Way before gangsta rap became the dominant and domineering style in the region, California’s hip-hop flavor of choice was electro. In stark contrast to ‘90s gangsta rap’s recycled P-Funk grooves and obsession with street authenticity, the more style-conscious West Coast electro of the 1980s looked to European synth innovators like Kraftwerk and, with keyboards and drum machines in tow, melded post-disco innovations with rap bravado to create a slick and sleek brand of futurist dance music. Unfortunately, this pivotal era of West Coast hip-hop is often ignored, both by broader musical histories and even some of the artists themselves who have a certain image they’d like to maintain (if you really want to listen to some of Dr. Dre’s best work, I’d recommend seeking out the tracks he cut in the ‘80s with the decidedly un-gangsta World Class Wreckin’ Cru).
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In May 1985 Frank Black (AKA Black Francis AKA Charles Thompson) had a decision to make—he was living in Puerto Rico, avoiding his classes, and decided that he needed to do something different. His options were either go to New Zealand to see Haley’s Comet or to Boston to start a band with his college buddy, Joey Santiago. He chose the latter and quickly added an electrical engineering student named David Lovering on drums and a bassist named Kim Deal when she was the sole respondent to a classified ad seeking someone with a fondness for Peter, Paul & Mary and Hüsker Dü. They were four fairly ordinary-looking people without much musical experience, but it’s not overstating things to say that as the Pixies they would go on to change the face of modern rock music.
The UK’s Official Charts Company recently announced that Queen’s 1981 Greatest Hits collection is the first album in Britain to sell over six million copies. That figure, if you notice, also makes Greatest Hits the best-selling record in British history. To put that feat in perspective, note that the album outpaces popular works by fellow British royalty the Beatles (at number three on the country’s all-time sales list with Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band), Oasis (number five with (What’s the Story) Morning Glory?), and Pink Floyd (number seven for The Dark Side of the Moon). Even global superstars ABBA (number two), Michael Jackson (numbers six and nine), and Madonna (number 11) can’t best that.
Queen has long been considered a national treasure in its home country, but in other places (namely, the United States) the group has had to gradually allow its legacy to grow large enough to help it escape the dismissals of critics and earn it its proper place in the rock pantheon. Sniffed at for its penchant for campy bombast, its flights of fancy, and its brazen showmanship, history has proven those qualities to be among the band’s virtues. Look no further than 1985’s Live Aid extravaganza to see how Queen measures up in the wider scheme of music—it took the stage the same day as scores of other rock and pop icons, and in 20 minutes mopped the floor with the lot of them.
When “Loser” broke in 1994, alt-rock was still sorting through the deluge of acts major labels pounced on in the post-Nirvana landscape. If anyone predicted they could tell which acts were going on to lasting careers (e.g. Radiohead, Sheryl Crow) and which acts were destined for footnote ‘90s relic status (e.g. Soup Dragons, Candlebox), they were lying.
That’s what made Beck‘s biography so intriguing. On first listen, “Loser” was as much a novelty song as Deadeye Dick’s “New Age Girl”. But repeated listens of his breakthrough album Mellow Gold showed an artist who sounded like he took all of the signature sounds of Los Angeles (punk, Latino-infused rock, hip-hop, and folk) and put them in a slow cooker and turned it on “low” for about 12 hours.
Valentine’s week is saturated with ads for ridiculously overpriced roses and chocolates that you’re supposed to buy your significant other to prove you love them at least for one day a year. It’s also a holiday that obviously excludes those who are single, or those who are still trying to pick up the pieces of a pervious relationship. Some of the greatest albums have been born from this exact scenario.
The most famous of these albums have backstories as interesting as the music. Be it a musician who retreated into the woods of Wisconsin, an artist who chose to follow-up a mega-selling blockbuster with a decidedly unanthematic look at a disintegrating relationship, or a group of musicians who were breaking up with one another under a haze of cocaine, these albums provide the soundtrack to that other side of love.
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