My cousin, Keenan (from the Northwest punk band, Toxic Underground) recently wrote a great article talking about how he is now playing catch-up on some bands that he missed because of his long time fixation on classic rock. He is going back and listening to bands in different genres and styles than he did while he was growing up, and I think that’s just super. Though this blog isn’t specifically about music, it would be ridiculous for someone like me, someone whose entire life has revolved around music, not to acknowledge my debt to the world of audio performance. It should be obvious to most of you that my writing and art are both deeply influenced (perhaps “scarred” would be a better term) by the new wave, punk, goth, and psychedelic movements, and so, inspired by Keenan’s musings, I’ve decided to write a list of my favorite bands, the bands that I go back to again and again, and try to explain what it is about each of these artists that hooked me and has kept me squirming.
The difficult part of this task was narrowing it down to a reasonable number of bands. I started with the title “15 Most Infl Bands” (written on the back of a receipt I found on the floor of my car while driving down the freeway; I get a lot of writing done at 70+ miles per hour) and the number of bands kept growing. When I reached 23 (a nice, prime number) I had to stop. HAD TO STOP! Although there are a number of performers who ALMOST made the list (OMD, Echo & The Bunnymen, P.I.L., Pixies, The Damned, Erasure, Madness, Alien Sex Fiend…) I had to cut it before it got too much further out of control.
So what is this list for and why should you care? This list is a personal journey as well as an exploration of the individual bands. I believe that music is less about aesthetics, less about talent, less about production values, and more about TIME. Right place, right time, right mood. Some songs just click with who we are, what we are ready for, and what we want. Growing up in the 70s, I had a weird range of musical influences: Mom liked Elvis, Ricky Nelson, and the Everly Brothers; Dad (who I didn’t live with for very long) liked The Beatles, Ted Nugent, and some surprising new wave and pop performers; my step-dad, Terry, listened to Joe Cocker, Pink Floyd, and The Pointer Sisters; my Aunt Teresa like KISS, The Who, and disco; my Uncle Randy liked Nazareth, Alice Cooper, Zeppelin, and “some of that synthesizer shit…” You get the idea. Although I didn’t care for much of this stuff at the time, I can now tolerate most of this music, even if it’s not my favorite. (Variety is important; however, I still hate Ted Nugent. Sorry Dad.)
So what is this list? It’s a music lover’s love letter to music. Why should you care? I don’t know. Morbid curiosity? My hope is that you might have missed some of these bands, or discounted them as silly or too freaky or dumb to bother with, and then you’ll read my little reviews and want to try giving one or two of these groups a listen.
Okay, all buckled in? Then HERE WE GO! (In no particular order, because the order would change daily…)
1. The Cure
I discovered The Cure my freshman year of high school, right about the same time that I discovered MTV’s 120 Minutes and The Young Ones. The first song I heard was the reissue of “Boys Don’t Cry,” which came out with the release of the singles collection, Standing on a Beach. I was impressed, especially by the weird video in which three little kids played the parts of the musicians while the real band only appeared in the video as shadows projected on a screen behind the youngster. However, it wasn’t until the next year, my sophomore, when The Cure released Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me, with it’s ultra-catchy single, “Just Like Heaven,” that they captured me completely. Instantly, I started saying The Cure was my favorite band. I bought the posters; I wore white button down shirts and black cardigan sweaters like the band did in their posters; and I dug for old, used cassettes at the local record stores. I found several: Boys Don’t Cry, The Head on the Door, Seventeen Seconds, Japanese Whispers, and these became my official soundtrack for the next few years. I even made my Grandma watch all the videos with me when I bought them on VHS. (“That guy doesn’t know how to put his make-up on!” she said.)
So what was it about this band that struck me so completely? For one, they were weird. I had moved a lot when I was younger, and I’d had a hard time fitting in at new schools. I felt weird, and they looked weird. Being able to dress up in a costume, so that my weirdness connected me to other weirdos, was great, and even though I lived in a small town, there was a healthy skater/punk/indy/goth community here that I could slide right into just by being identified as this particular brand of freak. In addition, their songs where absolutely catchy. (“Just Like Heaven,” “Lovecats,” “Boys Don’t Cry,” “Hot, Hot, Hot,” “In-Between Days,” “A Forest,” “Primary,” etc… I could listen for HOURS!) Sure, Robert Smith’s voice is very strange, but it turns out (as the list below with no doubt prove) I like unique vocals. I know I came into the band fairly late—they were already an underground staple when I found them—but that just gave me a great cache of albums to go back and discover, and although I have to admit that my awe for every note the band played probably started to slip at about Wish, I still have a Cure song go through my head almost every day.
