Over the course of the ’90s, I worked in 2 music stores in New York City. No, they were not of the cool, indie, High Fidelity variety, they were both behemoth, double stuf megastores. Which meant when it came to in-store play we weren’t listening to Captain Beefheart, Alice Coltrane or Daniel Johnston, but were getting exclusively rocked with whatever the latest major label releases were. Sure on the cool end it meant getting to hear good shit like Garbage or Liz Phair in their entirety…but it also meant wading through more challenging and horrifying noise like Rusted Root and Candlebox on a regular basis. Of course you could attach value to the latter experience by connecting it to the notion that you were “broadening your knowledge” and therefore better able to help customers ( at least that’s what I did) but if you were having a bad day, hearing an hour of Ugly Kid Joe could ignite a truly debilitating migraine ( true story).
Anyway, when the official store DJ’s weren’t around, we would throw albums into the 5 CD changer & just let ’em play all the way through. And, gonna get flowery here, sometimes something magical would happen. Popping in these whole albums meant you’d end up hearing a lot of deep cuts. And doing that meant every now and then you would stumble (literally) on something really f-ing amazing that you’d never heard before.
Anyway, all that got me thinking it might be cool to shine a light on some songs & artists that got a bit lost in the immense MTV-Spin Magazine-Lollapalooza-Lilith Fair-Britpop-New Jack Swing-Grunge tornado of the ’90s and so….Welcome to the genre-spanning, head spinning 💥 LOST IN THE ’90sPLAYLIST 💥 a mighty fine selection of wondrous singles that didn’t quite ascend to the heights they deserved & foxy deep cuts that never got to be singles but should’ve been. There are 60 tracks (!) & all are gently gathered the YouTube playlist below ! I truly hope you discover ( or rediscover) something in here that both blows your mind & inspires you to investigate these particular artists . Let it play ⚡️
Quick note:Why YouTube ? Well while putting this together I discovered a lot of these songs were not available on Apple Music or Spotify. Thankfully most could be found within the lord’s # 1 rabbit hole i.e. YouTube. You can hear the playlist featuring all these little wonders below ( & in some cases, enjoy the added bonus of seeing some VERY 90s videos).
I have a geeky question for you. With no boundaries of time or place, what would your dream band sound like ? The one that would encapsulate everything you love in the musical universe in every way, vocals, sound, songs, everything. Is it Geddy Lee fronting The National ? Phoebe Bridgers singing with The Band ? Tierra Whack weirding out in a band with Frank Zappa ? Sorry, just doing some absurdist spitballin’ here.
I love hearing people’s answers to this question, especially if they are outright ketchup on pop tarts weird. My own mythical unicorn of a band involves ’70s era Chaka Khan fronting the Beach Boys circa 1966-1973 aka the lush spaced out psychedelic years. I believe this is what it might sound like in heaven..
And so as a means of somewhat satiating this fantasy, I’m perpetually on the lookout for things that at least sound like The Beach Boys of that era, even in the smallest way. If you are a Beach Boys fan & want to hear some cool 21st century, maybe obscure, sometimes one off songs touched by that particular bit of Wilson genius ( all 3 brothers), please check out the BEACH BOY-ESQUE PLAYLIST below featuring some beautiful & slightly off the wall acolytes of that sundown sound. It’s full of tracks that have that influence, that feel, that signature Wilson thing. And forgive me for that playlist title, I just need things to be 100% on the nose so my old ass can find them easily in my antique i-Tunes library 🙂
The Beach Boy-esque Playlist:
*Nerd note: In the early days of this blog I ran this piece in a slightly edited form, this is a miraculously updated version
Waylon Jennings’ “Cedartown, Georgia” ( 1971) is both an amazing and horrifying song. In it, our grizzled hard workin’ protagonist describes his plan to murder his cheating wife in a most relaxed, tuneful, and matter of fact way. It’s so great and so f-ing wrong at the same time. It is absolutely as creepy and beautiful as Bobbie Gentry”s legendary “Ode to Billie Joe”. Country music has openly embraced and sung about terrible crime scenarios for decades, centuries, long before all the now beloved Dateline’s, Serial’s, My Favorite Murder’s and their brethren hit the video and audio airwaves. While the country music death march has slowed down considerably over the years, there have been some pretty cool assertive, feminist revenge party songs that have waved the murder flag pretty effectively in the 2000’s, Miranda Lambert’s “Gunpowder and Lead”, and Carrie Underwood’s “Two Black Cadillacs” to name a couple. Today though, want to exult a damn fine murder ballad with no “winners”. Tim McGraw is