Review Revue: Guadalcanal Diary – Walking in the Shadow of the Big Man

Listening to Guadalcanal Diary’s 1984 debut album for the very first time, I can’t help but wonder what the relationship must have been like between this Marietta, Georgia band and their Athens neighbors, REM. The two bands formed within a year of each other, and released their first albums at more or less the same time (Guadalcanal Diary’s EP Watusi Radio came out in 1983, the same year as Murmur; and this album — produced by Don Dixon, who produced the first two REM albums — came out the following year, alongside Reckoning). As reviewers below mention, you can’t deny the musical and sonic kinship between the two bands, from the vocalists’ earnest, high-pitched vocals to the dark, quirky, twangy pop that forms the base of their sounds. It seems that the comparisons tended to go one way, though, with reviewers saying Guadalcanal Diary reminded them of REM, and not the other way ’round. Walking in the Shadow of the Big Man was released on Elektra, certainly nothing to sneeze at, but it appears that even at this early stage, it was obvious who the bigger band would end up being.

All that aside, the reviews on the cover of this record are kind of the perfect college radio snapshot. You’ve got the comparisons to other bands, the rants about how this album could possibly be passed over for rotation when [insert obviously inferior band’s name here] is in Heavy, a vain attempt to get people to play the vinyl without scratching it, and then of course the person who can’t believe all this praise being heaped on something that doesn’t meet their standards of originality. It’s all right here, folks. Come join me for our weekly glimpse into College Radio Land!
“American folk-pop music. Visions of REM. A little too serious for me though.”

“I quite like it! Produced by Don Dixon at the Drive-in Studio.”

“Why isn’t this in H. Can somebody honestly tell me that this isn’t as deserving as shit like, sorry, Red Kross etc. C’mon. Ditto for numerous other bands fighting for survival in M and L like Opposition, Cindytalk, and the Nomads.”

“Address your comments directly to Music Director!”

“‘Shit’ is all objective [sic] . . . at least these guys have you on their side . . .”

“Excellent folk-pop, a la Let’s Active. Try ‘Trail of Tears.'”

“OK OK I’m an idiot. I was just trying to make a case. Any negative comments were misused in the heat of the moment.”

“Nope, not an idiot . . . I know what you’re getting at.”

“This LP is very good for a debut. Not unlike REM, but different enough too [sic] be cool. Yay for ‘Sleepers Awake’ and ‘Trail of Tears,’ for starters . . .”

“Boring music in general. Sorry, but it’s to [sic] folky for me. [I’m listening to this album right now and thinking, wow, if they thought this was too folky, I can’t imagine how they’d deal with the likes of Fleet Foxes, Iron & Wine, et al.] I’m sure that it appeals to some, however not to me. P.S. I do, however, like the thoughts behind ‘Trail of Tears.'”

“WHY!? do some of you (or one of you) insist on thrashing good vynil [sic]? Knock the shit off! It’s not necessary!! P.S. Not only do you fuck-up the record, but you also waste the G– D— stylus! [Yes, this individual wrote out the words ‘shit’ and ‘fuck,’ but tastefully edited out ‘god damn.’ Go figure.] You all talk about how great the music sounds well how about trying to preserve that quality!”


“Why don’t you guys save your praise for something that’s unique and innovative?”

“Good songs are good songs regardless of genre.”

“Title track is nice.”

“Kumbayah is very good.”

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