Miracle Legion

The Backyard

Composed by Mark Mulcahy / Ray Neal

Song Review by

While R.E.M. -- whom Miracle Legion was often compared to -- went the furthest of the folk-rock and neo-psychedelic early-'80s bands, there were similar bands experimenting with clean-strummed electric guitars, folk melodies, and poetic, romantic lyrics: the Neats and Dumptruck in Boston; the Feelies from Hoboken; the Connells and Love Tractor in the South; and the Rain Parade, Wiretrain, and Dream Syndicate out West. New Haven, CT's entry, Miracle Legion, was undoubtedly influenced by R.E.M., but some of these other bands -- some of whom predated R.E.M. -- would have had a mutual impact on each other as well. In 1984, fans of underground rock generally fell into just a couple of camps: there was the punk rock scene with its subgenre of hardcore and there were artier, more collegiate-sounding bands influenced by the cleaner textures of groups like the Byrds, the Velvet Underground, and no wave bands like Talking Heads and Television. Sure, there were various other trends -- such as ska and goth -- but hardcore and college rock, as it was often described, were two major forces that eventually came to a head, merging into one sound for bands like Hüsker Dü, Sonic Youth, the Replacements, and Dinosaur Jr. -- going on to be a huge force in the commercially viable alternative rock sound of the early to mid-'90s. The one media outlet that all these groups shared in the '80s was college radio, the best of such stations playing them all in the same sets. In 1984-1985, Miracle Legion's poignant "The Backyard," from the EP of the same name, was a major staple on the college charts, and the band was a significant influence on indie bands who followed. Riding Ray Neil's country-rock open-chord riff, singer Mark Mulcahy sings the sort of plaintive lyrics of lost childhood innocence and personal memories that have a perennial appeal to young adults -- especially those leaving home for college -- feeling emotionally bruised, vulnerable, and open to their new independence, while mourning said naïveté when their world was, indeed, their backyard. "The world was so big/And I was so small/Your voice was always the loudest of all," sings Mulcahy during the chorus, featuring a dramatic musical stop for an a cappella reading of the last line. These sort of sensitive and tender subjects were still the stuff of such bands as Belle and Sebastian on one side and Everclear on another at the end of the '90s: "Yesterday we cut down the apple tree/Cracking wood made my little heart tremble/I wish I didn’t have to try so hard/But the little boy’s got a lot to remember...I love the days I spent with you/And I still have all you could offer/The backyard looks so empty now/But then I think of her, I think of her." The music combines Neil's acoustic and electric guitars into one wall of strumming, with Jeff Wiederschall providing a driving backbeat on the drums and Steven West playing melodic bass lines. Like R.E.M., Mulcahy provides his own backing vocals, a wholly separate, phonetic part echoing in the background like another instrument. Mulcahy's voice is more similar in style to the nasally tones of country rockers like singer Jay Farrar of Uncle Tupelo and Son Volt than Michael Stipe, and indeed the sound of the song is as country-influenced as anything the Athens band had done.

Appears On

Year Artist/Album Label Time AllMusic Rating
No Image 1984 Rough Trade
Just Can't Get Enough: New Wave Hits of the 80's, Vol. 14 1995
Various Artists
Rhino 4:03
More Great Moments in Vinyl History 2004
Various Artists
Wrasse 4:03
blue highlight denotes editor's pick