Paisley Underground

the three oclock

Paisley Underground is an early genre of alternative rock, based primarily in Los Angeles, which was at its most popular in the mid-1980s. The term refers to a comment made by Michael Quercio of the band The Three O’Clock during a radio interview. Paisley Underground bands incorporated psychedelia, rich vocal harmonies, and guitar interplay in a folk rock style that owed a particular debt to The Byrds, but more generally referenced the whole range of 1960s West Coast pop and garage rock, from the Seeds to the Beach Boys.

The Dream Syndicate channeled Crazy Horse and Creedence Clearwater Revival via The Velvet Underground, while The Bangles recalled The Mamas & the Papas, Green on Red came on as a cousin to The Doors, The Long Ryders honored Gram Parsons and Buffalo Springfield, The Three O’Clock owed debt to the Bee Gees and The Monkees, and so on. The 1970s Memphis cult band Big Star, whose ‘eptember Gurls’ was covered by The Bangles, was also influential, as were Britain’s Soft Boys. Although there were accomplished musicians among them, it was also rooted—as was the punk rock that preceded it—in an inspired amateurism.

Paisley Underground bands frequently shared bills, socialized and collaborated. Members of Rain Parade, the Bangles, the Dream Syndicate and the Three O’Clock joined together to make Rainy Day, an album of cover versions of songs by the Velvet Underground, Buffalo Springfield, Bob Dylan, The Beach Boys, Big Star, Jimi Hendrix, and The Who. As ‘Danny and Dusty,’ Steve Wynn of the Dream Syndicate and Dan Stuart of Green on Red made the album ‘The Lost Weekend’ (1985) backed by members of each band along with most of The Long Ryders. Clay Allison was an offshoot band composed of David Roback and Will Glenn (Rain Parade), Kendra Smith (Dream Syndicate), Sylvia Juncosa (Leaving Trains), and Keith Mitchell (Monitor).

In the late ’70s, future Dream Syndicate members Steve Wynn and Kendra Smith were members of the Davis, California band Suspects along with Russ Tolman and Gavin Blair later of True West. True West shared many bills with the other members of the Paisley Underground and their debut album was co-produced by Steve Wynn. By far the most popular band to emerge from the movement was The Bangles, who have had massive mainstream success, although many of the groups released at least one album on a major label. Mazzy Star, another successful band with ties to the genre, evolved from Opal, which in turn evolved from Clay Allison.

The Paisley Underground sound had a surprising influence on Prince. Not only did his 1985 album ‘Around the World in a Day’ have a more psychedelic sound than any of his previous or future work, but he also named his record label (Paisley Park Records) after the movement, wrote ‘Manic Monday’ for the Bangles, and signed the Three O’Clock to his label.

By the end of the 1980s, the movement had passed from public consciousness. However, later acts Mercury Rev and Grandaddy have acknowledged its influence. The wider movement of which it is a part is named jangle pop after the ringing, light guitar sounds it often features. It was paralleled in other parts of the world by genres such as New Zealand’s Dunedin Sound, whose chief exponents (such as The Chills and Sneaky Feelings) were often cited as directly comparable to Paisley Underground bands.

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