A woman singing into the microphone with blue light behind her.

Unsung Heroes of the ’80s and ’90s

By Elise Montemayor
Music Journalist

In the ‘80s and ‘90s, most of us were either infants or not here on Earth just yet. That for sure includes me—I was born in 1999. Yet, I still have a deep appreciation for the vintage music that my parents listened to back in their day. So much ‘80s and ‘90s music has a connection with happy childhood memories of road trips to Dallas or going to McDonalds after pre-school. Most of the music from these decades remains overlooked by many millennials today. My goal is to bring attention to the unsung heroes of the ‘80s and ’90s and give them the hype they deserve.

1. INXS – The Australian natives had a way of wooing a crowd with the help of charismatic lead singer Michael Hutchence. Hutchence is probably one of the best performers of the ‘80s. He makes the stage his own with the help of his smooth dance moves and a flip of his curly brown hair. I would recommend watching their live shows on YouTube. You will see what I mean. INXS were known for their hit song “Need You Tonight” which hit #1 on the Billboard charts in 1988. Their sound was a unique mix of ‘80s first wave and classic rock with splashes of other random influences here and there. Their lyrics make you feel like Hutchence was telling you stories of his life by making the listener envision the song scene by scene. Sadly, the band came to an end when Hutchence committed suicide in 1997. My hope is that their music isn’t overlooked in the next generations, but appreciated and seen as legendary.

2. Luscious Jackson – New York based ‘90s alt rock/rap group, Luscious Jackson, brought  a female force into my life that I will never forget. My parents often played them in the car when I was a child, so as y’all can see, Luscious Jackson has a special place in my heart. Starting out, they opened up for groups like Cypress Hill, The Beastie Boys and The Breeders before coming out with their hit song, “Naked Eye,” that put them on the map. Their sound had a mix of alternative rock with old school hip-hop beats, which all came together with the help of the lead vocalist Jill Cunniff. Luscious Jackson was even featured on the soundtrack for the film “Good Will Hunting” with their song “Why Do I Lie.” They’re an amazing set of musicians that broke the mold for women in the male dominated industry during the ‘90s. They serve as a major inspiration for today’s female musicians killing it in the 2010s.

3. Echo & The Bunnymen – The melancholy post-punk sound of Echo & The Bunnymen never fails to paint a picture of a gothic-romantic love story. Lead singer Ian McCulloch’s brooding lyrics complement the moody riffs from lead guitarist Will Sergeant. The Liverpool band succeeded in connecting to the sad and angsty adolescents of the ‘80s. And speaking of sad angst, they also never shied away from lending some of their music to dramatic high school movies such as “Donnie Darko” and “Pretty in Pink.” Of course, let’s not forget their iconic cover of “People Are Strange” (originally by The Doors) from the ‘80s vampire thriller, “The Lost Boys.” They were the voice of the goth youths that needed a connection to a deeper emotion that pop radio wasn’t portraying. Although the band has gone through many changes, they still will always have their cult legacy of misunderstood souls in the world.

4. Esthero – Canadian born Jenny-Bea Englishman has the voice of a soulful princess that perfectly fits the trip-hop beats and bouncy guitars that Esthero was known for in the later ‘90s. This artist is another one that would be played in the car when I was a kid. I remember the song “That Girl” brought me to a whole different world the first time I heard it. The track never fails to make your day colorful. Her sound has this relaxed theme, yet it entices you with a light beat, dreamy keyboard chords and a dazzling sax solo that ties in an unexpected jazzy feel to the track. Every time I listen to Esthero, I instantly go back to that place I remember as a little girl. Esthero had a musical niche in the boy band populated late ‘90s that remains a hidden gem.

5. Mazzy Star – Dream pop duo, Mazzy Star, really knows how to make you feel like you’re walking around a field of daisies in the of midst summer. From Santa Monica, California, the group was formed in 1989 with members Hope Sandoval and David Robac. They mixed dark psychedelia with the sweet twist of Sandoval’s effortless vocals that fit into the post-punk wave of the ‘90s. “Fade Into You” was the band’s first hit record that reached popularity amongst the alt college kids and stands as an indie classic today. Sandoval had a dark and shy demeanor when performing on stage. Even though she didn’t interact with the crowd that much, she still enchanted audience with her dreamy presence (as seen on aesthetics Tumblr blogs). They bring out the soft romantic in anyone that discovers them and will continue to have that effect for future generations.

Featured image courtesy of Jason Persse via Flickr.

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