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(Credit: Daniel Corrigan)

Music

Watch Hüsker Dü perform 'Celebrated Summer' in 1987

@TylerGolsen

Where did alt-rock start? It’s a bit of a tricky question, with plenty of fingers pointing in various different directions. Some will say that The Velvet Underground invented the genre with their thorny and influential debut LP The Velvet Underground and Nico. Others will say that the genre came alive the second John Lydon abdicated his Johnny Rotten moniker and formed Public Image Ltd. And still, others will claim that from the very first notes of ‘Radio Free Europe’, R.E.M. defined the genre with their very first single.

But for my money, the genre of alternative rock, which combined all the best elements of punk, garage rock, pop, and classic rock into one potent stew, was born approximately 13 minutes into Hüsker Dü’s third studio album, 1985’s New Day Rising. Sure, ‘I Apologize’, ‘The Girl Who Lives on Heaven Hill’, and ‘If I Told You’ had major hooks, but they were still too deeply entrenched in punk rock to truly cross over. But then, seemingly out of nowhere, came one of the most revolutionary songs of all time: Bob Mould’s ‘Celebrated Summer’.

Combining the punk energy of the band’s hardcore roots with pop melodies and a willingness to incorporate softer sounds, including acoustic guitar and gentle vocals, ‘Celebrated Summer’ represented a major change for Hüsker Dü, even if they were evolving at incredible speed. In July of 1984, the band released Zen Arcade, which explored punk ideas in a progressive rock format. But that same month, the band entered the studio once again to cut a record that was leaner, meaner, and more pop-adjacent than anything they had ever attempted.

How Hüsker Dü changed punk by embracing classic rock

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Even though New Day Rising was the most accessible record the band had ever made, no one would have looked at Hüsker Dü and thought they were going for mainstream success. Anchored by two heavy-set songwriters with LGBT+ sexuality – given that guitarist Bob Mould is gay, and drummer Grant Hart was bisexual – and accompanied by a moustachioed and eye-catching bass player Greg Norton – who provided occasional songwriting and vocals as well – Hüsker Dü were anything but mainstream. They looked, acted, and sounded completely different from any of the other artists of the time.

Much is made of John Lennon, Kurt Cobain, Julian Casablancas, or Joan Jett kicking back at the mainstream as iconoclastic artists. But there’s something undeniable about all those artists that don’t get enough focus: they were all incredibly photogenic. No matter how outside the mainstream they were trying to get, they always made whatever they were doing look cool, fashionable, and forward-thinking. Hüsker Dü never had this luxury: they were three goofy, queer, unappealing looking guys who made revolutionary music without any consideration for image or presentability.

Instead, they let the music do the talking. And, ultimately, it wound up being to their detriment. If you don’t believe me, ask yourself this: who listens to Hüsker Dü today? True believers from their heyday, which was nearly 40 years ago? Music nerds like me, who might be young but certainly don’t have the strongest sway in terms of whose legacy gets preserved? Devotees of Nirvana and Foo Fighters who are determined to find the roots of these legendary bands’ sound?

It’s a small number, and it gets increasingly smaller every year. Pretty soon, no one will care that Kurt Cobain and Dave Grohl based most of their songwriting on Bob Mould, Grant Hart, and Greg Norton. But history is worth preserving, and Hüsker Dü remains one of the most important bands of the 1980s, if not one of the most important bands in rock and roll history. Chances are they’ll never get into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, they’ll never sell a million records, and they may even eventually be lost to time as nothing more than an influence on some of the most important bands ever.

But while we can help it, we should celebrate just how seismic a band like Hüsker Dü was to the formation of alternative rock and the evolution of rock music as a whole. Check out Hüsker Dü playing ‘Celebrated Summer’ in 1987, their final year as a band, down below.