Some Things In Life You Cannot Measure By Degrees

Final odds and ends from the re-examination of a year long ago…

Here’s what I thought I’d be doing with Destination 89 back in January:

I’ll be looking thirty years into the past, occasionally for stuff that happened in the world and to me then…but more often for music—I’m anticipating having a roughly weekly feature that highlights a cool tune from 89.

This is the 35th post with the Destination 89 tag. I’m not sure that quite constitutes ‘roughly weekly,’ but things evolved a little over time, as I occasionally went the listicle route by periodically examining Hot 100 and Modern Rock Tracks charts, as well as plugging a few Forgotten Albums. That’s okay; I got to re-visit a larger number of songs than I expected (though plenty were not ‘cool’).

I suppose I hit all the personal events I planned on writing up, though. Grad school life, both academic and social, was obviously the focal point. The year taken as a whole was almost exactly the middle of my time in Illinois, and it was transitional in many respects (though it was the only year in grad school I didn’t move). I started off not knowing for certain I would be able to advance on to PhD work and ended reading papers with the professor who agreed to be my advisor. Getting back into bridge wound up being a much bigger part of my life than I ever would have thought.

Progress in math was measurable but slow, too slow at times.  It would be several months into the new decade before I actually began tackling what turned out to be my dissertation work. Likewise, growth in bridge skills was often painfully incremental (and playing so much just might have impacted the pace of my graduate studies).

On the other hand, the unpredictable can happen, and quickly.  It might be a decently major health scare for a parent, or a whole new circle of close friends could form after getting invited to join a a group of grad students in physics and electrical engineering for a post-bridge trip to Steak ‘n Shake (though that didn’t happen until late January of 90).

My favorite song as the year ended—and for some months after—was without a doubt “No Myth,” from Michael Penn. I wasn’t alone, apparently—it made #13 on the Hot 100, #5 on Album Rock Tracks, and #4 on Modern Rock Tracks. Maybe it was its use of the Chamberlin that caught and held our attention? I picked up March sometime in very late 89/very early 90; it was probably the album I listened to most over the first half of the year. There’ll be a couple other songs from it in upcoming Modern Rock Tracks posts.

1989 was an hour shorter for me than other years, as it had begun in IL on Central Time but was ending back home in the Eastern Time portion of KY. I spent much of the last couple of days of the decade reading James Gleick’s Chaos. I imagine I rung in 90 with my parents, maybe my sister too, if she was home.  HS and/or college friends were perhaps too far scattered and busy with life by this time to conjure up a gathering.

On the whole, I’ve enjoyed mapping out and writing up the posts of Destination 89, but I won’t be doing anything thematically similar for 90 (or any other year) as we head into 2020.  To be honest, my muse has struggled a bit these last few months; I’ve cut back on the PastBlast posts recently and may well continue to do so. We’ll just have to see where she leads going forward. I definitely have a few projects in mind, but I’m going to try not to force anything.

Thanks to everyone reading this, and to anyone who stopped by, liked a post, and/or commented in 2019. I’m truly flattered that you find what I have to say interesting enough to visit. Happy New Year to us all.

Much Better Than Christmas

This song features jingle bells and repeatedly mentions the holiday many of us celebrate on December 25, but it’s hardly a Christmas song. I guess I’d call it an ode about possibly unrequited love/lust?

“Blow Me Up,” by the now-unknown Will and the Bushmen, is one of the many delightful tunes tossed my way via the friendship I struck up with Greg, now almost thirty years ago; it wound up on a favorite mix tape I made a year or so later. I find it catchy as hell, but it’s (to me) shockingly obscure today.

Will Kimbrough’s just about three months younger than I. According to his Wikipedia page, he hangs out in Nashville these days, writing, recording and producing. While I don’t think Kimbrough’s ever really broken through, it feels like he’s living his dream.

The year that Greg and I roomed together, Will and the Bushmen released their followup and final album, Blunderbuss. Greg, forever aspiring to completism with regard to the artists in his CD collection, had to pick it up. I assume the first track, “D.C. to Moscow,” was written right after the fall of the Iron Curtain. It’s a fairly political song–the chorus, such as it is, goes, “D.C.’s turning into Moscow/Moscow’s turning into D.C.” We laughed about that line at the time.