a beloved country superstar who, since his debut in 1993, has racked up countless piles of platinum and # 1 albums and singles. I’d take him over Blake Shelton, Luke Bryan or any of the other supposedly “hunky” doofus’s out there because he has some properly goodsongs and frankly, seems way cooler. With that in mind we’re going to go back in time so we can shine a light on his superior contribution to the irrational, jealous country murder ballad canon. In 2009 Tim released his tenth studio album, “Southern Voice” and nestled within it was a song called “Good Girls”. It was written by pedigreed country songwriters Chris Lindsey, Aimee Mayo ( who co-wrote Lonestar’s crossover megahit “Amazed”) and the Warren Brothers ( who co-wrote Dierks Bentley’s country # 1 “Feel That Fire”). While Tim is the narrator in the song, he is not an active participant in its storyline and is just there to tell the terrible tale . The story he relates is about 2 best girlfriends, Jesse and Jenny. Jesse calls Jenny to insist they hang out, drink some Boone’s farm wine and chase the moon right outta the sky. They hop in Jesse’s car and take off like a bottle rocket. Turns out Jesse has an ulterior motive which is to confront Jenny about messing around with Jesse’s man. It doesn’t go well. Next verse Tim offers up is about the news report the next day which tells of a car parked on the tracks and a train with no time to stop. The only witness to the whole event is “a Weeping Willow on a foggy hill” and as Tim is describing it all in detail, well, for all intents and purposes, he is the all-knowing, noble and empathetic tree ( being the only one privy to what happened in the car that preceded/resulted in the tragic ending)…which I very much like the idea of. It’s got an achingly earnest vocal, and is built on a foundation of crying guitar straight out of the wistful, dusty old Bob Seger ballad “Main Street” ( which is also awesome). Yeah,“Good Girls” sounds like a Dateline episode put to music but it’s also really f-ing good. And even with its glossy, not remotely gritty or raw production there’s still something oddly striking, sinister and retro about it. Something that brings to mind that dark old country tragedy tradition. Let it proudly hold its irrational, impulsive head up next to “Cedartown” forever.
“If I can’t have him neither one of us will”. You better believe it.
Hear it here:
And here’s Waylon’s beautiful and wrong “Cedartown, Georgia”:
This is a sad story. British singer Ephraim Lewis made a grand total of one album. It was called “Skin” and released in 1992 and was full of chilly, introspective, life affirming alt-soul. While overall it’s a pretty fine record, it’s also undeniably “of it’s time”, featuring very slick early 90’s production values ( faux strings, muted horns, shimmery backing vocals) and that pseudo electro-cool groove that became so common in the wake of Massive Attack’s “Blue Lines”. Still, it’s full of sinewy, anthemic and memorable songs and the filler is minimal. And Lewis’s voice is absolutely beautiful, rising up from the bottom of the sea to the most glorious of falsettos with ridiculous ease. It sounds like a first album, full of promise, a few killer songs, and endless potential. And frankly, in that respect, it’s no different than Jeff Buckley’s “Grace”, another by no means definitive statement, despite the grand hyperbole regularly attached to it. Like “Grace”, it’s a snapshot of an ascending talent who was going to make something truly great in time.
While not perfect, there are some undeniably stunning moments on “Skin” , specifically the slinky, sinister groove of its initial single “It Can’t Be Forever”, the desperately keening title track, and the languid and sultry beauty of “Drowning In Your Eyes” (the latter being the finest recorded moment of Lewis’s career). The vocals are absolutely faultless throughout.
Elektra, Lewis’s label, believed in him wholeheartedly and why not, he had absolutely everything going for him, the voice, the looks, all of it. They had expectations and believed “Skin” would be big.
The video for “It Can’t Be Forever” received a bit of MTV airplay and the album garnered a few positive reviews and went on to sell over 100,000 copies worldwide. Pretty damn good for the debut of a previously unknown singer… but disappointing from a record company perspective based on the millions of promotional dollars that had been invested to launch it. Besides “Skin”, Lewis also contributed an ethereal beauty of a song on the forgettable “Made in America” soundtrack in 1993. And… that’s where it ends. That was all his recorded output. He never got to make his grand artistic statement, his big record. He was dead before he even reached his 27th birthday. He died in 1994 under dramatic, sordid, and still not quite explicable circumstances in LA, where he’d been working on recordings for his second album with none other than Glen Ballard, the legendary producer/writer behind Alanis Morissette’s “Jagged Little Pill”.
