The Communal Moniker Was Either a Godsend or an Albatross
July 9, 2007 3:28 PM   Subscribe

The Paisley Underground. From about 1982 to 1985, the Los Angeles club scene featured a bunch of guitar bands on the verge of being the next big thing, including The Dream Syndicate, Green on Red, The Long Ryders, The Rain Parade, Game Theory (later known as The Loud Family) and, of course, The Bangles (the only ones who managed to actually become a big thing). Michael Quercio of The Three O'Clock and Salvation Army inadvertently named the scene "Paisley underground" when he made an off handed joke during a radio interview. Most of the bands are now, to borrow a phrase from Game Theory leader Scott Miller, languishing in national obscurity, as opposed to local obscurity.
posted by Joey Michaels (30 comments total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
I just managed to find The Three O'Clock's " Arrive Without Travelling" on vinyl. "Her Head's Revolving" was a rippin' tune and it still sounds good now.
I used to listen to all of these bands on KJET (1590AM) back in the day. Thanks for the memories!
posted by black8 at 3:43 PM on July 9, 2007

GREAT post. I loved so many of these groups in high school!
posted by scody at 3:48 PM on July 9, 2007

Game Theory's 1987 Lolita Nation, while outside of the actual Paisley Underground time frame, was maybe the finest album to emerge from the scene. I've owned it an every format I was able to own it on. YMMV.
posted by Joey Michaels at 3:58 PM on July 9, 2007 [1 favorite]

This is a torch that's been picked up and passed around the various mp3 blogs for some time.
posted by unmake at 3:59 PM on July 9, 2007

There was some of the best mescaline around in the summer of 1984. Made me raid the local goodwill for any paisley I could find. Had a blast. And I still think "Days of Wine and Roses" is one of the best albums ever made.
posted by kuujjuarapik at 4:00 PM on July 9, 2007

i recently got into the long ryders, who are pretty kickass. they basically explain how we got from gram parsons to uncle tupelo.
posted by snofoam at 4:13 PM on July 9, 2007

I put in a plug for the Long Ryders several years ago, and I urge everyone to check them out. My brother used to be Sid Griffin's roommate, and I went to all their shows when they played NYC—he's a great guy, and they deserved a lot more success than they got.
posted by languagehat at 4:18 PM on July 9, 2007

Nice set o' links ya got there, Joey Michaels! Now I guess I have to get out of the thread before all the 'your fave band sux' BS begins...
posted by spilon at 4:39 PM on July 9, 2007

I thought this post was going to be about this Paisley Underground
posted by PeterMcDermott at 4:41 PM on July 9, 2007

This probably wasn't strictly confined to LA. I can't really comment on the musical style (only familiar with Rain Parade & The Dream Syndicate - seconding Days of Wine & Roses) but the whole paisley thing was done down under as well, with bands like The Church, The Stems, The Moffs & The Lime Spiders. Similarly, the glorious Flying Nun label from NZ would have had acts like The Chills & The Bats with a similar look & crowd.

The "swampy" uniform would have been pretty much Doc Martens, brothel creepers or pointy boots, tight black jeans & paisley shirts for the guys, usually Doc boots, opaque stockings, mini skirt & coloured skivvies for the girls.
posted by UbuRoivas at 4:44 PM on July 9, 2007

I didn't know he was a "somebody" at the time, but Karl Precoda taught my English Lit seminar. After I discovered his previous life as a skronkmeister, I'd look up the Dream Syndicate in music reviews, which would invariably refer to Karl as being "M.I.A." or something. I thought that was funny.
posted by LionIndex at 4:46 PM on July 9, 2007

Lolita Nation is indeed truly great as is just about anything Scott Miller is remotely involved in. I'm just glad I've had the chance to see him play and that he's making music again after a long hiatus. (I've even had dinner with him with a group of fans; he is both gracious and ferociously smart). "Genius" is a seriously overused word in music but as far I'm concerned, when it comes to making intelligent and original pop, he is one.

And did you know you could ask him things? (Even if you're not a fan, those archives are well worth the read.)

Thanks sincerely for the post.
posted by melissa may at 4:49 PM on July 9, 2007

Oh, hell yeah. Scott Miller kicks ass, and Lolita Nation is amazing. (Well, except for those two songs by what's-her-name, and most of side 3, but close enough...) Many thanks!
posted by equalpants at 5:00 PM on July 9, 2007

I just recently discovered that my CD copy of "Lolita Nation"could fetch a pretty penny on the used market. I won't be selling.

Anyone else remember a band that emerged from that scene, Lions & Ghosts? Their debut, "Velvet Kiss, Lick of the Lime" is an old fave of mine.
posted by davebush at 5:11 PM on July 9, 2007

Karl Precoda did release four albums in the 90s/early 2000s under the moniker Last Days Of May. All of them are instrumental and most of them have heroic amounts of guitar squonk though they're closer to free jazz than the Dream Syndicate.

