120 Reasons To Live: Miracle Legion

Nothing did more to further the cause of Alternative Nation-building than 120 Minutes, MTV’s Sunday-night video showcase of non-mainstream acts. For nearly two decades, the program spanned musical eras from ’80s college rock to ’00s indie, with grunge, Britpop, punk, industrial, electronica and more in between. MAGNET raids the vaults to resurrect our 120 favorite and unjustly forgotten videos from the show’s classic era.

#9: Miracle Legion “You’re The One Lee”

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2ATHaT641ZA

At the risk of sounding like a sensitive artist (don’t worry; King Missile will have its day in this godforsaken endeavor), the way director Jem Cohen captures the unencumbered dancing of Miracle Legion frontman Mark Mulcahy, and the way he inverts the A-frame Connecticut homes and colors them with the bone-and-amber palette of an Andrew Wyeth painting—it’s pretty special. Cohen is a wizard of the Super 8 and 16 mm documentary video style (Fugazi’s Instrument, R.E.M.’s “Nightswimming”), and 1989’s “You’re The One Lee” is an early masterwork. Cohen couldn’t have a better soundtrack than this, however; Miracle Legion never got out from R.E.M.’s shadow in the crowded, artsy folk-pop market of 1980s college radio, but Mulcahy might have been the only singer in this whitebread milieu to achieve musical moments that could be described as “soulful.” Don’t take our word for it: a 2009 benefit album for Mulcahy titled Ciao My Shining Star featured covers of his songs by admirers such as Thom Yorke, Stipe, the National, Frank Black, Dinosaur Jr and others. The reason for the tribute is almost too painful to mention after hearing a love song like “You’re The One Lee”: It was to raise money for Mulcahy and his twin daughters after the sudden death of his wife Melissa in 2008.

120 Reasons To Live: Shudder To Think

Nothing did more to further the cause of Alternative Nation-building than 120 Minutes, MTV’s Sunday-night video showcase of non-mainstream acts. For nearly two decades, the program spanned musical eras from ’80s college rock to ’00s indie, with grunge, Britpop, punk, industrial, electronica and more in between. MAGNET raids the vaults to resurrect our 120 favorite and unjustly forgotten videos from the show’s classic era.

#8: Shudder To Think “X-French Tee Shirt”

We make no apologies for centering this 120 Minutes-athon in the 1988-1991 era; it was the show’s heyday. Even as the alt-rock market got saturated in the mid-’90s, however, there were still some surprises in store. Shudder To Think was one of the oddest major-label signings of the decade, partnering with Epic for 1994’s Pony Express Record. The band led by singer Craig Wedren and guitarist Nathan Larson got its start in the D.C. hardcore scene and issued three albums on Dischord, but Shudder To Think was unlike anything else coming out of 3819 Beecher St.: a mix of avant-garde punk, glam and Queen-y arena rock. Since MAGNET has already covered the video for Pony Express single “Hit Liquor” (which was banned in Canada for “unnecessary cannibalism and necrophilia”), the clip for “X-French Tee Shirt”—which is a better song than “Hit Liquor” anyway—is presented here. Two cursory comments: Wedren’s look is already creepy; did he really need to wear all those rings? And Larson’s erratic right-hand guitar stroke was one of the coolest things about seeing Shudder live.

Shudder To Think split up after 1997’s 50,000 B.C. but Larson and Wedren have each found success scoring music for films and doing other projects. Wedren recently made MAGNET a mix tape and Larson guest edited our site with wife/Cardigans frontwoman Nina Persson, with whom he records as A Camp. Shudder reunited in 2008 for a brief tour.

120 Reasons To Live: Ride

Nothing did more to further the cause of Alternative Nation-building than 120 Minutes, MTV’s Sunday-night video showcase of non-mainstream acts. For nearly two decades, the program spanned musical eras from ’80s college rock to ’00s indie, with grunge, Britpop, punk, industrial, electronica and more in between. MAGNET raids the vaults to resurrect our 120 favorite and unjustly forgotten videos from the show’s classic era.

