This Week’s Theme: Trouser Press Record Guide
If you know the Faux Show then you know that my favorite music reference is Joel Whitburn’s Billboard Book of Top 40 Hits. However, there are a lot of great reference books out there that were used by hundreds of thousands of people before the internet became such a useful research tool. Owing to my past life as a deejay at a free format college radio station in the ’80s and ’90s, another one of my favorites has always been the Trouser Press Record Guide by Ira A. Robbins.
I’ve owned the 1991 Fourth Edition for over thirty years, the pages are dog-eared, and the info found within its pages are a time capsule of alternative music from just before Nirvana and alt-rock radio stations changed the world of indie/alternative music forever. This weeks’ show is a collection of songs by twenty-five artists that I selected by randomly opening the book to different pages and choosing the first artist name I saw. I’ve filled out the show with a few birthdays by artists who are in the book, as well as some newish music by the artists I selected. The end result is a Faux Show that is very much the sound of college radio in the early ’90s.
Welcome to Radio Faux Show Volume Two, Number Thirty.
First things first – click a link to start listening and then come back to read about this week’s songs.
What Is Trouser Press?
It has become cliché to talk about what life was like before the internet, but it hasn’t been that long since immediate access to the entire history of the world was not just a few clicks away. When I was a young music nerd, their were only a few ways to learn about new music or research the music of artists I hadn’t heard before. As a college deejay, I had access to a lot of new alternative music. I also had friends who could introduce me to stuff they thought I would like. A third method was reading. Before the information superhighway existed, people read physical pages in order to learn about things. For music, that meant a variety of sources. There were mainstream magazines and newspapers such as Spin, Option, Alternative Press, and NME. If you were lucky enough to have access to a college radio station then there was the CMJ New Music Report. But the best way to learn about cool music was if you could get your hands on zines from around the country.
Zines, short for fanzines, are the hard copy precursor to Facebook, Twitter, blogs and whatever other social media you consume. They were very cheap to produce, very cheap to purchase (often free), and were created by fans of specific topics such as film, television, books, and (of course) music. My personal favorites were Forced Exposure and Maximum RocknRoll, but I would read whatever I could find lying around someone’s house or at a record store. They still exist, although much less in hard copy form. I even recently picked up a free copy of one at my local record store by an LA publication called Razorcake. It looks just the same as I remember – a cheap color cover with cheap black and white paper pages. The theme is modern day punk and hardcore, and there is even an article about Jawbreaker, one of my favorites from thirty years ago.
Although it stopped publishing before I knew it existed, Trouser Press started as a zine in 1974. The original Trouser Press was published by Ira Robbins in 1974 and production ran for about ten years. Although it started with a focus on British bands, the zine grew in scope and popularity through the ’70s and by the end of the decade was one of the premier publications focused on the growing punk, hardcore, and alternative music scenes. With it’s glossy printing and advertising, Trouser Press was able to reach a wide audience and was one of the few fanzines that seemed like a traditional magazine by the time it stopped printing. They were one of the first U.S. publications to realize the importance of punk, and their ’80s editions contained an indispensable column focused on different music scenes from around the country. Their popularity and subscriptions grew enough in the ’80s that subscribers even received flexi-disc insertions (flexi-discs were cheaply printed pieces of PVC that could be played on a turntable, often with one song printed on one side). When they ceased publication in 1984 due to a lack of interest by the writers on new music that was evolving away from their original focus, they were a thriving source of information about the new music of the times. Since the zine stopped publishing, Trouser Press has continued to exist in multiple formats and has published five different volumes of different record guides focused on different periods of music, including the fourth volume that I used to make this week’s show. In 2020, Trouser Press launched their website, where you can read new articles and download all of the old issues. All of the work done by Ira Robbins and his staff over the years is an incredible donation to the world of alternative music research, so thank you Trouser Press.
