The British punk movement of the late seventies was just the thing to flush out pop’s veins. But as brilliant as it was, punk had its limitations, and the genre’s most enduring acts—The Clash, The Damned, Siouxsie and the Banshees, The Jam, etc.—quickly went in interesting directions that led them far from their lo-fi, two-chord origins when the eighties began.
At that very time, a new movement was born in Britain, one that picked up on punk’s minimalism and lack of fidelity, but didn’t necessarily share its sneering attack. If it was sometimes as nihilistic as punk, it was a lot more resigned about it. In years to come, this movement would be known as indie-pop and its guiding light that never goes out was The Smiths (who, like the original punks, absolutely worshipped The New York Dolls). While The Smiths’ influence is very detectable in many of the 134 tracks on last year’s Scared to Get Happy: A Story of Indie-Pop 1980-1989, and that title certainly seems to suggest a rather dour affair, you’d be wrong to think this box set was just a great, big, five-disc mope. In fact, there is a thrilling variety of styles and moods dancing inside this wonderful sampler. “Getting Nowhere Fast” by Girls At Our Best! is punk by any definition of the term. “The Jet Set Junta” by the divine Monochrome Set has a spaghetti western under taste and is as danceable as the best of sixties garage rock. Jane’s a cappella “It’s a Fine Day” is a defining example of twee. There’s psychedelia, Latin rhythms, hypno-noise, loungey crooning, jangling, jingling, and jostling.
The selection is also smart because while the point of sets like this is always to turn you on to obscure artists like Girls at Our Best! Grab Grab the Haddock, Close Lobsters, Gol Gappas, and Bad Dream Fancy Dress (who may win the best track award with their insane, genre-hoping freak show “Choirboys Gas [Hack the Cassock]”), there are enough familiar artists—The Jesus & Mary Chain, Josef K, Everything But the Girl, Pulp, Aztec Camera, Television Personalities, Primal Scream, Stone Roses, Inspiral Carpets, The La’s— to provide numerous paths in. Even cooler, most of these groups are represented by obscure early, demo, and live tracks, so there’s always something to discover.
The only knock against Scared to Get Happy is its allegedly innovative packaging, which requires you to pull required a visit to a YouTube video in order to figure out how to get the discs out of the damn box. Make sure you watch that video, kids, and be very, very careful. These are discs you do not want to scratch.
Get Scared to Get Happy: A Story of Indie-Pop 1980-1989 on Amazon.com here: