I got almost to the end of this journey before I came to a set of records with no obvious theme to impose upon them. So let’s just take a look at a (very) disparate collection of five cuts that essentially span the entire 1960s.
Sometime in the first half of the 1970s I saw The Parent Trap on television and instantly started crushing on Hayley Mills. That said, “Let’s Get Together” isn’t a great single (one reason is that Mills doesn’t have too much of a voice). Yet, two things still happened: 1) it got propelled into the Top 10, and 2) my father was compelled to purchase it.
Jerry Butler had a version of “Moon River” that also peaked at #11, two weeks prior to Mancini making it there on Christmas weekend of 1961. It won an Oscar for Best Original Song, in addition to Song and Record of the Year at the Grammys–I guess all that hardware led to a re-release the following spring.
It’s one of those songs that takes me back to a very young age; for whatever reason, it evokes a feeling of wistfulness, I assume for days long gone.
Dad has managed to surprise me over and again as I’ve listened to the songs in his stash of 45s, and he’s done it one more time here. “Atlantis” is an odd duck, with a long spoken intro leading in to a repetitive chorus. I’m guessing it’s the only U.S. Top 10 hit to feature the phrase “antediluvian baby.”
It was originally the B-side: “To Susan on the West Coast Waiting,” an anti-war song told from the point of view of a Vietnam soldier writing home to his girlfriend, made #35 a few weeks before “Atlantis” rose from the depths.
Dad was too old to have worried about being drafted for Vietnam (he turned 33 in the middle of 1964). While I don’t recall having many general conversations with him about war, my overall sense is he was more peacenik than hawk; the presence of “Eve of Destruction” here lends credence to that thought. The sleeve suggests he bought this a few years after it was a hit, though.
This marks the second anniversary of my dives into the increasingly influential world of alternative music as it unfolded thirty years ago. Grunge is creeping closer to the horizon, but there are still a few more episodes of MRT to go before that tsunami hits.
As for my April 1991: I was in my last semester of grad school teaching (had the good fortune that my advisor could support me via a grant for the final year). Otherwise I was making strides on my dissertation and playing too much bridge; at the end of the month, Mark L, Milind, Chris, and I spent a weekend in Peoria qualifying for a July trip to the summer nationals in Vegas.
29. Eleventh Dream Day, “Rose of Jericho” Chicago bands often garnered attention in the record stores of Champaign-Urbana, so I was a little familiar with this band. They’d gotten a major-label deal following their epicly-titled, breakout indie 1988 release Prairie School Freakout, but were unable to parlay that into significant sales in three tries on Atlantic. “Rose of Jericho” was their second and last time on the Modern Rock Chart; it had already topped out at #27.
28. The Feelies, “Sooner or Later” This sounds like it comes from a completely different era, maybe late 70s? I’m definitely digging on it now, though–could be time for a trip through their catalog.
27. Dinosaur Jr., “The Wagon” J Mascis has one of the more distinctive voices of the alternative scene; wasn’t hard to pick it out when he helped out Band of Horses on “In a Drawer” five years ago.
23. Lenny Kravitz, “Always on the Run” Kravitz channels Sly Stone on this first featured track from Mama Said. Slash is also in the house, wielding his axe. (I prefer Kravitz’s remake of “That’s the Way of the World,” er, I mean “It Ain’t Over ’til It’s Over.”)
“Light Skin Girl from London,” one of the B-sides of the CD single for “Always on the Run,” came up more than once while listening to WOXY on travels back and forth to KY during this period.
19. Enigma, “Sadeness (Pt. 1)” Gregorian chant meets up with the master of pleasureful pain and hits the dance floor. The result is a #1 hit all over the world, but only #5 here in the States.
18. Lush, “De-Luxe” I guess this is in straight 3/4 time, but I’m sorely tempted to say it’s alternating between 3/4 and 6/4 in spots. Whatever it is, this is squarely in my wheelhouse.
17. Throwing Muses, “Counting Backwards” Lead single from The Real Ramona. I was only 27 at the time, but that made me a little long in the tooth compared to some of the folks on this chart. The Muses’ Kristin Hersh and Tanya Donelly weren’t even 25 yet; Miki Berenyi and Emma Anderson of Lush had just turned or were about to turn (respectively) 24. Makes me feel like a wastrel, only thinking about polynomials in three or four variables…
14. John Wesley Harding, “The Person You Are” Last April we spun “The Devil in Me” from Harding’s previous release; this one comes from The Name Above the Title. Haven’t steeped myself in his work, but I’ve found both of these songs thought-provoking, appealing pieces.
