It’s hard to look at Liverpool’s music scene without mentioning The Beatles or Echo & the Bunnymen. But that’s exactly what we’re going to do with this list, which aims to point you the way of some of Liverpool's 'unsung' heroes, if you excuse that fucking dreadful pun. Scratch below the surface and you'll find a host of other brilliant, weird and innovative bands within the city that are well worth your time, have a look:
5. Dead or Alive
This is the 80s in one song. The sound, the style, the video, the hair: all of it can be found in Dead or Alive’s incredibly catchy single 'You Spin Me Right Round'. Whilst they had relative chart success, this is their only lasting single. Produced courtesy of the Stock-Aitken-Waterman synth-pop behemoth, the track is catchy, infectious and, don’t lie, you've been caught dancing to this. We've got proof.
God bless you Pete Burns and your hair/eye-patch/kimono ensemble. Never change.
4. The Teardrop Explodes
The Teardrop Explodes - despite their short history - remain one of the most enigmatic and explosive bands to have ever emerged from the city of Liverpool. The four-piece emerged from the so-called 'Crucial Three' - a fabled trio of Julian Cope, Ian McCulloch and Pete Wylie, who all went on to define the sound of Liverpool throughout the 1980s.
Wylie formed the Mighty Wah!, McCulloch formed Echo & the Bunnymen, yet Cope separated off into krautrock post-punk madness with The Teardrop Explodes - a tour de force of a band. Their brief lifespan was speckled with tales of wild, hedonistic excess, with Cope's continued usage of acid and hard drugs pushing their output to new, erratic levels.
Under the all-encompassing shadow of the North's eighties musical giants, The Teardrop Explodes have been largely ignored. Revisit them with a listen to their magnum opus, Kilimanjaro, then check out what Julian Cope is up to at the moment. He's an anarchist who lives on a farm.
3. The Boo Radleys
If you've heard of the Boo Radleys, then doubtlessly you only know them for 'Wake Up Boo!'. You know, that REALLY FUCKING ANNOYING SONG FROM EVERY CHILDREN'S ADVERT OF THE LAST TEN YEARS. That one. Well, on account of this (irredeemably bad) track, the Boo Radleys have been cast off - much like their namesake - into the musical wilderness as one-hit wonders.
However, never has one single distorted a band's overall quality quite like 'Wake Up Boo!'. The Boo Radleys, as it turned out, were fucking ace. In their time, they released 5 albums of every imaginable genre, from reggae, to shoegaze, to dream pop, to jangle rock.
If you're looking to get into them, start with the masterpiece: 'Giant Steps'. The album - heralded as NME's Album of the Year in 1993 - is incredible; 64 minutes of dreamy, ethereal Scouse glory. Get on it.
2. Frankie Goes to Hollywood
There was a time in the 80s - 1984, to be specific - where Frankie Goes To Hollywood were the biggest fucking deal in the English press. Their first single, 'Relax', was branded “obscene” and cut off live on air when it was first played in January on Radio 1. After this controversy, it went immediately to number one and stayed there for 5 consecutive weeks. The video for Relax was a lurid tale set in what can only be described a Blade Runner-meets-barnhouse-themed sex dungeon, and the song itself revelled in its guttural trashiness. Obscene, it very much was, but what's wrong with that?
Their second single - the hostile, controversial and antagonistic 'Two Tribes' - went to number 1 for 9 consecutive weeks, with the video once again making media waves by feeding off cold war scare-mongering. It depicted a bloody and bitter wrestling match between Ronald Reagan and Konstantin Chernenko, a hyper-surreal, Spitting Image-on-crack of a video unparalleled in its individuality and withering satire. 'Two Tribes' bolstered the hype of FGTH so much so that sales of 'Relax' increased alongside 'Two Tribes', until both singles occupied the Number One and Two spots in the singles charts: a feat that very few bands have ever been able to achieve.
For the grand finale of their barnstorming year, 'The Power of Love' - the band's third single of 1984 - went to Number One in December, heading to be a Christmas Number One until it was knocked off by Band Aid's 'Do They Know It's Christmas?'. Unafraid of censorship and possible outrage, the video featured the entire nativity storyline, with no members of the band appearing in the video.
Decked out in their 80s mop tops, outrageously camp dresswear, moustaches and leather chaps, Holly Johnson and co. took on the paranoid status quo of the British establishment and brought it straight into the 21st century. Their concerts were wild. Their look was wild. They were mega.
Fuck Black Skinhead, (sorry, Kanye) but if Martin Scorcese wanted the perfect soundtrack to The Wolf of Wall Street, he should’ve looked no further than Welcome to the Pleasuredome: a criminally underrated album that perfectly depicts the extravagance of 1980s. This album epitomizes the narcissism, greed, sex and consumerism that blossomed from the puerile glory of Yuppie Britain, and remains a relic from a world of excess that very few of us could ever conceive.
1. The La's
The movement of British music in the early 90s can be defined between two cities; Manchester and Liverpool. Manchester had The Stone Roses, the revolutionary arch-hedonists whose debut album, I think we can all agree, was pretty fucking special. Liverpool, on the other hand, had their own enigmatic four-piece that have been criminally, criminally overlooked by every music fan and journalist alike - The La’s.
The starting line-up was forever changing, with 22 names appearing on their Wikipedia 'members' list, however only two names have remained consistent: Lee Mavers and John Power. One of their first ever singles has stuck by them for their entire careers, becoming one of the most iconic songs in musical history. 'There She Goes', even if you don’t know the name or the band, you will have undoubtedly heard. It’s a gorgeously written pop tune with a catchy chorus and a dreamy guitar riff that all fall into the melting pot of this stone cold classic.
Their album, however, is rather different from the single itself. It’s more held back, less electric, basic in style but not in sound. This is music in its purest form: stripped down, heavy focus on melody, and very little production, in order to preserve the raw and original sound the band were after. Upon release of the album, The La’s scored widespread critical acclaim, gaining high marks from top critical reviewers and magazines, and it's easy to see why. The songs are tales, stories from the north. But not a bogged down Salford-miserable industrial estate north - a free, passionate Liverpudlian North. A sound that sits and reflects on life rather than rages against it. A whimsical look at time, through the lens of a drifter.
This is - in my opinion - best captured in my personal favourite track of the album 'Doledrum'. I imagine this as the soundtrack to any young man or woman walking bored around their area in the half term holidays. Looking for excursions or general entertainment but coming up empty handed. Going home with a smile on your face because “at least the sun was out".
The tale of The La’s ends after that seminal album. Lee Mavers was an unstable, heroin-riddled, truculent perfectionist who went through a multitude of different producers to get what he thought sounded just right for his creation. In the end the label gave up with him and released what they thought was best version of the album, much to Lee’s disapproval. Speaking to the NME, Mavers said “I hate it, it’s the worst. A pile of shit. There is not one good thing that I can say about it". He was wrong.
Mavers becomes a bit of a hermit after that, stopping making public appearances and leaving his band behind (who later went on to form Cast). He resurfaced a bit more in the 2000s supporting Pete Doherty on stage, and reforming The La's for a number of festival appearances, but with no new musical output. And yet Mavers and The La's have gone down in local folklore, and are beloved by those who have heard them. There is even an entire forum website dedicated to those who have seen him, spotted him or know him personally from in and around Liverpool. Try them out, they're worth the hype.
Thomas Parslew is not on Twitter