1996: “Pinkerton” -Weezer

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For the first half of 1996 I was studying for my imminent A-Level exams (Biology, Chemistry and French in case you were wondering). When I say studying I use the term loosely. I didn’t really start any revision until maybe 3 weeks before my exams. My time was mainly spent hanging around with friends and trying to keep from my mind the looming reality of several things which were going to change life as I knew it.

Firstly, September ’96 was going to be the time that my friends and i would begin University and be scattered across the 4 corners of the U.K. This did not sit well with me. It wasn’t so much the prospect of starting University which bothered me, it was the idea of essentially starting again with my personal relationships. These friendships which i had built up over the past few years felt too valuable to me to be prepared to wipe the slate clean and hit reset. This was dramatic of course but it’s how I felt. The bottom line was, I didn’t want new mates. I had friends who knew me well. Friends who i didn’t have to explain myself to or put work in to find out more about, or worry about making a good first impression.

It felt like something was about to end which I suppose it was. I obviously shouldn’t have worried so much. The friends who meant the most to me I would make the effort to ensure that our term time locations had no effect on our friendship. As would they. We would visit each other and nothing changed. But also more than that, other than my best mate Stuart who I’d known since I was 11, it would be the people who I met after university who would turn out to be my all time friends.

Another curveball which I was thrown in early ’96, just at the time when application forms were being filled in to determine which universities I was hoping to receive course offers from, was the diagnosis of my mum with myeloma, a type of blood cancer. I was obviously terrified. I had no idea what this meant or what was going to happen to her or how soon. Suddenly leaving home and going to live somewhere miles away seemed absolutely out of the question.I had applied to York,Nottingham,Hull and Sheffield universities but i decided that if i got an offer from Hull, which was the closest, then that was the one I would accept. And I would live at home and commute every day. I didn’t want my mum to know the reason so I think I just made up something about not wanting to move away yet.

Anyway, thankfully it turned out that they had caught it in mum very early. She was only 40. They would just take her blood and test it every 3 months to keep a check on it. This turned into every 6 months and now 21 years later she has still never needed any treatment.

Music was my obvious outlet for dealing with all my building insecurities. Listening to, and attempting to play myself.

My guitar prowess was progressing very slowly. The first song I learnt to play all the way through was Green Day’s “Basket Case” closely followed by “Seether” by Veruca Salt. This song had a guitar solo. I had no idea where to begin with lead guitar so i learned it by ear, putting my fingers in the easiest places for my unschooled hands to make a rough approximation of the sound. I was still just one kid playing alone in his bedroom however. I started to experiment with singing and playing chords at the same time, recording myself with a basic tape recorder and playing it back to see how it actually sounded when I wasn’t concentrating on playing it. It was hardly jaw dropping but it roughly sounded like the songs i was trying to play.

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Me in Summer 1996. Denim heavy

Then in April 1996 I went to watch 3 of my friends’ bands play at a pub in my hometown. This was the turning point in me knowing that despite my natural introversion and timid nature, I had to start a band. The Cosmos, Penguin and The James Benedict Arnold Revival were the bands playing that night. They all played a mixture of covers and their own songs as every teenage band does.The fact that they were able to write their own songs blew my mind and gave me a huge amount of admiration for them, particularly The J.B.A Revival who had the whole deal. They played in suits, they swapped instruments, they had a masked dancer on each side of the stage, (named Swifty Ranger and Creation B). Their songs had names like “Get in that Bronco O.J and drive”, “Obi-Wan” and “I Like Dinosaurs” They were brilliant. My friend Dan played guitar for them and wrote the music. Dan whose sister’s music collection we had pillaged for our first grunge explorations.

At the end of final band The Cosmos’s set they played a cover of arguably Nirvana’s best song “Aneurysm” and the J.B.A.R drummer invaded the stage at the end for the “she keeps it pumping straight to my heart bit” and as they rolled around on the stage I realised I wanted a piece of that action.

My best mate Stuart had made tentative steps into learning the drums over the previous few months, receiving pointers from our friend Paul who played in the Cosmos. We decided we would start trying to play covers together. He set his drums up (a borrowed kit from Paul) in his girlfriend’s kitchen extension and I went down there with my little practice amp. We knew we needed some bass so we asked our friend Dave to do it. He bought the cheapest bass he could find and we were away.

