It's another wild New Year's Eve for me. I will do what I have done every Dec. 31 since 1990. I'll watch Big Country usher in 1984 from Glasgow's legendary Barrowland. I have written about this show so many times that I really don't have anything new to say. This is my No. 1 time machine moment. I love the unbridled enthusiasm from everyone in the ballroom. Stuart and the lads were kings of the world, and this was their homecoming. They had just returned from taking America by storm, and they were exhausted but exhilarated. Big Country played two shows on Dec. 31, 1983. There was an early show for the youngsters and a later one for those old enough to ring in the new year. Bassist Tony Butler called it "one of the best moments in my gigging life." Drummer Mark Brzezicki said, "Even just before the gig the atmosphere was electric, and just walking on stage can only be described as being at a cup final and scoring the winning goal." Guitarist Bruce Watson recalled, "The excitement going on in the room that night was really a Scottish thing. We tried to make it a huge party." And frontman Stuart Adamson remarked that the crowd "was out of their heads."
I bought Big Country's 'At the BBC' box set when it came out a few years ago, and their show from the Edinburgh Playhouse on Dec. 31, 1984 is part of the DVD package. It's a very nice show, but the magic from a year earlier just isn't there. The crowd is restrained, sitting in seats and in posh surroundings. There are no foot stomps and chants of "here we go!" The band is different too. The innocence is gone. They are well dressed, polished and downright professional. That night at the Barras could never be recaptured.
As the clock struck 12 and 1984 began, Big Country abandoned "The Storm" and left the stage for a quick breather. The Deysart and Dundonald Pipe Band took over in what can only be described as one of the most unique moments in the annals of rock history. As Watson said, it's a Scottish thing.
Enough pontificating. Enjoy the band's first four singles from the show. Happy New Year!
Hope you had a happy Christmas. I got a few musical delights, including the books 'Popkiss: The Life and Afterlife of Sarah Records' and 'What Presence! The Rock Photography of Harry Papadopoulos.' I'll give you the lowdown on the rest of the bounty in future posts, but I made quite a haul. Needless to say, per usual, Mrs. LTL was at the top of her game. How am I repaying this generosity? By playing her nemesis, Green Gartside, within earshot. This will be the last of the holiday songs. I promise. It's a duet from Tracey Thorn's inspired 'Tinsel and Lights,' easily my favorite holiday album from this decade. The Scritti Politti song "Snow in Sun" can be found here, but let's listen to "Taking Down the Tree." It's a cover from Low's less than festive 1999 'Christmas' album, and the duo of Thorn and Gartside perform it with the same malaise. It's the perfect day after Christmas tune. So, start untangling those lights and nursing that post-holiday hangover with a new classic.
As I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, my nine-year-old son believes in Santa, and the photo above is the letter he got back the other day from the big man himself. I'm thankful there are still volunteers out there making sure kids who take the time to write get a little something in the mail. He's never been so excited to see what will be under the tree when he comes down Christmas morning, and I'm pretty excited that he's so excited, you know?
Maybe there is something from this little mix that will help you with your holiday mood. I listened to all of these while baking cookies with the family this evening, and a good time was had by one and all. I hope you find an album under your tree this Christmas, or at least a 7" in in your stocking. Happy holidays to you all!
I decided to draw the line at 30 this year (31, if you look closely), and that meant leaving many songs on the outside looking in, including the likes of Sarah Cracknell, Belle and Sebastian, Paul Weller, Comet Gain, Nic Hessler, Gwenno, Cattle, Wreckless Eric, the Chills, Chris Stamey, the Outdoor Type, Wire, Postal Blue, FFS... I could go on and on. As you would expect, lots of jangle to wrangle and quite a few old mature acts that continue to impress lo these many years, but there were many new discoveries too. Hopefully you find something here to like as well.