Most recommended albums: Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me; Boys Don’t Cry; The Head on the Door; Japanese Whispers; Seventeen Seconds; The Top; Pornography; Mixed Up
2. David Bowie
Wow. Where to begin with Bowie? He was a tough guy to miss in the 70s and 80s: on the radio, all over the media, acting, the transvestite/bisexual controversy…but the real connection came for me when, in either my freshman or sophomore year, I stole one of my Dad’s David Bowie cassettes, Fame and Fashion: All Time Greatest Hits. (I still have it.) I loved every song, even the super-freaky ones like “Come and Buy My Toys” and “Join the Gang.” But it was the hits, “Changes,” “Space Oddity,” “Ashes to Ashes,” “Golden Years,” “Fame,” “TVC 15,” with their monster hooks and science fiction feel that grabbed me by the throat and wouldn’t let go. Right around my junior year of high school, Ryko started re-releasing old Bowie albums with bonus tracks, and I bought as many as I could. Being poor, that wasn’t very many, but with every album I bought, my love for this guy’s music grew. Bowie… I still buy about every other album he puts out, but it’s the classics—so many classics—that have kept me coming back to this master chameleon for several decades. You know him already, so I really don’t need to gush…
Most recommended albums: Hunky Dory, The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and The Spiders from Mars, Space Oddity, The Man Who Sold the World, Diamond Dogs, Aladdin Sane
Although my Dad was a Queen fan, I think I first caught on to them in the late 70s by listening to the radio. Who could miss “We Will Rock You” (which was often played back to back with) “We are the Champions,” “Another One Bites the Dust,” “Play the Game,” or the ubiquitous “Bohemian Rhapsody?” Nobody, that’s who. I also had a friend whose Mom had The Game on record, (we liked “Dragon Attack” best.) But again, it was stealing one of my Dad’s Queen tapes, a hits collection, that gave me time to study the music, and absorb the clever lyrics, appreciate Freddy Mercury’s absurdly operatic and pitch-perfect vocals, and wallow in the fabulously structured songs. Like Bowie, Queen is so completely everywhere that I don’t think I need to explain myself too much, but rest assured, I still love me some Queen.
Most recommended albums: The Game, News of the World, Queen II, A Night at the Opera
4. The Beatles
Again, everybody know The Beatles, but there are definitely reasons that people still listen to their tunes a solid 40+ years after they broke up. I’d heard The Beatles a billion times growing up, and they always seemed like a catchy, poppy sort of band, but in my junior year of high school, I actually started buying Beatles albums (cassettes, actually) and listening to them. I still don’t really go in for the straight forward pop era, with tunes like “I Wanna Hold Yer Hand,” though I certainly get why it’s popular. It’s when The Beatles go weird that I start digging them because they were the fucking MASTERS of going weird.
I spent months studying each of their “interesting” albums Sgt. Peppers, Revolver, Abbey Road, The Beatles (usually called “The White Album,” although that’s not actually the name,) and Magical Mystery Tour, and I am still shocked when I hear how progressive and experimental and freaky that shit can get. They were making trance music twenty years before Orbital touched a keyboard. Although it was the late 1960s, they could still get more bizarre than the most strident of post-punker would get in the freaked out 80s, and then turn around on the same album and do a pop song so sweet and catchy you’d swear it was a dream when you heard it.
You probably already know The Beatles, you may even love them (or hate them,) but if all you have is a hits collection, you are doing yourself a disservice. The Beatles made ALBUMS! Great, sprawling, sometimes uneven, often lovely albums that really do reward those willing to listen to them. There was something in that weird tension between those creative individuals that has never been matched.
Most recommended albums: Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, Revolver, Abbey Road, The Beatles (The White Album), Magical Mystery Tour, Rubber Soul, Love
5. Gary Numan
Freshmen year, my Dad gave me a tape, The Pleasure Principle, because he said I would like it better than he did. He was right. The famous “one hit wonder” track, “Cars” comes from this album, but few people seem to understand that Gary Numan is actually a fucking force of nature. He’s a techno hurricane, a punk-rock robot, an alien presence that has set down tentacles in the brains of a few people who will some day mutate into powerful (and hungry) cyber-creatures, destined to one day take over the earth.
