VARIOUS ARTISTS -- Hang the DJ: Modern Rock 1986-88 (Rhino)

Finally--a new collection of 80's music that doesn't suck. The last good one was the Greenpeace Rainbow Warriors collection in 1989. Hang the DJ is an excellent series of three individually available CDs (one for each year). Instead of just putting out the same old schlock that keeps getting reissued, Rhino went after the more obscure tracks: things played on college radio stations, songs from movie soundtracks, etc. There are a few cuts from the majors, but overall the CDs lean toward the less mainstream acts--and not necessarily their biggest hits. The result is a great collection of tunes, with a few hard-to-find tracks as icing on the cake.

1986's disc starts off with "Panic" by The Smiths. Granted, the CDs got their name from the song's chorus, but do we really need to hear Morrissey's incessant whining? I know I don't. The good thing about this is that just about everything else on the disc is better. Siouxsie & the Banshees' "Cities in Dust" is here, along with The Alarm and one of their best, "Strength." There are several other highlights too, like "Pleasure and Pain" from Divinyls, "Desire (Come and Get It)" by Gene Loves Jezebel, and Guadalcanal Diary's college classic, "Cattle Prod." The superstars make a few appearances on these discs too. Pretenders, Depeche Mode and Eurythmics all have tracks on this one.

Besides tracks by R.E.M. and Red Hot Chili Peppers, the 1987 disc caters toward the more 'underground' acts. Most of the artists on this disc have larger fan bases outside the US. Julian Cope's "World Shut Your Mouth" was one of the coolest songs released that year, along with Love and Rockets' "No New Tale to Tell" and "4th of July" from X. The 1987 CD has a couple of covers too--"Hazy Shade of Winter" by The Bangles, and 10000 Maniacs' rendition of "Peace Train." Also included are tracks from Concrete Blonde, Public Image Limited, The Sugarcubes, and Psychedelic Furs (the only artist to appear on all three discs).

The 1988 disc is a bit more eclectic than the others. Starting with The Church's debut single in the US, "Under the Milky Way," and then moving through tracks by tracks by The Primitives, Billy Bragg, & Jane's Addiction, the 1988 disc covers a bit more musical territory than the other two. Transvision Vamp's "Tell That Girl to Shut Up" and Peter Murphy's "All Night Long" are two of the highlights. The award for the strangest sequencing of songs in the series goes to this disc--Ministry's "Stigmata," followed by the stark contrast of Cowboy Junkies' "Sweet Jane." Everything But The Girl wraps things up on the 1988 disc with their track from the She's Having a Baby soundtrack, "Apron Strings."

All three discs include 18 tracks, and excellent liner notes. There was a lot more going on in the music world during the 80's than just Dexy's Midnight Runners, Culture Club and Duran Duran, and this series does a fine job of assembling it. If you're one of those people who think the 80's were musically a waste of time, check out the Hang the DJ series and see what you missed.

© 1997 Steve Marshall