January 21 – Chart Finale 2 : Going Out With A Bang

Eleven years to the day after one of the big alt rock bands of the ’80s launched what would be their final top 40 American hit onto the charts (The Police with “Wrapped Around Your Finger” which we looked at on today’s other post), another one of the biggies of the ’80s alt rock scene did the same. R.E.M. hit the U.S. top 40 for the final time this day in 1995 with “Bang and Blame.”

Which is surprising given that they were red-hot at the time and we often look back at the ’90s as being the decade when “alternative” rock became the dominant, mainstream version of it. And while it might have been true of album-buyers and the thriving number of alt-rock based radio stations, it probably wasn’t so true of mainstream radio nor the diminishing number of consumers who were still buying physical singles, be they vinyl or CD types.

Bang and Blame” followed “What’s the Frequency Kenneth?” as the second single off the band’s Monster album, which took many by surprise given that it was loud, brash and grunge-inspired, following on the heels of two, well “monster”-selling largely acoustic records, Out of Time and Automatic for the People. Part of that was the desire to do a large tour for the record, something they hadn’t done since the ’80s, and wanting some new songs fitting a big sports stadium type show befitting a band Rolling Stone at the time described as “one of the most successful on the planet.” A mantel which might have been weighing heavily on Michael Stipe who still didn’t adore the spotlight, at least when off-stage. The same magazine, in its review of the album chided “Bang and Blame” for beginning to “sound not unlike the proverbial rock star, whining about all those fans who just won’t let (Michael Stipe) alone.” Cashbox looked at it more positively, declaring “the propulsive rhythm of this track should also prove enticing even to non-fans.” Interestingly, it’s the only R.E.M. song where Michael Stipe’s sister, Lynda, is credited, as a backing vocalist.

It seemed they were right, the rhythm, imaginative, split-screen, fast-changing video and sing-along chorus made it their last overall big American hit, getting to #19. It became their fifth to top the Billboard Alternative Rock chart. Elsewhere, the reaction was better as their fanbase seemed to shift outside their nation’s borders. It got to #15 in the UK but in Canada was a #1 song. More to that point, while it was their last top 40 at home, they’d score ten more in Canada over the following decade and a remarkable 17 more in Britain before calling it quits in 2011.

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January 4 – Forgotten Gems : R.E.M. (With Natalie Merchant)

Happy birthday, Michael Stipe! The one-time R.E.M. frontman turns 63 today. What better day to take a look at a new Forgotten Gem to start the year. R.E.M. put out many great tunes, but few would be described as “forgotten’, however 1993‘s “Photograph” might be. It certainly flew under the radar despite their huge following at the time, and despite it featuring another popular artist to boot – Natalie Merchant of 10 000 Maniacs. She would soon quit that band and go on to solo success.

It’s perhaps no surprise that Stipe and Merchant would record together; they’d been “friends” for a decade by that time. The duo gave a lengthy interview with Britain’s The Independent once, in which they shared their mutual fondness and admiration for each other.

Stipe said “I knew of Natalie before I met her. In Athens, Georgia, where I live, everybody was talking about this girl who danced like a whirling dervish and sang in a band called 10000 Maniacs.” They met shortly thereafter, though not too successfully…”it was a horrible party”, he remembered adding “I’m incredibly shy.” He approached her, said Hi…then escaped, sitcom style, through the bathroom window. Their second meeting, before one of her concert’s in her hometown (more or less) of Buffalo. “I was wearing a pair of Victorian bloomers and a pyjama top and Michael was wearing his pyjamas, so we made a pretty funny-looking couple when we went out to a vegetarian restaurant,” Merchant remembered, as well as “we talked about music and had a great time.” He said “I remember thinking that Natalie possessed rare knowledge” as well as a “really wicked sense of humor (even though) in the press she’s often portrayed as a bit of a ‘saddo’.” For her part she loved his words, his appreciation of art…as well as “I thought Michael was really sexy and had a crush on him.”

Which leads to the well-known but curious idea that they were a romantic couple for several years, odd only because Michael has come out as gay. “We went on to become lovers,” Merchant told the paper, putting a definitive answer to rumor. The pair remained friends and she credits him with telling her not to sell her publishing rights; “to this day I still own all my publishing,” she notes.