Anyway, I was content to listen to the guitar-less Pleasure Principle for several years, until one fateful day when I discovered two used cassettes, Replicas and Telekon, in a local store, and it occurred to me, like a flash of lightning, that there might be OTHER things by Numan floating around out there. (Remember, these were the days before the internet, and if you wanted to find something back then, you had to GO LOOK FOR IT!!!) The hunt was on! Did you know Numan was in a band before he went solo? Tubeway Army was the “punk” band where he cut his synthy teeth (although they were already post-punk before punk was post, if you ask me.) I love it all. His guitar/syth punk era, his dystopian new wave era, his pseudo-jazz/funk slap bass era, his industrial doom and gloom era—the man keeps on chugging, putting out roughly two greatest hits collections for each new album, but hey, whatever keeps him producing, right?
Most recommended albums: The Pleasure Principle; Telekon; I, Assassin; Replicas; Dance; The Plan; Tubeway Army; Exile; Dawn
6. Pink Floyd
Floyd has such a stoner/hippie reputation that I was almost going to leave them off my list, but because I’m being honest and not trying to sound hipper than thou, I’ve got to include them. “Another Brick in the Wall” was the first 7″ single I ever bought with my own money (from DJ’s Sound City in The Triangle Mall in Longview, Washington.) The Wall was the first album I remember hearing that included ambient sounds that weren’t necessarily considered “music.” Babies crying, glass breaking, airplanes falling from the sky, and people talking…all this was shocking to me. (I know they weren’t the first people to do this, but they were the first that I heard, and that makes them special.)
They write great song, as well. “Wish You were Here” still gives me chills, and The Dark Side of the Moon is considered by many to be one of the greatest albums ever recorded, and I agree. It’s moody and dark and beautiful and catchy and strange. In addition, I remember hanging with a friend (yes, he was a stoner) and just as dawn broke one morning, the chimes from “Time” came on, and the entire experience was so moving that I could almost SEE little flashes of light when each chime hit. (Contact high? Probably…) The older, stranger Floyd is also brilliant, but I have to admit, (in a strange reversal from most bands) I prefer their bittersweet pop tunes to the strange, spacey stuff (although that’s good too.)
Most recommended albums: The Wall, Dark Side of the Moon, Ummagumma, Wish You were Here
7. Depeche Mode
I’m sure I’d heard Depeche Mode’s “People are People” and maybe one or two other songs, on the radio growing up, but when Music for the Masses came out, something clicked—and I think I know what that thing was: high school dances. The DJs who played at the dances at my school were students, and they liked the hip new songs of the day, so when “Strangelove” came out, I heard it at every dance. Then I bought the cassette single, then the tape of the whole album—and then something strange happened. I went to one dance and heard the song, and it sounded different. It wasn’t the version from the cassette.
And thus I was suddenly thrust into the world of 12″ singles and special remixes. I quickly discovered that I LOVE remixes, although many people don’t understand them. (I wish more kids listened to jazz or classical music, where different renditions or “versions” of a song are much more common.) The idea of keeping parts of a song, but then changing the drum pattern or echoing the hell out of the vocal or making a three minute song last for sixteen minutes—I love it, and Depeche Mode were the first band that I can remember where I was MORE excited to buy the singles than the albums. How many versions of “Strangelove” are there anyway? Didn’t matter, I wanted them all.
Once I’d completely digested Music for the Masses and an armload of singles, I started on the back catalog and discovered some very cool, sometimes experimental, sometimes sickeningly sweet, but always interesting music. Like The Cure, however, there is a cut off point with D.M.; I’m not much into anything post-Violator (some of the later singles were okay, but not as earth-shattering as the 80s stuff.)
Most recommended albums: Music for the Masses, Black Celebration, Speak & Spell, Construction Time Again, Some Great Reward, Violator
8. The Legendary Pink Dots
The Legendary Pink Dots is probably the most obscure band on my list, but they are also one of the most prolific. At one time I belonged to a Pink Dots listserv and they compiled a catalog that was something like fifty pages long listing all the albums and singles and compilations and cassette only releases that The Dots had recorded. Moral to this intro: the band has a TON of music out there, even though very few people that I’ve met have ever heard of them.
