223-226: Bands That Could Be God

“I’m in love with Massachusetts
And the neon when it’s cold outside
And the highway when it’s late at night
Got the radio on
I’m like the roadrunner”

– Jonathan Richman / The Modern Lovers, “Roadrunner”

I recently had a conversation in a bar with a guy who looked to be in his mid twenties. We were discussing great music scenes in America and when I brought up Boston he gave me a funny look. After talking to him for several minutes, it became clear to me that if your musical awakening happened sometime after the year 2000, you may have a wildly different perspective on the city of Boston and its musical denizens. This guy was familiar with the Pixies (pictured above), but couldn’t imagine a period in which Boston’s contribution to underground rock rivaled or even bested that of, say, New York City (or in particular to his frame of reference, Brooklyn). Our conversation prompted me to choose Boston as my next scene to explore in podcast form, following examinations of Los Angeles, Hoboken, Australia, and Belgium.

Episode 223 - Bands That Could Be God - Modern Lovers
The Modern Lovers

Boston’s success in creating the sort of ‘college rock scene’ we wax nostalgically about is essential to the Our Band Could Be Your Life narrative, the awakening of underground rock in the USA during the ’80s. You can divide the conversation as it pertains to Boston into quarters. Act 1 begins with ‘proto-punks’ The Modern Lovers in the early ’70s, who laid a foundation for the fabulous punk, hardcore, garage, and power-pop scene to come. Act 2 starts around 1980 with Mission of Burma, a band that distilled post-punk into its own distinctly American, aggressive flavor. Act 3 begins half a decade later with the emergence of a trio of bands with wholly singular visions whose influence was widespread: the Pixies, Dinosaur Jr., and Throwing Muses. The final Act gets kicked off in the late ’80s and illustrates Boston’s role in the Alternative Rock landscape, with acts like the Lemonheads, Breeders, Blake Babies, Gigolo Aunts, and Buffalo Tom making a big splash during MTV’s alternative programming heyday in the early ’90s. As Act 3 bleeds into Act 4, the Boston scene produced a slew of outstanding bands that would make routine appearances on college radio playlists: Christmas, Big Dipper, The Cavedogs, Galaxie 500, The Neighborhoods, Salem 66, Scruffy the Cat, The Del Fuegos, Dumptruck, and the Volcano Suns, to name a few. In this podcast series, we’ll loosely adhere to these four Acts in shaping each of our four episodes.

Boston’s music scene had its fair share of commercially viable rock acts in the ’70s — The Cars, Aerosmith, Boston, and the J. Geils Band — and had previously offered up a significant ’60s garage rock scene that produced plenty of Nuggets. But for the purposes of this study, which you are about to enjoy, you can trace the roots of all this ’80s noise back to a Boston band that never received its due until after its demise: the original Modern Lovers, whose debut record was recorded in 1971 and ’72, but not released until ’76. By that time, Modern Lovers’ frontman Jonathan Richman had moved from Boston to California, leaving behind his fleeting affair with muscular rock and roll. He would eventually return to northern New England, but as a changed musician. In a nod to Richman v. 1.0, our Boston podcast series must begin with The Modern Lovers.

Episode 223 - 4 bands
Top to bottom: Nervous Eaters, November Group, Salem 66, Galaxie 500

But before you press play, let me share a quick note about the parameters of this podcast series. There were already so many Boston-based bands that I wanted to include that I consciously excluded bands from neighboring Western Mass., the Cape, and Rhode Island that regularly played in Boston and hence get lumped in to the Boston scene. The one exception — because I just don’t want the hate mail (ha!) — is Dinosaur Jr., who resided two hours west of Boston in Amherst, MA. I also kept out some groups that are too overground for me to bother with herein, like ‘Til Tuesday and The Cars, as well as some that I just plain don’t like (the Bosstones, no thanks — so I guess go ahead and send that hate mail). I wanted to keep plenty of rarities in the mix because one of the key points of this exercise is to introduce some new-to-you bands while showcasing the depth of the Boston scene. So you’ll find within these episodes plenty of obscure groups, in addition to a bunch of heralded ones, all from the Little Records era (circa 1976–1995).

