Paisley Underground is a subgenre of jangle pop that originated from California. It was particularly popular in Los Angeles, reaching a peak in the mid 1980s. Paisley Underground bands incorporated psychedelia, rich vocal harmonies and guitar interplay, owing a particular debt to 1960s groups such as Love and the Byrds, but more generally referencing a wide range of pop and garage rock revival.
The term "Paisley Underground" originated in late 1982, and took root with a comment made by Michael Quercio of the band The Three O'Clock, during an interview with the LA Weekly alternative newspaper. As the event was later reported:
Quercio was close friends with Lina Sedillo who was the bass player with local punk band Peer Group, who had played on the same bill as The Salvation Army on occasion. One evening Sedillo taped Peer Group rehearsing and one of the numbers contained an improvised spoken middle section. Sedillo was wearing a red paisley dress she had bought from a thrift store and his eyes fell on the bass player and out came the line "Words from the paisley underground." Sedillo noticed the phrase while playing the tape back the next day and immediately phoned up Quercio and repeated it to him. They ran a casual 60s music listening group together and thought it a cool name for them to use. When Quercio a few weeks later spontaneously dropped the phrase into an interview when asked to describe The Bangles, Rain Parade and The Three O'Clock sharing the same bill, the interviewer highlighted it in the article as a handy label for this group of bands. And so Quercio had unwittingly came up with the name of this new movement, the Paisley Underground.
This section focuses too much on specific examples without explaining their importance to its main subject. (March 2017)
Pat Thomas has described the Paisley Underground sound as a "marriage of classic rock and punk." Although there were accomplished musicians among the groups, the scene was also rooted--as was the punk rock that preceded it--in an inspired amateurism described as "a punk D.I.Y. ethic."
The Dream Syndicate, for example, combined influences from The Velvet Underground, Quicksilver Messenger Service, Crazy Horse, and Creedence Clearwater Revival with the energy of punk, influencing other musicians who "wanted to move on from pro forma p-rock but keep the intensity."
Green on Red came on as a cousin to The Doors, The Long Ryders honored Gram Parsons and Buffalo Springfield, The Three O'Clock owed debt to the Bee Gees and The Monkees, The Bangles recalled The Mamas & the Papas, and so on. The 1970s Memphis-based cult band Big Star, whose "September Gurls" was covered by The Bangles, was also influential, as were Britain's Soft Boys.
Paisley Underground bands frequently shared bills, socialized, and collaborated on side projects. For example:
In 1986, The Rain Parade were the first of the Paisley Underground bands to break up, followed by the Long Ryders in 1987, the Three O'Clock in 1988, the Dream Syndicate and the Bangles in 1989, and Green on Red in 1992.
Even before the Los Angeles-based Paisley Underground took shape, the Sacramento/Davis area of Northern California was an early locus of Paisley Underground bands and musicians, some of whom later moved to Los Angeles.
The Suspects were a Davis-based predecessor to Dream Syndicate, formed in 1979 by guitarist Steve Wynn and bassist Kendra Smith (who were both disc jockeys at college radio station KDVS at the time), with Russ Tolman on rhythm guitar and Gavin Blair on drums. They released one single in 1979, and performed in the Davis area through 1981. When Wynn and Smith left for Los Angeles in 1981 and formed Dream Syndicate, Tolman and Blair remained in Davis and started up True West.
During a brief period in 1981 between leaving the Suspects and forming Dream Syndicate, Wynn also formed the short-lived band 15 Minutes in Davis, with members of Alternate Learning. Their only single, "That's What You Always Say," was later re-recorded by Dream Syndicate for their 1982 album The Days of Wine and Roses.
Game Theory and Thin White Rope, which were both formed in Davis in 1981-82, also "fit in well with the other Paisley Underground bands that started up around the same time." For example, The Three O'Clock's Michael Quercio produced Game Theory's 1984 Distortion EP, also contributing backup vocals. Quercio appeared as a guest on several more Game Theory albums, ultimately joining as a member in 1989, after the breakup of The Three O'Clock.
Quercio and Game Theory frontman Scott Miller co-wrote "The Girl with the Guitar (Says Oh Yeah)," a Paisley song described as timeless and poignant, which first appeared on The Three O'Clock's Arrive Without Travelling. Live and studio performances of the Game Theory version, titled "Girl w/ a Guitar," appeared as CD bonus tracks on the 1993 reissue of Game Theory's The Big Shot Chronicles and the 2014 reissue of Real Nighttime.
The Paisley Underground movement was paralleled in other parts of the world by genres such as New Zealand's Dunedin sound, whose chief exponents (such as The Chills and Sneaky Feelings) were often cited as directly comparable to Paisley Underground bands. A related genre of 1980s guitar rock is named jangle pop after the ringing, light guitar sounds, such as those of R.E.M., that also often featured in Paisley Underground music.
Although many of the Paisley Underground groups released at least one album on a major label, by far the most commercially successful band to emerge from the movement was The Bangles, who had several mainstream hits in the 1980s, reaching #1 in the United States with the single "Walk Like an Egyptian" in 1986.
The movement's influence on 1980s contemporaries, such as English bands The Teardrop Explodes and Echo & the Bunnymen, and Seattle's The Green Pajamas, has been noted. In the mid-1980s, Prince was notably influenced by the Paisley Underground sound: not only did his 1985 album Around the World in a Day have a more psychedelic sound than any of his previous or future work, but he also named his record label (Paisley Park Records) after the movement, wrote "Manic Monday" for the Bangles, and signed The Three O'Clock to his label.
As the Paisley Underground bands of the 1980s broke up, some of their members came together in new combinations which continued to record through the 1990s and later:
In 2005, Rhino released Children of Nuggets: Original Artyfacts from the Second Psychedelic Era, 1976-1995, a four-CD box set which anthologized many Paisley Underground and related bands. The title referred to the original 1972 compilation Nuggets: Original Artyfacts from the First Psychedelic Era, 1965-1968, whose music influenced the bands featured on Children of Nuggets.
2013 saw a series of reunions among the original Paisley Underground bands. After 25 years of turning down reunion offers, The Three O'Clock reformed after being presented with a chance to play at the 2013 Coachella Festival. Michael Quercio (vocals/bass), Louis Gutierrez (guitars), and Danny Benair (drums) were joined by new recruit Adam Merrin (keyboards). The group played both weekends of Coachella, appeared on the late-night talk show Conan, embarked on a brief concert tour, and released several archival recordings.
In December 2013, four reunited Paisley Underground bands - The Bangles, The Three O'Clock, Dream Syndicate, and Rain Parade - played a concert together at The Fillmore in San Francisco, followed by a benefit concert at The Fonda Theatre the next evening in Los Angeles.
According to Steve Wynn in an April 2014 interview, all four reunited bands remain active, and continue to tour separately.