Monday, November 30, 2015

Close the Fridge!

I wanted to take a moment to thank those of you who took a moment to remember our family in the comments section of my last post. Mrs. LTL and I were touched. A fine bunch you are.

Our trip to Illinois for my mother-in-law's funeral got off to a rocky start. We had a terrible storm here in the Pacific Northwest the afternoon before our flight, and out power was knocked out. So, our family of four packed for the 10-day excursion, complete with suits and dress shoes, in darkness. Mrs. LTL was scurrying about the house with something like a miner's light attached to the top of her head while the rest of us used flashlights and candles. Meanwhile, the temperatures were plummeting. When we woke at four in the morning for the ride to the airport, the power was still out and the thermostat in the house read 48 degrees Fahrenheit. We later learned from a neighbor via text the electricity had been out for 35 hours. So, upon our return last night, we had the privilege of spending our first hours emptying a smelly refrigerator and two freezers of hundreds of dollars of food. Welcome home.

That brings us to "Electricity," the first single from Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark. There are at least four versions out there, but this is the one produced by Martin Zero, (make that Martin Hannett) in 1979. This may not be the take you are used to hearing, and I don't claim it to be the best of the lot (OMD seems to agree), but I do like how Andy McCluskey's bass has been brought to the fore. You can find this one as a bonus track on the 2003 reissue of the band's self-titled debut. Still sounds great 36 years later.

"Electricity" (Hannett/Cargo Studios Version)

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Top 100 Songs From the 1990s (Last Leftovers)

Just like in beauty pageants, in case there was a song in my top 100 that couldn't live up to the responsibilities of being chosen for this high honor, I did assemble, in order, my first 10 out. You'll quickly see I followed music more closely in my college years than I did later in the decade.

101. Throwing Muses - "Counting Backwards" (1991)
102. Brian - "Understand" (1992)
103. The Elvis Brothers - "Ruthy Anne" (1992)
104. Robert Forster - "The Circle" (1993)
105. Trembling Blue Stars - "Dark Eyes" (1999)
106. Rob Wasserman, Brian Wilson, Carnie Wilson -
"Fantasy Is Reality (Bells of Madness)" (1994)
107. Kitchens of Distinction - "Quick as Rainbows" (1990)
108. My Bloody Valentine - "Sometimes" (1991)
109. Big Audio Dynamite II - "The Globe" (1991)
110. The Webb Brothers - "Cold Fingers" (1996)

...And the Next 10 In No Particular Order...
(I could do 20 more, but I'm ready to put this to bed.)

Sam Phillips - "Standing Still"
The Judybats - "Native Son"
Ride - "Vapour Trail"
Boyracer - "I've Got It and It's Not Worth Having"
Aimee Mann - "Save Me"
Dressy Bessy - "If You Should Try to Kiss Her"
Grandaddy - "A.M. 180"
Aberdeen - "When It Doesn't Matter"
XTC - "Wrapped in Grey"
Pixies - "Alec Eiffel"

Sorry to bring you down, but I have some sad news I think I should share because the blog is going to go dark for a while and some of you are bound to wonder what's happening. You may have noticed my output has slowed in the last few weeks. My mother-in-law has been very sick, and two weeks ago Mrs. LTL got the dreaded phone call that she had better hop a plane back to the cornfields of Illinois. Indeed, after many rough days, her mother has succumbed to her illness. Now it's time for all of us to go home. The blog should be up and running again as the calendar turns to December. Three of our four parents are gone now. Soon our generation will be the patriarchs and matriarchs. Time really is fleeting, isn't it?

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Top 100 Songs From the 1990s (Some Leftovers)

I wanted to take a moment to thank those that took the time to leave a comment during this long countdown. There were times during this thing when I found myself dragging, and it was your feedback that always gave me a much needed second wind. A tip of the cap to FORW, C, Drew, CC, George, Kevinpat, Swiss Adam, Echorich, The Swede, The Robster, Scott, Judge Pop, Ian, McPop, Walter, Brett Alan, Syaver, Dirk, MisterPrime, 1001Songs, postpunkmonk, Seamus and James!

