BACK IN THE ’80s, U2 wasn’t the only band that wrote uplifting anthems or “message” songs. There were several other bands, all really good, who often got tagged as “U2 clones” by lazy journalists. Never the less, they made some really good music, and their anthems were in my power rotation when I was in high school and college.
The Alarm – Strength These Brits had a lot of success in the ’80s and were known for their anthems (particularly “68 Guns”) but I always preferred this song. Hearing Mike Peters soaring vocals in the chorus always gave me, well, strength. How can it not?
Noiseworks – “Touch” This Australian band’s press kit was the first I ever received as a college rep for CBS Records. In addition to the thrill of actually receiving it in the mail, I was totally taken by the music, especially this song. Truth be told, the press kit did help ignite that enthusiasm – it was very nicely done, with a bio, a photo, and an advance cassette, all in a folder with the band’s logo. How could I not be impressed? Alas, the band never was even a low priority for CBS in the U.S. and I’m pretty sure us college reps never even worked this song at college radio. A damn shame because this band had the goods.
Rhythm Corps – “Common Ground” From Detroit, this is a band that I thought should have been huge. Had the pleasure of seeing them at the legendary Toad’s Place in New Haven, CT, back when I was a college rep for CBS Records. Perhaps some might say “Common Ground” isn’t boisterous enough to be an anthem – it’s not loud and over-the-top. But the song has a chorus masses of people can all sing along to, its got emotion and a great message (exceedingly relevant today, more than ever). This song was actually a bit of a hit, reaching #9 on the Mainstream Rock charts
The late eighties were a very special time for me. I got started in the record business and got incredibly passionate about so much of the music I was representing, and this band was one I always tried to do a lot for. I probably put more Rhythm Corps posters up in record stores New England in 1988 and 1991 than any other rep! In 1991 I was a full-time CBS employee at my first national convention and had the temerity to tell a VP of Epic Records (in a men’s room no less!) why Rhythm Corps second album, The Future’s Not What It Used to Be should be a big priority for the label. Unfornutately, I did not convince him
Midnight Oil – “Blue Sky Mine”
You can’t do a post like this and not include Midnight Oil. Their music told the tales and plights of environmental strife and the economically disadvantaged. These Australians put their money where their musical mouths were – in fact, lead singer Peter Garret is as much an activist as he is a musician: he served several years in the Australian House of Representatives.
“Blue Sky Mine” is more of a protest song than an anthem, really. It’s about an Australian asbestos mine which killed hundreds of people who contracted various asbestos-related diseases Technically, this song was released in 1990 – but it was recorded in 1989.
Big Country – “Wonderland” In 1983 Big Country’s debut album The Crossing was in heavy rotation on my bedroom turntable. I loved that album, especially their big hit “In A Big Country.” I became a fan of everything they did, including this single from their 1984 follow-up EP, Wonderland. “Wonderland” is essentially a rousing and rollicking love song, whose lyrics didn’t mean much when I was seventeen years old. But they mean a lot now: But when the thunder rolls/It comes and covers up my soul/And you will take my hand/And be with me in wonderland/I am an honest man I need the love of you/I am a working man.
Sadly, despite creating some great music in the years following (all of their albums are stellar), “Wonderland” was Big Country’s last single on the U.S. charts, peaking at #86 on the Hot 100 Singles Chart. It was a big hit in the UK, however, peaking at #8
R.I.P. Stuart Adamson, Big Country co-founder, lead singer, and guitarist, gone way too soon. He battled depression and problems with alcohol and committed suicide in 2001.