American history in particular is written by the winners (Ask Sitting Bull) so it’s hard now not to believe that their key musical outputs from the 1980’s consisted solely of Prince, Madonna or Bruce Springsteen.
In reality though there was a thriving, coast-to-coast “alternative” scene, propagated by college radio, facilitated by tape swapping networks and a live circuit first slogged by hardcore bands such as Black Flag.
Formed in New Jersey The Smithereens were one of a number of groups of the time that existed just off the mainstream’s radar on both sides of the Atlantic. Yesterday they announced that lead singer Pat DiNizio had died at the age of 62.
Occasionally bracketed with some of the groups associated with the Paisley Underground, The Smithereens were in reality were much more a straight ahead rock and roll outfit, although their most popular songs in the UK – Only A Memory and Behind The Wall of Sleep – bore a passing resemblance to period REM.
The Smithereens first two albums Especially For You (1986) and Green Thoughts (’88) remain great markers for a scene which thrived with diversity and threw up the occasional minor Billboard hit. After a brief hiatus at the turn of the millennium they and DiNizio remained active performers until earlier this year.
My slightly battered but intact copy of Only a Memory.