Profile of '80s Underground Genre Jangle Pop

R.E.M. on 7/7/84 in Chicago, Il.
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Originating during the early '80s within the burgeoning college rock scene, jangle pop is a pop/rock style that has probably been around in some form (without the name) since the days of the Beatles and the Byrds. Much of the form's definition stems from the colorful word that serves as its primary descriptor: known mostly for its chiming, melodic electric guitars, the music jingles and jangles in pleasant but offbeat ways that kept it from finding a place on the pop charts. And yet during the middle years of the decade, usually in regional scenes, jangle pop did much to keep guitar pop alive and well.

Early Years of Jangle Pop

As a form, jangle pop emerged as a logical progression from the groundbreaking, melodic psychedelic guitar pop and folk-rock of the '60s to the heyday of power pop, the almost impossibly catchy '70s style that boasted a magical fusion of loud electric guitars and highly accessible melodies. Because of its underground appeal, power pop aligned itself rather easily with the more melodic strains of punk rock, thus exerting an influence on various levels of post-punk and new wave offerings of the early '80s. Still, jangle pop stepped in as those styles shifted focus to bring an earthy balance to the underground.

Starting Point - R.E.M.

Even without clear boundary lines, the most obvious unofficial prototype for jangle pop emerged from the fruitful Athens, Ga. scene in the form of eventual superstars R.E.M. Though general alternative rock ultimately owes a great deal of its success to that quartet, in the beginning the group created fiercely independent music with a matching D.I.Y. aesthetic that defied commercial attention and aspirations. R.E.M.'s guitar-heavy sound and contemplative, murky lyrical musings set the stage for many of the jangle pop bands that emerged a few years later.

Jangle Pop's Mid-'80s Spread & Peak

Though primarily an American regional phenomenon - with particularly active scenes in California and several parts of the South - jangle pop exerted quite an influence on underground, alternative guitar rock on an international level. Countries that had contributed strongly to new wave, namely the U.K., Australia and New Zealand, produced artists of substantial variety and merit. Ultimately, jangle pop artists like the Rembrandts, Hoodoo Gurus, and the Dream Syndicate represented a vital link between the college rock sounds of the '80s and the often louder but still melodic alternative rock that would define the '90s.

Relevance & Vitality in the New Millennium

Following the commercially dominant years of grunge and the popular alternative music also known as modern rock, a new breed of underground bands emerged and drew heavily from the aesthetics and melodic focus of jangle pop. Collectively regarded now as indie rock and indie pop, many of today's most popular and artistically accomplished bands take plenty of inspiration from power pop and its punk, new wave, post-punk and college rock descendants. Groups like Outrageous Cherry, Death Cab For Cutie, Guster and Fountains of Wayne continue to advance the legacy and vibrant sound of jangle pop for future generations.

Other Key '80s Jangle Pop Artists

  • The Go-Betweens
  • The Reivers
  • The Mighty Lemon Drops
  • Let's Active
  • Camper Van Beethoven
  • The Feelies
  • The Three O'Clock
  • The Long Ryders