The Over/Under: Galaxie 500

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Oh dear, here we go again. Writing Over/Under columns about a short-lived band with a long influential reach (see our Velvet Underground and Big Star entries) is a losing proposition, guaranteed to irk the faithful and draw charges of journalistic snobbery. And the story behind Galaxie 500’s quick rise and fall is fraught with high emotion already. Guitarist Dean Wareham, bassist Naomi Yang and drummer Damon Krukowski were high-school chums from NYC who ended up at Harvard together. Following their move to Massachusetts, Wareham and Krukowski played in a three-piece band; when their original bassist left, Yang, who’d never played bass before, stepped in. The result was Galaxie 500, a band so important to the late-’80s shoegazer/slowcore scene that the group’s first single, 1988’s “Tugboat,” is frequently identified as the launching point of the genre. Three albums and five years later, the band not only broke up but broke apart, with Krukowski and Yang hurling charges of rock-star ego at Wareham, and Wareham informing his bandmates by phone that he was leaving the group. If there was bad blood within Galaxie 500, that was nothing compared to the resultant “Dean vs. Damon & Naomi” choose-up that split the fan base. But time heals all wounds; today everyone’s friends again, and … whoops. We fact-checked. Seems this is one party that’s only gotten more awkward, what with Damon & Naomi re-posting their extensive 1997 Ptolemaic Terrascope interview about the breakup on their website, and Wareham striking back with his own version of the story in his 2008 memoir, Black Postcards. Ouch. Anyway, hop in, and let’s take Galaxie 500 for one more spin around the block.

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The Over/Under: Sunny Day Real Estate

Seattle’s Sunny Day Real Estate somehow managed to create a footprint far exceeding what would reasonably be expected of a group that produced a mere handful of albums during its relatively short tenure (1992-95 as an original quartet, then a reunion from 1997-2001 reduced to a trio). The band’s then-unique admixture of churning, guitar-driven rock, plaintive and nakedly emotional vocals (sometimes sung, sometimes screamed) and lyrics that made clear the spiritual questing of frontman Jeremy Enigk (read our 2006 Q&A with him) would ultimately earn SDRE the label “godfathers of emo,” which for better or worse would forever link it to lesser lights such as Jimmy Eat World and Fall Out Boy, but more appropriately, to similarly minded forebears such as Fugazi. After releasing two beloved but quirky full-lengths on Sub Pop back in the early ‘90s, the quartet dissolved into a puddle of timeworn rock-music clichés: Enigk declared himself born again (and in an early, prescient move, told the world about it through a post on the Internet), the rhythm section departed and hooked up with Dave Grohl (who, by then, had discovered his post-Nirvana special purpose via the Foo Fighters), and eventually, they wandered separate paths for a decade or so before finding their way back to one another and to stages across North America for a recent sold-out reunion tour, the first shows the band had played in its original form since 1995. It may be stretching things to suggest that an act better known for its influences than for any chart hits actually possesses anything in its catalog remotely overrated or underrated, and yet SDRE has inspired such a passionately devoted fanbase that it’s clear there are, in fact, peaks and valleys throughout its sonic history, which leads us down the usual path of charting the group’s five most overrated and five most underrated tracks.

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The Over/Under: The Jam

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Upon first hearing the Jam, it’s easy to imagine the songs coming right out of one of those beachside brawls in Brighton from the movie Quadrophenia. You forget the Jam wasn’t actually a mod band; it was a mod revival band. These guys didn’t even get started until the Who was pretty much done and the Kinks were up to their necks in bloated concept albums. In the late ’70s and early ’80s, the Jam picked up the torch where the original mod bands’ vibrant, early records left off and used it to set turntables on fire. They had multiple number-one hits in the U.K., but for some reason, they were never able to properly break in the U.S. In Britain, Paul Weller is a legend, a man so revered that it’s a news story when he goes to his girlfriend’s son’s soccer match. Here though, almost no one knows the man. Since the Jam broke up in 1982, Weller has staunchly refused any notion of a full-on reunion, stating he would have to be destitute to even consider the option. Instead, he has continued to doggedly release decent-but-not-great solo albums and avoid playing Jam songs in his live performances. Bassist Bruce Foxton and drummer Rick Buckler formed an offensive, half-tribute/half-reunion band called From The Jam, playing the trio’s classics with a different singer. Last month, Buckler announced he was leaving From The Jam, further dampening hopes of a full Jam reunion. Light a candle to Weller hitting the poorhouse. Here are the Jam’s five most overrated and five most underrated songs.

