1985 playlist

1985 playlist

Massive thanks to Ryan Dee and their 470-song 1985 playlist, from which I surely pulled like 20-40 songs.

  1. A.K. Klosowski & Pyrolator – Hi-Fidelity
    I think, though I’m not sure, that the trick here is a tape loop where for the stuttering breakdowns they’re skipping the head on and off the tape? Beautiful song though.
  2. Mr. Fingers – Mystery Of Love
    The headline news of music in 1985 is definitely that House is now a real genre, having been teasing its existence since 1981. This is out of the gate a really sophisticated specimen of the genre, with its wet reverb and gentle strings drawing you in with its mystique. Subtlety in the club!
  3. Liquid Son – Tonefloat [1985 Demo Version]
    In fact, if it wasn’t for the accomplishment of Mystery Of Love, I wouldn’t believe this as an actual 1985 demo. It’s just so ahead of its time.
  4. Cyber People – Void Vision
    This is more of-its-time but it demonstrates how Electro-Italo-Disco laid the groundwork for House in being distinguishable mainly by an increased emphasis on melody. 
  5. Model 500 – Night Drive (Thru Babylon)
    Just as impressive as the coming of House is Juan Atkins here basically single-handedly inventing Techno by chasing his Kraftwerk fascination into a choppy riff Kraftwerk could never have summoned.
  6. Jack Master Funk – Jack The Bass
    See, this is more what I think of when I think “early House.” Not just primitive and sparse, but like Def Beat pointedly so, with a hard edge refusing to indulge in Electro’s fast-paced arpeggiations nor emulate Disco’s soul-stirring strings — dance music that’s just punching you in the face.
  7. Chip E – Time To Jack
    “Kids were coming in looking for the older disco music. They’d come in and say, “I want some of that music played at the Warehouse,” and this was referring to disco music. We found that if we put up signs that said, “As heard at the Warehouse,” the records would fly out of the racks. Eventually that got cut down to just, “The ’house.” That became the vernacular. But we were talking about disco records. It was basically myself, Farley, Steve Hurley and Jesse Saunders, and we said, “You know what, all you gotta do is make a record and put “house” on it and it’s gonna fly off the shelves.” So I thought, ”Why don’t I make some new music and call it house?” That’s essentially what I did.” – Chip E. (The song preceding this one is just called “It’s House.”) Explains the sonic distance between Disco and House music at its most raw, like this!

    Time To Jack has a drum machine, a bassline even more empty than the previous one, and one phrase (Time To Jack) that’s been muttered into a bassy sub-par microphone and loaded into a sequencer, and that’s it, none of the fancy literal bells and whistles of Jack The Bass. This is primordial ooze music.
  8. Portray Heads – Elaborate Dummy
  9. Wayne Smith – Under Mi Sleng Teng
    No idea why this so readily slips by my usual distaste for Reggae’s family, but it does and I love it! This song is a big deal, ground zero for electronic Dancehall. Even within 1985 you could fill multiple compilation LPs with just other toasters’ routines done over the backing track to Sleng Teng.
  10. Abecedarians – Smiling Monarchs
  11. Ettika – Ettika
  12. Adiche – Chuka-Ja (Get Ready)
  13. T.C. Curtis – Should Have Known Better
  14. New World Music – Everybody Giggalo
    Really charming use of piano. Good thing it is, too, since it dominates the entire like last 2 minutes.
  15. Kevin McCord – Never Say
    The piano simply dominates this one from the start.
  16. Alec Khaoli – Crosslines
    A downtempo Disco take on Rockmaster Scott’s The Request Line [1984], probably coincidentally! I like the use of vocoder and digital ringtone.
  17. The Paul Simpson Connection – Treat Her Sweeter (Dance Mix)
  18. Myth – In Action
    The production touches are the real star here, even more than the bass player.
  19. Natural Wild – Hot And Sexable (Extended Club Mix)
  20. Kazino – Binary
    Keeps up a Post-Punky kinda menace to its Disco strut.
  21. Tullio De Piscopo – ‘E Fatto ‘E Sorde! E? (Money Money) (Afro-Instrumental Mix)
  22. Poptown Syndicate – Keep On Lovin’
  23. Nordine Stafi – Zine Ezzinet
  24. Manu Dibango – Electric Africa
    Hey, it’s another Bill Laswell production, this time with the proto-Disco legend Manu Dibango! …Uh oh, pound for pound do I like more Bill Laswell than I do Brian Eno?
  25. Ti-Fock – Lo-De
  26. Dadadi – Nkunm Dub
  27. Ghetto Blaster – Life Goes On
  28. Free Youth – We Can Move
    Hey, it’s some good Disco Rap! Makes sense, it takes time for trends to propagate around the world.
  29. Quinro Do Canto – Mino Di Mama
  30. Vendetta Palace – Pressure Time
    Somebody’s a little late for the Remain In Light [1980] party, but frankly in my books there’s never too much music aping Remain In Light.
