If anyone gives the 1980s band Guadalcanal Diary any consideration anymore, it's as the Athens-based band that wasn't R.E.M. (Even though Guadalcanal Diary were more accurately from suburban Atlanta). Or as that other Georgia band that "kind of sounded like R.E.M."
This is unfortunate, because Guadalcanal Diary was an outstanding band in their own right. And though they shared the same jangly guitar sound as R.E.M., it's far too reductive and unfair to brand GD as mere R.E.M. copycats. (Can we agree that saying that any music "sounds like R.E.M." is like describing a food as "tasting like chicken"). Guadalcanal Diary mastered a fairly wide variety of styles, from the aforementioned jangly pop, to 1950s Buddy Holly-esque love songs, to hard rock, to folk rock, and punky rave-ups. Songwriter and singer Murray Attaway tackled a variety of subjects in his lyrics, with a healthy combination of wisdom and humor: religious fervor and doubt ("Fear of God" and numerous others--this was a popular subject for Attaway), disappeared adventurers ("Michael Rockefeller"), a guy who thinks he has the same personality as a certain violent member of the Three Stooges ("I See Moe"), a dairy farmer who enjoys his job just a little too much ("Cattle Prod")...and this is just scraping the surface. In just four albums from 1984-1989, Guadalcanal Diary covered a lot of territory, and it's difficult to pick a favorite song.
One of the band's best songs, though, is also their best known (in as much as they have a "best known song"). "Watusi Rodeo," from their debut album Walking in the Shadow of the Big Man. The song is a blazing, surf-punky romp with powerhouse drumming and lyrics that tell a bizarre, hilarious story of Texans imposing their Lone Star State lifestyle onto the bewildered people of the Congo. It is a satirical send-up of cultural imperialism. It's also an unjustly forgotten gem of the eighties.
So here you go. Here's a clip of "Watusi Rodeo" taken from YouTube:
So why did Guadalcanal Diary not become bigger? I don't think there's an easy answer to that. The music world is littered with bands and performers who "should have made it big." The music business and music listeners are fickle and difficult to predict. I'm sure that existing in the same place and time as R.E.M. didn't help GD. At least they left us with a brilliant recorded legacy, and anyone who stumbles on their music will surely be rewarded.