So…”Photograph”. It was recorded in 1992 with the songs from Automatic For the People, but sadly didn’t make it onto the record, or at least not for decades. Some expanded versions of the album on its 25th Anniversary release do include it, which might make it worth the extra price by itself. It’s credited to all four members of R.E.M. and Merchant and is anything but a throwaway. It’s melody is strong, Natlaie’s harmonizing and backing vocals add an unexpected layer to the song and Michael’s lyrics are among the most straight-forward yet touching of his career; dealing with finding an old phoograph of an unknown girl. “Looking into an angel’s smile, captivated all the while, from the hair and the clothes she wore, I would place her between the wars.”

Photograph” first appeared on the 1993 benefit album Born to Choose, which also included songs by Soundgarden, Matthew Sweet and others.

November 16 – R.E.M. Ended 20th Century In ‘Great’ Fashion

Although not quite as emphatically as say Led Zeppelin or Pink Floyd, R.E.M. were primarily an “album” band rather than a “singles” band. Although they had their share of hit singles – “Losing My Religion”, “The One I Love” etc – generally their albums did better on the charts and their legion of fans typically bought the LP or CD instead of just the singles. All that made this day in 1999 a bit unusual for them, when they released something close to a standalone single – “The Great Beyond.”

The Great Beyond” wasn’t absolutely a standalone; it was in fact the single off the Man on the Moon soundtrack, which the band produced with Pat McCarthy, who’d done their previous album, Up. As the title suggests, it was the movie soundtrack to the film about Andy Kaufman, the avant garde comic who’d loosely inspired the band’s 1992 hit “Man on the Moon.” Michael Stipe says of “The Great Beyond”, he was trying to “revisit a character that you’ve written a classic song about and try to one-up yourself. Bowie pulled it off for real “ (with “Ashes to Ashes” following-up “Space Oddity”). So the second R.E.M. song about Kaufman was “about attempting the impossible, which I think Andy Kaufman did with his entire career,” according to the singer. He noted many of the lyrics he wrote, about pushing elephants up stairs and so on, came from an old Laurel and Hardy gag since Kaufman adored that duo.

The album is credited to R.E.M., but it’s an unusual one. It contained the previous hit of theirs, as well as the ’70s Exile hit “Kiss You All Over”, plus the theme from Taxi, the TV show Kaufman was a part of, various sound bites from the movie and a number of instrumental, orchestral bits scored by the band (or seemingly Mike Mills, the bassist who performed parts of it with the Mike Mills Orchestra.)

The video, fitting for one about such an off-the-wall character, was an odd one with the band appearing to break the “fourth wall” and come out at the viewers… one of their more creative ones, but at a time when video was on the wane. Overall, the song did OK but wasn’t able to “one-up” the ’92 hit, except in the British Isles. There it rose to #3, technically their highest-charting single ever, and it topped Irish charts. In Canada it hit #16, while at home, the single missed the top 40 but did make the Alternative Rock charts up to #11. The song became a staple of their live shows thereafter, and Stipe suggests he likes their live versions of it better than the studio one.

Maybe somewhere in the great beyond, Kaufman is looking down or smiling… “if you believe.”

October 17 – Two Great Bands Squeeze Into Top 40

It was a big day for two big alternative rock bands 35 years ago, as well as for mainstream pop radio fans who caught up to the college rock crowd a little. Both R.E.M. and Squeeze landed their first American top 40 hit single this day in 1987. Both had already been big on the alternative and college radio scenes for most of the decade.

In R.E.M.’s case, it was “The One I Love”, the fiery lead single off their fifth album, Document. That happened to be not only the last new album they put out on the small IRS Records label and the first they did with producer Scott Litt, who’d go on to produce their biggest hits like Out of Time and Automatic for the People.

The Georgia band were already darlings of the critics and had scored reasonably big-selling albums, as well as one major rock radio hit with “Fall on Me”. Mainstream airplay had been elusive however, until “Fall on Me‘, which pushed their career up to the next level. Ironically it was probably in large part due to people being downright oblvious to the song’s meaning.

The crunchy rocker features Michael Stipe sneering “this one goes out to the one I love” a few times and that seemed to be the thing many fixated on…not the lines which followed like “a simple prop to occupy my time” nor the yelled “Fire!” . Stipe later said “it’s incredibly violent” and suggesting “it’s probably better they just think it’s a love song.” Guitarist Peter Buck was more blunt: “”People told me it was ‘their’ song. That was their song? Why not ‘Paint it Black’ or ‘Stupid Girl’ or ‘Under My Thumb’?”

Love song or angry screed, “The One I Love” got to #9 at home and helped the album become their first platinum one.

