Friday, February 27, 2015

We're a Happy Family

I have to take a little break from the countdown for some quality family time. We are celebrating my oldest son's birthday at an indoor water park all weekend long. So, expect more '90s hits on Monday. In the meantime, enjoy some fine music featuring dysfunctional families, circa 1977, 1978 and 1979, respectively.

Here's "We're a Happy Family" from 'Rocket to Russia,' arguably the best album from a string of four (or five, if you're in a giving mood) greats between 1976 and 1980.

Sitting here in Queens, eating refried beans
We're in all the magazines, gulpin' down Thorazines
We ain't got no friends, our troubles never end
No Christmas cards to send, daddy likes men

Daddy's telling lies, baby's eating flies
Mommy's on pills, baby's got the chills
I'm friends with the president, I'm friends with the Pope
We're all making a fortune, selling daddy's dope

I guess it's a happy ending for Judy and Bob in "Found a Job" from Talking Heads. They can't find anything on television. The couple can create better programming, right? Not only was it not that difficult, but it saved the relationship. From 'More Songs About Buildings and Food,' one of my all-time favorites.

"Damn that television ... what a bad picture!"
"Don't get upset, It's not a major disaster."
"There's nothing on tonight," he said, "I don't know
what's the matter!"
"Nothing's ever on," she said, "so ... I don't know
why you bother."

We've heard this little scene, we've heard it many times.
People fighting over little things and wasting precious time.
They might be better off ... I think ... the way it seems to me.
Making up their own shows, which might be better than T.V.

Judy's in the bedroom, inventing situations.
Bob is on the street today, scouting up locations.
They've enlisted all their family.
They've enlisted all their friends.
It helped saved their relationship,
And made it work again ...

As was easily noted from his songs on 'Klark Kent' and the moment or two he had as frontman for a much more popular trio, Stuart Copeland was the one from the Police with a sense of humor. All of this nonsense would be OK "On Any Other Day." Find it on 'Reggatta de Blanc,' not one of my all-time favorites. I'm realizing this post supports the argument gay bashing was a popular sport back in the day. Have a great weekend!

There's a house on my street
And it looks real neat
I'm the chap who lives in it
There's a tree on the sidewalk
There's a car by the door
I'll go for a drive in it
And when the wombat comes
He will find me gone
He'll look for a place to sit

My wife has burned the scrambled eggs
The dog just bit my leg
My teenage daughter ran away
My fine young son has turned out gay

Cut off my fingers in the
Door of my car
How could I do it?
My wife is proud to tell me
Of her love affairs
How could she do this to me?

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Top 100 Songs of the 1990s (No. 89)

89. "Disciples of the 3-Way"
Artist: fIREHOSE
Year: 1993

I had mixed feelings about fIREHOSE's move from SST to a major label. I mean, if you went way back with the Minutemen, how could you not be rooting for Mike Watt and George Hurley? Having said that, fIREHOSE on Columbia always felt weird. So much so, in fact, I couldn't even bring myself to use album art today. The huge parental advisory warning on the cover for explicit lyrics makes my skin crawl. fIREHOSE uses naughty words? No shit. I was tempted to choose "Formal Introduction" just to make myself feel better: "The way I like to screw... SCREW LOOSE!"

This is the '90s. So all I have to choose from is the Columbia era, but that's still better than no fIREHOSE at all. They are a band best experienced on stage (I saw them five times during this period), and 'Live Totem Pole' from '92 was their best moment from the decade. For this countdown, however, nothing from the seven-song EP really works. Using either of the two Watt-penned songs from the early fIREHOSE days would feel like cheating, and the rest of the lot are covers (albeit inspired ones). Although best described as a deep cut, I have always liked "Disciples of the 3-Way" because it sounds like something that could have been on 'if'n,' a period when the fellas embraced pop music while still jamming econo. Find this one on their swan song, 'Mr. Machinery Operator.'

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Top 100 Songs From the 1990s (No. 90)

90. "Into Your Arms"
Artist: The Lemonheads
Year: 1993

When I think of the Lemonheads, minus frontman Evan Dando's personal problems, boyish good looks and mysterious relationship with Juliana Hatfield, the three songs that come to my mind are "Luka," "Mrs. Robinson" and "Into Your Arms." All three are covers, and perhaps that's why I never really got too deep into the band. Having said that, it doesn't really matter who wrote this one. It's a simple and quite moving piece of power pop that will always hold up. It's one of the most successful songs ever to grace Billboard's somewhat irrelevant Modern Rock Tracks chart, holding on to the top spot for nine weeks. I hope it brought untold riches to Aussie artist Robyn St. Clare. What's her connection to Dando? She was one half of the duo Love Positions. The other half was Nic Dalton, and he played bass for the Lemonheads during the band's most successful years. Find "Into Your Arms" on the album 'Come on Feel the Lemonheads.' Oh, and here is the original version. Kind of sounds like the Vaselines.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Top 100 Songs From the 1990s (No. 91)

91. "Naked Eye"
Artist: Luscious Jackson
Year: 1996

Here's a little history lesson for you youngsters (as if there is anyone under 40 reading this!). The above is a picture of me holding a cassingle. This very minor and quite horrible format gained a tiny bit of traction in the late '80s and well into the '90s as a replacement for the 7" single, which at the time was on the endangered species list. They came in a cardboard sleeve with openings at both ends for the cassette to slip out. The whole thing was very cheap. As a former record-store employee, I can vouch these were a pain in the ass to display. They were too small for our plasti-lock cassette holders. So, we kept them in a glass display case at the counter. The problem was they didn't stand up well since they weren't in the hard plastic cassette cases you remember so fondly, and the weight distribution was all wrong for flimsy cardboard. So, picture these singles being knocked down like a row of dominoes several times a day. Yes, we workers were not big fans of the format.

