Sunday, June 10, 2012

AllMusic's Top 20 Alternative and Indie Rock records recently did an overhaul of their site design.  So far, I don't care for it too much, but I think it's just because I was used to finding what I wanted to find quickly with their old design.  I stumbled upon this list of the top 20 alternative and indie rock records, and then had a lot of trouble finding it again.

They chose 1992 as the starting point for their list because they're celebrating their 20th anniversary.  With or without an anniversary to celebrate, I think it's a better starting point than a previous list I shared that included a fair number of selections from the 1980s.  Allmusic's list is alternative and indie rock, so it's relevant when each term came into vogue.

The wikipedia post on indie rock claims that the term indie rock was initially used interchangeably with alternative rock in the 80s.  I don't agree with that.  I think a lot of the usage of "alternative" in the 80s was related to commercial alternative stations that played major label college rock. While the terms "independent music" and "indie bands" were regularly used in the 80s, I don't think the real transition from the term "underground rock" to "indie rock" happened in the US until the early 90s.

I searched the NYTimes archives for the earliest usage of some of these terms.  Clearly, the earliest usage by the NYTimes is not the same as the earliest usage in 'zines, but my eyes got blurry trying to scan the small print in all my old 'zines and I gave up.  The earliest NYTimes appearance of "indie rock" came in January, 1992.  "Alternative Rock" showed up 5 years earlier in 1987, and "Underground Rock" shows up in a piece about CBGB's from 1976.  The term "underground rock 'n' roll" is also used in some even older pieces.

The Allmusic list gives the top 20 in date order rather than rank order.  The 20 albums are by Pavement, Nirvana, Liz Phair, PJ Harvey, Portishead, Pulp, Stereolab, Beck, Belle & Sebastian, Bjork, Radiohead, Flaming Lips, Shins, Strokes, White Stripes, Arcade Fire, LCD Sound System, TV on the Radio, Animal Collective, and the XX.  I think that makes it about half indie rock and half alternative, but it's difficult to classify some of the bands who started out on indie labels, but moved to majors for their biggest (and best?) records.

I'm working on my own list of the top 50 indie rock albums, which I'll post soon.

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