Welcome to the sixth installment of our (usually) bi-weekly Cannabis Cuts commentated playlist, a tribute and appreciation of the symbiotic relationship between music and Mary Jane. This week we’re taking a look at some of our favorite new wave, post-punk, and synth-pop recordings from the late 1970s and 1980s, an era that’s influence permeates so much of the music we hear today. It’s your parents’ indie and alternative:
“Not Great Men,” Entertainment!, Gang Of Four (1979)
KG: I think post-punk is most identifiable through shrill, piercing electric guitars, simple yet punchy bass lines and, at some point, a near indiscernible vocalist muttering over a sound pallet that evokes debauchery in the United Kingdom. “Not Great Men” was released on the heels of the United Kingdom’s “Winter of Discontent,” a slumping economic and social period in the modern UK. Fortunately for us music fans, this gloomy stretch of time was juxtaposed with an artistic explosion of tunes that captured the dismal uncertainty of what the future would hold. Entertainment!, Gang Of Four’s debut record, is not a pocketful of sunshine– it’s brash in the best way possible. And that’s okay. Music that expresses an overall societal mood is imperative to understanding the context of any record you’re listening to. Although my personal Winter of Discontent was the one I gained 15 pounds during.
“Marquee Moon,” Marquee Moon, Television (1977)
MC: If the title track for your debut album is a guitar epic for the ages, things bode well for you. Tom Verlaine and Co. took on post-punk and new wave (genre names that had yet to be coined at the time) and reintrerpeted it like it was improvisational jazz. The resulting product is a sound that feels completely unique to the group itself and hasn’t quite been replicated by anyone since. The nervous energy in the verses brings to mind the new wave stylings of early CBGB cohorts Talking Heads, but the extended guitar solo which features heavy inteplay between both Verlaine and fellow guitarist Richard Lloyd is so wickedly innovative that it can go toe-to-toe with the best art rock and psychedelic guitar passages. As weird of a contradiction as the classification of art-punk may sound, this is a monumental recording for the space that those two terms exist in.
“Making Plans For Nigel,” Drums and Wires, XTC (1979)
KG: As a child of the early 2000’s, the name Nigel has become synonymous with that of the Wild Thornberrys, a Nickelodeon show that I can literally tell you nothing about because I don’t remember any of the plot, or episodes, just the existence of a cheeky British chap named Nigel and his seemingly rabid son, Donnie (who is voiced by Flea!!!). After typing that out, I feel that it’s essential for me to give you a ranking of my favorite Nickelodeon shows from my childhood.
- Spongbob – I will not entertain discourse on this, the first 4 seasons of Spongebob are as strong of a stretch of animated television as possible.
- Ned’s Declassified School Survival Guide – Did anyone else show up to their middle school thinking this show would be their guiding light to success?
- Legends of the Hidden Temple – THE BLUE BARRACUDAS HAVE DONE IT AGAIN, WHAT A WIN! I was absolutely terrified of the temple guards lurking the halls during the final temple run.
- Ben 10 – That watch had to be expensive.
And by the way, this song is awesome too!
MC: Spongebob Squarepants was the foundation of my childhood as well. While we’re here in Cannabis Cuts, if you get high and are searching for something to watch, watching the strange happenings that go down in Bikini Bottom still hold up remarkably well. If you believe your humor has outgrown Spongebob then you just aren’t funny anymore. On the other hand, I have no clue what Legends of the Hidden Temple is.
KG: Not knowing what Legends of the Hidden Temple is… I knew our tastes clashed, but I didn’t know you were simply uncultured. What a Purple Parrots thing to say.
“Outdoor Miner,” Chairs Missing, Wire (1978)
MC: A delightfully weird little pop song by one of the most important groups involved in the creation of post-punk, “Outdoor Miner” is one of those incredibly brief tracks that manages to feel fully formed in spite of its run time clocking in at under two minutes. After creating a template for future hardcore punk acts on their wildly influential debut Pink Flag (1977), the London group expanded their style to feature more complex arrangements, implemented more synths and keyboards, and drew influence from art rock and psychedelia on their also fantastic sophomore effort Chairs Missing. While the group is best known for their angular and punkier sound, this more subdued track allows their knack for writing unorthodox pop melodies to take center stage.
