1992 : “Angel Dust”- Faith No More

faith_no_more_angel_dust

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.

 

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1991: “Nevermind” – Nirvana

1991

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.

1989: “Like A Prayer”- Madonna

1989

1989. Big year. Time for moving from primary to secondary school. I think I was quite looking forward to it. My only concern was making sure i got a place in the same school that most of my friends were going to which was not the school i was in the catchment area for. This is something I’m not looking forward to with my daughter because it seems like such a massive job just deciding which schools to apply for, let alone doing the actual applications. Anyway it worked out ok in the end and I got into the one I wanted. The irony is, that the primary school friends which affected which school I wanted to go to, I drifted apart from in the space of about a year, as I was in classes with mainly kids I’d never met before.

There was another big event this year which although not as important to my future, still seemed like a big deal to my eleven year old self. The arrival of a new Madonna album.

On March 2nd 1989, Pepsi released a new advert which contained the first airing of “Like A Prayer” a song which would feature on the upcoming album of the same name. This was one of those commercial break events where they actually advertise the specific ad break prior to the date.

I was already a Madonna fan.Kids my age were into Michael Jackson and Madonna almost by default. I’m sure it was disconcerting to parents to hear their seven year olds singing along to “Like A Virgin” with no idea what the words meant. My friend from over the road had given me a tape copy of “Like A Virgin” and “True Blue” a couple of years earlier and of course i knew all the singles from radio anyway. I was excited for the new one and watching the Pepsi advert piled more excitement onto this. When “Like A Prayer” was released a couple of weeks later, we got a tape copied from my auntie and uncle’s record. There was not a lot of spare money flying around at that point in time to be spent on music. My mum played it a lot. I loved it. I still do. I would make the sweeping statement that I think it’s the best pop album released in the 80′s.

It’s is  a very varied album but the quality is undeniable. Where it’s meant to be catchy, it’s incredibly catchy. The ballads hit hard without being cheesy.( “Dear Jessie” aside!) My favourite song was always “Til Death Do Us Part” mainly for that amazing intro and chorus to be honest.

I was on board with all of Madonna’s music until the release of “Music” in 1999. It just felt like something was missing from the songs and that she was trying to do what she thought she should be doing to stay relevent rather than just ignoring that and doing what she does. It seems like the least Madonna-like Madonna album to me. “Ray of Light” didn’t feel like that even though it was a very different album for her.

The song I now consider to be the best song on “Like A Prayer” by far is this one. Just an absolute classic pop song. I could hear it every day and still not get tired of it. And i fancied the hell out of her in the video just as an aside.

1988: “Surfer Rosa”- Pixies

1988

 

Belinda Carlisle was number one with “Heaven Is A Place On Earth”. The British charts were full of Australian soap stars assisted by the production of Stock, Aitken and Waterman and the first boy band of my childhood, Bros. These were the sounds I was hearing in my primary school disco.

I had started to record the Top 40 Countdown on a Sunday evening on cassette, but my ears were becoming a bit more discerning. I wouldn’t just tape the whole thing. I sat poised with Record and Play depressed while my fingers hovered over the Pause button, waiting for the first sound of anything good. Kylie Minogue no. Belinda Carlisle and The Bangles yes.

But I’m sure I was not yet ready for what is now my favourite album of 1988, “Surfer Rosa” by the Pixies. Like many, I didn’t even hear the Pixies’ name mentioned until I discovered Nirvana in 1992, and I didn’t actually hear their music until a friend at university lent me a tape 6 years later. That tape bizarrely had half of “Surfer Rosa” and half of “Recovering The Satellites” by Counting Crows on it. I liked “Surfer Rosa” immediately. It sounded so weird but so listenable. It was at the same time brilliantly melodic and catchy but loud, angry and chaotic.

I bought the CD in Newcastle while visiting a friend, and got a lift back home with another friend’s mum. We played “Surfer Rosa” in the car and during the instrumental break in “Vamos” where the guitar squalls like a seagull, the friend’s mum turned to me and said, “Martin,what on Earth have you bought?!”.

That’s precisely what you want to hear at that time in your life and I was in both barrels with the Pixies from then on. As is usually the case, once I started listening to the entire back catalogue, I began hearing their songs all over the place. Waiting for bands to come on at gigs/festivals, in the background on tv programmes, on film soundtracks.

All the albums are great but I disagree with most and prefer “Surfer Rosa” to “Doolittle”. It just edges it.

Here’s “Bone Machine”. The song which kickstarted my Pixies love.

1987: “Sister” – Sonic Youth

1987

When you’re 9 years old, the music you listen to is the music you’re exposed to. Simple as that. Either by your parents playing it, songs on the radio or TV, or the stuff you already have on cassette or records. (Well, CD now i suppose.)

So surprisingly enough, in 1987 I wasn’t trawling independent record shops for the latest American lo-fi no wave indie rock. No. I was listening to “Bad” by Michael Jackson and “True Blue” by Madonna. Over and over again.Like most other kids my age. And I was also watching Top of the Pops on BBC 1 every Thursday night without fail. In fact this programme is where I would get my first listen of a lot of bands and artists well into my teens.

I heard Sonic Youth for the first time in 1993. A year after my ears had been opened to the tidal wave of alternative rock coming from America. Sugar Kane was the first song I was played. It was the single on 7 inch pinched by my friend from his older sister’s bedroom. We heard a lot of music this way. The song was an easy road in and I liked it. Little did I know it was pretty much unrecognisable from their early material.