I still have a cassette of us trying to play Foo Fighters, Therapy? and Compulsion songs under the ridiculous name of Toilet Duck. It sounds like i had not learnt how to properly tune a guitar yet.

Sadly Toilet Duck would never leave the practice space to play an actual gig before everyone left home for University but it gave me my first experience of playing with other people and the concept of trying to play in time.

So in September everyone scattered for University but before that there would be one final blowout for us college friends. Reading Festival 1996, my first ever music festival. I am aware I have not even addressed this year’s album yet but a lot of stuff went on this year which i feel is important to get down!

Reading ’96 started the annual tradition of Reading or Leeds Festival attendance which finally was ended by me in 2013 when my daughter was born. The line up in 1996 was a mixture of post grunge punk rock, the tail end of britpop, acceptable dance for the indie crowd and a couple of curveballs (Ice T). Rage Against The Machine, Rocket from The Crypt, Garbage, Sonic Youth,  The Offspring and Ash were my main draws, but most of all I was excited about seeing Weezer.

Weezer’s first album had been the joint soundtrack to my 1995 along with Rocket from the Crypt. It’s an “alternative” rock classic. No matter what they have become nowadays the Weezer of 1994-1996 song catalogue is solid. I knew there was a new album coming out in September and was excited to hear some of the songs from it played at Reading.

They played 5 songs from Pinkerton which made it obvious they had not lost any of their mojo for songwriting. “Why Bother?” was my favourite new one they played that day but there weren’t any I didn’t like. We were all in agreement that the new album was definitely going to be one to pick up.

In September I started University in Hull and commuted each day from home as i mentioned earlier. I would bike each morning to my Gran’s house about 2 miles away and then leave my bike and walk to the bus stop to get the coach to Hull Bus Station. Once there i would have to take another bus from the city centre to the university. Then repeat the whole process in reverse at the end of the day. It was a massive ballache. On top of that I was still working at Mcdonalds on Fridays and Saturdays so on Friday evenings I would do this ridiculous journey back home and then have to be at Mcdonald’s from 7pm until 12.30 am. That didn’t last long. 2 months later I had bailed on the Mcjob so at least my weekends were my own.

I picked up “Pinkerton” from the now defunct record store chain Andy’s records in Hull City centre one day when i was early for the bus. I walked in for a browse and heard “Why Bother?” playing on the stereo. Annoyingly I had to wait until I got back 2 hours later to play it. Although it is now considered a classic, the album got a critical kicking on it’s release and i just don’t know why. It’s not like it’s even that different to the debut album. I definitely didn’t find it a massive departure in sound and liked it straight away.

It has a definite rawer sound then the Blue Album but the songs are still melodic and hooky despite being a bit darker lyrically. I think it benefits from the lyrics being from a more personal place even though Rivers was embarrassed by them after the panning the album took. It must have been that which resulted in Weezer becoming a much more superficial band over the course of the next few albums with the lyrics taking a massive backseat to just simple catchy power chords. I fluctuate between which is my favourite Weezer album depending on the mood i’m in but today I’m definitely swaying towards “Pinkerton”. It’s got more dynamics, it’s more passionate and honest and it’s still stacked to the rafters with tune after tune.

My favourite song is “Across The Sea”, Rivers’ ode to an 18 year old Japanese fan who wrote to him. It’s got a few painfully honest almost cringey lines that Rivers would regret very soon after, comparing them to spilling your guts while drunk and feeling good but then waking up the next day and thinking “What have I done? I’ve made a total fool of myself”. Taken completely on a musical level it’s a brilliantly written song. A memorable melody, peaks and troughs dynamically, a great solo and a good intro and outro. The lyrics just make Rivers seem like a real person instead of the cartoon character he would become. I felt like I could relate to his nerdy angst, in particular when it came to relationships. All my friends seemed to be getting girlfriends whereas i still felt pretty invisible and like a sidekick to the more vocal characters in my crowd.

So there we have 1996. It was busy year. Lots of things changed. Some things stayed the same. But I still didn’t play in a band.

