Back in February, I posted a little blog about bands nobody gives a shit about. A commenter quickly pointed out that it was "an easy game"–that is, picking random groups few people remember and talking about how great they are.
I concur. Easy is one of my favorite things.
That said, you don't have to dig too hard in the pop-culture dumpster to find bands no one gives a shit about. Take, for instance, Rainbow. Formed by Deep Purple guitarist Ritchie Blackmore in 1975, the band launched Ronnie James Dio's career–and became a thoroughly respectable hard rock band that handled proto-metal fist-pumpers and Ren-Faire ballads with equal decency. But Rainbow's music became diluted as Blackmore continued to hire and fire members at a dizzying rate–culminating in the acquisition of unlikely frontman Graham Bonnet in 1980.
With his immaculate short hair and sunglasses–not to mention the sonic and emotional range of a toilet plunger–Bonnet was one of the nails in Rainbow's coffin. Still, the short-lived Bonnet lineup managed to pump out the incredible, Russ Ballard-penned single, "Since You Been Gone." It's a weird tune: Catchy enough to have snagged the coveted #57 spot on the Billboard Hot 100 the year of its release, it remains a pseudo-staple (that is, you might hear it twice a year) on classic-rock radio. But it's far too raw–and, yes, oddly ballsy–to fit comfortably in that decade's blow-dried power-ballad pantheon. As Rainbow has faded to a footnote in rock history, "Since You Been Gone" has become a footnote of that footnote. It still kicks Kelly Clarkson's ass, though.
Rainbow, "Since You Been Gone" (1980)
If you would've asked me in 1992 what my favorite shoegaze band was, I wouldn't have said My Bloody Valentine, Lush, or Ride. I would've said Chapterhouse. I have absolutely no idea why, except for the fact that I loved the video for "Pearl," a song off the English band's 1991 album, Whirlpool. In retrospect, "Pearl" ain't exactly all that–Christ, was there an alt-rock band in the early '90s that didn't sample that Schoolly D/"P.S.K." beat?–and the video is pretty fucking hilarious. But the song still defines, for better or worse, the more accessible, pop-oriented end of shoegaze.
Chapterhouse, "Pearl" (1991)
I've got a huge soft spot for left-wing bands from England in the '80s. Makes sense–after all, what else would a white-trash kid growing up in the Rocky Mountains listen to back then? When Billy Bragg and The Housemartins just aren't enough, I still find myself dipping into nostalgia and pulling out The Redskins. One of the most literally named bands of all time, this collective of socialist skinheads crafted a dumbfounding–and, truth be told, kinda tuneless–mix of punk and soul, a style that drew from Dexys' Searching For The Young Soul Rebels and The Jam's final singles while trying to keep a far more militant and less commercial edge. The video for "It Can Be Done," though, shows just how confused The Redskins–bless their booted-and-braced, hammered-and-sickled little hearts–really were. I mean, seriously: skinheads playing bongos? What's next? Bowling?
The Redskins, "It Can Be Done" (1986)
Sounding like they just got done hearing The Knack, The Pretenders, Blondie, and The Go-Go's on the radio and rushed off to start their own band, Milwaukee's The Shivvers are widely considered a group that should've made it big–"widely considered," that is, among the dozens of people around the world who give a shit about obscure '80s power-pop. Still, you don't need to be a fanatic about the genre to be blown away by the band's "Please Stand By"–by all accounts, a potent blast of hooks and hormones that should be getting laughed at by Debbie Gibson on I Love The '80s right now.
The Shivvers, "Please Stand By" (1981)
"Stellar Fungk" was far from Slave's biggest hit–1977's disco-slanted "Slide" holds that honor–but the group's anthology was named after the far stranger 1978 single. What's most notable about "Stellar Fungk," though, isn't its competent, unflashy funk; it's its robotic vocals. One of the first R&B; records to use the vocoder–soon to be popularized (and then beaten to death) by acts like Zapp & Roger, Newcleus, and Midnight Star–"Stellar" is seven minutes of trippy, sci-fi-fueled, yet predominantly organic funk that contrasts nicely with the stiff, synthesized stuff that was just on the horizon. Anyone who's ever worked at a record store knows that, while Slave is far from a household name, aficionados of oldies R&B; hold Slave's frontman, Steve Arrington, right up there with Stevie Wonder. Or at least Frankie Beverly.
Slave, "Stellar Fungk" (1978)
The sound quality of this YouTube clip is shit, so you'll have to take my word for it: "Take Away" by Orange County's pioneering Big Drill Car is one of the best pop-punk songs ever. And yet, even when pop-punk broke huge in the wake of Green Day, Big Drill Car was mostly ignored. With a sun-drenched bounce that owed a lot to their friends in ALL, the band petered out in 1995 before reuniting this year for some one-off shows. I put "Take Away" on almost every mixtape I made throughout the '90s, even when those tapes started featuring less Rancid and more Mogwai. My friends who still listen to pop-punk don't seem to care much about BDC anymore–but those opening notes of "Take Away" never fail to get my glands squirting like I'm 19 all over again.
Big Drill Car, "Take Away" (1991)
A band that I know nothing about–and that I'd kind of like to keep that way–is Giddy Motors. Fatcat has always been a label I admire a lot, so I checked out Giddy Motor's debut single, "Magmanic," when it came out in early 2002. I know this may sound stupid, but it was exactly the kind of crude, ugly, disgusting, horrific music that made particular sense to me in the months following 9/11. Like the slimiest, most off-kilter bits of In Utero dissolved in a soup of The Jesus Lizard and Dazzling Killmen, GM's debut full-length, Make It Pop, just couldn't find a home in a post-Strokes world. I think Giddy Motors released a follow-up a couple years ago and may even still be around. It'd be great if the group's sick, perverted noise found its way into the nightmares of more listeners–but at the same time, I don't mind that Giddy Motors is, for the most part, still my filthy little secret.
Giddy Motors, "Magmanic" (2002)