Squeeze had been around longer, a full decade in fact. The British band led by guitarists and songwriters Glenn Tilbrook and Chris Difford had been very popular early on on their side of the ocean, but had only marginal success in the U.S. The closest they’d come before to a hit was “Tempted”, a song which now is considered an ’80s staple but had only hit #49 on the charts. Their fortunes changed in ’87 with “Hourglass”, the first single off their seventh studio album, Babylon and On.

For that one the changeable lineup was what many considered the “classic” lineup, including Jools Holland on keyboards. While Difford and Tilbrook traditionally shared credit on songs, they seldom actually wrote together. Some songs were Diffords, some were Tilbrooks and quite often, Difford wrote lyrics to music Tilbrook composed. For this one they decided to change it up and actually write collaboratively. Apparently, that worked.

While many of their earlier songs were witty little stories (“Up the Junction” , “Cool for Cats” etc.) this one was less direct. Tibrook said the chorus particularly “was nonsense words…I loved the idea of rapid delivery which is what the chorus required.” Nonsensical or not, the song had the sort of “sing-along” quality that dared you to keep up. But that may not have been the reason it became their biggest hit here. Difford says “I would think the video has a lot to do with it. It’s been played a lot,” adding “you meet fans after gigs and they say ‘your video’s great!’. They don’t say ‘your album’s great’.” Indeed the surrealistic video was fun and full of visual surprises. (R.E.M.”s video was a big part of their first hit’s success too; the most surprising thing about that one was that it was directed by Alton Brown – the future Food Network TV chef!)

Hourglass” got to #15 in the States, #23 in Canada and #16 back in the UK, where it was far from their biggest, but did represent a bit of a comeback after four years or so of relative obscurity.

Although they hit the top 40 simultaneously, the two bands careers took different paths after 1987. R.E.M. of course signed to Warner Brothers and became arguably the biggest American band of the first half of the ’90s. Squeeze on the other hand have carried on, with a couple of breaks, ever since but had difficulty finding a big audience after it.

September 30 – Rembrandts Had Some Impressive ‘Friends’

The Rembrandts relied on a little help from their “Friends” to score their second chart hit. “I’ll Be There For You”, aka the Friends theme hit the U.S. top 40 this day in 1995.

It would eventually rise to #17, a deceptively low position since it was the most-played song on radio for eight consecutive weeks. It made the top 5 in Australia and Britain and in Canada, it topped the charts, being the #1 song of the entire year. It was the L.A. duo’s second hit (“Just the Way It Is Baby” in 1990 the first) and helped their third album, LP, go platinum in the U.S. A lot of things went right for the duo of Danny Wilde and Phil Solem, buddies who’d played together since the ealy-’80s. NBC had this new sitcom ready to go and initially wanted R.E.M.’s “Shiny Happy People” to be the theme song; it even ran as a pilot with that opening. But for reasons unclear, the existing hit song was pulled from it. It’s unlikely R.E.M. objected; they were friends with one of the show’s stars, Courteney Cox. In a “small world” situation, Cox, pre-acting fame had worked in the office at IRS Records, R.E.M.’s label when they were starting out. Anyway, Warner Brothers owned Friends and thus wanted someone on their roster to come up with the music. They turned to songwriter Allee Willis, who wrote the framework of the song. Show co-creator David Crane wanted something that sounded like R.E.M. even if he couldn’t have R.E.M., and he and Marta Kauffman (the other creator) wanted a bit of a fun sound reminiscent of the most peppy Monkees or Beatles tunes. They spruced up the tune a little – enough to get their names onto the writing credits – and eventually found The Rembrandts to record it. Believe it or not, they weren’t initially sold on it. They liked recording their own work. But luckily for them, they agreed anyway, and as the TV opening was less than a minute in length, they saw an opportunity. They wrote the second verse (which appears on the record but not when you watch the show) to ensure they too got writing credits. Smart move as it remains one of the most-played songs of the ’90s and to date it’s the last original TV theme to hit U.S. charts. Having all six “friends” join them in the video didn’t hurt its fortunes any.

Fans loved it, NBC loved it… the cast didn’t so much. Jennifer Aniston said “no one (on crew) was really a big fan of that.” Maybe Gunther did. To celebrate the sitcom’s 20th anniversary, a one-time Central Perk coffee house opened for one day in New York, a replica of the famous TV set. Actor James Michael Taylor (barista Gunther in the show) served up coffees, but instead of Phoebe singing, The Rembrandts came in to perform their iconic tune.

April 5 – The Kegger That Reverberated For 30 Years

It was a party for the ages on this night in 1980 in Georgia. But I doubt many realized it at the time – they were too busy getting drunk and just having a good time!