'Tis the season to celebrate and share our favorite music of 2015, but please pardon this interruption to hear a few tracks from an album sure to be on many of your "best of" lists this time next year. I received an advanced listen of Pete Astor's 'Spilt Milk', out Feb. 12 via Slumberland Records, and became so smitten by this master work that I felt like I had to let him know. The following is the result of this bold (and somewhat out of character) move on my part. Thanks for taking the time, Pete. You have been a hero for almost as long as I can remember.
[Dec. 23 Update: For you UK readers, Fortuna POP! is taking pre-orders for 'Spilt Milk' now.]
Linear Tracking Lives: The Loft seem to be remembered as much for the band's legendary onstage implosion and split as the wonderful singles "Why Does the Rain" and "Up the Hill and Down the Slope." With an additional 30 years of living, if you could go back and chat with the young Pete Astor backstage at the Hammersmith Palais on June 24, 1985, what pearls of wisdom about music and the business would you pass on to yourself?
Pete: Hmmm. Yes, good question! I think the thing which happened with The Loft was totally down to our inability to properly communicate with each other. I didn't seem to have the ability to negotiate what I felt; instead I let my frustrations build and build until there was an explosion. By the time I was in the dressing room at the Hammersmith Palais, it was probably too late; before that, I would say to myself to try and express what I thought. But, unfortunately, me - and the rest of us - didn't really acknowledge feelings in our day-to-day lives.
LTL: Last year you released a study of Richard Hell and the Voidoids' Blank Generation through Bloomsbury's 33 1/3 Series. It's actually on sale right now at the publisher's site. Let's sell some books. What was it about this quintessential New York band that shook you up as a young Englishman? .
This is how the book starts and I think this says it best:
Richard Hell was the one for me. He embodied exactly the right mixture of nihilism and ego that a sixteen year old needed. And he looked right. Like all the best rock and roll, here was someone - as we would all find out in the passage of time - who remained mired in the emotional onslaught that adolescence brings. And had no intention of doing anything other than continuing to wallow in its endless contradictions and rail against it with poise, poetry and an elegant sneer. Just another permanent adolescent, staring down the world. This was glamorous, elegant and damaged and signposted a universe of possibilities and I wanted in. It was love at first sight. It's hard to say exactly when the love affair started, because before you're really ready, so many things have to be in place...
LTL: I was immediately taken by how 'Spilt Milk' sounded so much different than projects like the Wisdom of Harry and Ellis Island Sound. This one will remind fans of your days with the Weather Prophets. How aware were you this was a return to form?
Pete: Everybody has different sides to their work but finally I feel like I've come back to being 'me'. I'm quite happy to make the music I am at the moment, within it's particular strictures. Doing the kinds of songs that I do I think of a bit like writing a sonnet or painting a painting a portrait or something: I'm not trying to re-invent the wheel, but working on doing something worthwhile using song structures, etc.
I also really like Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi's ideas about creativity; he talks about 'flow', which is basically a state where you get to forget yourself, lose yourself in what you do. I realised that I could always achieve this when writing, singing, playing music - so I had to do it.
LTL: I'm a huge fan of Veronica Falls, and I see James Hoare is on the new album. How did you get together? What was his involvement with 'Spilt Milk'?
Pete: James and I have been friends a long time, since he was a student of mine, many years ago. In terms of 'Spilt Milk', he was the band, recording and producing the record in his studio. It was brilliant working together, we understood each other so well, we rarely had to say very much when we were working, with very few words we were able to make big and useful aesthetic decisions while apparently just drinking tea and looking out of the window.
LTL: I can't stop listening to "The Getting There". There is such a McLennan/Forster vibe on this one. What can you tell me about this song?
Pete: I always think of "The Getting There" as maybe taking place at a party, any party, where stuff happens which leads to big changes in your life, but you never know this at the time. Perhaps. McLennan/Forster vibe - thank you!
LTL: Since it's the end of the year, I have to ask. What are your favorite songs and albums of 2015?
