I’m Gonna Bite Down and Swallow Hard

If you’ve been around these parts for a while, you’ll recall that I loved making mix tapes for about a decade, roughly 1985-95. Many I kept for myself, but pretty early on I began regularly showering them upon James. We called them “stuff tapes,” since I’d simply written “Stuff” on the label of the inaugural edition. At first he’d receive a couple a year; by the 90s the practice had evolved into an annual year-end summary of faves from the previous calendar year. For years afterward, “Will songs” would crop up as a topic of conversation in emails or Facebook messages every so often. I hadn’t been smart enough to write down playlists before I mailed them off, so occasionally I’d suggest getting together at his place to listen to them one more time, to jog my memory about what I’d elected to share.

James was game, but of course, we never found a time to make it happen.

Judy spent quite a bit of time last summer helping go through things at James’s house. I joined her once, in early August; my charge was to browse the stacks and stacks of vinyl in the basement. I’d already mentioned the tapes to Judy and she had some to show me when I arrived. Others popped up over the course of the afternoon, mostly on his workbench. (It’s oddly comforting to know there was a time when he’d throw one of them in a player while puttering around down there.) It felt a little weird to take them home with me, but as Judy pointed out, they mean more to me at this point than anyone else.

We didn’t find them all–Stuff and Son of Stuff were missing, as was the tape with highlights of 1993. I’m sure there are others. That’s quite okay. Maybe my grief is assuaged a little by knowing again what was filling the air from time to time at his office, in his home, while driving his car.

For reasons that will become clear, the 1994 tape has been rattling around my head for much of the time since. You can see the whole playlist below, but I’ll highlight a few songs from each side.

US3, “Cantaloop (Flip Fantasia)”
Kicking things off with a Top 10 rap-jazz hit from the beginning of the year. Sampling never sounded so good.

Eve’s Plum, “I Want It All”
The lead singer’s name is Colleen Fitzpatrick, not Jan Brady. I couldn’t tell you now how “I Want It All” came to my attention, as I don’t think it was a big alternative radio hit. I do love the ferocity of the guitar and grit of the vocals.

Tori Amos, “Past the Mission”
The official title of the tape was “1994: A Pretty Good Year,” a nod to the opening track of Under the Pink. While it’s not as even or as thoroughly good as Little Earthquakes, highlights from Pink such as “Past the Mission” are welcome any time.

I saw Tori Amos in concert for the first time last May, in Cincinnati. Greg flew in from VA just for the show, arriving early enough for me to take him on a tour of my old haunts, including my high school and the house where I’d lived in Walton. The show was very good, but since it took place on the day of the Uvalde school shooting, a pall of sorts formed and lingered, particularly in the days following as more and more ugly details emerged (Amos acknowledged the tragedy early on and in my view semi-dedicated one of the songs to affected folks).

Magnapop, “Texas”
Obscure band out of Atlanta that seems to be still chugging along in some form today. The embed below, from the album Hot Boxing, is a different version from that on the CD-single I had picked up on spec somewhere along the way. I prefer that one, but alas, it’s not available on YouTube. Still a rockin’ tune in this form.

Smashing Pumpkins, “Disarm”
I’m not too big of a Pumpkins fan, but “Disarm” is off-the-charts excellent, and I’ll crank it every time.

Jimmie Dale Gilmore, “Where You Going”
Gilmore is a country artist popular in some circles, plenty unknown in many others. Maybe his best-known composition is “Dallas”–Natalie Merchant sang a duet version with David Byrne in 10,000 Maniacs’ MTV Unplugged concert.

There are many fine songs on Spinning Around the Sun. “Where You Going” is track #1 and one of its best.

Lush, “Hypocrite”
One of Lush’s very finest. Should’ve been a worldwide smash.

Frente!, “Accidently Kelly Street”
Yes, that’s really how the first word of the title is spelled. THE highlight on Marvin the Album, even above their re-invention of “Bizarre Love Triangle.” It went Top 5 in the band’s native Australia, and while the video is a bit goofy, the tune absolutely pegs the charm-o-meter.

Iris DeMent, “No Time to Cry”
After listening to DeMent’s My Life disk a few times, I’d decided that two of its songs stood out above the others. The title track had gone on a tape I’d made for myself back in the spring. When it came time to dub songs for James, I elected as I often did not to repeat myself–he received “No Time to Cry,” a meditative piece about shouldering the responsibilities of adulthood and grappling with the cruelties of an often capricious world. I slotted it in the penultimate position on the tape.

You can’t predict when, or how, an innocuous decision such as that might echo through the years.

James’s wife Amy had been diagnosed with terminal cancer in the summer of 2018 and had succumbed the following January, a senseless loss. I offered occasional advice on dealing with paperwork and probate in the ensuing months given my relatively recent experiences following my parents’ deaths. Most of our communication was over Facebook Messenger. By early December, I believe things had mostly been sorted out, and I received a question of a different nature.

(His response is a college-era inside joke, a reference to our friend Warren’s experiences on the high school academic team.)

I didn’t want to make any assumptions about or probe his state of mind, but I did wonder and worry about life weighing too heavily on him, that the phrase under inquiry reflected too closely how he was feeling. I should have gently investigated.

I thought back to that exchange after learning of James’s death, one year ago today. Once I realized I had to dedicate one of my radio shows to my friend, I knew that “No Time to Cry” would be on the playlist.

And so it was, a little more than ninety minutes in. I scripted everything carefully, but ten minutes before I’d be reciting what I wrote about Amy’s death and the Messenger exchange, I knew I would be breaking down when it came time to read it. The irony of crying over an introduction to a song called “No Time to Cry” wasn’t lost on me. But you know, I really did have all the time I needed for tears.

No song has weighed on my mind more over the last year.

What could follow that to close things out?

Nirvana, “All Apologies”
The choice at the time, in light of Cobain’s suicide in early April, was obvious. These two songs form a devastating ending combination, one that suits my mood all too well right now.

I and so many others miss you, James.

The Good Stuff, Part 2

It looks like the previous time I’d listened to this tape was January 2017. Over the weekend I dug out an email from then I sent James that included a brief commentary on the playlist, kinda like what I’m doing here. It’s amusing/alarming to see how much I’m repeating myself 4.5 years later: the ‘fella’ tag on “Another Tricky Day,” my lack of appreciation for “Tempted,” thinking R.E.M. was the Ventures, etc. I did not check out what I said about Side B before writing this post; that’ll happen after it goes to press.