KG: For a tiny nugget of a song, this thing can’t decide whether it wants to be a more straightforward pop banger, a psych-pop song or a post-punk jam. I say that in the best way possible, there really is no pigeonholing this track into one specific area.
“The Great Curve,” Remain in Light, Talking Heads (1980)
KG: “The world moves on a woman’s hips,” David Byrne yelps out as the third verse begins; surrounded by a tornado of African-inspired percussion, iconically Talking Heads jangle-guitar, a slick brass section and impeccably timed background vocalists to parrot Byrne’s unique cadence. The magic is in the incredible combination of elements that go into a Talking Heads track, every sound you hear feels like it was perfectly improvised to complement the overall soundscape. But Remain in Light, Talking Heads fourth studio album, was hardly a coincidental success – it was the continuation of an already stellar three album run that saw Talking Heads blend post-punk and art-pop in a way that hadn’t really been felt on the mainstream level. And they did it masterfully. A Culture Blender favorite Brian Eno gets the production nod on this record, and his influence can be perceived throughout, notably on the tripped out guitar solo that enters about two minutes into “The Great Curve”.
MC: The African polyrhythms that are heard all over Remain in Light were directly inspired by Brian Eno’s introduction of the group to the music of legendary Nigerean Afrobeat bandleader Fela Kuti. He’s one of the most fascinating figures in modern music, was a Nigerean human rights activist, and it’s a shame he doesn’t get mentioned nearly enough given his incredible discography and influence. If you like what you hear on this track I’d definitely recommend giving him a listen.
“M.E.” The Pleasure Principle, Gary Numan (1979)
KG: A dystopian track sung from the perspective of the last living machine on the remaining barren wasteland of Earth, by happenstance, Gary Numan had successfully written the plot to Wall-E years before it was even a passing thought on the mind of Pixar’s screenplay writers. There is no EVE in this version of the movie though, just bone-chilling synthesizers that make you feel like you’re rolling around in a giant metallic box. The conversation about new wave and synth-pop music needs to start with Gary Numan. He is a visionary ahead of his time, applying musical textures that matched a world bursting with innovative, scary technology and no concept of the power these devices had. Microwaves? Invented in 1946, but I’m just gonna imagine he didn’t know what they were until 1979. They kept him up at night.
“Uncertain Smile,” Soul Mining, The The (1983)
MC: Kevin discussed Soul Mining’s other crown jewel in our third installment of Cannabis Cuts, but this track is equally mesmerizing. It strikes a perfect balance between melancholy, infectious hooks, and a downright ecstatic piano solo by a man who would go on to host a BBC institution, and known Def Leppard disrespecter: Jools Holland. When was the last time you listened to a pop track with a banger piano solo…those moments feel far and few between. Anyways, this album and this track seem to have gained cult-status as hidden classics from the era, and in the age of streaming there’s no reason for their brilliance to stay hidden any longer.
KG: I already had an idea that I would really like this Jools Holland guy, but the Def Leppard shade definitely solidified it. Along with the piano solo is an incredible arrangement of synths unique to Matt Johnson, his sound is very particular and recognizable. And if you weren’t sold on Johnson’s group The The yet, Johnny Marr joins them for 2 of their late 80’s albums. Please indulge.
“Strangelove,” Music for the Masses, Depeche Mode (1987)
KG: Music for the Masses, Depeche Mode’s aptly named 1987 album, rocked the boat in terms of bringing their often cynical synth themes to the mainstream club-rocking level. On prior albums, specifically Black Celebration, Depeche Mode had a more artistic element to their music rather than making straight bops. Not to say that Music for the Masses doesn’t have some songs that are a bit lower key, “Pimpf” is a downward spiral into unknown oblivion, but I feel as though they really met their mark when trying to make an album for mainstream consumption. And Music for the Masses is but a subtle precursor to their incredible follow-up record Violator, which took over radio waves for years to come. In the meantime, dance the night away to the intoxicating beat on “Strangelove”.