Some hit bands are put together by committees (think the Monkees); others are built to be super-groups from the best of other bands (Asia, Led Zeppelin). Many get there by a group of people determined to be stars who studiously practice and write together for years (maybe Toto, for instance). Then there’s R.E.M.

The most successful American alt rock band, and the pride of Athens, Georgia came together by accident on this day 42 years ago. The four knew each other somewhat; Michael Stipe hung out at Peter Buck’s workplace (Wuxtry Records); Mike Mills and Bill Berry were friends at the University of Georgia there. Presumably they all knew one another and had some level of common musical interest and as we now know, some musical talent. However, they really didn’t come together with an aim to change the face of the musical landscape. They just decided to jam together a little to add some background noise to a friend’s party!

So it was that on an unseasonably cold spring night, what would become R.E.M. and about 300 others, mainly from the UofG, jammed into an abandoned Episcopal church on Oconee Street in Athens to throw a party for Kathleen O’Brien, who was celebrating her birthday. O’Brien worked at the campus radio station which no doubt endeared her to the boys in R.E.M. A good time was had by all by the few accounts, and the quartet played a handful of rather unmemorable covers of artists from Jonathan Richman to the Sex Pistols to the Stones. They played a couple of originals, rough versions of tracks that could eventually make the Murmur album like “Perfect Circle“.

And that might have been the end of the story if not for some unknown person’s greed. Or thirst. In true college form, the party was a “kegger”, with beer aplenty. Someone actually stole several kegs from the party. Poor student O’Brien had put down a deposit on the metal kegs and was on the hook for quite a few dollars. The musicians felt bad for her, and arranged to play a local bar – Tyrone’s OC – on May 6 to raise funds to pay her beer losses. In the meantime, they practiced a bit and haphazardly settled on the name that would take them into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame some 25 years later!

Tyrone’s bar burned down a couple of years later, but the music tourist can still see the steeple and part of the ruined church to this day.

While the band broke up after 31 years, various members have at times worked together since and they seem on amicable terms. Ironically, they saw a sudden resurgence in popularity of their ’80s single “It’s The End Of The World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine)” in the early days of the pandemic  (it hit recharted on iTunes in early 2020). Mike Mills said of that, “we certainly never saw that coming with this song…you just never know how it’s going to work out.” Same goes for starting a new band, or any other venture, but in R.E.M.’s case, that kegger turned out pretty well!

March 10 – Litt Lit Up Charts In ’90s

Today we wish a happy birthday to one of the important “behind the scenes” people of great ’80s and ’90s music. Scott Litt turns 68 today. Scott’s a producer extraordinaire…and a bit of a mystery man! Unlike say, Mutt Lange, let alone George Martin, there’s not much info about Scott out there. We presume he likes to let the music do the talking for him!

Litt says “I was a math guy in school, but once I got to the college level (in Colorado), I knew I could be a math teacher if I was lucky.” Around that time, he’d really gotten into pop and rock music and “the idea of making it seemed like a great career thing and a lot of fun.” So, in 1976 he made his way to New York, and landed an entry level job at the famous Power Station. He learned how to work tape machines and engineer the studio, by 1980 being the head engineer for Carly Simon’s Come Upstairs album. By 1982, he’d worked his way up to record producing, starting with an album by underground band The dBs. Chris Stamey of that band said “he was clearly a cut above anyone we’d been involved with.”

His reputation and skill grew. In 1985, he was called on to do some remixing and after-production for mainly British band Katrina and the Waves (a local hit in Canada, oddly enough but then virtually unknown elsewhere), including producing their re-recorded version of “Walking On Sunshine”… the record that made them international stars. Good fortune shone on him, and rising alt rock group R.E.M. then. He met up with them and produced their breakthrough album Document, and stayed with them for the next five albums… the ones which would happen to be the most successful, award-winning, multi-platinum ones of their career including Automatic for the People and Monster. He recently remixed and re-mastered the latter for the 25th Anniversary re-release, something he’d told the band “if there was ever a chance to take another shot at”, he wanted. He “decided to clear away the woolen guitar overdubs that clotted over (Michael) Stipe’s voice,” in the words of Pitchfork, something they weren’t convinced was an improvement but does show his willingness to always try to be better.

