Saturday, February 14, 2009

1989: Love's Recovery

Indigo Girls: Love's Recovery (live version)


How appropriate I'm posting this on Valentine's Day - for our 30th wedding anniversary (we've now been married 33 1/2 years), I made my husband a mix CD of love songs that portrayed the "it ain't easy, baby... but it's ours" side of long-term relationships (with this tune included). Marriage is a series of One Day At a Times - one can't experience the joie de vivre without the sturm und drang... and I try never to take my good love for granted...

This is yet another song with just-back-from-Puerto-Rico memories - I remember seeing the Closer to Fine video and falling in love with the Indigo Girls: one fair, the other dark; one soft-voiced, the other urgent; one romantic, the other realistic. Their combined yin-yang, flip-sides-of-the-same-coin captivated me in a way I had not been the previous 4 1/2 years - I was smitten and of course had to buy their eponymous recording (on cassette at the time, I confess). What a treat to discover the rest of the album as fine (pun semi-intended) as the song that introduced me - I don't think it left my car's player for weeks (and as a then-suburban mom, I spent a *lot* of time in my car!).


"Indigo Girls", their first major-label album, was released in February 1989. Guest artists on the album included REM, Hothouse Flowers and Luka Bloom. "Closer to Fine", the first single, peaked at #52 on the Billboard chart. The album reached as high as #22, remained in the chart for 35 weeks, and was certified gold in September 1989. Also that year, "Indigo Girls" won a Grammy Award in the category "Best Contemporary Folk Recording". The duo was also nominated for a Grammy Award in the category "Best New Artist".

It took me years to hear Love's Recovery references to same-sex relationships ("not content to bow and bent to the whims of culture that swoop like vultures eating us away... to our extinction"), although it certainly fit all the criteria I had for my 'til-death-do-us-part mix as well - we've watched so many of our friends allow themselves to succumb to the hardships, rather than choose to continue the work necessary to maintain and further growth and connection...

"Nobody gets a lifetime rehearsal, as specks of dust we're universal, to let this love survive would be the greatest gift we could give" - Happy V-Day!

Friday, February 13, 2009

1989: Three More

I would love to have time for three more posts this week, but I don’t. Each of these songs and their albums are worthy of a full post of their own. But I certainly didn’t want to leave any of them out.

Kate Bush: The Sensual World


Mmmmm... yes! I have mentioned elsewhere that Kate Bush’s work with Peter Gabriel inspired her to become more creative, freeing her to incorporate various elements that she had never before considered into her own music. For me, 1989 represented one of the finest results of that process. The album The Sensual World found her adding elements of Celtic music into her sound, and also working with traditional singers from Hungary. Bush stirred it all together, and what resulted sounded like nothing else, but it all made sense. And, for my money, the song The Sensual World is one of the sexiest songs ever recorded.

Lyle Lovett and His Large Band: Here I Am


During the 1980s, Lyle Lovett went through a process of his own. He started the decade making music that somewhat related to country, and both he and his label hoped he would breakthrough on the country charts. But Lyle Lovett was always to quirky for that to happen. By 1989, he and his label had decided to stop trying, and Lovett was free to make whatever music he wanted to. So 1989 marked the recorded debut of his large band.

Lovett added horns to his sound, and the fans he had won stayed with him. His quirkiness came to the fore. Here I Am is certainly a song he would not have tried to pitch to Nashville, but it highlights his wonderful sense of humor, and the musicianship of the band is on full display.

Jane Siberry: Everything Reminds Me of My Dog


!989 saw the release of Bound By The Beauty, by Jane Siberry. By now, Siberry was already known for her surreal lyrics and imaginative musical settings. And Bound By The Beauty did not disappoint. But Everything Reminds Me of My Dog is relatively straightforward. And the song has been a favorite in our house ever since it was released.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

1989: I Wanna Be Adored

The Stone Roses: I Wanna Be Adored


The Stone Roses had been around for five years by the time they released their 1989 self-titled debut album, but in the years since their first one-shot single, their sound had moved from post-goth/punk to something which would come to typify the Madchester sound: a smooth alternative dance style which fit squarely within the growing alt movement, and tended towards a smart politicized britpop, making this particular radio hit an atypically self-reflective commentary on fame.

Their initial timing was good, and their recognition factor was only helped by mad outbursts against the labels who had helped them find fame, including a notorious and well-covered set of antics involving throwing paint on an ex-label president who had released what they felt was a bastardized "third-rate" video of that first, punkier single in an attempt to capitalize on their later success. In the end, however, though their influence would live on in modern Britpop sound of Oasis, Blur, Coldplay, and The Verve, their desire for greatness at all costs led to both a diffused sort of fame -- this song notably was not released as a single until 1991 -- and more press than product, as evidenced by their final and highly unusual career tally of two albums and five compilations.

