The Silence Kit | Innovators
If it weren't for the following bands/artists, there would be no punk, post-punk, alternative rock or indie rock. These were the original innovators.
The Birth of Indie Rock and Alternative Rock
The Velvet Underground are considered in most circles to be both the original proto-punk band and the godfathers of indie rock, and with good reason. In the late 60’s Lou Reed and company were making the kind of music that no one else had ever made previously. The band was so inspiring at their peak, it's been said that anyone who saw the Velvet Underground immediately went out and started a band of their own. Whereas most bands up to this point were very obviously blues-based, the Velvets had a rule within the band that stated "no blues licks," and they stuck by it. Musically, they went from gentle and orchestrated, to feedback drenched psychedelic freakouts, and lyrically, Reed sang about subjects no one had dared to touch upon previously. Starting with their self titled debut is a great start, but their unreleased 4th album, which was finally released in the 80s as "VU," is my personal favorite. If you want to hear the birth of indie rock, you need to get some Velvet Underground albums. Just off the top of my head, Joy Division, Sonic Youth, Yo La Tengo, My Bloody Valentine, The Pixies, Nirvana, most bands we’ve heard of and trillions of bands we’ve never heard of would not exist if it weren’t for Velvet Underground breaking new ground back in the late 60s.
David Bowie had been making music since the mid-60s and had a hit with "Space Oddity," but in my opinion, it wasn’t until Hunky Dory that Bowie really started creating undeniably important music. The acclaimed Ziggy Stardust album soon followed and is, of course, a landmark for pretty much all genres of rock music – hard rock, glam rock, and virtually all sub-genres of melodic rock music. My favorite Bowie era, though, is from the mid 70s. These were his so-called "Berlin years," as he was living and recording in Berlin at the time. "Low," "Heroes" and "Lodger" are from this era and were created by Bowie, his band, Brian Eno and producer Tony Visconti. He was obviously influenced by Kraut rock – a new genre immerging at the time, spearheaded by bands like Can and Kraftwerk, but he brought that multi-octave voice of his and used it more like an instrument than ever before. The Berlin albums featured repetitive, hypnotic rhythms, with strange futuristic synth and guitar treatments and production. With Bowie singing, these songs slowly reveal themselves as being some of the most expressive songs ever put to tape - quite a wide spectrum of feelings are displayed. The songs sound bright, catchy and upbeat, yet they also exude a pretty bleak claustrophobia.
Iggy Pop, fresh from the ashes of the venerable proto-punk band The Stooges, went to Berlin to record his first solo album with Bowie. The two of them wrote, played and recorded the album together with Bowie’s band and created an album that encapsulates everything I love about Bowie’s work at this time, but with none of the Brian Eno crafted instrumentals that made up half of Bowie’s releases. This album, entitled "The Idiot," featuring "Nightclubbing," which enjoyed a bit of a resurgence thanks to Trainspotting, is methodical, mechanical and at times infectious, Iggy’s wounded-baritone voice leading each song through its definitive groove, and, like the Bowie albums released in this timeframe, for all its fun on the surface, its also got a darkness bubbling beneath. The lyrics detail nightmarish stories ("China Girl") to terminal boredom and depression ("Mass Production"), via stream-of-consciousness narratives and lyrical prose. Iggy’s second album, Lust for Life had a few "hits" on it, namely, its title track, and also "Passenger." It’s a good album as well, but not as dark or cohesive, much more of a mixed bag, but with tons of personality. Both of these albums were mined for material by Bowie when he was running low on quality songs in the 80s. And although the Bowie versions of "China Girl" and "Tonight" are beloved and pop perfection, the original Iggy versions are compelling and magical in a completely different way.
Leonard Cohen was one of the first singer/songwriters to start getting scary. Of course this oversimplifies it, but the fact is, people just didn't sing about the topics he was writing and singing about. His voice, in a deep baritone, he would sing about harrowing experiences and feelings and it evoked these feelings in the listener. His voice was untrained and a bit all over the place here and there for his earliest work but the songs were tremendous. Some of his 80s and early 90s albums have some of his best songs, and suffer a bit from very dated production values, so starting with something in the middle of his career might be a good first album to pick up.
Syd Barrett has been written about in an exhaustive manner, but most people focus on a couple aspects of his personal life that I won't even get into, because it's beside the point. The fact is, he was the singer/songwriter/guitar player for Pink Floyd's first album "Piper at the Gates of Dawn" and later left the band, and recorded a couple of shambolic solo albums that were only about 25 years ahead of their time. These solo albums, "Madcap Laughs" and "Barrett" are the absolute blueprint for indie rock and for lo fi, and all the other sub-genres associated with those. Specifically, there would be no Guided By Voices without Syd Barrett. The first album is looser than the latter, "Barrett," being more polished due to Roger Waters and David Gilmour's overdubs and production. Both albums are incredible and if you like one, you're sure to like them both. "Opel," a collection of lost takes and b-side material is for huge fans only.
The Beatles had some good songs. And other people agree with me. But seriously, I will just name my personal favorite albums, since more than enough has been written about the Beatles elsewhere. Personally, "Rubber Soul" and "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" are my two favorite Beatles albums, although I like "Magical Mystery Tour" a lot as well. "Rubber Soul" being the last great album before they got "weird" and experimental, and "Sgt. Peppers" being in the running for best album ever. I know Don has a thing for the "White Album" and "Abbey Road"...
The Beach Boys were a band I thought I knew everything about when I was 5 years old - Barbara Ann, Surfin USA, Kokomo, etc. But of course, I discovered "Pet Sounds" and had to reevlauate absolutely everything. Quite simply, its a brilliant, amazing record. Sonically, it's gorgeous and rocking simultaneously. From a writing perspective, Brian Wilson penned his most incredible songs for this album, touching on emotions he was feeling that he would never express as clearly or passionately again, and the Beach Boys' harmonies are perfect. Although, Brian Wilson's "SMILE" album would finally come out in the 2000s, and it was supposed to be the follow up, it became clear once released that it was never intended as a continuation of all the aspects of "Pet Sounds," only the theories, harmonies and cut and paste techniques. Personally, I think I like "Pet Sounds" better than "Sgt. Peppers," but that's just my thoughts...