  31. Deadline – Makossa Rock
    This is actually another record Bill Laswell and Manu Dibango did, along with Bernie Worrell, my favorite member of Parliament-Funkadelic, member of Talking Heads’ live band at their peak, and a frequent collaborator of Laswell. If you’re getting the impression that Laswell is rather prolific you haven’t seen nothing yet. If you’re getting the impression he’s consistent: no, he’s kinda hit-or-miss and a lot of what he’s doing in this era is a bit stuck in a rut, though it’s my kind of rut! I just said I loved music in the vein of Remain In Light! But even this very song outstays its welcome.
  32. Don Cherry – I Walk
    Don Cherry was a standard-bearer for Free Jazz with a spiritual bent since the late 60s. Eventually though, you hit a point where the most surprising thing you can do is cut a pleasant song.
  33. Alphonse Mouzon & Larry Coryell – Uptown
  34. Jimmy Ponder – So Many Stars
    I don’t think I’ve put something so Smooth Jazz on my playlists yet!
  35. N’dadje – Jamm
  36. Billy Bang Sextent – The Nagual Julian
  37. Wendell Harrison – Reawakening
  38. The Jimmy Giuffre 4 – Frog Legs
    Jimmy Giuffre made his first appearances on wax in the early 50s, but here, with the spacey atmosphere and stop-start thrust of the melodies, he sounds as fresh and cool as it gets.
  39. Barbara Dennerlein – Just Play
    Good themes, good solos, rollicking tempo. Listen closely: I’m pretty sure the bass here is synth.
  40. Vienna Art Orchestra – French Alphorn
    The next 3 songs are from Jazz big bands with intricate, playful, even avant-garde arrangements. If you want more, I highly recommend going to the album this song is from.
  41. Loose Tubes – Descarga
    These guys have a massive Wikipedia page trumpeting them as the center (er, centre) of the mid-80s UK Jazz scene, but this is like one of the few things I can find out of them on YouTube, in markedly low quality. Good stuff, though!
  42. Ronald Shannon Jackson & The Decoding Society – Decoding
    Laswell again. (Producing, not playing.)
  43. District Six – Woza Wena (A Calling To Rise)
  44. Eddie Palmieri – Solito
    I adore Palmieri’s discordant, empty piano solo over just the rhythm section’s light accompaniment.
  45. Irakere – A Chano Pozo
  46. Kalimi – Land Of Dreams
  47. Working Week – Thought I’d Never See You Again
    This one doesn’t seem like anything special at first, but it’s laying the groundwork for something really grand that for some reason reminds me strongly of Ellington’s Caravan [1936].
  48. Wham! feat. George Michael – Careless Whisper
    Technically this song came out in late 1984, but I’m counting it as a honorary 1985 song because it was the #1 Billboard song of the year and also because I made this transition in the playlist hinge on it.
  49. Linda Di Franco – TV Scene
    The epitome of Sophisti-Pop? Maybe. It’s built entirely of hooks which is always good in Pop.
  50. Carmel – I’m Not Afraid Of You
  51. Rare Silk – Storm
    The tight harmonies here are utterly hypnotic. I’m actually in the middle of a real storm right now as I write this which gives this some extra resonance.
  52. Jeff Phelps – Wrong Space, Wrong Time
  53. Miharu Koshi – Marie-Ange
    The previous track on this album (Boy Soprano) is Ave Maria. I think she might like classical music!
  54. Art Of Noise – Moments In Love [short music video version]
    Cannot understate how annoying it is that there doesn’t seem to be a mix of this song that doesn’t have the “d’aw” part that completely shatters its mood, no matter how long or short a cut I go for! That section wouldn’t be good until DJ Screw got a hold of it for his mashup with UGK’s Tell Me Something Good [1992]. Other than that: great stuff, what more can I say, it’s a classic and a lot of people know it.
  55. Pink Rhythm – Melodies Of Love
  56. Stirling March – Under Cover Lover
    The backstory to this given by the reissuer is downright suspiciously romantic: Stirling basically made this as a demo tape, and despite it getting good play on the local radio (in The Bahamas) but he never got picked up by a label and remained unsullied by the music industry.
  57. Sheila Chandra – Question The Answer
  58. Tululah Moon – If You Want Love
  59. Andre Cymone – The Dance Electric
    This is one of those Prince leftovers.
  60. Yello – Oh Yeah
  61. The Village People – Sex Over The Phone
    Fun fact, one time I was playing this track over the internet, and someone in the chat found out that their next-door neighbor had died several days ago and gone undiscovered while it was playing. I offered to stop the music because it couldn’t have been less appropriate, and they refused to let me.
