Whew! This one’s gonna be a long one. Something was in the air on both sides of the Atlantic come 1990, that’s for sure. The 80s MTV pop scene was dying a slow death (or at least its rock-influenced version, at any rate), and that left the playing field wide open for all sorts of rock genres to come sliding into people’s consciousness. This could be considered the golden age for alt-rock radio, especially now that stations like WFNX were leading the way in metro Boston and other cities were joining in.
And against all expectations, I actually had somewhat of a social life! It wasn’t all that active to be sure, but I’d met some cool people on my floor that I could spend time with instead of wallowing in self-pity in my dorm room, heh. We’d hang out in our rooms, go to all-ages shows on Landsdowne Street, watch Twin Peaks and compare notes afterwards, make goofy art videos, and so on. And I met this budding actor named Jon who lived just across the hall — not to be confused with the John who lived next door — who’d pretty much be my frenemy for the next four years. [More about which below.]
Buffalo Tom, “Birdbrain” single, released 1 October 1990. This Boston band had an extremely loyal local following and played the long game to certain success in the mid-90s. This single broke them locally with is chunky riffs and memorable lyrics. [And we Bostonians had a good laugh when we watched this video and recognized the shirtless guy in the back of the truck was shot in the Sumner Tunnel!]
Alien Sex Fiend, Curse, released 1 October 1990. Goth industrial weirdness rarely ever made it past its specialty shows and dance nights at Central Square in Cambridge, but somehow ASF’s “Now I’m Feeling Zombified” single made it to multiple playlists, partly because it was just so damn bizarre.
The Sisters of Mercy, “More” single, released 1 October 1990. After waiting multiple years for Andrew Eldritch’s next move, he surprised everyone by not only working once again with Jim Steinman for the single “More”, he also hired Sigue Sigue Sputnik/Generation X bassist Tony James to join the band. It might not be as epic-goth as “This Corrosion”, but it’s still a great song.
Miles Dethmuffen, Nine-Volt Grape, released 1 October 1990. This too was a Boston band and yet it was my friend Chris who introduced me to them from his seeing them at UMass Amherst. Somewhat similar to the jangly Athens GA sound, they didn’t stick around long, but this album did get some airplay here and there on college radio.
The La’s, The La’s, released 1 October 1990. …and here it is, one of my top favorite albums of all time, and I’m sure it’s on many others’ lists as well. Why is it so beloved? It could be the beautiful simplicity of its folky songwriting, its lost-in-time retro feel, its quintessentially British references, its occasional forays into light psychedelia and garage rock. It could also be that “There She Goes” was such a tremendous hit that you still hear it on several stations to this day. And yes, I still highly recommend having it in your collection.
Information Society, Hack, released 5 October 1990. InSoc’s sophomore album may not have reached the heights of their debut, and it may be slightly too long, but it’s such a fun listen that I love it anyway! It’s my favorite of their early records, and there are several great deep cuts worth checking out. This got some serious Walkman play for a number of years.
Hindu Love Gods, Hindu Love Gods, released 5 October 1990. A side project between Bill Berry, Mike Mills and Peter Buck of REM with singer Warren Zevon, this album sounds more like rough jam demos than anything else, but it’s a super fun record that shows just how much the foursome love playing. Their Prince cover ended up getting some significant airplay as well.
Goo Goo Dolls, Hold Me Up, released 5 October 1990. Well before “Name” and “Iris” shot them into the stratosphere, this trio’s sound was more fun and punky, and this album was a favorite on college radio. It’s interesting to hear these early songs just to see how much they’d evolved.
The Charlatans UK, Some Friendly, released 8 October 1990. A Britpop staple that doesn’t quite fit most others in its genre, the Charlatans were more about the laid back grooviness of it all. This album sounds less like something you’d hear at the Hacienda and more something you’d hear on the boombox in your bedsit. Not that that’s a bad thing — this album is a mood that lets you relax and bliss out a bit.
Nine Inch Nails, “Sin” single, released 10 October 1990. The final single from 1989’s Pretty Hate Machine, the main track is one of the most tense and intrusive of Trent Reznor’s, hinting at what NIN’s future sounds would be. The true gem, however, is a wild and distorted cover of Queen’s “Get Down Make Love”, a b-side that ended up getting its own bit of airplay.
Ride, Nowhere, released 15 October 1990. The shoegaze band from Oxford dropped its debut album on both sides of the Atlantic to critical acclaim, and it’s one of the first albums that really helped the US experience what that “shoegaze” sound was. I remember this one being a big hit with a few of my friends that I worked with at the Media Center.
Blur, “She’s So High” single, released 15 October 1990. It all started here for this London quartet, kicking off a long and successful run of albums and singles that are still radio favorites. They were my favorite of the Britpop bands at the time, as they’d chosen to lean heavily on their creativity, their lyrical cheekiness and the fact that they wrote damn fine songs.
Lush, “Sweetness and Light” single, released 15 October 1990. There’s something about a high-octane one-chord song that resonates with me, and this is one of my top favorite songs of this particular year. This song also inspired me to play around a bit more with my songwriting, trying new chord progressions and musical directions.
The Pogues, Hell’s Ditch, released 19 October 1990. The last Pogues album to feature the increasingly intoxicated Shane MacGowan, this felt like a change of course for the band, where they began moving away from their Irish-folk sound and trying out more rock-oriented songs. It’s a bit of a mess but it’s also full of really great tracks as well.
Various Artists, Where the Pyramid Meets the Eye: A Tribute to Roky Erickson, released 19 October 1990. Another tribute album, this one shows just how odd yet still accessible Erickson’s work could be. This one’s filled with numerous indie musicians like REM, John Wesley Harding, Primal Scream, Butthole Surfers, and more.
Pet Shop Boys, Behaviour, released 22 October 1990. Their first new album in two years, it shows that PSB had evolved perfectly from mid-80s synthpop to 90s dancefloor techno, staking a claim on the scene for years to come.
Various Artists, Happy Daze, Volume 1, released 22 October 1990. Considered one of the first major compilation releases to focus on the growing Madchester scene, it’s a heady mix of indie pop that may not all be from the northern city, but would certainly have been played on the radio and at the clubs. It’s full of important singles by Happy Mondays, The Soup Dragons, The Wonder Stuff, Carter USM, and more. [I’m still not sure why Pixies’ “Velouria” is on it as it feels like a placeholder, but it doesn’t exactly ruin the mood, either.]
Morrissey, Bona Drag, released 22 October 1990. Not so much an album as a collection of his solo singles and most b-sides to date, this encapsulates most of his time with producer Stephen Street, and in my opinion probably some of his best work. This was one of the cassettes that got heavy Walkman play during my weekend train rides back home. It was kind of like living a bit of the past and remembering the time I spent with the Vanishing Misfits crowd, but without the self-induced gloom.
Every now and again in one’s life, you meet that one person who sets you off in a different direction, makes you rethink your life, inspires your creativity, and maybe even gets you in a bit of trouble. Jon A was that guy for me. I called him my frenemy early in this post because that’s what he was: He could be a really good sounding board and a caring person and get me to think deeper about my creative career, but he was also someone who didn’t quite understand what kind of person I already was. That can be good, if you’re looking for someone to inspire you to be better…but it can also be bad, when you have little self-trust and self-confidence. I had the latter, and whether he knew it or not, he saw how easily I could be influenced and leaned on that. He also had no idea what “I have absolutely no money and I’m broke most of the time” meant.
Anyway — he’ll pop up multiple times in this series until about 1995. Last time I saw him was probably a month or so after I moved back home that autumn, and I’ve no idea where he’s been since.