So a few weeks back a fellow South Carolina freelancer and I were debating one of those online lists, this one featured the top 100 indie rock songs of the 80’s and we were incensed that it only included one or maybe two songs from the southeast–which was a hotbed of great music in that era. I determined that needed fixing, so here’s my very personal list of the best 25 college radio tunes from the southeast in the 1980s. Feel free to argue with me about the choices in the comments, or add your own.
25. Lava Love, Juke Jubilee: Atlanta beach blanket bubblegum popsters with an irrepressible, helium-driven lead singer.
24. Drivin’ N’ Cryin’, Catch the Wind: Not their best known or most rocking song (that would be the 90’s southern anthem “Straight to Hell” and 1986’s “Scarred But Smarter”, respectively) but one of Kevn Kinney’s first great acoustic/quieter songs.
23. Bachelors of Art, Cut the Ropes: Regionally popular Columbia, SC act that followed the goth-pop trends of the day and did it better than most of the major acts. This version is from a reunion gig a few years ago, where they still sounded great.
22. Flat Duo Jets, Wild Wild Lover: Can’t talk about the southeast in the 80’s without mentioning the crazed rockabilly of Dexter Romweber; they even got to play this one on Letterman.
21. Dreams So Real, Bearing Witness: Criticized (not unfairly, to be honest) at the time for being an R.E.M. ripoff, they still had some pretty good songs like this one.
20. Guadalcanal Diary, Under the Yoke: Atlanta act that never quite broke through despite several major label albums, this is from the excellent 2×4 album.
19. Swimming Pool Q’s, The Bells Ring: Majestic, sweeping power pop and jagged art-rock combined in the best songs from this Atlanta band.
18. Chris Stamey, Cara Lee: Half of the songwriting partnership of the original dB’s, this comes from Stamey’s first solo album after leaving the band.
17. Jason and the Scorchers, Broken Whiskey Glass: Best live band in the south, maybe in the country, back then…one of many great songs of theirs.
16. Government Cheese, C’mon Back to Bowling Green: Tommy Womack’s original band.
15. Dash Rip Rock, Endeavor: Their reputation as a great bar band is well deserved, but this is a simple, melodic, great tune.
14. Southern Culture on the Skids, Eight Piece Box: Redneck rockabilly stereotypes abound in this NC band’s songs, but nobody was more fun to see live.
13. Fetchin’ Bones, Stray: Hope Nichols was a rock star way before Gwen Stefani, and a much better one.
12, Marti Jones, If I Could Love Somebody: One of the best song interpreters in the 80’s, Jones parlayed her association with members of the dB’s, husband Don Dixon, and more into a string of great albums. This one’s a John Hiatt song.
11. Let’s Active, Every Word Means No: Mitch Easter has had more influence as a producer than an artist, but this band might balance the two sides out, almost.
10. The Windbreakers, I’ll Be Back: Deep south power pop from the team of Tim Lee (who wrote this one) and Bobby Sutliff.
9. The Producers, What’s He Got: Atlanta pop/party band, this was a minor hit on Top 40 radio at the time.
8. Will and the Bushmen, 500 Miles: Will Kimbrough is better known now for his tenure with Todd Snider and his own solo singer-songwriter albums, but this was his first band and still one of my favorite songs from him.
7. The Primitons, Don’t Go Away: Alabama had a good scene in the 80’s with Carnival Season, The Storm Orphans, and this band topping the list of acts from the region.
6. dB’s, She Got Soul: Peter Holsapple and Chris Stamey were the American Lennon and McCartney, at least for a few albums. This track is from the first LP without Stamey, which makes it even more impressive that they continued to write and release great material. (Edited per correction in comments–KO)
5. Don Dixon, Praying Mantis: Just a fun, crazy song–and the video is a hoot. Speaking of hoots, Hootie and the Blowfish covered this song regularly from their earliest days.
4. The Connells, Scotty’s Lament: Most underrated southeastern band of the 80’s? maybe because they were such a popular act with the frat crowds it scared off the hipper kids, but the Connells had a bunch of great songs including this one.
3. The Reivers, In Your Eyes: Going from Zeitgeist to The Reivers for their major label debut, the songs stayed transcendent, soaring masterpieces.
2. Tommy Keene, Places That Are Gone: Is there a more perfect power pop tune? I don’t think so.
1. R.E.M., So. Central Rain: The band that everyone in the southeast wanted to be, or the one that inspired them to say ‘hey I want to do that’; this was their best early song.