I was introduced to The Pink Dots in my senior year of high school by an ex-girlfriend who thought I might like them. She was right, and although she and I only lasted about a year, The Dots and I have been going steady for two and a half decades. They are a strange band. The original music was quirky, noodly post-punk or new wave, with touches of Kraftwerk or Throbbing Gristle in them—but the band is also wholly their own creation. They are goth, psychedelic, classical, experimental, synth, industrial, ghostly, and ever changing. I’ve seen them live twice; the first time was one of the worst shows I’ve ever seen, the next was one of the best. And I love that. (Chaos sometimes appeals to me.) The band is crazy and spooky and trippy and very, VERY literary. Each album has its own personality, tells stories of ghosts and apocalypse and… I’m not doing a very good job of explaining this band. Just listen to them. It’s for your own good…
Most recommended albums: Any Day Now, The Golden Age, Curse, The Crushed Velvet Apocalypse, Chemical Playschool (1-4), Hallway of the Gods
9. Skinny Puppy
Skinny Puppy, for anybody who doesn’t know them already, is a wicked experimental industrial band with severe gothic leanings who hail from Canada. I found them via MTV’s 120 Minutes, when they inexplicably played the music video for the song “Dig It,” which from the absolutely fucking fantastic album, Mind: The Perpetual Intercourse. I was instantly and permanently hooked, and to this day I can find redeeming value in EVER SINGLE Skinny Puppy album ever released. I might not like ever song or every era with equal fervor, but the band is so damn good… And they far more sophisticated than many people realize. For one thing, beneath the scary monster vocals (which I love) and horror movie aesthetics (which I adore,) they have a groovy, dub under current and some remarkably funky rhythms. The percussion is always evolving, always interesting. Their samples are fun to try to place (Evil Dead, Twilight Zone, Exorcist…right up my alley,) and the band doesn’t stay in one place for very long. Bites does not sound like The Process, which doesn’t sound like Mythmaker. The band is just damn good. If you don’t know them, listen to them. If you only know “Tin Omen” or Too Dark Park, give some of the other albums a try.
On a personal note, for my junior year of high school, Puppy was my headphone music, which got me through some terrible and tragic events, like Thanksgiving with the extended family and horrible homework. A cool, odd, freaky band—beyond compare.
Most recommended albums: Mind: The Perpetual Intercourse; Cleanse, Fold, and Manipulate; Remission; Bites; VIVIsectVI; The Greater Wrong of the Right; Mythmaker; The Process
You think you know Devo, right? Funny red hats, sing that “Whip It” song. One hit wonders, right? Devo is another of those massively misunderstood, extremely clever, overtly weird bands that just kick all kinds of ass and do freaky shit, yet who somehow end up accidentally scoring a pop hit or two. The song, “Whip It,” was so popular when I was a kid that my Mom (whose taste in music was almost completely stuck in the 1950s) even bought the Freedom of Choice tape for me and my brothers. We loved it, and I still remember being mystified by the keyboards on that cassette, particularly on the song “Gates of Steel.” (Remember, I was mostly exposed to Joe Cocker and Elvis Presley at that time, so Devo was a bit of a departure, but a welcome one for me!)
Anyway, with Devo, you have a difficult band to categorize, and an even more difficult band to comprehend, once you start delving into the non-Freedom of Choice selections. I think I can, vaguely, recall hearing “Jocko Homo” and “Satisfaction” on the radio when I was young, but when I rediscovered this band shortly after graduating from high school, I was absolutely amazed at the depth of weirdness and bravado they managed to pack into each album. What the hell was going on with these guys? They were just great. I probably still don’t get it (what with the whole Devolution / Church of the Subgenius thing going on,) but what I DO get now is how fun and interesting these songs are. And with the original percussionist having just recently passed away, I severely regret never having caught them live when I had the chance. If you are in the mood for weird, thoughtful, fun, freaky music, then Devo is your best bet.
Most recommended albums: Freedom of Choice; Duty Now for the Future; Question: Are We Not Men? Answer: We are Devo!; Oh, No! It’s Devo; New Traditionalists
Debbie Harry was my first crush. I remember her being on The Muppet Show when I was a young tyke and thinking she was awesome. “Rapture” was a huge hit when it came out, and it played everywhere. The list of Blondie songs that have made a huge splash on the radio or played on MTV (which meant something when I was young and impressionable) or ended up in movies is extensive. Most people know “Heart of Glass” and “Call Me” and “The Tide is High.” When I used to DJ a lot, I could even get away with playing Blondie at weddings, company picnics, and just about any event that called for fun, upbeat music.
