The 25 Best Southeastern College Rock Songs From the 1980s

File-Keenesongs

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.

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32 thoughts on “The 25 Best Southeastern College Rock Songs From the 1980s

      1. @kevin you must be mistaken on who you saw, because if you saw the white animals even once in the 80s you would never forget Ecstasy, Constant Attention, This Girl Of Mine or their better than the doors cover of Gloria. Saw them last night in Atlanta and they are as awesome as ever even 30 years later.

  1. I didn’t recognize a lot of these. I predicted REM would hold the number one spot. Thought it would have been superman. What happened to:
    The Further I get: The Cure
    Threes a magic number: 808 State
    Needed to have something in there from B52’s.
    Probably the Cult should represent.
    No new tale to tell: Love ‘n Rockets
    There are others

      1. …and the fact that the B-52s had pretty much “made it” by the early 80s means they were touring big venues and had somewhat lost their college-touring flavor. I still love ’em, from Rock Lobster to Love Shack (it’s a sentimental thing, I know), and although they fit the list geographically, it still feels like they’re kind of an outlier to the spirit of the list (I’m using my having been lucky enough to have seen Gov’t Cheese and REM in college-town venues at the time for context). Would that be accurate, Kevin?

      2. yes, that’s pretty much along my lines of thinking in the original culling of the list…I think Rock Lobster was on the long version, but in my 80’s college radio days we really had moved on from playing them after that.

  2. Great post! Listening to these took me right back to my youth in Nashville, TN. Good to see some Nashville and So KY representation as well! I probably would have put a Walk the West or Royal Court of China selection in there but I’m not complaining.

    Since you have a knowledge of the music from that time and region, maybe you can help me out. I found an old cassette tape I made in high school that was labeled 91 Rock (WRVU the vanderbilt alt station back in the day) and there is a song on there I love, but i cant figure out who did it. The lyrics are un-googleable (at least they don’t come back with any results) which supports my theory that the song was Southeast regional from the mid to late 80s.

    Based on the chorus, I think the song is titled “Hear the Wind Blow” the chorus is something like this:

    Nobody knows just who I am
    I dont want to be a lonely man
    Nobody else would understand
    Nobody else would give a damn

    Any of that look or sound familiar?

    1. Dean, my best friend (Murray State grad) was a DJ/ Program Director of WAKY radio here in Louisville around that time, and is the author of a rock trivia book (Rock and Roll Heaven Entrance Exam): if Kevin doesn’t recognize the lyrics, I’ll be glad to ask him if you’d like. G. is my go-to when I get a song stuck in my head that I can’t identify.

  3. Great post! Listening to these took me right back to my youth in Nashville, TN. Good to see some Nashville and So KY representation as well! I probably would have put a Walk the West or Royal Court of China selection in there but I’m not complaining.

    Since you have a knowledge of the music from that time and region, maybe you can help me out. I found an old cassette tape I made in high school that was labeled 91 Rock (WRVU the vanderbilt alt station back in the day) and there is a song on there I love, but i cant figure out who did it. The lyrics are un-googleable (at least they don’t come back with any results) which supports my theory that the song was Southeast regional from the mid to late 80s.

    Based on the chorus, I think the song is titled “Hear the Wind Blow” the chorus is something like this:

    Nobody knows just who I am
    I dont want to be a lonely man
    Nobody else would understand
    Nobody else would give a damn

    Any of that sound familiar?

  4. Eight Piece Box by Southern Culture was from the 90s. Chris Stamey had left the Dbs by the time “She’s Got Soul” was released. I hate to be that guy, but you could have easily found songs by both bands that would have been accurate (written by Stamey and Holsaple in the Dbs case, released in the 80s for SCOTS)

    1. right on both counts, thanks for the corrections and I appreciate you being ‘that guy’..
      . I almost included “Amplifier” in the dB’s case instead, so as you point out it’s an easy switch there–or I just take out the mention of Stamey in the case of “She’s Got Soul”. As for SCOTS, Eight Piece Box originally appeared on Too Much Pork in 1990, so it’s right on the cusp of the 80’s. Having seen them many times in those late 80’s club days I still associate them with that time.

  5. Cool List, I’ve been working on my master 80s playlist over the last several weeks, so I just went through that to see which tracks I would select as my personal top 25 Southeastern College Rock tracks. We’ve got several overlapping selections and several overlapping bands. Here’s my list (in alphabetical by artist):

    1. B-52’s – Give Me Back My Man
    2. Better Than Ezra – Hold Me Down
    3. Alex Chilton – No Sex
    4. Connells – Scotty’s Lament
    5. The dB’s – Big Brown Eyes
    6. Don Dixon – Southside Girl
    7. Dreams So Real – Everywhere Girl
    8. Drivin’ n’ Cryin’ – Scarred But Smarter
    9. Guadalcanal Diary – Watusi Rodeo
    10. Jason & the Scorchers – Broken Whiskey Glass
    11. Tommy Keene – Places That Are Gone
    12. Let’s Active – Every Word Means No
    13. Love Tractor – Beatle Boots
    14. Method Actors – Do the Method
    15. Primitons – All My Friends
    16. The Producers – What’s He Got
    17. Pylon – Gravity
    18. R.E.M. – Pretty Persuasion
    19. Red Rockers – Teenage Underground
    20. Reivers – In Your Eyes
    21. Smokin’ Dave & the Premo Dopes – Every Summer
    22. Squirrel Bait – Sun God
    23. Vulgar Boatmen – Decision by the Airport
    24. Will & the Bushmen – Bus Stop
    25. Windbreakers – Run

  6. I really appreciated reading/listening to this post. I was running around Atlanta in the late 80’s going to see a lot of these bands. On my list Fetchin Bones would be much higher up but it’s all relative and this is your list not mine. They were truly a powerful live act.
    Thanks for making your list.

  7. Not quibbling with any of the picks and not suggesting that anything be left out, but if I was going to pick a Jason & The Scorchers song it would be White Lies or their cover of Absolutely Sweet Marie, for Drivin’N’Cryin’ I’d go with Fly Me Courageous. I probably would have found room for an Adam’s House Cat song (early band with Patterson Hood and Mike Cooley) (probably Cemeteries, but that’s just me, Most would probably pick Runaway Train or Smiling At Girls), Telluride’s Birmingham Tonight, Dash Rip Rock’s Jenny Says, so much good music from that time and place.

  8. Great list – I’d love to see a similar list done for the 90’s. I was in Athens in the mid- to late- 90’s, and while I know a lot of these acts/songs, it would be fun to read an experts thoughts on the next decade. Bands like Charlie Mars, Jupiter Coyote, Hootie (yes, I did mention them), People Who Must, Stewart & Winfield, and Memory Dean all come to mind, but thats just one layman’s memories.

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