As for the second half, there are lots of big names, even if it’s not always a greatest hit from them.

The Dukes of Stratosphear, “Vanishing Girl”
In the mid 80s, the guys from XTC decided to record an EP and a full album under a pseudonym, paying homage to 60s psychedelia. This shimmering, gorgeous thing, written by the Red Curtain (Colin Moulding) and sung by Sir John Johns (Andy Partridge), is the lead track off the LP, Psonic Psunspot.

Genesis, “Turn It on Again”
James and I were both fans of early 80s Genesis, playing Abacab and their self-titled album in our dorm room from time to time. Neither one of us had Duke then, but I have always loved this song.

David Byrne, “Big Blue Plymouth (Eyes Wide Open)”
Both of us were digging into Byrne’s early 80s extra-curricular activities by the end of the decade–I’ll still listen to both The Catherine Wheel and My Life in the Bush of Ghosts.

The Police, “Canary in a Coalmine”
In which Sting decides to rag on a friend with a touch of hypochondria.

The Grateful Dead, “Hell in a Bucket”
Heard “Hell in a Bucket” on AOR radio quite a bit when In the Dark first came out, but I hadn’t seen the video, with that studded collar-wearing duck (among other things), until putting this together.

Now I’m wanting some Cherry Garcia ice cream.

Fleetwood Mac, “Tusk”
One of only two songs on The Good Stuff to make the Top 40–the other was “White Rabbit.” Both peaked at #8.

Madness, “One Step Beyond”
We grooved on “One Step Beyond” multiple times watching MTV in the Transy student center lounge throughout 1984. Kinda feels like this might have been included for nostalgia purposes?

The Violent Femmes, “Prove My Love”
During our senior year, Roger and Chris, a pair of sophomores who lived across the hall from us, were known to play the Femmes’ debut album loud enough for us to hear it. Clearly this eventually rubbed off on James.

The Rolling Stones, “Gimme Shelter”
A couple of blogger friends have recently revealed their (current) favorite Stones song. Without thinking about it much, I’m inclined to say that “Gimme Shelter” gets that honor from me. James and I weren’t always simpatico when it came to music, but he sure nailed it here.

A few years ago I came across a video featuring Merry Clayton about how she came to find herself in the studio the night this song was recorded.

Robbie Robertson, “Showdown at Big Sky”
I count close to a dozen songs on this tape that were already or eventually wound up in my collection on album or CD. Hard for me to know now which, if any, direction the influence between the two of us was flowing in any given case, Forced to guess, I’d say Robbie Robertson was an album we both picked up on our own; I was mighty fond of “Somewhere Down the Lazy River” after seeing its video.

Led Zeppelin, “Hot Dog”
I just never got around to listening to Zeppelin albums in high school or college, and that carried over across the years. (The same holds true for the Stones and the Dead, to be honest. It occurs to me now that my approach to music buying in the 80s and 90s was similar to what I would later tend to do in drafting fantasy baseball and football teams, looking for the up-and-comer rather than picking the tried-and-true veteran.)

Be that as it may, in this case it means that when I first heard “Hot Dog” on the tape, I was more inclined to think of it as a Honeydrippers outtake rather than an actual Led Zep tune.

The Beatles, “You Know My Name (Look Up the Number)”
The tape ends with two B-sides from well-known singles released on opposite ends of the 70s. “Hot Dog” was the flip of “Fool in the Rain,” and this second foray into Beatle-land was what came along for the ride when one purchased “Let It Be” on 45. No desire to be ungrateful, but honestly I don’t need to hear this one all that often.

And that’s a wrap. I really appreciate it, man.

The Good Stuff, Part 1

Between 1985 and 1995, I bestowed a dozen or so mix tapes on my college roommate James. The first I’d simply called, “Stuff,” and subsequent cassettes incorporated that word as well in their titles (“Son of Stuff,” “More Stuff Than You Can Shake a Stick At,” etc.). During our occasional conversations now he’ll mention having recently heard a “Will tape” song on the radio. While I think I remember some good portion of what I might have chosen to include on those tapes, I sure would love hearing them again (hint, hint, James)–or at the least getting a peek at the playlists…

In those first years after college James rented a house just a few blocks south and east of downtown. On my visits, he was happy to share musical discoveries since the last time we’d gotten together, some new, others much less so. And somewhere in the middle of it all–it’d have to be 1989 or 1990–James returned the favor of giving the gift of music, handing me two tapes chock full of goodies from his collection. One was called “Somewhat Elderly Stuff,” and unsurprisingly, it focused on the 60s and 70s. The other, which we’re going to examine more thoroughly, spanned a wider range of years and was simply called

I don’t disagree with the assessment.

There was nothing written down on the J-card to use as a cheatsheet; I’ll confess that several years ago I had to use Shazam to ID a couple of these. But let’s get it on–the listening’s going to be fine.

Shaking Family, “Girl on the Edge”
I am pretty certain that James introduced me to this Louisville outfit. The song on the tape comes from their self-titled first album, released on the indie label Big Ole Records (think James picked it up after seeing them perform?). The version below, alas, is the more polished take that appears on their Elektra disk Dreaming in Detail.

One big chasm in our musical tastes at this time apparently was how much attention each was paying to female voices. I was seeking them out left and right; this is the only song on the tape with a woman on lead. Apologies to Grace Slick below.

The Beatles, “She Said She Said”
That said, it’s only fair to note that during the late 80s James prodded me into buying a few Fab Four albums, particularly Abbey Road. Eventually, I’d peg Revolver as my favorite of theirs.

Camper Van Beethoven, “Pictures of Matchstick Men”
We discovered this gem independently. Simply brilliant.

The Who, “Another Tricky Day”
It wouldn’t surprise me if James had bought Face Dances while we were still in college. I love me some “You Better You Bet,” but you better believe that this one’s been a long-standing favorite as well…fella.

The Dickies, “Killer Klowns”
One recurring theme on the tape is James’s penchant for the slightly off-kilter tune. Exhibit A: the theme song of the cult movie Killer Klowns from Outer Space. The Dickies’ EP, with the same name as the film, also includes a cover of that Jetsons’ classic, “Eep Opp Ork (Uh Uh).”

Elvis Costello, “Accidents Will Happen”
Is this my all-time favorite from Mr. McManus? It’s at least in the running, and I’m quite happy it’s making an appearance.

