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 From 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.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Top 100 Tracks From the 1990s (No. 98)

98. "Put the Message in the Box"
Artist: World Party
Year: 1990

I was a fan of the Waterboys during the era when Karl Wallinger was with the band, and I had no problem following him to World Party. Unfortunately, I didn't think Mike Scott or Wallinger quite captured the magic of 'A Pagan Place' or 'This is the Sea' again, but they each had a few flashes. It took me a few recent listens to decide between this song and "Way Down Now," both minor hits here in America, but I went with the one with substance. I watched the music video a few minutes ago for the first time in many years. He sure had it bad for Lennon, didn't he?

See the world in just one grain of sand
You better take a closer look
Don't let it slip right through your hand

Top 100 Tracks From the 1990s (No. 99)

99. "Come on Eileen" (Night Mix)
Artist: Save Ferris
Year: 1997

Well, two for two, meaning this is another song I liked but from a band I didn't follow at all. For the most part, I wasn't much of a fan of the so-called third wave of ska, a little too '90s pop-punk for my taste, but having seen Dexys' title on the CD single back in the day was enough to get me to bite even without the benefit of hearing it beforehand.

Other than another cover, the Waitresses' "Christmas Wrapping," which appeared on a KROQ holiday sampler in 1998, I own nothing else by Save Ferris. The single of "Come on Eileen" I have is a special mix that differs from the version found on 'It Means Everything,' but since I have never heard their debut album, I couldn't tell you what said differences are. I just learned two interesting bits of trivia related to today's selection. One, the French version of the single includes an additional "Day Mix." So, Save Ferris has at least three versions of this song. Two, in 1996, the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences gave Save Ferris a Grammy for best unsigned band, earning them a contract with Epic. I had no idea there was such a prize.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Top 100 Tracks From the 1990s (No. 100)

100. "Jetzt!"
Artist: Die Fünf Freunde
Year: 1993

This is going to seem like a short and downright random way to kick off a countdown, but I know very little about the band behind this German nugget. Thankfully, it's a wonderful two-and-a-half minutes of horns, organ and jangle that needs no translation or explanation. Die Fünf Freunde shared the "Hit Doppel Decker" 7" with Die Time Twisters, Verdammt! via Viel Leicht Records, and it's still available in a couple of places, including Jigsaw Records. "Jetzt!" or "now," is the first of four songs on my list not sung in English. Let's see if our pal Dirk has anything to add...

Saturday, February 7, 2015

B-Sides That Leave You Without Words

I haven't updated the blog for a few days because I'm working on a countdown that has proven to be more time consuming than I expected. If you're a regular reader, you may know I don't look back on the '90s with much love. Many of my favorite bands from my youth were calling it quits, and movements like grunge and Britpop, for the most part, weren't doing it for me. Living in the relative isolation of rural Japan for a couple of years before the Internet age, followed by five years at a demanding job, contributed to my musical malaise. A couple of weeks ago I had a post about the High Llamas that really got me thinking about the music that found its way to me during that lost decade. So, I began compiling a list of favorite tracks. Surprisingly, even with self-imposed rules like one track per artist, before I knew it I had about 150 candidates. That's too many. So, I'm in the process of whittling it down to 90 or 100 songs, and I hope to have it ready next week... warts and all. Seems it will have quite a different feel than the '80s UK indie hits list I launched about this time a year ago.

In the meantime, I'm still on my Terry Hall kick. Here are a couple of very loosely related B-sides from an era I enjoy much more than the '90s. In their early days, Hall saw something in Bananarama, and he invited the trio to work on the Fun Boy Three's "T'ain't What You Do (It's the Way That You Do It)." FB3 returned the favor a year later on Bananarama's "Really Saying Something." Both were big hits. "Give Us Back Our Cheap Fares" is the flip side to "Really Saying Something." The instrumental was written by Bananarama and Vaughan Toulouse of Department S. To these ears, it sounds like it would have made a fine B-side to the Specials' "Ghost Town." Of course, with "Why?" and "Friday Night, Saturday Morning" on the 12" of "Ghost Town," I don't think any of us are complaining.

Now let's go back to the record that started it all for the 2 Tone label. In 1979, the Specials (called the Special AKA at that moment) split a 7" with the Selecter. The unforgettable "Gangsters" was on one side, and the instrumental "The Selecter," by Neol Davies and drummer John Bradbury of the Specials, was on the other. In case you're wondering about the timeline, Pauline Black would join Davies' band a few months after the release of this single. I'm not sure where this song stands among the 2 Tone faithful, but I have always loved it. Unlike "Cheap Fares," no scratchy record this time. I'm taking it from the excellent 1993 two-disc set 'The 2 Tone Collection: A Checkered Past.'