(full disclosure: I ran a label that released the first LDOM album)
posted by quartzcity at 5:47 PM on July 9, 2007

Nice post. I bought Rain Parade's Explosions In The Glass House when I was in high school ( mid 80's). I didn't know anything about the paisley underground movement at the time. I loved (still do) Remote Luxury by the Church. Like unmake said above, I've been reading about these bands on various blogs. Thanks for the post.
posted by Sailormom at 6:50 PM on July 9, 2007

3rding Rain Parade. I bought Emergency Third Rail Power Trip in high school and still listen to it frequently. It's an amazing record. If you like Elephant 6 stuff, you'll love Rain Parade.
posted by echolalia67 at 7:02 PM on July 9, 2007

Scott Miller is a genius. The Loud Family's output far outpaced that of Game Theory's, in my opinion: tougher, leaner, even more idiosyncratic, and catchy as smallpox.
posted by mykescipark at 8:05 PM on July 9, 2007

If you like these bands, you might enjoy Brian Jonestown Massacre. You can download all their music for free.
posted by Sailormom at 8:54 PM on July 9, 2007

I grew up on this music; it was the first scene I ever really took to. I have fond memories of seeing several of these bands live. Thanks this post!
posted by donovan at 10:00 PM on July 9, 2007

If you like Elephant 6 stuff, you'll love Rain Parade.
posted by echolalia67

On this, I've got to say yes and an emphatic no (sorry for the derail). It's easy to say that the two were into 60s pop, but I think that Elephant 6 (E6) are like The Paisley Underground (in no small part because they began as really good friends with really good hallucinogens), but I think that their influences are vastly different from the LA bands. My SO and I have talked about this kind of thing a lot and this is hard to condense into a brief comment, so bear with me.

The Paisley Underground was more about the highly crafted pop song. Everything was bright and shiny because they found access to real studios. Their influence was definitely anything you can find on a Nuggets comp, but, respectfully, in a way I'm not sure it went much past that. Elephant 6 relied on the 4 track recordings that were all they could afford as Louisiana teens in their bedrooms, utilizing distortion and the beautiful mistake (even during In the Aeroplane Over the Sea as documented in this book) to create their music.

The esthetics couldn't be more different. Scott Miller creates highly polished records with a TS Eliot-style lyrical complexity (he even references The Wasteland). The E6 is more like what I always hoped the Beats would be, a kind of unselfconscious but really rich and meaningful heartfelt surrealism. (For instance, the "Green Typewriter" suite from Olivia Tremor Control's first album, as well as Jeff Mangum's insistence that the lines

And it's so sad to see the world agree
That they'd rather see their faces fill with flies,
All when I'd want to keep white roses in their eyes.

have nothing to do with The German White Rose Society during WW II, but rather came to him in a "dream." And, strangely, I believe him.).

I would also argue that the E6 listened way more to Tall Dwarfs who were completely in love with the Beatles (their song "Meet the Beatle" is about one of them meeting George Harrison) and who were around at the same time as the Paisley Underground, as well as Neu!'s motorik repetition slowed down to a Southern pace, and, of course, musique concrète much more than they were into The Leaves or possibly, Captain Beefheart (or even Gram Parsons, as mentioned by the amazing languagehat).

All of which is to say that it's possible to love both what the E6 and The Paisley Underground were up to, but it doesn't necessarily follow that you will given one or the other.
posted by sleepy pete at 10:09 PM on July 9, 2007 [1 favorite]

Game Theory played at, and then crashed at, my college fraternity in 1987 or so. Good band, nicer people...
posted by AJaffe at 6:03 AM on July 10, 2007

Gotta add my $0.02, even if it is largely a 'me too' post.

Scott Miller is a genius and a really nice unassuming guy, Lolita Nation is a masterwork (please, someone, reissue it!).

It was an incredible trip to finally get to see and meet him at a Loud Family show sometime in the 90s - I got to thank him personally.

Also, Dream Syndicate's first record (Days Of Wine And Roses) still gets played over and over again on my internal boombox.
posted by jsapn at 7:08 AM on July 10, 2007

Back in 1984, I had never heard of the Paisley Underground, but after hearing "John Coltrane Stereo Blues" on WDET's late night punk show, I went out and bought a cassette of Medicine Show, Dream Syndicate's second album. I really liked it. It doesn't appear to be available on CD, so I bought a record recently and ripped it.
posted by rfs at 8:07 AM on July 10, 2007

Obligatory YouTube links:

Dream Syndicate: Days of Wine and Roses live

Green on Red: Jimmy Boy live

The Long Ryders: Looking for Lewis and Clark video

The Rain Parade: My Secret Country live

Game Theory: Erica's Word video

The Bangles: Going Down to Liverpool video

The Three O'Clock: Her head's Revolving video

From the Old Grey Whistle Test: The Paisley Underground, Part One

Part Two
posted by Joey Michaels at 1:29 PM on July 10, 2007

I saw several of these bands live, mostly, if I remember correctly, at the Music Machine on Pico in Santa Monica/West L.A., or this place down in Costa Mesa next to a biker bar, and Dream Syndicate is the one I remember. Karl Precoda was a mesmerizing thing at the time.
posted by goofyfoot at 5:20 PM on July 10, 2007

A beautiful post and follow-up links. Thank you.
posted by sophieblue at 5:43 PM on July 10, 2007

how about shiva burlesque?
posted by oigocosas at 6:33 PM on July 10, 2007

ok, enough of my shenanegans...have some hyperlinks whydontcha!

shiva burlesque

mercury blues' "peace" with youtube fandom vid montage
posted by oigocosas at 6:46 PM on July 10, 2007

I adore The Dream Syndicate (and Steve Wynn's recent albums are amazing, too), but it's a testament to Scott Miller's artistry that a post about the Paisley Underground (generally assumed to refer to the LA scene) becomes a Game Theory/Loud Family (outta Davis/Sacto) love fest. I can't think of anyone who is at the same time so gifted a lyricist and hook generator... somebody give this cat a genius grant already.

Also of note: True West, Clay Allison/Opal (prototype Mazzy Star with the Syndicate's Kendra Smith in the Hope Sandoval role) and the forgotten, but rather wonderful, Romans, whose "I'm So Happy" has been stuck in my head since 1983.
posted by Scram at 11:10 PM on July 10, 2007

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