Modern Rock Tracks, 12/7/91

The American Contract Bridge League has just wrapped up its first in-person National tournament in two years (they usually hold them three times annually, in March, July, and November–host cities vary from tourney to tourney). My friend Mark L jetted off to Austin on Thanksgiving Day and quickly garnered a third-place finish in a big team event–congrats, Mark! I’ve never been good enough at the game to attend any and all Nationals, but I’ve often showed up for a few days when they’re geographically close.

That was the case in late November 1991, when the Fall Nationals landed in Indianapolis–fortunately for me, the midpoint between grad school and home. I played both weekends, on either side of Turkey Day (yes, one could spend the holiday at the card table if one so chose). On the first weekend, my friend Chris and I drove over from Champaign to play in a multi-day pairs event for non-Life Masters. We survived the first-day cut, and were in contention for a high finish going into the last session. For a brief moment that evening, it felt like we might have a shot at glory, but it was not to be.

As for the world of modern music from thirty years ago, it’s the usual mix of bands from the UK making their mark, along with a few tasty American entries. Let’s see what had us licking our chops.

28. Top, “Number One Dominator”
Please let me know if you know anything about this British troupe. Their sound is very much of the times—almost to the point of being derivative, already—but they seem to have disappeared without a trace after releasing Emotion Lotion.

25. Ian McCulloch, “Hey, That’s No Way to Say Goodbye”
A cut from the Leonard Cohen tribute album I’m Your Fan. My recollection is that R.E.M.’s version of “First We Take Manhattan” got the most notice.

22. Dire Straits, “Heavy Fuel”
Don’t want to be a snob, but it feels a little strange to see Mark Knopfler and company on this chart. The song was at #1 on the Album Rock Tracks chart this week.

21. The Pixies, “Letter to Memphis”
Somehow, I don’t remember hearing anything from Trompe le Monde when it came out. This is a nifty little tune.

20. Texas, “In My Heart”
Lead single from their second LP. I bought Mothers Heaven because I’d enjoyed Southside so much, but it never clicked with me the same way. That said, I’ll be playing this song on my radio show this Thursday.

19. Enya, “Caribbean Blue”
Much more lilting than “Orinoco Flow,”though not nearly as immediately arresting.

17. Curve, “Coast Is Clear”
Hypnotic beat, brutal lyrics. I’m a big fan—it made a mixtape that I wrote up a couple of years ago.

16. This Picture, “Naked Rain”
Last December when the Irish band An Emotional Fish appeared in this series, I commented on the similarity between their sound and that of U2. In response, my friend Greg emailed me with the following: 

“Now if you want complete U2 wannabe poseurdom, you need to listen to Energy Orchard (“Belfast” 1990) or This Picture (1989-1995). Now there are two bands completely devoid of independent creativity.”

Based on “Naked Rain,” I think Greg was being too harsh on This Picture (it’s probable he was being a little over-the-top, too). I like its intensity.

15. Teenage Fanclub, “Star Sign”
Not that these guys aren’t good (they are), but apparently choosing to channel Big Star can garner your band positive critical reception.

14. The Smithereens, “Tell Me When Did Things Go So Wrong”
I knocked Blow Up last go-round; this brief song feels much more like classic Smithereens fare.

12. Blur, “There’s No Other Way”
Did Blur garner its moderate 90s success only because of chameleon-like changes in style as musical fashions evolved? I dunno, but their singles still rock my world from time to time.

11. Kate Bush, “Rocket Man”
Another tribute album out at the time was Two Rooms, meant to suggest the method by which Bernie Taupin and Elton John collaborated. Kate sure made this her own.

8. Dramarama, “Haven’t Got a Clue”
We’re getting to the tail end of the era where 12” album covers dominated the scene inside record stores. From this countdown alone, I can remember seeing those for current releases from the Pixies, Teenage Fanclub, Blur, This Picture, U2, and Dramarama in various spots around Record Service in Champaign at the end of 1991. Dramarama’s new one was even called Vinyl, of all things.

7. The Ocean Blue, “Ballerina Out of Control”
The top comment on this video proclaims The Ocean Blue as “the best British band to ever come out of Pennsylvania.” They deserved more attention than they ever received.

9. U2, “The Fly”
1. U2, “Mysterious Ways”

I’m an unrepentant fan of Achtung Baby, and I’ll even go so far to say that I’d rather listen to it than The Joshua Tree these days. They’re absolutely glomming on to sounds emanating from the UK, but to these ears it’s a brilliant synthesis rather than blatant copycatting.

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