Pete: So much fantastic music – just now, I'll grab these. I’m sure I've forgotten something, but...
Elvis Perkins – 'I, Aubade'
Robert Forster – 'Songs to Play'
Ultimate Painting – 'Green Lanes'
Father John Misty – 'I Love You, Honeybear'
Bill Ryder-Jones – 'West Kirby County Primary'
Mbongwana Star – 'From Kinshasa'
Waxahatchee – 'Ivy Tripp'
Darren Hayman – 'Florence'
Sleaford Mods – 'Key Markets'
Because I'm an old guy, I look forward to compiling this list every year almost as much as the new releases, which I hope to have ready later this week. One conspicuous absence you might be wondering about is the 'G Stands for Go-Betweens' box. I didn't pull the trigger. Felt a little too pricey at the time, and I have the studio albums. Eleven months later, I regret that decision. Anyway, here are 13 reissues I have enjoyed in 2015...
Various Artists 'The dB's & Friends: Christmas Time Again!'
The 1986 holiday classic has been expanded to include new songs by Yo La Tengo & Jeff Tweedy, Marshall Crenshaw, Robyn Hitchcock and more, and the dB's tracks have been on my holiday mixes for years.
Strawberry Story 'Gravy'
Talulah Gosh-inspired band's tough to find 7" singles, cassettes and flexis are collected on two CDs.
9. McCarthy 'I Am a Wallet'
Cerebral C86 double album (in red, of course) includes 13 bonus tracks and a slew of extras.
8. The Comsat Angels 'Waiting For a Miracle' and 'Sleep No More'
Missed these dark wavers the first time around but came highly recommended through the years by Echorich and Post Punk Monk. Only have the first two albums so far, but the first seven have been reissued, most as double disc deluxe editions.
7. The B-52's 'Live! 8-24-1979'
All of your favorites from their self-titled debut and a few from soon to be released 'Wild Planet' performed at the Berklee Center in Boston. What a performance!
6. Lush 'Chorus'
Everything is here. More than 100 songs across five CDs and housed in a beautiful hardcover book. I bought it for the B-sides and radio sessions. Doesn't come out here in America for five more weeks, but why wait? The price is right at the 4AD store.
4. Game Theory 'Real Nighttime'
Omnivore continues to release the '80s paisley underground legend's entire catalog with loads of bonus tracks. I'm not alone in saying this album was their best.
3. Lloyd Cole and the Commotions 'Collected Recordings 1983-89'
If I didn't already have so much of the material in this five-disc plus DVD box, this would be my No. 1. Still, there are 18 unreleased tracks, and the studio albums have never sounded better. The 48-page hardcover book is beautiful.
2. Close Lobsters 'Firestation Towers 1986-1989'
When this came out on Record Store Day, I recommended it but added I wouldn't be buying it because I had everything on it. About six weeks later I saw it in my local mom-and-pop store and felt my heart jump. I held it in my hand for what felt like the longest time. Why buy it? I asked myself this question over and over and decided since I only had 'Foxheads Stalk This Land' and 'Forever, Until Victory!' on CD, it was worth springing for the vinyl box. Yes, it's a sickness.
1. Matthew Sweet & Susanna Hoffs 'Completely Under the Covers'
I have the CD versions of all three 'Under the Covers' albums, but collecting all of the digital bonus tracks through the years made my blood boil. Finally, this vinyl box gave me all of those inspired covers from the '60s, '70s and '80s in one place, and what beautiful pieces of colored plastic these six records are.
With Mrs. LTL in Cincy this week, I was going to have us listen to "Taking Down the Tree," a duet by Tracey Thorn and Green Gartside from Thorn's excellent 'Tinsel and Lights' album, but it really is more appropriate for the day after Christmas. So, perhaps we'll do that then. In the meantime, I have pulled out a wild card that will probably go over about as well as most of these Green ditties you've become accustomed to me pushing on you. A few of you might see this and think you're getting off easy because this is Elvis Costello and the Attractions, after all, with Green providing only the backing vocals. Most of you, however, know this song is taken from 'Goodbye Cruel World,' quite possibly Costello's lowest point, both personally and professionally.