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The Over/Under: The Dead Kennedys

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They were one of the funniest, most consistently interesting bands to emerge from California’s first-generation hardcore scene. And yet the Dead Kennedys’ post-breakup renown languishes unfairly in this era of remastered discographies and outtake-choked bonus discs. As hardcore bands go, the DKs had a decent run, much longer than many of their contemporaries. The band formed in 1978 and released its first single, the classic “California Über Alles,” the following year. Jello Biafra, the singer and to many fans the DKs’ public face, ran for mayor of San Francisco in 1979, finishing fourth in the election. The band’s self-founded/self-operated label, Alternative Tentacles, released a series of brainy, often bizarre records by acts that flowed wide even of punk’s often conformist mainstream, a frequent target of the DKs’ snide humor. A punishing obscenity trial related to a poster included with 1985’s Frankenchrist, followed by subsequent internal tensions among the band members (which resulted in an ugly lawsuit), blew the DKs apart in 1987. The Dead Kennedys left behind four albums, an odds-and-sods collection and a handful of EPs and singles as their full legacy. But that slender output includes some of the most creative and disturbing—and often hysterical—punk music ever recorded. Of course, it also contains some misfires, so let us now praise (and bury) the Dead Kennedys. Here’s hoping for the double-disc re-release of 1980’s Fresh Fruit For Rotting Vegetables soon.

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The Over/Under: The Ramones

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The Ramones hold such a vested place in pop history that to reduce them to overrated and underrated seems like a silly endeavor. But what the hell, that’s never stopped us before. Spanning more than 20 years and 14 studio albums, the Ramones have spurred heated debate since day one and influenced, well, pretty much everybody. As wonderfully demonstrated in 2003 documentary End Of The Century, the Ramones should have always been the biggest band on the planet—and somehow they never were. Here are the five most overrated and the five most underrated releases by Dee Dee, Joey, Johnny, Marky and Tommy.

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The Over/Under: Pearl Jam

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With nine studio albums and more officially released bootlegs than any band in history, Pearl Jam has managed to not only escape the grunge pigeonhole and the shadow of Nirvana but also cement itself in rock history as one of the most uncompromising and captivating live bands of all time. Sure, Pearl Jam has inspired whole, terrible sections of the radio dial, and I cringe to imagine who will give its Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame induction speech (Eddie Vedder has done it for R.E.M., the Ramones, Neil Young and the Doors), but these guys were almost the only thing I listened to for several formative, angst-filled years growing up, and there’s something to be said for being such a major influence on mainstream modern-rock radio, just like there’s something to be said for having sold more than 50 million albums. Pearl Jam’s debut album was 1991’s Ten, and it was the first CD I ever owned. At one point, this was the biggest band in the world, but then the group decided to make a conscious effort to cut back on the videos and press and take the ride at a pace it could digest. Now the guys seem to spend most of their time surfing, skateboarding or with their families and working with various charities, but they’re still at it: Pearl Jam’s latest, Backspacer, hit Target and iTunes this week. Here are the five most overrated and the five most underrated works from the last band standing from the ’90s Seattle grunge explosion. Read our 2006 Q&A with Vedder.