The Stone Roses broke up in 1994; today, the members work as respected artists of various sorts. Lead singer Ian Brown, for example, managed to parlay his early success into a solo career; bass-player Mani plays in Primal Scream, while lead guitar John Squire, despite community respect for his definitive guitar-work, has moved on to full-time painting.

Bonus points for this sweet, twangy, mandolin-laden alt-countryfolk cover from Axton Kincaid's 2007 debut Songs from the Pine Room, which emerged the usual half-generation later.

Axton Kincaid: I Wanna Be Adored


1989: Waiting Room

Fugazi: Waiting Room


As I said in my last post, I was only 10 years old in 1989, so I can't say that I was listening to this song at the time. But luckily enough, it found me years later because an artist I loved covered it and I was smitten and wanted to hear the original. Despite not generally being a fan of most punk music, there was undeniable talent and great rhythm in this song and even though I generally like less aggressive music, I loved this song and could see why someone would want to cover it.

Fugazi was founded in 1987 by Minor Threat frontman Ian MacKaye. The album "13 Songs" which this song was featured on, was a compilation of previous EPs the band had released. I think this song is an interesting addition to the 1989 theme because I hear a transitional sound in it. It is very much a part of the hardcore 80s punk scene, but it also contains hints at the alternative/grunge of the next decade ahead.

And I thought I'd also include the cover version, by Emm Gryner (off of her covers album "Girl Versions"), since it is what brought me back to the original after so much time had passed.

Emm Gryner: Waiting Room


1989: The Proving Ground

Wendy Wall: The Proving Ground

[out of print, but purchase used copies here]

This is a story, in part, about memory.

In 1989, I read something about Wendy Wall. I can’t remember what it was, but it may have been a review of a performance, or of her album. Or it may have been a blurb about new artists in Musician magazine. I can’t even tell what it was that struck me about it. I only know that my brain stored the name in the “musicians to check out” folder.

At least a few years later, I came across Wendy Wall’s album in a bargain bin, on CD. The price was right, so I bought it on spec. And when my wife and I got to listening to it, we discovered a new favorite artist. She had a distinctive voice, her songs had a good beat and a nice blend of acoustic and electric instruments in uncluttered arrangements and her lyrics were interesting.

Years went by, and I hoped to hear more about her, but I never did. She seemingly vanished off the face of the earth. I assumed it was the old story of an unknown artist who records one album on a major label, and then gets dropped into oblivion.

Then, this week’s theme was announced. I was thinking that the Wikipedia list gave me all the material I would need. But, just for fun, I started looking through my albums to see what else might have been released in 1989. And there was Wendy Wall. So, I wanted to see if I could find out more about her. I did not expect to find anything. But, there was her website. And there she tells her story. Was it the old story, as I had assumed? Yes. But now the old story had a human face and a richness of detail. And I found exciting news. Wendy Wall has a new album coming out in the spring. I know I’m going to be checking that out. and I’ll try to let everyone know what I find.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

1989: God's Comic

Elvis Costello: God's Comic


In the early days of my involvement with this blog, Elvis Costello was ubiquitous, but we haven't heard from him a little while now. Following a string of seven almost flawless albums, Costello started to look more like a mere mortal in the mid-80's. Nineteen-eighty-nine's Spike was a bit of a hodge-podge and I agree with many critics that it doesn't hold together very well as an album. But, what the critics miss is that Spike has so many amazing singles on it. Yes, they sound like they were written in different times and in different styles, but as singles many of these songs are among the best Costello ever wrote. In that spirit, I consider Spike to be Costello's last great album of his coming of age period.

That's my stand and I'm sticking to it. God's Comic is one of those songs that makes this album worth owning.

1989: Rhett Miller's Mythologies

Rhett Miller: Candy Apple Corkscrew Hair
Rhett Miller: Iron Child


Like most people, I first came to know Rhett Miller through his work with Alt-Country icons, The Old 97's. When Rhett released The Instigator in 2002, I was under the impression that it was his first solo album. I thought this to be true for quite a while until I stumbled upon something called Mythologies.

It seems that an 18-year-old Rhett Miller recorded and released the album with an extremely limited run in 1989. Who knew?

The album itself is mostly an acoustic affair featuring Rhett on vocals and guitar with future Old 97's bandmate Murry Hammond as producer. Hammond also appears on most of the album's 13 tracks. It's a fairly straightforward album that never quite reaches the heights Miller and Hammond would later achieve with their more famous collaborations. Still... it offers an interesting look at Miller's early songwriting efforts and is (mostly) an enjoyable listen.

I've provided a "purchase" link above. However, the only copy seems to have available comes with an asking price of $999.00. If that's a bit too steep, try Rhett's other, more affordable, solo efforts The Instigator and The Believer.