“Goodbye Seventies,” Upstairs at Eric’s, Yaz (1982)
KG: Have you ever wondered where La Roux was inspired to make her synth-pop revival hit of the 2000’s, “Bulletproof”? Well wonder no longer, because I think I found it! Yaz, known as Yazoo in the UK, was a synth-savouring duo comprised of former Depeche Mode member Vince Clarke and blues/soul inspired vocalist Alison Moyet. This oddball tandem actually worked out incredibly well, Clarke’s driving synthesizers paired extraordinarily with Moyet’s booming voice, creating a mesh that doesn’t really sound like anyone else in their genre. I guess people probably think the oddball tandem of Max and Kevin work surprisingly well, if only they knew that Max and I have a career losing record at most partner drinking games. Please play better defense in beer-dye, will you Max?
MC: The way Kevin’s offensive game continually leaves me hanging is like Scottie Pippen to the Bulls in Game 3 of the ‘94 playoffs except he’s still tossing – but you wouldn’t know from the results.
KG: Let the record show that I defeated Max in a thrilling 13-11 (win by 2) cornhole game this past weekend, please come back with something more offensive once you can get the sand-bag through a hole.
“I Want A Dog,” Introspective, Pet Shop Boys (1989)
KG: Pet Shop Boys are a mainstay of the 80’s for their ability to craft catchy synthesizer heavy pop music with powerful lyrical themes that were yet to be fully explored. Take, for instance, their 1986 debut album Please, which depicted stories of homosexual life and love in an openness that was uncommon at the time, but with such ambiguity that it could be extrapolated to heterosexual life as well. The writing is witty and often comes off as tongue-in-cheek, but every word Pet Shop Boys utter carries meaning. “I Want A Dog,” off of their 1989 album Introspective, revolves more heavily around the music than lyrics. A phat synth bass line covers the entire track in an endlessly dance-y loop, making for a perfect club track. The standout here is a fun keyboard solo about halfway through the song, effortlessly jumping up and down as the beat pushes forward.
MC: The Pet Shop Boys: Olympic Institution. Kev and I are gonna need to figure out how to replicate this for Halloween 2020.
“Dream Attack,” Technique, New Order (1989)
MC: It’s pretty remarkable to think that out of the ashes of the wildly influential Joy Division, the remaining members went on to create some more of the most wildly influential music of the 1980s as New Order. After evolving out of the the sound of their former band the group became as equally adept at creating post-punk masterpieces as they were synth-driven club anthems – “Blue Monday” is the highest selling 12” of all-time, not bad for what started as an alternative rock group. “Dream Attack,” is the perfect combination of the group’s guitar impulses, blended with the Ibiza acid house sound from the electronic scene they had no small part in creating. Feels worth noting that if I was creating a 1980s alternative All-Star team Peter Hook would be starting at bassist hands down. Anyways, the song maintains a euphoric and danceable quality while also sounding nearly entirely organic. Without New Order’s genre-fusing influence in the 1980’s, there’s not a chance that LCD Soundsystem, Cut Copy, Hot Chip, and countless other indie-dance acts would be quite who they are today.
KG: I played this song at a busy tennis court during one of Max and my legendary tennis matches and it garnered many curious glances at our court. Playing sports to upbeat 80’s music makes every motion feel like you’re in a montage, it’s fucking awesome. There is a required listening section to this song, simply one of my favorite little dance breakdowns I have ever heard. 1:30-1:50. Get funky!
“Laughing,” Murmur, R.E.M. (1983)
KG: The last time we found R.E.M. on a Cannabis Cuts playlist we were examining “Near Wild Heaven” off of their chart topping 1991 record Out of Time. Backtrack eight years to the release of their debut album Murmur and we find a much different Michael Stipe and co. making songs under the R.E.M. banner. This iteration of R.E.M. is a post-punk powerhouse, ignoring the prominent use of synthesizers and guitar solos for a more subtle, lo-fi sound that fits in perfectly with the time. “Laughing” features cryptic Michael Stipe lyrics delivered in a darker manner than future records, leaving plenty of room for the jangly-arpeggio guitar to weave its way in between lyrics. I hear shades of early Smiths records on this song, impressively so when you consider how much R.E.M. developed their sound over time.
