The Heady Days of College Rock

This might come as a shock: the eighties weren’t the same for me musically as they were for most people I knew. 

I KNOW, right?!?

While most of my peers absorbed and regurgitated whatever was playing on the radio, I chose the much rockier — but infinitely more rewarding — path. This may explain why, despite an intense passion for music, I was only asked to DJ one party. (*) I wasn’t the guy who put bodies in motion, or got people on the dance floor. 

Oh, well. 

My musical exploits were relatively pedestrian until 1985, when King Crimson came into my life. Nothing was ever the same after that. Upon being introduced to the mighty Crim, I knew two things for certain: 1. I wanted to hear more music like King Crimson; and 2. I damn sure wouldn’t find it on commercial radio.

What was an obscure music junkie to do? Lucky for me, there was an answer. 

There was a time when one had to turn a knob on the stereo receiver in order to locate the proper AM/FM radio frequency. The stronger, more commercial FM signals could be found as the numbers (87.7-107.9) increased. But the good radio was found among the 80s and low 90s. The signal was inconsistent and full of static, but there was great music to be found there. This was college radio, and the basis of a chapter in my book called “The Left Side of the Dial.”

This “discovery” led me down yet another amazing musical path, particularly because the stations weren’t exactly what I thought they’d be. Yes, they played some progressive rock. But I also heard a lot of other interesting music, which I had no idea existed. Thinking back on it today, I was struck by an avalanche of memories. 

I was familiar with more than a few musical styles, but nothing could properly prepare me for a young Icelandic singer named Bjork, and her band called the Sugarcubes. They were unlike anything I’d heard before or since. 

The college radio landscape seemed to be littered with bands fronted by waif-like women with powerful singing voices. That’s how the Sundays captured my attention. 

Sometimes, the feminine voice was more haunting, to the point where it permeates the soul. That was my Margot Timmins experience. And that’s how the Cowboy Junkies came into my life. 

College radio had its share of pop-type acts. Some were more appealing than others. I’m not sure what it is I liked about the BoDeans. They just struck me as the kind of band I’d enjoy seeing in a bar. Back when I did that kind of thing. 

Of all the college pop acts I heard, The Smithereens were far and away my favorite. It was like listening to the Beatles, had the Fab Four come from New Jersey. This band had a knack for writing hook-laden, singable songs. I really hate that I’ve never gotten to see them live. 

I can’t think of college rock without thinking of R.E.M.  Even though they eventually came above ground and became international superstars, there was a time when the Athens, Georgia quartet sounded like the ultimate club band. Their music was on a different level, while also being easily accessible. Even now, my world pretty much grinds to a halt when R.E.M. is playing. 

There are so many other bands from those days who’s music continues to resonate in my mind. Stay tuned for more Adventures from the Left Side of the Dial. 
(*) I successfully DJ’d a wedding in c. 1989. With the help of an Air Force buddy, I assembled about 4.5 hours of carefully paced dance-oriented tunes, sprinkling in just enough obscurity to keep things interesting for me. I was repeatedly complimented on my abilities, but I’m glad I never had to do that again. 

1 Comment

  1. In the Boston area, we have a school called Emerson College which is a liberal arts college specializing in communications. Some entertainers have come through there too so I think they must have a drama department or something. Anyway, I’ve been meaning to mention on my blog that they have a good station, WERS.ORG, that’s fairly eclectic. As I write this note they’re playing Broadway tunes. Every weekend they play a couple of hours of a capella which is my favorite show. And other than that, they play a fairly diverse mixture of songs. Can’t promise you it’ll float your boat but you can listen online. FYI

    http://www.wers.org/

    Liked by 1 person

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