Jethro Tull, “Thick as a Brick”
Okay, so there’s no song on the album with that title, but this edit is pretty darn close to what James included on the tape. Did I mention that James went for prog rock a lot heavier than I did?

Devo, “Uncontrollable Urge (Live)”
My guess is that this comes from the two-LP soundtrack of the 1982 film Urgh!–A Music War, an album I could easily imagine catching James’s eye in the used bin at Cut Corner Records.

The Pursuit of Happiness, “I’m an Adult Now”
Another point of intersection in what was grabbing us at the time. Pretty sure I’ve previously noted this is not my fave tune from Love Junk, but it’s a classic nonetheless.

Squeeze, “Tempted”
Hot Harris takes, part 6,245: I’ve never been a huge fan of “Tempted.” Hard to know for sure why–maybe I don’t think Carrack’s the right singer for it? Does the roundabout of voices in the second verse bug me? Full marks for “I fumble for the clock/Alarmed by the seduction,” however.

Buster Poindexter, “Castle in Spain”
I probably would have enjoyed the Disney tribute album Stay Awake, given the A-list of performers on it. Another fun but off-beat selection here.

R.E.M., “White Tornado”
I’d bought Dead Letter Office back in the day as well, but didn’t listen to it all that much (well, except maybe for the drunken take of “King of the Road“). By the time I slid this tape in a player again maybe two decades later, I was tricked into thinking this might be some long-lost single from the Ventures.

Jefferson Airplane, “White Rabbit”
James seems to be mimicking a technique of mine here, closing out the side with a short song as he watched tape inside the recorder spool toward its end. 60s psychedelia was definitely in his wheelhouse, too–the first song on side B, coming next week, will confirm that in its own way.

Fear Is Not The End Of This

Work duties and prepping for the start of the new Strat-O-Matic season have led to lighter blogging the last little bit. I’m finally ready to roll with the second side of one of my last mix tapes, so with further delay…

Dionne Farris, “I Know”
What’s this? A big time, full-blooded, mega pop hit of the 90s? I picked up Wild Seed–Wild Flower pretty early on, after seeing the vid for “I Know” a couple of times, and prior to its ten-week run on top of Billboard‘s Mainstream Top 40 chart. Catchy stuff, so it’s a little surprising that Farris never had much of a follow-up. (The other well-known song on which she appeared–Arrested Development’s “Tennessee”–is on another of my tapes, however.)

The Rave-Ups, “These Wishes”
I’ve raved on about this Pittsburgh-to-LA band before. It’s great to see that all the tracks from The Book of Your Regrets have recently become available on YouTube. That 1988 release was already out of print by the time I started getting into these guys, so it was lucky I stumbled across a copy for sale online in the very early days of the pre-eBay Internet. If this mix tape blogging thing keeps going, “These Wishes” won’t be the last we hear from it.

The Reivers, “Do What You Wanna Do”
Another band (this one’s from Austin) that kept making repeated appearances on tapes. This is from their fourth release Pop Beloved, and is one of just a few of its tracks with a video on YouTube.

Live, “I Alone”
When I first heard “Operation Spirit” during my last months in Illinois, I didn’t predict the kind of success this Pennsylvania outfit would have with their second album Throwing Copper (or the evolution of singer Ed Kowalczyk’s hairstyle, for that matter). The choicest cut from Copper is “Lightning Crashes,” but “I Alone” was the song that really put them on the map and probably catches more of the mid-90s alternative zeitgeist.

Duran Duran, “The Reflex”
What would this song have done on the charts without Nile Rodgers’s remix? It’s definitely not a #1 tune without it.

One of my very faves from Double Duran back in the day; it’s probably slipped a couple of notches over the last quarter-century.

Sam Phillips, “Standing Still”
Back in December I posted a picture of a Usenet review of Kirsty MacColl’s Kite I had printed out back in 1991. It was one of two from that period I’d saved; the other was for Sam Phillips’s Cruel Inventions. The author nods favorably at a line from “Standing Still” (“Starting with ashes I’m building fire”), even going so far as to claim that T.S. Eliot might approve. Don’t know about that, but it’s a standout track on a standout album.

The Jayhawks, “Miss Williams’ Guitar”
If you asked me to name the best concert I ever attended, a strong contender would be the Wilco/Jayhawks show I saw in July of 1995. It took place at the Kentucky Theater in downtown Lexington, which had been exclusively a movie house back when I was in college. My future fianceé was tromping around Germany at the time with her sister, and I was in the middle of my first year working the science/math camp for high schoolers our college offers. Tomorrow the Green Grass was maybe my favorite disk at the time, so I connived to break away from any evening duties I might have had to check them out; my seat was around 8-10 rows away from the stage. Wilco was touring in support of A.M., and they were awesome. But it was the Jayhawks who had my heart at the time, and they weren’t disappointing in the least. One particular highlight occurred when Victoria Williams came out on stage before they played this song–she was dating guitarist Mark Olson at the time (they’d later marry).

The leading possibility for the Louisville cemetery referenced in “Miss Williams’ Guitar” is Cave Hill, just a little east of downtown. Well-known folks buried at Cave Hill include Muhammad Ali and Colonel Harland Sanders; my wife’s paternal grandparents are there, too.

Victoria Williams, “You R Loved”
Apparently I couldn’t resist the temptation to follow up with Miss Williams actually playing her guitar. Some of her many fans in the biz tried hard to break her with 1994’s Loose, but the public sadly wasn’t buying. “You R Loved” comprises today’s sermon; yes, that’s Mike Mills singing backup.

Marti Jones, “It’s Too Late”
Not the first time I’ve spun this track from Match Game here.

Missing Persons, “Destination Unknown”
While I greatly enjoyed “Words” back in the summer of 1982, the followup mysteriously escaped my notice for almost ten years. Deserved much better than its #42 peak in November/December that year; it’s likely Missing Persons’ best song.

Joan Osborne, “St. Teresa”
Maybe Osborne got earlier buzz in my neck of the woods than some other places because she’s a Kentucky native, as I bought Relish in the spring of 1995, months before “One of Us” hit the charts. My top tracks from Relish, though, are the slinky “Ladder” and lead-off song “St. Teresa” (co-written with former Hooters Eric Bazilian and Rob Hyman, who also play on the entire album).