His death wasn’t publicized and at that point in the technological universe, even though I was working in a mega record store, I didn’t hear about it until a month after it happened. It was shocking and extraordinarily sad news to say the least. Two years earlier I’d met Lewis at one of those old school record release party things set up by his label and he’d been a charismatic sweetheart. It was a pretty low-key event to celebrate the release of his aforementioned debut album. The venue it was held in was decorated with cheap cardboard “flats” depicting the album cover and, as apparently talking to him wasn’t enough for my immature, overly jacked up arse, I took the liberty of tearing one right off the wall in front of him, like you do, and having him sign it for me. He laughed and said “Ha, tear it right off why don’t you !”. This is it:
A bit battered and stained (from what I have no idea) as I had it hanging on my office wall, frameless and vulnerable from the next day onward. Anyway, he happily let me fangirl all over him, allowed me to ask inane questions and stand way closer to his person than I probably should’ve.
Admittedly, I was already a bit of a fan at that point and prior to that meeting had fallen pretty hard for his brand of spiritual, sexy alt soul. Plus he was British which appealed to my obsessive Anglophile tendencies. He was important enough that for all these years I’ve kept that page at the top of this piece from a 1992 Vibe Magazine in an old portfolio case in my closet. Just never wanted to throw it away.
Here’s where things get complicated. Electra believed in Lewis’s potential and were willing to keep investing in him but they needed hits. Which to them meant casting aside his producers/co-writers from the unsuccessful ( in their eyes) first album, Bacon and Quarmby and connecting Lewis with someone with a proven track record, namely the aforementioned Glen Ballard ( who at that point had a myriad of big time credits to his name including co-writing Michael Jackson’s mega”Man in the Mirror”).
And things were changing not just professionally for Lewis, but personally. By 1993, he had parted ways with his long-time girlfriend and fallen in love with a man. According to Paul Flowers, his boyfriend at the time, Lewis said he’d never felt more contented or at peace with himself as he had within this new relationship.
In early 1994, Lewis headed to LA to begin work on his second album with Ballard. By all accounts he was feeling pretty good. And more comfortable with his sexuality. It was all coming together. But it only took a heartbeat’s worth of time for everything to crumble into pieces. While in LA, Lewis immersed himself in the local nightlife. Met people. Partied. And ultimately indulged in drugs.
On the night of March 18th, 1994 police were called to the apartment complex Lewis was staying at while recording in LA. He was creating a disturbance, yelling, climbing from balcony to balcony undressed and behaving in a disturbing manner that suggested he was having a bad reaction to some kind of drug he’d ingested ( post mortem reports support this). By the time he crashed through a top floor window, the police had physically reached him and there was a confrontation. Something occurred resulting in his falling off the top floor balcony onto the street below and suffering life ending head injuries as a result. Sordid, terrible, shocking. There’s been speculation that the police had something to do with this, that they’d tased him, which resulted in his panicking then jumping. Another story went that he’d threatened them with a makeshift “knife’ fashioned from a piece of broken glass from when he’d crashed through the top floor window and was in such a deranged state that he’d suddenly leapt off the building without prompting. We’ll never know.
It’s a terrible story. A terrible waste…but there remains this sweet old record out in there in the world you can still listen to right now, that’s worth listening too, that may really touch you. And there is also this heartbreakingly beautiful live performance which says more than anything we’ve offered here :
That voice huh ? Still makes me cry. Ephraim Lewis, he was something.
Alicia Berbenick is a writer and musician from Brooklyn. She has an unnatural obsession for weird shit that she constantly needs to get down on paper. Here’s a story of one of those obsessions.
It was April of 1998. I was at the tail end of my middle school years and all I cared about was music—new music in particular. One night I couldn’t sleep, so I snuck downstairs to the living room to watch MTV (which was outlawed in my home). 12 Angry Viewers was on, a show that only lasted two years but sought to introduce people to more subversive music. It was there in the early hours of the morning that my pre-teen self fell in love with a track named “Backworlds” by the supergroup Lusk. The video juxtaposed childhood innocence and nostalgia with blood-sucking, explosive violence. The song was equally jarring, luring me in with a poppy keyboard loop of an earworm, then exploding into this beautiful psychedelic chorus before it corrodes into uncomfortable, repetitive shouting. I’d never heard anything like it. The record was called Free Mars, a title that really spoke to the fiery, weird parts of me that felt suffocated by the world. I saved up, bought it at The Wall, and put it on repeat for the next 20 years.