Male Dominated College Radio
It was interesting to me that almost every artist I randomly selected for this week’s show was already known to me. I must admit that I was deeply entrenched in the alternative music scene in 1991, although this was just about the time that I stopped listening to this type of music as much and became obsessed with Ray Charles, jump blues from the ’40s, and experimental jazz. Looking back through the book now brings all sorts of music into my head, and reminds me of how much of an angry, white male I must have been at the time. So much of the alternative music of the time, and by default in this book, was loud, angry, and performed by white men that this show couldn’t help but become similar sounding. The relatively low number of female artists I’ve selected was not by choice (as I randomly selected these artists), but seems like a fair representation of the alternative music scene at the time. For every Shawn Colvin, Phranc, Indigo Girls, and L7, there were a dozen or more Mudhoney, Butthole Surfers, Melvins, and Husker Du wannabes. I’ve moved well beyond such a limited intake of music now, and I am not proud of the fact that I was so entrenched at the time in music of this type, but I have to admit that rediscovering artists like Big Drill Car and Ed Hall has been a nostalgic and entertaining research experience.
Artist of the Week: Joe Strummer
Joe Strummer was a founding member, songwriter, vocalist, and guitarist of The Clash. I could probably stop writing here and that simple sentence says enough to explain how important Strummer was to the future of rock music. I won’t attempt to explain the importance of The Clash – that has been done to death and you can spend the rest of your day in a deep dive of The Clash with just a few google clicks. I’ll just say that I have always preferred Joe Strummer to Mick Jones, and I could listen to Strummer sing anything with his trademark rasp and fuck-you snarl. After the breakup of The Clash, Strummer focused on acting and soundtrack work and produced several EPs and LPs both solo and with several groups before his untimely death at the age of 50 in 2002. Johnny Rotten is the most famous punk, Joey Ramone is the most stylish punk, but Joe Strummer was the greatest punk of them all.
Happy Birthday (August 21)
Budgie was the drummer of The Slits before becoming the drummer of Siouxsie & The Banshees from 1979 to 1996. He was the heart of the Banshees and one of the greatest alternative rock drummers of the ’80s. There is no denying the genius of drummers like Stewart Copeland, Mike Mills, and your favorite ’80s drummer, but Budgie had a unique style that defined the songs he recorded as much, if not more, than any other drummer of the era.
Joe Strummer was a founding member of The Clash. See Artist Of The Week.
2 for “Two”Day
Shawn Colvin “Shotgun Down The Avalanche”: The same song, but from both the original 1989 and the 30th anniversary 2019 acoustic version of the album Steady On.
Tommy Keene “Places That Are Gone” (1984) and “Out of My Mind” (2015)
Kool Moe Dee “I Go To Work” (1989) and new song “Body Em”
Simple Minds “Alive and Kicking” from their 1985 classic album Once Upon A Time and new single “Act of Love” from a new album coming out in October 2022.
Joe Strummer “Gangsterville” and The Clash “This Is England” from their final record, which is basically a Joe Strummer solo album
Simple Minds “Alive And Kicking”: #3 (10/26/85)
Shawn Colvin “Shotgun Down The Avalanche (Acoustic)” (2019)
Tommy Keene “Out of My Mind” (2015)
Kool Moe Dee “Body Em” (2022)
Simple Minds “Act of Love” (2022)
What Did Trouser Press Say About These Songs in 1991?
I thought it would be interesting to end this week’s show with a track-by-track review of the artists as described in The Trouser Press Record Guide. I have excerpted some information from the book, and added my own take on each artist as a counterpoint. It is interesting to see over thirty years later how alternative music was perceived in the context of the time.
The Descendents All “All/Coolidge/No All”: Trouser Press says The disappointing All starts with one of the shortest songs on record: the 1-second title track. Leading new bandmates, Milo and Stevenson take a raunchy guitar-rock excursion…that downplays the band’s melodic side…”Coolidge” is basically loud and witless, substituting routine guitar work for character. I say that music like this is sometimes best when loud and witless – well done Descendents, you have always given me what I’m looking for when I throw on one of your albums.
Claw Hammer Claw Hammer “Sundown”: Trouser Press says Unfettered by standard song structure on much of the first longplayer, Wahl’s mercurial yelp skitters across measures like Richard Hell at his most dislocated. Definitely a band for these post-post-modern times. I say that this angular alt-jam band was always best as a cover artist, such as their second album of covers by artists like Devo, Patti Smith, and Pere Ubu, and this Gordon Lightfoot cover from their full length debut. They were certainly of a time.
