College Rock… and the Context of 1980s College Radio That Created It

Cover of the B-52's self-titled debut album.

What do you call music that has been lumped together, but isn’t unified by similar rhythms, instrumentation, subject matter, or geographic origin? Back in the eighties to early-nineties, we called it college rock. It had no major defining characteristic, other than the obvious: if a song or artist was played almost exclusively on college stations, then it was college rock. For a while, that bond was more than enough!

Going It Alone: One-Man Bands of Various Stripes

Cover art for the Paul McCartney album McCartney II.

Several things might come to mind when hearing the term "one-man band." It could be a raucous circus act, a performer who uses looping technology to build complex, but cohesive songs on stage, or a musician who sings all the vocal parts and plays all the instruments on a recording. In recent decades, an added wrinkle has occurred as some of these multi-talented musicians have even donned band names to obscure their solo identities!

Piano Rock: From Elton John to Jack's Mannequin

The album cover for Elton John's Goodbye Yellow Brick Road.

The piano was a commonly used instrument in the days of rock and roll. When musicians started upping the volume, the result was rock, which favored electronic keyboards over the traditional piano. Nevertheless, Elton John and Billy Joel showed what could be done with a rockin' attitude and a baby grand. Although few followed their lead intially, since the nineties, a number of musicians have chosen the classic instrument over its electronic offspring.

Lovin' Lerner & Loewe

DVD cover of the 1958 movie Gigi.

Alan Jay Lerner & Frederick “Fritz” Loewe were a highly successful mid-twentieth century songwriting team that wrote lovely, romantic musicals for Broadway and Hollywood. Among their best-known shows are Paint Your Wagon, Brigadoon, My Fair Lady, Gigi, and Camelot.

Grunge: The Seattle Sound

The CD cover for Nirvana's album "Nevermind."

The rise of grunge music from the Seattle scene to the rest of the country was sudden and unexpected. Nirvana led the way, but they were neither the first, nor the last grunge band that the city helped produce. The grunge era proved short-lived, but for a time it was very potent.

Bubblegum Pop: That Sweet, Sweet Music

The CD cover for the The Monkees' self-titled album.

Bubblegum pop is a term often applied to a certain style of music with simple melodies and lyrics, but with ultra-catchy hooks. These days, when you hear the term used, it's usually in a disparaging manner. The origins of bubblegum pop were in the offices of record companies, not some kid's garage. It was a calculated attempt to create music that would appeal to a broad audience demographic, while maximizing profits for the producers. The original bubblegum era was from 1967-74 and the surprising thing is how often the producers actually succeeded in their attempts to create ear candy.

Sweet Philly Soul

The CD cover for the Spinners' anthology The Very Best of Spinners.

Eastern Iowa in the sixties and early seventies wasn't exactly a hotbed for R&B. Local radio stations played the biggest hits, but nothing more. The cultural landscape was changing, however, and thanks to television shows like The Midnight Special, even whitebread America had a chance to groove to such things as the oh-so-smooth stylings of Philly Soul.


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