  62. Grace Jones – Slave To The Rhythm (Ladies and Gentlemen: Miss Grace Jones)
    Producer Trevor Horn’s self-conscious bid for a masterpiece is a funk-pop song utterly insistent on its own artistic significance, not only going for big sweeping chords but a whole introduction for the great Grace Jones absolutely dripping with portent. Its award-winning music video riffs on the Grace Jones Brand of fascination with the mutability of mages by essentially being a slideshow of unrelated tableaus. These attempt to be captivating, often by way of being challenging: There’s a lot of artistic nudity, both male and female, mostly side-on but you absolutely can see a penis. There’s a whole running theme of racial stereotype play, whiteface, blackface, mustard-yellowface, and cartoonish “tribal” imagery. The objective seems to be desensitization and devaluation, it wants to be at a post-modern wide-shot arms-length from all these things, a studiously neutral, flat regard of media images where images is all they are. At least you can say this fits the song itself, which is for sure catchy and even moving but for all its self-importance doesn’t actually wind up amounting to anything except self-aggrandizement. Trevor Horn’s actual masterpiece was Moments In Love, above.
  63. Belouis Some – Imagination
    Like Slave To The Rhythm, this music video also relies on nudity for shock value, though this is in full-frontal close-up and is unambiguously horny even while simultaneously aiming for classiness. Musically, the hook here reminds me of Bowie’s Fascination [1975], which is just a plain unflattering comparison for this relatively unambitious simmering funk-strummer.
  64. Teena Marie – Lovergirl
    Teena Marie was a friend of Rick James and it shows.
  65. Madonna – Into The Groove
    Unless I surprise myself I think this is gonna be the only Madonna song that makes the cut onto one of my playlists. I just think it’s her best song. It’s also, maybe coincidentally, her semantically-emptiest hit. 
  66. Music Academy – Ringing The Bell (12” Version)
    This is honestly one of the discoveries for this playlist I’m most happy having dug up. It’s got this titanic chunky synth groove and snappy shout-along chorus, which it really makes you wait for on the 12” version.
  67. Dead Or Alive – You Spin Me Right Round (Like A Record)
  68. Weird “Al” Yankovic [1959-Present] – Dare To Be Stupid
    A masterpiece — seriously! Weird Al’s best song, and as a huge Devo fan I’d even say this ranks comfortably in a Top 10 list of their best songs. It’s not even a parody, not even an “affectionate parody.” Devo was always a satirical band, Weird Al keeps the same comedic lens on midcentury America’s televised derangement but instead of usually-muddled irony has the punchlines come down fast and hard.
  69. Flo Sullivan – Higher (Extended Version)
  70. Kate Bush – The Big Sky
    Hounds Of Love correctly gets a lot of love, but usually the songs I see singled out are the title track or Cloudbusting. This is the track that I love much off of it though. True to form, that means that it’s mainly a long vamp, hammering its bass-driven groove and chorus for all they’re worth. After the “pause for the jets” there’s essentially no more semantic content for the next 2 minutes, it’s like a drum circle. It really captures what it’s like to feel awestruck by the bigness of the sky.
  71. Siouxsie & The Banshees – Cities In Dust
  72. Tears For Fears – Shout
    Shout’s compositional strategy is to start minimally and build up in layers as it cycles around, which means it’s another tremendous Pop song that grabs me by the soul and is just all vamping on a chorus. It miraculously went to #1 on Billboard, and we’re not going to see another song that even approaches its echelon hit #1 for a full decade in my books.
  73. Craig G – Shout (Rap Version)
    Sadly I don’t think this song even so much as samples or tries to emulate Shout. But it’s good! And it introduces us to…
  74. MC Shan – Marley Marl Scratch
    Marley Marl’s big booming drums. Next year he’s going to discover digital samplers and be a big figure ushering in the end of the Def Beat era, but even before then he’s a good producer! 
  75. Roxanne Shante – Queen Of Rox
    The winner of The Roxanne Wars was unquestionably the 15-year-old Roxanne Shante. Okay, let’s back up, there was this thing called The Roxanne Wars. UTFO released a song called Roxanne Roxanne [1984] about a fictional girl named Roxanne who was lousy to all the members of UTFO, so Roxanne Shantae debuted with an answer song from the fictional Roxanne’s perspective clowning on UTFO. After that, UTFO shot back and all hell broke loose, dozens of answer songs started coming out from all different kind of angles. It never really seemed like real beef, just play-acting to score some bandwagon publicity, but later on down the line in rap real serious beefs will emerge out of exactly the same publicity-bandwagon dynamic that originates here, like, arguably the entire East-West beef basically emerged this way. I’ve omitted the entire Roxanne Wars saga because I don’t think it produced a lot of quality, lasting music.

    In its stead, we have Queen Of Rox, in which Roxanne tells a lightly-fictionalized story of her rise to extremely-minor fame. It’s remarkable because Roxanne freestyles the whole thing, like, REALLY freestyles it, like, it’s very obvious she walked up to the mic with absolutely NOTHING prepared and just rambles. She even tells us that’s what’s happening in the narration of the song! It’s chock full of wandering sentence structures full of filler words that sometimes don’t even logically connect, sometimes she gets so caught up on the words she falls right out of the pocket… by most metrics this is outright bad rapping. But grading on a curve, it’s charming and it’s actually really impressive that she rapped a mostly-coherent story for 4 minutes straight off the top of her head. (Also, it’s alarming how multiple adult men hit on the then-14-year-old Shante in her narrative, even though it’s not exactly testimony. Oh, and heads-up on a casual “she looks like a man” gag while I’m at it.)