It is a collage work of sounds pieced together by two brilliant musicians with the help of so many of their talented friends. To fans, Free Mars is one of the most underrated and overlooked records of the ’90s; yet there is little-to-no information out there about how the record was made. I wanted to see if I could get at the root of why it was so life-changing for some and passed up by too many, so I reached out to Paul D’Amour. D’Amour is an award-winning multi-instrumentalist, musician, composer and producer. Most fans probably remember him for his writing and signature bass sound on Tool’s Undertow. At the start of our conversation he mentioned more than once that “no one ever wants to talk about [Free Mars].” But beneath those comments, I thought I could hear the sound of a proud parent.
“Backworlds” won high ratings on MTV’s short-lived jury style show 12 Angry Viewers, giving it heavier rotation on the channel.
Let’s take it back to 1993. Tool was on tour promoting Undertow with Failure as an opening act. D’Amour became friends with their front-of-house soundman, Chris Pitman, as well as Failure’s bassist, Greg Edwards. The three (plus Ken Andrews of Failure) would mess around by playing pop songs during their down time, which led them to produce a covers record under the name Replicants. It gave D’Amour a taste of what it was like to explore other musical avenues and, during the writing stage of Ænima, D’Amour quit Tool. “I really just wanted to have some fun and not have rules, you know?” D’Amour said. “Playing in Tool, as far as [being] creative, there were too many rules in that band. The guitar player did the guitar player thing and the bass player did the bass player thing.” As great as the band was, having creative freedom was more important to him.
Fortunately the head of Volcano (Tool’s label at the time) recognized D’Amour’s talent and allotted him a budget to create something new. D’Amour wasn’t sure what it would look, feel or sound like yet, but he knew it would be a complete departure from Tool—something experimental and really out there. “Replicants kind of spurred the creative connections between [me, Chris and Greg]. I wanted to bring in another person, so I brought in Brad Laner from Medicine. He’s a great rhythmist and his guitar sound is pretty unique as well.” The four of them began jamming together, switching instruments and conjuring strange melodies. “Originally I kind of wanted to do more like a loopy, more arty thing. Not necessarily even songs” says D’Amour. “I just thought we were going to jam and make some loops and turn it into [something] a little more loose and psychedelic; like some of those early PiL records.“ The one thing that was clear: this record would be made with zero rules—from committing to first takes down to the harpist’s wild laugh, lingering after a track.
In the beginning, the four would meet and lay down tracks at the famed Alley Studios in North Hollywood; a place known for its early ’70s connections to artists like Three Dog Night and Jackson Browne and would later host musicians like Tom Petty and Kurt Cobain. “We were living around the corner [from Alley], so we just popped in one day and sorta got friendly with them. All the walls are just padded with blue jeans ,” he laughs. “And there’s layers of resin on the walls. It’s one of those places where you know shit went down in there.” But as Edwards and Laner became busier with other projects, D’Amour and Pitman gradually took the reigns as co-producers. “We started bringing in some other people, like Danny [Carey] from Tool, and Kellii Scott from Failure [to play drums]. We brought in a friend of Chris’s, [Dana Wollard], who was an amazing cellist and we had a harp player, [Patti Hood]. [Chris and I] basically took the ball and ran with it with what originally started in the Alley.” The two set up their own mini recording studios and, using more affordable ADAT machines, were able to finish the record.
As far as influences go, D’Amour drew from a few places. It’s been said that this record was a concept album revolving around Iain Banks’ novel The Wasp Factory. This isn’t completely true. “I don’t think, as we were creating, that we were thinking about that book,” he says. “It just sort of made the rounds in my circle at the time. It was dark and transitory. Certainly, the imagery was really powerful.” If anything, the “Backworlds” video (directed by Len E. Burge III and D’Amour) is loosely based on a traumatic scene from the novel. In addition, D’Amour was heavily into reading old paperback sci-fi novels, so much of his lyrics would revolve around that brand of futuristic otherworldliness. In terms of influences, he was listening to a lot of Richard Davies’ work—particularly the Cardinal’s 1994 self-titled record. In both records you can also catch the influence of Beach Boys’ harmonies (another of D’Amour’s mentions). But where both of those influences were lighter, almost positive in contrast, Free Mars is an unpredictable carnival ride, bordering on the horrific, filled with dark corners of discovery and technological mystique.
