Ten South Florida Albums that Tried to Change the World

The sweet, sweet sounds of SoFla

Never regarded as a musical nexus of great import, South Florida has no definitive genre to call its own, save perhaps Miami Bass. But individual records have made an impact, or died trying. Not all make for great listening, but each one helped delineate our crazy combination of cultures -- and none of 'em could have originated anywhere else. That's why the following list of Ten South Florida Albums that Tried to Change the World takes the low road, the high road, and the road less traveled. Forgive the deliberate omission of KC and the Sunshine Band and anything to do with Gloria Estefan, but Bandwidth figured that, after three years in the saddle, it was high time to play supreme arbiter of taste.

1.) Fred Neil, Everybody's Talkin' (1966)

American folk music's path was once routed through bohemian-tropical Coconut Grove in the 1960s, with Fred Neil as its quiet oasis. With his astounding voice and moments of brilliance (coupled with a tendency to turn isolated and withdrawn), the troubled troubadour was like an American Nick Drake. After his debut, Bleecker & MacDougal, set the tone for sensitive East Coast coffeehouse dwellers, Neil returned on Capitol Records with Everybody's Talkin'. Thanks to the film Midnight Cowboy, the title track later became a hit for Harry Nilsson. Much more accomplished and pure is Neil's original version, but it's actually Everybody's Talkin's leadoff track, "The Dolphins," that remains his most stunning moment. Rescued from save-the-whales sappiness by its fusion arrangement, Tim Buckley, Brendan Perry, and The The's Matt Johnson have all capably reworked this forgotten classic. Neil died a year ago at age 65, after avoiding the music business for decades. And as we all know, the Grove gradually lost its cool, never becoming an acoustic-folk nerve center.

2.) 2 Live Crew, As Clean/Nasty as They Wanna Be (1989)

Luther Campbell's X-rated masterpiece remains notorious for the reams of press it rang up over the First Amendment. Along with Duchamp's seed packets and Negativland's infamous and oft-sued U2 parody, As Clean/Nasty as They Wanna Be's send-up of Roy Orbison's "Oh Pretty Woman" raised the issues of copyright law and fair use. The song's publishers contended that sampling without authorization is cold-blooded theft. Yet after much hullabaloo, Campbell v. Acuff-Rose Music Inc. ended with a unanimous Supreme Court decision upholding 2 Live Crew's right to make fun of famous folks without asking their permission first. Plus, this is where Miami booty-bass began, and the lightning rod of controversy sparked with Clean/Nasty only helped it spread. Nasty doesn't sound so nasty 14 years later, though evidently back then, folks' thongs got bunched up over Luke's bawdy black comedy. People started paying more attention to Miami after this record, for better or worse.

3.) The Mavericks, From Hell to Paradise (1992)

Without limitations, Miami's odd band out, the Mavericks, rode roughshod over the fences demarcating country, rock, and Latin music. The sound was cinematic and exotic, unlike American country-western or traditional Cuban, but strangely just like them too. Raul Malo crooned ballads like "This Broken Heart" with the chest-clutching vigor of Roy Orbison, thumbing his nose at studio tricks, fancy effects -- and, usually, the Spanish language. The title track went to great lengths to present the band's hometown in the best possible light (it refers to the flight of Malo's aunt from Castro's island to Miami) but From Hell to Paradise really sounds more like Memphis or El Paso than Calle Ocho. That's largely because of the faithful Buck Owens cover, but just as the Mavericks were far from a typical South Florida band, this is far from a typical Mavericks record. More than a decade since the band broke out, however, it's still their best and bravest.

4.) Various Artists, Churchill's Hideaway: Music Generated by Geographical Seclusion and Beer (1993)

Too drunk to change their pants, let alone the world, the Churchill's crowd somehow remains proudly if dimly aware of its legendary place in local lore. All the usual suspects are corralled here, various sloppy portraits of the artists as young punks: Juan Montoya, Bobby Johnston, Sam Fogarino, Rob Coe, Bobby Baker, and of course Rat Bastard. Opening with a noxious squall of feedback and the medieval torture of Harry Pussy's "Brown Butterfly," Geographical Seclusion and Beer is titanium-studded with historic tracks from Kreamy 'Lectric Santa, Load, Postface, Pontius Pilate, Quit, Boise Bob & Pete Moss, Wahoos, Demonomacy, the Human Oddities, Drive Choir, Blanket, Cell 63, the Holy Terrors, and Snatch the Pebble. This upside-down, out-of-focus, black-and-white Polaroid of the nascent Miami punk scene -- the year after Nirvana broke -- is uncannily accurate. High point: Load's profane and insane bloodbath "Pickin' Dayze/User," featuring Johnston's bloody-larynx yowl.

5.) Nil Lara, My First Child (1994)

Loved by all who've seen him, Miami cubano-folk-rocker Nil Lara made his best music before big labels trained their scopes on him, intending to bag and tag him for the big market. David Byrne salivated over Lara, but the spoils went to Capitol offshoot Metro Blue. The results, collected on 1996's Nil Lara, are excellent. But on his 1994 independent release, My First Child, many of those same tunes (the title track, "How Was I to Know," "Vida Mas Simple") felt far less self-conscious, despite their clean-yet-pedestrian production and sometimes distracting guitar solos. The combination of Lara's earnest songwriting and powerful, alluring voice drew hordes of admirers -- Anglos and ex-islanders alike -- to the long-defunct Stephen Talkhouse over and over again; his shows (infrequent now) still have that pep-rally feel. When-oh-when will he get over that seemingly interminable bout of writer's block?

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