Over the weekend I stumbled across one of my favorite mix tapes, created (I think) in May of 93. Since I had no tape deck, I recorded it at my parents’ house in Florence sometime after the end of my first year of teaching at Georgetown. My sister got married on the last Saturday of May, so it probably was a week or two before that.
It’s a Maxell XLII 100-minute tape, the brand I had been using for a few years. The music ranged from 78 to the then-present; most were five years old or less. My tastes leaned much more toward the college/alternative side of things by this point, but melody and pop sensibility were still important factors in what attracted my attention. Only two of the twenty-seven songs ever hit the Top 40; by the end, they may look a little out of place. Others should be familiar though many were obscure even in their supposed heyday. Yet, I still find almost everything on here quite appealing–you like what you like, apparently.
Today I’ll lay Side A on you; the flip will come sometime reasonably soon.
1. Belly, “Feed the Tree.”
After stints in the Throwing Muses and the Breeders, Tanya Donnelly formed her own alternative band Belly. They released two disks, Star and King. The former had a few songs make noise on the alternative charts; “Feed the Tree,” one of my faves of 93, even managed to hang out for four weeks in the 90s on the Hot 100 right about the time I was having it lead off the tape.
Toward the end of my tape-making days, I would sometimes write a line from one of the included songs on the labels that went on each side of the cassette. I didn’t do it for this one, but I’m certain that the title of this post, a lyric from “Feed the Tree,” was plastered on one side of a ‘stuff’ tape I gave to James later in 93.
2. Los Lobos, “Wake Up Delores.”
Mitchell Froom (co-)produced three of the most distinctive sounding and enjoyable albums of 92; two of them have cuts on this cassette. The first one up is the second track on Los Lobos’ fantastic disk Kiko, one of its best. A few others from Kiko and their previous release, The Neighborhood, graced other tapes I made around then.
3. Squeeze, “If I Didn’t Love You.”
One of the disks in regular rotation at the Friday night gatherings with old college friends that I started attending in 92 was Singles–45’s and Under, from Squeeze. That led to a pretty thorough investigation of their back catalog. My favorite, by a decent amount, is Argybargy, which I first encountered in the September 80 issue of Stereo Review, courtesy of Joel Vance (and americanradiohistory.com):
These days, its two best-known songs are “Pulling Mussels (from the Shell)” and “Another Piece of My Heart.” The nod for top track from Argybargy in these quarters, though, goes to the seduction-thwarted-by-‘not-tonight-dear’ tale of “If I Didn’t Love You,” in part for the line “Singles remind me of kisses/Albums remind me of plans.” I don’t dispute the greatness of “Vicky Verky,” however–within a year I’d put it on a different tape.
4. Grace Pool, “Radio Religion.”
The first of several true obscurities. Grace Pool came of New York, fronted by the wife-and-husband team of vocalist Elly Brown and session musician Bob Riley. They released two albums (the first is more synth-driven, the second features guitars to a greater extent) that failed to make much of an impression, but I managed to scoop both up before they disappeared into the ether. Several tracks turned out to be worthy of repeated listens over the years. One of the best is the fourth cut on the self-titled debut disk; “Radio Religion” is a danceable rejection of that format found frequently on the AM dial.
5. Curve, “Coast Is Clear.”
I got interested in Curve when I heard “Horror Head” from their full-length debut disk Doppelgänger at Record Service in early 92. Before long, I picked up Frozen, one of their earlier EPs, which contained “Coast Is Clear.” It’s by far the heaviest and most techno piece on the tape, but I still dig it. Singer Toni Halliday pulls zero punches here: “You could be my father for all the love you show…it’s never enough to swallow those pills, now I’m sick and always will be.”
6. Adam Schmitt, “Can’t Get You on My Mind.”
If power pop is your thing and you aren’t familiar with Adam Schmitt, get thee over to Amazon posthaste and spend around $10 to score a Very Good used copy of World So Bright. It’s one of my favorite disks from 91, completely brilliant with hooks galore. (The followup from 93, Illiterature, rocks a little harder but has many fantastic tunes, too.) Schmitt was (is?) from Chicago, so World got promoted decently down in Champaign-Urbana. The wordplay in the title of the putative lead single, “Can’t Get You on My Mind,” is enough to make it an instant power pop classic before you even hear a note. Please listen to this.
7. In Tua Nua, “All I Wanted.”
Up next is a bit of a driving rocker from an Irish band whose name translates to “the new tribe.” Greg turned me on to this the year we roomed together. It was a modest hit in Ireland and a minor one in the UK in 88; I say it deserved much more attention than it received.
8. Sarah McLachlan, “Into the Fire.”
When I wrote three months ago about Sarah McLachlan’s “Vox,” I observed how blown away I was when I began hearing “Into the Fire” in the spring of 92, enough to make a purchase of Solace worth it all on its own. She’d matured so much in three years: “I will stare into the sun until its light doesn’t blind me/I will walk into the fire until its heat doesn’t burn me/And I will feed the fire…”
9. Reivers, “Star Telegram.”
I’m kind of spoiling a possible future Destination 89 post here. I’ve written before how I got turned on to Austin’s Reivers in 91-92; their 89 release End of the Day is one of my all-time favorite albums, period. This sweet ode to the days of their youth and the newspaper from Ft. Worth is one of the few tunes from this disk you can find on YouTube. While John Croslin’s vocals tend a little to the monotone, the harmonies with co-singer Kim Longacre are oh-so-good. Definitely another album worth trying to find.
10. Wonder Stuff, “Welcome to the Cheap Seats.”
Maybe the main attraction now of this song from 91 is Kirsty MacColl’s background vocals. It’s a fun enough romp by a British band who’d first come to my notice a couple years before via the delightful “Don’t Let Me Down, Gently.”
11. Matthew Sweet, “Girlfriend.”
Sweet’s breakthrough, such as it turned out to be. Terrific song, terrific album cover. (Makes it appropriate to publish this on a Tuesday, I guess.) Crank it.
12. Glass Eye, “God Take All.”
Here’s another Austin band. Greg interviewed them on air at WPGU when they came to C-U on tour in the very late 80s to promote their album Hello Young Lovers. “God Take All” was one of the cuts they were featuring. Greg played it for me one time and the rest became history; now you’re getting your chance to hear it.
13. Suzanne Vega, “When Heroes Go Down.”
The amount of tape left is winding down, so we’re closing with a couple of shorter pieces. Mitchell Froom also produced Vega’s 92 release 99.9˚F (they got married before long and had a kid, too). It was quite the departure for Suzy V, but I enjoyed it through and through. The sub-two-minute, tongue-twisting “When Heroes Go Down” isn’t one of its very best tracks but it’s well above serviceable here.
14. Jilted John, “Jilted John.”
And we end the first side with a bit of a letdown, easily the lamest song on the whole tape. I’d bought Rhino’s two UK Pop disks from their DIY series earlier in the spring (check out HERC’s recent review here) and was charmed by quite a number of their tracks. Then there’s the incredibly juvenile “Jilted John,” a #4 UK hit toward the end of 78. It was funny the first few times I heard it, but in the end it’s a bunch of infantile, not-so-edifying name-calling. Graham Fellows, the bloke who recorded as Jilted John, turns sixty in just a couple of weeks.
There’s a much better song from UK Pop II coming up on side B.
Hoping to turn the tape over soon, but right now there are finals to grade. If you liked even some of this, the second half should be of interest, too. As you can see in the picture at the top, Side B is ready to play.