We’ll hear from bands who won the Rumble and regularly prowled the stages of the Rat, the Channel, the In-Square Men’s Bar, TT’s, and Middle East. We’ll check out some of the more interesting local artists who released records on Boston labels like Ace of Hearts, Taang!, Modern Method, Arf! Arf!, Harriet, Rykodisc, Propeller, and the awesomely named Throbbing Lobster Records. We’ll scour the pages of Boston Rock, Forced Exposure, Conflict, and Suburban Voice for the fiercest noise from Boston’s past. We’ll even take the 1984 Boston compilation whose name we borrowed for the title of this podcast, Bands That Could Be God, for a spin.

If you listen to these podcasts in order, you’ll notice the music trends from male-centric groups in the first podcast to more and more bands fronted by women in the latter episodes. Boston eventually developed a female-friendly climate and sported far more women in leading roles than your typical scene. And the music greatly benefited from the injection of estrogen.

I’ve lined up a whopping 144 bands for you to explore and the quality is steady throughout. I believe that dude I was conversing with in the bar would have to listen to this series and agree that Boston had it going on! I’ll leave you with this quote from famous Bostonian Samuel Adams, who might as well have been speaking of the mighty influence of the underground rockers you’re about to listen to when he said, “It does not require a majority to prevail, but rather an irate, tireless minority keen to set brush fires in people’s minds.” That’s tough talk. Now for the rock!

Part 1  •  Part 2  •  Part 3  •  Part 4


Part 1: Punk, garage, & power pop

Boston had its own Class of ’77 punk scene that included garage noisemakers like DMZ and The Real Kids; more straightforward punk-rockers La Peste, Willie ‘Loco’ Alexander, and Nervous Eaters; and oddballs Unnatural Axe and The Girls. But its punk movement was somewhat dwarfed in stature by what was going on down the coast in NYC as well as in San Francisco and L.A. Still, this late ’70s scene provided a prelude for what became a hotbed for hardcore punk in the early to mid ’80s. The ‘Boston Crew’ rivaled only the Dischord boys for East Coast supremacy. This episode mixes punk with garage and power-pop and spans the late ’70s to the early ’90s in featuring scene staples like Gang Green, the Lyres, Negative FX, the Dogmatics, Classic Ruins, Kenne Highland, Slapshot, and Jerry’s Kids.

Playlist: Part 1

  1. The Modern Lovers — She Cracked
  2. Classic Ruins — 1+1<2
  3. Jerry’s Kids — Wired
  4. Ground Zero — Televoid
  5. The Proletariat — Splendid Wars
  6. Nervous Eaters — Loretta
  7. Last Rights — So Ends Our Night
  8. Willie Alexander & The Boom Boom Band — Mass. Ave.
  9. The Bags — Joy Ride
  10. Baby’s Arm — I’m A Wimp
  11. Stranglehold — One Step Closer
  12. Decadence — Slam
  13. The Odds — Cryin’ Shame
  14. Taxi Boys — What She Don’t Know
  15. The Molls — White Stains
  16. Gang Green — Alcohol
  17. Dogmatics — Gimme The Shakes
  18. The Edge — Don’t Cross My Path
  19. Last Stand — Approved Cuts
  20. Lyres — Don’t Give It Up Now
  21. DYS — (The Girl’s Got) Limits
  22. The Hopelessly Obscure — College Kids
  23. La Peste — Better Off Dead
  24. Common Ailments Of Maturity — Stake
  25. The Titanics — Turn Around on a Dime
  26. Unnatural Axe — They Saved Hitler’s Brain
  27. Negative FX — Protestor
  28. The Lads — Bostown Girls
  29. Johnny & The Jumper Cables — I Get Nervous
  30. SS Decontrol — Fight Them
  31. Noonday Underground — Simple Man
  32. The Girls — Jeffrey I Hear You
  33. DMZ — Mighty Idy
  34. Slapshot — No Friend Of Mine
  35. The Blackjacks — (That’s Why I Always) Dress In Black
  36. The F.U.’s — Outcast
  37. The Real Kids — Do The Boob