By the time I got into high school and rediscovered Blondie (I bought a cheap, hits collection on a trip to Portland when I was a junior) I was ready to actually listen to these songs, and it occurred to me, pretty quickly, that they are almost perfectly performed pop songs. And then I started buying albums… The non-radio cuts, in most cases, are just as great as the super-popular radio tunes.
Blondie, as a group, is one of the most important bands in my collection. They influenced pop, disco, punk, and even techno. Debbie Harry’s vocals are nearly untouchable, the keyboard lines are strong and pulsing, the guitar work is always catchy, and the songs are brilliantly fun. Again, sometimes pop bands are a huge hit for a reason, and Blondie’s catalog certainly stands the test of time, getting more and more enjoyable each time I listen.
Most recommended albums: Plastic Letters, Blondie, Eat to the Beat, Parallel Lines, Autoamerican
12. Front 242
Another find that I can attribute to 120 Minutes, Front 242 crashed into my living room with the video for “Quite Unusual,” and once inside, they never left. The noises were futuristic, the vocals robotic, the rhythm pounding and insistent—like Giorgio Moroder channeling The Terminator—and the video was really odd. I quickly raced to my local record store after seeing this video and ordered Official Version, and within a few weeks I became a devout worshiper of Front 242. Over the next decade and a half, I worked as a DJ throughout the northwest, playing music at bars and clubs in Longview and Kelso, and eventually landing a regular spot as a goth/industrial DJ in Portland, Oregon. Throughout these years of playing tunes, Front 242 remained one of the staples of my sets. I have to admit that I’m less fond of their music after 1988’s Front By Front, but the music they made before that is some of the best and most important industrial dance music ever recorded, and it’s also very listenable (at trait that most IDM bands could NOT claim with a straight face.)
Most recommended albums: Official Version, Front By Front, Back Catalog
13. Weird Al Yankovic
Yes, I’m serious. Sure, Weird Al is a novelty act, but how many novelty acts have the longevity of this guy? The dude is seriously funny, amazingly clever, and has a band that has the ability to sound like ANYTHING—from polka to rap to country. They are seriously good at what they do. I’m willing to admit, of course, that nostalgia plays a big part in my decision to include Al in my list, but shit, I really do listen to his music, and I love it. I grew up worshiping Dr. Demento, loving novelty songs, and thinking that it was really sad that most people didn’t have any kind of a sense of humor, and Weird Al was probably one of the biggest reasons that I love fun, funny music today. Most of the time, I prefer his parodies and can sing along with them even if I don’t know the original songs that he’s making fun of, so, yes, Weird Al makes the list!
Most recommended albums: Weird Al Yankovic, Weird Al Yankovic in 3-D, Dare to be Stupid, Even Worse, Bad Hair Day, Running with Scissors
14. Soft Cell
Oh, Marc Almond, will there ever be a front man as flamboyant and wonderful as you? (This does not count Freddy Mercury, of course, who was beyond human.) I think I discovered Soft Cell when I checked out a record of Non Stop Ecstatic Dancing from my local library. (It didn’t occur to me until years later that it was fucking WEIRD that the Longview Public had a copy of that record in its collection back in the early 80s. How did it get there? Who brought it in???) My favorite song by Soft Cell, although I don’t think you can get it on anything but a three cd box set, is called “It’s a Mug’s Game,” and it tells the snotty story of a juvenile delinquent with horrible problems. The song is really long, if you can find the 12″ version, which I recommend, but it has the best, nastiest, sleazy synth line I’ve ever heard, and the song absolutely epitomizes the what only Soft Cell can do: make nastiness sound like a lot of fun!
Everybody knows “Tainted Love” and it is wonderful, but, as I hope I’m making clear, it’s just the tip of the Soft Cell iceberg. Over the course of a handful of albums, Marc Almond and David Ball perfected the sleaze-pop genre, crafted some seriously scary urban sprawl music, and invented acid-house. (Oh, that’s funny. While I’m writing this section, “Heat” just came on the stereo! I like to listen on random, of course.) Maybe the creepiness and nastiness can be too much for some; (I saw a really unfavorable review for the album This Last Night in Sodom on iTunes, which is odd because the album is brilliant, but admittedly dark,) but as far as I’m concerned, Soft Cell is (un)pure pop perfection!
