Gloria Vanderbit’s passing yesterday got me thinking about the classic Robert Hazard one-hit-wonder “Escalator of Life” that came out in 1982. It was one of those odd new-wavey hits that didn’t make a hell of a lot of sense lyrically (or in this case, took a metaphor and stretched it to its breaking point), but it was certainly one hell of a cool song at the time.
I often talk about the late 80s here at Walk in Silence, but I don’t think I give nearly enough love to the early 80s, which were just as influential to me as a kid. I listened to just as much radio and watched as much MTV then as I did later on, and my tastes were just as varied. I could be listening to the hard rock of WAAF in the morning as I got ready for school, but I could be listening to the classic rock of WAQY on the weekend, and watching the then-freeform stylings of early era MTV. I liked A Flock of Seagulls and Duran Duran and Pat Benatar just as much as I liked Led Zep, Eagles, and that little quirky southern band WAQY liked called REM.
As commercial as some of these stations and channels were, they weren’t averse to playing the occasional obscurity like The Stranglers’ “Golden Brown” or Yello’s “The Evening’s Young”. They’d sneak in gems like The Jam’s “Town Called Malice” or Bow Wow Wow’s “Baby Oh No”. They were quirky but had crossover potential.
I remember a lot of these obscurities — the ones you remember from the era that don’t show up on those Just Can’t Get Enough compilations or those 80s Retro internet stations — because my mixtape-making actually started around this time, in late 1982. I’d made quasi-mixtapes before then, of course..mainly dubbing songs off the radio and from MTV (holding our cassette recorder close to the tv speaker, of course), but they didn’t contain that many songs. It wasn’t until November 1982 that I’d gathered a handful of used blank tapes and went wild. This first collection lasted six tapes and contained everything from A Flock of Seagulls to Led Zeppelin to Donnie Iris to Chilliwack to Thomas Dolby. It’s quite a manic and haphazard mix, created over the length of maybe two or three months.
I also started cataloging my mixtapes around then, first on index cards I would stick to the tapes with rubber bands, then a few years later with a steno notebook. Most all of those early tapes are long gone, having either gotten broken or tangled, taped over by something more important, or just faded back into white noise. But I kept these catalogs — mainly because I was a packrat — and much, much later (in 2007 or so) I started recreating them digitally using copied mp3s.
It’s kind of wild to see these mixtape track lists so many decades later; on the one hand, I’m not at all surprised that I was that obsessed over pop and rock music by the time I was twelve. There was just so much more out there coming out, and I just wanted to hear all of it! Sure, I had my questionable selections, but we all did around then. We’d gone from AM radio to the commercial FM radio to early MTV within the span of maybe four or five years. Some of us were just going to ride that particular avalanche and have fun while it happened.
Hello and welcome to another episode of Thirty Years On! At this point in time I’m winding down the remaining weeks of my high school years…all the term papers handed in and graded, all final exams about to be taken, and future plans made. I’ve gone to an open house at Emerson College, which I’ll be attending that September. The biggest change at this time is that I’m going out with a lovely girl introduced to me by a mutual friend, which changes my emotional outlook considerably at the time. [Decades after our split, we’re still friends and talk online occasionally, by the way.] I’m focusing more on my poetry and lyrics than my novels, and in hindsight I realize that helped me get out of that creative rut.
I graduate in early May. My old friends from the year before have just come home from college temporarily and take me out for a celebratory dinner. I’m thrilled to spend more time with them again. I’m prepping myself for a new life in a new city. Now all I have to do is survive a few more months in my hometown. The waiting drives me absolutely bonkers, and there’s also the fact that I’ll have a newly-minted relationship turning into a long-distance one pretty soon. It’ll be a hell of a tough balance.
The Cure, “Lullaby” single, released in the UK on 4 April 1989. After waiting nearly a year for new music from one of my all-time favorite bands at the time, I was utterly blown away by their new sound. It wasn’t the upbeat alternarock of their last few albums, that was for sure. I’d first heard it on 120 Minutes and then on WAMH and I was hooked. I picked this twelve-inch up at Main Street Music down in Northampton (roadtrip with Chris, natch). I especially enjoyed the bizarre throwaway b-side “Babble” with its crying-baby samples and “shut up shut up” lyrics.
Xymox, Twist of Shadows, released 10 April 1989. I’d been a fan of this band since hearing their fantastic “Muscoviet Mosquito” on the 4AD compilation Lonely Is an Eyesore. By this time they’d moved away from their colder goth sound and embraced a more snythpoppy mood that fit them quite well. This is an excellent album that combines rich moods and dance beats without sounding soulless. Highly recommended; they just released an expanded remaster of this earlier this year!
Pixies, Doolittle, released 17 April 1989. There was always cause for celebration for a new Pixies record in Massachusetts, especially out yonder in the Pioneer Valley, and this one fast became a favorite of pretty much everyone. While less ear-splitting than Surfer Rosa, it still provided quite a few memorable tracks that would become fan favorites for years to come.
