Saturday, November 29, 2014

A Brief Summary Of The Paisley Underground AKA When The Bangles Had Street Cred

And the Lord said: "Let there be Paisley." And out of this paisley muck, there arose two Petersons, and Hoffs, and a Steele.

The Paisley Underground was a group of like-minded L.A. bands who were inspired by and/or obsessed with late '60s psychedelic rock ... in the early '80s. When I first heard about this, it didn't sound that unique to me. "Come on, isn't every band inspired by late '60s psychedelic rock?" Well, in the '90s there was Britpop in the UK, and Elephant 6 in the US. But the more that I thought about it, the more I realized that it must have been really anomalous to be making fuzzy garage rock records in 1982, the era of "Physical" and "Hungry Like The Wolf." Somebody's parents forgot to put those Electric Prunes records in the basement, where the kids couldn't find them.

As '80s music scenes go, I'd say the Paisley Underground was not as strong as SST Records, but better than Madchester. There were about five or six core bands, with about three or four other peripheral bands, and nobody's 100% sure even to this day which bands were Paisley Underground and which were not, so take your pick. The Three O'Clock (formerly the Salvation Army) were like the scene's Hollies:

The Dream Syndicate were like the scene's Velvet Underground (of course, the VU did not consider themselves "psychedelic," but they certainly were "late '60s" and every Paisley Underground band eagerly aped their fuzzy, strung-out sound):

Green On Red were like the scene's Doors. The Long Ryders were like the scene's Flying Burrito Brothers. Rain Parade were like the scene's Pink Floyd. In addition, every band was trying to sound exactly like Big Star. In case you think I'm forgetting Game Theory (Tommy Roe?), True West (Paul Revere & the Raiders?), Thin White Rope (solo David Crosby?), the Pandoras (the female Troggs?), David Roback's post Rain Parade duo - and precursor to Mazzy Star - Opal (Nico?), and one-off Paisley Underground supergroup Rainy Day (Neil Young at his most narcoleptic?), well, I'm not.

Yet as exciting, quirky, and eclectic as all these groups were, only one of them would go on to achieve any modicum of fame and fortune. What special quality did the Bangles have that these other bands lacked? What sacred offering were they willing to sacrifice to the Top 40 gods that the Three O'Clock simply couldn't match? To paraphrase another '60s influence, the answer, my friend, is blowing in the smoggy Santa Ana wind.

So who was the model for the Bangles? Well, I'd say a little of all of the previously mentioned bands, but mostly I'd point to what is nowadays called "Sunshine Pop": The Mamas & The Papas, The Turtles, post-1965 Beach Boys, hell let's throw in the Association, the Grass Roots, and the Beau Brummels while we're at it. The Bangles ended up sounding like all the late '60s Southern California bands who were trying their hardest to sound British. Go ahead, listen to their first single, "Getting Out Of Hand," and try not to prance down Carnaby Street in a mini-skirt and a pillbox hat:

A couple of years later, the Bangles released their first EP, featuring "The Real World," which would have been the perfect theme to an MTV reality TV program in an alternate, and possibly better, universe. At this stage, these ladies were walking a lot more like a Liverpudlian than an Egyptian. The video looks like an outtake from an Austin Powers movie, with the girls (including early and soon to be replaced bassist Annette Zilinskas!) apparently playing in the Cavern Club, and nailing mod fashion even more thoroughly than the Jam did. Fab! Gear! Most amusingly, check out Susanna with short hair. I'm starting to think that Annette might have been the most attractive one of them all; Wikipedia claims she left "to focus on her own project," but come on, we know what really happened.

However, if the Bangles were hoping to spend the rest of the decade fooling around in their little retro world with their garage-dwelling comrades, well, the '80s had other plans.

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