Bill Lloyd, “Trampoline”
Lloyd had been one-half of a moderately successful country duo with Radney Foster in the late 1980s. His 1994 solo disk Set To Pop got a lot of favorable press as a power pop gem, but it never grooved me all that much. The exception was “Trampoline,” a catchy ditty about a girlfriend who just may be bipolar. In an alternate universe, I might have used the line “God bless our daily bread, coffee, and Dramamine” as the title of this post.

Texas, “Future Is Promises”
Another song featured previously in a Forgotten Albums post. Album closers often make good tape closers.

I hope to do this sort of thing again in a few months’ time.

Try To Get Some Sleep

Coincidence or not, I began buying less music and making fewer tapes in the months after meeting my future wife in 1995 (and if it’s not coincidence, I’d do it all over again, dear). Besides, I was in my early 30s–maybe I was already getting a little long in the tooth for the alternative scene?

1995 was the last year I made mix tapes, too. It’s been a little while since I took a look at a tape, so let’s queue up one of my last gasps at the art form:

Weezer, “My Name Is Jonas”
Not long before I started this blog, I did a short Facebook series on my five favorite Weezer tunes (not that I have an extensive knowledge of their body of work). “My Name Is Jonas” clocked in at #4; if you must know, “The Good Life” was #1.

That Blue Album is a mighty sweet disk, you know?

Sugar, “A Good Idea”
I don’t know why I thought it was a good idea to include a song about a dude drowning his girlfriend (I hadn’t paid any attention to the lyrics, no doubt–had just dug the sound). I’m going with the notion that it is a good idea not to link to the vid, though.

The Darling Buds, “Burst”
A #50 hit in the UK toward the end of 1988. It’s track two on Pop Said…, and was perhaps the first indication that the Buds were going to be of great appeal to yours truly.

Adam Schmitt, “Illiterature”
Title song from Schmitt’s second album, which came out in late summer of 1993. Even if it’s louder, darker, and not nearly so winsome as World So Bright, Illiterature definitely has its moments. I think this is one of three songs from it that graced mix tapes; I really love its energy.

Madder Rose, “Car Song”
One of those cases where you buy a CD based on that song you heard on the radio. There are elements of the grunge sound that I like moderately well, like the extra guitar crunch that comes after being fairly quiet, as we get here on the refrain (the female vocals of Mary Lorson are another attractive element). Completely unrelated to the tune of the same name that came later from Elastica. I should go back and give Panic On another listen or two.

The Cocteau Twins, “The Itchy Glowbo Glow”
“Carolyn’s Fingers” was the song that reeled me into the world of the Cocteau Twins, but these days I think this dreamy thing just might be the best cut on Blue Bell Knoll. I want it to go on and on, as it takes me to some other place that I just don’t want to leave.

Lush, “Undertow”
Emma Anderson wrote the majority of the tracks on 1994’s Split, but it’s Miki Berenyi’s contributions, particularly “Kiss Chase,” “Hypocrite,” and “Undertow,” that stand out to me.

The Call, “The Walls Came Down”
Our first of three trips back to my college days on this tape. I’m forever grateful to Warren for tuning me into these guys. Michael Been looks so young here…

Danielle Brisebois, “What If God Fell from the Sky”
Yes, it’s Stephanie from late-era All in the Family, all grown up and doing that mid-90s music thing. She co-wrote this with Gregg Alexander of recently-reconstituted New Radicals fame (Brisebois was a member of the band, too). I’ve not researched it, but I’ve long wondered if this song was based on personal experience.

Matthew Sweet, “We’re the Same”
100% Fun is my favorite Matthew Sweet album–it’s just solid from end to end. “We’re the Same” was the second single. I must say I’m not convinced of the musical prowess of the band in the video.

Buffalo Tom, “Taillights Fade”
I’ve written about “Taillights Fade” before, and how it reminds me of my first weeks on the job here at Georgetown. I can’t explain how and why it speaks to me, but it sure does.

Blur, “Boys and Girls”
This didn’t sound anything like the Madchester-ish “There’s No Other Way,” their previous hit. (The same applies to “Song 2”–woo-hoo!) Completely loopy, but I still like it.

I was today years old when I learned that Damon Albern inserted a line of German right before “But we haven’t been introduced” (Du bist sehr schön–my wife tells me that’s “You’re very pretty”). I’d always heard it as “Deep obsession,” which I guess makes some sense, too.

Scandal, “Goodbye to You”
I’m strongly inclined to say that mid-1982 to mid-1983 (I’ll leave the exact endpoints vague for now) is now my favorite twelve-month period of 80s music. I think it’s the mainstreaming of new wave sensibilities, morphing into the second British Invasion, that makes the period shine. “Goodbye to You” is a prime example of what makes me think fondly of it all.

Marshall Crenshaw, “Let Her Dance”
And we close out the first half with Marshall doing Bobby Fuller up nicely. I couldn’t not link to this silly but nonetheless cute video set to it. I want to believe these three are siblings, but the height differential between the guy and the twins makes me dubious…

Back with side two soon.

Still I Have Not Found My Way Out Of This Night

Spring of 1994. I’d just turned thirty, and was wrapping up my second year at Georgetown. An active summer, both professionally and socially, lay ahead. Mid-June would find me at Purdue for a nine-day workshop on constructivist learning as it applied to an upper-level class I’d be teaching for the first time come fall (the murders of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman occurred while I was there). By the end of the month, I was blowing money I didn’t really have on my first trip to the Europe, where I was able to meet up with John and Ann in Paris, then Toby and Kasia in Zurich. A couple weeks after returning, I was back on the road to visit Greg and Katie in Maryland for a few days (that’s when I saw Sam Phillips perform).

This cassette was a companion on at least that Purdue trip, and maybe to MD, too. We visited side A last week; let’s now see what awaits on side B. There are plenty of long-time favorites.

B-52’s, “Roam”
It’s not my favorite song from Cosmic Thing. It’s still plenty good, though. There’s a song off Voice of the Beehive’s Let It Bee, called “I Walk the Earth,” with a similar theme. I’ve got that one on another tape…

The Darling Buds, “Long Day in the Universe”
From the Buds’ third album Erotica. That album is a much more challenging listen than their first two pop-oriented disks, but it’s not without its highlights.

