Because today’s Sunday.
Because it was a totally left-field cover for Faith No More, probably the biggest alternative rock band around when they released it (the Red Hot Chili Peppers of their day, even though the Chilis were around at the time.)
Because the original version of Easy, by Lionel Richie’s Commodores, was used in an ad for a bank in the 80s (below) which made me want to live in a loft, with a cat. Quite possibly the only cool bank ad ever made.
So, a new year, another attempt to get more out of my blog. A while back I went for playing shuffle on the iPod. This time I’m taking my direction from start-up This Is My Jam which, though a service I like, I don’t really click with totally.
You’re only meant took use it once a week and it creates yet another social profile (see the unofficial title of this blog). Anyway, that’s why I’m going to try to post a jam, or marmalade, every day. Probably without much commentary, to make it likelier that I actually do it.
To start, Suede b-side My Dark Star; I’m having one of my frequent 90s indie nostalgia sessions at the moment.
Photo by iglooo101 on flickr
In its ongoing bid to have more sub-brands than any other media owner, Absolute Radio recently launched a new niche-station, this time one tailor-made for those of us currently experiencing the dizzying pangs that come with realising nostalgia isn’t just something that happens to your parents: Absolute 90s. And, as part of the ongoing celebrations of the launch, they’re compiling a list of the Essential 90s Albums.
Now, anyone who has ever read this blog before (Hi Mum!) will know that I love a good list and so, taking Absolute 90s compilation of such a list as a challenge, I thought I’d have a go myself. And here, after much thought, is my 20 essential albums of the 90s. It was hard enough keeping it to 20 (and they’re likely to change) so they’re in no-order other than chronological. I’ll happily admit that it tends to skew towards British music & hip-hop, but it’s not my fault that most grunge was shite.
Anyway, for anyone that cares (Hi Mum!), here’s my 20 essential albums of the 90s.
- Public Enemy – Fear Of A Black Planet (1990): Proving that rap & politics made perfect bed-fellows, the decade got off to a storming start with Public Enemy’s magnum opus.
- Happy Mondays - Pills ‘n’ Thrills And Bellyaches (1990): Whilst baggy seems like an 80s phenomenon, it’s crowning glory was released in the 1st year of the decade. A sprawling epic, the likes of which they’d never make again.
- The Sundays – Reading, Writing & Arithmetic (1990): Whilst the 90s was the decade that indie conquered (in the form of Britpop), the fey, jangling type that had ruled the 80s alternative scene was lost along the way. Which is a shame when it’s as beautiful as the début by the laziest band in rock.
- Massive Attack – Blue Lines (1991): Era defining. Genre defining. Proof that the UK could do its own blend of hip-hop as well, if not better than the US. You need to own this.
- Primal Scream – Screamadelica (1991): Indie never-weres discover house music, and drugs, and get remixed to the hilt. Genius ensues and a generation of white boys learn to dance. Almost.
- Dr. Dre – The Chronic (1992): Ex-member of NWA drops his anti-drugs message and starts dropping caps, blunts & bitches. Utterly un-PC, utterly amazing and owning a sense of humour that so much of the crap that came in its wake would lack.
- blur – Modern Life Is Rubbish (1993): Having proved that indie could top the charts, blur decided to try to kill grunge. They failed (at this attempt) but shaped a very-British type of pop that would soon sweep the nation.
- Paul Weller – Wild Wood (1993): The greatest British musical chameleon since Bowie went home, realised that growing old in Surrey wasn’t so bad, and released one of the most beautiful albums of the decade.
- Wu-Tang Clan – Enter The Wu-Tang Clan (36 Chambers) (1993): Brought rap back to its spiritual home in New York, and stripped it down to its basics. Wu-Tang Clan aint nutting ta f*ck wit’! Remember that.
- Oasis – Definitely Maybe (1994): Gave the British a band to believe in, even if the dream was to prove short-lived. Life-changing.
- Tricky – Maxinquaye (1995): Responsible for some of Massive Attack’s greatest rhymes, Tricky went solo, discovered Martina Topley-Bird, and created an album of paranoid beauty.