  76. Roxanne Shante – Bite This (Long Version)
    Usually I have an unstated policy not to do two songs by one artist but I thought it was unfair to Roxanne Shante to put that spotlight on her worst performance. This song is more scripted if not entirely, with a catchy pre-chorus and a clever conceit that comes to full fruition in the “take the beat, take the movements of my feet” verse. The beat in question bangs, and the scratching’s good too.
  77. Steady B – Just Call Us Def
    Steady B was labelmates with Marley Marl and his nascent Juice Crew in 1985… but Steady B and the Almighty 3 below were from Philadelphia, where the Pop Art label was operated, not New York City. You would not know it from the sound, this is straight over the plate 1985 NYC rapping. Steady B would later get caught as the getaway driver for a botched bank robbery.
  78. The Almighty 3 – To The Other MCs
    The YouTube compression on this wrecks the high-end, leaving it sounding like the whole thing was run through a flanger (and for all I know it actually was!) My advice to you is to romanticize it, like other forms of media distortion.
  79. Tricky Tee – Johnny The Fox
    Marley Marl wasn’t the only noteworthy NYC producer making his debut this year, there was also Kurtis Mantronik, starting here with a hype, uptempo take on the sparse drum machine raps of the day that keeps half a foot in the Electro styles of yore without using a single blast of synth. It rips!
  80. Mantronix – Fresh Is The Word
    The rapper on this is Mr. Tee and that is in fact a separate person than Tricky Tee.
  81. Russel “Rush” Simmons & Jazzy Jay – Cold Chillin’ In The Spot
  82. Doug E. Fresh & Slick Rick – La Di Da Di
    I’ve thought before about reconstructing this song from parts of it that have been sampled in later Hip-Hop songs, and no joke I think you could get every single second of it, with plenty of redundancy. This thing has been absolutely picked to the bones, and yet it still stands up. It’s been so thoroughly mined precisely because Slick Rick is such a wordsmith, full of clever and catchy turns of phrase even when he’s in the middle of a story. Doug E. Fresh is no slouch either — just compare his beatboxing and careful interplay with the MC to the other supporting-role beatboxing that’s coming up on this list.
  83. Z-3 MCs – Triple Threat
  84. The Organization – The Big Beat
  85. The B-Boys – Girls
    This somewhat misogynistic song’s relentlessly stuck to educational-rap flow taught me where the 2 and the 4 are in 4/4. I put it here mainly to contrast…
  86. LL Cool J – Rock The Bells
    Enter LL Cool J. He’ll have his ups and downs, but he’s going to weather the storm well enough to have a credible hit single fully 20 years after his 1984 debut! That’s astonishing, years between like 1983 and 2001 might as well be dog years in rap. More astonishing is his actual talent levels here out of the gate. Read along with the lyrics video, pay attention to how he accelerates and decelerates his phrasing while never ever slipping even slightly out of the pocket. He goes at full gallop where it’s hard to tell where even he finds space to breathe sometimes, near-shouting most of the time but always modulating the tone within his speaking voice to catch your ear. I’ve heard it said that LL bit his style from T La Rock (and by extension Special K of the Treacherous Three) but… no, obviously not. It’s a matter of record he learned from Silver Fox right beside Kool G Rap. In 1985, he’s the best rapper around. He doesn’t even bother to diss other rappers, he’s got his targets set on Madonna and Michael Jackson.
  87. Schoolly D – P.S.K (What Does It Mean?)
    Schoolly D, like Steady B, was from Philadelphia, but he came with a style all his own, one we’ve already heard a preview of with Gangster Boogie [1984]: slowed-down and gangster. This is the “first Gangsta Rap song” and the thing Schoolly D’s entire legend rests upon.
  88. Run-DMC – Here We Go (Live At The Funhouse)
    Another one to play “spot the things that get sampled to death later” with.
  89. Word Of Mouth feat. DJ Cheese – King Kut (12” Version)
    Tons of fun. DJ Cheese was also on Triple Threat above but this is a song that lets him do his thing.
  90. 2 Live Crew – What I Like (Scratch Version)
    Here emerges Miami Bass… pretty indistinguishable from what Mantronix is up to! This instrumental, full of events to keep interest, is ample demonstration that 2 Live Crew’s fundamentals are strong without the famously vulgar rapping.
  91. Byron Davis & The Fresh Krew – My Hands Are Quicker Than The Eye
  92. New York Scratch Masters – Scratch Master’s Jam #5
    Weird to have Electro show up again, huh? Weirder still to think it was so dominant across multiple nascent genres like 2 years ago. This is another collage like the Big Apple mixes.
  93. Double Dee & Steinski – Lesson 3 (History Of Hip-Hop)
    This is also completely out of place, but by virtue of being ahead of its time instead of behind. It sounds downright organic! This is the last of the three Lessons. Ask yourself: What does it all mean?