Modern Rock Tracks, 12/2/89

Last month I indicated that quarterly reviews of Hot 100s from thirty years ago were unlikely to continue. There’s just not enough familiarity with the hits of that time to warrant my efforts, especially since I’d too often want to take potshots at the stuff I do recognize. The bimonthly forays into the Modern Rock Tracks charts I started back in April, though–that’s been fun. There’s plenty I don’t know on them as well, for sure, but the fruits of my research are much more in line with my tastes of the day. It’s a feature I hope to keep going for a good while.

Let’s take a look at a dozen of the songs on the 12/2/89 chart.

30. The Del Fuegos, “Move With Me Sister”
Band out of Boston with what turned out to be their final modicum of success prior to breaking apart. Warren Zanes, brother of leader/vocalist Dan, had already bailed on the band by this point; he’s now a VP at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

While I was dimly aware the Del Fuegos back in the day, I must confess that for more than a quarter of a century, hearing their name has immediately brought to mind a different song with the word “sister” in its title. The link takes you to an affecting oral history of the Juliana Hatfield Three hit published in Spin five years ago–you won’t regret clicking through to it.

28. The Primitives, “Secrets”
Another pop charmer from the Coventry quartet. In a more just world, folks would have been listening to this instead of NKOTB.

22. David Byrne, “Make Believe Mambo”
Byrne released his first post-Heads solo work, Rei Momo, a little over eighteen months after Naked. It’s chock-full of Latin rhythms and dance styles, and perhaps pointed him in the direction of the amazing Brazil Classics series he began curating shortly thereafter.

I was today years old when I learned that personal fave Kirsty MacColl is singing backup on this song (then-hubby Steve Lillywhite helped Byrne with the production of Rei Momo).

17. Deborah Harry, “I Want That Man”
Toward the end of 88, The Escape Club had a #1 hit with the odious “Wild Wild West,” a song that featured the forward-looking phrase, “Heading for the 90s…” One year later and a decade ahead of its time, Harry is warning us, “Here comes the twenty-first century…” Granted, King Crimson beat her to this punch by two decades, but I do wonder: how many other songs were out there around this time, or earlier, referencing the upcoming century?

“I Want That Man,” written by Thompson Twins Tom Bailey and Alannah Currie, was a big hit in Australia but hardly made an impression here in the States. I think Harry under-sings it a bit, but it’s a darn catchy tune.

16. Dramarama, “Last Cigarette”
Band from Jersey. Had a few songs get some Modern Rock chart action, but this ode to the day’s final nicotine fix is the one I know best.

11. Red Hot Chili Peppers, “Higher Ground”
RHCP’s campaign to conquer the music world entered its next stage with the release of Mother’s Milk late in the summer. Impossible to better the original version of this song, but they gave it a more than credible effort.

9. Lenny Kravitz, “Let Love Rule”
I’m not a big Kravitz fan but do appreciate his approach to the craft. This was our first peek at his retro stylings.

7. The Mighty Lemon Drops, “Into the Heart of Love”
This band from the UK had made some noise a year earlier with the very good “Inside Out.” While this tune isn’t quite as memorable, it is reminding me I should dig a little into their catalog.

Back in 91, I ran across their epic cover of “Another Girl, Another Planet,” on the Just Say Anything sampler from Sire Records. Truth be told, I’m pretty sure I like it better than the original.

4. The Smithereens, “A Girl Like You”
A bit of a breakthrough, as this lead single from 11 became the Smithereens’ first Top 40 hit (one of two). Really solid band that never received their due measure of success.

3. The Jesus and Mary Chain, “Blues from a Gun”
Another band that featured a pair of brothers, this time from Scotland. I knew them by name back then but hadn’t bothered to check ’em out. Big mistake–I would have been all over this blistering track if I’d been paying attention.

2. Kate Bush, “Love and Anger”
Between hearing “Running Up That Hill” at the end of 85 and getting the compilation LP The Whole Story a little over a year later, I felt like I’d become a big Kate Bush fan. A little dabbling into her back catalog hadn’t impressed as much, however, though I took the plunge and bought The Sensual World soon after it was released anyway. It did not go into heavy rotation, and I think I eventually sold it. Listening to “Love and Anger” again these last few days is giving me stirrings of regret over that decision; I didn’t fully appreciate the greatness of this song back then.

