during the late 70’s, they did some excellent stuff in the 80’s, highlighted by their Subterranean Jungle record.

Psycho Killer- Talking Heads

While England produced a lot longer list of good alt bands during this decade, the US had more great experimental ones. It was like the Talking Heads were designed to be a critical darling with their art-house beginnings and world music leanings.

Where is My Mind? – The Pixies

This band changed everything in alt. music. So much of 90’s alt music that emerged used the Pixies as its template. Right after REM for America’s best alternative music best band.

We Care a Lot- Faith No More

I always mention this band as the 1 that predated even Nirvana as being a huge part in bringing down hair metal. This song was originally recorded in 1985. When Mike Patton became the lead singer in 1989, the record the Real Thing burst onto MTV and even classic rock radio with funk rock meets metal. They were the first to make this leap.

Jane Says- Jane’s Addiction

While I’m not as big a fan of this band as some, it does have to be recognized for how influential they were.

Higher Ground- Red Hot Chili Peppers

Funk rock and punk rock blended on a great Stevie Wonder song.

Freddy’s Dead- Fishbone

Part of the SoCal scene with the Chili Peppers and Jane’s Addiction, with more of a ska feel. Great cover of the Curtis Mayfield




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