For Amanda, who’s been an inspiration, a cheerleader, a voice of reason, a partner in crime, a sidekick, a friend, and all sorts of things that’s made my life all kinds of awesome.
Happy 13th Anniversary, sweetie. Love you!
For Amanda, who’s been an inspiration, a cheerleader, a voice of reason, a partner in crime, a sidekick, a friend, and all sorts of things that’s made my life all kinds of awesome.
Happy 13th Anniversary, sweetie. Love you!
This past weekend I was falling down the YouTube rabbit hole and stumbled up on one of my favorite Phil Collins songs, “Take Me Home”, from his third solo album No Jacket Required. One of the wild realizations that occurred to me was that, a little over thirty-three years later, I have visited at least half of the locations in this video, and currently live in one of them. More to the point, I don’t think the fourteen-year-old me would ever have imagined that ever happening. Visiting Hollywood, various parts of central and greater London, and living in Greater London was something I’d have wanted to do as a teen but had no idea if it would ever happen. I just thought of it as a fun pipe dream.
I’ve been thinking about that year lately, actually. On IHeart80s Radio, they’ve been playing full episodes of American Top 40 (with Casey Kasem hosting), and now and again I find myself listening in, because that was the era I listened to it almost religiously every weekend. Most of my radio mixtapes from that era came from those shows. That year’s chart-topping sound was an amazing mix of rock, R&B, soul, pop, and everything in between.
It was right at the end of my sucktastic years in junior high and my freshman year in high school, where I hoped my life (social and academic) would be so much better. It would take some time before I finally grew out of the small-town groupthink that I was so desperately trying to fit into and move on to bigger and better things, but for the time being I let myself get more immersed in my radio listening and mixtape-making. I still went to the school dances and hung out with my buddies, but I was there for the tunage, not for the girls. [Okay, that’s a half-truth. I was desperate, but at the same time I knew I was in no good frame of mind to have a girlfriend when I was an overly emotional twit with an overactive and underused imagination. That’s about when I buried myself in my burgeoning writing habit as well.]
I’ll be honest, I was getting sick of all the social drama. So I immersed myself in all the music that I could. If I happened to have money from an allowance (or saved up from my leftover lunch money) I’d head downtown to buy a few cassettes. I’d pick up cheap records at flea markets with my dad. I’d make copies of albums my sisters bought. Anything to buy the new albums that were being played on the radio.
It was definitely a strange time when I didn’t quite know who I was or what I wanted to do, just that I didn’t want to be what I presently was. Listening to the radio was the escape. It was the soundtrack to my writing (my other escape). Music gave me a connection to my classmates in a way that other things like sports and whatever else couldn’t. Even then I was known as the weird kid who knew every song on the charts and a lot of deep cuts on albums. Where the popular kids might not have given me the time of day, they’d ask me about some album or some band and if the album was worth picking up.
In a way, I’m kind of glad that I’ve kept that part of me all these years. I no longer use music purely as a social escape (at least not as much as I did then, of course), but I’m still a Subject Matter Expert for some of my friends. And in this internet day and age, it’s a shared interest that’s brought me all sorts of new friends and acquaintances that I might not have met in a different setting.
And here I am, writing this at home in San Francisco, one of the locations in the “Take Me Home” video I loved so much.
In addition to writing my Thirty Years On series here and listening to my share of 1988 all over again, I’ve been listening to Sirius XM’s 1st Wave station the last few days. This comes to absolutely no surprise to any of you, of course. I’m an Eighties kid. I spent that entire decade in front of the radio making mixtapes, in front of the tube glued to MTV, and Killing Music By Home Taping.
This means I remember a lot of the weird, wonderful and horrible things that went on in the world then. In a way I’m kind of happy that I’m able to wax nostalgic — not to say ‘it was so much better then’ (it was definitely different, sure, but I wouldn’t say better) but to be able to see the parallels between then and now.
The reign of a useless, mindless, comic relief President (I say, despite stomach churning); the shadow of Russia and the Cold War looming just over our shoulders; the big and small wars taking place in various corners of the world; the groups of whacked-out conspiracy theorists, the fervent believers of pseudo-religions, and the willingly passive followers of evangelism; the instability of unregulated banking; the sexism of the Alpha Male; the terrorist attacks and the plane crashes; the Young Republicans and their drive to Win At Any Cost; American uberpatriotism and self-assigned exceptionalism; the classic situations of jock versus nerd and all its permutations; and of course the punks and nonconformists who were just plain fucking tired of getting broadsided with all of this and refused to play those games anymore.
I try to be positive about it all, to be honest. There are days where I need to turn off the internet and take a dandelion break, or pull out my journal and bleed out some of my anxiety or frustration. I don’t become blissfully ignorant about it all, at least not like I did when I was a teenager more interested in music than what went on in the world. I merely look at it from a different perspective.