It’s well-known that R.E.M. and Nirvana were fans of one another in the early-’90s, so it’s perhaps no surprise he’d also work with Seattle’s top dogs, co-producing their In Utero album, remixing “Pennyroyal Tea” for a rather limited edition single and then co-producing their MTV Unplugged album as well. From there he worked a little with Kurt Cobain’s widow, Courtney Love and her band Hole. Add in a bit of work for the Indigo Girls, Liz Phair and the Replacements and later Incubus (producing their two biggest albums, Make Yourself and Morning View) Litt was one busy guy in the early-’90s! However, thinking big, he still started his own label, Outpost Records, in a joint venture with Geffen.

Outpost signed Canadian folk-roots rocker Hayden and put out his first two commercially-praised but small selling albums. More successful was Days of the New, another act he signed and produced. Unfortunately, the early 2000s decline in the type of alt rock Litt favored, coupled with a large signing bonus given Hayden pushed the company to bankruptcy by 2002. Since that time, Litt’s kept a low-profile although we know he has his own studio in metro L.A. and started a Recording Educational Facility for youth in Venice, California.

Litt’s own website appears to have been taken down, but we hope whatever he’s doing he’ll be doing a bit of “Walking on Sunshine” today.

February 26 – R.E.M. Helped Alt Rock Take A ‘Stand’ On Mainstream Radio

They’d already crossed over to a major, worldwide powerhouse label (Warner Bros.), now R.E.M. were ready to cross over to major worldwide radio play. They took a step towards that on this day 33 years ago when “Stand” hit the U.S. top 40 on this week in 1989.

They’d long been the darlings of American college radio, and not surprisingly, “Stand” had already hit #1 on Billboard‘s then young Alternative Rock charts, as had the album Green‘s first single, “Orange Crush”. In fact, between the two they dominated that particular chart for 10 weeks in the ’80s, more than any other artist. Add in their friends the B-52s and you had the top spot for 17 weeks in less than a year between late-’88 and mid-’89, showing how vital the Athens, Georgia scene was to modern rock back then.

However, that hadn’t always meant huge mainstream recognition. The then quartet had one prior top 10 hit (“The One I Love”) but “Stand” took it to the next level, going to #6 in the U.S. and #8 in Canada and becoming the first one of their songs to garner extensive airplay on mainstream rock and pop stations and be played in supermarkets. It helped Green go double platinum in North America, their best showing to that point (but only a hint of the success they’d score over the following three or four years.)

Love it or hate it – this writer loves it, but a recent poll of R.E.M. fans suggests it’s one of their least popular singles – “Stand” was a fun single with an offbeat fun video. Who among us of a certain age haven’t spent time trying to perfect that stand/jump/turn dance? It was an offbeat sound the band wasn’t known for. Guitarist Peter Buck says of it “it’s the stupidest song we’ve ever written. That’s not necessarily a bad thing,” he points out and compares it to “Louie Louie” or the simplicity of songs by The Ramones, whom he says write “the best songs.” Singer Michael Stipe agreed, more or less. He says the song was an homage to “bubblegum” acts they all liked growing up like The Monkees and Archies.

They threw these super bubble-gummy songs at me. I said ‘I’ll raise you and see you one’ and wrote the most inane lyrics I could.” To add to the effect, Buck pulled out a wah-wah pedal for the solo, which Rolling Stone call “ridiculously wanky.” For all that, there is an added depth to the song, and video. Stipe says it’s “about making decisions and actually living your life rather than letting it happen.” Buck at the time, arguably the least socially-active of the band, told Rolling Stone it, and the album in general, reflected that idea of standing to make a difference. “We have curbside paper recycling (in Athens),” he notes, “which is pretty cool…we go to city council meetings and vote on things.”

So, today’s a good day to make a “stand” and do something worthwhile. Including maybe listening to one of the ’80s great bubblegum pop tunes!

December 17 – Bass And Baseball Get Mills Going

Happy 63rd birthday to one of the most versatile and talented people in the alternative rock world. Mike Mills was born on this day in 1958 in California.

Luckily for the music world, as was the case with bandmate Peter Buck, his parents moved the family to Georgia when Mike was young and he met drummer Bill Berry in Macon, formed a group and then met Michael Stipe and Peter Buck when they went to Athens for university. The rest, as they say, is history. Mills was likely the most-talented musician in R.E.M. He was the regular bassist and did a lot of the composing…but through the years you could have found him playing acoustic guitar, electric guitar, piano, organ, synthesizer and even vibraphone for them on various records. And if you ask, he is capable of handling drums too! And of course he added the distinctive counter-melodies to Michael Stipe on a number of their hits like “Fall on Me”, he also sang lead on a few of their memorable tunes, including covers of “Love Is All Around” and “Yellow River” and two great ones from Out of Time: “Texarkana” and “Near Wild Heaven.” As to their success, he told the Guardian a few years back that “it’s a balancing act. You want to be grateful and graceful (but) not let it go to your heads. That was one of the reasons we never moved to New York City. Staying in Athens helped us keep our feet on the ground.”