Big Drill Car Batch “Take Away”: Trouser Press says Like labelmates All and Chemical People, Huntington Beach, CA’s Big Drill Car specializes in bouncy punk-pop full of hooks, harmonies and exuberant playing. I say that I used to listen to music like this all of the time by dozens of bands. My favorites were Jesse Peretz-era Lemonheads, Jawbreaker, and Doughboys, but BDC were a favorite as well.
Tuff Darts Tuff Darts “Fun City”: Trouser Press says The Darts-a junior-league rock band with a penchant for gangster clothes-had a total of two good songs, both of which are included on the LP. Otherwise, the record ranges from simply bad to truly wretched, as on the moronic “(Your Love Is Like) Nuclear Waste.” I say I know nothing about this band before this week and I selected the best song I could find on the album. I assume this is one of the two “good songs” according to Trouser Press. Flipping through the tracks, they are a third-rate power-pop band who sound very much like dozens of other 1978 bands. If Greg Kihn is a second rate Springsteen, then Tuff Darts are a fifth-rate Springsteen, at best.
Rockpile Seconds of Pleasure “Teacher Teacher”: Trouser Press says A year before breaking up, the quartet had its sole moment in the vinyl spotlight, and came up with an album that is every bit as exhilarating as anything either Lowe or Edmunds has done on his own. I say now we’re talkin’! This band, featuring Nick Lowe and Dave Edmunds, is Grade A bar-rock that never ages. This was the backing band for both Lowe and Edmunds on their solo albums and tours, and this is the only album they ever recorded as their own entity.
Tommy Keene Songs From The Film “Places That Are Gone” (and “Out Of My Mind”): Trouser Press says All of the memorable melodies are underscored by strong vocal harmonies, yet the delivery retains a gutsy, even abrasive, edge. I say that this review is a great snapshot of a common conceit in the alternative music scene of that era. That is, being able to sing is not required, and sometimes even discouraged, when determining the quality of an artist. Notice how the review follows the recognition of “strong vocal harmonies” with YET and then adds in the terms abrasive and edge in order to qualify that even though the guy can sing it is still good music. This is not to say that I didn’t enjoy some really mediocre vocalists back in the day, but I was always on the outside of common thinking that being a talented vocalist or musician was a detriment in the world of alternative rock. I used to love Tommy Keene, but have not thought of him for thirty years, so it is great to go back and listen to his music while making this show. I was a huge fan of Matthew Sweet in the ’90s, and Tommy Keene is very much the Matthew Sweet of the ’80s. Both of them had sweet voices, catchy as hell power-pop tunes, major label deals, and a goal of recording Top 40 hits. Neither of them were successful at that last goal, but they are both still going thirty years later. If nothing else, that is a testament to the fact that quality musicians make quality music that will always find an audience.
Galaxie 500 Today “Tugboat”: Trouser Press says this trio…may sound as ragged and ambitious as your first guitar plugged into your first amp, but they had a way with dirge and seemed to mean every note. Galaxie 500 made a virtue of lethargy. I say that bands like this are what I miss most about the music of the late ’80s. Galaxie 500 were a precursor to the lo-fi movement of the ’90s, but also an end to the sort of guitar bands that were going to all change for the worst after Nirvana took over the world in 1991 and every band of any importance became major-label artists with same-sounding production. “Tugboat” is one of the great lost songs of this era.
Eyeless In Gaza Photographs As Memories “No Noise”: Trouser Press says Named for Aldous Huxley’s ode to pacifist integrity, Eyeless in Gaza consisted of guitarist Martyn Bates and bassist/keyboardist Peter Becker, both credited with voice and instrumentation on the first album, a better-than-decent stab at hook-filled spareness. The tasteful music is marred only occasionally by overly anguished vocals. I say that I only knew this band by name before this week, and Trouser Press nailed it with their description. I have since learned that this record was recorded in single takes with no overdubs, which works well in providing a raw sound that complements the spareness of the music.
