Sunday, April 19, 2009

Raining On Your Parade

Not sure why I waited so long before compiling this mix -- shortage of material, I suppose -- but it's about time. Rain Parade were one of the greatest bands ever, or at least of the 80's indie scene, though, alas, a classic example of a band whose debut album was so out-of-the-park fantastic that they never quite recaptured the same magic. Rain Parade were at the heart of the original Paisley Underground -- like-minded L.A.-based indie pop bands in the mid-'80s with a penchant for Nuggets-styled psychedelia and other retro-stylings -- alongside other legends like Dream Syndicate, the Long Ryders, the Three O'Clock (and, yes, the early pre-fame Bangles). Their debut, 1983's Emergency Third Rail Power Trip, remains one of my all-time faves, a breathtaking blend of the Byrds circa Notorious Byrd Brothers and Revolver-era Beatles (or at least the Lennon tunes); clean jangly guitars blended with buzzing Rickenbackers, trippy but hopelessly catchy as well. They tread a fine line between deliriously droning psychedelia and chiming pop not too far removed from fellow college radio champions R.E.M. Brothers Steven & David Roback fronted the band but, sadly, David departed after the first album (teaming first with Dream Syndicate's Kendra Smith as Opal, and later finding brief mid-90s fame with Hope Sandoval as Mazzy Star). Brother Steven soldiered on, and 1984's ep Explosions in the Glass Palace was, though shorter, still solid, with "You Are My Friend" and "Blue" nearly as strong as the debut and "No Easy Way Down" a headphone-friendly blend of the Doors' "The End" and any number of Nuggets garage bands. (Both the album and follow-up ep were compiled onto a single cd, and it's undeniably a must-own.)

Things sorta fizzled after that. In 1985, they released the "live" album Beyond The Sunset (I use the term loosely, as, despite some polite clapping between tracks, it sounds polished enough to have been recorded in the studio). Mostly amped-up versions of tracks from the first album and ep (not indispensible, but still great), plus a few unreleased songs and a killer (though thoroughly loyal) cover of Television's "Ain't That Nothing." Then came their swan-song, 1986's Crashing Dream, a polished major label release that, while not terrible, loses most of the trippy edge from the earlier work. The only truly great song here, "Don't Feel Bad," sounds like it could have been on the first album (and, since it was included on the '85 live set, it was presumably kicking around since the early days); other songs, while decent enough, suffer from the 80s production values that plagued a lot of otherwise strong college radio music of the era. (Neither Sunset nor Crashing got a proper cd release, to my knowledge, so I had to rely on vinyl conversions for the mix; flawed or not, they certain deserve better treatment than this.)

Steven Roback and other members of the band soldiered on, releasing a few albums as Viva Saturn. Nothing essential, much of the work sounded like standard-issue mid-90s alt.rock along the lines of a second-tier Luna. A few good songs per album, though, so still worth hunting down for fans of Rain Parade looking to squeeze a few more drops out of the once-genius combo.

Here's "No Easy Way Down" (the version from the live album, I think, and already I'm regretting using the studio version on my mix)...


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