Justification: Yes, it’s been a while and this is my first SYSRTBIIA for 2013. Sorry for the delay. It’s been too long, I know.
Ahhh, remember when bands had all their single covers thematically linked? Good times.
Gene were easily stereotyped as Britpop’s premier Smiths tribute act at the time, principally because Martin Rossiter sounds a bit like Morrissey. It’s not the most unfair comparison, mind, though the main thing that the bands had in common was a firm commitment to not including previous singles on their albums and packing those singles with b-sides that were as good as the A-sides (‘I Can’t Decide If She Really Loves Me’ and ‘Sick, Sober and Sorry’ are hands-down classics). This was their second single and first sort-of hit and appeared to herald a jump from the Britpop third tier (Thurman, Marion) to the second (Echobelly, Sleeper) that never really came.
It was yet another of the regular favourites at Space Capsule and other clubs at which my sister and then-girlfriend-now-ex-wife used to DJ together, and there’s an automatic physical impulse to pull an indie layback the second those palmed opening chords start up.
Gene never got their due, but it’s been nearly 20 years and I still think this ode to late night cab drivers is one of the best songs of the 90s – not least for Rossiter’s airy, mocking (and yes, Morrissey-like) “…and tell me more about women“. This still runs through my head every time I catch a cab after a big night out.
And yes, normally I’ve been waiting a LONG time.
SONG YOU SHOULD HAVE DISCOVERED THIS TIME IN 2012: Celebrate the late, great Grant McLennan with ‘Easy Come, Easy Go’.
SONG YOU SHOULD HAVE DISCOVERED THIS TIME IN 2011: LCD Soundsystem make a good case for having created the best song in the entire world with #200, ‘All My Friends’.
Justification: I’m just going to put this out there: like Weezer’s Pinkerton, this was the Charlatans‘ best album – and, also like Pinkerton, its perceived failure was to taint everything they subsequently did.
Seriously: this is what every cool kid looked like in 1994.
Unlike Weezer, though, the band’s unhappiness with the album was also to do with the circumstances of its recording: organist Rob Collins recorded his parts after having been charged with driving the getaway car for an armed robbery (he was to get four months imprisonment for the reduced charge of “assisting an offender after an offence”). Collins was to die around 18 months later, crashing his car while drunk during the recording of Tellin’ Stories, but this song is a showcase of his massive swirling sound. Every time I hear it I’m transported back to the sticky dancefloors of Adelaide early 90s indie clubs, normally with DJ Craig or DJ Ian behind the decks. Yes, Adelaide DJs didn’t bother with that give-oneself-a-sweet-nickname jive.
This was the least successful of the singles from this album (following ‘Can’t Get Out Of Bed’ and ‘Jesus Hairdo’), but it’s easily my favourite song by the band – not least because the next few Charlatans albums were all about the band rediscovering their roots, man. Still, I’m amazed they still exist, and still do pretty decent work. Of all of the Madchester bands, who’d have picked these guys to be the survivors?
Awful video, though. Any time a clip is made up of hand-shot footage from The Road, you know this is the third or fourth single from the album and the band no longer give a shit.
UPDATE: Literally seconds after this entry was published came news that Deep Purple’s organist jon Lord – a massive influence on Collins’ sound – had passed away. And when I say “influence” I mean “if you listen to Deep Purple’s ‘Hush’ and the Charlatans’ ‘The Only One I Know’, the organ parts are identical”. Coincidence, you can be pretty coincidental sometimes.
“I like the title of the album. Let’s use it over and over again for the rest of our career.”
Justification: I don’t like to complain endlessly about Weezer, but for fuck’s sake: what happened? This song was the first Weezer song I heard (because, well, it was their debut single) and I thought “that is what all guitars should sound like.” I didn’t fall in love with the band immediately, mind – ‘Buddy Holly’ initially put me off because I’m some sort of an idiot – so it took until Pinkerton for me to realise that Rivers Cuomo was a freakin’ genius. Except that wasn’t the case with Rivers himself, of course: when Pinkerton failed to match this album’s success, he threw a little professional tantrum, quit music for a while, did his degree and then came up with the idea that the band should make awful, awful music instead. That’s why albums like Hurley and Raditude exist.
Still, what a tune. Incidentally, it’s one of Spike Jonze’s first videos, and one of the dogs takes a dump on Patrick Wilson’s kick pedal. Now THAT, friends, is entertainment.
