February 12, 2010

The '80s did it better, dark and angry music edition

Maybe someday I'll put together a larger list showing how the '60s - '80s period actually did a better job of making what the '90s and 2000s were comparatively good at. Most people think of Cyndi Lauper, Michael Jackson, etc., when they think of '80s music, vs. Nirvana, Green Day, etc., when they think of '90s music (or My Chemical Romance, etc., for 2000s music).

Clearly what the '90s were good at was the darker and angrier stuff -- their girl bands and boy bands were pathetic, so were their Latin crossovers (except Shakira), and their light or soft rock was abominable. And don't even start me on techno... Still, if you look for the pre-'90s counterparts of the dark and angry music that became more mainstream during the '90s and 2000s, it's a lot better. That only makes sense since the culture was wild rather than tame before the '90s (easiest to see from the homicide rate).

Good pop music requires a certain sociability among the musicians as well as the fans -- there has to be a thriving "scene" for the musicians to get quality feedback (from real-life people!) and to feed off of their energy. From that sociability, there emerges a by now strange characteristic of dark and angry music -- you can actually sympathize with it somewhat and get into it. It's not so over-the-top in intensity that only the musicians themselves can identify with it. There was a respect for the audience, like, "We know you're not us, and so won't feel as strongly as we feel -- I guess we'd better steel ourselves and man up a bit so that you can get into it as much as we can, and we'll all have a blast together." Clearly that sociability and "scene" evaporate when everyone starts locking themselves indoors and behaving themselves.

These few songs are just off the top of my head. Too lazy now to put links in, but they're all on YouTube.

Minor Threat, "Steppin' Stone" (1981)
Tones on Tail, "Go!" (1984)
Big Black, "The Model" (1987)
Love and Rockets, "So Alive" (1989)
Nine Inch Nails, "Ringfinger" (1989)

You get the idea. I hear "Go!" and "Ringfinger" semi-regularly at '80s night, and normal college kids love them. Normal people must find "So Alive" enjoyable enough because Starbucks used to play it in their stores for awhile a few months ago. You can easily dance to all three. Minor Threat and Big Black obviously aren't as palatable to normal people, but compared to the angry noisy music of the '90s and 2000s? They're exercising enough control over their emotions that the average person doesn't find it totally unlistenable.

Next time I'll look at sad and grieving songs.


  1. I don't think I've heard "Steppin Stone" or "The Model", though I've enjoyed some other stuff by their bands. I should check those out.

  2. Not one person in the world ever cares what you think.

  3. Except for emotionally unstable commenters.

  4. I'd go with Big Black first; they put out more and better (richer-sounding) stuff. Even as an angry teenager, I never really got into more than a handful of songs by Minor Threat.

  5. Tones on Tails angry/dark? Pish posh!

    Try listening to some Butthole Surfers (Shah Sleeps in Lee Harvey's Grave), Suicidal Tendencies (Institutionalized), Black Flag (Six Pack), Angry Samoans (They Found Hitler's Cock), Dead Kennedys (California Uber Alles), Code of Honor (Code of Honor). Then there was the 'song', which I never learned the name of, which consisted of random noise played by rock instruments, inchoate shouting and the only thing intelligible was occasional shouts of 'fuck you'.

    The early 80s were so dark & depressing that Code of Honor seemed like a breath of fresh air. It was good, tho.

  6. Minor Threat >> Big Black. Minor Threat never used drum machines.

    Funny that both of those songs were covers (of songs made before the 80s, at least I think so for the latter). The Model wasn't angry either. Just kind of odd. The quintessential Big Black song is Kerosene (not a cover, despite what they claim about Jerry Lee Lewis).

  7. Stepping stone was originally recorded by Paul Revere and the Raiders, and widely covered since. Heh,that was the song that got me into Minor Threat oh so many moons ago. Thanks for the memories.

    As far as angry music is concerned, don't forget the New York and west coast hardcore scene and the nascent industrial music scene as well. Einsturzende Neubauten comes to mind. Killing Joke, Laibach, Skinny Puppy, SPK, etc.


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