  94. Fats Comet – Dee Jay’s Dream
  95. MCA And Burzootie – Drum Machine (Psycho Dust Version)
    MCA (separated here from The Beastie Boys) at this time wasn’t much of a rapper, so this psyched-out dub version does him and the song favors.
  96. Death Comet Crew – Exterior Street
  97. Vito Ricci – Cross Court (Get It)
  98. Pygmy Cicada Panic – Hypnobeat
    Absolutely relentless.
  99. Senza Tregua – La 1919
  100. Einsturzende Neubauten – Yu Gung Futter Mein Ego
    Another Industrial group that hitherto bordered on Noise goes Pop… Well, okay, if your idea of Pop is “drums and screaming,” which is how someone once described my music taste.
  101. Turma Do Samba – Azymuth
    The classic “put a track that’s literally just drums on the playlist” maneuver… 
  102. Carl Juarez – Self-Regulation (II)
  103. Christian Marclay – Pandora’s Box
  104. Nurse With Wound – Excerpts From Pricksongs
  105. Leven Signs – Sedes Sapientiae
  106. Anna Homler & Stever Moshier – Gu She’ Na’ Di
  107. Lena Platonos – Love In Summer
  108. Cinema – Sem Tato
  109. Furniture – I Can’t Crack (Broken Mix)
  110. Propaganda – Dream Within A Dream
    Similar to Slave To The Rhythm, this song opens up with narration and is just full of Important Portent that may just be hot air, and at the end of the day that doesn’t matter because its big open chord progressions can sweep your heart away.
  111. Martin Dupont – You Are My Jail
  112. Ruth – Thriller
  113. Oingo Boingo – No One Lives Forever
    What a good track! Probably my favorite from Oingo Boingo, and quintessential to boot. With this charming Halloween mixture of cabaret kookiness and winking macabre, it’s not really a surprise that Danny Elfman ended up working closely with Tim Burton.
  114. Fishbone – Party At Ground Zero (EP Version)
    As the title indicates, this has similar “good time in the face of death” vibes.
  115. Kalahari Surfers – 1999
    This one is dead-serious though. Anti-apartheid funk rock from South Africa.
  116. Wicked Witch – Fancy Dancer
  117. Earth’s Epitaph – Images
  118. Details At Eleven – Marketplace
  119. The Wolfgang Press – Sweatbox (Compilation Version)
    You can almost hear the Madchester wanting to emerge in this one.
  120. A Primary Industry – Bled Dry
    Heads up, this act delivering us delicious bass beats is going to re-emerge with a nigh-complete sonic makeover into one of those dreamy shoegaze bands on their full-length LP next year.
  121. TISM – Defecate On My Face
    That classic toe-tapper about Hitler’s lucky scat fetish, sung from the perspective of Hitler. TISM knew exactly what satirical provocation they were all about on their first song. That’s right, every subsequent song is also going to be about Hitler’s lucky scat fetish.
  122. The Janitors – The Devil Goes To Whitley Bay
  123. Big Black – The Ugly American
    Big Black is the group most tightly associated with Drum Machine Rock. From this point on to their dissolution, they had a consistent brand of compelling noise. Like TISM, frontman and singer Steve Albini, later of fame for engineering Rock records such as In Utero [1993], was famous as a cantankerous tongue-in-cheek provocateur, but with a much, much uglier bite. Yes, I do mean even more purposefully tasteless than songs sung by Hitler, and without any plausible recourse to coherent satire. For instance, he provably quite liked using the N-bomb as late as 2011. Before I picked this track for the playlist I screened its lyrics twice. He really was the ugly American.

    But just this month, the now-60 Albini tweeted “A lot of things I said and did from an ignorant position of comfort and privilege are clearly awful and I regret them. […] I expect no grace, and honestly feel like I and others of my generation have not been held to task enough for words and behavior that ultimately contributed to a coarsening society. For myself and many of my peers, we miscalculated. We thought the major battles over equality and inclusiveness had been won, and society would eventually express that, so we were not harming anything with contrarianism, shock, sarcasm or irony. […] People of privilege expecting not to have to take ownership of their own words and actions, like fucking grownups, that’s ridiculous. These were formative experiences for me, and owning the embarrassment of them is *my* responsibility.” It’s essentially a nigh-complete ashamed renunciation of an entire adult lifetime spent being an ironically-bigoted edgelord in public.

    It’s mildly surreal to scroll through that Twitter of his and see that it’s basically towing the modern left-ish line, ribbing anti-vaxx cops, retweeting AR Moxon on the value of sincerity and Jon Bois sports goofs like anyone else. It’s bizarre, in part because when’s the last time you heard of a public figure actually changing their mind instead of doubling down? I half-suspect it might be some kind of front or a fake account or some kind of dodge just because deeply sincere unprompted apologies  never happen. If it is real and honest, it counter-intuitively indicates the possibility that ironic bigotry is actually coming from a different, more recoverable place than sincere bigotry, that its smokescreen effect for smuggling in fascism has more to do with sociology than slippery-slope psychology, which these days is opposite orthodox thinking about decrying edgelordism. 