I can remember getting this confused with ‘Sweater’ by Eskimo Joe at one point, but that makes no sense since that didn’t come out until 1998. I have no explanation for this.
SONG YOU SHOULD HAVE REDISCOVERED THIS TIME IN 2010: No 30th, but let’s go for the 29th with Pulp and their greatest single ever: ‘Lipgloss’.
SONG YOU SHOULD HAVE REDISCOVERED THIS TIME IN 2011: Again, it’s for the the 29th and the Arcade Fire with the mighty ‘Rebellion (Lies)’.
The mid-90s was, to use Neil Tennant‘s enduring phrase, my imperial period. I was in a cool band, I was making a living as a professional writer for the first time, I was in a long-term relationship with a total babe, and I was spending pretty much every Thursday to Saturday hanging out with a crowd of cool people (who, as a recent Facebook deluge of lovingly-scanned photos demonstrated, were a damned good looking bunch). Thursdays were spent at Space Capsule, the club DJed by the team of my girlfriend and my youngest sister, and Fridays and Saturdays were at either Stix or Shotz, the two Adelaide pool halls with indie DJs, where were drank lots of watered-down beer, danced to the same songs and got self-involved in our internal dramas. The core group numbered about a dozen but could occasionally expand to take over an entire club when boyfriends and girlfriends and housemates and bandmates and hangers-on were included, and for the first and only time in my life I experienced the giddy thrill that must have been the lot of the popular kids in high school.
And I loved it.
Still a killer album, by the way. I know that didn’t really get touched on in the text, what with the whole nostalgic lyrical waxing and all, but there’s not really a dud on it.
It was great being part of a gang but after a while I found it wearing. It didn’t help that I was the eldest person in the group, with the most settled life and the house most conveniently close to the places we hung out, which meant that it got increasingly easy to say “OK, I’m heading home.” Also, the group started to crumble once people’s lives started to force them to grow up – or, at the very least, priotise better – with various careers and PhDs and bands and several resultant interstate and international moves. By the time my wife and I moved to Sydney in 2006 I wasn’t regularly seeing any of those people bar my sister, and when I ran into a group of them still sitting in the same place in the same Adelaide pub on my first post-marriage visit back to Adelaide in 2008 I realised with some surprise that a) none of them gave the slightest of shits about me or how I might be doing since splitting up with that other former friend of theirs, and b) that it didn’t particularly bother me, not least because I’d be back in the middle of my actual, proper social group after a few days and a flight home to Sydney.
Some of us are still close, some of us haven’t spoken in a decade – you know, just like everyone else’s circle of friends (in fact, Marieke Hardy writes with great tenderness on this very topic in the chapter ‘The Bubble’ from her book You’ll Be Sorry When I’m Dead). These days we’re scattered around the world and I can’t envisage a situation where we’d all be in the same room again – unless it was a funeral, perhaps, which would be a terrifyingly 90s-indie-kid update of The Big Chill – but when I hear Pulp‘s first genuine hit I remember dancing with my now-ex-wife, my sister behind the decks and a dancefloor filled with the people who meant everything to me at the time. And even with the highs and lows of the subsequent 18 years, it’s a very happy memory.
SONG YOU SHOULD HAVE REDISCOVERED THIS TIME IN 2010: REM were getting all post-Vietnam with ‘Orange Crush’.
SONG YOU SHOULD HAVE REDISCOVERED THIS TIME IN 2011: Modest Mouse made their last strong bid for the mainstream with the glorious ‘Dashboard’.
Justification: I knew nothing about Five-Eight when I first heard ‘Karaoke’ – or, more accurately, it came on Rage when someone I liked was programming it – and I know precious little since. All I know is that they – like fellow SYSRTBIIA alumni REM and the B-52s, are from Athens, Georgia, although the Internet tells me that they formed in 1988, have had several line up changes, and appear to still exist to this day. Thanks, Internet!
I have exactly one of their albums – the one from which this single originates – and the rest of it isn’t anything astonishing. But this song remains a favourite, not least because it pops into my head every time the subject of karaoke comes up. As it will now do for you.
SONG YOU SHOULD HAVE REDISCOVERED THIS TIME IN 2011: There was NO Feb 29 last year. Leap year – or CONSPIRACY? So, um, have the 1994 archive. It’s the biggest year here, all chock-full of radness.
