A subgenre of the mid-80's jangle-pop genre, Paisley Underground (so named for the paisley shirts many bandmembers favored) was a psychedelic-revival movement centered in Los Angeles. Most (but not all) paisley underground bands borrowed heavily from the ringing guitars of the Byrds, and in the drones, raga-rock, and colorful whimsy of the late 60's psychedelic bands. While it was a largely retro-scene, an attempt to keep alive a form and style that had been dead for well over a decade and a half, it also produced some very fresh-sounding new music.
Few paisley underground bands rose above cult status, but The Bangles eventually scored big, the Rain Parade's David Roback would have 90's success with Mazzy Star, the Long Ryders would influence the alternative country movement of the 90's, and Dream Syndicate and Game Theory would receive critical acclaim, if not sales at the register.
Paisley Underground's moment was a short-lived one, stretching from about 1982 through 1986. As the late 80's approached, most of the original bands had disbanded. Since the genre stemmed from a local scene that had moved on to other things, there was no significant second wave. Still, much paisley underground music remains good listening to this day; it bridged a gap from the 60's to the neo-psychedelia of 90's dream pop, and remains a colorful offshoot of jangle pop, one of the more important 80's rock movements.
Some important/influential paisley underground artists and songs include:
1. The Bangles: The Real World The all-woman Bangles, formerly The Bangs, formed in Los Angeles in 1981 and specialized in a rootsy 60's based guitar rock that recalled the Byrds and The Grass Roots. "The Real World" is an excellent representation of their early sound, and was part of a 4-song EP debut on Faulty records in 1982, which featured original bassist Annette Zilinkas, who would be replaced by Michael Steele by the time of their 1984 debut album on IRS, All Over The Place. Light, breezy, tuneful, mildly psychedelic, this remains one of their best tracks; the EP, which is now out-of-print and rare, is worth seeking out for the other tracks as well, including "Mary Street" and a tough, rocking cover of "How Is The Air Up There?", a garage-punk tune originally done by New Zealand's La De Da's. Their sound changed by the time of their second full length album, Different Light (1985); their early material is best.
2. Green On Red: Death And Angels Green on Red, originally from Tuscon, Arizona, emerged from the paisley underground scene with an EP, Green On Red, on Steve Wynn's Down There label in 1982. "Death And Angels" bears all the hallmarks of the genre, particularly in the organ playing of Chris Cacavas; here, the band's sound recalls The Seeds crossed with The Doors, with a little Love sprinkled in. The band didn't like the pigeonhole the "paisley underground" tag stuck them in, and by the time of their 1983 debut album, Gravity Talks (on Slash records), they had already toned down the psychedelic devices in favor of a roots-rock approach reminscent of John Fogerty. The band never sold many records, but maintained a following; they managed to release 10 albums and EP's on a variety of labels before disbanding in 1992.
3. The Long Ryders: Looking For Lewis And Clark The Long Ryders were part of the paisley underground scene, featuring Deam Syndicate's Steve Wynn in its lineup for a spell, and playing many of the same venues as the other bands. However, they owed a much larger debt to the Byrds and Graham Parsons in their musical approach, the psychedelia in their music limited to fuzzed guitars more than trippy jams. After an album and an EP on indie labels, the band signed with Island (who also signed Rain Parade); "Looking For Lewis And Clark" was the leadoff single from their 1985 major label debut, State Of Our Union. Led by singer/guitarists Sid Griffin and Stephen McCarthy, the band was tight and melodic, and is now considered one of the best folk/country/jangle pop/roots rock bands of its day. This single is instantly accessable, features nicely impressionistic political lyrics, and plenty of chiming guitars and harmonica. A real classic; unfortunately it never charted.
4. Rain Parade: This Can't Be Today Led by brothers David (guitar) and Steven Roback (bass) and vocalist/guitarist Matt Piucci, The Rain Parade was arguably the quintessential paisley underground band. Favoring hypnotic drone, raga rock, textured and phased guitars, and brooding, melancholic lyrics, they best captured the spirit of the 60's influences so many of these bands shared. "This Can't Be Today" was the first single from their 1983 debut album Emergency Third Rail power Trip on Enigma records, and remains their best; guitar-and-drums driven, featuring the eerie background vocals of Dream Syndicate's Kendra Smith (who would later form Opal with David Roback), and quite psychedelic. The band had a devoted cult following, but never managed to sell many records; after another EP for Enigma, and a good but flop LP for Island, the band folded in 1986.
5. The Three O'Clock: With a Cantaloupe Girlfriend Lead singer and bassist Michael Quercio is credited with coining the phrase "paisley underground", and his band, The Three O'Clock is another band that could be considered the most representative of the genre. Formed as The Salvation Army in 1980, the band was forced to relinquish their name after their debut EP in 1982. Baroque Hoedown, their first EP under their new name, was where their sound meshed, and arguably stands as the best distillation of their sound, which resembled Syd Barrett fronting a garage band. The band would eventually chart one album, Arrive Without Traveling at #125 in 1985, but never developed beyond a cult item. They disbanded in 1988.