If you're a blogger thinking of tackling a lengthy countdown, my one piece of advice is to make your list and then sit on it for a while. Why? Two reasons: 1) You're bound to have forgotten a song or album that will make you crazy when it's too late to find a spot. 2) You'll be surprised at how stupid you were with the placement of at least one song or album. The mistake will be big, bold and seemingly surrounded by bright blinking lights when you see it. For example, if I had let my picks percolate, Roddy Frame's "Reason for Living" would have fared much better than No. 66. As for the one that got away, about two months ago, I realized I had left off a song that would have easily cracked my top 50. I feel really bad about this one:

"I'm Hardly Ever Wrong"
Artist: The Would Be's
Year: 1990

I have at least 50 candidates that didn't make my countdown. I want to wrap this up tomorrow. So, I'm not going to mention them all, but I thought it might be fun to listen to some of them. I recently learned some of you hate the term guilty pleasure. Instead, I'll just say I love these songs, but I couldn't bring myself to write about them with the passion of a "Blue" or a "Secret Heart." It's time to come clean.

Deee-Lite - "Groove is in the Heart" (1990)
The Cardigans - "Lovefool" (1996)
Ween - "Push th' Little Daisies" (1992)
Depeche Mode - "Enjoy the Silence" (1990)

I could have bent the rules a teeny bit and included these two without you busting my chops too much, but I left them off because with a little digging I realized they were first released in late 1989. "Roam" was released as a single in January of 1990, but 'Cosmic Thing' had been out for a while.

The B-52's - "Roam" (Extended) (1989)
Michael Penn - "No Myth" (1989)

There were at least four songs on the countdown with strong ties to one of my favorite bands of the decade. All I can say is that I had to draw the line somewhere. These are two more branches from the Jellyfish family tree. Jason Falkner was in the Grays, and Andy Sturmer played drums as well as wrote and produced songs for Swedish band the Merrymakers.

The Grays - "Same Thing" (1994)
The Merrymakers - "April's Fool" (1998)

The most effective way for me to keep the number of candidates to a level I could work with was to stick to the rule that I had to know and like the song when it came out. Since I was out of the country for two years and more or less ignored the music scene for quite a few years after that, many great bands I would love later were disqualified. Some of you already know this, but I barely knew the Wedding Present in the '80s, 90s or even the '00s. I bought my first Gedge album only a few short years ago. Gasp! I immediately took to 'George Best' and quickly bought the band's catalog. Here is the song that would and should be on Top 100 Songs From the 1990s:

The Wedding Present - "Dalliance" (1991)

Stay tuned for my list of songs that just missed the top 100.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Top 100 Songs From the 1990s (No. 2-No. 1)

