WERS Favorites: Boston Alternative Artists

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By Kenneth Cox

There are many things Boston is known for — the Red Sox, the Boston Tea Party, our love for Dunkin Donuts. But what about alternative music? Boston remains to be one of the best cities for alt-rock, with great venues and new artists emerging daily. Here are some of the best alternative tracks from Boston’s history.

"All Nerve" - The Breeders

In the wake of the Pixies breakup of 1993, the legendary group went off to create their own projects. Black Francis went solo, Joey Santiago played in several bands, but Kim Deal helped to create one of Boston's best alt-rock groups: The Breeders. The band enjoyed success throughout the '90s and 2000's, and in 2018, released their newest album, proving they still got it. "All Nerve" is a hard-rocking track that in only two minutes shows The Breeders at their best. Kim Deal sings over a simple drum beat and bassline before the song explodes into a chorus that demands to be shouted along to. It's a tune that perfectly shows why the band remains a favorite of their hometown decades later.

"Here & Now" - Letters to Cleo

The dedicated alt-rock fans of Boston saw this next band at venues like T.T. the Bear’s Place and The Rathskeller in the early ’90s, just before the band went big. Singers Kay Hanley and Greg McKenna formed the band Letters to Cleo in Boston in 1990. After having several members join and leave the band, the group released their debut album Aurora Gory Alice in 1993. “Here & Now” became a surprise hit for the group, and for good reason. Hanley’s unmistakable vocals and growling guitar are front and center, bringing the listener along in Hanley’s quest to live in the moment. The track's infectious chorus shot the band up the charts, and cemented Letters to Cleo as alternative legends of Boston.

"You Go Down Smooth" - Lake Street Dive

Lake Street Dive blends together soul, alternative, and folk to create a band that is one of the best Boston has to offer today. Lead singer Rachel Price has a voice that absolutely commands her audience, and the band backs her with instrumentals to match Price’s show-stopping vocals. “You Go Down Smooth” shows the group at their finest. A groovy, energetic track, the song shows off Price’s powerhouse abilities as the band shreds alongside her. It’s almost impossible not to be swept up in the band’s irresistible rhythm by the end of the track. “You Go Down Smooth” shows why Lake Street Dive has become an alternative favorite not just in Boston, but for people across the country.

"Roadrunner" - The Modern Lovers

Nothing feels more quintessentially Bostonian to me than long drives along the various highways and roads of the city. From flying down 95 to the Mass Pike, to being jammed with traffic when the workday lets out, the roads of Boston are a binding force, for better or worse, for everyone familiar with the city. Jonathan Richman of The Modern Lovers knows this all too well. “Roadrunner” is a crackling proto-punk ode to the roads of Boston. Richman name-drops places like Route 128 and the Mass Pike while singing about turning up the radio and driving around. The song captures the unmistakable feeling of driving around the city and taking in everything it has to offer. Recently, Massachusetts has even proposed making "Roadrunner" the official song of the Commonwealth. It is a track that is unmistakably a hallmark of the area.

"Just What I Needed" - The Cars

The Cars may have been one of the most popular New Wave bands of the ’80s, but their roots have humble beginnings in Boston. The group formed in Boston in the mid-'70s, playing shows around the area, and eventually recording a demo tape that they sent to local radio stations. “Just What I Needed” began getting airplay from this tape, and quickly became the band’s signature song. The song is irresistible, starting with the instantly recognizable opening riff, before building up to an utterly explosive chorus that one cannot help but sing along with. The song still remains a classic amongst many today, and shows the best of what Boston alternative can offer.

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