Updated: Apr 24
This past summer, we released a list of 10 Iconic Early Alternative Rock Songs spanning from the late 60’s to the late 80’s featuring influential tracks from The Smiths, XTC, The Cure, The Velvet Underground and more. This expansion of avoiding pandering to the mainstreams produced some of the most creative and stylistically different music of the modern world evolving into the explosion of alternative rock in the 90’s. Just as we did in our initial list, we will define early alternative rock as pre-1990. In no particular order, here are another 10 iconic early alternative rock songs.
Pictured - The Replacements (1984 Laura Levine Portrait)
R.E.M - Radio Free Europe (1983)
The mid-sized Georgia college town of Athens, about an hour from Atlanta has given the world a plethora of great and iconic musicians including R.E.M, The B-52’s, Widespread Panic and Future Birds. Apart from the groups founded there, the city also established musical origin stories for people like Jeff Mangum of Neutral Milk Hotel. R.E.M is arguably the most notable group to come out of the city taking over college radio airwaves throughout the early and mid 80’s with songs like Radio Free Europe. R.E.M held their well-earned dominance over the alternative rock realm for nearly 20 years.
Talking Heads - Psycho Killer (1977)
Talking Heads found success in the late 70’s and into the early 80's with their danceable mix of new wave, art-rock and alternative rock resulting in a large amount of commercial success and long-lasting influence. Their debut album Talking Heads 77 earned its place in rock history as one of the finest debut alternative albums of all time, with Psycho Killer to this day being one of the most instantly recognizable alternative rock songs.
The Psychedelic Furs - Pretty in Pink (1981)
Few songs can define an era more so than Pretty in Pink by The Psychedelic Furs following its involvement in the film of the same name released five years later. This song embodies new wave, and guitar driven Smiths-esque jangle rock better than most, leaving us all with a timeless alternative track eventually finding a bit of success in the mainstream.
Joy Division - Disorder (1979)
Joy Division is often cited as one of the most influential alternative rock bands of all time following their short-lived time in the sun prior to frontman Ian Curtis’s tragic suicide. Over 40 years after the end of Joy Division, the band's name is synonymous with youth-driven, dark alternative rock. The early influence Joy Division had on the darker and more gothic side of alternative rock cannot be understated, and bands and critics alike are still amazed how good this group truly was.
The B-52's - Rock Lobster (1978)
On the complete opposite side of the alternative rock spectrum from Joy Division, you will find the silly and fun-loving B-52’s. Yet another fantastic group from Athens, Georgia, we praised the debut album by the B-52’s for its timeless tracks like Rock Lobster, Planet Claire and Lava. Here you have a band that’s all about having fun yet with the talent and creativity to make it fun for everyone else too.
The Jesus and Mary Chain - Just Like Honey (1985)
The JMC has found a long-lasting legacy being referenced by groups like The Shins and Death Cab For Cutie in their contemporary music. Just Like Honey finds itself as likely the most popular song by the band being released from their acclaimed and highly influential debut album Psychocandy. This song along with this record messed with early elements of noise pop, and shoegaze echoed in later groups from Pavement to Pinegrove.
The Replacements - Alex Chilton (1987)
The Replacements are the only band to have a song named in both of our Iconic Early Alternative Rock lists, and rightfully so. From the 1987 album Pleased to Meet Me, Alex Chilton pays homage to Box Tops frontman Alex Chilton who went on to have a successful indie career attracting a devoted following and subsequent critical praise. The Replacements stand towards the forefront of influential alternative rockers with their 1984 album Let it Be being one of the best alternative albums of the 80’s alongside Doolittle by Pixies, and The Queen is Dead by The Smiths.
Buzzcocks - Ever Fallen in Love (With Someone You Shouldn't've) (1978)
Perhaps the grooviest song on the list, The Buzzcocks fit the bill of that classic late 70’s new-wave/post-punk sound that has become so synonymous with early alternative rock. A great singalong style track as timeless as any, and a frequent flier on early alternative playlists.
The English Beat - Save It For Later (1982)
The English Beat embodied a more worldly sound than typical early alternative bands with influences derived from traditional ska and 2 tone sounds mixed with new-wave and post-punk. The jangly Save It For Later uses a Johnny Marr-esque guitar riff, making it a bit different from their more well-known sound. Nevertheless, great band, and a timeless song.
The Stooges - I Wanna Be Your Dog (1969)
Before he made a well-known name for himself, The Godfather of Punk Iggy Pop was the front-man for the powerful and gritty garage-rock band The Stooges. The Stooges were in a league of their own, with a sound that no one was quite ready for, yet a sound that has aged so well. Any early alternative playlist would not be complete without the raw power of I Wanna Be Your Dog.
In no particular order, a few honorable mentions are Dead Man’s Party by Oingo Boingo, Age of Consent by New Order, Goo Goo Muck by The Cramps and Veronica by Elvis Costello. Be sure to check out our initial list of 10 Iconic Early Alternative Rock Songs or the expanded Early Alternative Rock playlist below!