Most recommended albums: The Art of Falling Apart, Non Stop Ecstatic Dancing, Non-Stop Erotic Cabaret, This Last Night in Sodom
15. The Smiths
I discovered The Smiths about a half an hour before they broke up. “Girlfriend in a Coma” (from the last studio album, Strangeways, Here We Come) had played on MTV, and whoever the VJ for the day was, he says the band has broken up. I’m like, hmm. No big deal, right? Here we are some 25 years late, and I realize exactly how big of a deal that was. Sure, Morrissey went on to do some excellent solo work, and Johnny Marr bounded from awesome project to awesome project, but will any it touch the fragile, aching heights they reached together? Nope.
I have a ton of personal stories connected with The Smiths that I could share, but you don’t really give a Smurf about me, and we both know it. Let’s just agree that they were a great, GREAT band, with classic lyrics, fabulously catchy tunes, and they were the perfect fuel for a geeky, pretentious, decidedly unmasculine teen who thought he might someday mope at the Olympic level. Honestly, I was never a very depressed teen, and bands like The Cure and The Smiths, who are often tagged as “depressing,” somehow made me feel very happy. I thought they were funny and snotty and clever—and I still think so, even as an adult (an OLD adult,) which is a bit surprising.
Most recommended albums: The Queen is Dead; Strangeways, Here We Come; Louder Than Bombs; Meat is Murder
16. Lords of Acid
Lords of Acid’s concert for the Voodoo-U album has the distinguished honor of being the best concert that I ever saw in my life. Lady Galore, who fronted the band at that point, was dressed in a skin tight devil suit, complete with horns and tail, and was absolutely mesmerizing. The percussion did not let up for one second during the show, and a friend of mine was so into the music that he was accidentally punched in the face when a fight broke out—bloodying his nose and sending his glasses flying—but he didn’t stop dancing. Couldn’t be bothered! It was a great fucking show.
Lords of Acid is a fabulously unpredictable band, partially because of the rotating cast of members, and partially because of the nature of electronic music. They have recorded acid house, techno/rave, industrial, trance, pop, rap, gothic/darkwave, latin jazz, novelty cuts, and decidedly unidentifiable tunes over the years, but they almost always please, regardless of the genre. (With that much variety flying around there’s bound to be a cut or two that just doesn’t click with some listeners, but that’s acceptable.) Praga Khan and Oliver Adams are, I believe, the two prime movers in the band, (although I think Oliver Adams might be gone now) and they have both recorded solo work and dozens of side projects under a variety of names. It’s tough to keep up. (A recent cut, “Paranormal Energy” actually uses Zak Bagans from the t.v. show, Ghost Adventures on vocals!!!)
Anyway, these guys, whatever they are calling themselves these days and whoever they are recording with, almost always blow me away.
Most recommended albums: Lust, Voodoo-U, Farstucker, Our Little Secret, Deep Chills
I know, I know, they are really called Yazoo, but not on MY goddamned tapes they aren’t. Or on the cds I bought when the tapes started to squeal. So keep your shittin’ Yazoo to yourself. I grew up calling them Yaz, and that’s what I’m going to keep calling them. Now, for the second consideration when discussing Yaz, how can a band that only had two albums possibly be very influential? Because they were two absolutely, beyond reality, awesome albums. Vince Clarke, fresh from bailing out of Depeche Mode, mysteriously hooked up with a female vocalist whose voice was deeper than either Martin Gore or David Gahan, and produced a pair of odd, quirky, sometimes chilling, sometimes up and dancy, pop albums. There are some really great moments on these disks, “Only You,” “Nobody’s Diary,” “Situation,” but along with these pop gems are a few odder, colder, more quirky moments, like “I Before E Except After C” with it’s weird overdubs and creepy vocal snippets, or “Ode to Boy,” which is beautifully terrifying, or “Midnight,” or the downright chilling, “Winter Kills.” There is so much to absorb with these albums that I can crack them out every winter and still get something new from each listen.