Yes, we have a David Gilmour sighting about two-thirds of the way through the vid.

1. Ian McCulloch, “Proud To Fall”
First solo hit from the (former) lead singer of Echo and the Bunnymen, in what turned out to be a non-permanent parting of the ways. Not a bad tune, but I can’t say it leaves a strong impression, either. They didn’t play it when I saw E&tB in concert in the summer of 18. In its fourth and final week at the top; “Love and Anger” would replace it.

The More I Know, The Less I Understand

I’ve been using the Destination 89 tag in part to construct an after-the-fact diary of some of the things I think I remember from that year. While there are still additional music-only-related posts in the series to come in December, this one discusses the last two specific events I can recall from thirty years ago; both occurred Thanksgiving week.

1) On Tuesday, November 21, the Illini Bridge Club ran a game that was the first stage in the North American Collegiate Bridge Championship, sponsored by the American Contract Bridge League. The scores of the winning pairs in each direction would be combined and compared to those of the other competing schools in our region (one of six continent-wide); the top team from each region would be flown to the next ACBL national tournament, which was to be in Fort Worth, in March, for a friendly competition. Illinois had won the whole she-bang the previous spring. That team included my new friend Mark L, but they’d lost two members to graduation and were looking for suitable replacements. Mark L recruited Milind, a CS grad student and a very thoughtful player, to form a partnership. For some reason, he asked me that fall to work with Mike, a senior history major and the other returning member from the defending champs.

Mike was a strong player, and extremely patient with me (though he’d let me know when I made an error, sometimes in no uncertain terms, he was very good about moving on to the next hand). He taught me as much as he could in the few weeks we had to work out a system, and occasionally I’d even remember some of it. The biggest issue was that I was still too inexperienced to have some things come naturally.

Anyway, the plan was for Mark L and Milind to be the top pair sitting North-South, while Mike and I won East-West. We then hoped to parlay that by beating the best foursomes at the other schools in our region to go to the nationals. (The same hands were played on all participating campuses, with the possible outcomes for each hand translated ahead of time into points on a 0 to 100 scale. After finishing a hand, you consulted a table printed on a slip of paper to determine your score for that deal.) 

The game in the Illini Union turned out to be close all around. On the last hand of the night, the director had to come to our table to sort out questionable declarer play on my part and perhaps equally questionable defensive play by the opponent on my right. Her ruling ended up going in our favor, and that turned out to be the difference in both pairs winning. The first hurdle had been overcome.

I headed back to Kentucky the next morning for Thanksgiving with the folks. I was too impatient to wait until I got home to find out if we’d qualified for Fort Worth, so I used a pay phone about an hour down the road to call the ACBL offices in Memphis, where I learned that we had indeed won our region. I won’t keep you in suspense about how things went down in Texas: we came in fourth in the round-robin first round, earning a spot in the semi-finals, but got crushed there by eventual champion Harvard. 

2) The day after the big meal with the fam, I headed down to Louisville, where one of my good college friends was getting married (the first of two consecutive Turkey Day weekends I went to a wedding). It turned into a mini-reunion, of course, hanging with Transy friends, a few for the first time in a couple of years. It also marked the last time I would see some of them for a while, perhaps until my own wedding six-and-a-half years later, or even longer.

I’ve bypassed the opportunity to this point to bring up Don Henley’s The End of the Innocence, one of the more notable LP releases of 89. I enjoyed the title song a fair amount, and thought “If Dirt Were Dollars” was pretty good. But the track I liked best—by far—was the third single, “Heart of the Matter.” Pretty sure that some review I read when the album first came out touted it as a real highlight, and I recall looking forward to hearing it. But did it get any play on Champaign radio in the fall of 89, when it wasn’t released as a single until right after 90 dawned? I’m going to assume so, if for no other reason than to shoehorn it into my retrospective. Nonetheless, the song does feel of a piece with seeing my classmates in Louisville.