  124. Foetus – DI-1-9026
  125. They Might Be Giants – The Biggest One
    One thing I’ve been trying to figure out recently is a two-fold enigma: Where did They Might Be Giants come from, and why did they consider themselves a normal Alt or Indie Rock band even back when they were a tape machine and accordion outfit making Pop songs? These two questions have the same answer, and the track sequencing of the last 16 and next 24 tracks are basically my way of answering it to my own satisfaction. In short: “Alt Rock” wasn’t a thing back when TMBG formed in 1982, but insomuch as it was, it was a very different, much stranger thing full of production filigrees and synths and experiments, and when they’re recording this demo tape they’re not out on some unprecedented limb. It’s only here in 1985 that the aesthetic counter-reformation that creates the “Alt Rock” we recognize from the 1990s, the stereotypical college-slackers-on-the-couch image, really solidifies.
  126. Camper Van Beethoven – Where The Hell Is Bill?
    Case in point, Camper Van Beethoven. I put them here specifically because I remember them being cited as a “reminds me of” for TMBG, both in earnest and with tongue-in-cheek by TMBG. And you can kinda see it if you turn your head and squint… the easy humor, the high-pitched unconventional instrument, the knack for a tune, the willful eclecticism… but it’s a real, real stretch. Like, maybe if we’re thinking Long Tall Weekend [1999]-era TMBG, but I’m thinking specifically early TMBG. Camper Van Beethoven is the closest comparison point for TMBG within the newly-established Alt Rock idiom, and they’re still only about as close a referent as the Eurhythmics.
  127. The Scene Is Now – Happy Ghost
  128. The Fall – My New House
    Mark E. Smith, frontman and singer of The Fall, was a massive raging asshole to 90% of the people who ever interacted with him, and a bigot, and unlike Albini he died without ever having repented. Fuck him. Great records though!
  129. Dead Milkmen – Right-Wing Pigeons (From Outer Space)
  130. The Mice – Not Proud Of The USA
    Here it is! Here’s fully-formed snotty sneering Pop Punk, structurally and vocally! I was wondering when that tendency would show up.
  131. Minor Threat – Good Guys (Don’t Wear White)
    I forget if I put a Minor Threat song on one of these lists yet or not. Anyway just remember these guys were a speedy angry punk group thrashing with confusion and conviction like just a couple years ago when you listen to this mid-tempo pop rock song.
  132. The Cynics – You Painted My Heart
    The way the riff chops up at the beginning here I wasn’t expecting as much of a 60s thing, but I’m not complaining.
  133. The Nils – Fountains
  134. Big Guitars From Texas – Breaker
  135. Intra Muros – Too Much Sun
    Goth Surf Rock!
  136. Astrology Band – Diamond Ring
  137. Exploding White Mice – Burning Red
  138. American Music Club – Point Of Desire
    The album this is pulled from is disowned by the lead creative, Mark Eitzel. In large part, I think it must be because it sounds too “good,” like, by the gated-drum standard of 1985 which really doesn’t suit what is being gone for here — everything that surrounds this notch on the playlist benefits from its washed-out sound. The other large part is that the album is clearly an immature work searching for a vision. This song is, I believe, the one where they find that vision: A sound that will blossom into what’s known as “Slowcore.”
  139. Across The River – Leaving
    I’ve just gone ahead and put the unsure trembling first steps of “Stoner Rock” in here too. It’s a refreshing change for me to hear some scrappy beardy 80s Alt Rock guys that are heavily-indebted to 70s Rock instead of 60s Rock, honestly.
  140. Green River – Swallow My Pride (Come On Down version)
    You can successfully argue that Bam-Bam had the first Grunge release back in 1984 (which only wasn’t on the playlist because I couldn’t find their tracks on YouTube,) but Come On Down is nevertheless pretty commonly regarded as Grunge Ground Zero. Is it? I don’t know, Grunge is a famously slippery concept that at this stage certainly is more like a scene of friends that doesn’t really have a defined identity of sonic traits. Nevertheless, it’s one more very-1990s Alt Rock thing that’s showed up. 
  141. Dinosaur Jr. – Forget The Swan
    I think they’re singing “Forget This One” and the track title is a pun.
  142. Volcano Suns – Jak
    This song rips! It rocks! It’s groovy, it’s singalong catchy — I seriously considered naming this playlist “Time To Jak” but I don’t want to get in the habit of having to think of clever little names for these indulgences. And also note, more than anything in any playlist yet, it’s what I would think of as straight-over-the-plate meat-and-potatoes Alt Rock (ala Pavement.)