100. Die Funf Fruende - JETZT!
99. Save Ferris - Come on Eileen (Night Mix)
98. World Party - Put the Message in the Box
97. Gorky's Zygotic Mynci - Merched Yn Neud Gwallt Eu Gilydd
96. The Ocean Blue - Sublime
95. Puffy Ami Yumi - Wild Girls on Circuit
94. The Muffs - Oh Nina
93. Smoking Popes - Need You Around
92. The Feelies - Sooner or Later
91. Luscious Jackson - Naked Eye
90. The Lemonheads - Into Your Arms
89. fIREHOSE - Disciples of the 3-Way
88. The Sugargliders - Letter From a Lifeboat
87. Brian Wilson and Van Dyke Parks - Orange Crate Art
86. Vegas - Walk Into the Wind
85. k.d. lang - Miss Chatelaine
84. Robert Crenshaw - All I Want to Do Is Be With You
83. The Pretenders - I'm Not in Love
82. Jeffrey Foskett - Thru My Window
81. Superchunk - Slack Motherfucker
80. Blondie - Maria
79. Sloan - Everything You've Done Wrong
78. Brighter - Does Love Last Forever?
77. The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion - History of Lies
76. Squeeze - Some Fantastic Place
75. Paul Weller - Uh Huh, Oh Yeh
74. Maria McKee - I'm Gonna Soothe You
73. Marine Research - Parallel Horizontal
72. Morrissey - Our Frank
71. Annie Lennox - No More 'I Love Yous'
70. Jellyfish - The King Is Half Undressed
69. The La's - Timeless Melody
68. Jonathan Richman - Surrender
67. Kirsty MacColl - Titanic Days
66. Roddy Frame - Reason for Living
65. The Divine Comedy - Becoming More Like Alfie
64. Siouxsie and the Banshees - Kiss Them For Me
63. Electronic - Get the Message
62. Scritti Politti - Brushed With Oil, Dusted With Powder
61. The Clean - Draw(in)g to a (W)hole
60. The Chamber Strings - Telegram
59. David Bowie - Something in the Air
58. Lambchop - Your Fucking Sunny Day
57. James - Laid
56. Suede - Metal Mickey
55. Blueboy - Popkiss
54. The Sundays - Here's Where the Story Ends
53. Brendan Benson - I'm Blessed
52. The Lucksmiths - Untidy Towns
51. Heavenly - Atta Girl
50. Freedy Johnston - Responsible
49. Neil Finn - She Will Have Her Way
48. Nick Heyward - Kite
47. Bjork - Big Time Sensuality
46. Velocity Girl - I Can't Stop Smiling
45. Buzzcocks - Innocent
44. Aztec Camera - Spanish Horses
43. Sugar - Gee Angel
42. Marshall Crenshaw - What Do You Dream Of?
41. The High Llamas - The Sun Beats Down
40. The Orchids - Peaches
39. Cocteau Twins - Heaven or Las Vegas
38. Elastica - Stutter
37. Prefab Sprout - Looking for Atlantis
36. Frank Black - Headache
35. The Pastels - Thru' Your Heart
34. Elvis Costello - Sulky Girl
33. The Hit Parade - The First Time
32. Pulp - Common People
31. Portishead - Sour Times (Nobody Loves Me)
30. Supergrass - Alright
29. Robin Hitchcock - So You Think You're in Love
28. The Beautiful South - Old Red Eyes Is Back
27. The Sugarplastic - Radio JeJune
26. Crowded House - Not the Girl You Think You Are
25. Billy Bragg and Wilco - California Stars
24. Doves - Sea Song
23. The Flaming Lips - Race for the Prize
22. The Popguns - Still a World Away
21. Lloyd Cole - No Blue Skies
20. Ron Sexsmith - Secret Heart
19. Pavement - Trigger Cut
18. The Breeders - Cannonball
17. The Beta Band - Dry the Rain
16. Terry Hall - Sense
15. The Lightning Seeds - Change
14. Komeda - Disko
13. Stereolab - French Disko
12. Edwyn Collins - A Girl Like You
11. Saint Etienne - Nothing Can Stop Us
10. Jason Falkner - Holiday
9. The Jayhawks - Blue
8. Blur - To the End
7. Epic Soundtracks - She Sleeps Alone
6. Belle and Sebastian - The Boy With the Arab Strap
5. Nick Lowe - True Love Travels Down a Gravel Road
4. Wondermints - Proto-Pretty
3. Lush - Sweetness and Light

2. "Divine Intervention"
Artist: Matthew Sweet
Year: 1991

1. "Nothing'severgonnastandinmyway (Again)"
Artist: Wilco
Year: 1999

Matthew Sweet's 'Girlfriend' and Wilco's 'Summerteeth' are my top two albums from the '90s. So, I guess it's fair to say these are my two favorite songs from my two favorite albums, and they bookend my decade quite nicely. When 'Girlfriend' came out, I was a wide-eyed college student with no real plans beyond how to collect enough cash to get to the next show. As Sweet said on 'Divine Intervention' to open the album, "I don't know where I'm gonna live." What's more, I didn't really care either. I had the world on a string. Every time I hear this song I'm instantly transported to those carefree days, and nearly a quarter century later I still consider this album the quintessential power-pop long player.