#7: Ride “Taste”

[myspace]http://vids.myspace.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=vids.individual&videoID=1524429479[/myspace]

Another of the many reasons that the U.K.’s vaunted shoegaze music failed to take the U.S. by storm: lackluster videos and their relative inefficiency. Ride’s “Taste” (from 1990’s Fall EP and subsequently included on debut album Nowhere) is an exciting, accessible song in shoegaze’s most adorably mumbling and foggiest fashion; it just wasn’t helped by a promotional clip that erred on the side of caution. “Taste” wasn’t exactly a staple of 120 Minutes in the spring of ’91, and the whole brigade of shoegazers (Ride, My Bloody Valentine, Lush) quickly disappeared from sight (and short-term memory) as videos from Nevermind and Blood Sugar Sex Magik began debuting that summer.

120 Reasons To Live: Kraftwerk

Nothing did more to further the cause of Alternative Nation-building than 120 Minutes, MTV’s Sunday-night video showcase of non-mainstream acts. For nearly two decades, the program spanned musical eras from ’80s college rock to ’00s indie, with grunge, Britpop, punk, industrial, electronica and more in between. MAGNET raids the vaults to resurrect our 120 favorite and unjustly forgotten videos from the show’s classic era.

#6: Kraftwerk “Pocket Calculator”

One regular feature of 120 Minutes was the “Cult Classic” video, an occasional airing of mostly pre-MTV videos by seminal bands (often Joy Division or, in the ’90s, the from-the-vault video in question could just as well be a mid-’80s Smiths clip). Well-intentioned and educational as the Cult Classic videos may have been, in the case of Kraftwerk, it was actually somewhat of a disservice: “Pocket Calculator” is kitsch-value krautrock and surely the inspiration for Saturday Night Live‘s “Sprockets” skit. It took years—and several Stereolab albums—to convince many of us that krautrock had value beyond the bloopy electronics of “Pocket Calculator.” But maybe Neu! and Can just didn’t have Kraftwerk’s dance moves. Whatever impression “Pocket Calculator” made on the average Jesus And Mary Chain fan at the time, it was indelible.

120 Reasons To Live: The Lightning Seeds

Nothing did more to further the cause of Alternative Nation-building than 120 Minutes, MTV’s Sunday-night video showcase of non-mainstream acts. For nearly two decades, the program spanned musical eras from ’80s college rock to ’00s indie, with grunge, Britpop, punk, industrial, electronica and more in between. MAGNET raids the vaults to resurrect our 120 favorite and unjustly forgotten videos from the show’s classic era.

#5: The Lightning Seeds “Pure”

We always wondered what happened to Spaz from Meatballs. But so what if Lightning Seeds frontman Ian Broudie isn’t one of the beautiful people? “Pure” is one of the sweetest slices of geek-love pop to grace the 120 Minutes time slot. Broudie, a Liverpool punk turned producer (Echo & The Bunnymen, the Fall), debuted with the Lightning Seeds “to see if I could cut as a muso,” and 1989’s Cloudcuckooland was all the proof anyone needed. The Lightning Seeds are still around—the group issued an album in 2009 and toured with Squeeze earlier this year—but the wide-eyed wonder of “Pure” is a singular, delicate triumph. Watch out, microwaves: Here’s a song that’s really good at melting hearts.

120 Reasons To Live: Frank Black

Nothing did more to further the cause of Alternative Nation-building than 120 Minutes, MTV’s Sunday-night video showcase of non-mainstream acts. For nearly two decades, the program spanned musical eras from ’80s college rock to ’00s indie, with grunge, Britpop, punk, industrial, electronica and more in between. MAGNET raids the vaults to resurrect our 120 favorite and unjustly forgotten videos from the show’s classic era.

#4: Frank Black “Los Angeles”

The Pixies are dead—long live the Pixies. But when Frank Black, dressed like Mad Max, careens through the desert in a hovercraft, all you can think is “That’s badass.” The video for “Los Angeles”—which also manages to skewer then-dominant neo-hair band grunge acts via a parodic depiction of Soundgarden-alikes—was a huge coup. Not only were fans curious as to what Black’s solo career would produce, there were also rumors that his self-titled 1993 debut would be a covers album. (It turned out to be all originals, aside from a version of the Beach Boys’ “Hang On To Your Ego.”) Whatever your take on the legacy of the Pixies vs. Black’s solo stuff, “Los Angeles,” directed by They Might Be Giants’ John Flansburgh, is easily the best video Black has ever made.

