Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Wedenesday's Radio Show – All Hail the IRS! (The record label, that is)

Here is the playlist from this morning's show. As always, the underlined (or highlighted) links are playable downloads of the entire song.

Pale Blue Eyes R.E.M. (1984)
American Beat 84 The Fleshtones (1984)

Best Friend The English Beat (1980)

Goo Goo Muck The Cramps (1981)

Mary Street The Bangles (1982)

Perfect Circle R.E.M. (1983)

The Stand The Alarm (1983)

Rainy Season Howard Devoto (1983)

Dance with Me Lords of the New Church (1983)

Room with a View Lets Active (1983)

Head Over Heels The Go-Go's (1984)

Blue Kiss Jane Wiedlin (1985)
Throw Your Arms Around Me Hunters and Collectors (1986)

The Big Heat Stan Ridgway (1986)

Welcome To The Human Race Timbuk 3 (1986)

Joey Concrete Blonde (1990)

Away From Home Klark Kent (1980)

Almost made it: "If We Never Meet Again" Reckless Sleepers; "Can You Get To That? Balancing Act; Stranglers "Duchess "; Animals "It's My Life"; "Everybody's Happy Nowadays," Buzzcocks; General Public "So Hot You're Cool"; Oingo Boingo "Only a Lad"; Jools Holland; Two Men, a Drum Machine and a Trumpet "Tired of Getting Pushed Around," Hindu Love Gods, "Gonna Have a Good Time Tonight"

Unfortunate exclusions: (Not in print or containing objectionable words – two Orchard Radio no-nos): Concrete Blonde; "Still in Hollywood"; Dead Kennedys "Holiday in Cambodia"; Intimate Strangers/Raise The Dragon "Blue Hour"

No way (on principle): Anything by Belinda Carlisle, Torch Song or Fine Young Cannibals; "Spirit in the Sky," Doctor and the Medics; "Mexican Radio", Wall of Voodoo.

I have to admit that what you see to the right was the impetus behind the show. I was recently going through my old cassette cases and I came across these gems: Compilation tapes that IRS distributed in 1984-85 during CMJ and NMS, two industry conventions I attended. I have also included a link to the PDFs of these cassette covers. They are really amazing collections that amount to IRS greatest hits collections. R.E.M., Let's Active, General Public, The Fleshtones, Hunters & Collectors, The Animals and Concrete Blonde (then known as Dream 6 until Michael Stipe renamed them). And these cassettes just scratch the surface of what this incredible label put out.

Those of us who worked in college radio during the 80s knew this: When anything arrived in the mail from IRS Records, you listened to it. It was the label you trusted most implicitly to put out good music. Sure, Sire, Geffen and Elektra had it going for a few years, but overall nearly everything IRS put out was worth serious attention – even the duds (like the label's attempt at techno-pop, Torch Song).

One interesting thing arose out of today's show. My wife, though she is two weeks younger than me, has an intense aversion to anything 80s. She's a Radiohead and Nick Cave fan, so anything that stinks of hair mousse really riles her. When I got home after doing a show that almost entirely consisted of 1980-86 music – the label's glory years – she told me that she was amazed at the high quality of music. How it still sounded totally fresh and not 80s at all. I consider that a high compliment.

Yes, my choices were on the mainstream side, although I scrupulously avoided some of the label's biggest hits such as "Mad About You," "She Drives Me Crazy" and "The Future's So Bright I Gotta Wear Shades." But that's where IRS had its biggest impact: Widening mainstream America's taste so that it would listen to what was coming out of college radio, whether it was R.E.M., the Go Gos or the English Beat/General Public. Sure, they had the Buzzcocks, Stranglers and the Dead Kennedys (through Faulty Products, their short-lived subsidiary). But this was never a punk rock label. Nor was it ever completely out there, though Klaus Nomi, Suburban Lawns and Skafish were in its stable at one time. Today's Adult Alternative radio format probably owes its very existence to IRS Records and what they popularized.

I know I've already written too much, but I wanted to share a few more more thoughts for posterity's sake. If you want more information about IRS, I highly suggest the excellent fan site IRS Corner.

  • Sure, Miles Copeland (brother of Stewart) founded the label in 1979 but Jay Boberg deserves a lot of credit for making IRS what it became. After all, Copeland's credentials before his venture were as manager of the rock dinosaurs Wishbone Ash and Renaissance. Boberg, age 21 and an A&M promo rep when Copeland hired him and soon named him president, broadened the IRS' original concept as a distribution label and pounced on the right bands in the beginning – including the Buzzcocks, Oingo Boingo and The Go-Go's.

  • The album cover for Jane Wiedlin's first solo LP is still an all-time favorite. So cool.

  • You know how they talk about 1939 as the watershed year for great movies? Well, 1983 was the watershed year for IRS. Consider the classic albums that the label released that year: R.E.M.'s Murmur, English Beat's What is Beat?, The Fleshtones' Hexbreaker, Lords of the New Church's Is Nothing Sacred?, Let's Active's Afoot and Howard Devoto's sorely underrated Jerky Versions of a Dream.

  • I still own a signed vinyl LP of Cypress (1984) from Let's Active. That is all.


Leon said...

Hey hey hey awesome blog!! Why no Fine Young Cannibals? They are one of my favorites!

We have a very similar blog! I spin 80s on a radio show in Albany NY and have a blog, too! Check it out - Want to trade links??

Rob said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Rob said...

Everybody has their pet peeves – and unfortunately, FYC is one of them. Too much "she Drives Me Crazy" drove me crazy, I guess. Note, however, that the English Beat was prominently represented.

Links are about to be to the already crowded right side of the blog page. Yours will be among them, I promise.

Leon said...

Wooo thanks! You're on mine!
Leon et Molson Ice

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