To celebrate the recent release of our 33 1/3 on Young Marble Giants’ Colossal Youth, we’re pleased to bring you the 1st installment of Young Marble Giants Week by authors Michael Blair and Joe Bucciero!
Young Marble Giants’ Indie Rock Legacy
The band’s few recordings made an outsized impact on the following decade of underground rock and pop music, particularly in the United States
While Young Marble Giants (YMG) broke up shortly after the release of their first and only LP, 1980’s Colossal Youth, their music has inspired many musicians and bands in the following years, particularly groups in the American rock underground of the late 1980s and 1990s. Their quiet, do-it-yourself recordings influenced bands across the country, specifically in areas outside the major hubs of New York, Chicago, or Los Angeles. Indeed, parallels can be drawn to YMG’s insular, outsider origins in Cardiff (as opposed to London) and the similarly independent music scenes in Olympia; Athens, Georgia; or western Massachusetts. Below is a selection of covers, quotes, and anecdotes from notable musicians that attest to YMG’s pervasive and lasting influence.
The Nirvana frontman was a famous champion of YMG and Colossal Youth, including the album on his personal list of top fifty albums ever and calling it one of the top five most influential records for his own music.
Cobain said, “This music relaxes you, it’s total atmospherics. It’s just nice, pleasant music. I love it. The drum machine has to have the cheesiest sound ever. We’re going to be on a Young Marble Giants compilation, doing ‘Credit in the Straight World’. I had a crush on the singer for a while—didn’t everyone? I first heard Colossal Youth on the radio, after I started getting into K [Records] music when I lived in Olympia[, Washington]. It was a year before I put out the Bleach album.”
While Cobain and Nirvana never released a cover of “Credit in the Straight World,” Courtney Love—Cobain’s widow and the leader of the band Hole—did, on their landmark 1994 album Live Through This.
Cobain’s entry to YMG came through “K music,” referring to the Olympia independent label founded by Beat Happening’s Calvin Johnson in the early ’80s. In the early 1990s, Johnson helped set up a northwest United States tour for Stuart Moxham alongside Beat Happening, Bratmobile, Heavens to Betsy, and Lois. Stuart then produced the first Lois album, Butterfly Kiss (1992), and several of the “less rock ’n’ roll songs” on Beat Happening’s final album, 1992’s You Turn Me On, including “Godsend.”
The Talking Heads lead singer invited YMG to play at the Meltdown Festival that he curated in London in 2015. “The Young Marble Giants record Colossal Youth was quite a phenomenon,” Byrne said. “It’s the archetype of bedroom-made music. But because it has that lack of slickness it really draws you in.’
The Dinosaur Jr. bassist and Sebadoh singer-songwriter credits YMG with inspiring him to begin making lo-fi music of his own, and by himself.
“There was a band called the Young Marble Giants who were very stripped down, almost acoustic and incredibly quiet and hushed,” Barlow noted. “It was obviously a do-it-yourself recording. And I was like, That sounds great! They didn’t call it lo-fi at the time, but it was not the way records sounded on the radio. I thought, This is something different, something simpler and more elemental that speaks to me directly. At that point, I decided, It’s OK for me to make records that sound like shit—because they sound great!’
The R.E.M. guitarist has acknowledged YMG’s influence on him and the rest of the band, which formed in Athens, Georgia, in 1980 and later became one of the best known rock bands in the world. Their 2011 song “That Someone is You” mentions YMG in its first lines: “With the restraint of New Order covers, Young Marble Giants / I sat quietly waiting / For someone else to make the first move / For someone else to make the first move / That Someone is You…”
The Massachusetts-based “slow rock” band released their albums on YMG’s old label, Rough Trade Records, and covered the group’s song “Final Day” during a BBC Peel Session.
Belle & Sebastian
The Scottish “twee” band also covered YMG’s “Final Day” in 2003 for a Rough Trade Records compilation.