120 Reasons To Live: Iggy Pop

Nothing did more to further the cause of Alternative Nation-building than 120 Minutes, MTV’s Sunday-night video showcase of non-mainstream acts. For nearly two decades, the program spanned musical eras from ’80s college rock to ’00s indie, with grunge, Britpop, punk, industrial, electronica and more in between. MAGNET raids the vaults to resurrect our 120 favorite and unjustly forgotten videos from the show’s classic era.

#3: Iggy Pop “Butt Town”

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=luFKCwo96l4

Admittedly, the Beavis and Butt-head framing of “Butt Town” isn’t exactly a fair-and-balanced remembrance of the 1990 single. Then again, Iggy Pop seemed more dinosaur than icon at the time—maybe his Stooges legacy hadn’t quite ripened on the vine—and he did, after all, record a song called “Butt Town” to rail against the shallow vibe and “Call me, babe” mantra of Los Angeles. In reality, 1990’s Brick By Brick allowed Iggy to gain some commercial ground. The Don Was-produced album was certified gold and featured contributions from the B-52’s Kate Pierson and Guns N’ Roses’ Slash and Duff McKagan. Whether he recouped any alt-rock cred is questionable, despite Butt-head’s insistence that “Butt Town” has the best lyrics he’s ever heard.

120 Reasons To Live: The Go-Betweens

Nothing did more to further the cause of Alternative Nation-building than 120 Minutes, MTV’s Sunday-night video showcase of non-mainstream acts. For nearly two decades, the program spanned musical eras from ’80s college rock to ’00s indie, with grunge, Britpop, punk, industrial, electronica and more in between. MAGNET raids the vaults to resurrect our 120 favorite and unjustly forgotten videos from the show’s classic era.

#2: The Go-Betweens “Was There Anything I Could Do?”

Not so much a favorite video as a well-loved song, the clip for “Was There Anything I Could Do?” neatly illustrates why, perhaps, Australia’s Go-Betweens never achieved the level of fame acquired by peers such as R.E.M. and the Smiths. The Go-Betweens had no idea how to act like pop stars, and this video has all the guile and angst of a Mentos commercial. Robert Forster is rocking some proto-Crispin Glover makeup, Grant McLennan appears unfamiliar with the concept of singing into a microphone, and violinist Amanda Brown is involved in some slow-motion shots that are ill-advised even for the late ’80s. 16 Lovers Lane had a lot going for it—it also includes standout tracks “Streets Of Your Town” and “Dive For Your Memory”—but it’s no mystery why the Go-Betweens were underrated for so long.

120 Reasons To Live: The Timelords

Nothing did more to further the cause of Alternative Nation-building than 120 Minutes, MTV’s Sunday-night video showcase of non-mainstream acts. For nearly two decades, the program spanned musical eras from ’80s college rock to ’00s indie, with grunge, Britpop, punk, industrial, electronica and more in between. MAGNET raids the vaults to resurrect our 120 favorite and unjustly forgotten videos from the show’s classic era.

#1: The Timelords “Doctorin’ The Tardis”

What better way to kick off the Wayback Machine than with a 1968 Ford Galaxie and a Doctor Who-themed novelty single? London acid-house duo Bill Drummond and Jimmy Cauty mashed up the theme music from sci-fi program Doctor Who and Gary Glitter’s “Rock And Roll (Part Two)” simply to prove the point that they could have a U.K. number-one single. It worked, topping the charts in 1988 and eliciting howls of derision from music critics unable to indulge a guilty pleasure. That same year, the Timelords issued a book titled The Manual (How To Have A Number One The Easy Way), a treatise on achieving a hit single without any money or musical talent; Drummond and Cauty went on to form the KLF and become one of the most commercially successful acts of the early ’90s. In 1992, the KLF deleted its entire catalog and, two years later, burned £1 million on an island off the coast of Scotland. But we digress. “Doctorin’ The Tardis”—the TARDIS is the name given to the time machine in Doctor Who—was testament to 120 Minutes‘ oddity-based programming criteria, no matter whether the music in question was a strictly underground affair or a blatant (but fun) gimmick.