I’ve been thinking about forgiveness some lately; maybe it comes with the territory as one gets well into middle age and scrutinizes one’s screw-ups. It’s occurred to me that, for whatever reason—maybe a combination of cluelessness, carelessness, and dumb luck—to date I haven’t often had to consider forgiving someone else for something even moderately-sized. When I am on the receiving end of hurt, I tend to believe it’s been earned.  Henley’s song is about dealing with the aftermath of a failed romance, but could his claim be getting at a portion of the truth in the larger picture? Recognition that one has wronged another, working on becoming a better person, understanding where that other person is coming from—those are absolutely important, and they’re all areas where I decidedly continue to have room for growth. However, I’ve come to believe that striving toward self-forgiveness is also a piece of the puzzle, and I wonder: could that be the heart of the matter, at least sometimes? 

Eagles-related material is some of the scarcest on YouTube; I shouldn’t be surprised that there’s no clip of “Heart of the Matter” available for embedding. I did find a link to a performance that Henley gave on Austin City Limits four years ago—you can watch it here.

What Else Do I Have To Say?

It’s getting close to the end of my review of music of 89. Part of that has been taking a peek at the Hot 100 at the midpoint of each quarter of the year (here are the reviews of 2/18, 5/13, and 8/12). There have been a number of gems, but I’ve been regularly reminded how grim things could be, too; I definitely can see why I was drifting away from the Top 40 scene. We’re completing the exercise today by taking a gander at one-fifth of the 11/11/89 chart.

100. Martika, “I Feel the Earth Move”
Bad and/or pointless remakes are a recurring theme this go-round. The idea of remaking this Carole King classic may be rooted in the success of Tiffany’s “I Think We’re Alone Now,” but it was neither as synthed up nor as successful (it had reached #25).

90. Tracy Chapman, “Crossroads”
The title track of Chapman’s follow-up to her critically and commercially successful debut LP. Overall it was a classic case of the sophomore slump, though it’s better than most of the crap on this chart. This was its peak.

73. White Lion, “Radar Love”
See #100 above–I don’t know if this is bad, but it sure is pointless. The public wasn’t having any of it, either, as it had already topped out at #59.

64. Tom Petty, “Free Fallin'”
Including footage of the lead actress rather meekly skateboarding the half-pipe toward the end of the video always seemed like an odd directorial choice to me, especially since they show the guys all catching air. What gives–why show that contrast?

Excluding his duet with Stevie, this is highest a Petty-sung single ever got–it’s on its way to #7.

56. Michael Bolton, “How Am I Supposed to Live Without You”
Another awful remake, this time by the song’s writer. I wasn’t a fan of the Laura Branigan version, even before I kept hearing it during a not-very-good time in my life. Bolton’s take, which went all the way to the top, sends me up a wall every time I accidentally hear it.

Bolton is almost certainly my least favorite act ever to have seen live–he opened for Heart when John, Ann, and I went to see them at Milwaukee’s Summerfest in the late 80s.

55. Madonna, “Oh Father”
Even though this broke Madonna’s streak of 16 consecutive Top 5 singles (it peaked at #20), I’m inclined to rank it among my five favorites of hers (along with “Borderline,” “Into the Groove,” “Live to Tell,” and “Like a Prayer,” if you must know). I’d guess many of us have events from our youths that shaped everything that came afterward (I know I do). Madonna makes it clear here what that was for her.

48. Eurythmics, “Don’t Ask Me Why”
Things went sideways commercially for Dave and Annie pretty quickly after their brilliant 85 release Be Yourself Tonight, scoring just two more Top 40 singles. One of them was “Don’t Ask Me Why,” which had sneaked it at #40 the previous week. I don’t know that I heard it back in 89, but it’s a keeper.

40. Tesla, “Love Song”
Mentioning this one mainly to point out it’s not the only song with this title in the Top 40–the Cure are still hanging in there at #34. To be honest, I’d always assumed this was called “Love Will Find a Way”–I didn’t care for it enough to try to disabuse myself of the mis-impression. Their other big hit was a cover of “Signs.” You probably can guess what word springs to my mind about it.