Suzanne Vega, “Blood Makes Noise”
Short yet so sweet. 1987 me would have been flabbergasted that Vega would sound like this five years later. Producer/future husband Mitchell Froom can be fairly criticized for going overboard in the studio during this era (he also handled Kiko for Los Lobos and Six Pack of Love for Peter Case in 1992). The gadgetry and gimmickry couldn’t overwhelm a catchy tune like this, though. It legit should have been her third pop hit.

The Polecats, “Make a Circuit with Me”
On trips to Chicago in the early 90s, I’d often tune the radio to WXRT. This came at my roommate John’s recommendation; our tastes overlapped enough that he knew I’d enjoy it. One of the songs XRT introduced to me was this 1983 rockabilly/New Wave treasure out of England–I heard it more than once traveling up and down I-57. A clever extended metaphor on all things electric, I cannot understand how it wasn’t a big hit. I’m grateful the folks assembling the Living in Oblivion series saw fit to include it on one of their compilations.

I suppose it’s possible that some exec was trying to leverage the Stray Cats’ recent success promoting this band whose name and sound bore passing resemblances to Brian Setzer’s group. It was a worthwhile gambit–I know I’d rather listen to “Make a Circuit with Me” than “(She’s) Sexy + 17.”

Texas, “Fade Away”
Big bunches of this cassette reflect recent purchases. Rick’s Road, the third album from these Scottish rockers, was among them. On the first few listens, only the second track, “Fade Away,” stood out. It wound up being the fourth single released in the UK, though it didn’t chart there. Still a groovy, soulful, bluesy number.

Jane Wiedlin, “At the End of the Day”
Tangled sank like a stone when it came out in 1990. I’d heard “World on Fire” around that time, and wasn’t too surprised that it couldn’t build on the success of the awesome “Rush Hour” from two years before. In spite of that initial impression, eventually I plucked Tangled out of a cut-out bin to give it a shot. There are a few real highlights: the title track is good, “99 Ways” is super charming (it also made a tape), and I think “At the End of the Day” could have been a minor hit had it been released as a single.

Matthew Sweet, “Time Capsule”
In between Girlfriend and 100% Fun came Altered Beast; I was never able to get into it like those other two. “Time Capsule” was easily its best song. Hope bugs don’t freak you out–apparently Sweet was cool with them.

Brenda Kahn, “I Don’t Sleep, I Drink Coffee Instead”
This must have been another song I first encountered on WRFL in the fall of 1992. I scooped up Epiphany in Brooklyn not long after. Kahn’s punk-folk reminds a little of Cindy Lee Berryhill, who’d had a couple of albums a few years earlier. Kahn definitely has sass and a way with words. The references to Louisville and “a couple of Hoosiers” being “well-traveled in two states of the Union” may have caught my ear first, but there’s a lot more going on in this sub-2:30 piece.

Bettie Serveert, “Tom Boy”
There are some great songs on Palomine, the 1992 debut from this Dutch band. I noted in the very early days of this blog that the intro to “What’s the Frequency, Kenneth?” reminded me a lot of the opening notes of “Tom Boy.” Bettie Serveert is still an ongoing project; they last released an LP almost four years ago.

Monte Warden, “Feel Better”
I saw Monte Warden open for someone–probably Béla Fleck and the Flecktones–at the Kentucky Theater in the spring 0f 1993. I don’t buy CDs at concerts all that often, but I must have liked Warden’s Texas sound enough that night. “Feel Better” shows a hint of early Elvis and has a raucous guitar solo smack dab in the middle; definitely worth a listen still.

Warden’s career started in Austin with The Wagoneers. Several years ago he and the band reformed. They’re still together.

The Indigo Girls, “Least Complicated”
I guess the release date of Swamp Ophelia–5/10/94–gives me a big clue as to when this tape came together. “Least Complicated” has to be among my top 5 Indigo Girls songs.

Eighteen of the tape’s twenty-six songs feature female vocals–I’ve not been lying to you over the years about where most of my music money was going in the first half of the 90s.

Lisa Germano, “Energy”
Germano’s second album Happiness was originally put out on Capitol in the summer of 1993. Something must have gone sideways between Mellencamp’s fiddler and Capitol shortly thereafter, because it was re-released on 4AD six months later. I have the original CD, which includes a cover of “These Boots Are Made for Walkin'”–it was stripped from the reissue. That wasn’t the only change, apparently–Kenny Aranoff’s drum track has been removed from “Energy” in what we hear below. To me, this changes the whole nature of the track, ironically sucking much of the song’s energy away.

Iris DeMent, “My Life”
Some might think “My Life” too maudlin, but it spoke to me the first time I heard it, among the songs that invariably bring tears to my eyes. I believe I can check off at least the first two items from DeMent’s list in the chorus. I can’t help but notice she phrases those in past tense, while the third–“I can give comfort to my friends when they’re hurting”–concerns both the present and the future. I can aspire to do the same.

Over this past weekend I learned of the passing of a woman I went to college with. We overlapped only one year, and I didn’t know her all that well. We had a number of mutual friends, though, so I would see her occasionally in those first few years after I graduated. Full of life and humor, a genuinely nice and caring person–it’s cruel for the world to be robbed of folks like her far too many years early. She became a librarian, and served as director of the system in the county where she grew up over the last dozen or so years of her life. Reading anecdotes involving her these last few days on FB awakens me once again to the good we can do just by being present with one another.

Rest in peace, LJ.

It’s A New Breakthrough, It’s An Old Breakdown

A week between posts is a lengthier gap than normal for me, but there are reasons. I’ve been distracted some by my newfound interest in Strat-o-Matic, gearing up for a second month-long tournament (I did not reach my goal of .500 play in the first one, but hope springs eternal). We’ve drafted again and I’ve been spending too much time thinking about lineups, opponents, etc.

I’ve begun prep work for the fall semester, learning the content of a new class I’ll be teaching and starting a short course on structuring online classes. We’re beginning to get information from the Provost’s office about how teaching in the fall will (or may) be conducted. It’s going to be a busy summer; I’ll mostly be planning for bad-case scenarios.

But I’ve also been feeling the weight of current events and experiencing a bit of guilt over not acknowledging that in this space. I am not a deep thinker and possess a lifelong aversion to conflict, so perhaps it’s better to say little. I’ll leave it at this: 1) over the last few years, I believe I’ve begun to awaken to how much my white, American, middle-class maleness shelters me from the poor-to-horrific treatment so many blacks, other people of color, women, and LGBTQ people regularly receive; 2) I’m embarrassed it’s taken so long for this to penetrate deeply; 3) I can do so much better myself going forward. If that makes me heading down the road to becoming woke, so be it.

