For a brief period in the early to mid-’80s, a scene jokingly labelled “the paisley underground” caused a welcome bump in the otherwise smooth-running—MTV (and image) driven—music industry. That era was all about hair metal and new wave/romantic. Big hair and make-up. Spandex and lace shirts. Flock of Seagulls and cherry pie. Bubblegum melodies. Everything was garish. Nothing was subtle.
And hell, there’s nothing wrong with that. But there’s a reason the ’80s, with all its Ronald Reagan-and-cocaine excess, is often looked back on as the disposable decade. A period of obscene capitalism, when the music frankly didn’t matter because those involved had one eye on the bottom line and the other on bottoms. Those focussed on the mainstream could be forgiven for thinking that the ’80s was more about money than music.
But, as is always and forever the case, the various underground scenes offered something far deeper and more valuable. Punk and hardcore can always be relied on to throw up (sometimes literally) an important alternative to that which we sometimes feel is being forced upon us. And in that mid-’80s period in L.A. all of that was happening. In addition, a group of musicians found each other that were doing something which set them apart.
Four bands: The Bangles, The Dream Syndicate, The 3 O’Clock, and Rain Parade were at the forefront of the paisley underground. A scene which saw the players indulge in their ’60s psychedelia and garage rock fantasies. All were fans of The Beatles and the Brit invasion, and closer to home The Byrds, The Mamas & the Papas, and the rest of the Laurel Canyon tribe, plus the massively influential Nuggets compilation which brought together many obscure ’60s garage gems.
The styles did differ. The Dream Syndicate, for example, had a strong Velvet Underground vibe, while The 3 O’Clock was far more raw and untamed. Rain Parade had the brooding, delicate lyrics-thing going on, while The Bangles were way more influenced by The Seeds than their later material (“Manic Monday,” “Eternal Flame”) would suggest.
At the Grammy Museum on Monday May 6, members from all four bands gathered, first for a collective Q&A session and then for a wonderful performance/jam. The event was to celebrate the new 3X4 album, which sees all four bands covering each other’s songs. The night, like the album, was a glorious celebration of a scene which briefly burned bright (but only for those paying attention).
We hear about how nobody else was doing this sort of thing in the ’80s, and that each musician felt pretty much alone until finding their kindred spirits—with their own bands and then later in the scene. We’re also told that the scene wasn’t as tight and “easy” as, say, the CBGBs punk scene in New York because the four bands were spread across the whole Los Angeles region, from Santa Monica to Pasadena. But perseverance and passion made things happen.
It was a joy to watch them all laugh together and gently make fun of each other. And then, when they’re done talking, we got to watch them perform. Highlights included The Bangles performing a gorgeous acoustic version of Rain Parade’s “Tell Me When It’s Over,” while The Dream Syndicate concluded proceedings with their take on The Bangles’ “Hero Takes A Fall.”
Every one of them looked to be having a great time and we’re told that they had been hanging out together all afternoon prior to the performance. It sure felt like a paisley party.