The Cure, “Fascination Street” single, released in the US on 18 April 1989. The lead-off single for this side of the pond was a much stronger — and angrier — track that held a power I hadn’t heard from the band probably since their Pornography album. If their upcoming record was going to be as damn good as their two singles, then it was gong to be pretty friggin’ amazing.
Wire, It’s Beginning to and Back Again, released May 1989. I wasn’t quite sure what to make of this particular record, on the other hand. Wire had been a huge favorite of mine the year previous, but instead of a new album with new and intriguing music, they’d gone in a slightly different direction; this was a record borne out of sound experimentation and live recording. Half the tracks were reinterpretations of songs from their last two albums and singles, with maybe one or two new songs added. (And the second new single, “In Vivo”, only available on cd. Because of this I never got around to hearing it for another year or so.) In retrospect it is an interesting record, but it’s not exactly a must-have unless you’re a dedicated fan.
The Cure, Disintegration, released 2 May 1989. “This music has been mixed to be played loud so TURN IT UP.” So says the liner notes on the Cure’s eighth and by far most popular and most-loved record. And turn it up I did, when I bought it on cassette the week it came out. From the glorious crash and downpour of synth strings on the opener “Plainsong” to the sad goodbye of a slightly out of tune melodica on the closer “Untitled”, it is so aurally immersive it’s almost impossible not to be drawn in by its beauty. It’s a completely perfect album on so many levels.
Bob Mould, Workbook, released 2 May 1989. Almost completely obscured by the above, Mould’s debut solo album, recorded after (and in some ways in response to) his acrimonious split from Husker Du, is a gorgeous masterpiece itself. He’d wanted to record an album that was the antithesis of the noisy punk he’d been known for, to prove he could write solid songs that were more melodic and acoustic. It as a smashing success for both critics and fans, paving the way for a successful long term career.
The Godfathers, More Songs About Love and Hate, released 9 May 1989. These British punkers followed up their brilliant Birth School Work Death with a record that leaned less on their psych-rock origins and more on their other influences, including Johnny Cash. There’s a fun raucousness on this record and doesn’t take itself entirely seriously sometimes, but it’s a solid album.
Tin Machine, Tin Machine, released 23 May 1989. This record divided Bowie fans something fierce when it came out. Some (like myself) thought it was an excellent about-face from the sterile pop-rock he’d been attempting for most of the 80s; some thought he was an old man past his prime trying to be relevant by playing hard rock out of his league; some had no idea what to make of it and ignored it completely. It’s full of anger, humor, and relentless power, and Bowie pulled it off brilliantly.
Public Image Ltd, 9, released 30 May 1989. This was a slow burner for me; while it had the groove and melody of 1987’s Happy? (which was a big favorite of mine), it also felt a little bit like a retread of that album, only with slightly longer songs and not nearly as much humor. Over the years I’ve come to enjoy it, however. It still feels a little overlong, but it’s still solid.
Of course, now that I’ve revived the “___Years On” series, I’m half tempted to do some more reviews of previous years, especially the 1985-1987 era when post-punk started to sneak its way into the US mainstream, little by little, paving the way for the classic alternative rock albums and singles we all know and love.
Not to mention that I’m half-tempted to revive the Walk in Silence book project, which I’d put on the back burner quite some time ago.
Time to catch up on the 20YO series again! This time out we have a whole slew of fine records that became my favorite records of that year. Many of them were played heavily during writing sessions in the Belfry, but many of them were also getting play in my car as I expanded my weekend pleasure drives and long commutes. I was still feeling that nudge of discomfort coming from various angles (mean boss, low funds, frustration with my writing projects), but at the same time I felt stronger and more confident than I’d ever felt that entire decade.
Porcupine Tree, Stupid Dream, released 6 April 1999. I didn’t discover PT until their next album (2000’s Lightbulb Sun) but I immediately checked this album out once I did, and it became one of my favorite mid-catalog records of theirs. Steven Wilson (you may know him now as the producer behind all those 5.1 remixes of classic albums getting released lately) and the rest of the band really found their niche with this record, easing back on the extended jamming and leaning towards more concise melodies. Highly recommended, whether you’re a prog fan or not.
Ben & Jason, Hello, released 9 April 1999. Ben Parker and Jason Hazeley were a UK duo that wrote and sang absolutely gorgeous indie folk but avoided the sometimes saccharine twee of most other bands in that genre. They only put out three records and a handful of singles but they were one of my all-time favorite finds at the time. Definitely worth searching for if you can find them.
Electronic, Twisted Tenderness, released 17 April 1999. The third and last album from Bernard Sumner and Johnny Marr’s side project, this is a fantastic album and in my opinion the best and tightest of them. It got a delayed and ignored release here in the States, which is too bad, because there are some really strong singles on this one. And quite possibly my all-time favorite version of Blind Faith’s “Can’t Find My Way Home”, featuring some of the best Marr guitar work I’ve ever heard.