Never one to let dust settle under his feet, when not with R.E.M. (and since then) he’s worked with artists like Warren Zevon, Robbie Robertson and the Indigo Girls and collaborated with Buck in The Baseball Project, a band which specializes in… yep, songs about baseball. In recent years has been touring with a violinist, Robert McDuffie and a classical ensemble, plus members of the Drive-by Truckers in a mix of classical and rock. Noteworthy enough is it that the Wall Street Journal reviewed it, calling it “strong on melody but weak on classical fluency.”

When not making music, Mike’s likely watching sports – he is a fantasy football star and has written articles about his beloved Atlanta Braves for publications including Rolling Stone.

October 31 – 40 Watt Shone Brightly In Georgia Music History

Great art doesn’t always come forth out of lovely, or state-of-the-art places. In fact, in music sometimes the opposite is the case. And case in point, the musical “hub” of new rock in The South flipped on the lights for the first time 42 years ago… perhaps not bright lights though. In fact, possibly just a 40 Watt bulb. Athens, Georgia’s 40 Watt Club came into existence this day in 1979. Just as the grubby CBGB club in New York City was essential to the creation of the vibrant new wave/punk scene in that city in the late-’70s, the 40 Watt Club was the place that got things going in Athens great ’80s scene.

University of Georgia is located in Athens, and while its sometimes known for its college football, UG is also a major arts school. But in the late-’70s, there were only four clubs in the city that had live music. Two offered only rock cover bands, and another was usually limited to folk music, so really kids wanting to hear anything different, or bands wanting to play, had to go to Tyrone’s OC. Tyrone’s had a decent reputation, but presumably competition was stiff to get booked there and there’s only so much one bar can do.

Come Halloween ’79, Curtis Crowe decided to have a party. Crowe would become the drummer to popular underground band Pylon, his sister Rhett would join Guadalcanal Diary soon also. So Crowe found an empty space in an attic above a sandwich shop on College Ave. and held the party there, with some friends in a short-lived band being the entertainment.

Our band was called Strictly American,” Murray Attaway told me. “Myself, Jeff Walls (later in Guadalcanal Diary), Curtis Crowe from Pylon and a couple of other friends. The venue wasn’t an official club yet, but it was named the ’40 Watt Club’ for that specific night and they continued to use the name ever after.” A few months later it moved to a different spot about a block away and opened officially.

“There was so much music coming out at that time, how could you not start a band?”, Randy Bewley of Pylon queried. The 40 Watt soon became the place to be seen if you were a new band, or to hang out to hear what’s new and cool if you were an ordinary student. By 1982 it had moved to a bigger, but still somewhat dingy, location, and several other moves happened through the years until settling into its current location in an empty grocery store on West Washington St. in 1991. No less a publication than the New York Times included it in an article on “must see” entertainment spots in Atlanta – 75 miles to the west! They describe it as the place which turned Athens into a “rock vanguard” and say “its street door opens directly into a simple, squarish room with a bar along one wall, a cigarette machine on the other, and quilts hanging from the ceiling.”

The 40 Watt Club became the center of the music scene in the city (and inspired others to open similar clubs, adding momentum to it) and was the “home base” of a number of that city’s famous, and not so, acts of the ’80s including Pylon, the B-52s, and a band that really put the city on the music map, R.E.M. They were regulars in there in the ’80s and then popped in somewhat regularly for surprise shows after they gained international fame. Helpfully, it was bought in 1987 by Barrie Buck, at the time the band’s guitarist, Peter Buck’s wife. Peter and her have since split, but Barrie still runs the club to this day. Later on, newer bands like Of Montreal and the Drive-by Truckers have carried on the club’s reputation. Outside of the hometown artists, it became a de rigeur place to play for touring alternative rock acts ranging from Nirvana to Iggy Pop to the Kings of Leon.

The 40 Watt Club is still operates in the old grocery store. They’re advertising a Halloween party tonight and shows by various new bands, plus Drive-by Truckers on the bill soon.

It’s too late to get a look at CBGB, but those wanting to see a true American alt rock breeding ground can still do that, have a pint or two and hear some music a few hours to the south, in that quaint college town of Athens.