Every time I read an article about the decline of the record industry, I’m struck by one fact: The peak year for album sales in the history of the recording industry was 1999. It’s not surprising if you recall that 1999 was the year that Napster came online and started the whole file-sharing craze that devastated the industry. But it is surprising if you think that 1999 was a year when nothing much was going on, musically speaking, at the major record labels. The whole second half of the ’90s were like that, really. When a major label signed an interesting band in those days, the label almost invariably treated it like a one-hit wonder.
That’s pretty much what happened to Nada Surf after the New York band’s song “Popular” became a hit in the summer of ’96. I like to think of “Popular” as the missing link between Suicidal Tendencies’ “Institutionalized” and the Hold Steady — it was a soft-verse, loud-chorus alt-rock song in the tradition of the Pixies and Nirvana, but one where the vocalist didn’t sing so much as rant. It was a weird song, but irresistible in its way. Elektra Records made money from it and then showed no interest in the rest of Nada Surf’s songs (which are almost always more melodic than “Popular”).
Nada Surf has sort of wandered the wilderness ever since. But in that wilderness, they slowly gathered a new audience through touring and online networks and got their songs in movies and TV shows — all the stuff bands do in the post-major-label age. Nada Surf is still going strong. Elektra Records is a shadow of its former self.
- Monday, May 24, 2010, 9 p.m.
Belly Up Tavern,
143 S. Cedros Avenue,
$20 - $22