Costello couldn't "get happy" in 1984. He was in the midst of a divorce and going through the motions of life. Although there had been some commercial success with 'Punch the Clock' the year before, it was fairly obvious he had gone to the Clive Langer/Alan Winstanley well once too often. In his defense, I will say some of Costello's rearrangements in future years have placed some of these songs in a better light.
As a 13 year old and fairly new fan to Costello ('Punch the Clock' was the first of his albums I bought as a new release), even I knew this wasn't a great album, but I did kind of like "I Wanna Be Loved," and I liked flip side "Turning the Town Red" more than anything else from the 'Goodbye Cruel World' era. The song was the theme from the Granada television show "Scully" and not produced by Langer and Winstanley, but that piece of trivia didn't mean anything to this American. I bought the 12" for the extended version of "I Wanna Be Loved," and I'm glad I did because Costello didn't include the 12 inchers on any of those subsequent album reissues. I suspect he loathes them. So, here is the Extended Smooch 'n' Runny Version taken from my gently used 30-year-old vinyl. That will give you an extra minute of Green's fantastic harmonies. Yes, this was all about Costello, not Green, but I'm sure you didn't mind.
Only a stunning comeback by the Popguns kept the Luxembourg Signal from attaining my album of the year for 2014. A year later, it's nice to take a look back at that list with no regrets about those two long players. Doesn't always work out that way, and there it is floating about the 'Net forevermore, but I digress. Thinking about the Luxembourg Signal today because there's a dynamic new take of self-titled album opener "Dying Star" being released tomorrow via Test Pattern Records, and I have had it on a constant loop all evening. Speaking of Loop, I hope you have fond memories of that pioneering shoegaze outfit because frontman Robert Hampson is the one who took the courageous step of tinkering with this dreampop masterpiece. I always meet the remix of a favorite with some trepidation, but my worries have proven to be unfounded. Mr. Hampson's touches are inspired, and the spirit of the original is intact.
"Dying Star (Cirrus)" is one half a beautiful limited edition split 7" with "Breaking" by Soft Science on the flip side. A better complement to the Luxembourg Signal's sound you will not find. A nice discovery just as I'm compiling this year's list of best songs. Order from Test Pattern Records now.
Frontman Paul Heaton famously proclaimed the Housemartins the fourth best band in Hull, behind Red Guitars, Everything But the Girl and the Gargoyles. If I ever run into Heaton, I will forgo the customary handshake and immediately ask him who his No. 5 was. Could it have been the Bloody Marys? This, their first single, came out in the summer of '86, exactly the same time as the Housemartins' 'London 0 Hull 4.' So, I guess they didn't really have a chance to sneak into Heaton's top 4. Plus, they quickly left Hull for the bright lights of Bristol anyway, with drummer Matt Higgins of Red Guitars in tow, by the way.
The Bloody Marys never found success like the Housemartins did. In fact, they don't appear anywhere in my copy of 'Indie Hits 1980-1989: The Complete U.K. Independent Charts,' and the Bloody Marys called it quits in 1990. This double-A side debut, produced by legendary Hull resident Steve Larkmen at his Angel Music Recording Studio in nearby Saltend, is a nice bit of jangle and reminds us Paris remains a wonderful place to fall in love. "Paris" sounds a bit like the Housemartins, doesn't it? Must be something in the water. "Party Hour," on the other hand, seems right out of the Driscolls' songbook, and they were from Bristol. Hmm.
When you think of Sub Pop in the '90s, a particular genre that's not real popular in our little corner of the blogosphere is bound to come to mind. Truth is, by the middle of the decade, the label had made a real effort to diversify itself, and I quite liked the power-pop bands in its stable. One only has to look as far as No. 46 on my top 100 songs of the '90s to see Velocity Girl was a great listen in 1994, for example.