On to some music. I was churning out mixtapes at a pretty regular rate between 1992 and 1995. Here’s side A of one that was likely produced around May of 1994, as it includes several songs from purchases I made that spring (it was a regular in my car’s tape deck by June).

Lindsey Buckingham, “Countdown”
Didn’t really get into “Wrong,” the first single from LB’s 1992 release Out of the Cradle, but the follow-up sure was a winsome, catchy piece.

Sam Phillips, “Signposts”
One of the true musical highlights from the first half of 1994 was Phillips’s mash letter to middle-era Fab Four fans, Bikinis and Martinis. (It’s not just the sound she tried to capture; song titles include “Same Rain” and “Strawberry Road,” and there’s also a cover of Lennon’s “Gimme Some Truth.”) This is one of three songs from it that made its way to mixtapes. Wound up seeing her do a set at an outdoor festival in the DC area that summer.

The Monroes, “What Do All the People Know”
80s New Wave nostalgia was already on its way by early 1994, when EMI started releasing its Living in Oblivion series. There are at least three songs I ripped from Vols. 2 and 3 for this effort. First up is a great lost hit from 1982 (first mentioned here a couple of years ago). You never know what might have happened chart-wise had their record label not folded soon after its release. I’m wondering now if I heard this on WCLU the summer before I left for college–it must have been on their playlist then.

Siouxsie and the Banshees, “Kiss Them for Me”
With “Peek-a-Boo” and this one, SatB put out two of the era’s most arresting sounding college rock lead singles. The Eastern influences made this stand out particularly.

Adam Schmitt, “River Black”
As much as I like its sound, for several years now I haven’t been able to look past that this is a story song that culminates in killing a woman for rejecting the narrator’s advances (or maybe he’s an abusive boyfriend). I’m not saying I’ll skip over it the next time I put World So Bright in my CD player, but I’m not going to embed a video here.

I enjoy power pop quite a bit, but have to admit that misogyny–casual and otherwise–appears in it with some frequency.

Voice of the Beehive, “I Say Nothing”
A trans-Atlantic group, fronted by California sisters Tracey Bryn and Brooke Belland; the Brits included Danny Woodgate, former drummer for Madness. I’d picked up Let It Bee, VotB’s 1988 debut, sometime in the spring. It’s got a few excellent tracks, and this one is my favorite. The slide into singing about arcades is a bit goofy, but I think youthful enthusiasm overcomes that. The single version softens more bad male behavior: the line “He’ll rip your heart in two” we hear below replaces “He’ll rip you right in two” from the LP version.

The Gin Blossoms, “Allison Road”
I’m a big fan of New Miserable Experience. “Hey Jealousy” is my pick for the album’s high point, but “Allison Road” isn’t all that far behind. What would this video look like today–would someone be lugging 40″ flat panel TVs through a house, up and down the stairs?

T’Pau, “Heart and Soul”
One of my faves from the summer of 87, this is another from a Living in Oblivion disk. I suppose it’s the juxtaposition of Carol Decker’s two very different sets of vocals overlaid on each other that made it such a stunner.

Lush, “Nothing Natural”
Not sure why a cut from Split, their early 1994 release, isn’t here instead (“Kiss Chase” and “Hypocrite” did appear on other tapes). Lush has any number of great songs, but this 100% pure shoegazer (produced by Robin Guthrie of the Cocteau Twins, if you couldn’t tell) is decidedly my favorite. The official video is cool, but only features the single edit.

The Sugarcubes, “Coldsweat”
I don’t like this song as much as I used to, but those final, ferocious forty seconds still deliver a shiver.

Counting Crows, “Omaha”
My sister lived in Spokane for almost a year right after she got married in May 1993. I visited her and my brother-in-law early the following January and picked up August and Everything After while I was out there. I’ll confess to having been hooked on “Mr. Jones” for quite some time; here’s another of its many fine tracks.

Shawn Colvin, “Round of Blues”
I kinda dissed “Steady On” a few months ago, but “Round of Blues,” from Colvin’s second album Fat City, is brilliant–I think it’s her best song.

Kim Wilde, “Kids in America”
Reached back again to 1982 to wind up side one. Y’all already know I really love this one.

Side two leads off with a big hit but on average its songs are less well-known; a recap will appear soon.

What We’re Doing Here Today Won’t Make The Bad Life Go Away

This college professor’s life has seemed to get only more work-consumed as the semester rolls toward its end. A few observations with just a little over two weeks to go:

–I have to believe that it’s my first-year students that have had it the roughest in the craziness of the last few weeks. They were still in the process of learning how to do college when everything got turned upside-down, and several of those I have this term are the ones who’ve struggled most to remain engaged. I’m fortunate in that my lowest-level class is first-semester calculus; based on conversations with colleagues, students in general education courses, just wanting to complete their math credit, have had more issues.

–I elected to turn the assigned meeting times for my two calculus courses into office hours/question-and-answer sessions over Zoom. Rather than try to lecture in real time, I’ve spent a good number of hours recording videos where I work examples on an iPad screen for these students to watch when convenient. Based on the number of views I’m seeing, I regret to report that to date these appear to be underutilized. Nevertheless, I’m persisting, hoping to knock out the final videos this weekend.

–I’m essentially holding class at the regularly scheduled times for my two upper-level classes. It helps that they’re smaller, but it’s also true that non-freshfolk are simply more invested in major-related courses. Rapport was already established, everyone’s showing up–it’s gone as well as I could have hoped.

–Most of the time I’m recording my Zoom sessions and linking to them afterward, so that students who can’t/don’t attend can view what they missed. I generally trim off the beginning of the video before posting, since it’s usually either students waiting for teach to arrive or me making small talk with them before getting down to business. While I’m not thrilled at all at the sound of my own voice, it’s positively painful to have to watch myself interacting with my students day after day during the editing.

What my students see on Zoom. I usually hold court in the basement; that’s our CD shelving unit on the right. In this staged shot I’m only pretending to look at a monitor I have set up next to my work laptop.

–As stressed as I am, I know many of my students have it worse than I do. I’m trying to keep that in mind in our interactions. And I feel bad for our seniors, who’ve had what’s supposed to be a celebratory last few weeks go completely off the rails.

