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Paisley Underground: A small scene with a great heritage

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Los Angeles, in the early 1980s and some of the local youth form their own bands, playing for their friends. Although influenced by Punk they began, however, to play a music that differed significantly from it and it was more reminiscent of the Psychedelic and Garage Rock of the 1960s

It began with Steve Wynn, who in 1980 returned to LA, after a short period of absence for studies. There, he felt out of place both he and the other musicians in the neighborhood (most of them lived in West Hollywood). They may indeed had found inspiration in Punk Rock, but had reached a point of rejecting it. First, they saw some segments of the Punk movement in the region to degenerate into a violent neo-fascist caricature and secondly they themselves did not feel quite "rebellious" to join a broader subculture that did not know against whom they were revolting... Their own concern was to play music that would sparkle through long and unstructured jam sessions, in which the psychedelic feeling of late 1960s California would be dominant. In this respect their artistic direction was actually out of fashion. 

So, these groups preferred to play for themselves and their friends. They gathered on Sundays for beer and barbeque and then started the endless jamming. Each of these bands, of course, had their own favorite artists whose sound were trying to recreate by playing dozens of covers. The Dream Syndicate of Steve Wynn favored The Velvet Underground, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Quiksilver Messenger Service and Crazy Horse. The Long Ryders had more Folk and Country influences, preferring the Flying Burrito Brothers, Byrds and Buffalo Springfield. The Byrds and Springfield were also The Bangles favorites , but they also liked The Mamas & The Papas. The Three O'Clock were clearly influenced by the pure Pop of the Bee Gees and The Monkeys. The Rain Parade found inspiration in the psychedelia of Love, while Green on Red, perhaps the lesser integrated into this strange family had clearly more Garage Rock influences in their bag and liked The Doors. Other influences for these bands included Big Star and The Soft Boys of Robyn Hitchcock, who were 1970s bands. 

These six bands would form the Paisley Underground scene, which was characterized by the persistence of its "members" to play a pure psychedelic Pop, based on guitar and melodic choruses, which were clearly distinct by the technological Synth Pop and of course the crude Punk, Post-Punk and Goth sounds that characterized the era. When they began to write their own songs, the evolution was rapid. Almost all of the bands became popular and although they belonged to what was then the independent music scene, some of them signed contracts with large record companies or became mainstream pop acts, such as Bangles who reached number 1 in the US Top Ten with "Walk Like an Egyptian". 

During this period, the popularity of the scene influenced several New Wave or Neo-Psychedelic bands such as Echo & The Bunnymen, The Green Pajamas and Teardrop Explodes, while their affinity with Jangle Pop bands like R.E.M. and 10.000 Maniacs was obvious. But they also influenced artists belonging to completely different genres, such as Prince, who apart from giving to The Bangles "Manic Monday", he wrote "Paisley Park" (and then named his own recording company likewise), a song included in his psychedelic album Around the World in a Day, which was influenced by Paisley. 

And at this point a paradox concerning the name of the scene should be explained. As we have seen in the tribute article on Northern Soul, the term Paisley Underground was also pretty accidentally attributed to the scene after a paisley dress that the bassist of a local Punk band in a "jam session" wore in the presence of The Three O'Clock singer Michael Quercio, who made a humorous comment about the "Paisley Undergound" sound he heard during the jam session. Later, in a radio broadcast he rather mockingly repeated the term, when asked by the broadcaster what was the style of the music the band was playing. The label stuck, mainly because radio producers and journalists for their own convenience used it, although it was never accepted by the bands! But the harm was already done...

The good thing on the other hand is the legacy of this small local scene. For Steve Wynn, who is very popular in Greece, we don’t have to say much. Perhaps for The Dream Syndicate the characterization that together with The Velvet Underground, The Stooges and R.E.M. are considered to be among the foundations of Alternative Rock is a great attribute. Green on Red bridged the gap between Folk Rock of the 1960s with Alternative Country that was sprung in the 1990s, while similar was the influence of The Long Ryders in the transformation of Country Rock to Americana. The Rain Parade inspired younger neo-Psychedelic Garage groups such as The Allah-Las. Finally, groups that sprang up after the end of this short-lived scene, such as Opal that later became Mazzy Star and linked so beautifully their origin with their music by rearranging Green on Red’s "Hair and Skin" are also important and made musical history on their own accord. 

It is also good the fact that some groups still throw concerts or enter studios to record new stuff. The Bangles released Sweetheart of The Sun in 2011, The Rain Parade are reformed, The Three O'Clock played at the Coachella festival in 2013, and The Dream Syndicate presented the same year in London their entire debut album The Days Of Wine And Roses. Eventually Steve, if you do not tell us, we are never going to tell you when it's over ...

The Days of Wine and Roses, The Dream Syndicate, 1982, Ruby/Slash Records
All Over the Place, The Bangles, 1984, Columbia
Gravity Talks, Green on Red, 1983, Slash Records
Emergency Third Rail Power Trip, Rain Parade, 1983, Enigma/Zippo
Naive Sons, The Long Ryder, 1984, Ariola
Sixteen Tambourines, The Three O’Clock, 1983, Frontier

Texts (Sources)

  • All Music, The Guardian, Uncut, Wikipedia
author's image (Solus Ipse Gherkin)

about author
Solus Ipse Gherkin

Solus Ipse Gherkin hails from a distant planet and landed on Earth in 1968 because of an accident during an intergalactic journey. Since then, he strove to acquire earthly existence but managed to become a human only recently, in 2015. In the past, his alien nature found shelter at frequencies, laser beams and optical fibers inside which he could only feel and understand music. Today, although he is, at last, a human he can do nothing else but to live, speak and write about music (and for this reason the rest of humankind treats him with the appropriate kindness).

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