Sad Lovers and Giants Les Annees Vertes “Things We Never Did”: Trouser Press says This quintet, which originally came from Watford-near London, but evidently insulated from that city’s turbulent trendiness-resembles a cross between R.E.M. and a garage-spawned analogue of Dark Side of the Moon. I say that I’m confused at how Trouser Press doesn’t say this band sounds like The Cure. I was surrounded by goths and Cure fans in the late ’80s, and all of them listened to Sad Lovers and Giants. They are a second-rate Cure, which isn’t a bad thing, and have been lost to time along with the goth movement of the ’80s.
Siouxsie & The Banshees Tinderbox “Cities In Dust” (and “Act Of Love”): Trouser Press says At a point where some were ready to write the band off as aging, lazy veterans, they came back in early ’86 with Tinderbox, one of their strongest LPs in years…Siouxsie’s voice has never been so warm and tuneful as it is on tracks like “The Sweetest Chill,” “Cannon” and the great single “Cities In Dust.” I say that I have nothing to add to that.
Simple Minds Once Upon A Time “Alive and Kicking”: Trouser Press says Scotland’s Simple Minds once took a lot of (mostly) undeserved criticism for being arty and pretentious, but in the early days, their mix of serious/philosophical lyrics with danceable rhythms supporting oblique musical structure did make them something of an acquired taste. Often dense, occasionally discordant and gloomy, Simple Minds’ music also stretches to commercial pop, an area they pursued with increasing enthusiasm and success in the ’80s. Trouser Press also says Once Upon A Time is appalling, a perversion of the group’s sound specifically-and most unpleasantly-geared for American Radio. I say that this is a wonderful excerpt to show the differing opinions of music critics of the era. By the time I was fully engulfed in the alternative music scene in the late ’80s, I was already an outsider for enjoying popular music as much as I enjoyed the more critically acceptable post-punk, noise, grunge, and guitar-based club rock of the alt-music scene. I can’t even count how many times I heard someone say that some new album was “over-produced,” a term misguidedly used by everyone I knew (including me) as a blanket statement to demean anything recorded by musicians who could play their instruments with clarity and sing well. I am much older and wiser now, and I now know that music is music, good songs are good songs, and people should enjoy listening to whatever music they like without judgment. I probably knew this then, but I was too young to understand the underlying conceit being expressed by so many people who refused to accept anything if it was popular.
Tin Machine Tin Machine “Under The God”: Trouser Press says Tin Machine’s first album…is loud and blunt-occasionally a bit brutish-with provocative songs that are credible but…not especially memorable. While the results of the experiment are equivocal and it’s hardly a significant item in Bowie’s catalogue, as a noisy and exciting rock album, Tin Machine is better than most. I say it’s Davie Bowie, it wasn’t my favorite at the time, but at this point, with Bowie gone, I’ll take any Bowie I can get.
Loop Heaven’s End “Head On”: Trouser Press says Frequently likened to Spacemen 3 for their aggressive approach to trance creation, Croydon’s Loop create pulsating, nearly impenetrable pieces that are often lunkheaded in their maximal approach to minimalism. (Imagine all the “NO”s trumpeted on the sleeve of Metal Machine Music-panning, phasing, instruments-replaced by “MORE PLEASE!” and you’ll begin to get the drift.) But more often, the shadowy quartet is just plain dogged in its pursuit of The Holy Riff; locating said icon, Loop clamps down hard, wielding minor chords like marrow forks, greedily dishing out sustenance with all the insane energy of the Stooges, tempered by the fanatical symmetry of German experiments like Can and Faust. I say that writing like this is why zines like Trouser Press were so important. Writing like this was only found in the pages of these fantastic non-mainstream publications.
Die Kreuzen Die Kreuzen “On The Street”: Trouser Press says On the first LP, armed with an antagonistic attitude and a predilection for velocity, the band burns through 21 explosive songs (riffs, really) that are interchangeable but not redundant. The primary ingredient, hyper-kinetic energy, remains constant throughout Die Kreuzen, but the riffs are all different and uncommonly well-articulated. As loud and fast as these guys are, their playing remains crisp. I say this is what American hardcore was supposed to sound like in 1984. This is an early band for my favorite record label of the time, Touch and Go Records, which also started as a fanzine in 1979 before transitioning over to music production in 1981.
