Postpunk Chronicles/Postpunk Chronicles/Postpunk Chronicles

Postpunk Chronicles

Going Underground

Rhino

Postpunk Chronicles

Scared to Dance

Rhino

Postpunk Chronicles

Left of the Dial

Rhino

I’ll never forgive Tallahassee radio for completely missing the boat on alternative music in the 1980’s. Every time I turned on the “Sunday Revival” or “The Time Machine,” I was constantly reminded of how much great music I missed out on while in high school and college. Not that I didn’t have my opportunities; it was just that having been raised on radio, I came to expect some things. That’s fine, though. I learned my lesson. Which is one of the reasons why this new series from Rhino is so invaluable; it mines so many of the subgenres of the punk “movement” and reminds us why punk was so important to popular music. What parades around as “alternative” these days may be such a joke, but back then, it truly meant something. In the liner notes, producer Jim Neill quotes Wired magazine’s Byron Coley, who put it best: “The best thing about punk rock was that it ended. Having done just about enough to obliterate the tyranny of musical technique, and to dissolve the perceived social gap between club audience and club performer, punk performed a valuable social function. It cleared the way for a variety of more aesthetically pleasing postpunk musics to exist in a relatively classless underground environment.”

Indeed, punk served as the sacrificial lamb for truly great alternative music in the ’80s. Without punk, there would be no R.E.M., the Smiths, Joy Division/New Order, Sonic Youth, the Cult, Echo & the Bunnymen, the Jam, Wire, Modern English, Thomas Dolby, the Cocteau Twins, the Church, Dream Syndicate. The list is nearly endless, but is recaptured beautifully in this series — and with a few exceptions (“Radio Free Europe,” for example), the not-so-obvious songs are presented here. Better still are the liner notes, which eschew the predictable historical essay in favor of individual responses to songs from those who were there.

If punk taught us navel-gazing narcissism, postpunk taught us to at least do it in time. It was punk with clean guitars, more thoughtful and even heartfelt lyrics, more melody. And yet, the leftist message was left intact. This is where you can hear bands like the Cult, Heaven 17, Simple Minds, and New Order before the mainstream swallowed them near-whole. Instead of “I Melt With You,” you get “Smiles and Laughter,” or “Life in a Day” instead of “Don’t You Forget About Me. “This is the fringe in its most pleasing form. It’s like having your angst and eating it, too. Too bad corporate radio did it as well.

Rhino Records, 10635 Santa Monica Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90025; http://www.rhino.com

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