The Enigmas are the great Vancouver band of the early-mid 1980s that most folks seem to have never heard of. They had the whole 60s garage-psyche thing more than just down – they actually transported you there, not so much back in time as into a whole other dimension that was tighter than punk and/or hardcore, and sexier, but every bit as hard and fast. If a proper recording existed of their umpteen minute live version of the Count Five’s Psychotic Reaction, it would be way up near the top of this list. As for the Windshield Wiper, it’s a dance. The record even came with a diagram.
Old England being the grimmest track found on the Waterboys‘ otherwise mostly uplifting 1985 masterpiece This is the Sea. Because what value empire when it’s children are giving up, choosing instead the kingdom inherent in refined opium? You can see it in their heroin eyes. The sun is most definitely setting. And just to make it clear he wasn’t messing around, main Waterboy Mike Scott would soon be relocating to Ireland with (again) almost entirely uplifting results.
Come the mid 1980s, Shriekback were doing two things very well. Dark and funky rave-ups that could seriously move a dancefloor, and dark and smooth little dreamscapes, that felt equal parts seductive and apocalyptic, rather like the world in general. Like looking your loved one in the eye and hearing a serpent hiss back. Creepy stuff.
“The Show is Coming is a pretty solid blueprint for what much of my 1985 sounded like, all that societal corrosion and apocalyptic immanence in motion. Seriously, who better than the Dub Syndicate, doing as their name suggested, to lay down the required timeless beats and breaks and echoes? Often as not, I never really noticed particular cuts, just threw on mixtapes or tuned in radio shows. But every now and then, something like The Show is Coming did stick out, the smart samples getting my attention, the tough, rock-steady groove doing the rest.” (Philip Random)
“To be clear, the stuff that came to be known as Grunge was alive and raw for years before most of the world ever heard about it. Look no further than Slow, straight outa the mean streets of Vancouver’s plush west side, teenagers with an equal love of punk rock and the likes of Aerosmith, Alice Cooper, ACDC, The Rolling Stones (anything and everything as long as it howled). I remember seeing them one night in 1985 at a small club. Maybe thirty seconds into the opening number (a Temptations cover), the singer (a guy named Tom) was up on the front row tables, kicking everybody’s beers over, instigating rage and ecstasy, smashing atoms by the truckload. Bad boys indeed.” (Philip Random)
“Propaganda are mostly forgotten now, but trust me, this is what 1985 sounded like. Big, majestic, mysterious, not afraid to explore the darker side of things – a dream within a dream indeed. All credit to the band themselves, who I know nothing about except I think the woman doing the singing was German (maybe they all were). But don’t overlook the guy in the control room, twiddling the dials, pulling it all together – one Trevor Horn who was rather a big deal at the time working with the likes of Frankie Goes To Hollywood, ABC, Grace Jones, Malcolm McLaren’s Duck Rock, not to forget Yes and The Buggles (he was in both of them). Pop sonic artist of the decade? There are worse arguments.” (Philip Random)
“DOA, original Vancouver punks, deliver the theme song to the great general strike of the mid 1980s, wherein the people finally just got so disgusted, they all rose up simultaneously and shut the whole stupid system down. The asylums were emptied, the schools burned, the banks blown to smithereens, the various politicians, bureaucrats and business leaders strangled with each others intestines. Or maybe it was just a dream.” (Philip Random)
In which Ralph Schuckett, Richard Butler, Bob Dorough, Ellen Shipley and John Petersen take on a Kurt Weill song made famous by the Doors, sort of. But it really ought to be the other way around, Kurt Weill being one of the greatest songwriters of the 20th Century (oft working with Bertolt Brecht), and the degree to which so many are ignorant of this is the degree to which we continue to be ignorant of what makes this f***ed up world continue to spin and wobble and crash and burn. Fortunately, producer, arranger, lover-of-cool-stuff Hal Willner set a bunch of us straight in the mid-80s sometime with Lost In The Stars an all-star tribute if ever there was one. Beyond the five names already listed, it had Todd Rundgren, Van Dyke Parks, Dagmar Krause, Tom Waits, Marianne Faithfull, even Sting (not sucking) all throwing in, paying homage, telling the truth.
“I stumbled onto Tom Waits through the movies (the songs he did for Francis Coppola’s One From the Heart mess, the beat hipster he played in Coppola’s Rumblefish, the idiot on the run in Down By Law) so I guess it makes sense that I think of him more as a showbiz guy than the essential musical force that some seem to. Yeah, he can lay down the gravely depths, but how much of that is just acting, pretending, NOT real blues, soul, whatever. But then you hear something like Hang Down Your Head, which is the kind of song Bruce Springsteen only wishes he could write, and you realize you’re probably wrong.”