Justification: If I was either trying to impress or seduce you circa 1992, you would have probably have received a cassette mix from me that contained Magnapop’s ‘Merry’ on it. They were a band I fell in love with while doing the thing that so many REM fans did in their teen years: obsessively hunting down any band they mentioned in interviews that came from the same town as them (see also: Let’s Active, Love Tractor – and not the B-52s, who I already loved independently of REM, or Of Montreal who I was to discover years later and go “they still have bands in Athens? Awww, how quaint!”).
Magnapop’s REM credentials were exemplary too: Michael Stipe produced their self-titled mini-album and his sister Lynda had been in bands with the band’s vocalist/main songwriter Linda Hopper (including Oh-OK, which also included Matthew Sweet), and they did the sort of buzzsaw guitars n female vocals thing that I loved so, so much at the time (see also: Juliana Hatfield, Belly, Veruca Salt, Clouds, Falling Joys, Lush etc).
This was the album that was going to break them worldwide, and since I had a girlfriend by this time I wasn’t adding them to nearly as many mixtapes, but in fact the Bob Mould-produced Hot Boxing just got them more European festival berths and some tours with the Lemonheads – though this single charted in the modern rock charts for seven weeks, according to Wikipedia, and is still a quality piece of US college rock. The band still exist, by the way, although “still” doesn’t take into account the seven years that they were prevented from touring or recording as their name was technically owned by their defunct record label, which rather took the wind out of their commercial sails.
SONG YOU SHOULD HAVE REDISCOVERED THIS TIME IN 2010: Dandy Warhols dropped their classic ‘Bohemian Like You’.
Justification: Look, I’ve never especially liked Oasis. I think Liam Gallagher’s a moron, that Noel Gallagher’s a massively overrated songwriter and that five of their seven albums have no redeeming feature whatsoever. I appreciate that their arrogance and lack of self-awareness makes for entertaining interviews, that Liam’s voice has that classic rock’n'roll keen, and that they managed to still maintain that last-gang-in-town image even as everyone else who founded the band left and was replaced by hired guns. I also consider that ‘Champagne Supernova”s opening couplet “Slowly walking down the hall/faster than a cannonball” is the dumbest lyric ever written by a human being, narrowly beating out “There were birds and trees and rocks and things” in America’s ‘Horse With No Name’ in the Andrew P Street ranking of Lines For Which People Deserve A Brick To The Face.
However: this song is awesome.
I don’t like that I like it, I’m not proud of liking it, the lyrics make as little sense as anything else that Noel’s ever written, and I suspect deep in my heart of hearts that if it was just a few BPM faster or slower it would do nothing for me whatsoever. But it’s at that perfect swagger speed, allowing Liam to drawl out every vowel like a buzzsaw and for Noel’s simple-but-annoyingly-effective lead line to float through the song without sounding either rudimentary or fiddly. Damn you, Oasis. Damn your black souls.
Christ, ‘Be Here Now’ is an awful album, though.
SONG YOU SHOULD HAVE REDISCOVERED THIS TIME IN 2010: Billy Bragg teams up with Johnny Marr and Kirsty MacColl for one of his most underrated singles, ‘Greetings to the New Brunette’.
Justification: I’ve been looking for this video for a long, long time and now it’s up on YouTube as, one presumes, Rubber Records (who own most of the Lovers’ catalogue) have been able to pry the rights to the Polydor-owned albums – which would also explain why the band are doing shows again and are releasing a career-spanning compilation later this month. Which is good since their two most popular albums are long out of print, making getting hold of this – their best known song and closest thing to a hit – has been painfully annoying to get my mitts on.
It’s not helped by the fact that I really didn’t like Underground Lovers when I was a younger man. I fell in love with their huge, shoegazey song ‘Ripe’ on the Youngblood 3 compilation in 1991 (a brilliant compilation, by the way, also containing tracks by Custard, the Fauves, the Welcome Mat and Adelaide dreampop gods The Mandelbrot Set) and featuring backing vocals from Alannah Russack and Robyn St Claire from the Hummingbirds. Then they got a bit too using-the-same-shuffling-drum-loop-as-every-British-band-of-the-90s for my liking, but now that I don’t have Curve on my mind as often, this song sounds fresh and sweet. Although the lyrics are meaningless to a degree that Bernard Sumner would be proud of.