Most recommended albums: Upstairs at Eric’s, You and Me Both
I am NOT a heavy metal fan. So why, dear reader, would I possibly include Ministry in a list of my most important, most favorite bands of all time? Because the REAL Ministry, MY Ministry, was an awesome new wave band that became a pioneering industrial band before sliding (loudly) into industrial/grind/metal. With Ministry, obviously, I have a definite cut off point. The Land of Rape and Honey is the final production by Ministry on which I love every song. I can find tracks on later releases that are worth listening to (“Lay Lady Lay” was a particularly entertaining moment,) but I like to pretend that the first few albums were by a different band than the later stuff. (Actually, when I first saw the video for “Stigmata” on MTV, I said, “Oh no, this band doesn’t know that there’s already a group called Ministry.” That song was so different from “Revenge” or “All Day” that I was sure it was a different group. I was wrong…)
With Sympathy, the first album by Ministry, whichAl Jourgensen hates and claims was completely distorted by the production team, is my favorite Ministry release. I love all but two songs on the album and I can’t help but wish that whoever produced it would have helped on the next few projects as well. It’s perfect synth-pop, dark and brooding at times—for new wave, anyway (“Revenge” and “Effigy,”) and downright funk at other moments (“Work for Love” and “I Wanted to Tell Her.”) It’s a great album, for what it is. Maybe someday Mr. Jourgensen will come around and realize that he really did make something worthwhile there.
With the next few projects, Ministry got more industrial, introducing heavier percussion, occasional distorted vocals, great blurping keyboard lines, and a certain amount of “clank.” This material is still fantastic, but different. I dig it, all the way up until it gets TOO hard, goes a bit TOO heavy. Oh well…
Most recommended albums: With Sympathy, Twitch, Twelve Inch Singles, The Land of Rape and Honey
19. The Prodigy
There are several things about The Prodigy that landed them on this list. First, they are about the only techno band that my wife, Mariah, can stomach. When we first met, back in the very early 90s, I was heavy into the Portland rave scene, and subsequently listening to and enjoying a ton of techno music. Mariah, however, is more of a Cure, R.E.M., Concrete Blonde type. However, for reasons unknown to anyone but her, she enjoys listening to The Prodigy Experience. I love it as well, so we listened to that album quite a lot.
Second, The Prodigy was one of the very first techno bands that I heard and identified with that style of music. In 1992, I paid 30 bucks for an import copy of the Only for the Headstrong CD compilation at Turntable Mary’s in Portland. (If I’d waited for a few more months I could have bought the domestic release for $16 with four extra tracks on it, but I didn’t know that at the time.) Anyway, the compilation was fantastic (I still listen to it) and included tracks by Human Resource, DJ Seduction, East Side Beat, Isotonik, Shaft, and (of course) The Prodigy. Their cut was called “G-Force,” and at the time it was one of the fastest dance music songs I’d ever heard (clocking in at about 140, which doesn’t seem that quick now, but at the time, it was pretty damn speedy.) I liked the song so much I went looking for other comps with Prodigy songs on them, and found a bunch. When the album came out, I bought it, too, and then the next, and then the next. Each album contained at least a couple of great tracks.
Third, I truly believe that The Prodigy is one of, if not THE, most important techno performers of all time. They invented or perfected shit left and right: jungle/drum & bass (them,) breakbeat (them,) techno-punk (them,) and techno-pop crossover (them.) Their remixes are always fab, their beats are monstrous, and their albums are always interesting and worth a listen. If “Firestarter” is your only experience with The Prodigy, do yourself a favor and give their other songs a listen, as well. They really are a great, underrated band.
Most recommended albums: The Prodigy Experience, Music for the Jilted Generation, The Fat of the Land, Invaders Must Die
20. New Order
Joy Division was awesome—brooding, intense, disturbing. I love Joy Division, but I’ve got to be in the mood to listen to them. New Order on the other hand, who rose from the ashes of J.D., ALWAYS appeal to me. Interestingly, though, I didn’t like them when I first encountered them. I first found New Order through MTV when they started playing the video for “True Faith,” and I thought the video was just stupid. Eventually, however, the super-catchy song got stuck in my head, and I discovered that some of my friends were fans of the band. With that endorsement, I started digging, and I think I found the Brotherhood cassette first, which was really all it took. I was hooked. I bought everything I could find after that (in Longview, that wasn’t much,) and I devoured it. I heard them at dance clubs, I bought strange remixes on vinyl and on compilations, and I kept looking for more.