1995: “Scream, Dracula, Scream!”- Rocket From The Crypt

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1995 was a good year. I’ll avoid the overly cheesy Bryan Adams quote, but it was the year I received my first guitar. In hindsight it was probably also the last year in which I genuinely had nothing really to worry about. A-Level work doesn’t count. I was still living at home, I had no responsibilities of any great size other than turning up to college and not being an arsehole. Noone in my family was sick or had died and in fact I’d never even been to a funeral. The biggest worry I possibly had was remembering to do my French literature homework. That would obviously change, as it does for everyone once life hits them in the face with a major reality check, but for now, wrapped safely in the warm fluff of 1995 I was able to float about my business of not very much at all with reckless abandon.

The first guitar that came into my posession was found in a family friend’s attic when they were clearing it out. It was a Stratocaster copy made by the company Zenta who I’ve never heard of since. It had 3 rusted strings and the input for a lead was practically hanging out but that didn’t matter as i had nothing to plug it into anyway. This friend had heard that I was interested in learning to play so they gave the guitar to me rather than take it to a car boot sale. Obviously I needed to put strings on it before i could do anything so I asked my college aquaintances what I needed. “Just get 9’s and you’ll be alright” I was told. Yeah fair enough I’ll just get 9’s. Just one problem. I have no idea what that means at all. Is it a brand? Is it a pack of 9 strings? I only need 6. Are 3 spare?

Anyway as it turns out my friend Dan had started learning guitar the year before so he could at least give some very basic pointers. We strung the guitar and he showed me 4 chords and gave me a book with the finger placement diagrams for each of them. And so began my journey of learning to make sound come out of a guitar. The 4 chords Dan showed me were the 4 needed to play “Live Forever” by Oasis and I spent many afternoons sat strumming the first chord and then painstakingly moving my fingers into position for the next one and strumming that. This resulted in the most long and drawn out rendition of “Live Forever”. It should have been called “Last Forever”. “Last Forever and sound like a muffled muted piece of crap”. But gradually the gaps between the chords became shorter and the notes sounded clearer until by the start of the summer break between year one and two of college I could pretty much play the song all the way through at the right speed. But By God was I sick of it.

Basically I just wanted to be able to play Green Day songs, but they would require me to learn how to play the magical barre chord. Or so I thought. I was yet to learn of the existence of power chords. So I borrowed a Play Rock Guitar book and set about trying to do the impossible. It was like starting again. I was again filled with jealousy towards all my peers in bands just effortlessly bashing out covers of Nirvana and Green Day. But I stuck with it.

While all this was going on lots of other musical stuff happened. Most importantly, I went to my first live gig. A company called Solid Entertainment used to run a coach service to gigs in other cities. You bought the gig ticket and the coach ticket from them at the same time. As my friends and I were only 17 most of us were still in the process of taking driving lessons (not me, I was a late starter with that as well) or the ones who had recently passed, you would not want to get in a car with and dive onto a motorway taking your life in your hands.

In June 1995 Northern Irish band Therapy? were touring their about to be released 3rd album “Infernal Love”. Their previous album “Troublegum” was a staple amongst my group of friends and we were all very ready for another Therapy? album. 5 of us went to Leeds Town and Country Club (Now the O2 Academy) on the Solid Coach. The first thing I noticed when the first support band Schtum started was the volume. Feeling the bass and the bass drum in my chest. I’d never heard music played that loud. The band were fairly unremarkable but the second band Skunk Anansie  we all really liked. Looking back now, that band have not dated well! Therapy?’s set was brilliant and well worth the 2 days of ringing in my ears afterwards. Looking back, that band have not really dated well either, but “TroubleGum” and “Infernal Love” will always have a place in my heart and they set the ball rolling on a lifetime of watching and playing live music. It was a real time of burgeoning freedom (not that I was oppressed at home in any way) and friendship and firsts and it’s a period of my life that I remember very fondly and it’s only really now that I realise how important a time it actually was. Much more than when I was actually living it.

But now for this year’s album..

Early on in the second year of college a friend turned up one day with a red LP under his arm which he proceeded to shove in my face saying “you need to listen to this band”. The record was Hot Charity and the band was Rocket From The Crypt. I’d never heard of them. I think I meant to check them out after his recommendation but never got round to it. The name faded away in my mind. 