Ultrasound, Everything Picture, release 17 April 1999. Another import find that quickly became one of my favorite records at the time. It might be a bloated overlong mess but it’s a hell of a lot of Britpop/psych-rock fun and I still give it a spin every now and again.
Lamb, Fear of Fours, released 17 May 1999. Lamb is a fascinating electronic band in that they’re more about exploring and experimenting with soundscapes than they are about being played in a club, and I’ve always loved their records. This one’s fascinating in that it’s an experiment in unconventional time signatures, with very few tracks actually being in 4/4 time. (Track 4 is even untitled, and features nothing except a seven-second single bleating synth sound.)
Moby, Play, released 17 May 1999. Say what you will about his bouts of sort-of-creepy weirdness in his latest memoir, Play remains an excellent record and worthy of its accolades. It’s clever, inventive, and a wonderful listen.
Travis, The Man Who, released 24 May 1999. This record broke them in the States (where it was released a few months later). It’s less noisy than their debut record but it’s a lot more introspective, and truly shows just how great they are as songwriters. Every single track on this record is wonderful, even the hidden tracks! [This is the record they were touring on when I met the foursome after a show in Boston; they were all lovely people and I’m glad they made it as big as they did.]
Smash Mouth, Astro Lounge, released 8 June 1999. Yeah, I know, I could easily have used the “All Star” meme here, but I didn’t, because the rest of this album is actually pretty damn great! It’s a fun listen — it’s tighter and perhaps a bit poppier and more commercial, but that works to their advantage here.
Coming up soon: Thirty Years On, in which I briefly talk about The Best Album Ever! 🙂
OH HEY It’s been ages since I’ve posted something here, hasn’t it? I suppose I should catch up! Time to provide you with a list of some of my favorite new releases from mid-March to the present!
American Football, American Football (LP3), released 22 March. This is definitely a band to have in your collection. It’s laid-back post-rock, only more melodic and jazzy. And they do write beautiful melodies.
UNKLE, The Road Pt 2: Lost Highway, released 29 March. Surprisingly more upbeat and introspective than The Road Pt 1, but still a moody epic from James Lavelle. Big props for getting Tom Smith (the lead singer of Editors) to sing one of the album’s best tracks.
Billie Eilish, When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?, released 29 March. This is such a hard album to pin down, because it’s so freaking weird. It’s not goofy-weird like, say, Flaming Lips. More like I think there might be something wrong with you weird. And it’s also dead clever — sound effects and vocal stutters whiz by unexpectedly, the lyrics often hide a wicked sense of humor, and the production is just fantastic.
PUP, Morbid Stuff, released 5 April. Goofy pop-punk with dark undertones, it’s a fun romp even when they’re singing about shitty things.
Fontaines DC, Dogrel, released 12 April. Old-fashioned working-class punk from Dublin, this band’s a favorite of KEXP, who got me completely hooked on them.
New Age Healers, “Hang On” single, released 15 April. I’m really digging this band, partly because they channel the Stone Roses so damn well! Great tunes and lovely dreamlike sound. I’m looking forward to hearing more from this band.
Lamb, The Secret of Letting Go, released 26 April. Still amazing after all these years, this band never fails to capture the perfect mood in their music. Still one of my favorite bands to listen to during writing sessions!
Vampire Weekend, Father of the Bride, released 3 May. This record completely surprised me by how damn good it is! They seem to have eased back considerably on their trademark quirkiness and focused more on the not-quite-retro semi-acoustic sound reminiscent of their first record. For a double-album, it’s solid from start to finish.
HAELOS, Any Random Kindness, released 10 May. Why did it take me so damn long to get into this band? I mean seriously: moody lyrics, atmospheric production, dreamlike melodies…this is 100% in my wheelhouse! This one has been getting extremely heavy play here in Spare Oom, and it’s not going away any time soon.
Charly Bliss, Young Enough, released 10 May. This band could easily have fallen into the sophomore slump, but they pulled through and recorded an even more solid record than their debut! Great bouncy punk fun.
The National, I Am Easy to Find, released 17 May. Always slightly strange, always moody and meandering, but never a dull moment from this band. It’s brighter than their previous record and a wonderful listen.
The Head and the Heart, Living Mirage, released 17 May. This band has evolved in so many different ways you can’t really file them in with the other alt-folk bands anymore, but they’ve definitely hit their stride with this new record.
Well! I seem to have gone against my own better judgement and previous complaining about writing schedules by deciding that maybe working off the whiteboard isn’t all that bad a thing after all. The more I thought about it, the more I really enjoyed talking about both new and old music here at Walk in Silence, so hopefully starting this month I’ll be back on a twice-a-week schedule again. We shall see…!