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!

13 comments:

Judge Pop said...

I love the comment about taking risks with buying music back then. You bought singles based on covers, band names, fanzine/music paper reviews or, if you were lucky, hearing at tune at an indie disco. Songs are so easily consumed and discarded in 10 seconds of stream and skip these days of course. I'm not that massive a B&S fan but I'm sure I would have really enjoyed this tune if I'd bought it just to try it out...

drew said...

I am actually amazed that you could find this in a small town in the U.S. I had to go into Glasgow to get this and even then hunt for it.i have a problem with B&S, I I have always wanted to love them and I do love lots of their stuff but there are also songs that I just can't abide, that are just far too for want of a better word wet. For me the tune will always be Lady Line Painter Jane, especially after seeing it live at Glasgow Botanic Gardens , incidentally Max's first gig aged 8 months but Dirty Dream #2 is a close second.

Echorich said...

Much as I've tried over the past 20 years, I just can't reconcile myself to Belle And Sebastian. There are probably a number of layered reasons behind this. Some of this is based around Stuart Murdoch's vocals. I can't shake off the feeling I'm listening to Lowell George and some of their instrumentation even brings me back to Little Feat.
I will say I have enjoyed some of Isobel Campbell's solo work and especially the album with Mark Lanegan.
I know I'm in a minority in the corner of the interweb, but I never say never and have dipped into their catalogue repeatedly over the years. Maybe time will have a positive affect.

Brian said...

Echorich,
Seems maybe I'm the one in the minority. You have built up enough goodwill that I will only ban you for the rest of the day. I kid. Leave it to me to lose everyone when I hit single digits.

Judge Pop,
We probably sound like a couple of middle-aged fuddies. Fortunately, that's this audience in a nutshell. You're among friends. Just stay off our lawns. Nothing beats a long afternoon searching for gems at a good indie record shop.

Drew,
I should have been more clear. I bought the album in D.C. right before we hit the road. Indeed, it might have been a tough find in Easton, Pennsylvania... the home of Crayola crayons, by the way. As for B&S, I didn't follow them blindly. There are many less than inspired moments in the discography. Really liked the '90s stuff though, including Lady Line Painter Jane. That made my long list of candidates.

George said...

Your comments on finding new music will probably be shared by most of your readers, Brian. We do lose that thrill of the new find, of buying a record/cd and listening to it at home, the anticipation, the pleasure(or indeed pain)on that first listen, of buying an album just because of the band name, the album cover, we've all done it I'm sure, and I'm sad that it's just not the case any more. As for B&S, they're on tv adverts here at the moment, playing in the capital soon, but there's no way I'd see them - I just don't see what a live performance could add to the albums. I may be wrong of course, but I have a terrible feeling it might be a little bit boring.

Swiss Adam said...

Taking a risk was part of the thrill of record shopping. It led to spending money on some turkeys of course.

charity chic said...

Could be a series there - the finds and the turkeys

George said...

Go for it CC!

TheRobster said...

I used to love sifting through the singles at my local indie stores to find new stuff I'd never heard before. Found a few duds for sure, but picked up my fair share of gems too.

Belle & Sebastian never did anything for me either, I'm afraid. But each to their own, eh?

Echorich said...

Taking a risk in a record store opened my ears to many of the bands I hold as dearest of all time. Echo And The Bunnymen, Wah!, The Comsat Angels, Human League, Joy Division, The Fall were all bands I knew little to nothing about but something got me to take a chance. Many times it was the album artwork, other times it was the name of the band alone.

Brian said...

I'm sure it's just me, but I'm beginning to think you guys don't like Belle and Sebastian very much.

Yes, risk-taking turkeys would be great fun.

George said...

No Brian, I do like them, I just think that seeing a concert would be a bit boring, the songs need to be listened to, a concert just isn't the right setting for them

The Swede said...

The bargain bin was the first place I would head for in any new record shop I discovered. I always figured that one man's trash was another man's treasure and that my taste might be a little more eclectic than those that had browsed before me, therefore I was happy to take a punt on a new name to me for a reasonable sum. eg. It's a double LP, has an interesting sleeve and is on Stax. Only £1.99? I'll take it. That's how I obtained Big Star's '#1 Record / Radio City'. There were many others and, yes, more than a few turkeys among them along the way - happy days.
I have a lot of time for Belle & Sebastian, particularly their 90's output (though 'Dear Catastrophe Waitress' is another favourite). I saw them in 1997 in a converted church and they were outstanding, it was the perfect venue. Probably if you were to pin me down and threaten me with violence, I'd pick 'If You're Feeling Sinister' as my album of choice, though as a one-off track, your selection is spot-on.