–The pressure to “get back to business” seems to be mounting in a number of places. I get it, but I don’t see how we’re remotely ready to even begin approaching what used to be normal. Without breakthroughs on either the testing/monitoring side or the treatment side (preferably both), it sure feels like we’re in for a long, long slog. I wish that weren’t the case.

I really haven’t felt that I can take much time these last couple of weeks for writing. But it’s Friday, so I’m putting the grading and recording aside for one evening and tucking into a tape I recorded around the end of 1991. The A side is standard-issue Harris mixtape stuff, almost all of which I’d listen to anytime still. The flip contains what was then a recently-acquired favorite CD: Pop Beloved, the Reivers’ fourth album. Here’s a recap of the mixed side.

World Party, “Is It Too Late?”
“Okay. Roll it.” Kicking off with the lead track on Kurt Wallinger’s second outing as the mastermind of World Party. Goodbye Jumbo is one of my favorite albums from 1990, and we’ll be seeing two other fantastic songs from it in Modern Rock Tracks posts later this year.

Cocteau Twins, “The Spangle Maker”
Another band with a 1990 release (Heaven or Las Vegas) that had two Modern Rock hits. This one, though, is from The Pink Opaque, a compilation mostly plucked from their mid-80s EP releases. Elizabeth Fraser is at her best when you understand less than 40% of what she’s saying, which fortunately is virtually all of the time.

Edie Brickell and New Bohemians, “He Said”
A bit of a train wreck here, jumping from the ethereal jaggedness of the Twins to the hippieish musings from Brickell and company. It’s a toss-up for me as to which of the New Bohemians’ albums is better. The highs on Shooting Rubberbands at the Stars are way high, but Ghost of a Dog might have a little more consistency. “He Said” is easily my favorite on GoaD.

Loey Nelson, “Railroad Track”
The subject of my first Forgotten Albums feature. I mistakenly claimed then that “Railroad Track” was on the tape I wrote up this past January. C’est la vie.

John Hiatt, “Memphis in the Meantime”
My favorite Hiatt album is Slow Turning, but 1987’s Bring the Family, his breakthrough, is awfully good as well. Last week I mentioned that I heard “Fish and Whistle” at my college roommate’s wedding rehearsal party back in October 1991; I want to say those musicians played this prime cut that night, too.

And just when did Code-A-Phones become passé?

The Go-Betweens, “Love Goes On!”
The first half of my favorite two-fer on a tape; I liked the combination of this epic Go-Betweens song with the next one so well, I put ’em back-to-back on a mix CD a decade later. And yes, I’ve featured these two songs before. I’ll say it again, though: go get 16 Lovers Lane if you like this song–I love that album so, so much.

Sam Phillips, “Raised on Promises”
Phillips’s first three albums after moving away from the Contemporary Christian scene are all excellent; over time, I’ve come to decide that the middle one, Cruel Inventions, is the best of the bunch. “Raised on Promises” kicks off an epic trio that ends the disk. (As noted, this song has been blogged here before; that post references an event mentioned above. Everything circles around everything else, it seems.)

10000 Maniacs, “Hello In There”
I wasn’t the only one who thought of this song at John Prine’s passing last week. My good friend Greg remembered it from the CD single for “You Happy Puppet,” noting it may have been his first exposure to Prine’s work (I’m willing to bet he and I bought our copies of that single at the same time). And my blogger pal The Old Grey Cat gave the song a signal boost this past weekend, too. While I worry now that Peter Asher helped make this a little perkier than it should be, it’s always the version that plays in my head when the song gets mentioned.

Lori Carson, “Way of the Past”
When I saw last week that COVID-19 had also claimed the life of Hal Willner, I immediately recalled that he had produced Carson’s debut Shelter. The title song had appeared here in January; this is that album’s most charming track. In another world, it could have been an AC hit.

Grace Pool, “Me Without You”
Lead single from Where We Live, the second album by this New York band that went nowhere. Another song that deserved more of a look than it got; both Grace Pool albums are worth tracking down.

Depeche Mode, “Policy of Truth”
Maybe every tape needs to have a hit single on it? Probably liked this more at the time than I do now, though it’s hardly bad. I will say that it filled the tape out almost perfectly.

You Will Never Know Until You Read Between The Lines

The music on side two of Way Cool Stuff is on average way more obscure than that of side one. Either in spite of or because of that, I think I like it a little better now. Greg’s responsible for making me aware of tracks 1, 4, 8, 9, 10, 13, and 14, so blame him if you don’t find it all that. I’m ready to dig in, though.

The Way Moves, “Revel (In Your Time)”
We start with a band whose name likely inspired the name for the tape. These guys came out of Chicago and released two albums before breaking up in early 91. This was the lead single from the second of those, Favor and Disgrace. Pretty song about getting out there and living–in a more just world it would have been a hit. You can be one of the first couple dozen folks to see this video–it went up on YouTube just last month. Gotta love the vocalist’s name: Skid Marks.

Marti Jones, “Be Myself Again”
I held this one back in my recent write-up of Match Game, Jones’s second LP, in anticipation of this day arriving. “Be Myself Again” is the only song on the album for which Jones has (co-)songwriting credit. Another clip recently added to YouTube, but I don’t like the way it sounds here–a little thin and slightly sped up.

The Rave-Ups, “Respectfully King of Rain”
Thirty years ago this song was about to make a little noise on the Modern Rock Tracks chart. Chance was the third and final full release for this Pittsburgh-to-LA band; it’s not as good as their previous album The Book of Your Regrets. And I don’t like this song as much as I did when I made the tape. It sounds good, but the story told is simply kinda dumb. There’s a real video for the song–I’m certain I saw it on 120 Minutes back in the day–but I’m not finding it.

The Katydids, “Lights Out (Read My Lips)”
Another band that didn’t last much longer after failing to strike gold, this time out of the UK. The Katydids released two albums in the early 90s before getting dropped by their label and folding. “Lights Out” wasn’t the first single released to radio from their Nick Lowe-produced, self-titled debut–we’ll get to that one later this year–but it’s my favorite song from a pretty solid disk, another could’ve-been-hit. Vocalist Susie Hug posted a copy of the official clip for this song, but neither the audio nor video are particularly good.

The Lightning Seeds, “Pure”
The Lightning Seeds went on to be an actual band, but the first disk under that name, Cloudcuckooland, was essentially an Ian Broudie solo project.