By 1999, the world had given me a swift kick in the pants. It felt like my job was rapidly taking years off of my life. Even when I wasn't at work, which didn't seem to be too often, I was always thinking about it. Mrs. LTL was also unhappy with her job, but her problem was not being challenged enough. We had lived in D.C. for almost five years, and it never felt like home. We were going to need to make a change, fears be damned. As Jeff Tweedy sang on today's pick, "we'll find a way." It took until 2000 to get it all sorted out, but the dark clouds seemed to blow away as soon as we made the decision to move back to Chicago... seven long years after leaving the Windy City the first time. We would spend the next 10 years there.

During this countdown I have mentioned several times how much I hated the '90s songbook. That's really only part of the story. I just didn't enjoy the '90s, period. Unfortunately, my broken spirit bled into the greatest joy of my life... listening, reading, writing and flat out experiencing music. Obviously, no matter the period, there are always great songs, and I see now the '90s were no different. Sure enough, as soon as Mrs. LTL and I began planning our move, my mojo for music returned, and 'Summerteeth' was the album that grabbed me, heart and soul, and brought me back from my funk. Fifteen years later, I'm happy to report my passion has never waned. So, that's why I'm ending this thing with the optimistic "Nothing'severgonnastandinmyway (Again)." Otherwise, we would probably be listening to "Via Chicago." The title certainly fits, but it's a murder ballad.

I'll have a couple more posts this weekend on some of the songs that missed the list but deserve mention. I would love to hear about some of your favorites too. Help me fill in those huge gaps I have from this untapped (from my perspective) decade.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Matinée's Marquee Lists a Double Feature

There has been quite a drought in the Santa Barbara area, going on at least three years by my count, but it's sure raining now. Oh, sorry, you probably thought I meant California's meteorological malady. How callous of me. No, I was just thinking the last time you may have read about the following veterans from Santa Barbara-based label Matinée Recordings' talented stable of stars was way back on Christmas in 2012 when I unveiled my 25 favorite songs from that year and included jangly juggernauts from both the Hermit Crabs and Strawberry Whiplash. In an interesting turn, both Scottish bands are finally following up on the same day in 2015. I just had my first go around with both albums, officially out Nov. 20 but available now if you buy directly from Matinée, and all I can say is these two are well worth the price of admission, whether you get them for the "matinee" price or not.

The Hermit Crabs have been a revolving door of personnel around mainstay Melanie Whittle. This time around she shares the spotlight with Jeremy Jensen and Jake Hite of the Very Most, and these three have created a folksy collection that would make for the perfect soundtrack while sitting on a porch swing those summer evenings when light rain is falling and thunder is echoing in the distance. I don't know if 'In My Flat' being made in Boise, Idaho, has anything to do with that atmosphere, but it's a wonderfully understated set of songs that remind me of Exene Cervenka's more recent work. The catchy album opener "Bravado and Rhetoric" (listen below) reeled me in, but the sad lament "I'm a Fool" and the country-fried crooner "Should I Drop You Off" are the ones that have decided to get comfortable in the ol' cranium. Brave and beautiful.

Any band that would take its name from Scottish legends Strawberry Switchblade and Meat Whiplash would get my attention, and the 7" "Stop, Look and Listen" got me to do just that a few years ago. It really is the perfect moniker as Sandra's vocals are sweet and Laz's guitars are fuzzy, but I always identify the duo's sound with early Primitives more than anything else... and that's fine by me. We are told the 12 songs on 'Stuck In The Never Ending Now' are about the "inexorable passage of time," but this set sounds like the clock stopped for about three years. This followup may as well have been recorded the day after the brilliant 'Hits in the Car,' and it feels wonderful to be bouncing to their brand of indie pop again. Give "Time Takes You Away" a play below. What a perfect way to wake up to the week!

