With the advent of MTV, the music industry took serious flight during the 80s. And just about every scene had its most commercial proxies showcased on the channel in some form or another. There was lots of the requisite radio rock but also heaping helpings of hard rock and metal, plus a poppier, more benign approximation of punk and post-punk referred to as “new wave.” While purists may lament the explicit commercialism of the period, it was, nevertheless, a big time for music in general.
Once in a while, a few of the more offbeat bands would even sneak onto the video channel, or at least benefit by the newfound interest in some of the more nascent scenes that were touched upon during the wee hours of the broadcast. A few reissues and new releases of the past few months provides a decent cross-section of such stuff and highlights a few of the decade’s dimmer, but no less valid, stars.
The Lords of the New Church were a punk supergroup comprised of ex-Dead Boy Stiv Bators, The Damned’s ex-guitarist Brian James, Dave Tregunna of Sham 69, and Nicky Turner of the Barracudas. Formed in the early 80s, the band released three albums via I.R.S. Records between 1982-84, toured the world, and had influence on a number of underground scenes ranging from gothic to street-glam bands.
With a knack for creating both gloomy atmospherics and infectious hooks, the band’s sound had an obvious 60s garage rock influence balanced with a punk sneer and eerie, gothic flourishes thanks to its swirling keyboard accents. Add in the band’s scrappy image—a gaggle of black shags atop a post-apocalyptic mix of patent leather, fishnets and vintage threads—and the Lords were something altogether different.
The band’s eponymous debut still stands as its best offering and was treated to a plush, two-disc reissue a little while back courtesy of Blixa Sounds. With crisp, remastered sound, the original album sounds reenergized coming though, especially on standout tracks “New Church,” “Russian Roulette,” and the single (and early MTV staple) “Open Your Eyes.” This deluxe issue also features a second CD of live tracks from a 1982 concert, plus a booklet, all packaged in a colorful digipack. For fans of the band or the era, this is the definitive article of a band that deserves far more fanfare that it has received over the years.
UK street-punk merchants The Business also made quite a racket during in their 80s heyday. Often classified as an Oi band (for the uninitiated, a sub-genre of second-wave punk bands big on primitive anthems, Doc martens, and fights), The Business had a knack for bigger hooks and more thoughtful lyrics than many of their contemporaries. Their early single “Harry May” perhaps exemplifies this best. With its incendiary call-and-response vocals and relentless riffs, it manages to keep its musicality intact while still creating quite a racket.
The band’s signature take on the genre had a lot to do with vocalist Micky Fitz, whose big personality and candid style was a standout. Fitz passed away in 2016 after decades of touring with the band. Another key player is longtime bassist Mark Brennan, who would go on to launch iconic punk label Link Records and eventually Captain Oi! Records, a label that recently released the killer box set The Business: 1980-88.
The set features most all of the band’s 80s output across five CDs and a mammoth 96 tracks, all packaged in a plush, glossy box. From the band’s debut album Suburban Rebels to lost recordings (that actually did get stolen), live LP demos and band’s 1985 album, Saturday’s Heroes for punk purists, this one’s a keeper.
1980s goth/industrial pioneers Alien Sex Fiend, who made a bit of a splash in the UK’s legendary Batcave Club, recently released Possessed, an album of all-new material. Taking the dark, punk theatrics of earlier purveyors The Damned to far spookier heights, the band—led by resident loon Nik Fiend—draped itself in horror makeup and deviant duds and churned out a nuclear-fueled dance attack replete with slithery guitars, booming beats, and Fiend’s often-incomprehensible scowls.
Possessed keeps pace with much of the band’s earlier output. There’s nothing groundbreaking or particularly new here (eerie machine drums, skewed guitars, and Fiend’s lyrical twists), but numbers such as “Shit’s Coming Down” and “It’s in My Blood” sound very fresh and contemporary, giving ASF the last laugh, as they’ve truly outlasted most all of their peers. On top of that, the band have done so by obviously not giving two shits about commercial appeal, because you’ll find little of that here, which makes this a pretty traditional ASF record when all is said and done. (Cherry Red)
Second-wave punks G.B.H. need no introduction. But if you need one, just check this link for a deeper dive into the band’s early years. New box G.B.H: The Rough Justice Years continues the band’s journey collecting its recorded output from 1985-1995, when it took a decidedly more metal turn.
1984’s Midnight Madness & Beyond sounds as violent and alive as ever in its new, remastered form. The set also includes the LPs No Need to Panic, A Fridge Too Far, From Here to Reality, and Church of the Truly Warped, plus a bevy of bonus tracks. The set comes in a deluxe clamshell box with a book and expanded artwork. (Captain Oi! Records)
No discussion of the 80s underground would be complete without a mention of the early thrash scene. Besides Metallica and the clutch of Bay Area upstarts that flooded the underground tape-trading movement (the original streaming service), the next band that comes to mind has to be Megadeth. Love him or hate him, founder Dave Mustaine crafted a sound and style like no other. And while the band’s lineup has had an open-door policy since their inception, their music is unmissable.
Warheads on Foreheads is a three-CD/four-LP set commemorating the band’s 35th anniversary (just after Dave’s unceremonious firing from Metallica), and includes a fair amount of the early shit that cemented their 80s thrash legacy: stuff from their first two albums like “Killing is My Business,” “Mechanix,” “Devil’s Island,” and more. The set takes us all the way up through 2016’s Dystopia, and it all sounds extra-heavy on the plush vinyl set. (Universal)
For questions, comments, or something you’d like to see, drop me a line at Retrohead77@yahoo.com.