37. Technotronic, “Pump Up the Jam”
One of a few club songs from this period that really broke through, at least into my consciousness. I like “Groove Is in the Heart” and the scorching hot “Gonna Make You Sweat” (both from about a year later) better, but I definitely get why this was a big hit, climbing all the way to #2.

33. Phil Collins, “Another Day in Paradise”
The first single from Phil’s last massive seller, …But Seriously. Probably too earnest by a fair amount, yet I’ll still give him a little credit for the effort. On its way to #1, of course.

28. 2 Live Crew, “Me So Horny”
I was well aware of the controversy surrounding As Nasty As They Wanna Be at the time, but I sure didn’t hear this song much. It’d get only two spots higher, but it hung around the Hot 100 for almost five more months.

22. Poco, “Call It Love”
The third and final time Poco made the Top 40, this time after a nine ten-year absence. One of the better songs to be found on this chart, though the video’s director went a wee bit overboard with all the carefully-selected, sculpted bods–everybody is not a supermodel, especially on a hot, summer day.

18. Linda Ronstadt and Aaron Neville, “Don’t Know Much”
When I first saw the title of this song, I imagined it being a rocker (maybe the album’s title–Cry Like a Rainstorm, Howl Like the Wind–encouraged that thought). If I’d paid any attention to who Linda’s duet partner was, I wouldn’t have made that mistake. “Don’t Know Much” would climb to #2 and was Ronstadt’s last Top 10 hit.

15. Young M.C., “Bust a Move”
You could not escape this song on MTV for a couple of years. Already heading down from a #7 peak, it’s another that hung around the Hot 100 for many more months. I’ll take this over either of Tone Loc’s big hits.

14. Alice Cooper, “Poison”
Alice had just two Top 40 hits in the 80s, one in 80, and this one in 89. I’m much more inclined toward “(We’re All) Clones.” Yet another one that got to #7.

13. Billy Joel, “We Didn’t Start the Fire”
The song is good enough, but I’m a huge fan of the video. Love the care taken in assembling artifacts from the 50s and 60s, and focusing on the kitchen–nerve center of the home–from those decades and beyond was a brilliant move.

My grandparents had a coffee table book, The Best of Life, featuring hundreds of photos from the first 36 years of Life magazine. I would regularly thumb through it on visits to their farmhouse; a number of the pix made quite an impression. Joel used a couple of the hardest to look at from that collection–the lynching of a black man and the execution of a Vietnamese soldier. Exploitation? Maybe, but because I knew their source, they definitely spoke to me.

9. Delfonics, “Didn’t I (Blow Your Mind)”
Amazing to think that this R&B classic, one I loved from the moment I discovered it on the first K-Tel record to enter our home, made a smashing comeback almost twenty years later. Wait…you mean it’s really an utterly soulless cover from New Kids on the Block in this spot? And it peaked at #8, two spots higher than the original? Screw that.

6. B-52’s , “Love Shack”
Soon to be #3. An incredible shame that further advance was repelled by Milli Vanilli and Bad English.

2. Roxette, “Listen to Your Heart”
Last week’s #1. I’m not a big ballad guy generally, but this is pretty good, certainly tons better than what comes next.

1. Bad English, “When I See You Smile”
I’ve surveyed four charts from 89 this year, and the top songs have been by Paula Abdul, Bon Jovi, Richard Marx, and now a Frankengroup fashioned from the dessicated husks of Journey and the Babys. I like “Straight Up,” but the other three form a pretty sad lot.

Will I continue looking at Hot 100s of 30 years ago come February? My Magic 8 Ball’s response is “OUTLOOK NOT SO GOOD.” Guess we’ll know for certain in three months…

Die Mauern fielen nieder

I’ve not paid much attention to newsworthy events from thirty years ago in my Destination 89 series; today I’m atoning. The fall of the Berlin Wall, on 11/9/89, was among the most memorable geopolitical events of my grad school years (others included the rise and crushing of dissent in Tiananmen Square, Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait and the subsequent Gulf War, and the end of the Soviet Union/Cold War). The Wall existed in some form or fashion for a little over 28 years; it was early February of 2018 when the moment passed that it’d been down for as long as it had stood. I’m not nearly enough of a student of history to discuss the proximate or long-term reasons for why it happened at that particular moment in time. But what strikes me now is how suddenly it seemed to occur (though I recognize my distance insulated me from having to be aware of developments) and how a world with two Germanys, the only one I’d known, disappeared in an instant. Meaningful change is by no means always gradual.