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Top 100 Songs From the 1990s (No. 3)

3. "Sweetness and Light"
Artist: Lush
Year: 1990

I have had one very minor brush with Lush that doesn't paint me in the best light, but what the hell? On the morning of Aug. 30, 1996, I walked into work like any other. A co-worker pal of mine with a little fanzine on the side greeted me in a frenzy. "I got you on the list for Lush's show tonight, but you gotta interview the lead singer in like five minutes." I laughed loudly and inappropriately for about one second until that angelic face popped into my head and I realized he was serious. "Wait, you mean Miki Berenyi?" My stomach flipped then flopped.

I had done a couple of reviews for this fella with hopes I would find the fire for music again after those years out of the country, but it wasn't really working. A conversation with Miki could certainly go a long way, but with zero prep time and few listens to Lush since the 'Spooky' era, I knew I would bomb. I had a cubicle. My friend had an office. So, I asked if I could use it while I made the call. Thank Christ I didn't have to face her, and I didn't want anyone eavesdropping on this disaster either. I could hear my voice quaking as I dialed and summoned her.

After stalling with small talk about what she planned to see during her day in D.C., I opened with a little self-deprecation. "Who in the world put you up to talking to this little fanzine, anyway?" She gave an unexpected and sincere answer about her own fanzine with bandmate Emma Anderson when they were kids. Score. All uphill from here, right? Unfortunately, no. There was a long pause as I tried to conjure up stock interview questions that would be boring but not embarrassing. Nothing.

I'm beginning to panic now. I was really into Elvis Costello at the time and remembered Lush's cover of "All This Useless Beauty" that appeared as a B-side on his "You Bowed Down" single. I asked a question about that which led to about five follow ups on Costello and the obscure take she performed for someone else's record two years ago. She had to be asking herself, "I got out of bed for this?" I started down the same road with Lush's cover of Wire's "Outdoor Miner" but stopped myself by saying something like "Really liked your cover of 'Outdoor Miner,' too." Yep, not even a question. Now I'm entering Chris Farley territory as I start spewing song titles from the band's earliest days, hoping for a reaction. I'm sure "Sweetness and Light" was one of them. It's always been my favorite. Too bad it was written by Emma. Ugh.

You get the point. The worst interview I have ever conducted, and it was probably the worst one Miki ever had to sit through. I didn't mention the new album 'Lovelife' even once. Miki should have told me to go soak my head, but she didn't. She was nothing but a pro, and all I can say nearly 20 years later is "thank you." My crush is still intact. I think the worst part was just the right questions popping into my head in the ensuing days. There would be no chance to redeem myself. It all came to a stunning end for Lush weeks later when drummer Chris Acland died. I'm very excited at news of the band's impending reunion, but I won't be putting in a request for a Q&A.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Top 100 Songs From the 1990s (No. 4)

4. "Tracy Hide"
Artist: Wondermints
Year: 1995

When I featured Jeffrey Foskett on this countdown, the Swede wondered if Wondermints would also make this series. I'm sure even he couldn't have imagined it would be nearly 80 places before that prediction would come to fruition. I, of course, knew, and it was a smile when I read his comment way back in March. Wondermints are usually described as "Brian Wilson's backing band." On the one hand, I'll be forever grateful Wilson showed up unexpectedly at a Brian Wilson charity tribute show in L.A. (the bill was Wondermints, Alex Chilton and Apples in Stereo... what a night!) and was blown away by Wondermints' rendition of "This Whole World." That eventful night eventually led to 16 years (and counting) worth of touring and recording together, not the least of which was Darian Sahanaja's vital role making 'Smile' a reality in 2004.