1989: Love Letter

Bonnie Raitt: Love Letter


From Wikipedia:

Nick of Time [was] released on March 21, 1989.

Nick of Time topped the Billboard 200 chart, selling five million copies, and won three Grammy Awards, including Album Of The Year. In 2003, the album was ranked number 229 on Rolling Stone magazine's list of the 500 greatest albums of all time.

Before work began on Nick of Time, Raitt had been courted by several major labels. It was during this time that Raitt met producer Don Was through Hal Wilner, who was putting together Stay Awake, a tribute album to Disney music for A&M. Was and Wilner both wanted Raitt to sing lead on an adult-contemporary arrangement of "Baby Mine" (the lullaby from Dumbo) created by Was. Raitt was very pleased with the sessions, and she asked Was to produce her next album.

Bonnie: "I wanted to make a record that was more like Give It Up. It's a return to roots, as it were. It's been really refreshing for me to play a lot of guitar and just go back to stripped down production... In many ways this is like a first album. It's for a new label and getting all of this attention and critical acclaim. And it's my first sober album. My first single and sober album, being this age and being straight..."

My family had recently moved back to Atlanta from Puerto Rico (see my Love Shack post) and a friend had an extra ticket for Bonnie Raitt at the Fox Theater, with Lyle Lovett and His Large Band opening - he didn't have to ask me twice!

I vividly recall the spirit of the evening, as Bonnie was turning 40 the following day (which means our show was November 7, 1989) - the evening was a celebration of her birthday, her sobriety and this amazing kick-*ss album which finally gained her the commercial success she deserved as well as the personal happiness that had eluded her up to that point.

The album was equal parts growl and girl, empowering yet fragile - the popular video with Dennis Quaid (which seems to have been pulled from YouTube) of John Hiatt's Thing Called Love was a call to action for women to take charge of their own romantic/sexual destiny.

And Love Letter? (more about writer Bonnie Hayes here) - there's a line between hopeful and stalking... and Ms. Raitt's pleading guitar and insistent voice walk it finely (in all definitions of the word)...

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

1989: Toy Soldiers

Martika: Toy Soldiers


When I first heard what the theme for the week was going to be I thought "uh oh, everyone else was probably at a more mature age than I was in 1989, and therefore had more mature taste in music", because in 1989 I was ten years old and I only listened to what was on the radio. That being said, I certainly could have picked something that I only discovered after the fact, but my 5th grade self is begging me to stay true to her first. So, one of my favorite songs of 1989 in 1989 was Martika's "Toy Soldiers".

Two of my favorite genres of music are 80s pop music, and female singer-songwriters, this song pulls both of those together, way before I ever had a sense of what it meant to be a singer-songwriter. More than anything, Martika was a power-pop vocalist, having spent her early years on the children's TV program Kids Incorporated, she was the 80s equivalent of the Disney crew these days. But at the same time, she WAS writing her own songs, and she wasn't always singing bubblegum pop. This song is about a friend's drug addiction. Of course, this was the late 80s, and the anti-drug movement was at it's peak. We were slowly seeing the emergence of pro-abstinence and anti-drug music hit the mainstream, like a radio version of an after-school special.

Over the years, I still love this song. I think it's beautiful enough to pass through the corniness of the 80s pop generation fairly unscathed. I've also always admired Martika because she sang one of my favorite songs of all time, the Prince-written "Love...Thy Will Be Done". Since her success in the late 80s and early 90s, Martika has found minor success writing and contributing backing vocals to other people's work, and finally, having "Toy Soldiers" sampled in an Eminem track a few years back.

Monday, February 9, 2009

1989: Love Shack

The B-52's: Love Shack


I may have mentioned before that we lived in Puerto Rico (for my husband's job) from January 1985 through June 1989 - there were obvious plusses and minuses... the latter mostly being out of the loop of all things entertainment-related. We tried to stay current but always seemed to be many steps behind - as soon as we moved back to the States, I was like a kid in the proverbial candy shop, gorging on albums until I hit sensory overload...

My younger sister had turned me on to The B-52's years before, and I loved their vintage look and infectious sound - one night not too long after our return, she, her boyfriend and I went out drinking and playing pool... and when Love Shack came on the jukebox, I could not stop smiling. What a perfect song - glitter and door-banging and hot-as-an-oven, oh my!

Not two weeks later we were at the wedding of a friend and the DJ played the tune at the reception (with all of us yelling out "tin roof... rusted!" at the end - I decided then and there that people weren't officially married unless Love Shack was played at the celebration afterwards to consummate their union... :-)

My planned epitaph (but since I'm choosing to be cremated and won't have a formal headstone, they can carve it on the coconut floating out to sea with my ashes) has always been, "Her Children Knew All The Words To Love Shack!" - I still consider it a perfect song, and I even heard it at the Falcon Ridge Folk Festival a few years ago on a workshop stage, performed by Jian (from Moxy Fruvous), Lucy Kaplansky, The Nields and The Kennedys...

