College Rock: Campus Favorites from the ‘80s

College Rock: Campus Favorites from the ‘80s

Before ‘Indie’ or ‘Alternative’, College Rock was the most commonly used term for new music existing on the periphery of established trends.

The term derives from the student-run radio stations on college campuses of the 1980s, which picked up new waves much faster than the commercial channels. This was at a time when the boundaries between mainstream and underground music were far less porous than today.

More an aesthetic umbrella than a clearly defined genre, College Rock embraced a wide musical spectrum, with its deepest roots in post-punk and new wave, from which many new trends that emerged: from pop/rock, psychedelia and noise rock/hardcore to roots and shoegaze.

All Music Guide describes it further: ”College rock’s poppiest bands didn’t fit into the mainstream the way new wave did; although it could be arty, it wasn’t quite as experimental or detached as much post-punk; and where much early alternative/American underground rock was rooted in punk and hardcore, not all college rock necessarily was (though many of those early alternative bands fit the definition nicely).”

R.E.M. and The Smiths are among the most exemplary and influential acts of the era, but subsequent giants like Red Hot Chili Peppers, U2 and The Cure have their origins in these circuits as well.

MTV and its weekly program 120 Minutes also became an important exponent of college rock, and contributed to its increased popularity. With songs like Midnight Oil’s “Beds Are Burning” and The Church’s “Under The Milky Way” finding their way into the regular charts, not to mention breakthrough bands like R.E.M., the divisions between college rock and mainstream rock became more indistinguishable by the end of the decade, a trend that culminated when Nirvana broke through the dam.

Again, in the words of All Music, “College rock’s heyday essentially ended with Nirvana’s breakthrough in 1991, which opened mainstream ears to the more accessible side of alternative rock; as college radio playlists began to resemble commercial alternative radio, the more experimental branches of alternative and indie rock were driven even further underground.”

Gradually the entire term disappeared in favor of ‘indie’ and ‘alternative’, and today college rock is mostly used to describe alternative music specifically from the ‘80s.

On this playlist we’ve compiled some favorite songs from the first generation of artists being transmitted to the selected masses from modesty of campus radio studios.

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