As far as writing sessions went, whoever was available would get together and jam. A melody would bubble up to to surface and they’d write around that, usually with Pitman and D’Amour left to build off of what was recorded in The Alley. “We spent quite a bit of time with our harpist and the cellist,” he says. “So there’s a lot of great layers in there with them.” We’re talking about the kinds of layers that sometimes you only catch on your 86th listen, where a new sound will seem more present than before—a guitar solo floats over the top of that melody you’d previously focused on or some old haunting operatic sample peeps out from underneath rollicking keys. When asked which song was his favorite, D’Amour named “Mindray”. “I wrote all the lyrics and really put some thought into that [song]. I think that one was like, all right, we’re done with this whole ‘jamming’ thing—let’s just actually focus and get real.” One listen to the track and you’ll hear its reverberations through the rest of the album. A sluggish drum shuffle takes you on a meandering journey through sweeping harp, layered orchestral keys and wailing guitars. The vocals capitalize on that Beach Boys harmonic influence, but are turned strange through an oscillating pedal effect.
“I think Mindray is probably my favorite…that one definitely set the tone for a few other [songs].” – Paul D’Amour
Other tracks borrow in one way or another from this loopy underwater vibe, both soothing in effect and paranoia-inducing in its darkness. The record runs the genre-bending gamut of sounds; from soaring epics like “Free Mars” and “Doctor” to the infectious pop found on “Backworlds” to a heavier kind of art rock on “Kill the King”. Yet a strong thread of addictive melodies prevents this record from ever feeling disjointed.
The title Free Mars and CD’s artwork and Digipak® design, too, borrowed from D’Amour’s interest in Sci-Fi paperbacks. “I had a huge box of them. I tried to mock some of those early print styles and some of the ways they used those old illustrations.” Free Mars would be nominated in 1998 for a Grammy for Best Recording Package (alongside Ænima). Both lost to Titanic: Music as heard on the Fateful Voyage, which, it’s worth mentioning, used a similar illustrative design to Free Mars.
Lusk would go on to do a short tour in small clubs, complete with Patti Hood on harp and Chris Wyse on upright bass. Unfortunately, this is where Lusk would come to an end. “Some rich dude bought our record label and he just drove the whole company into the ground in a matter of months. We’d had huge tours booked but we couldn’t do that without more support. Other labels were possibly interested, but [the head of Volcano] wouldn’t return anyone’s phone calls. [Chris and I] couldn’t do anything. It took the wind out of the sails of the project.” Though funding couldn’t save Lusk, we at least are left with a record that was born out of complete creative freedom and a rebellion from over-production. A record like this simply could not happen again…maybe that’s why its fans still obsess over it.
Today Free Mars isn’t on Spotify and, during this interview, D’Amour mentioned he had to make a few calls to fix the listing in iTunes. Fans can still find CDs on Discogs as well as a few LP pressings out there.* And the album lingers in our minds in other ways—like the recent report that another mine appeared in the Seattle Bay area, close to where D’Amour and Burge filmed the video for “Backworlds.” He laughs and confesses, “The mine from that video? We just left on the beach and it caused all kinds of trouble.” The mine that was found this past August was apparently from a 2005 Naval exercise and, though it was inert, still caused a little scare for the locals. Talk about resurfacing. As for what’s next, D’Amour and Pitman are currently working on a new project. It won’t be like Lusk, he says, but it will be something completely new and heavier. You can watch for it, along with all his score compositions for upcoming projects, on D’Amour’s website.
*Ed. Note: If you want the complete record, including “My Good Fishwife” and the secret track “Blaire’s Spiders”, you have to buy the CD or digital version. Those two tracks are not on the LP.
I discovered Johann Johannsson by complete accident. It was 2008, and I was working in the buying department at Virgin Megastore in New York City. We’d just gotten the usual box of promotional cds, and forthcoming releases. And I did the usual thing, putting them on one after the other, mechanically listening for anything with sales potential and all that. One of those cds was Johann’s Fordlandia. It blew my mind. It obliterated everything I’d played before it. It was classical, but it wasn’t classical music. It was as melodic as pop, but it wasn’t pop music. All I knew was that I couldn’t wait to get it home and hear it on headphones.