Martha has been to Berlin four times, twice before 89 and twice after. Here are some pix.

The Brandenburg Gate is one of Berlin’s most iconic sites, sitting adjacent to the Reichstag. Here are two views when Martha was there in 1983 with a few college classmates on a class trip at the end of her junior year.

They were able to take the subway over to the East side. Here, she’s standing at some sort of barrier, as close as she was able to go. You can see the Wall on the other side of the gate.

The view from the West–there’s a short fence in front of the graffiti-riddled Wall.

And here are analogous photos I took in late June of 17:

You can see bricks in the road marking where the Wall once stood in this one. It’s remarkable to me to think how effortless it was to pass through the Gate and to visit the Reichstag, given how it was in the mid 80s.

Martha was back in Berlin in 85, during her yearlong stay in Hamburg after finishing college. This photo was taken in March on the West side (note the sign warning not to advance into the “no-man’s land”); she was en route to the airport in East Berlin, where she would take off to Moscow (a story for another day).

Not much of the Wall remains. One of the places we visited was the East Side Gallery, where they’ve turned still-standing segments into murals.

Rather than try to make some grand statement about the ultimate futility of walls myself, I’ll let a couple of songs do the talking, even if they’re not from the latter part of 89.

 

Forgotten Albums: The Reivers, End of the Day

The Reivers have received mention a couple of times already in this space, due to appearances on a couple of mix tapes I’ve reviewed. The first detailed how I came to learn about them and the subsequent quest for their back catalog on CD; the second featured one of the songs on today’s Forgotten Album, their 89 release, End of the Day.

The band came out of the Austin music scene of the mid-80s. Their first album, 85’s Translate Slowly, was released under their original moniker, Zeitgeist. Threat of legal action by another music group with that name led them to re-christen themselves as the Reivers. Translate Slowly impressed enough for them to get a major-label deal from Capitol, and the label put Don Dixon behind the board on 87’s Saturday. It’s a fantastic album; I’ll probably write about it someday.

Unfortunately, Saturday didn’t sell all that much. While I suspect there some pressure to produce some hits on the followup, lead guitarist and chief songwriter John Croslin was allowed to serve as co-producer. End of the Day is every bit as good as Saturday, but it stiffed in stores, too. They got dropped by Capitol and the albums went out of print quickly. The Reivers landed at DB Records, in Atlanta, and recorded one more album, Pop Beloved, in 91. It’s another awesome record–more on it another day, too–but the Reivers called it quits not long after it came out.

Today, it’s a quick tour of five of End of the Day‘s tracks. Not all of the twelve are available on YouTube, and several of those that can be found come from a video shot at one of their shows, probably shortly after Pop Beloved came out. I’m limiting myself to linking to just one of them. We start with a not especially high-fidelity capture of the album’s opener, “It’s About Time,” but it’s what I’ve got to offer.

Next, track 2, the ultra-charming “Star Telegram,” which was on the tape I wrote up back in May.

Here’s a surprise. “Lazy Afternoon” originally appeared in the 1954 Broadway musical The Golden Apple. It’s been sung by, among others, Kaye Ballard, Shirley Horn, Helen Merrill, Regina Belle, and–perhaps most notably–Barbra Streisand. The band, featuring guitarist Kim Longacre on vocals, gives it anything but the typically languid treatment, and it totally works. Crank it.

“Almost Home” was covered by Hootie and the Blowfish on their 2000 release Scattered, Smothered, and Covered. (The album also features a cut from Translate Slowly.) I can definitely envision Darius Rucker and company taking this one on.

The album’s final track is one of its best, the title song. “End of the Day” made an appearance on another of my mid-90s mix tapes. If you watch the video, you’ll see the picture below change to one of the band taken when they reunited briefly six years ago.

Lots of bands wind up not being viable commercially, but Croslin, Longacre, bassist/violinist Cindy Toth, and drummer Garrett Williams sure recorded a lot of tunes I really appreciate.