Then in February 1996 they were on the front cover of the NME looking like the last gang in town. My memory kicked in and I remembered I was supposed to already know what this band sounded like. The next day I asked to borrow my mate’s copy of Scream Dracula Scream, their most recent album. 

It was exactly my cup of tea. Punky with plenty of attitude and character but also just the right amount of tunefulness. The band looked cool and like a gang which I liked, including the whole nickname shtick of every member. They had a whole package deal going on of sound and looks. Like a 50’s rock n’ roll band updated for the 90’s scene. They had a saxophone and a trumpet which they managed to make sound cool and necessary, not like cheeseball ska punk. To my ears, the urgency and all round incendiary nature of the music just sounded amazing. The swagger and soundbite providing nature of songwriter John “Speedo” Reis’s every sentence is something which would usually switch me off from a band but he does it with such charm and clear tongue in cheekness that it’s endearing rather than irritating. He remains to this day one of my musical heroes. Every band that he has created (and the list is long and varied: Pitchfork, Drive Like Jehu, The Sultans, Hot Snakes, The Night Marchers and of course RFTC) is influential in their genres and all have albums among my favourites ever. Some people can’t get on with his scratchy voice. I can appreciate that he has a vocal sound that could potentially be off putting but I never had that problem. I think it fits perfectly.

The album Scream Dracula Scream is Rocket’s classic. I love all the albums but there’s no filler track on Scream. And the sequencing of the track order, something which is almost completely overlooked these days is perfect. Middle, Born in 69 and On A Rope sound like they were written to follow each other. My brain automatically starts the following song whenever I hear the others. 

It’s not all hell for leather though. There are dynamic peaks and troughs. “Used” sounds like it could be on the Happy Days soundtrack during a summer montage. The album closes with the groovy blues of “Salt Future” and the brooding “Burnt Alive”. In fact it’s probably Rocket From The Crypt’s most varied album. They had a brief period of ultra popularity around August/September 1996 with the release of the “On A Rope” single and headlining the second stage at Reading Festival (my first festival) but then stopped touring the album and went to write the next. They would not reach the same widespread appeal again.

At the end of 1995 on my 18th birthday i received my first actual own guitar. It was a red Encore Stratocaster copy with a fender practice amp. I felt like i’d got the world. Now i could actually hear the terrible noise I was making. I wished I was able to even badly play Rocket From The Crypt songs but they were still far out of my grasp. But the barre chord was coming on gradually.

For my playlist it was a tough call between 2 songs from the album but in the end I’ve picked Young Livers. It was the first song I bought by the band and it’s got a good (ridiculous) video.

1994: “Dookie”- Green Day

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School’s Out. Forever?.. Well, technically yes, but whilst my GCSEs were taken and I would have no further reason to enter the corridors of Thomas Sumpter Comprehensive School again, (except to collect my results in August) it was never really in question that I would stay in education for at least another 2 years to do A-Levels.

Goodbye school, Hello 6th form College. It was like another world compared to school. Whereas at school, my like minded friends and I had been by far the minority musical taste wise, here at John Leggott College it was as if we were the norm. Or at least a good 50%. There’s another essay to be written there on the relationship between educational level and musical taste but certainly only by more controversial and pretentious people than me.

College was also the first time I had experienced people of my own age starting bands. Every Wednesday afternoon at college no academic lessons took place but your attendance was required to partake in what were known as Extension Studies. These were a variety of extracurricular activities and subjects chosen at the start of term to fill up your timetable. Examples were Video Production, Cookery, Sport related activities, and something called Rock Workshop. Rock Workshop was basically “Band Practice” for students who played guitar,drums, bass and sang. It wasn’t always as structured as that though. What happened was, a group of mates went to some huts on the college grounds and larked about on instruments unsupervised. It was regularly known for students not involved in Rock Workshop in any way to skip their own extension studies to go and hang out and watch their friends make a racket. This was me on occasion. Only rarely though. I was far too concerned about getting into trouble to do it often.