I excitedly told my co-worker Marvin about this new discovery and upon hearing it, he too became completely obsessed . We soon embarked on a mission to hear/own everything Johann had released; it was absolute love. And so when his first U.S. tour was announced in 2009, including a date at Le Poisson Rouge in NYC, we had no choice: we had to be there.
It was June 25, 2009, a gloomy, rain-sodden and humid evening. While standing in line to get in, to finally see Johann, the door guy offhandedly mentioned to me that Michael Jackson had died. This was staggering and shocking, and at that moment impossible to fully absorb. And now I was about to go into this dark room and hear Johann Johannsson play some of the saddest, most epic music on the planet. Music, that more often than not, I’d tended to use to soundtrack the darkest of times.
It was a pretty weird emotional experience. Thinking about Michael, and my own internal rubbish simultaneously while listening to this otherworldly sound.
The show was brilliant and just cemented how important Johann and his music were going to be to me, for what I knew would be a long time to come.
Marvin and I were now officially “fan girl & boy” keeping tabs on releases and collecting Johann catalogue in all formats. And in keeping with our mania, went to see him again at LPR in 2010. In the lobby was a small merch table. And in the empty lobby, behind the merch table was Johann himself. Looking shy and unassuming. There he was trying to make change for me after I’d bought a cd. “You know I’m going to ask you to sign this now”, I smiled at him, and again he shyly smiled back and obliged. And then he went onstage and conducted and played the most beautiful and heart-wrenching music you’re ever going to hear.
I only realize now how fortunate we were to experience him at that time in such a small place.
And so Johann died today. Only 48 years old. And I’m writing this only having heard about it like 20 minutes ago. Just crying…because this guy was such a genius and so incredibly gifted, and created music that’ll be beautiful for as long as the earth is turning.
There’s so much to recommend but for the sake of brevity, wanted to share a little homemade “best of” playlist below to get you better acquainted if you haven’t explored his work. It’s pretty subjective of course, as in it doesn’t feature any of the mega film soundtracks Johann has done over the past few years, but I think it’s his best stuff; it will all take you somewhere far away. What a genius.
“I think this is what it must sound like in heaven”
Okay so, that is an actual vintage quote from my “young person’s” diary upon hearing the Cocteau Twins for the first time, and the song “Lorelei” in particular. That’s not hyperbole, I admit I totally, teenage-edly meant it from the core of my angst ridden soul, yup. See I’d never come across anything quite like it before and hearing it emanating through the speakers gave me a total physical rush, as in I had to stop what I was doing and just stand there and be awestruck and overwhelmed by its plush beauty… so of course that meant it had to be aligned with the ultimate place and space. The #1 song in heaven, for real.
“Are you there God ? Judging by the sound of this record I think you are.”
And while there are loads and loads of wonderful things out there, that transcendent feeling is still a pretty rare occurrence…which brings me here. William Brittelle is a composer, and multi-instrumentalist as well as the co-artistic director of the New Amsterdam label in NY. Back in 2010 he released a gorgeous, something else pop song called “Dunes of Vermillion” which is a whole lotta things at once: Beach Boys heavenly, late 70’s West Coast Am radio windy and epically classical in construction. It also features the most regal and sweetest use of autotune you’re ever gonna hear. Plus the guitar solo is a siren song within a siren song. That’s a lot, I know. I was completely obsessed with it for a long while and it still ranks high in my horrifyingly geeky “best records of the century” list. The album it ultimately appeared on, Television Landscapes also turned out to be a pretty special thing, all wonderfully weird, tuneful, and orchestral.
And so I offer an an eternal bow to at least the # 2 song in heaven; thank you, and please explore below, hello, hello, hello….
Here’s “Dunes of Vermillion” :
Here’s the amazing Television Landscapes album in it’s entirety, go get your headphones :
And lastly, here’s the Cocteau Twins “Lorelei” that I crushed on to ludicrous extremes :
“My songs are like Bic razors, they’re for fun, for modern consumption. People can discard them like a used tissue afterwards. They can listen to it, like it, discard it, then turn onto the next. Disposable pop.”
Freddie Mercury speaking in interview circa late 70’s.