- Coldcut – Journeys By DJ: 70 Minutes Of Madness (1995): The greatest mix album of all time, this took eclectic to a new level. House, dub, jungle, hip-hop, Dr. Who. Impossible to explain.
- DJ Shadow – Endtroducing… (1996): Trip-hop was always dead before it was really alive, but DJ Shadow managed to make its obituary an amazing piece of work.
- Manic Street Preachers – Everything Must Go (1996): Despite originally claiming they’d split after one album, even the loss of their muse couldn’t stop them. Showed that 90s rock didn’t have to be brain-dead to sell millions.
- Radiohead – OK Computer (1997): The best album ever according to every music magazine under the sun. Not sure I agree with that, but it really is breath-taking in its ambition & execution. Made most other bands look like they minnows they were.
- Roni Size/Reprazent – New Forms (1997): Despite being doubly cursed, as a Mercury winner and that year’s choice of coffee table album, this was & is a fine catalogue of the only truly British music genre to emerge since the 1960s.
- Daft Punk – Homework (1997): French house. Never before or since would those words make so much sense together.
- Lauryn Hill – Miseducation Of Lauryn Hill (1998): Left the biggest hip-hop band in the world to release an album showing that R&B could be intelligent, and that soul still meant something.
- Presence – All Systems Gone (1999): Probably the least well-known album on this list, but also one of the best. Imagine that Massive Attack had grown up listening to house instead of hip-hop; this is what Blue Lines would have sounded like.
Now, the observant amongst you will have noticed that the list above only has 19 entries.So, I want you to make suggestions as to which album should fill that space and I’ll choose one of the suggestions and add it to the final list of the 20 Essential Albums Of The 90s.
I should probably warn you now that it’s very unlikely that I’ll add any album that had a picture of a baby chasing a dollar bill on the cover. Just thought I’d mention it.
Back in the early 90s I remember writing a letter to NME (or it may have been Melody Maker, I can’t quite remember). I was annoyed at the amount of hype they were giving to a couple of new bands, undeservedly I felt. The bands in question were Suede & The Verve (or Verve as they were at the time). I thought these two bands were overrated and that the band that should be getting the attention was Adorable, who I thought deserved to be absolutely huge. As I often say, my predictions are almost always wrong.
The reason I thought this was due to their début single, Sunshine Smile. A splendid mix of fuzzy guitars and a thundering rhythm, the song was a call to arms: it came out in 1992, as shoegazing was starting to wane but before Britpop had hit. In many ways Adorable were a dry run for Oasis – signed to Creation, front-man Piotr Fijalkowski had a knack for giving good quote, although he had both the gob of Liam and the brains of Noel. According to Wikipedia Oasis have quoted Adorable as an influence, and certainly early Oasis singles bear a passing resemblance to Adorable’s sound, which took shoegazing style guitars and added a dose of pop sensibilities & rock tempos.
Obviously Adorable weren’t huge. They hit the top end of the Indie Charts a few times, with Sunshine Smile as well as the equally excellent singles Homeboy & Sistine Chapel Ceiling. Unfortunately their (excellent) debut album, Against Perfection, failed to do much business at all, and after releasing another, much weaker second album, they split in 1994. By then of course both Suede & The Verve had been surpassed by the meteoric rise of Oasis and whilst my 17 year old self was probably wrong, Adorable certainly left some amazing tracks for us to remember them by.
Subshine smile by fdecomite on flickr
It’s with some sadness and great relief to tell you that I quit Oasis tonight. People will write and say what they like, but I simply could not go on working with Liam a day longer.
Well, that’s that then. The band who burst on to the scene back in 1994 and revitalised the British music industry in the process, are no more. After what was apparently a physical confrontation which involved Liam smashing one of Noel’s guitars, the man who turned indie never-weres Rain into world beaters Oasis has finally left his brother’s band. The radio stations will be playing Oasis tracks for weeks now, and I’d guess that the next Best Song Ever chart to roll along will be stuffed with Oasis tracks. But for me, the band have been dead for years.