“Christine,” Kaleidoscope, Siouxsie and the Banshees (1980)
MC: Siouxsie and the Banshees strike a wildly successful balance between psychedelic rock and post-punk on this highlight from their third album Kaleidoscope. Frontwoman Siouxsie Sioux cooly delivers impressionistic lyrics over a standout bassline, and phenomenal guitar work from John McGeoch. Everyone from The Smiths to Radiohead to the Weeknd have all expressed reverence for this group and it’s not hard to see why when they tackled so many styles with great levels of success. Sioux remains one of the most influential frontwomen from the era as well, frequently cited by female alternative artists, like Kim Deal of the Pixies and Madley Croft of The XX, as a trailblazer for women within the genre in terms of unique and expressive stage presence and vocal delivery.
“Girl Afraid,” Louder Than Bombs, The Smiths (1987)
MC: Unfortunately for all, the Morrissey of 2020 is an insufferable prick with outspoken far-right and anti-immigration views. However, to discount the work of The Smith’s as a group when discussing the finest acts of the 1980s is simply impossible, largely due to the incredible songwriting partnership of Morrissey and guitarist Johnny Marr. In the span of five years the group recorded four fantastic LP’s and dozens of remarkably high quality singles. Morrissey delivered anti-establishment, clever and frequently tragic lyrics that inspired a level of fan-devotion that few acts before or since have ever encountered. Johnny Marr’s impeccable guitar work, which is featured in all its jangly glory on this track, is the motor that made The Smiths truly exceptional. Featured on the remarkably good Hatful of Hollow and Louder Than Bombs compilations, this track was initially released as the B-Side to “Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now.” The strength of songs that The Smith’s were putting out on B-sides during their short career is a testament to their remarkable consistency as songwriters. So if you’ve never made the dive into the discography of The Smiths and want to know what all the fuss is about, my best advice is to block out what you know about Morrissey today, ignore the preconceived notions about the Tumblr aesthetic that made liking The Smiths a personality trait, and enjoy the songs. When I’m able to do the same and appreciate the music, I find that I’m listening to my favorite group from the 1980s.
KG: This Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Zoey Deschanel scene from 500 Days of Summer makes me laugh and showcases that weird romanticized view of the band. I guess the natural sad-boi tendencies of Morrissey were ideal for message boards like Tumblr, hopefully there are some funny GIF’s of him being an ass so we can embarrass him now. But even with that, “i said i love the smiths.”
“Atmosphere,” Atmosphere – Single, Joy Division (1980)
MC: In the last edition of Cannabis Cuts I wrote about how Brian Eno’s “The Big Ship,” has this quality where it just “sounds fucking massive.” Well file this Joy Division cut right up there next to it, because it’s about as spacious and vast sounding of a track as you’ll ever encounter. The title of this track is absolutely on-the-nose in the sense that the band, primarily driven by Stephen Morris’ ominous percussion and Bernard Sumner’s icy synths, conjures up an atmosphere so gorgeous that even frontman Ian Curtis’ anguished lyrics and deep baritone vocals manage to sound sublime. Within two months of this track’s release, Curtis took his own life, but the musical legacy and influence he left behind is staggering. It’s hard to imagine The Cure’s magnum opus Disintegration existing without Joy Division compositions like this one, and more recent indie rock groups like Interpol, Radiohead and The National all are indebted in no small part to the Manchester group. Joy Division’s recorded output spanned barely two years from their first EP to their final album, but the amount of influence they subsequently provided to countless artists is incalculable.
“Bela Lugosi’s Dead,” Bela Lugosi’s Dead – Single, Bauhaus (1979)
MC: The song responsible for the birth of goth rock absolutely exemplifies the genre’s namesake with nearly ten minutes of dark, mysterious and dub-influenced atmospherics. Coupled with Peter Murphy’s downright eerie vocal delivery of lyrics about the former Dracula actor Bela Lugosi, it’s absolutely apparent why he’s become subsequently known as the Godfather of Goth. And even if you don’t fancy yourself as the type who wears excessive eyeliner and owns a black cat, this track still is still well worth your time for that outrageously tight rhythm section and remarkable production. Also the fact that Peter Murphy was able to perform the entirety of this song hanging upside-down to open their 2005 Coachella reunion show is probably one of the more impressive moments in the festival’s history, easily right up there with Whethan bringing out the WalMart yodeling kid in 2018.