I get frustrated that this is all happening again — sometimes with freakish accuracy — but I’ve lived through it already, so I kind of know what’s coming and what to expect. Because of this I’m not as pessimistic. It’s all aggravating, yes. It truly does piss me off that so many get hit with the shrapnel. But somehow, at some point, it *will* get better if we *make* it get better.
We did it before, we can do it again.
In going through this project, I came upon a few extra albums where I’d assigned the wrong release date, or titles that I missed due to space. Here’s a quick 1988-So-Far addendum of further releases that are well worth mentioning.
Leonard Cohen, I’m Your Man, released 2 February. My first experience with this man, interestingly enough, was a punch line from an episode of The Young Ones. Regardless, over the years I went out and bought some used copies of his albums and realized that he really was an amazing songwriter. This album does sound a bit dated, even for the time of its release, but it contains quite a few of his best known songs.
Butthole Surfers, Hairway to Steven, released 29 February. I’d been familiar with this band thanks to their classic “Sweat Loaf” (you know, the “Satan! Satan! Satan!” song). One of those bands that was just so weird and noisy that you either loved them or hated them. WAMH loved the hell out of this band.
The Mekons, So Good It Hurts, released ?? March. I’d hear “Ghosts of American Astronauts” on WMDK and WAMH quite often in the spring of 1988, and the Mekons were always considered one of those ‘must have in your collection’ bands. I finally added them decades later and now I understand why.
Monty Python, The Final Rip-Off, released 22 March. Given that MTV had brought the Pythons to their main programming a year or so previous (and that by 1988 it had become part of the late Sunday night line-up alongside The Young Ones/The Comic Strip and 120 Minutes), a quick and obvious cash-in album was needed. All your favorite silly sketches, all in one place!
The Primitives, Lovely, released 22 March. An absolute classic of a power-pop album and a massive favorite of fans and critics alike. I nearly wore out my copy of this album! “Crash” got heavy airplay on all the college stations, 120 Minutes, and still gets played on 80s stations to this day. Highly recommended.
Public Enemy, It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back, released 19 April. Rap didn’t get too much play on the stations I listened to at the time, but I was well aware of it, thanks to MTV and a few of my friends who got into it. PE and NWA were the two bands you followed if you wanted to go past the silly or party-oriented hip-hop and start checking out the more serious stuff. I was always impressed by PE’s sound production and how confrontational and intelligent their lryics were.
The Dead Milkmen, Beelzebubba, released ?? May. The 80s had a great wave of goofy and nerdy punk bands that wrote ridiculous yet catchy (and often quotable) tunes, and the Milkmen were probably the most successful at the time, thanks to “Punk Rock Girl” and “Bitchin’ Camaro”.
Ramones, Mania, release 31 May. Quite a few bands decided to release a greatest hits compilation in 1988, and this one’s perfect for your collection…it pretty much contains every hit and deep track you know (and some you don’t) up to that time, released as a double album.
I’m sure I’ve still missed a few, but I think this fills in quite a few entries that I missed the first time around!
Summer in New England can be annoying. It’s not just hot, hovering up in the 80s and 90s (and occasionally higher), but it’s also humid and uncomfortable. All you want to do is stay inside, especially if the place has AC, and kick around until it’s time to go back outside again. And your car would be so stupidly hot and unbearable being out in the sun all day that you’d sit there for a good few minutes with all the windows open and the AC on full blast to cool it off.
Granted, in the summer of 1998, this was also the perfect time for me to head down to the basement at night after work for my writing sessions! [This was well before random bear sightings in my parents’ neighborhood started happening, so I’d have the cellar door open wide until after dark to let the cool breeze in. This, by the way, is why two bats were able to sneak their way in, thus blessing my writing nook with the name The Belfry thereafter.]
It seems that June 1998 was also a quiet one in terms of releases…a few big names here and there, but the best albums weren’t due for another couple of months. This is quite normal for the release schedule — the kids are spending more on movies and other outside events rather than on music. The really good stuff is still a few months away.
So! Without further ado…
The Smashing Pumpkins, Adore, released 2 June. After two stellar early 90s records and a decent-but-bloated double album — not to mention the firing of their drummer soon after — it seemed this band was heading down a dark and not altogether positive road. This one’s a hard listen for various reasons, but it also contains quite a few fantastic tracks, so it evens out.
The X-Files OST, released 2 June. The cult favorite TV show released its first movie as summer fare. It holds up as a self-contained story, but it also inserts itself into the show’s obsessively detailed mythology as well. This is more of a ‘songs inspired by the movie’ album than a true soundtrack (considering the [movie name]: The Album title was in vogue around this time), but it’s an amazing collection of great tracks from Filter, X, Ween, Foo Fighters, The Cure, Noel Gallagher, and more. Well worth picking up.