Modern Rock Tracks, 10/7/89

Time for our next visit to the nascent alternative scene of thirty years ago. I knew, and generally enjoyed, most of these twelve tracks in real time, but a few came my way over the next year or two via future roommate Greg.

#29. Ziggy Marley and the Melody Makers, “Look Who’s Dancing”
The Marley progeny released One Bright Day one year after their breakthrough Conscious Party. It included this track, which got play on the video channels and was coming off a Top 10 peak here.

#28. The Rolling Stones, “Mixed Emotions”
Yes, this was their best lead single since “Start Me Up,” but it sure feels out of place.

#17. Depeche Mode, “Personal Jesus”
Debuting–the year of DM domination begins…now…

#13. The Stone Roses, “She Bangs the Drums”
…while the Madchester movement was also gaining a purchase on these shores. Greg wheeled out The Stone Roses a few times when we began hanging out in 90; somewhat bizarrely, the almost ten-minute “Fool’s Gold” is the track that made the deepest impression then, but “She Bangs the Drums” is an absolute pop delight.

#12. The Primitives, “Sick of It”
Lovely, the 88 debut disk from Britain’s Primitives, is a drop-dead gorgeous album, well worth a write-up someday (and well worth you seeking it out). The following year, Tracy Tracy, Paul Court and company released Pure–while it has some good tunes, including “Sick of It,” it doesn’t hit Lovely‘s heights with anywhere near the same frequency. The Primitives sold more product than Welsh counterparts The Darling Buds, but I’ve generally favored the Buds over the years.

#10. The Sugarcubes, “Regina”
Another lead single from a second LP. I’d bought Life’s Too Good, the Icelanders’ debut, and rather liked it at the time–I’m not sure it’s aged especially well. (Björk showed she was a force of nature right off the bat, of course.) “Regina,” from Here Today, Tomorrow Next Week! was okay, but not enough to get me to listen to the new album much.

#9. Squeeze, “If It’s Love”
Having achieved some US chart success with two singles from their 87 album Babylon and On, Squeeze might have thought they finally had some commercial momentum. Frank proved otherwise. “If It’s Love” is a pretty nice track, but it would only make noise in Modern Rock-land.

#7. Camper Van Beethoven, “Pictures of Matchstick Men”
My first music-themed Facebook post was on May 28, 2011, and featured this song (I’d heard the Status Quo original at Walgreens earlier in the day). Morgan Fichter’s violin sucks me in and doesn’t let go. There’s a lot of great stuff in the top half of today’s list–this is in the running for best of the bunch.

#5. The Ocean Blue, “Between Something and Nothing”
And so is this propulsive, energetic piece. It wound up leading off a mix tape I made in the spring of 92. The quartet, originally from Pennsylvania, still features two of its original members; they released an album earlier this year.

#4. The Alarm, “Sold Me Down the River”
It was somewhat surprising these guys never truly cashed in. “Sixty Eight Guns” makes me think of my early MTV-watching days, and “Rain in the Summertime” is a pretty nice tune. “Sold Me Down the River” would reach #50 on the Hot 100, their best US showing.

#3. Tears for Fears, “Sowing the Seeds of Love”
In which Orzabal/Smith channel their inner Lennon/McCartney. It generally works; I still dig it.

#1. The B-52’s, “Love Shack”
Greg and Katie saw Berlin/OMD/B-52’s in DC last month; I was pleased to learn that Cindy is back with the band. Greg saw fit to record the “Tin roof/Rusted!” moment and send it my way–the crowd was more than ready for it.

I’ll listen to this song anytime.

Breaking Down The Distance

Bob Dylan’s Oh Mercy came out thirty years ago last week. It received immediate positive buzz–I can recall reading Rolling Stone‘s rave review–and was an instant hit amongst those in my office, too. I’d been slowly acquiring a taste for what I consider the best of Dylan’s post-60s work (Blood on the Tracks and Infidels, primarily) via my officemate Will. I’d rank Oh Mercy in between those two, somewhat ahead of Infidels, and five of its ten tracks still strike me as remarkable today. Daniel Lanois, the producer, was in the middle of his late 80s/early 90s roll, and I like what he did on this record.