Like so many other bands, however, New Order hit a peak, in my opinion, and I haven’t been as able to get as excited about anything I’ve heard since the Technique album, but I still pick up new New Order releases if I happen to see them on a shelf (digital or otherwise,) and that is why they make the list!
Most recommended albums: Brotherhood; Power, Corruption, & Lies; Movement; Technique; Low-Life
“Bela Lugosi’s Dead,” as performed in the movie, The Hunger, was step one in my obsession with Bauhaus. The second step, a doozy, was their cover of “Ziggy Stardust.” That’s all it took. I think I went looking for a Bauhaus tape the very next day, and I found the collection, Swing the Heartache. This band was WEIRD! They made noises I’d never heard, created rhythms and grooves that defied rock and roll, and told freaky stories in strange voices. “Departure,” to this day, is one of my all time favorite songs. It’s spooky and funky. You could call it goth-jazz, I guess. There’s really nothing like them, not at all. None of the later work the members recorded (Tones on Tail, Love & Rockets, Dali’s Car, or the various solo projects) has matched the mind bending, hip shaking, head scratching material that this band made during their initial few years together, and there will never be another Bauhaus.
Most recommended albums: Mask, Burning from the Inside, Swing the Heartache, In the Flat Field
22. Siouxsie & The Banshees
As happened with many of the post-punk/new wave acts, I came in very late in The Banshees’ career. I didn’t catch on until Peepshow, again having discovered them by way of MTV. (I almost feel sorry for kids today who don’t have a REAL MTV to watch, but those bastards do have the internet and easy access to almost anything. They don’t know the THRILL of hunting some rare record or video down in a shop in a strange city. The hunt was half the fun.) Where was I? Peepshow… A great album. I love every song on it. After digesting that one for a few months, I went looking for other Siouxsie tapes and eventually discovered a MASSIVE history, as sorted and varied as almost any in rock history. This lady and her bandmates (many, many bandmates) were involved in first wave British punk, hung out with the Sex Pistols, were worshiped by early goths, covered both The Beatles and Iggy Pop, experimented with extreme remixes and techno versions of their cuts, and had fantastic music videos to boot, and their albums are still magical and mysterious after all these years.
Most recommended albums: Peepshow, Kaleidoscope, Tinderbox, Juju, Superstition
23. Adam & The Ants
Saving the best for last? Some days, I would be happy to say that’s true. Adam Ant, in most of his incarnations, but especially with The Ants, is one of my heroes. I first discovered Adam on another tape that I stole from my Dad, which was called, I believe, British Gold and Platinum 1979. (My Dad had a lot of tapes. He worked in Saudi Arabia for a few years as an electrician, and all his basic needs were taken care of by the company he worked for, so any extra money that he had he would spend on diversions. At some point, he told me, he took a trip to Turkey and found a bazaar that was selling tapes for about thirteen cents each, so he bought about a hundred of them, based mostly on the covers. I ended up with almost all of those when he passed away last year…) So this British Gold tape had the song, “Young Parisians” on it by Adam & The Ants, and I was instantly mesmerized. I went looking for more music by these weirdos and found a used cassette in Portland called Dirk Wears White Sox. It totally blew me away. Fun, upbeat, weird, so I kept looking and found more, and more. To this day, Adam never fails to make me happy.
Eventually, Adam left The Ants and went solo (under nasty circumstances—see the history of British punk and new wave to hear the story of that whole sorted affair,) but he didn’t slow down. Instead, he continued to kick out awesome album after awesome album… And Strip, which had something to do with Phil Collins. Despite some ups and downs, he’s still at it. Listen to his music and love it, OR ELSE!!!
Most recommended albums: Dirk Wears White Sox, Prince Charming, Kings of the Wild Frontier, Friend or Foe, Vive Le Rock, Manners & Physique
That brings us to the end of this list. It got a bit longer than I thought it would (so I doubt very many of you made it this far.) Still, it was fun, and I love trying to figure out WHY I love the music I listen to. As I said, nostalgia and memories are strong reasons, but I think each of the performers I mentioned above have produced interesting and exciting music, which has kept me listening through the years. Hopefully there will be at least a band or two on here that you’ll want to check out after reading my reviews. If not, sorry! (I’m not really sorry…)
—Richard F. Yates