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Tell Me When It’s Over: Notes from the Paisley Underground (2006) November 11, 2011

Posted by sjroby in Book reviews, Music.
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Tell Me When It's Over book cover

Tell Me When It’s Over

Only one band associated with the Paisley Underground managed to have a really big career for a while, and that only after becoming a more straightforward pop rock band. They’re barely mentioned in this book. Only one band evolved out of the scene with their individuality intact and managed to make it to the charts for one classic single, and that song isn’t mentioned in this book. Chances are that if you’ve never heard the phrase “paisley underground” you’ve still heard of the Bangles, and you’ve probably heard Mazzy Star’s “Fade Into You.” And that may be it.

But if “paisley underground” takes you back to a bunch of albums by a handful of 1980s LA groups who didn’t sound a lot alike but drew on psychedelic and ’60s influences in different ways, you’re the audience for this book. The Dream Syndicate, Rain Parade, Green On Red, the Long Ryders, the Three O’Clock, True West, Wednesday Week, and the Clay Allison/Going Home/Opal/Mazzy Star family tree are all explored in a series of magazine articles from the 1980s and early 1990s with new introductions for each band. The book, edited by Clive Jones, is a 289-page trade paperback published in the UK by Rainfall Books and available through their website.

The bands were lumped into a collective scene because they knew each other and members often moved from one band to another, or collaborated on side projects. The sound varied, sometimes from album to album in a single band’s career. Some of it’s hard psychedelic rock, some is glossy pop, some of it is a clear precursor to the alt.country scene that would kick off years later (without the gimmicky elements present in some of the cowpunk bands). Back then I liked the Dream Syndicate, the Bangles, the Three O’Clock, and the Rainy Day project, a single album featuring members of Rain Parade, the Dream Syndicate, the Bangles, the Three O’Clock, and probably others I’ve forgotten doing covers of songs by Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Big Star, the Velvet Underground, Jimi Hendrix, et al.

But did I like the book? Yeah. It’s a bit disjointed, being largely snapshots of moments in history, but I learned a lot of things I never knew in the pre-web ’80s, when I couldn’t easily expect to find magazines like Bucketfull of Brains and The Bob. And, as any book about music should do, it’s had me listening to a lot of records I haven’t listened to in far too long (Opal’s Early Recordings is playing right now). I revisited some of the albums I downloaded off eMusic in more recent years but never got into, too many years removed from those days, and discovered that I do need to listen to this stuff more regularly.

When you consider that you can have pretty much all the essential music from this scene in fewer than two dozen albums, you’re looking at a small scene, one not likely to generate a lot of books. But if you loved and remember that music, or want to discover something that left a few traces on pop culture despite being mostly underground, this book is worth a look. And how can you not love that cover art, with its paisley take on the Velvet Underground’s Loaded?