For the backstory on the *real* Love Shack, go here - then click the Play button above... again... crank it up to 11... and shimmy like you mean it!

1989: Luka / Just Like Heaven

The Lemonheads: Luka


Dinosaur Jr.: Just Like Heaven


The perfect set: two covers from a single emergent genre that arguably saved my social life.

I've gone on about Evan Dando here and there, but this 1989 Suzanne Vega cover was the true turning point for me. The familiarity of Vega's folk original gave me entry into the song, but I had just switched schools, and the cool kids at my new hipster school liked loud. From here, I would turn my back on folk music, adopt a new set of long-haired friends, and turn on to the fuzz and feedback of a whole new musical movement, formed in the halls of the very high school where I was getting my second chance.

Released on Lick, the Lemonhead's last indie record before signing to Atlantic, and a studio disaster -- the original band members were at each others' throats, and would break up after this one despite the new contract; the tracks were cobbled together from B-sides and previous sessions -- this is the raw, early lemonheads, not the mellow-by-comparison heroin dream that would follow, and Luka still claims my heart. You can hear the boiling waters of the post-punk grunge movement emanating from every lick. The original colored vinyl 7" only made it that much sweeter.

The 12" release of Dinosaur Jr.'s cover of The Cure classic Just Like Heaven provided a similar entry into the world of alternative grunge, while the coverage simultaneously allowed me a comprehensive opportunity to purge myself of my earlier, top-40 post-punk geekself through song transformation. To be fair, though, this wasn't a cover so much as it was a total destruction of song, from the stop-and-start style to the parody of anthemic guitar to the full-stop ending mid-chorus, as if the song and everything it stood for had burned out too quickly.

The song is now available as a bonus track on the re-release of 1987 album You're Living All Over Me, but the original 45 RPM release was pricelessly weird, its vinyl deeply etched with unplayable body organs and, oddly, a box of Rice Crisps on the B-side, the better to match the A-side thrash of long-haired screams and moans, the epitome of teen angst and rage against a culture we saw as wiped out and musically exhausted. The album cover was terrifying, too, featuring clashing colors and some sort of brain being consumed by a jagged adolescent-drawn maw; it spoke of violence and drug-addled rejection, like the music inside, and I was all for it.

1989: Plainsong

The Cure: Plainsong


Robert Smith was depressed, was using copious amounts of hallucinogenic drugs, was coping with his his quickly approaching 30th birthday (which caused him considerable consternation), and was dealing with the public reaction to the deaths of two teenagers who listened to The Cure as they committed suicide, when he wrote the music for 1989's Disintegration. Smith was also openly concerned that his opportunity to write the "magnum opus" of the band was quickly passing, as most great music was written by people who were younger than him.

The result of this soup of depression, drugs, disillusionment, and public scrutiny is arguably the band's greatest album. It is probably my favorite album of 1989, and certainly my favorite Cure album overall.

I used to love to listen to this album as I drove up and down the wide empty expanses of the state of Nevada. There was something about the long instrumental introductions, the slow crushing rhythms, and the plaintive vocals that went well with the hum of the engine and the loneliness of the landscape.

Lovesong was the big hit from this album, but Plainsong is the better track. Enjoy.

1989: Poor Skeleton Steps Out

XTC: Poor Skeleton Steps Out


1989 saw the release of Oranges and Lemons by XTC. The obvious choices here would have been Mayor of Simpleton or King for a Day. But the album is a gold mine of great choices that never received proper attention. Poor Skeleton Steps Out is one of these.

Oranges and Lemons found XTC at a turning point creatively. They were a punk band for all of one album, and then the began to find their voice. The band developed a muscular and highly rhythmic sound, as exemplified by the song Senses Working Overtime. But, in 1989, they began to expand their sound. The Garden of Earthly Delights, which opens Oranges and Lemons, begins XTC’s exploration of psychadelic music. The band experiments with more complex arrangements, using instruments that had never been part of their sound before. And an explosion of creativity gives them so many songs to go with that Oranges and Lemons was originally released on vinyl as a two-record set.

Poor Skeleton Steps Out has the rhythmic signature that marked an XTC song up to that point. But the arrangement includes xylophone in addition to the usual instrumentation. The lyrics talk about human beings having a “muscle mask”, meaning our consciousness of our image and appearance, and imagines that a human skeleton would feel imprisoned by this. How would a skeleton feel if it could be free of the “muscle mask”? The song is Andy Partridge’s answer to that question.