Back in the mid 90s, after the Gallaghers had sacked original drummer Tony McCarroll, George Michael said something about how, in doing so, they had sacked their soul. His argument was that whilst replacement drummer Alan White (also sacked a few years later) was undoubtedly more talented, what had made Oasis so appealing was their simple, straight up energy. Fancy drum rolls and the like would be no replacement for what had made them so great, And, bizarrely, he was probably right.
Back when they first started, many of Oasis’ best tracks were wistful songs of ambition & regret: even if they were played at ear-splitting volume, they seemed to reach for the stars from very humble beginnings. Fade Away, D’Yer Wanna Be A Spaceman & Acquiesce to name but a few. But as the money & coke rolled in, and they moved to Supernova Heights, the songs regressed to being little better than bad Beatles/Kinks/T Rex/insert 60s or 70s band here cover versions. Where Noel had once been a mischievous tinker, lifting little bits of Burt Bacharach here, getting nicked for borrowing some Stevie Wonder there, he ended up just reliving others’ past glories, and adding nothing to the musical canon in the process.
I didn’t buy any Oasis album after (What’s The Story) Morning Glory and really don’t feel like I’ve missed anything: if you own it, Definitely Maybe & Stop The Clocks, there’s really nothing else you need to buy. Whilst I’ll be interested to see what Noel does next (I really couldn’t give a fuck about Liam: he hasn’t been able to sing for years & if he wasn’t in a band the twatt would probably be in prison or dead by now), I’ll keep remembering Oasis as they were at their peak: arrogant yet vulnerable and looking over their shoulders whilst taking over the world.
Graveyard by peterastn on flickr
I realised the other day that I had lost my copy of Radiohead’s OK Computer. You’ll be relieved to know that I have now rectified that situation. This is my favourite song off of the album, although I’ll probably have a different favourite tomorrow. In the meantime, enjoy.
Radiohead gig image by albyspace on flickr
I had an email from Jane earlier today in which she recommended a track by the Stereophonics she thought that I might like. Whilst the track in question didn’t exactly blow my mind, it did remind how good they can be. In particular it made me think of the first track of theirs I ever heard, Local Boy In The Photograph (in fact it was their first ever single).
Whilst the Stereophonics have been mocked more than just about any band of the last ten years (and to be honest their bare-footed Glastonbury headlining slot deserved some ribbing), there has always been a pretty fine rock and hiding under the ego and bombast.
And, in their early days, the great band wasn’t even that well hidden: their debut album, Word Gets Around, was one of the best of the 90s, marrying a great ear for melodies with lyrics that were a lot more than the standard “she loves you yeahhhhh” of many bands, or the meaningless gibberish of Oasis and their copy-cats. Local Boy In The Photograph, for example, deals with the impact of a (suspected) suicide on a small Welsh town.
You can’t imagine Snow Patrol writing about that now, can you?
Train tracks image by David Locke1 on flickr
One of the joys of having a shared iTunes in the office is not just that you discover new music, but also that you re-discover tracks that you had long forgotten about. One such track that just came back into my life courtesy of a colleague’s library is Winona by the Drop Nineteens, a slice of American shoegazing pop from 1992.
Whilst most people always think that shoegazing was a solely British affair there were a number of bands who took up the mantle of staring at their feet whilst playing guitar pop with loads of effects & feedback: of these the Drop Nineteens were certainly my favourites. There’s a playfulness about their records that chimed with me, and still does now. The fact that they named a song after the biggest teenage heart-throb of the time (now better known for her interesting ideas on shopping) shows that their was a sense of humour behind all that reverb.
The album Winona was taken from, Delaware (which now costs a small fortune), was a hit & miss affair. Some tracks, such as Winona & the title track, are absolutely magnificent, blending pop & noise perfectly. But on other tracks the noise starts to dominate and you’re left with something that resembles a poor man’s Pixies. Unfortunately not enough people heard the amazing tracks and, according to the gospel of Wikipedia, the band split in 1995 having failed to live up to their early promise.
Still, when you’ve created something as lovely as the Drop Nineteens did with Winona, I guess it’s always going to be hard to top.