Anyway in April ’93 the legendary video “1991:The Year Punk Broke” was released which documented Sonic Youth’s ’91 European Tour and included performances by them plus many support bands including Nirvana. A friend of mine had taken the audio from the video and put it onto a cassette which he played one saturday on a portable stereo while a group of us hung out in  a local park. A live version of “Schizophrenia” is the first track and it caught my interest straight away. “This is the Sugar Kane band?!”, I remember thinking.

I didn’t dive straight into their back catalogue, which was probably a good thing because I don’t think my aural taste buds would’ve been ready for that yet. But I did watch the documentary and get a copy of “Dirty”, which I loved and I followed them from that point forward. It took a while for my palette to appreciate the more abrasive and experimental songs on each album but I got there eventually. Probably around the time of “A Thousand Leaves” in 1998, which is weird because that is my least favourite album.

“Sister” though is my joint favourite along with “Daydream Nation” and “Dirty” (It might be their most commercial, but come on it’s bloody good). And it’s definitely my favourite album of 1987.

This opening tom tom beat and chiming chord intro will always get my hairs standing on end. It sounds like discovery and a world of musical investigation opening up to me. Here’s “Schizophrenia”

1986: “The Queen Is Dead”- The Smiths

1986

 

Wow. 3 months since the last post. It turns out having a baby keeps you pretty busy.

Early 1986…

“Did you know that the president of America has got a big button on his desk, and if he presses it the whole world will blow itself up”. So said some 7 year old in my year 3 class (2nd Grade to anybody in America), thus plunging me into a blind panic for the first of many times based on what some kid at school said to me.

This is now one of my worries about having children. You can decide to raise them the way you want but you have absolutely no control over what other kids at school say to them. I was a worrying kind of oversensitive kid who would dwell on upsetting scary stuff I was told rather than just forgetting about it and getting on with playing football or whatever else might be going on. It’s probably a good thing that I was only young in the mid 80’s because had I been a teenager I would’ve probably been a nervous wreck.

The music of the time was obviously affected by tension being felt around the world but I was too young to realise it. But I was getting to an age where I was actually trying to find out stuff about music that was playing rather than it being just something that was on the radio.

My first memory of The Smiths is the song “Panic”. One of my cousins is 3 years older than me and used to bring Smash Hits magazine round to my house when she came over. I used to flick through it and mainly focus on the section which printed song lyrics. It seems weird now with the internet in existence, but that was the main attraction of the magazine to me at that time. I liked the song “Panic” and the fact that it mentioned Humberside which is where I’m from.

It was much later that I appreciated full albums by The Smiths. In my teens i was only a singles collection man. I’m by no means an ardent fan now really. In all honesty I find Morrissey to be a complete self righteous tit most of the time.But as the voice of The Smiths he makes sense.

“The Queen Is Dead” is easily my favourite Smiths album and contains all my favourite Smiths songs. The title track, “The Boy With The Thorn In His Side”, “There Is A Light That Never Goes Out” and my pick for this year by year playlist, “Bigmouth Strikes Again”. From its opening chords (And what chords!) to the fade out, it’s a blast of pop perfection. The bassline is amazing too.

 

1985: “Songs From The Big Chair” – Tears For Fears

tears_for_fears_songs_from_the_big_chair

In 1985 I was obsessed with America. My interest in films had exploded to correspond with the height of video rental and it was the year I first saw Ghostbusters, The Karate Kid, Gremlins, The Neverending Story et al. America just seemed like where all the best stuff happened because of my exposure to it via tv and film. They had all the best stuff too in my opinion. The Muppets, Twinkies (What the Hell are they?! I bet they’re amazing!). How come my house doesn’t have a massive porch round it that overlooks a coastal rock formation like in The Goonies? I bet I never get to go on a beach at night with a bonfire and a boombox and do kick ups.

Going along with this was the phenomenon of the 80’s film soundtrack. Songs lived and died bywhat scene in the latest hollywood blockbuster/teen movie they appeared in, and thus contained clips from in their accompanying video. It’s no coincidence that the first record I bought with saved up pocket money was “Fore!” by Huey Lewis and the News, which contained “The Power of Love” from Back To The Future.

You’d think that would mean I would include that album in the 1985 slot but I’m not going to. In fact it’s not even an album by an American band.

I was fairly recently reintroduced to “Songs From The Big Chair” by a friend who had stumbled across a vinyl copy and it reminded me how great it is.

Tears for fears get a bit swept under the carpet when it comes to 80’s pop. Although they went on a long hiatus and had line up chaos, and subsequent releases were much lower in quality following this album, “Songs From The Big Chair” will stand up against any of your Duran Durans, Depeche Modes and Spandau Ballets.

It’s a pretty short album in terms of tracks as it only has 8 but you simply cannot argue with the quality of the songwriting. Hit singles, “Shout”, “Head Over Heels” and “Everybody Wants To Rule The World” are all present but non singles “The Working Hour” and “Listen” are just as good songs. In fact only “I Believe” is a bit of a duffer in that its a meandering ballad that’s a bit too cheeseball and doesn’t really go anywhere.

This song though just IS 1985 for me. It instantly transports me back there.

Also I just remembered, that although I banged on about my love of films at the start of this post, I didn’t actually see my first film at the cinema until December 1985. Santa Claus: The Movie. I think I was scared of cinemas til that point. Strange kid.