  143. The Verlaines – Lying In State
    Now here’s a song that I can’t stop listening to any time I start. A strumfest for sure. The Verlaines and Look Blue Go Purple below were both from Dunedin, New Zealand. I think New Zealand Alt Rock groups, besides even just bringing the heat consistently, did more than anyone else (looking at you REM) to slowly bridge the sonic gap from Post-Punk (esp. ala Mission Of Burma) to Alt Rock and they don’t get enough credit for that. Like, one of my first thoughts hearing that meat-and-potatoes Volcano Suns track above was “Oh, this must be from New Zealand” — more likely they just had some kind of access to Flying Nun records.
  144. Look Blue Go Purple – Circumspect Penelope
    This one is a lot more, uh, circumspect. Krautrock-style.
  145. The Wedding Present – Go Out And Get ‘Em Boy
    I love how this opens up like it’s gonna be cute, maybe even sleepy, but it just gets noisier and noisier and harder-driving.
  146. Coitus Int. – The Habit Stayed
  147. Sonic Youth – Brave Men Run (In My Family)
    HOLY COW! Is that an actual killer RIFF in a Sonic Youth song?! Unprecedented! No truer sign that the times really are changing! They’ve hit the Don Cherry/Einsturzende Neubauten point where the most surprising thing they can do is something normal, and it’s not even the last time they’ll hit that point. The song slowly winds back down into Kim Gordon mumble-wailing over guitars plonking at near-random that fades back out into noise, so more par for what Sonic Youth has been, but that exhilarating moment where it looks like we might get an actual song points the way towards what they will be.
  148. Meat Whiplash – Here It Comes
  149. Slaughter Joe – I’ll Follow You Down
    Hey, Shoegaze is a real thing now too! Not just Jesus & Mary Chain! Shoegaze in the 80s has a much harder edge, with driving beats. Almost the whole blissed-out part of it, a merger with the stuff the Cocteau Twins were up to, arrived later.
  150. Cassell Webb – Wandering Ones
    Another one of my favorite discoveries from making this playlist.
  151. The Chameleons – Perfume Garden
    One of my friend Violet’s favorite “old” songs.
  152. Robert Fripp & The League Of Gentlemen – Heptaparaparshinokh
    Robert Fripp quit music to be a full-time copyright troll but he’s never seemed to care much about the League Of Gentlemen material. This track charms me even though it seems like it’s just working up and down a scale.
  153. Love & Rockets – Seventh Dream Of Teenage Heaven
  154. Carmody – Messengers Of Love
    This is a bit too upbeat, it was surprisingly hard to find space on the playlist for this kind of track.
  155. Vazz – Breath
  156. Dif Juz – A Starting Point
    Knotty, even jazzy stuff.
  157. Felt – Primitive Painters
    Elizabeth Fraser on backing vocals.
  158. New Order – Elegia (5 minute fade)
  159. Dervish – Triplets & Tape
  160. Cybe – Bali Pulau Bagus
  161. Elodie Lauten – Overture
    This is an extremely overt stylistic lift (once could call it a “bite”) from late-70s Philip Glass. The rest of the opera isn’t, but the rest of the opera also isn’t quite as good as the overture to me.
  162. Giovanni Venosta – Piano Piece No. 3
  163. Wim Mertens – Maximizing The Audience
    The title here is surely a jab at people who thought his material was too accessible.
  164. Andrew Poppy – The Object Is The Hungry Wolf
    Love the structure of this.
  165. John Adams – Harmonielehre: Part III — Meister Eckhardt And Quackie
    I was thinking just the other day about how Classical music really worked quite hard to marginalize itself in culture. Here in 1985, contemporary Classical is kinda like a vibrant exciting niche scene rather than the center of the universe it once could regard itself as. I haven’t checked but I’m pretty sure that the amount of new classical works that actually got released on any recording medium besides sheet music or even just played live before an audience in 1985 is numerically dwarfed by the likes of still-nascent Hip-Hop or Metal. Film scores are like the only way for a supporter to support themselves and get their work before an audience.
  166. Regular Music – The Third Dream
  167. Man Jumping – Down The Locale
    This record is kinda the bridge between Post-Minimalism (the genre of the last 8 tracks) and Remainalikes. Most of this band worked with Andrew Poppy in their previous band.
  168. Robert Wyatt – Gharbzadegi
    “Words take the place of me…”
  169. Anni Hogan feat. Marc Almond – Burning Boats (Foetus Drum Version)
  170. The Legendary Pink Dots – So Gallantly Screaming
    These guys were willing to swing from weirdo cheapo New Wave over to even-stranger-yet areas like this in just one record. 
  171. Joe McPhee & The Bill Smith Ensemble – Eleuthera
  172. Maarten Altena Octet – Mode
  173. David Moss’ Dense Band – Shuffle
    Christian Marclay, John Zorn, Arto Lindsay, and Fred Firth are apparently somewhere in the mix on this album. Could not tell you where though.
