In this – the “American” week of my “The Real Eighties” series – I’m focusing on American bands.
Of course, the first day was the return to roots-y music (and yes, I missed a slew of bands), which meant a lot of references to sixties R&B-based rock and roll. Yesterday, of course, was Latin day, with Los Lobos.
But the eighties were a bit of a renaissance for that other singularly American genre, country-western.
Country-Western had spent most of the seventies mired in an attempt to “cross over” with the pop charts. The C&W charts were dominated by the bilious, pop-ified likes of Kenny Rogers, Barbara Mandrell, Eddie Rabbitt, Alabama and a slew of other more forgettable product.
There was a backlash, of course; the “Outlaw Movement” – Waylon Jennings, Willy Nelson, Hank Williams Junior, Kris Kristofferson and Johnny Cash studiously avoided crossing over, and did about the only memorable C&W of the decade, at least to this rock and roller.
Now, in the nineties Country made a huge roaring comeback, with artists like Garth Brooks, the Judds and a slew of others twanging it up old-school style (with a healthy dose of bleeding-edge technology and pop hooks thrown in for good measure).
But it was the country, and alternative-country, of the eighties that tied those two together, and breathed a bit of life into country’s somnolent hulk.
More below the jump, so the rest of the blog can actually load…
In the years before heroin addiction, jail time, bankruptcy and socialism turned him into a carnival freak show, Steve Earle put the nasty back into country.
“Guitar Town” twanged away unapologetically…
…and, later in the decade, “Copperhead Road” – with guest artists like Telulide and the Pogues – dug into appalachian music’s gaelic roots; not just for music, but for cultural matieral. The title cut is a malevolent ode to the scots-irish moonshiner culture through the ages….
…on an album that had him labeled, for a while, as “the country Springsteen” (helped by the inclusion of a cover of Bruce’s “Nebraska” as the flip side of the radio edit of “Copperhead Road”.
More traditional – and more subversive, in its own way – was Dwight Yoakam, who unapologetically did the straightest, purest honky-tonk music this side of fellow Bakersfield, Californian Buck Owens.
In between was songwriter John Hiatt – older and arguably wiser, having spent a chunk of the middle of the decade in spin dry, and coming back with several albums of wry, wonderful writing that used its southern accent almost like an instrument in its own right.
And, as the decade ended, Social Distortion closed the circle – mixing traditional country and punk rock in a way that sounded a lot more natural on record than by way of description.