6. Game Theory: 24 Led by singer/guitarist Scott Miller, whose voice sounded a lot like Alex Chilton, Game Theory blended the paisley underground conventions with a Big Star-style power pop approach; coming up with a more uptempo quasi-psychedlia. Formed in Sacramento in 1982, the band relocated to L.A. and were fixtures on the scene for a while. After releasing a trio of EP's from 1982-1984, the band teamed up with R.E.M. producer Mitch Easter for their first full length album. "24" features a slowly building instrumental intro before launching into a perky piece of jangle pop, with particularly evocative lyrics from Miller. The band would later lean more on the Big Star influence, particularly on their best album, Lolita Nation (1987), but like their heroes, they were never destined to sell records. They disbanded in 1990.
7. True West: Hollywood Holiday True West, from Davis, California, were fringe players in the paisley underground movement, centering their base of operations in the San Francisco area, instead of Los Angeles. They had a number of connections to the scene, however. Steve Wynn co-produced one of their albums, Rain Parade's Matt Piucci and Green On Red's Chuck Prophet contributed guitar to another, True West drummer Josef Becker would join Thin White Rope after leaving the band. The band itself specialized in a darker neo-psychedelic sound with some folk/country shadings and a Californiacentric worldview; "Hollywood Holiday" is perhaps their best song, from their 1983 debut, featuring Gavin Blair's Syd Barrett influenced vocals. Singer/guitarist/songwriter Russ Tolman, who left the band shortly thereafter, releases albums to this day, and has a cult following, especially in France.
8. Dream Syndicate: Tell Me When It's Over Though not the most commercially successful of the paisley underground bands (that distinction goes to The Bangles), Dream Syndicate ultimately was the most important one. Led by Steve Wynn and Kendra Smith, the band formed in Los Angeles in 1981 after Wynn and Smith had relocated there from Davis, CA. Featuring an aggressive, guitar driven, jamming style, the band had considerable influence on indie rock in general, beyond the confines of the local scene, not only via their Velvet Underground/Byrds/Doors/Neil Young inspired music, but through Steve Wynn's varied production credits on other bands' albums. Smith would soon depart, eventually to form Opal with David Roback, but the band would continue to develop, improving their technique. "Tell Me When It's Over" is from their 1982 debut Days Of Wine And Roses, and sounds like Lou Reed and Neil Young's love child. The band recorded seven albums, but disbanded in 1989.
9. Thin White Rope: Disney Girl Another band from Davis, CA (which is midway between Los Angeles and San Francisco musically, if not exactly geographically), Thin White Rope specialized in a psychedelic roots-rock, not unlike Green On Red. Their music was dark and bleak, but also with flourishes of beauty; they attracted a following in Europe, and were the first American indie band to tour the Soviet Union in 1987. More than a paisley underground band, they drew upon a huge range of influences, covering Suicide and Can, mixing together raw, abrasive Americana with chilly psychedelia fronted by Guy Kyser's choked, tense vocals. "Disney Girl" is from Exploring The Axis, their 1985 debut, and is a good example of their early, more psychedelic beginnings. They cut six albums before disbanding in 1993.
10. Opal: Happy Nightmare Baby Opal was formed by guitarist David Roback (ex-Rain Parade) and Kendra Smith (ex-Dream Syndicate). Originally named Clay Allison, and releasing an EP under that moniker, they renamed themselves Opal in 1985, and released an EP and album for hardore label SST. Heavily psychedelic, featuring Roback's various guitar textures, lots of organ, and Smith's detached vocals and dark lyrical obsessions, Opal was perhaps the very last of the paisley underground bands. "Happy Nightmare Baby", the 1987 title track from their lone album, is an atomspheric, ominous, ethereal jaunt down a foggy road at night, showing both performers at their peak. Smith would leave the following year, and Roback would recruit Hope Sandoval, leading to the formation of Mazzy Star.
11. Rainy Day: I'll Be Your Mirror Rainy Day was Paisley Underground's supergroup. A one-shot consisting of members of the Bangles, the Raiin Parade, Dream Syndicate, and the Three O'Clock, Rainy Day released a single self titled album in 1984. The album itself is something of a tribute to Big Star, Velvet Underground, and Neil Young, the biggest influences on the Paisley Underground bands, and consists of cover versions of those artists' material. "I'll Be Your Mirror", originally by Velvet Underground and Nico, gets a paisley treatment from the band, while Bangle Susannah Hoffs supplies the vocals. Now hard to find, this album has always been a prized trophy for Paisley Underground fans.
12. Russ Tolman: Looking For An Angel Russ Tolman was in the Davis, CA band True West, but departed in 1985 for a solo career. "Looking For An Angel" is co-written by Tolman and Dream Syndicate's Steve Wynn and leads off his 1986 solo debut Totem Poles and Glory Holes. While True West was only marginally a Paisley Underground band (like all the Davis bands), Tolman relocated to Los Angeles prior to his solo debut, and he and Wynn were frequent collaborators. Tolman's solo music retained the western feel of his first band, but couched it in a somewhat more conventional singer/songwriter style. Like most of the entries to the genre, he never enjoyed much in the way of commercial success in America, although he did build a solid cult following in Europe. He has released seven albums, the most recent in 2000.
