For a brief blip in time, in a miniscule circle inside a small corner of the world, you would have thought 1985 was 1966. Some marketers called it the Paisley Underground. Those living it just called it "the scene". Whatever "it" was, it was a music, culture and style movement that stiff-armed the hair metal/MTV culture of the 80's and embraced -- with startling revisionist accuracy -- a mythical 60's culture.
But not in the peace, love and understanding way. In this 60's culture, there were no crappy bands like Gerry and the Pacemakers or The Union Gap. There were no flaky hippies dancing with imaginary butterflies or unseen unicorns. There was no Vietnam War or runaway inner-city crime problem or racial tensions. Nope. Instead, this culture was based on a very narrow, idealized sliver of time: 1964 to early 1967 to be exact. In this re-imagined world, bands like The Yardbirds, The Elois, The Mourning Reign and The Pretty Things won every battle of the bands. And every black eye-liner wearing, hairbangs-sporting, white patent-leather boot and polka-dot dress wearing girl, could drive a stick shift '64 Plymouth Valiant while spouting off intricate knowledge of Cuby + The Blizzards' record catalogue. Pretty ideal.
If there was a true epicenter of this imaginary world it was...wait for it...San Diego, California. Seriously. It came to be, perhaps, because of one Ron Silva and his talented cohorts who created a remarkably high quality, groundbreaking band called The Crawdaddys. But as quickly as they were created, they were disbanded. From those ashes rose many bands including one of the best bands of the worldwide 60's revision movement, The Tell-Tale Hearts. The Hearts were Dave Klowden, Eric Bacher, Ray Brandes, Mike Stax and Bill Calhoun. Stax had been a member of the Crawdaddys and published a kick-ass fanzine called Ugly Things out of a small, Grolsch Beer soaked apartment on 1st street in San Diego's Hillcrest neighborhood. (He is still publishing Ugly Things to this day!). Brandes came to the TTH from a stint in the promising band, the Mystery Machine.
In 1984 the Hearts went to Los Angeles to record their first record. Despite a production and engineering bungling that rivaled the work of Custer at the Little Bighorn, and some inappropriate album artwork by Voxx's crack staff artist, The Tell-Tale Hearts walked out with a pretty good album. The quality of their songs survived the production and in some cases thrived despite the production. The best song on that shot heard 'round the world album was the first song, Crawling Back To Me, written by the bands' singer, Ray Brandes. Brandes screams over his manic maraca work, "You've been stealing all my records and my clothes!". (This was an unforgivable infraction back then). Bacher's chop-chop effects-free guitar (I think he was playing a single pickup avocado green Gretsch Anniversary back then) comes to glorious life on his energy raising guitar lead. Calhoun's swirling Vox Continental organ work shines strongest on the time changes. Klowden's floor-tom heavy drum work and Stax's vrooming Harmony H22 bass show why this band had the best rhythm section in town. (dig on that crazy bass work under the guitar leads).
Unlike contemporaries like the Bangles, The Long Ryders or the Three O'Clock, The Tell-Tale Hearts never broke out of that miniscule circle in their small corner of the world. Truth be told the TTH were too spot-on and too doctrinaire to make it on MTV. But i think that's the way they wanted it. If they had "made it" by industry standards of the day, they would have failed. For better or worse, they were built to be big fish in a small, but cool, pond. Ultimately the water in the pond began to stagnate. Bacher left the band for personal reasons and was replaced by the extremely gifted Peter Meisner, himself a Crawdaddys alumnus. After recording just two stellar songs in this line-up, the band fractured with Meisner, Klowden and Brandes joining with bassist Tom Ward to form a Gram Parsons influenced band called the Town Criers. Stax and Calhoun continued on with a new line-up (and old, as Bacher made a small come back), but it never felt quite the same. How could it? In fact, the San Diego scene never seemed to be the same. Coincidence or not, I don't know.