Part 2: Post-punk & new wave

With the exception of The Cars, Boston’s new wave and post-punk scene lacked heavy hitters, from a commercial standpoint, until Aimee Mann’s ‘Til Tuesday broke nationally in 1985. ‘Til Tuesday won WBCN’s local battle of the bands competition, the Rock ‘n’ Rumble, in 1983, which helped propel them into a major-label record deal. I’m not including the well-known ‘Til Tuesday here, but I am including several other Rumble winners who didn’t fare as well, such as Pastiche (1980), Someone & the Somebodies (1981), and Limbo Race (1982). Mann’s previous group, Young Snakes, makes an appearance in this episode, as do some really good cuts from The Mickey Bliss Band, Human Sexual Response, Robin Lane, The Maps, Boys Life, Men & Volts, Lou Miami & the Kozmetix, Dangerous Birds, and November Group, who at one point were as well received in Boston as ‘Til Tuesday. The kingpins of this episode are Mission of Burma, who were post-punks by critical definition but whose aggression and obsession with volume could have easily placed them in the punk episode. Speaking of, that episode was chock full of testosterone; this new wave set provides a refreshing counterpoint by showcasing lots of talented women.

Playlist: Part 2

  1. Mission Of Burma — That’s How I Escaped My Certain Fate
  2. Dangerous Birds — Alpha Romeo
  3. Swingers Resort — Movies
  4. New Models — Listen
  5. Birdsongs Of The Mesozoic — Shiny Golden Snakes
  6. November Group — Flatland
  7. Robin Lane & The Chartbusters — Don’t Cry
  8. The Outlets — Knock Me Down
  9. The Maps — I’m Talking To You
  10. The Mickey Bliss Band — Trapezoid
  11. The Loners — Planet Spirit
  12. Bound & Gagged — Personal Monsters
  13. Young Snakes — Brains and Eggs
  14. Human Sexual Response — What Does Sex Mean To Me?
  15. Future Dads — New Feeling
  16. Someone & The Somebodies — Newvo
  17. Boys Life — Heroes of the Dead
  18. People in Stores — Factory
  19. Thrills — Hey! (Not Another Face In The Crowd)
  20. The Know — I Like Girls
  21. Vacuumheads — Preppie Girls
  22. V; — Schitzed
  23. Lou Miami & the Kozmetix — New Romantix
  24. Peter Dayton — Skintite
  25. The Fools — Psycho Chicken (Clucked)
  26. Busload Of Nuns — Sleppyhead
  27. The Atlantics — Pop Shivers
  28. Pastiche — Psycho Blonde
  29. Noise Pencil — Weirton, West Virginia
  30. Beanbag — Harassment
  31. Men & Volts — Packrats
  32. Limbo Race — Down And Backwards
  33. Primary Colors — Fact And Fiction


Part 3: College rock

Boston has countless colleges and universities, including the Berklee College of Music. So it’s maybe not surprising that many Boston-based punk and post-punk musicians from the late ’70s and early ’80s went on to create formidable ‘college rock’ bands in the mid to late ’80s — a few of them after dropping out of college themselves. One musician that successfully bridged the gap between the ’70s punk scene and the ’80s college rock scene was Dave Minehan, whose group, The Neighborhoods, penned a mighty fine ode to radio, “W.U.S.A.”, that is included here. This is perhaps the richest episode in our Boston series thanks to a depth of memorable (and big-time) bands, beginning with the Pixies and Throwing Muses. This episode packs ‘em in, so I’ll skip to the footnotes and say be sure to check out The Prime Movers, who borrow some Hüsker Dü magic for their selection, Moving Targets, The Wild Stares, Native Tongue, The Cavedogs, O Positive, and Barrence Whitfield & The Savages.

Playlist: Part 3

  1. Pixies — Velouria
  2. Moving Targets — Faith
  3. Tribe — Abort
  4. Drezniak — Circles
  5. Busted Statues — Heart Upside Down
  6. Miranda Warning — Don’t Be Yourself
  7. Salem 66 — Lucky Penny
  8. Apology — Actions
  9. The Del Fuegos — When The News Is On
  10. The Oysters — Feel Like A Dope
  11. Blake Babies — Cesspool
  12. Sorry — Just Making Noise
  13. Dumptruck — The Haunt
  14. The Zulus — I Can’t Wait To Tell You The News
  15. Underachievers — Wasted Youth
  16. Expando Brain — Thyroid
  17. Uzi — Collections
  18. Dogzilla — Lunch With Ed
  19. Bim Skala Bim — Better Get Out
  20. Barrence Whitfield & the Savages — Bloody Mary
  21. The Turbines — Roy’s Motel
  22. Scruffy The Cat — My Baby She’s Alright
  23. The Swinging Erudites — Walk With An Erection
  24. Volcano Suns — White Elephant
  25. Buffalo Tom — Impossible
  26. O Positive — With You
  27. The Cavedogs — Tayter Country
  28. Neats — Ghost
  29. Chain Link Fence — Upstairs, Downstairs
  30. Throwing Muses — Call Me
  31. 21-645 — Babble
  32. The Wild Stares — Perfect Bash
  33. Christmas — Stupid Kids
  34. Lemonheads — I Don’t Wanna
  35. The Prime Movers — Where We All Come From
  36. Native Tongue — Blame It On Gravity
  37. The Flies — All Hung Up
  38. Big Dipper — She’s Fetching
  39. The Neighborhoods — W.U.S.A.


Part 4: Indie rock

Our final installment in the Boston series focuses on the late ’80s and early ’90s indie rock scene, which was anchored by many new (or newly reimagined) bands like the Lemonheads, Dinosaur Jr., The Breeders, Belly, and The Dambuilders. There were many fantastic rock bands present in Boston at this time and they ran the gamut from indie pop like the Magnetic Fields (in their earlier incarnation with Susan Anway on vox), Cardinal, Twig, Papas Fritas, and Galaxie 500, to dissonant, loud rock bands like Come, Drop Nineteens, Spore, Bullet Lavolta, Anastasia Screamed, Orangutang, Swirlies, and Green Magnet School. So much good music — and none of it is the Mighty Mighty Bosstones or Letters to Cleo (sorry not sorry).

Playlist: Part 4

  1. Galaxie 500 — Oblivious
  2. The Breeders — Doe
  3. Swirlies — Bell
  4. Green Magnet School — Throb
  5. Cul de Sac — Doldrums
  6. High Risk Group — Daddy Rolex
  7. Twig — Fall Of Love
  8. The Dambuilders — Smooth Control
  9. Morphine — Good
  10. Dredd Foole And The Din — Not Right
  11. Come — Bell
  12. Dinosaur Jr. — They Always Come
  13. Mary Lou Lord — Western Union Desperate
  14. The Magnetic Fields — When You Were My Baby
  15. Cardinal — Big Mink
  16. Frank Black — Two Spaces
  17. Gigolo Aunts — Gun
  18. Bullet Lavolta — Dead Wrong
  19. Anastasia Screamed — Beautiful
  20. Karate — What Is Sleep?
  21. Belly — King
  22. Spore — She Makes Me Feel Violent
  23. Helium — Love $$$
  24. Orangutang — Daddy Raw
  25. Papas Fritas — Holiday
  26. Lotus Eaters — Falling
  27. The Juliana Hatfield Three — Little Pieces
  28. Aimee Mann — I Should’ve Known
  29. Jennifer Trynin — Knock Me Down
  30. Flying Nuns — Carousel Of Freaks
  31. Drop Nineteens — Winona
  32. The Folk Implosion — Slap Me
  33. M.O.T.O. — Magic Words
  34. Fuzzy — Flashlight
  35. Dirt Merchants — Trip Trip

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