13. Danny and Dusty: Down to the Bone Another quasi-supergroup, Danny and Dusty was a project of Dan Stuart (Green on Red) and Steve Wynn, plus three Long Ryders. Recorded in a single weekend, thier lone album Lost Weekend, appeared in 1985. As Wynn himself pointed out, the session was a single beer-fueled 36-hour marathon, which makes sense, given the album's somewhat woozy and sloppy sound. However, the album is also very good; Stuart and Wynn make good pseudo-Dylanesque foils, and the Long Ryders, always good musicians, lay down a solidly engaging psychedelic country backing. The album consists of eight Stuart/Wynn originals, plus one Dylan tune "Knocking on Heaven's Door". "Down to the Bone" is the standout; at over 6 minutes, it also has a shaggy quality to it that helps it fit right into this playlist.
14. The Eyes of Mind: She Only Knows In addition to the western-influenced, Neil Young-influenced, jangle-pop influenced, and Velvets influenced bands active in the early 80's in Los Angeles, there was also a significant garage rock revival happening in the midst, with many of the garage revivalists sharing venues and gigs with the Paisley Underground bands. While these garage revivalists aren't usually included in Paisley Underground lists and articles, they were an important component of the scene, and shared more similarities than differences. The Eyes of Mind were one of the best ones, and their album Tales of the Turquoise Umbrella has champions to this day, despite being obscure even in its day. The trippy and fuzzed "She Only Knows" is the standout; the band itself was short-lived and never made a follow-up.
15. The Green Pajamas: Stand To Reason Although they were from Seattle, and not part of the cross-pollinating group of Los Angeles and Davis bands, The Green Pajamas deserve mention for walking the same side of the street musically at the same time, and consciously attempting to spearhead a similar movement in Seattle. They are also the only neo-psychedelic band of the mid-80's to remain active to this day. Summer of Lust was their cassette-only debut in 1984; Book of Hours, from 1987, was thier first full length album proper. Led by Joe Ross and Jeff Kelly, the band took Paisley Underground conventions and gave them a slightly punkier, guitar based sound.
16. Tell-Tale Hearts: My World Is Upside Down Another obscure band with a tiny but fervent cult, Tell-Tale Hearts had a sound not dissimilar to the psychedelic-era Pretty Things. They released only one album and one EP in 1984-1985 before fading away. Tell-Tale Hearts were another non-Los Angeles neo-psychedelic band with many similarities to the L.A. groups; formed in San Diego, and very briefly San Diego's leading neo-psych band (which is like being a tiny minnow in a glass of water). They weren't long for the world, but their recorded legacy is good if you can find it, somewhat reminiscent of Buffalo Springfield.
17. The Chesterfield Kings: 99th Floor Chesterfield Kings were from upstate New York, but deserve mention here as perhaps the biggest neo-garage band of the 80's, psychedelic and fuzzed out in classic 60's fashion. They also had an intense following on the West Coast, where they appeared at amny of the same venues and gigs as the Paisley bands, making them a part of the "extended" scene. Their 1983 debut, Here Are the Chesterfield Kings, is an album of cover versions; almost no title will be familiar to those who haven't explored garage rock, but the aficianado will recognize many titles. 99th Floor was by the Moving Sidewalks, and was written by Billy Gibbons, who formed ZZ Top after the Moving Sidewalks broke up. The Chesterfield Kings have managed to survive into the 00's, releasing seven albums over the years.
18. The Pandoras: Hot Generation The Pandoras placed a distant third behind the Bangles and the Go-Go's as L.A.'s most popular all-woman band in 1984. Their debut album, It's About Time, mixed Paisley Underground-style psychedelia with X and Cramps style punk inflections and a dose of the Easybeats thrown in for good measure. After their excellent debut, the band splintered; vocalist/guitarist Paula Pierce hired three replacements and kept the band alive for two more albums. "Hot Generation" is their high point with a propulsive swagger that is a good indication of the rest of the debut's sound.
19. Matt Piucci/Tim Lee: All I Want Matt Piucci (of Rain Parade) and Tim Lee (of the MS-based Windbreakers) recorded a single album together in 1987 folowing the breakup of Rain Parade, titled Gone Fishin'. It's an interesting recording; while much of it sounds like Rain Parade, Lee brings a more rural feel to the proceedings, resulting in a sound that recalls an offbeat Long Ryders album. The album barely got distributed, and remains a rarity, but it's worth hunting down for fans of either band. Piucci would next join Crazy Horse (Neil Young's band), and appears on the 1989 album Left For Dead, although he departed soon after. He then joined Viva Saturn, a band formed by three former Rain Parade members, including Steven Roback.
20. The Leopards: Psychedelic Boy Another garage revival band active in L.A. in the 80's, The Leopards didn't rely on fuzz so much as Kinks style whimsy. Not a whole lot is remembered about the band, although "Psychedlic Boy" frequently appears on anthologies of the neo-garage and neo-psychedelic 80's band. Since the song does in fact involve a paisley shirt, it rounds out this list nicely.