The Jesus & Mary Chain, Munki, released 9 June. The noise-pop band releases what would end up being their last album until last year’s Damage & Joy. It’s a bit overlong with single filler, but it’s still a great album.
Komeda, What Makes It Go?, released 9 June. The quirky Swedish band’s second album was anchored by a ridiculously catchy single (see above) and though they only remained in cult status, they’d eventually provide an equally catchy track for the Powerpuff Girls cartoon a few years later.
The Egg, Travelator, released 15 June. Predating similar-sounding Hot Chip by just a few years, this semi-electronic band from the UK is one of those bands that never quite achieved huge success, but nonetheless have a strong and loyal following. Their work was mostly released as imports here in the US, but they’re definitely worth checking out.
The Brian Setzer Orchestra, The Dirty Boogie, released 23 June. The ex-Stray Cats frontman helped kickstart (or at least energize) the swing revival movement in the late 90s, and his album was also the biggest seller in that scene. I remember moving a hell of a lot of copies of this album during my HMV days!
Mansun, “Legacy” single, released 29 June. The teaser first single from their upcoming Six album, this well-loved Britpop band took their sound into curious and unexpected directions, even more so than before. Little did we fans know just how weird (but in a good way!) that album would end up being…
Up Next: July 1998!
June 1988: Junior year is over and done, and after a week or so of relaxing and forgetting about all the frustration and whatnot of school, it’s into Summer Job territory. I don’t exactly remember which job I had at the time (I’m thinking the supermarket job, if I’m not mistaken), but I know I still had the radio station position on the weekends, and I’d stick with that one at least until the end of senior year. I’d meet up with Nate and Chris for an occasional Flying Bohemians session, and the various members of our circle of friends would sometimes go on roadtrips down to Amherst and Northampton. I’d stay up late listening to music, reading, writing, and practicing my bass and guitar playing. It was a summer of creativity, and one of keeping in touch with friends before they left in a few months.
There weren’t too many exciting releases for this month for my collection, so I ended up spending a lot of time listening to my own collection, or listening to WRSI or WMDK. I also focused a bit more on making more compilations, inspiring Chris to start making them as well.
Compilation: Cimmerian Music, created early June. The third of the three original new mixtapes, this one worked the best. Essentially a sixty-minute tape filled with quiet, moody college rock to be listened to at 1AM when everyone else has gone to bed, this one featured many bands you’d expect: The Cure, Felt, Love and Rockets, and the Sisters of Mercy. Added fun was Gary Wright’s “Dream Weaver”, an oldie but goodie from my childhood that I’d been using as a ‘theme song’ for a story I was writing at the time.
Compilation: Under the Ivy: Unavailable B-Sides, created early June. I started this one soon after the above mix as part of my next wave, and it was inspired by the cassette version of The Cure’s Standing on a Beach from 1986. It’s all single b-sides that were sitting around in my collection that I happened to enjoy, though the mix does get thin near the end. I would make a second version of this title twelve years later in the summer of 2000.
Compilation: Remix I, created early June. This one didn’t hold up well at all over the years (literally — I’d used a crappy low-budget blank tape for this one), and also suffers the same as the above, with too many questionable track choices. I think it was with this one that I realized that maybe trying to make a themed mixtape wasn’t working at all, and that a true mix with varied sounds and styles would work better. I’d return to that idea a few months later, with much better results.
Voice of the Beehive, Let It Bee, released ?? June. Poppy and quirky with just a hint of folk and country thrown in (they kind of reminded me of a lot of bands from the Athens GA scene, but with a flashier presence). This one’s great fun, with a lot of catchy riffs and sassy lyrics. I got to see them live later on in the year at UMass Amherst with a few friends!
Big Audio Dynamite, Tighten Up Vol 88, released ?? June. Mick Jones’ third outing with his post-Clash band was probably their most accessible and groove-oriented, and was a critical and fan favorite. 120 Minutes had “Just Play Music” on heavy rotation for pretty much the rest of the year!
Bongwater, Double Bummer, released 7 June. I wouldn’t hear this for another few months when WAMH came back on the air, but when it did, quite a few DJs loved it. Alternately weird, funny, psychedelic, and fantastic. I still remember being surprised when I found out its lead singer, Ann Magnuson, was also a well-established Hollywood actress.
The Style Council, Confessions of a Pop Group, released 20 June. Paul Weller’s post-Jam band was one that you either loved or loathed, depending on how much of a rabid fan of The Jam that you were. During this particular summer they released a moody jazz album that made quite a few fans scratch their heads, but in retrospect it’s actually quite a lovely record.