Here are those five, in order of current personal preference. I’ll largely dispense with comment, but will say: since Dylan doesn’t seem too interested in having folks upload unofficial videos for the originals of his songs on YouTube, three of the five are nice cover versions.

#5. “Political World”
The album opener, and the only song on Oh Mercy to have a studio version official video.

 

#4. “Shooting Star”
Moving on to the album’s closing track, a sad and wistful piece. Our cover is by Jason Bennett, who I think can be found at this website.  Overall Bennett does it justice.

 

#3. “Everything Is Broken”
About eighteen months after Oh Mercy came out I met up with my HS friend Tony after he flew into Chicago for a weekend. A cold, raw spring weekend. This one came on the radio while we were driving around one afternoon–we belted out line after line. Can’t listen to it now without hearing Tony sing, “Feels like you’re chokin’!” It’s another primo choice for karaoke someday.

Anyway, here’s a version that Sheryl Crow and Jason Isbell cooked up earlier this year. I’ll have to hear it a few more times to decide what I think.

 

#2. “Most of the Time”
Now we’re to the real cream of the album. Somehow a homemade video of the studio version for “Most of the Time” has survived on YouTube for more than seven years.

 

#1. “Ring Them Bells”
I’m going to have to seek out more from Sarah Jarosz. A lot more. That is all.

 

Forgotten Albums: Texas, Southside

By the end of the 80s, the easiest way for a new(-ish) act to grab my attention–and my dollars–was for it to feature a female vocalist. I’m repeating myself, but at this point on the solo side I was into Suzanne Vega, Tracy Chapman, Toni Childs, Marti Jones, Sinéad O’Connor, Basia, and Jane Siberry, among others (looks like I need to do a Marti write-up someday!). Women-led groups may have been a little sparser in my collection (10,000 ManiacsLone Justice, Cocteau Twins, and ’til Tuesday were there, but it was still a while before fave shoegaze acts like Lush and My Bloody Valentine appeared on the radar). Here’s another that popped up just before the 90s hit.

Somewhere around the time fall classes began again in Illinois I started seeing a video supporting a fivefour-some that featured Sharleen Spiteri, a guitar-slinging 21-year-old brunette with a powerful alto. “I Don’t Want a Lover” doesn’t exactly strike me as late 80s VH-1 fare now, though odds are that’s where I encountered it.  It wasn’t long before I secured a CD copy of Southside, the debut disk from the Glasgow-based Texas and stuck it on a cassette for trips in the car.

“I Don’t Want a Lover” went Top 10 in England and reached #77 in their only US Hot 100 appearance (it debuted on the 9/9/89 chart). I’m bummed that the video I saw thirty years ago isn’t available on YouTube, even if it is just a performance clip. Still the best song on the disk.

 

The next two selections follow a similar formula: two rounds of verse/chorus, solo, bridge, return to the chorus to the fade-out. “Everyday Now” and “Thrill Has Gone” were the third and second UK singles, respectively. Nice to see a real video for “Thrill Has Gone,” which had just the right amount of country vibe for me back then.

 

 

My second favorite track then was and probably still is “Fool for Love.” Our narrator’s letting her former lover know of his new status, and maybe the reasons why.

 

They chose the right song for the closer. “Future Is Promises” is a slower, more somber piece about trying to pry away a girlfriend’s boyfriend. The bridge expresses equivocation, though: “Take the chance and make the move/But don’t think that I will approve/For once I’ve finally realized/Being with her wasted your life.”

 

Southside is one of the CDs I moved over to my office several years ago in a spasm of reorganization, right around the time I brought a bunch of disks home from my parents’ house after cleaning it out. I don’t listen to it all that often anymore, but still think it’s a solid offering. Over the next four or so years, I picked Texas’s follow-up albums Mothers Heaven and Rick’s Road; neither wound up appealing the way Southside did.

And I think that was pretty much it for Texas on this side of the pond. Over in Britain, however, Spiteri and company became stars with their next two releases, White on Blonde (97) and The Hush (99). Both went to #1 there, each spawning multiple Top 10 singles. I’ve got a feeling I know what I’m going to be checking out this afternoon.