Zumpano was another one of Sub Pop's up and comers that received serious consideration for my countdown. The band signed in '94 during the label's Canadian phase. These fellas were out of Vancouver and, unfortunately, have been boiled down to a trivia question these days. (What was the band A.C. Newman was in before joining supergroup the New Pornographers?) That's too bad because they put out two fantastic albums chock full of bounce, both of which have been physically out of print for some time. Today's listen is the opener from their first long player, 'Look What the Rookie Did.' There is a section near the end of "The Party Rages On" that sounds just like the Turtles, and I mean that as a sincere compliment. Crisp, clean and just about as far from grunge as possible. Find this album if you can. You'll be able to hear some early Feelies (especially on "Jeez-Louise") and Sloan in there somewhere too.
Ever so slightly getting into the holiday mood. When you have kids, sometimes you have to fake it a bit. Lots of excitement in the LTL household, especially from my 9-year-old son. In this day and age, you may find this difficult to believe, but he still believes in Santa Claus. Nearly all of his peers think they know the score. Instead of Lil' LTL going along with the pack, he actually feels sorry for them. Yesterday he said, "Don't you think it's sad they don't believe in Santa? Christmas must be so boring." So, he wrote his annual letter to the bearded one (Santa had one long before it was hip!) and closed by asking if the elves were "staying on task." Hilarious.
There is nearly nothing we do in life that can't be made better with the addition of music. My family will be putting up our Christmas tree tomorrow. Mrs. LTL had to go to California yesterday. So, instead of my usual bachelor activity of listening to Scritti Politti*, I had some free time last night to assemble a soundtrack for our impending tree trimming activities. Lots of classic Beach Boys, Spector, Ella, Rat Pack and the Motown roster mixed with indie, power pop and new wave.
One seasonal set that never seems to be in the same conversation as the biggies but really should be is the 1966 album 'In the Christmas Spirit' by Booker T. & the MG's. These are all traditional songs performed by Stax's stellar house band, and Booker T.'s organ really sings on favorites like "Winter Wonderland" and "Santa Claus is Coming to Town." This is the perfect record for a holiday party because you don't have to battle vocals while making awkward small talk with the spouse of someone you work with but don't really like... or, in my case, I can yell at my children about being careful with my Chicago Cubs ornaments without battling Mariah Carey's wails. Man, all I want for Christmas is to not hear that song again... and it's only Dec. 4.
Sandwiched between very good songs from the Wolfhounds and Mighty Mighty on NME's legendary 'C86' comp is the even better "Therese" by Derbyshire's the Bodines. If you've been a regular visitor to this blog for a while, you know this band is one of my favorites of the era, and I still pull out my Creation singles and the grossly underrated 'Played' album with regularity.
The Bodines' career was short lived, and I always wished for more of their brand of jangle. I was granted a small gift in 2007 when Firestation Records unearthed three tracks from 1988. Based on the year and the classic lineup credited on the back cover, I assume this was early work for an aborted followup to 'Played' just before Magnet Records dumped them. Plus, these songs sound more like 'Played' than the single they did for Play Hard Records before they called it quits in 1989.
I have known about these unreleased tracks on "Shrinkwrap" for several years, but I stupidly didn't buy the CD when it came out. Although it didn't seem likely, I always hoped I would be obliviously flipping through the racks at a little hole-in-the-wall indie shop someday and it would just appear. Like manna from heaven, that's exactly what happened a couple of months ago, and it has turned out to be one of my better finds this year. No, this isn't "Therese," but within seconds of putting on "Shrinkwrap" the first time I had goosebumps hearing Michael Ryan's unmistakable voice again. I dedicate this one to retired blogger Friend of Rachel Worth. I know he's a big fan too.
I wanted 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 our 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 worth 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.
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?
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 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.
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.
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 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:
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
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.