Yet, here I am holding this cassette single. I remember buying it on a Saturday morning at Tower Records in Alexandria, Va., not long after seeing the music video on this wonderful new channel that had just launched... MTV2. Difficult to believe, but it really was good for a little while. Why this format? I probably wanted to listen to it in the car on the way home. I can come up with no other explanation.

This was the long way around to a song I actually have little to write about. This was a bona fide hit. Not the minor leagues, but actual Billboard Hot 100 material. It peaked at No. 36 here in America, and it did even better in the UK. I never owned the album it came from, 'Fever In Fever Out,' or anything else by them, for that matter. Sometimes a good song is just a good song, and these NYC gals struck gold with this one. Here's your trivia for the day: Luscious Jackson was the first band signed to Grand Royal, the label run by the Beastie Boys.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Top 100 Songs From the 1990s (No. 92)

92. "Sooner or Later"
Artist: The Feelies
Year: 1991

When describing the Feelies, prolific wouldn't be the adjective that comes to mind. When they did produce, however, each album was a must have. 'Time For a Witness' was the band's only album in the decade. In fact, we wouldn't be blessed with another one for 20 years, but there were quite a few gems from it that could have made this list. "Doin' It Again" and "Invitation" popped in my head early on, but I went with "Sooner or Later" because it captures that patented Feelies' sound the best. This song could have been on any of their albums, including 'Here Before,' one of the great all-time comebacks.

And just for fun, here is the Feelies as the Willies covering a classic in the film 'Something Wild.' Brilliant.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Top 100 Songs From the 1990s (No. 93)

93. "Need You Around"
Artist: Smoking Popes
Year: 1994

Unless you're a die-hard fan from their early days around Chicago (and there are plenty of those!), you probably only know of Smoking Popes for two things: One, "Need You Around" was included on 'Clueless,' one of the most successful soundtracks of the decade. Two, the band is a personal favorite of Morrissey. Smoking Popes opened for him while touring in the fall of '97, and they must have left quite an impression. In 2010, to commemorate Friday the 13th of August that year, the artist named his top 13 albums for the Quietus, and Smoking Popes secured one of the coveted spots.

Morrissey asks, "Did you ever hear 'Born To Quit'? It's by the Smoking Popes. I thought that album was extraordinary, the most lovable thing I'd heard in years." You know, I hear a little of Stephen in this one, and I bet he did too. This was Smoking Popes' only hit, peaking at No. 35 on the Modern Rock Tracks chart.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Top 100 Songs From the 1990s (No. 94)

94. "Oh Nina"
Artist: The Muffs
Year: 1995

If punk rock wasn't dead in the '90s, the doctor had certainly made a move for the paddles. Fortunately, the Muffs were one of the few bands that kept the heart beating. The self-titled debut from 1993 was a huge hit in the record shop I worked at that summer, but I think the Muffs got even better after a shuffle in personnel left them a trio of Kim Shattuck, Ronnie Barnett and Roy McDonald. "Sad Tomorrow" was the first (and perhaps the best) single from the revamped lineup, taken from the 1995 album 'Blonder and Blonder,' but "Oh Nina" has always been my favorite from that record. Nobody, and I mean nobody, can scream like Kim does on this one. This was during the band's brief stint on Reprise Records, and I have always gotten a perverse pleasure knowing something so raucous came from the label founded by Frank Sinatra.

As a little bonus, check out episode five of "Bitchin' Ass," Redd Kross' bizarrely wonderful Web series, that featured the Muffs performing "Oh Nina."

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Irish Trio Produces Very 'Goodly' EP

Here's a reason to think the youth of today are getting a proper education after all. There's a trio out of Dublin that must have been listening to the right predecessors because Goodly Thousands' sound bears a striking resemblance to twee elders like the Hit Parade and the jangle giants of 'Boxed'-era Hurrah! In fact, Colm Dawson, the front man and principal songwriter, even sounds like our hero Julian Henry, especially on "Walking Home," one of four new songs (and my personal favorite) from the "Sunshine Hair" EP.