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The Over/Under: Fugazi

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I was a teenage Fugazi fan. It should’ve been the easiest thing in the world: all-ages shows, all the time. Five-dollar tickets and $8 CDs so even minimum-wage lackeys like myself didn’t feel put out. Straight edge? Not really a problem when you’re under 21 and look closer to 12. But it wasn’t easy. Who could keep up with the politics, the mosh-pit etiquette, the anti-consumerism? What red-blooded American rock fan doesn’t want to buy the T-shirt? The Washington, D.C., band’s anti-merchandise stance unwittingly made fools of every clueless learner’s-permit holder with a Fugazi bumper sticker on his Honda Civic. How were we supposed to let everyone else in the high-school parking lot know how cool we were? The watchmen of politically correct American hardcore sat in judgment from the Dischord house. Now it’s our turn. Here are the five most overrated and five most underrated Fugazi songs.

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The Over/Under: The Who

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The members of the Who were the revolutionaries of the ’60s and the hard-rock heavyweights of the ’70s. At their best, they were four separate-yet-equal forces of chaos, harnessed in the pursuit of the ultimate pop song. That might sound like hyperbole, but in guitarist/songwriter Pete Townshend, the Who had a brilliant lyricist with a gift for a hook. And in Roger Daltrey, they had a vocalist often unmatched for sheer power. With a rhythm section of Keith Moon and John Entwistle, the Who should have destroyed themselves in their first practice session. And if the band’s endless, meaningless existence since Moon’s death has sullied its legacy, the albums (thankfully) speak for themselves. Here are the five most overrated and five most underrated works of the Who’s career.

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The Over/Under: Hüsker Dü

husker-duoverAh, the mid-’80s … Back when Hüsker Dü guitarist/vocalist Bob Mould was pudgier and hairier, drummer/vocalist Grant Hart was ridin’ the horse, and God knows what bassist Greg Norton had to do to stave off the migraines when Mould and Hart bitched and groused and threw chairs at each other. And somehow, when it came to the records, none of that mattered, because outside of the insect kingdom, Hüsker Dü was the fastest thing on six legs. Even now, when historicizing punk has become a cottage industry all its own, Hüsker Dü remains one of the most unfairly overlooked bands of the Reagan era, overshadowed in Minneapolis legend by the Replacements and among the venerable SST Records roster by more notorious or antic labelmates such as Black Flag and the Minutemen. That’s heavy company, but Mould, Hart and Norton underwent a remarkable and totally unique evolution over the course of seven albums, from the heart-attack pace of 1981’s Land Speed Record to sprawling swan song Warehouse: Songs And Stories just six years later. Hüsker Dü managed feats no other band of the era did—or could. They began as ferocious punks, ended as meditative dreamers and frequently tied both ends together. In the midst of an often hyper-masculine hardcore scene, two-thirds of the band was gay (Mould and Hart) and wrote songs about it, however obliquely phrased. And Hüsker Dü penned smart, articulate lyrics about art films, aging parents, gender politics and other topics that most punk bands couldn’t tackle if they had an entire defensive line. It might seem strange to tap such a generally underrated band for an Over/Under list, but this is one of those cases where if all you’ve heard is the canonical material, brother, are you in for a joy. Push play, and let it knock you down. You’ll dig it. Promise. Read a lot more about Hüsker Dü, the Replacements and the ’80s Minneapolis scene in our extensive 2005 cover story.

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The Over/Under: The National

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Admitting that last week’s Britpop-themed Over/Under got a little out of hand is the first step in realizing that puppeteering broad-based cultural phenomena via listmaking is something best left to professionals like Entertainment Weekly and Amazon.com customer reviews. By contrast, an Over/Under list for the National is so far inside MAGNET’s batcave that we probably should’ve published this thing as a group email. Can the National—an outfit with no discernible public profile or palpable commercial success (i.e., “hits”)—really have overrated songs? Let’s call this what it really is: a list of five favorites and five non-favorites from a band we’ve obsessed over since 2003’s Sad Songs For Dirty Lovers, the first of many hints that Matt Berninger and his band of brothers (the Dessners and the Devendorfs) could be the most important band since the Longpigs. (That one was for you, Britpop fans!)

Coming next week: The most overrated and underrated Sexiest Men Alive.

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