Having said all that, for those of us who think of Wondermints first and foremost as one of the all-time great power-pop outfits, we have paid a price, albeit small, for being witnesses to Wilson's return from the abyss. Wondermints haven't had an album of new material since 2002, but I won't complain too much. Every song they have given us since the early '90s has been gold, and I certainly can't be angry about the Wilson connection and then choose "Tracy Hide," a tune that sounds more like "Wonderful" or some other long lost song from the 'Smile' era than any other in the band's discography. You can find this one on the self-titled debut from 1995. There were five songs from the album that made my long list of candidates for this countdown. It's that good.

In 1996, the band released an inspired album of obscure covers called 'Wonderful World of Wondermints.' In an unusual turn, Wondermints covered Wondermints as the album closer. Here is an ever-so-slightly different take of "Tracy Hide."

"Tracy Hide (Cover Version)"

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Top 100 Songs From the 1990s (No. 5)

5. "True Love Travels on a Gravel Road"
Artist: Nick Lowe
Year: 1994

Nick Lowe has been a favorite since I was a lad, and the 1994 album 'The Impossible Bird' marked the beginning of a renaissance that continues to this day. I would take the six albums he has done since 'Bird' over the six he did before that in a Brentford minute. OK, I don't know what that means either, but if you do the math, that just leaves 'Jesus of Cool' and 'Labour of Lust,' and those are my No. 1 and No. 2, respectively, but I put 'The Impossible Bird' right there with his best work. Lowe didn't want to "become one of those thinning-haired, jowly old geezers who still does the same shtick they did when they were young, slim and beautiful," and his reinvention as a crooning balladeer has completely worked for me.

Today's song wasn't penned by Lowe, but I think his take is the best version on wax. "True Love Travels on a Gravel Road" was written by the country songwriting team of Dallas Frazier and Arthur Leo "Doodle" Owens and first released with little fanfare by Duane Dee in 1968. Elvis' recording is the most well known, but Percy Sledge's was the best... until Lowe took his turn. Lowe speaks of the tune with affection, saying, "I first heard "True Love Travels on a Gravel Road" on a compilation record that accompanied Peter Guralniek's book 'Sweet Soul Music.' I love the title, I love those sort of gospely words, and it has a lovely tune. Percy Sledge's version is kind of jaunty, where mine is a little more downbeat." He went on to say, "I love that thing where R&B meets country."

I'm going to include the lyrics for this one. Chances are these beautiful words will hit home for you... and yours. Enjoy the completely different version from Percy, too.

How many girls choose cotton dress worlds
When they could have satins and lace
And stand by her man, never once letting shade touch her face

How many hearts could live through all the winters
We've known and still not be cold?
True love travels on a gravel road

Love is a stranger and hearts are in danger
On smooth streets paved with gold
Oh, true love travels on a gravel road

Down through the years we've had hard times and tears
But they only helped our love grow
And we'll stay together no matter how strong the wind blows

Not once have I seen your blue eyes filled with envy
Or stray from the one that you hold
Oh, true love travels on a gravel road

Love is a stranger and hearts are in danger
On smooth streets paved with gold
Oh, true love travels on a gravel road
Yeah, true love travels on a gravel road
True love travels on a gravel road

Friday, October 23, 2015

Top 100 Songs From the 1990s (No. 6)

6. "The Boy With the Arab Strap"
Artist: Belle and Sebastian
Year: 1998

This is getting ridiculous. I know I'm not exactly changing the world here, but for some of these spots I'm laboring as if I am. For me, Belle and Sebastian is a band that made living through the late '90s tolerable, and choosing one song has proven to be just about the most difficult task of them all. I have had one title in place since the spring, but it always felt like a placeholder, and now I'm getting cold feet. So, for the past few days I have been listening to all of the singles and EPs from the era, as well as the albums 'Tigermilk,' 'If You're Feeling Sinister' and 'The Boy With the Arab Strap,' at a furious pace. Obviously, you can see which song I went with, but I will share with you that both "Sleep the Clock Around" and "Get Me Away From Here, I'm Dying" (which sounds just like the Lucksmiths!) have been typed in the space above this week.