But I was insanely jealous. Why had I never learnt an instrument? I had always been an avid music fan but I’d never learnt how to make music myself except for the obligatory tinkerings on a Casio keyboard. I could pick out a melody on one of those by ear and that was about it. I put this lack of musical prowess down to A)it just never having occurred to me in primary school as i had no friends who played anything (save for a few meanderings on the aforementioned Casio keyboard). And anyway, what do you play aged 10 to sound like Michael Jackson. You just want to throw your arms and legs around like a maniac to “Smooth Criminal”. Then there was B)Financial Reasons. My parents would never have been able to afford private lessons and/or instrument purchase then anyway.

But as I sat in Rock Workshop watching my peers hammer through renditions of Nirvana, Therapy? and Smashing Pumpkins songs i cursed my lack of foresight. I assumed that I had missed the boat. I had no frame of reference for how long was needed to practice to be able to make these sounds and assumed my new mates must have been playing guitar since they were old enough to hold one.

Then in October 1994 I saw an American band I’d never heard of on Top of the Pops. The song was “Welcome To Paradise” and the band was Green Day. They looked insane. Like 3 crazed maniacs twitching about the stage after having taken God knows what. (I had no drug reference either.)But they were playing one of the catchiest songs I’d ever heard. It didn’t sound very complicated either. I thought maybe i COULD learn to do that.

My friend bought “Dookie” the following week and I loved it. It was my first proper experience of music that sounded like that. I knew nothing really of punk but I knew melody and “Dookie” had that in plentiful supply. Right from those first two little hi-hat Chik-Chiks in “Burnout” it’s an explosive pop rocket covered in piss and vinegar on a collision course for your ears sweet spot. I still loved the grunge stuff I was listening to but Green Day were like a high energy breath of fresh air to blast away all the moody introspection. They were still self-deprecating weirdos but sounded more pissed off and seemed to be having more fun telling you about it.

“Basket Case” was released at the end of November and then they were everywhere. It only intensified my annoyance at not being able to play anything as every single band of teenagers in the land added the song to their repertoire of covers. My household finally entered the world of the CD player on Christmas Day 1994 when my brother and I both received one. “Dookie” was one of the CDs that came with it (along with “Definitely Maybe” and “Parklife”). If my friend who I introduced “Siamese Dream” to became the Smashing Pumpkins guy then I suppose I became the Green Day guy. I had the T-shirt, I went to Record Village and bought the previous 2 albums for extortionate import prices. I did what I always do when i discover a new band. I hoovered them up and went all out.

If I had to pick a favourite track on “Dookie”(and I do) then after a struggle of narrowing it down, it would have to be  “Burnout”. “Having A Blast”comes a close second with it’s killer chorus melody but “Burnout” just edges it with that opening salvo.

After “Nimrod” in 1997 my obsession with Green Day faded. By 2000 when “Minority” was released I had moved onto different musical pastures. But “Dookie” had a massive impact on my life and without it I definitely would never have (eventually) got a guitar, started a band and done half of the things that I did over the next few years. I can still listen to it with as much appreciation as I did back then. And it’s follow up “Insomniac” for that matter.

So here’s “Burnout”.  ChkChk Baddabap! Baddabap!

1993: “Siamese Dream” – Smashing Pumpkins

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This could get long.

1993 was a full scale, both barrels, alternative rock explosion directly in my face. An audio banquet on which i gorged myself to hog heaven. This is the point at which the albums selected for this blog sync up with the music I was actually listening to at the time, rather than delving into retrospectively like most of my previous posts.

In early ’93 I had switched from Smash Hits to the N.M.E as my music magazine of choice. Tapes were being exchanged fast and furiously across the school classrooms. I had started watching the cult magazine show The Word every Friday night and The Chart Show every Saturday morning (in the hope that the specialist chart segment in the middle of the programme would be either the Indie or the Rock chart). I heard my first Sonic Youth song. The times were not simply a changin’, they had changed beyond all recognition.

Then sometime in early Summer I stumbled across a radio show on BBC Radio 1 called The Evening Session. It was presented by Mark Goodier who I only knew at that point as being the voice of the Top 40 Singles countdown on a Sunday night, (which I still listened to. You never knew if you might catch a recording opportunity). Anyway, The Evening Session was another great way to address my unquenchable thirst for new music as I sat in my room doing my homework. Then one day in July they had an interview with Billy Corgan.