Chrome Half Machine Lip Moves “TV As Eyes”: Trouser Press says Under the innocuous name of Chrome, two San Franciscans-Damon Edge and Helios Creed, with part-time rhythm section assistance by the Stench brothers of Pearl Harbor’s band-created an often awesome series of pre-industrial LPs that explore a dark state of mind only hinted at by ’60s psychedelia. Taking cues from Suicide, Can, Pink Floyd, Jimi Hendrix, the Residents and anyone who ever made home tapes in their bedroom, the pair’s dense, chaotic science-fiction epics are vivid vinyl nightmares-a thick blend of mechanical noises, filtered, twisted voices and fantastic, bizarre lyrics-that flesh out a frightening world both absorbing and repellent. Though conventional song structures are preserved to the point where tracks can be distinguished…Chrome’s strength is its ability to create sounds of horrible beauty that transcend discrete musical units. If Chrome isn’t as conceptually out there or as ear-splitting as the noisemongers and goth-rockers that followed, the duo’s sonic intensity is still something to behold. I say that this is one of the most spot-on descriptions of the sound of a band as has ever been written. Chrome were so far ahead of their time that they had no chance of being noticed until well after they were no longer a band. If you have any level of interest in music that demands an open-mind and careful listening, and you aren’t afraid of the dark, and you’ve never listened to Chrome, then this band deserves your attention.
Ed Hall Albert “Cracked”: Trouser Press says On Albert this obliquely named Austin trio-a tamer party-band alternative to the Butthole Surfers-throws out a good-naturedly disorganized roar. I say that this band is a second-rate Butthole Surfers. That isn’t a bad thing, but at this point in history only those who have already digested all of the Butthole Surfers output should investigate this long lost band.
Antietam Everywhere Outside “Monica”: Trouser Press says If 10,000 Maniacs had younger siblings, they might sound like Antietam. I say that is fair enough. I don’t remember much about this band, but they have a female vocalist so that is different than most of their contemporaries.
Lush Gala “Sweetness and Light”: Trouser Press says this winsome young London noise-pop quartet combines…wispy voice with wanton semi-freakout playing. I say that this song is early in the career of a 4AD band who found a nice audience in the early ’90s. The Trouser Press review is before they released the majority of their albums. For about five or six years in the early ’90s, they provided Cocteau Twins fans with a new band to revere and released several beautiful albums of noisy jangle pop.
That Petrol Emotion Manic Pop Thrill “It’s A Good Thing”: Trouser Press says Manic Pop Thrill is an apt title for the angry, articulate rock melodies that span the continuum from sweet balladry to PiL/Fall-like noise. I say that this is a great debut by a great band who released several great albums in the late ’80s. That Petrol Emotion are lost to time, along with fellow Brit-pop, jangle-noise band The Wonder Stuff.
Shawn Colvin Steady On “Shotgun Down The Avalanche” (original and new acoustic): Trouser Press says The career of this South Dakota-born New Yorker offers an object lesson in the danger of major labels. Colvin’s 8-song Live Tape is as enchanting a collection of acoustic songs as one could imagine. So, what happened? Featuring new versions of six Live Tape songs, Steady On is bland, overproduced, radio-ready drivel. I say that if you’ve read up to here then I’ve already set you up for what I think about this review that uses the arguments that major labels destroy the sound of an artist and then call the album over-produced. The review actually explains the term “overproduced” as having session musicians and synthesizers instead of just the stripped down sound of one guitar and vocals. In other words, every band who ever used overdubs, multiple musicians, and an actual recording studio is overproduced; for example The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Clash, Bruce Springsteen, Prince, Tom Petty, and every other album that most anyone has ever listened to is overproduced. For what it’s worth, Shawn Colvin has now enjoyed a thirty-plus year career of overproduced music that is loved by her, apparently, undiscerning fans.
Ippudo Real “Lonely Pilot”: Trouser Press says Led by androgynous, Bowiesque guitarist Masami Tsuchiya, this Japanese trio stepped into the commercial void created by Yellow Magic Orchestra’s decreased group activity. I say that I had never heard of this band until this week, and that is a terrible mistake on my part. They are a Japanese Devo all wrapped up in a City Pop bow that was tied together by Casiopea. I am digging this band.