10. The Judybats, “Native Son” Quite a few acts on this list were signed to Sire Records, including this sextet out of Knoxville (others are Dinosaur Jr., Muses, and Harding). This summer we’ll be checking out a 1991 Sire sampler on which all of them–and more!–appear.
This quirky, fun track is the title song from the Judybats’ debut LP–it’s also the tune currently lodged firmly in my head. I think what vocalist Jeff Heiskell is wearing in the clip is more cow than horse, but what do I know?
8. Havana 3AM, “Reach the Rock” Short-lived band featuring Clash bassist Paul Simonon. This was their one stab at glory.
6. EMF, “Unbelievable” Signs of the alternative scene’s increasing impact on the pop charts abound. Back in February, the top three of that MRT review went Top 10 on the Hot 100. This time, there are four songs out of these 30 that accomplished that: in addition to Enigma, the Divinyls and R.E.M. made it to #4, and EMF shot all the way to the top. I’m still a fan of “Unbelievable.”
5. Simple Minds, “See the Lights” How did I miss this at the time? Gorgeous piece; even spent a week at #40 on the Hot 100 at the end of June. They still had it, five-plus years after Once Upon a Time.
4. Divinyls, “I Touch Myself” Co-written by two members of the band and the powerhouse team of Steinberg/Kelly. This wasn’t the first time the band had leveraged the talents of outside writers: Mike Chapman and Holly Knight composed 1985’s “Pleasure and Pain,” a song I know I heard my senior year in college.
True story: the first time I heard “Birthday” from the Sugarcubes, I wondered if Christine Amphlett was singing (yes, I should have known better).
3. Material Issue, “Valerie Loves Me” Our second Chicago band, though with a completely different approach: the classic power-pop trio. What a complete delight this is; we’ll feature another stellar cut from International Pop Overthrow in June.
2. Morrisey, “Our Frank” Morrisey’s been a regular on the Modern Rock Track chart over these last two years, though I’ve frequently skipped over his contributions in these write-ups. We’ll throw him a bone this time; he’s pretty much still the same lyrically as he was with the Smiths.
1. R.E.M., “Losing My Religion” The guys from Athens were coming off their first extended hiatus from recording; 1989 and 1990 were the first years without a new R.E.M. album since they’d started. Even if I don’t listen to Out of Time as much as some of their other albums, I can’t gripe that this wound up being their best-known song.
There’s a two-way race for my favorite album of 1995 between Ben Folds Five and Tomorrow the Green Grass, by the Jayhawks. I’ve gone on about the latter before, noting I discovered it in the very early days of dating my future wife, and that the Wilco/Jayhawks show I saw that summer ranks as possibly the best concert I’ve attended. It couldn’t have been long before I started investigating their earlier works Blue Earth (from 1989, on their hometown Minneapolis label Twin/Tone) and 1992 major-label debut Hollywood Town Hall, released mere weeks after I began working at Georgetown.
Over the years I’ve found I keep going back to Hollywood Town Hall periodically, and it never fails to delight. HTH, produced by George Drakoulias, was well-received critically at the time, and some consider it the ‘Hawks’ finest moment. Alas, it peaked at only #192 on Billboard‘s album chart (though it made some noise as a Heatseeker), lower than any of their next six disks. It’s more than worthy of some attention, so let’s listen in on a few tracks.
The album leads off with the only song of theirs to make the Album Rock and/or Modern Rock charts; “Waiting for the Sun” may also be the one you’re most likely to recognize now. That’s Gary Louris on lead vocals.
Next up is “Crowded in the Wings,” highlighting what made early Jayhawks music most stand out: the synergistic harmonies of Louris and co-leader Mark Olson.
“Clouds” starts off sounding like a rocker, but quickly settles in to a more gentle interplay between Louris’s and Olson’s guitars. We later find out that intro also serves as the bridge. “God of the rich man ain’t the God for the poor.”
Back in the old days, “Sister Cry” would have led off side two. It’s another bout of epic harmonizing, especially on the chorus.
My favorite on the album is “Settled Down Like Rain.” Understated playing, lyrics, and singing. Gorgeous and memorable.
I go on regularly about sequencing, particularly the importance of ending an album with the right tune. What makes a closer the “right” one? I suspect context plays a big role; sometimes it’s good to go out somberly, other times rockin’ hard. “Martin’s Song” is one of two songs on HTH that also appeared on Blue Earth. Whatever it is, it’s got that last song feel, and the band agrees–it concluded Blue Earth as well.
Olson left the band after Tomorrow the Green Grass. Louris continued on with the others for several more years (I saw them a second time in Lexington a couple years later in support of 1997’s Sound of Lies). Over the last decade, they’ve reunited, recording and touring periodically; Olson even came back for one album in 2011. Their most recent effort, XOXO, was released less than a year ago.