I’d heard the name Smashing Pumpkins before because I’d seen them perform “Rhinoceros” on the Late Show special “No Nirvana”, which was basically a collection of live performances of loads of the new wave of american rock everyone was talking about.

“Rhinoceros” was ok but it didn’t blow my mind or make me want to check out their album. I had also very recently seen them play an acoustic version of “Mayonnaise” on the Channel 4 programme Naked City.( Presented by an 19 year old  Caitlin Moran trivia fans.) That song I did love. The band must have liked it too because it made it’s way onto the video compilation Vieuphoria.

During the Corgan interview on The Evening Session, he was asked to pick 2 songs to play from Siamese Dream as a prelude to it’s release. He picked “Disarm” and “Cherub Rock”. Both of these songs blew my mind and I instantly thought ” I’ve found my band”. I knew I had to get “Siamese Dream” as soon as it was released. I was on a holiday with my family in the British seaside town of Scarborough on July 27th 1993. I made sure we were at a music shop on that day. It was the now defunct high street chain Woolworths where, for £7.49 I bought “Siamese Dream” on cassette. My house was yet to acquire a C.D player. The fact that I can remember exactly all these trivial details, shows how much that album had an impact on me. I had a cassette Walkman with me and I played the hell out of that tape while I played Mortal Kombat II on the arcades, while i read my Jurassic park book, while going to sleep. I absorbed every note and every word. There’s a huge amount of people my age or thereabouts who describe “Nevermind” to be their watershed rock music obsession but really for me, although I liked Nirvana and they had whet my appetite, “Siamese Dream” delivered the main course. A total obliteration of my pop music past and a full immersion into my rock music present. I would obviously eventually realise that it is of course possible to enjoy many types of music at the same time but at this moment it was like shedding a musical skin. My badge was pinned on. I’d heard a lot of bands in the previous few months which had opened my ears and started my investigations but “Siamese Dream” was MY album.A band to get behind, to obsess over. When I got back home I took the tape to my mate’s house with a “Yeah Nirvana are great but listen to THIS!”, and from then he was on board too.He became known among our friends as being the Pumpkins Fan but bollocks to that. I gave him his first listen.

They of course, exploded with “Siamese Dream”. The “next Nirvana” in all the magazines. Then they followed it up with “Mellon Collie..” I saw them live for the first time in 1996 on the Mellon Collie tour. The last tour with the original line-up. Then after that it all went a bit wrong. I like “Adore”. I defended Adore at the time when everyone slagged it off but it’s obviously not the same band. Neither is “Machina” even with the return of Jimmy Chamberlin on drums. When they split up I was disappointed but there was also an element of relief. A feeling that it would only have gone further downhill from there.

I don’t even consider the current incarnation of the band to be Smashing Pumpkins. I know that sounds like hipster elitism at it’s best but physically and musically how can it be if it’s just Billy Corgan and a revolving door of musicians. It’s got to the point now where they have almost more music since reforming than before the split in 2000 and i realise that the band I loved  was only really active for a short space of time.

But that album, from the opening drum roll of “Cherub Rock” to the closing strains of “Luna” is a cast iron classic. It’s my musical emergence from the chrysalis. I realise i’m throwing hyperbole around but the songs are as good today as they ever were and a high benchmark to compare to the shallow pool of quality in the new songs.

There are whispers of an original line-up reunion possibly in the pipeline. Can Billy finally recapture the magic. We’ll see.

It was hard to pick a track for inclusion on the life soundtrack but in the end I’ve opted for this one. I think it sums up the album well.

1992 : “Angel Dust”- Faith No More

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1992 was a kind of overlap year for me musically. A transitional period from the world of chart pop into the unchartered territory of the rock and indie world. It was very gradual. At the beginning of the year I was still thoroughly surrounded by a pop bubble. Still a weekly Smash Hits reader and tape recorder of the Top 40 countdown on a Sunday night. However i was becoming more aware of other types of music that were available for my ears. More rock sounding things were creeping their way into the singles chart and certainly into the playground talk among the cooler kids at school. “In Bloom” by Nirvana was released in November 1992 and Smash Hits printed the lyrics over a photo of the band. I finally had a picture to put to the band I was hearing all the talk about.