My story in discovering Belle and Sebastian is an ancient history lesson in what it used to be like to buy music. We never have to take risks with our purchases anymore, or even buy at all, for that matter, and I'm not sure I call this progress. A work pal of mine was getting married in Pennsylvania, and I felt obliged to go. It was going to mean an overnight at a bed and breakfast in a small town far away and many other items on an itinerary jammed with stuff I had no interested in at all. To make the road trip tolerable, I stopped in a books, movies and music mega-chain (another sign things had gone wrong!) when Mrs. LTL went to the mall to fetch some clothes fit for the occasion. Since I had not bought anything for ages, I figured some new music for the car would generate a little excitement.

I found 'The Boy With the Arab Strap' in the new-releases section and was immediately drawn to the cover. It had the aesthetics of an early single from the Smiths. I flipped it over to see titles like "It Could Have Been a Brilliant Career," "Seymour Stein" and "Dirty Dream Number Two." The album came out on the trusted Matador (here in America) to boot. I bought it without ever listening to a note or reading a single review. In fact, I had never heard of them. That feeling when I realized I had struck gold as I drove up I-95 just can't be replicated by clicking on a song as you sit in front of a computer. I really miss these moments. Thanks in large part to Belle and Sebastian, I look back on that weekend in Pennsylvania with nothing but fondness.

As Adam said yesterday when writing about Husker Du's 'Flip Your Wig,' "It may not be their best album, but it was my first and you never forget the first." Hear, hear!

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Top 100 Songs From the 1990s (No. 7)

7. "She Sleeps Alone"
Artist: Epic Soundtracks
Year: 1992

Late one evening in the summer of '93 I searched the shelf of open records behind the counter for something to play while going through the routine of closing up the record shop. I came across a disc with a little sticker that said "Bob" on the case. That meant the owner of the store brought this one in from home. I was immediately drawn to the font and and color scheme of the album name and artist on the cover... or was it a band? What in the hell was an Epic Soundtracks? I had no idea at the time he was the brother of Nikki Sudden and that the two had been in Swell Maps before this, his debut solo album. Anyway, it seemed obvious to me the letters were meant to pay homage to 'Pet Sounds,' my all-time favorite LP, so that made me curious enough to give it a spin. By the fourth song I had the register all counted out and could have gone home, but I didn't budge until I had heard every note of 'Rise Above.' I was mesmerized. I turned out most of the lights in the store and just soaked in the sounds.

The final song was the six-and-a-half minute chamber-pop epic "She Sleeps Alone." I have listened to this one hundreds of times in the past 20-plus years, and it never ceases to move me. The cello and violin have this wonderful build and swirl, and I have told you countless times what a sucker I am for trumpet in a pop song. Mostly, though, I'm attracted to Soundtracks' piano and voice, which I find haunting, sad and beautiful. His influences are very easy to spot, and they are all biggies in my world... the Zombies, Brill Building, Harry Nilsson, Brian Wilson and, on his later albums, Phil Spector and even some Big Star. Sadly, there wouldn't be too many more records. He died in 1997 at the age of 38.

I mentioned Soundtracks one other time on this countdown. Kevin Junior was a good pal of his, and Junior's band the Chamber Strings got started just about the time Soundtracks passed away. If you enjoy the song featured today, I would highly recommend the Chamber Strings' album 'Month of Sundays.'

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Top 100 Songs From the 1990s (No. 8)

8. "To the End"
Artist: Blur
Year: 1994

Once again, I was out of the country and completely oblivious to the mania surrounding 'Parklife,' and I will be forever thankful for that. I imagine the press around this one and other Britpop entities would have been too much for me. That would have been a real shame because I really do love 'Parklife,' and I was surprised and excited when I saw it on the shelf one day while browsing at Import Yamachiku in the spring of '94. If you want to know about that life-saving shop during my time in seclusion, you can go back to No. 43 on the countdown.