SONG YOU SHOULD HAVE REDISCOVERED THIS TIME IN 2010: Yo La Tengo’s mighty ‘Sugarcube’, containing one of the world’s greatest videos thanks to Bob Odenkirk and David Cross circa Mr Show!
Justification: This album is so, so much better than I gave credit for at the time. I think it was the massive switch in production from the cloying, sacchrine arrangements of Little Earthquakes to this much more restrained, live-sounding disc that has dated so much better than its predecessor. And if I didn’t hate the video so much, this would probably be ‘Pretty Good Year’, which still breaks my heart every time I hear it.
I was absolutely enamoured of Amos, which gave me something to share with my beloved (step)sister Alison in those awkward early blended-family days, primarily because of her lyrics. While I could hear the Kate Bushisms in her music, since I had ears on the side of my head, it was always Amos’ words that so intrigued me, at once vague and conversationally specific – particularly on ‘Precious Things’, which begins “so I ran faster”, which absolutely blew me away at the time and I still think is one hell of a way to open a song.
‘Cornflake Girl’, despite the genius into-the-chorus “this is not really happening” bit, always felt a bit gimmicky to me, like when They Might Be Giants would release singles that were the most archetypically quirky They Might Be Giantsy song (‘Doctor Worm’ springs to mind), but it’s also the most immediately catchy song on the album. And it sends a valuable lesson about what constitutes a complete breakfast: cornflakes, raisins, girls, encyclopeadias…
I saw her live at the Festival Theatre touring this album, and I think it might have been the second or third last show of a year-long tour, and she seemed absolutely shagged. It wasn’t a great gig, though you’d never guess it from the shrieking lesbians down the front who would not fucking shut up. Ladies, just let the woman play.
Justification: “So, Andrew,” I imagine certain people asking of me, “for someone who gets fairly tedious on the subject of the awesomeness of Stephin Merritt generally and the Magnetic Fields specifically, it seems odd that it has it taken you 18 months and 330 songs to get around to celebrating this band you ostensibly love so, so very much, wouldn’t you say?”
Well, rude and imaginary of-me-asker, there are several very good reasons for this.
The most obvious one is that the Magnetic Fields are a cultish band and therefore the chances of people “rediscovering” them is relatively low: either you’re on board, or you’ve never heard of them. Secondly, they haven’t released that many singles, and less that have videos (otherwise this would be the perfect ‘I Don’t Want To Get Over You’ from 69 Love Songs). But there’s an outside chance that you’ve heard this one, because it’s a favourite of many people, the Shins covered it, it’s the title of last year’s documentary on Stephin Merritt, and it’s the sort of song that people like me put on mixtapes for people because it’s immediately accessible with brilliant lines like “On a ferris wheel, looking out on Coney Island / Under more stars than there are prostitutes in Thailand.” Genius.
I saw the Magnetic Fields touring 69 Love Songs because I convinced their then-Australian-distributor EMI to fly my then-girlfriend up to Sydney from Adelaide for the show and put us up in a nice hotel. That’s because I put Stephin Merritt on the cover of dB Magazine in late 1999, with the lead story being the first of several interviews I’ve done with him over the years. For someone who’s a reportedly tough subject I’ve always found him charming and erudite.
And while I’m being smug about interviews, I interviewed Neil Gaiman while the stage musical and animated film of Coraline were in development and he told me – more in amazement than in boastfulness – that he was being sent new Magnetic Fields and They Might Be Giants songs every so often as they were doing the respective scores. I called him, with the greatest of respect, a cunt. He laughed delightedly.
It’s a happy memory.
Anyway, the Fields were amazing at the Metro, it’s one of the best gigs I’ve ever seen, Stephin wrapped himself up in his microphone lead in the introduction to ‘Papa Was A Rodeo’ just so he could give an extra frission to the opening “I love your twisted point of view, Mike”, and if you haven’t plunged into the rich, lyrical world of Merritt you’re in for a wonderful adventure. Aside from 69 Love Songs, it might be easiest to start with the Future Bible Heroes’ Memories of Love – that was my entrance point, oddly enough.
SONG YOU SHOULD HAVE BEEN REDISCOVERING IN 2010: Thomas Dolby’s poptacular ‘Hyperactive!’