Game Theory Blaze Of Glory “White Blues”: Trouser Press says Game Theory is a clean, and for a time, mildly psychedelic, pop band from northern California, which means their departures from conventional meat-and-potatoes reality are more quirky than trippy. Like most over-educated popsters, they tend towards wimpiness-at which times the arcane lyrics don’t help-but the hip catchiness of the songs mostly keeps them out of trouble. With awfully thin sound and more enthusiasm than skill, the young guitar-and-keyboards quartet made its promising debut on the self-released Blaze Of Glory. I say I had never heard this band before this week. They sound very much of the time, and were certainly just another band lost in the flood of bands that sounded like this in the alternative music scene of the ’80s. My favorite of all of these sort of bands was Balancing Act, but there were hundreds of them playing every night in some college or big city club.
Shriekback Go Bang! “Intoxication”: Trouser Press says Barry Andrews was a founder of XTC…David Allen was replaced…in Gang of Four. Together with Carl Marsh and a drum machine, Andrews and Allen formed Shriekback, a cagey dance band with solid rhythms and insidiously weird vocals. With guest star Doug Wimbish…playing a lot of the bass <the band> returned to musical daylight on Go Bang!, a winning LP produced by Richard James Burgess. I say that I listened to their 1985 album Oil and Gold more times than I wished because one of my roommates at the time adored this band. I still sometimes have some of the songs from that album earworm into my brain without warning. They play innocuous dance-pop, much like The The or any other band of this type from that era.
Kool Moe Dee Knowledge Is King “I Go To Work” (and “Body Em”): Trouser Press says using a stone cold serious tone that does not encourage disagreement, popular New York rapper Kool Moe Dee, a former third of the Treacherous Three, puts his usual social messages plus the usual braggadocio to medium-weight rhythm tracks, many of them enhanced by loping synth-bass lines, electronic horns and other musical ingredients. The versatile vocalist’s records earn their mainstream appeal by tempering the music and taking a firm stand against violence and sexual irresponsibility. I say it is interesting to read any reviews of rap music from thirty years ago because the form was barely ten years old at that time. By the time Kool Moe Dee was making his first few albums, Ice T, Schooly-D, Boogie Down Productions, Public Enemy, Erik B. & Rakim, A Tribe Called Quest, De La Soul, and all of the rest of the most important rap artists of the late ’80s were already changing the hip hop landscape, so Kool Moe Dee now sounds extremely old school. I can listen to Kool Moe Dee every day, but his music has very little edge and very predictable sampling and structure.
Culture Two Sevens Clash “Two Sevens Clash”: Trouser Press says Culture is one of reggae’s greatest roots harmony trios. Lead singer Hill invokes the passion of Burning Spear, while the others are reminiscent of the earthen and soulful rootical wails of the Itals. Despite a string of fine albums, Culture is most closely identified with their debut LP, Two Sevens Clash, and its apocalyptic title track. And rightly so: the song, first released in 1977, is a reggae classic, a perfect marriage of Rasta ideology and musicianship that struck a chord in punk England and became an influential scene staple. I say that writing is totally on point. This is one of the most important reggae songs, and still sounds great over forty-five years later.
The Dub Syndicate Tunes From The Missing Channel “The Show Is Coming”: Trouser Press says Tunes From The Missing Channel has Levene and others providing fodder for Adrian Sherwood’s wild studio assemblies. I say that music like this was just not in the Trouser Press wheelhouse. This is definitely my favorite band and album on this week’s show. I have adored the music produced by Adrian Sherwood’s On-U-Sound Production label since first discovering it thirty-five years ago, and this album in particular has always been one of my favorites. I have an On-U-Sound Faux Show theme on my short list of upcoming themes, but just haven’t taken the time to do it yet.
Big Audio Dynamite No. 10 Upping St. “C’mon Every Beatbox”/Joe Strummer Earthquake Weather “Gangsterville”/The Clash Cut The Crap “This Is England”: Trouser Press says that The Clash were great, Big Audio Dynamite we’re good, Joe Strummer was good, and the final Clash album Cut The Crap was not good. I say that forty years later and The Clash still sound like the only band that matters, Big Audio Dynamite albums have aged terribly, and Joe Strummer’s death at fifty was a tragedy.