I love that quote. Can totally imagine Freddie delivering it, and adding a “do you understand Darling?” with a flourish after he says it. It describes the true core essence of pop music…buuuut of course some songs are more disposable than others. I mean, there are very few people on earth who would label the average Queen song as disposable (although, we could ostensibly nominate “Body Language”, and I’m pretty sure Freddie would agree). Fact is, “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure”, and ” some girl’s mothers are bigger than other girl’s mothers”…which lands us here. One of the great things about the ’80s and early ’90s was that any crazy piece of whatever could end up in the chart. No matter how off the wall, cheesy, unapologetically ludicrous, drowned in lush earnestness, or buried in chocolate coated jellybeans and sprinkles something was, if it had a chorus, an eye-catching video or a picture sleeve it had the potential to become a hit, especially in the UK. Throughout the ’80s especially, there ran a seemingly endless stream of shameless tunes in garish colors, that if they weren’t pop songs would have been action figures, anime characters or bowls of multi-colored, sugared cereal. There were twisted-tacky euro-tastic anthems ( the earnest WTF*ckedness of Falco’s “Sound of Musik”), frothy fat-synthed joys with anonymous female vocals literally built for the radio ( The Maisonettes “Heartache Avenue”, Rah Band’s “Clouds Across the Moon”) and belligerent teenage girls, chanting homemade slogans, and giving you the finger ( Shampoo, Annabella of Bow Wow Wow). It was all cheese to the core, but like really, really good cheese.
“A bip bam-boogie and a booga-rooga, my cassette’s just like a bazooka”. HELL YES IT IS GIRL.
We no longer have to live in the vacuum of coolness. As a result of streaming, and YouTube, we now live in a musical world without context. There is no need to hide in the closet anymore. If you like trashy pop music, you can like it openly. You can love it out loud. You don’t ever have to start a sentence with ,”I know it’s cheesy/bad/lame but I really like (insert song you hate yourself for liking here)”. You can say, “know what, I f*cking love Mambo No.5″…actually no, don’t say that, because in no universe is it okay to like that song, but anything else you got, OKAY. Take ownership, you are free.
No, it will never be okay to like this song.
And with that here is a Spotify playlist featuring the aforementioned wonders plus a some other equally magnetic pop things from back in the day when the charts were truly the wild west. And hey, I’d love to hear what your favorite cheese tune is, and why the hell you like it. I promise I won’t tell anyone.
Please enjoy this seven minute acoustic ballad by eccentric musical genius Momus from 1987, featuring an endless stream of death references from history, myth, literature, film, and real life (circa 1987 that is, shout out to then potential nihilists Reagan and Gorbachev). How he’s managed to make this laundry list of darkness, and fatalism sound wistful, romantic, and melodic continues to boggle my mind to this day. It’s disconcerting… and utterly beautiful.
Okay so, a bit late to this party, but this is too pretty not to spread the word about. This track appeared on Fire to the Stars Keep You Safe EP back in 2014, and was then included on the band’s 2016 Made of Fire album, so it’s been lurking around for a bit…but we digress. All that needs to be said is that it’s a beauty, somehow managing to be both funereal and pop, starting as a slow dirge dressed in black, with a keening vocal, then suddenly turning the corner onto a sunlit street, courtesy of a beautiful guitar led hook. And while it brings to mind both Patti Smith, and Marianne Faithfull in parts , the glorious spectre of Stevie Nicks hangs over the whole thing, like the dark, dancing around the fire Stevie, the one that consumes all of us earthly beings during the last minute of “Gold Dust Woman”.
Thinking about the construction of “Wholesale Slaughter” led me on a typically geeky tangent. Specifically, I began contemplating the ascent of the 1982 song “Ghosts” by Japan. It was a morose, skeletal dirge that was about as far from a pop song as you could get, yet somehow, beyond all reason or logic, it managed to reach the top 5 in the UK charts that year ( have a listen below, and you’ll see what I mean).
Japan, starring singer/ songwriter, and still legend David Sylvian, were the thinking fangirl’s band of choice back then, but still, would it even be possible for pop this dark, weirdand slippery to rise to those kind of heights again ? Hmmm, I wonder. I’m thinking our collective lack of patience, introspection and empathy makes it pretty unlikely that an oddball like “Ghosts” will ever be a “hit” at that scale again ( though I remain hopeful because hey, you gotta). Still, love the idea that it was so mega and it remains a properly lovely weirdo tune.