Information Society, Information Society, released 21 June. Nerdy synth-pop laden with Star Trek samples and incredibly catchy melodies. They’re primarily known for their debut single (above), but the entire album is excellent. [This was yet another ‘borrowed’ album from the radio station, though I believe Chris got his mitts on it before I could! I dubbed it from him over the summer but bought my own copy on cassette a few months later.]
Next Up: July 1988!
Magnet recently posted the news that the original four members of A Flock of Seagulls will be releasing Ascension later this month, an album containing semi-symphonic reworkings of their classic early-80s songs. I like what I’ve heard so far, so I’m curious about how the rest of it will sound.
It also got me thinking about the ‘Science Fiction in Music’ panel that I ran at BayCon the other weekend. My idea was to focus mostly on the 90s forward, but I had to at least mention that the 80s were quite full of similar recordings by New Wave and electronic bands such as Duran Duran, ELO, Depeche Mode, Thomas Dolby, and so on.
I was 11 when A Flock of Seagulls’ debut album came out, and I loved the quirkiness of it, that it was so different from the classic rock I’d been listening to for years before. It was one of the many albums I repeatedly borrowed from our local library. It sounded amazingly fresh and adventurous. Sure, it might sound a bit aged now, but considering that synthesizers were usually confined to prog rock virtuosos at the time, this was something brand new. Newer, cheaper keyboards and synths were just coming to the market and new bands — a lot of them based in the UK or Europe — grabbed them fast.
It was timed perfectly with the rise of MTV as a major force in the music industry. “I Ran” became a staple on the channel, even despite its ridiculously low-budget effects (turntable platform, lots of shiny plastic, and a few full-length mirrors) and bizarre hairdos and fashion. It was completely unlike the bro-rock universe of Loverboy, REO Speedwagon and 38 Special, and nowhere near the heavy sounds of Black Sabbath, Deep Purple or Whitesnake. But it was catchy as hell! The band also managed to snag a late-night position at MTV’s New Year’s Eve party at the end of 1982. The audience was probably a little too plastered and/or high to be paying much attention, but as a young kid, I thought it was the coolest thing.
Not bad for a concept album about an alien abduction.
Postscript: Mind you, this was a full four years before I ‘discovered’ college radio in spring 1986. During the first year or so of that listening era, I also discovered that a lot of the quirky New Wave stuff that MTV played in those early years was in fact part of this alternative universe by way of being part of the post-punk umbrella. I did a LOT of catching up during that time, digging for those albums and singles, including more albums from this band.
More great tunage from last month for your perusal! A few unexpected releases and a few long-awaited ones this time out…
James Bay, Electric Light, released 18 May. James’ follow-up to his excellent debut goes in quite a few unexpected directions. While it does contain some of his fantastic guitar work and classic pop ballads, it also experiments with loud guitar crunch and twitchy semi-electronic tracks as well.
Beach Slang, Everything Matters But No One Is Listening (Quiet Slang), released 18 May. Taking on the pseudonym ‘Quiet Slang’ for an album of unplugged versions of previous album tracks, they pull the project off amazingly well, giving the songs even more emotion than the originals.
Brad Mehldau Trio, Seymour Reads the Constitution!, released 18 May. One of my favorite jazz musicians from the past couple of decades releases a fantastic record with his trio. Extra points for doing not one but two unexpected covers — The Beach Boys’ “Friends” and Paul McCartney’s “Great Day”!
Courtney Barnett, Tell Me How You Really Feel, released 18 May. Courtney once again blesses us with dopey-jangly guitar rock counterpointed by razor-sharp lyrics. Not often you can get away with a goofy-sounding melody whose chorus is “I wanna walk through the park in the dark / Men are scared that women will laugh at them / I wanna walk through the park in the dark / Women are scared that men will kill them.”
Failure, Your Body Will Be EP, released 24 May. The second EP of Failure’s new project continues with more of their classic melodic dissonance and guitar crunch drive. Very curious to see where this project is going and how all the EPs will sound linked together as the final album.
Jonathan Davis, Black Labyrinth, released 25 May. The new solo album by Korn’s lead singer is a surprisingly strong and solid one. It kind of reminds me musically of early VAST — less alt-metal and more alt-rock musically, but just as dark.
Halo Maud, Je Suis Une Île, released 25 May. A recent discovery (thank you, AllMusic), her music feels alternately like an acoustic Stereolab minus the keyboards and dreampoppy similar to Beach House. She alternates between French and English — most often within the same song — and it’s a lovely album to listen to.
Snow Patrol, Wildness, released 25 May. Gary Lightbody and Co finally return after an extended absence with an excellent album that sounds more like their earliest albums than their poppier later ones. It’s a deeply personal and downbeat album, but it’s amazing and well worth the wait.
Next Up: June releases!
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