  174. Pat Metheny & Ornette Coleman – Endangered Species
    Y’all already know I’m an Ornette Coleman fan, but the thing that got my attention to this album here is actually Pat Metheny. Pat is usually more a Smooth Jazz guy, in fact from what I’ve heard I’d even say he’s like, maybe the best at Smooth Jazz of anybody? And here he is with a headline collaboration with Mr. Free Jazz, The Man Who Literally Invented The Term Free Jazz! T It’s a shocking, unlikely collaboration that brings together the Jazz that is maligned for being too aggressively avant and the Jazz that is maligned for being too passively conventional… maybe they can make some kind of Goldilocks Jazz everyone will love! In practice, Ornette ends up dominating (case in point this very track,) but they do actually find common ground at spots in a shared appreciation for corny ditties. There’s also a good song called Video Games that’s a little more accessible (in that it doesn’t wait 3 minutes before briefly stating its theme and then moving on back into rapid swirling chaos) right after this one on the album, which is the type of thing you think I could find a place to use as an article song.

    This actually has a similar but opposite situation as Careless Whisper above: it was released in June 1986, but it’s too much a vital hinge point for this playlist to remove. Besides, it was recorded in December 1985!
  175. Brigada Do Odio – Odio
  176. Black Flag – The Process Of Weeding Out
    Hey remember Black Flag? Remember “Rise Above”? Well, do you remember that weird cut-time measure of Rise Above? That wasn’t sloppiness. This is their famous song where they do 12-Tone Serialism Jazz Rock that stage by stage gradually becomes a more normal rock song. That might be the Weeding Out of the title, but it’s also “weeding out” their audience!
  177. Hanatarash – Cock E.S.P
    1985 was the year Japanese Noise group Hanatarash drove a bulldozer through a gig. This track is more musical than their material henceforth has been and as such kinda foreshadows the formation of Boredoms next year.
  178. Venom – F.O.A.D
  179. Rites Of Spring – Deeper Than Inside
  180. Human Raygun – Dog At Large
    Lots of interesting future connections with this album. Like, the “start and immediately stop” trick here is going to be used again to famous effect by Fugazi in a couple years. There’s a Big Black connection in personnel, though the only song where they really sound the part is Peacemaker, which has the same opening riff as a Dismemberment Plan song that comes out exactly 10 years later.
  181. Zsa-Zsa – Unica Zorn
  182. Killdozer – River
  183. feedtime – fastbuck
    A chugging and growling singalong classic.
  184. Helios Creed – Johnny
  185. Marty McFly & The Starlighters – Johnny B. Goode
    This is the more significant Johnny B. Goode cover of 1985. I love Back To The Future [1985], it’s clockwork Hollywood magic, but yikes does it use its charm and the elegance of its craft to smooth over some very troubling implications. One of them is handing what’s basically depicted as the birth of Rock music to a white guy, though at least that falls apart the closer you look at it. See, BTTF was under development for like 5 years and the entire time committed to travelling exactly 30 years back, which meant that a scene where some time traveler invents Rock got steadily more and more implausible. Before the end of the 1955 school year, not only had Rock Around The Clock [1954] already introduced white teen America at large to the already-existing genre of Rock, but Chuck Berry himself had already released records that sounded pretty much like Johnny B. Goode [1958]. Maybe we’re not even meant to read it as Marty McFly introducing Rock to 1950s white teens but just a good show?

    And in-fiction, it’s also funny to note that Marvin Berry only gets his cousin Chuck on the line immediately before Marty McFly’s solo goes sacrilegiously off the rails, plus the phone is like 10-20 feet away from the music so he’s not hearing much.
  186. Bowling For Soup – 1985
    I thought it would be cute to go from nostalgia within the 1980s to nostalgia for the 1980s. It is a very nostalgically-overdetermined period in music! Most of the things this song namechecks as quintessentially 1985 (which really just means 1980s in general) do not actually appear anywhere on this or any other playlist. Worth noting though that its specific Springsteen to Madonna progression also shows up, in that order, in Rock The Bells!

2 thoughts on “1985 playlist

  1. I got through the first 50 or so without recognizing anything, which made me feel a bit lame. I knew quite few from there on, though. Albini is an interesting case. I’m a bit sympathetic because I was the worst kind of socialist in the 90s, focused on economics to the point of ignoring other types of injustice. A lot of what passed for subversive back then was ignorant at best and disgusting at worst. I am still capable of enjoying certain songs by Big Black, though definitely not all. Anyway, cool resource, will likely check out some songs.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Well, I’d guess that you at least recognized Careless Whisper out of that first 50! No shame in not knowing mid-80s dance and jazz music like the back of your hand… I would say “we all gotta learn somehow sometime” but “we all” really don’t, it’s like the definition of optional. I try to group similar things together specifically so that people don’t have to listen to it all and can just focus on the type of thing that captures their fancy, even.

      And yeah, agree about Big Black. I think I’m more sympathetic to edgelord-ism (meaning in this paragraph not “ironic bigotry”) than most people of my disposition, I try to pay attention to what’s actually being said rather than blanket condemn it, and try to remember that it came about as a reaction to a more censorious puritanical reactionary time even though it later did ironically curdle into a tool of reactionaries, but Albini consistently went way way over any reasonable line that I can imagine.

      Liked by 1 person

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