I’m sure I’ve mentioned it in a couple of previous posts (I’m not going to scroll back and reread everything so apologies if i repeat myself!), but on my 15th birthday in November 1992, I had my 4 best mates over to watch a rental copy of Wayne’s World on video. My friend Dan brought round a cassette with “Blood Sugar Sex Magik” by Red Hot Chili Peppers on one side and Side A of “Bleach” and Side A of “Nevermind” on the other.I have no idea why only Side A’s were recorded. Neither did Dan. Anyway upon hearing these bands, I realised that this was the kind of music I wanted to be listening to. I was going to have to change my information sources to find out more. Smash Hits was no longer going to cut it.

Faith No More were going to have to wait their turn to receive my attention in the resulting tornado of bands heading towards me after the initial storm of Nirvana. They didn’t seem like something I would be too interested in. I imagined they were part of the hair metal brigade that the grunge behemoth was trying to destroy.

I had first seen Faith no More back in April 1990, when they performed “From Out of Nowhere” on Top of the Pops. I had no idea what i was watching. I was a Michael Jackson and New Kids on the Block fan at the time! But when I first heard Angel Dust I remembered that night at my Gran’s house where I stared at the T.V in utter bewilderment at the hairy bunch of misfits and wondered how it was the same band. It’s funny what a bit of perspective can do.

“Angel Dust” changed my opinion of the band immediately. “Everything’s Ruined” performed live on late night pop culture show The Word was my entry point. It was incredibly catchy but also different to everything I had heard. And the band members all looked like they should be in different bands. The album is all over the place really but Mike Patton’s voice holds it all together. That’s not to say that every member isn’t vital to the overall sound of the band. Roddy Bottum’s keyboards (what other alt-rock back had such a prominent keyboard sound?),Bill Gould’s bass, Mike Bordin’s drums and then Jim Martin’s metal throwback guitar on top. It’s as if all the band members are fighting to be the most important part of the songs and somehow ending up finding the sweet spot where everything slots perfectly into place. Having said that it’s not a perfect album. It gets a bit flabby round the middle. I would argue that Malpractice and Kindergarten could easily be dropped to make a better album. The songs that are left still stand the test of time though. “A Small Victory”, “Caffeine” and “Everything’s Ruined” are my favourite songs. They really show the range of the album: A melodic chugger, a metallic gruntfest and a funky honky tonk pop blast. As an aside, I always thought the “It! Shouldn’t! Bother Me!” section of “A Small Victory” was “Eat! Shit! Bolognese!” It wouldn’t surprise me if Mike Patton had sampled that particular dish at some point.

 

1991: “Nevermind” – Nirvana

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Yaaaaawwwn! Boring! Too obvious!

Yes, I know, but if I’d have deliberately chosen an album other than “Nevermind” for 1991 then i would have been stubbornly awkward and dishonest.

I came very close to “being there” when “Nevermind” was released, but I missed it by just over a year. In September 1991 I started Year 9 of school (8th Grade any American readers!). 13 years old and awkwardly self conscious. Secondary school was a bag of mixed emotions for me from this point on. Gone was the excitement of starting at my final school, where everyone’s pretty much all in it together in the transition from primary school. This part marked the clear development of cliques, and social hierarchies.

I didn’t particularly line up with any of them. I was a studious kid I suppose. I got on with things in lessons but although I could have been considered a nerd or swot by some, I wasn’t at the extreme end of the spectrum by any means. Me and my 4 best mates inhabited this kind of no mans land just underneath the nerdiest echelons but well away from any kind of popular group. In some respects this was good. We were mainly ignored by the main perpetrators of bullying, (unless it was slim pickings that day. I by no means got away scott free. Around this time I was about a foot shorter than most kids and thanks to a steroid inhaler for asthma my weight had shot up just at the moment when it’s the most ammunition for a passing school bully wanting to earn his stripes). Anyway, in class it was fine, outside it was a case of keeping your head down and getting through it.

I wish I could tell myself then that the popularity status in school means nothing once school finishes or that any of the bullying types are just having their moment in the sun because it’s all they will ever get, but even if i had (and obviously my parents did) it doesn’t mean anything when you are actually in that moment of your life. 3 more years of school might as well have been 20 more years at the time. As i said before though, I only got it occassionally and most of the time i was simply under the radar.

