I saw a game show a few years ago that I will never forget. It was a new and improved version of The Dating Game, and the eligible bachelor was asking questions of his three competing bachelorettes. “If you could live at any point in history,” he asked them, “when would you live and why?” Bachelorette one (who has obviously watched Dangerous Liaisons one too many times) said she would live in 18th century France, because of the romance and the beautiful dresses. Bachelorette number two responded that she would live “Right here, right now,” because she believes in looking forward, not looking back. Bachelorette three, wearing a studded dog collar, leopard-print baby tee, and plastic barrettes, looked straight into the camera and said, simply, “I would live in the ‘80s, cuz the best, cheesiest music ever came from the ‘80s!” Truer words have never spoken.
In fact, Gimme Indie Rock: Vol. 1 proves just how right our third and final bachelorette really was, serving as a tour guide for some of the best independent rock to come out of an era known for L.A. Hair Bands, British Hair Bands, and well, lots of other Hair Bands. Sporting artists ranging from Hüsker Dü to Black Flag, and from The Meat Puppets to The Melvins, Gimme Indie Rock is a Who’s Who, an Idiot’s Guide, if you will, to the music of the ‘80s that actually mattered, and that blazed a path for some of the most important musicians of the ‘90s; there is no clearer example than Mudhoney’s glorious “Touch Me I’m Sick,” which reinforces, in case there were any last doubters hanging on, that if there had never been a Mudhoney, there would never have been a Nirvana…or at least the Nirvana that went to change music forever.
Gimme Indie Rock is a collection that celebrates a dying breed of music, and of musicians. In a time in which Kid Rock rules the TRL audience and Limp Bizkit is considered “deep,” Gimmie Indie Rock reminds us of a different time, a time in which there was some actual fucking musicianship going on in garages all over Britain and America, and some musicians actually playing gigs sans corporate sponsorship…or even minimal radio backing. Starting with Hüsker Dü, perhaps the granddaddies of indie rock, the compilation moves though all the usual suspects: Dinosaur Jr., Pussy Galore, The Meat Puppets, Yo La Tengo, The Minutemen, and The Flaming Lips. There are a few omissions that seem hard to explain here (most glaring of all being Throwing Muses, whose importance and influence in indie rock are hard to over-state), but with two discs to work with, the collection provides a nice balance between the predictable inclusions and a few lesser-known freshies.
Stand-out tracks include The Wedding Present’s “My Favourite Dress,” The Wipers’ “Nothing Left To Lose,” “Black Coffee” the way only Black Flag could serve it up, and The Minutemen’s “Political Song For Michael Jackson To Sing.” But then, to single out tracks such as these implies that there is something lesser about The Flaming Lips, Big Dipper, Savage Republic, and Half Japanese, and that’s as wrong as all the Britney Spears albums you can shake a fake tit at. It’s not even that there are some tracks that are “better” than others, as much as the collection itself compliments its own selections; taken as a whole, Gimme Indie Rock: Vol. 1 provides a bird’s eye view into an important part of independent rock that somehow survived (in) an era of Duran Duran fold-out posters and an endless parade of Lionel Richie ballads. A few of the artists here have disappeared into parts unknown, and they aren’t likely to appear on VH-1’s Where Are They Now any time soon. Despite that absence, or perhaps because of it, they continue to influence the best musicians of the ‘90s and remind us that the current trend of “alternative” music on mainstream radio everywhere—not to mention the constant deluge of new “alternative” acts of MTV—would not have been possible if it weren’t for bands like Galaxie 500, Death of Samantha, or The Chills. But don’t hold that against them too quickly; I mean, I’m as tired of The Offspring as the next disillusioned, aging ex-punk, but I’d still take “Get A Job” over the latest Celine Dion any day.
And the very fact that Gimme Indie Rock is on K-Tel is, well, really cool, and makes me wildly giddy. True children of the ‘80s will remember listening to K-Tel compilations that sported Styx’s “Renegade,” Nick Wilder’s “Hot Child in the City,” and anything by The Bay City Rollers, thinking that music could never get any better. It’s enough to make you wanna dust off your roller skates and your “I Know Who Shot J.R.” T-shirt, proudly walk the streets in legwarmers, and hope against all hope that one day, with enough practice, your eye makeup really will look like Siouxsie Sioux’s. But more than tossing me back into a time of Reaganomics and endless Dukes of Hazzard re-runs, this compilation makes me miss indie rock. It makes me wish that there were more bands like Hüsker Dü and The Wedding Present, and less like Backstreet Boys and Kid Rock. It makes me wonder why, if K-Tel can evolve to the superb level of this collection, why haven’t we, collectively, evolved past The Goo-Goo Dolls? Maybe there’s hope yet…
Oh, and as for the brave Bachelorette Number Three? She didn’t get her man. He went with 18th Century France.