The band's previous album, 'Modern Life Is Rubbish,' remains my favorite, but I think the four singles from 'Parklife' are without peer in the Blur discography. Of course, I'm probably not the blogger to make such a bold statement since the 1993 and 1994 albums are really the only two I ever play. I imagine I might hear from some of you about that. Those of you in the UK might be surprised to learn the band wasn't all that successful in the '90s on this side of the Atlantic. Only three albums charted, 'The Great Escape' at No. 150, 'Blur' at No. 61 and '13' at No. 80. The highest charting single on the Billboard Hot 100 was "Song 2" at No. 55. Although the lads were about as British as it gets, it's still a bit of a head scratcher. I just searched Oasis on the Billboard charts, and the Gallagher Bros. left Blur in the dust over here.

I chose "To the End" rather than the excellent "Girls & Boys" or "Parklife" because it's one of Mrs. LTL's all-time favorites. It gets played constantly in this house. Based on the song's theme, I hope she hasn't been trying to tell me something all of these years. Apologies to Stereolab's Lætitia Sadier, but the wife is partial to the version that features the vocal talents of the lovely Françoise Hardy. You can find this one as a B-side to the 1995 CD single "Country House." Let's turn things down just a little bit...

"To the End (La Comedie)"

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Top 100 Songs From the 1990s (No. 9)

9. "Blue"
Artist: The Jayhawks
Year: 1995

Really pressed for time today. So, short and sweet. Most of you will know this one well anyway. I'm a 'Hollywood Town Hall' man myself, but this isn't an albums list, and "Blue" is the band's moment. If this is the song the Jayhawks are remembered for, well, that's fine by me. Most of us know they have been much more than "the hit."

I hope I'm not giving the impression 'Tomorrow the Green Grass' isn't wonderful as well, but 'Hollywood' is where I came in, and it's the one I usually pull off the shelf when I have a hankerin' for some Jayhawks. I assume if you're a fan these are your go-to albums too, but I'm curious about what you think of the band's other work. Did you stick with the Jayhawks as Mark Olson jumped in and out of the lineup?

I have a very memorable tale to tell about the purchase of 'Tomorrow the Green Grass.' Mrs. LTL and I were still in Japan when the album was released. Our time there would be coming to an end later in the year, and we knew it. We were saving as many yen as we could knowing we could be unemployed for a while when we returned to America, but we also felt like we should see as much of the region as we could because, hey, maybe we'll never get back here. (Twenty years later, that has proven to be the case.) So, we decided to dip into the account for a few fun-filled days in Hong Kong. We reasoned the Sino-British Joint Declaration would be kicking in soon. Better go now. I had not been buying much music, but I knew if I had the opportunity I would pick up the new one from the Jayhawks while we were there.

I remember it like it was yesterday. We walked into an HMV and placed 'Tomorrow the Green Grass' and Nick Lowe's 'The Wilderness Years' on the counter. There was a promotion going on where paying customers were allowed to spin a wheel to win prizes. I won a free CD. When I chose my bonus music and took it to the counter, I was told I could spin the wheel again. Well, long story short, I just kept winning. I didn't understand why they kept letting me spin every time I took my FREE CD to the counter, but they did. It got to the point where I was feeling anxious because I didn't have my trusty hand-written list of music wants with me, and my mind was a blank. So, I kept going back to the stacks and searching for the next CD. Meanwhile, Mrs. LTL was giving me the eye because she would like to go see Hong Kong, and now she's stuck in a record store. I was literally sweating at this point, and it was all a blur as I was running back and forth between the counter and the shelves over and over again. The girls working the counter were covering their mouths and giggling as this silly American was making a fool of himself.

When I finally "lost," I walked out of the HMV with nine CDs. Thank you, Jayhawks!

Here's a bonus live performance:

"Blue" (First Avenue, Minneapolis, 2010)