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!
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.
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."
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
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!
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.'
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...
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!
Chances are even if you don't have one of Jason Falkner's solo albums in your collection, you have his work on the shelf somewhere. He was in the Three O'Clock, Jellyfish and the Grays, all for the briefest of spells... and he reunited with Jellyfish mate Roger Joseph Manning, Jr., as TV Eyes a decade ago, too. He has shared his enormous talents with the likes of Brendan Benson (see No. 53 on this countdown), Air, Beck, Paul McCartney, Aimee Mann, Susanna Hoffs, Gnarls Barkley, Eric Matthews, Travis, Glen Campbell, Daniel Johnston, Primal Scream and scores of others. All of this studio work and touring pays the bills, and I get the feeling his solo albums, well, don't. That's such a shame because every one of them is a must have in my book. So, while he toils for others, those of us who worship at the altar of Falkner are always wanting for more.
In the past 20 years, if you strip away the covers, demos, EPs, singles and the like, we are left with a mere four full-length albums (as brilliant as they are!), and it has been six long years since we have had one of those. Still, the gaps between albums makes me ever more thankful for the ones we do have, and I listen to them with regularity.
The next three slots on the countdown will feature favorite artists, obviously, but I will not be showcasing a song from their best album in the '90s. In the case of Falkner, he had two solo albums during the decade, and both of them were for Elektra. Remember when being on a major was a big deal? Anyway, 'Jason Falkner Presents Author Unknown' is power-pop perfection. I love every note. For me, a top 10 album from the '90s, but I have found it impossible to separate one song from the pack. So, I didn't. 'Can You Still Feel?' was a slick followup chock full of electronic flourishes and a less lo-fi sound. Today's pick is the standout from Falkner's second-best album in the '90s. I hope you like it, too. "To pick up where I left the story..."
As most of you have surmised by now, I'm much more into the indie pop that Bob Stanley listened to as a kid than the dance music he would generate with Saint Etienne, if that's even the right word to describe it, but the fact that I wasn't into the genre and still loved this band is quite a testament to how good they were at their craft. For me, this is particularly true of the first two albums when they were embracing that infectious swingin' '60s sound, but I also liked a few singles in later years, especially "Hug My Soul." All of the singles spawned from 'Fox Base Alpha' could have made it here, but I went with "Nothing Can Stop Us" because this was the lovely Sarah Cracknell's coming out party. Big crush. At the same time, I don't want to undersell the Moira Lambert fronted "Only Love Can Break Your Heart." This might be the most imaginative cover of all time, and it deserves more than the passing mention I'm giving it here. I have a feeling many of you will have a different favorite from Saint Etienne, and I would love to to hear what you would have selected.
It was Oct. 10, 1995. I had just moved to Washington, D.C., after two years in rural East Asia and was still playing catch up with all things pop culture. The television was on late that evening, nothing but background noise while I thumbed through the paper, when my ears picked this up from Conan O'Brien: "Ladies and gentlemen, my next guest is here to perform a song currently climbing the U.S. charts after enjoying huge success worldwide. His new album is called 'Gorgeous George.' It's a real pleasure to welcome Edwyn Collins."
I really had been gone a long time.
The album had come out more than a year earlier, and "A Girl Like You" had already been a smash around the world, including peaking at No. 4 in the UK nearly five months earlier. America was discovering it as a single spawned from the soundtrack to the film 'Empire Records.' Like Nick Lowe with "(What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding," Mr. Collins finally had his song to pay the bills, and I couldn't have been happier for him. For you trivia buffs, "A Girl Like You" would make it all the way to No. 32 on the Billboard Hot 100.