A couple of years later it would be music that would unite a lot of the kids in a similar social standing at school, which at least provided some numbers and solidarity against the components of the student body who saw your musical taste and haircut as a reason to punch you in the face or generally get up in your grill. Nirvana were one of the main bands for the “greebo” kids to latch on to almost like a shield and a uniform.

In 1991, I was still a pop kid. I wouldn’t hear Nirvana until the end of the following year when “In Bloom” was released as a single. I heard “Nevermind” in full the year after that.

So many people from my generation name this album as their musical life changing record,but for me that was really “Siamese Dream” by Smashing Pumpkins. However, it was really hearing Nirvana that provided the transition from listening to chart radio to the possibility of actually looking for different sounding music. Still catchy tunes, but noisy guitar and drums to whet your appetite for finding other sounds.

It’s unfortunate that so much of “Nevermind” has been played to death almost. Particularly “Smells Like Teen Spirit”. When it comes on the radio or the tv I never feel the need to hear it to the end. But there’s no denying the strength or impact of those singles. My favourite songs were always “Lounge Act” and “Drain You”, so I’m going to pick “Drain You” as the song to include in this playlist. So I was nearly there for “Nevermind”, but i was there for “In Utero”. It’s just a shame that there were no opportunities to be there for any more.

1990: “Ritual De Lo Habitual”- Jane’s Addiction

 

1990janes

In 1990 I was very much still an avid Smash Hits Magazine reader. I think I even got the sticker book. A quick check of the UK charts archive website tells me that in August 1990, when my album of the year for this blog was released,the number one single was “Turtle Power” by Partners In Kryme. Closely followed by “Tom’s Diner” by D.N.A featuring Suzanne Vega.

The front cover of the magazine that week featured English rappy pop singer Betty Boo and the headline “Donnie Wahlberg. Is he really leaving New Kids?!” (It turns out no. No he wasn’t.) And At Home with Primal Scream. So I was starting to get exposed to other kinds of music other than just pop even if I probably paid far less attention and just thought “who are these hairy scruffbags?” I remember first reading about Blur in Smash Hits around this time, in an interview which asked Damon Albarn why he had chosen to give his band a name which sounded like someone being sick. He replied that to him it didn’t sound like that, and sounded more like a burp. Consider yourselves informed Smash Hits readers. There’s music also if you’re inclined in that way.

To further cement where truly my ears were turned that year, the two records I definitely remember buying with pocket money on vinyl and tape respectively were the Dick Tracy movie soundtrack dressed up as  Madonna album, “I’m Breathless” and “Step By Step” by New Kids On The Block. I refused to accept that songs that catchy were meant to be only for girls. My 12 year old friends did not agree.

So now we come to the album which makes the 1990 slot in this continuing saga of year by year favourites. I of course got into this album retrospectively during my musical awakening in 1992. Same friend’s influence, borrowed from his sister after seeing Jane’s Addiction perform “Been Caught Stealing” on the BBC 2 showing of The Late Show episode No Nirvana. Even then when I was actively soaking up as much music as I could that was even slightly linked with the grunge and alternative rock sound, it still took me a while to fully get into “Ritual De Lo Habitual”. Side 1 was fairly easy. The first 5 songs culminating in “Been Caught Stealing” were the shortest and most straight forward and poppy. They were banked straight away. I’d never heard anyone who sounded like Perry Farrell. His voice sounded like it shouldn’t work as it was worlds away from a conventional rock voice. But of course that was just my inexperienced ears having the cobwebs blown out of them and I loved it.

Then Side 2 starts and it all changes. The songs get long, they slow down, they space out. “Three Days” is nearly 11 minutes long. That might as well have been three days long to me at the time! It wasn’t that I disliked it. It just took me a while. “Three Days” and “Classic Girl” are probably my favourite songs on the album now. It took 13 years for them to make a follow up and although “Strays” is ok, by then I was less bothered about a new Jane’s Addiction record. But “Ritual..” will always be one of my favourite albums because aside from it being a great record, it just sums up the feeling for me of my appetite for new music being almost impossible to satisfy and hearing things I had never heard the like of before, for the first time.

This playlist chooses to include “Stop”. It’s just got the beans.