I'm spending too much time making these lads sound derivative. You can't clone heart. Well, I suppose it's literally possible now, but you get the point. If you want a new Hit Parade record, go get yourself the excellent 'Cornish Pop Songs,' but make sure Goodly Thousands is on your shopping list too. "Sunshine Hair" is the followup to the "Honest"/"I Wish" 7" that came out two years ago. I have to admit I missed this auspicious debut, and as you will hear below, it was my loss. Thankfully, I was able to rectify that situation with an online order a few moments ago. Now, don't you miss out on one of the 300 vinyl copies of "Sunshine Hair." Preorder from Shelflife Records for a March 24 release.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Top 100 Songs From the 1990s (No. 95)

95. "Circuit No Musume"
Artist: Puffy AmiYumi
Year: 1997

My road to this duo had nothing to do with the fact I lived in Japan in the mid-'90s. I was already back in my home country when I read that Andy Sturmer, formerly of the legendary power-pop outfit Jellyfish (more on them later), was known as "the Godfather" of the band because he named them PUFFY and and was writing songs and helping in the production of the gals' music. Incidentally, they are called Puffy AmiYumi here in America thanks to Sean Combs issuing a cease-and-desist order. The music is saccharin pop, and they steal riffs with the subtlety of the Strokes (just listen to the last five seconds of this one...), but I can't help but love them anyway. Ah, the things we remember... I saw them when they did an in-store at Chicago's Virgin Megastore around the turn of the Millennium. I was in awe because they both had mobile phones that could take pictures! Anyway, this song, known as "Wild Girls on Circuit," is one of a few songs from the early singles compilation 'An Illustrated History' that could have made this list.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Top 100 Songs From the 1990s (No. 96)

96. "Sublime"
Artist: The Ocean Blue
Year: 1993

It must have been a tough row to hoe to sound like this in 1993. It still stuns me these guys were from Hershey, Penn. I was a huge fan of the Ocean Blue's self-titled debut album in the fall of '89, even seeing them open for the Mighty Lemon Drops in early '90, but I didn't stick with them in the long run. In fact, during the band's three-album heyday with Sire Records, "Sublime" was the only song I owned that didn't come from that first album. In 2013, I bought the comeback album 'Ultramarine,' and I fell in love with the Ocean Blue all over again. Since then, I have gone back and bought up their entire discography. If you think this song is dreamy, you won't be disappointed with 'Beneath the Rhythm and Sound' or anything else from those Sire days.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

'Baby, Won't You Be My Valentine?'

This is a band that won't be featured on the '90s countdown, but there is a song from the Elvis Brothers' 1992 album 'Now Dig This' that only missed the top 100 by a whisker. Unfortunately, for you, the following song is not it. "Valentine" is a nice piece of power pop, however, and it really only works well today. So, here you go.

If you're wondering about the Elvis Brothers, I would highly recommend the 1983 'Movin' Up' for starters. I think back then Epic Records probably thought they had another Cheap Trick on their hands. Both bands were from Illinois, and they had that same fun-lovin' party sound. Although the trio opened for Cheap Trick on many occasions, alas, success eluded them. By 'Now Dig This,' they were on Recession Records out of Chicago. I have a signed copy of the CD that I'm guessing was sent to the record shop I worked for around the time of the release. I hope you and yours are having a nice day.


Friday, February 13, 2015

Top 100 Songs From the 1990s (No. 97)

97. "Merched Yn Neud Gwallt Eu Gilydd"
Artist: Gorky's Zygotic Mynci
Year: 1994

Try saying that one even one time real fast!

When I was residing in Japan, I had this pal named Takahiko. Wine, women and song (and English football) made his world go 'round. Well, not wine. More like Sapporo beer. Takahiko had an aunt and uncle that owned a hole-in-the-wall sushi bar where we would spend our Friday evenings eating, drinking and entertaining the uncle as he prepared sushi like a master. The uncle was a real character. He was happy-go-lucky in all aspects of life except when it came to his lady. She was a miserable creature that hated to see him crack so much as a smile with this gaijin (foreigner). With the exception of football, the sushi master was into the same things as his nephew. He was particularly obsessed with Hall & Oates and the movie 'Basic Instinct.' Due to Japanese law, there was a certain famous (or should it be infamous) scene in that film that was censored. This incensed the sushi master, and it always made me laugh as he discussed the movie with a seriousness normally reserved for high art while using two fingers to describe the movements of Ms. Stone's legs.

When it came to music, particularly from the UK, Takahiko really knew his stuff. This was pre-Internet. So, to practice his English, during the week he would plow through music magazines and quiz me about the bands he had read about. "Merched Yn Neud Gwallt Eu Gilydd" (or "Girls Doing Each Other's Hair") was the first single from the Welsh band. They would go on to have some success in the charts with a much mellower and less strange sound, but their claim to fame was ultimately being the band with the most UK singles in the top 75 to have never broken into the top 40. Takahiko and I loved this song. I have this great memory of a late night at the sushi bar, after many beers, when Takahiko had the sushi master play this one as we sang along to the English part. "There's no need to worry," Takahiko would scream. "Why's that Stevie?" the sushi master would reply. Then we would all chime in: "'Cause we ain't got school in the morning, no, no, no, no." All of these shenanigans went on while the sushi master's wife scowled and scrubbed dishes. As Casey Kasem used to say, I would like to make this one a long-distance dedication. Thanks goes to Takahiko and his uncle. Your hospitality will never be forgotten.