The way the song was performed on TV that night didn't really prepare me for the studio version. In fact, the music was almost secondary. I remember thinking "there's no way that's Edwyn Collins on my television." Those of you in the UK may not understand this, but I had never actually seen him move before. I only knew Edwyn from stills in magazines and on album sleeves. Then I wondered if that could possibly be Paul Cook from the Sex Pistols back there on the kit. It turned out Cook played that catchy vibraphone part on the record. I also thought Collins' guitar seemed pretty hard and not all that jangly, but I thought it sounded great anyway. I bought 'Gorgeous George' the next day.
To this day, I don't think "A Girl Like You" sounds like Edwyn Collins, but I love it anyway. I liken it to Nilsson's "Jump Into the Fire." Great song, a big hit, but not much like the work that defined him. I dedicate this one to Mrs. LTL. This will be her second favorite song in my little group of 100. Her No. 1 is still about a week away...
After Komeda's Stereolab-inspired "Disko" at No. 14, did you really expect something else?
I go back to Tim Gane's '80s days with McCarthy, but I didn't immediately take to his new band with French girlfriend and McCarthy mate Lætitia Sadier when they formed in 1990. By 1993, though, Stereolab really hit its stride, and I think the addition of one of my heroes, Sean O'Hagan of the High Llamas, made the difference. I like every album, single and EP from 'Transient Random-Noise Bursts with Announcements' through the seminal album 'Emperor Tomato Ketchup.' The 1997 album 'Dots and Loops' ain't half bad either.
The list of reasons to love Stereolab is long. Like McCarthy, I respected the band's willingness to wear its politics on its collective sleeve. Stereolab was extremely experimental and created a sound so far from what was being listened to at the time and, yet, they were able to bust onto unwelcoming Billboard charts. It seemed like they were influenced by every genre... krautrock, electronica, lounge... you name it. Well, maybe not country, but just about everything else. I thought it was cool they played vintage instruments, particularly Vox organs and Moog synths too. Like a couple of other bands on this countdown, I really took to the back-and-forth vocals of Sadier and the late Mary Hansen. Sigh. Let's not be sad. This is a celebration of the music.
There were a few songs that were thought of for this spot, including "Jenny Ondioline," "Ping Pong" and "Cybele's Reverie," but not really. The ferocious pace of "French Disko" has been and will always be tops. You can (and should!) find this song on the "Jenny Ondioline" EP or the 'Serene Velocity' anthology.
No single today. Going deep into Komeda's first English-language album, 'The Genius of Komeda.' By 1996, I was back from Japan and living in Washington, D.C. I had not paid much attention to the music scene the previous two years, and I got my footing from a most unlikely place. MTV launched a sister station that year, called M2 at the time, and it was actually good... for a few minutes, anyway. OK, maybe I'm exaggerating a bit on that brief timeline, but the promise of delivering nothing but music videos, and with a heavily alternative bend, was short lived. This was probably the busiest period in my life, and I didn't have much time to watch television. So, a four-minute music video now and again was perfect for me.
My introduction to Komeda was the video "Rocket Plane (Music on the Moon)" one early morning while standing in front of the TV with a bowl of cereal in one hand and a spoon in the other. It sounded like interstellar lounge music, and I took to it immediately. After one listen to 'The Genius of Komeda,' however, I picked up influences from many places, including Serge Gainsbourg, Neu!, Can and, of course, the contemporary Stereolab. You'll definitely hear them in today's pick.
The band's music often had an art-film soundtrack vibe, and its namesake was taken from Krzysztof Komeda, the composer probably best known for scoring many of Roman Polanski's '60s movies. Komeda's Markus Holmberg told Billboard in 1996, "In his film scores, Komeda made strong music by small means using rhythm and melodies in unexpected ways to form a nice mood... but we tend to think and say that we play pop music." Yes, it's pop music, but it always felt like the many moods of Komeda pushed that simple pop label to exciting places. If you're new to these Swedes, 'The Genius of Komeda' is a nice place to start, but more critics and fans would probably push you to followup 'What Makes It Go?' If you're looking for Komeda's legacy, pick up 'Oscillations' by Cosines. It's one of the best albums I heard in 2014.
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