Apparently, I lied in my previous post–I’d completely forgotten that Tears for Fears was not the only act on this cassette with a Top 40 song. “Pure” reached #31 in July and August of 90. Good on us.

R.E.M., “Fall on Me”
Back in fall of 86 I thought this had a shot to be R.E.M.’s first sizable hit. I was pretty wrong–it only reached #94–but it a year later they would break through commercially in a big way.

Concrete Blonde, “God Is a Bullet”
The first of four songs on this side that made the Destination 89 series. Rather than embed again, I’m giving you links. This came up in June

Will and the Bushmen, “Blow Me Up”
…while this one appeared just last month.

The Darling Buds, “Honeysuckle”
Great song from Crawdaddy, one of my favorite albums from 90. There’s more to be featured from this disk later this year.

Icehouse, “We Can Get Together”
Fun to see Iva Davies before he went all mullet on us. This is a completely excellent new wave-y cut. I’m including the UK version of the song because the vid is pretty cool, as well as making a somewhat punker contrast with the US version I know so well now. To my regret, I didn’t hear this back in 81, but it did reach #62 here in the States.

10000 Maniacs, “A Campfire Song”
A favorite from In My Tribe. Merchant would revisit the theme of this song–unchecked greed–in “The Lion’s Share” on their next album, Blind Man’s Zoo. The two songs occupied almost identical spots on their respective disks, in the middle of side two. Nice to have a second appearance on this side from Michael Stipe, too.

Texas, “Fool for Love”
One of those already covered, back in September

Fetchin Bones, “Deep Blue”
…and another from June.

The Way Moves, “Crown of Thorns”
I didn’t often put two songs from the same band on a tape, but I guess I liked the effect of bookending here. “Crown of Thorns” came from their self-titled debut disk. Definitely a darker, different sound from “Revel (In Your Time).” The embed has the entire album–I can’t seem to cue it up to start in the right spot–you’ll want to start at 35:19.

Hear The Creak That Lets The Tale Begin

Around the time I graduated from college I began making mixtapes to send to my roommate James. As I believe I’ve noted before, the first one was called simply “Stuff,” and that word was weaved into the titles throughout the series, which ran roughly annually through 95. Contents usually came from relatively recent acquisitions, though I’m sure I dipped back for seconds when a disk really caught my attention. I know that he still has (most of) them; I’d love to take my boombox down to his house one of these years and remind myself what I’d thought worthy of his attention back then.

What I didn’t do much of between 88 and 91 was make mixtapes for myself. The biggest obstacle was that I didn’t own a tape deck that hooked into my CD player–I imagine I generally made the tapes for James when I went to my parents’. I also prevailed upon my officemate Paul some, and his house must be where Way Cool Stuff was recorded, sometime in the opening half of 91. It’s the first tape from the CD era I kept that captures some ways in which my tastes had diverged from Top 40 and even AOR radio.

As you can see, years of exposure to sunlight have taken a big toll on what I wrote on the sleeve back then:

That’s enough opening chatter–let’s play some tunes.

The Waterboys, “Fisherman’s Blues”
Kurt Wallinger’s departure may have allowed/pushed Mike Scott to move his band’s music in a more traditional direction. It could be that I bought this disk because of “World Party,” but this is the one that kept me coming back. The first of 3.5 title songs on this side of the tape.

U2, “Seconds”
Second song on the tape, second song on War–guess that’s all fitting enough. It’d be awfully hard for me to rank the songs on U2’s third album. The competition is mighty fierce; I really like this one, and it still might come in as low as sixth or seventh.

The B-52’s, “Song for a Future Generation”
I was aware of this prior to Cosmic Thing‘s breakout, but it was only afterward that I took the time to check out Whammy! from the Urbana Free Library to dub it onto a tape. Looking up the lyrics online for this writeup has given me a new perspective on the song: some sites indicate that most of the lines are questions and not declarative statements. I still like it a bunch, but do wonder if it would be just as good if they’d cut off the last thirty seconds or so.

Lori Carson, “Shelter”
Title song from a possible candidate for a future Forgotten Albums post. Carson came out of NYC/Long Island and spent a big chunk of the 90s in Anton Fier’s circle as a member of the Golden Palominos. This song/album is much more in the sensitive singer/songwriter vein; I find a lot of it pretty endearing.

Tears For Fears, “Sowing the Seeds of Love”
Only song on the tape to have made the Top 40.

Rickie Lee Jones, “Flying Cowboys”
Think I’d picked up this CD from Columbia House. “Satellites” was the putative single, but it was the title track that spoke to me most.

John Hiatt, “Real Fine Love”
While I like Slow Turning and Bring the Family better, Stolen Moments got plenty of play right after I bought it in 90. This is the opening track, one that I suspect does a pretty good job of describing Hiatt’s state of mind at the time.

Suzanne Vega, “Rusted Pipe”
I didn’t dig on Days of Open Hand nearly as much as either of Vega’s first two albums. This was one of the few songs from it to make a strong impression. “Rusted Pipe” was the other of Suzy V’s songs to get the re-mix treatment from DNA, though not with any of the success of their work on “Tom’s Diner.”

The Pretenders, “Message of Love”
Yes, Pretenders II is rather lacking in comparison to its predecessor (who doesn’t cringe at “Bad Boys Get Spanked” or “Jealous Dogs”?) It’s got some great tunes, though: “Day After Day,” the cover of “I Go To Sleep,” and two of my top five from Chrissie: “Talk of the Town” and the one we have here, “Message of Love.”

The Pursuit of Happiness, “When the Sky Comes Falling Down”
I spun up “I’m an Adult Now” back on my son’s 18th birthday, but here we’ve got one of my two favorite songs from Love Junk, this Canadian band’s debut disk. Solid pop rocker, with great female background vox to boot.

The Sundays, “I Won”
Reading, Writing and Arithmetic was a big favorite in the latter half of 90. “Here’s Where the Story Ends” is of course the main attraction, but “I Won” isn’t far behind.

The Smiths, “Panic”
As so often was the case, a pretty short song to end a side. Big, big fan of Louder Than Bombs; this highlight is one that John and I rocked out to many a time.

The A side was all essentially self-discovered; we’ll see Greg’s influences several times on the B side (there will also be a few repeats of songs already blogged). That’ll come your way sometime soon.