Give Us Back Our Cheap Fares
The Selecter

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Lloyd Cole Still My Bag

Finally. After 30 years as a fan, I saw Lloyd Cole for the first time last night. I had never been to the famed Triple Door in Seattle, and it's not the way I'm used to seeing a show. As a bemused Cole said early in the set, this is not indie. It's a supper club, really, with cozy candle-lit tables, first-class service and pan-Asian cuisine from Wild Ginger upstairs. It worked for me because this was an intimate solo show.

And when I say "solo," I mean he was completely on his own. Cole told us he was his own opening act. He would then take a short break and return as the headliner. Between songs he tuned his own guitar. Cole intimated he could probably employ a kid to stand behind the curtain, waiting with a freshly tuned instrument, and it would be far sexier, but then he would have to eat dinner with him. When a woman shouted that he was sexy now, he stopped in his tracks, shook his head in bewilderment and said, "You're drunk." He paused for just the right amount of time and followed with, "And I thank you." To call Cole's banter between songs charming is a gross understatement. We were putty in his hands.

For us old-timers, the setlist couldn't have been better. There were a slew of singles from his days with the Commotions, including "Perfect Skin," "Are You Ready to Be Heartbroken?" "Forest Fire," "Rattlesnakes" and "My Bag." He was in perfect voice. I'm going to sound like a marketing flack, but I enjoyed the songs from his latest, "Standards," just as much. My No. 7 album of 2013 was finally released here in America late last year, and it should be required listening. In keeping with this solo theme, after the show, Cole sold his own CDs and promised to sign anything... inanimate. He cheekily added that for those of us who bought the import the sleeve of the U.S. release was just a teeeeeny bit different. I didn't bite.

Just a little bit more about the setting and audience. I'm sure it's just me getting old, but I could get used to sitting at a show. There were no elbows jabbing my belly. No bodies flew over my head. I didn't have some dope yelling to his friend about the hot girl at the bar... right into my ear. In fact, there was very little talking. Cole's fans actually listened. And very few held up their phones to record the moment. I would love to know what he thought about the experience. At one point Cole told a woman if she ordered the dessert he would glare at her. It reminded me of Lennon telling the Queen's audience to rattle their jewelry. It was all so civilized... and worth the 30-year wait.

You know you have been to a good show when you get home and pull out all of that artist's old records. It was an early show but a late night. Here's an extended version from the 'Mainstream' era I enjoyed in the wee hours.

My Bag (Dancing Mix)

Monday, February 2, 2015

Alvvays a Good Time in Nottingham

Once again, Nottingham correspondent MisterPrime is right in my wheelhouse. The band behind my No. 8 album of 2014 has just played his hometown. Alvvays will be knocking around Europe for a couple of more weeks before a triumphant North American homecoming opening for the Decemberists. Is it time to get tickets? Let's find out...

The Bodega
Nottingham, 26th January 2015

I've not been a regular at Nottingham's Bodega, despite, or possibly because of, the fact that it's apparently something of a hip young venue these days. I saw an incendiary performance there last year from Savages, but before that I don't think I'd been since it was still called The Social, when bands played with the front bay window as a backdrop (I don't think I'm making this up now), and I saw a very lacklustre show from the newly reformed Wire somewhere around the turn of the millennium.

Anyway, it's still pokey and a funny shape, so I can't imagine you can see much if you get stuck at the back, but it's not too hot, and the sound quality is really very good. Plus, despite it being a sell-out show, there was none of the lairy barging and beeriness of the following night's capacity crowd for the Sleaford Mods at the somewhat larger Rescue Rooms. This was more the kind of slightly polite and clean-cut group of youngish indie-kids that you'd expect given the unfeasibly fresh-faced band up on the stage. That said, Alvvays made full use of that decent-quality sound, playing their brand of dream-pop with a bracing twin-guitar attack and suitably chunky drum-thump that rendered everything much cleaner and sharper than the slightly muddy production on their debut album might lead you to expect. It's a confident performance, too, cheerfully chucking in ace card "Archie, Marry Me" early on in the set, ending on a new song and encoring with a well-judged cover of the Primitives' "Out Of Reach."

The jangly punk-pop of the faster numbers and singer Molly Rankin's touristy asides (she wanted the audience to recommend the best English chocolate bars and let her know if the Trip To Jerusalem pub was worth a visit) created a nice contrast with some of the more yearning ballads. "You guys seem to like the slow ones," she said as the band launched into "Ones Who Love You" with a Spectorish intensity, the soulful depths of the vocals in particular suggesting Lana del Rey tackling indie torch songs. For a "new" group, this was a good solid hour of entertainment and suggests that still better things are to come from this particular addition to the list of bands I'm gonna have to love despite their annoying names!

Lastly, as an aside, I'd like to apologise to Molly for the overly-literal nature of the audience in Nottingham: Despite a chorus of dissenting voices to her assertion that the Primitives song was "a hometown hit" that seemed to throw the singer slightly, I'd say it's probably fair enough to class the 50 miles between Nottingham and Coventry as pretty "local" -- particularly if you happen to be from a country as big as Canada.