SotD: Suzanne Vega, “Neighborhood Girls”

My father subscribed to Stereo Review as far as back as I can remember; my guess is that originally he wanted to keep track of new classical releases and eventually inertia took over.  Somewhere around the age of 13, I began taking a serious interest in its Popular Music album reviews section (I tore out Peter Reilly’s full-page review of The Stranger from the January 78 issue–still have it, too). By the time I was in high school, it got to the point where I’d attack a new arrival as soon as it landed in our mailbox, anxious to seek out the Best of the Month and Recordings of Special Merit, figuring out which critics spoke to me more (Steve Simels–who is still active, blogging here–was the star, but if I had to do it over again, I’d pay much closer attention to what Alanna Nash wrote), and plotting potential future purchases on my limited budget. I recall their strong praise for Fear of Music and Argybargy, even though it’d be years before I obtained either. During the college years, I made a point to catch up on anything I’d missed in SR on my visits home. And that’s how I first learned about Suzanne Vega.

While it wasn’t selected as one of September 85’s Best, Suzanne Vega did get a featured review from Simels in that issue (I think reviewers took turns on Best picks, and it wasn’t his month). I took further note a few months later, in February 86, when SR chose it as one of its twelve Albums of the Year (besting another Simels favorite, Marshall Crenshaw’s Downtown). It’d be close to a year before I finally purchased SV at Record Service in Champaign, sometime between November 86 and January 87. I was immediately awestruck and wished I hadn’t waited so long to give it a spin.  I’d recalled the phrase “her songs insinuate themselves” from the SR write-up; that turned out to be completely accurate, particularly lyrically–similar snippets of language crop up in pairs of songs, and more than once.

It’s hard to pick a favorite on SV–“Freeze Tag,” “Small Blue Thing,” and “Undertow” would all be under consideration–but the honor may go to the final track, “Neighborhood Girls,” one of the few pieces on the album to feature (more or less) a full band. It’s a slinky thing, with an almost funky bass line. Just to prove the ‘insinuation’ point, “I’d like to hear a straight line to help me find my way” (almost) directly references the title of the last song (“Straight Lines”) on side one, though with an entirely different meaning to the term.

Over the next decade her stuff was must-buy and usually top-notch. There’s more I want to say about Suzy V (that’s what I called her back in 87; I was completely amused to find her Twitter handle is @suzyv), but that will wait for another day.  (In the meantime, I recommend checking out The Old Grey Cat’s recent overview of her second release, Solitude Standing.)

I don’t know when Dad let the Stereo Review subscription finally lapse, but it may not have been too long after I left for Illinois. I don’t seem to have any memories of pawing through it after I was done at Transy.

Mucho credit goes to for helping me with dates for this post. I’m super excited to discover that a few months ago they began housing an awesome archive of Stereo Review!

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