KG: I need to start doing more stuff hanging upside-down if I ever want to be one of the best. Writing Cannabis Cuts upside-down wouldn’t be that much of a challenge, maybe if I had more blood in my brain I would be funnier.
“A Forest,” Seventeen Seconds, The Cure (1980)
KG: In the same vein as “Bela Lugosi’s Dead,” this song is instrumental in the development of the goth-rock sound that The Cure trademarked during their career. A heavily distorted soundscape opens the song, creating an eerie backdrop that would match well with a stroll in a haunted forest like Mirkwood. A gentle guitar slowly plays, building up steam before a slight pause… only to be interrupted by the compressed drums kicking in and turbo charging this song to space. Robert Smith is much more laid back on this song than later works, his heavily delayed vocals fit the mood of the track perfectly. The spacey distorted guitar that persists throughout the song, looming in the background like a giant willow tree swaying in the wind, is a stylistic choice that turned out to be one of the more influential ideas The Cure ever had. Props to them, my favorite band of 2020 so far.
MC: Easily one of my favorite tracks by one of my favorite groups of all-time, “A Forest” is early Cure at their most foreboding and propulsive. Groups like DIIV seemingly owe their entire existence to the sounds and textures that Robert Smith created on Cure tracks like this one. Few bands ever made existential dread sound as inviting and captivating as The Cure.
“Charlie Don’t Surf,” Sandinista!, The Clash (1980)
MC: The Clash might have been one of the definitive punk acts at the start of their career, yet their constant experimentation with other genres while maintaining punk’s ethos resulted in their seminal double album London Calling. One year later, clearly with more ideas than they knew what to do with, they released the triple album Sandanista! It was a wild blend of punk, disco, dub, rockabilly, reggae, funk, and even hip-hop, on which the band’s restless experimentation alienated some punk fans, but helped to inspire the world music trend that developed to greater prominence throughout the 1980s. The band took cuts on their royalties to sell the album at a lower price, and featured some of Joe Strummers most pointed political lyrics. Amongst all the genres is this weird post-punk/surf-rock hybrid that cribs it’s title from an Apocalypse Now quote. Whoever thought that four punks from London would be an influence Orange County’s surf rock prodigal sons, The Growlers?
“She’s Leaving,” Architecture & Morality, Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark (1981)
KG: This 1981 track off of OMD’s seminal record Architecture & Morality is an absolute belter of a song, asking to be wailed along with Andy McCluskey’s somber voice. “She’s Leaving” is a blueprint of the synth-pop genre, depicting the vast soundscapes that can be created with the use of electronic instruments. I envision soaring in the air when I hear this song, looking down from a birds eye view at the tiny specks of civilization below. There is a grand sense of purpose that I can’t quite put my finger on. Regardless, it is well worth a stoned listening in order to take it all in.
“Just Like Honey,” Psychocandy, The Jesus and Mary Chain (1985)
MC: Last week Kevin and I were having a lovely chat about his long overdue foray into the world of shoegaze, and he seemed perplexed at how in the early 90’s acts like My Bloody Valentine and Slowdive were coming seemingly out of nowhere with this weird wall-of-guitar approach to writing pop songs. Well when it comes to shoegaze, just about all roads lead back to the debut album by Scottish group The Jesus and Mary Chain. From the opening drum riff, borrowed from The Ronette’s “Be My Baby,” this track exemplifies the shoegaze template that they had a heavy hand in creating. It’s a sugar-sweet pop song coated in hearty helping of shimmering guitar distortion – a modern take on the Wall of Sound production that Phil Spector became known for with groups like the Ronettes. They might not have as rabid of a modern following as The Smiths or The Cure, but The Jesus and Mary Chain are undoubtedly amongst the most influential groups from the era.
KG: Last week Max and I were having a lovely chat about his long overdue foray into the world of HotWheels, and he seemed perplexed at how in the early 00’s cars like Matchbox and Roblox were coming seemingly out of nowhere with this weird tiny-toy-car approach to making pop toys. Well when it comes to HotWheels, just about all roads lead back to toxic masculinity and bad bowl cuts.