Forty Years On? A brief overview of 1978, Part I

You knew it was going to happen sooner or later.  This is by no means complete, and I’m leaving out a LOT of great tunage primarily because it’s stuff I didn’t listen to or even know about until years later… but here’s a smidge of some of my favorite songs I heard on the radio when I was seven and my lifelong obsession was just starting out.

Electric Light Orchestra, “Mr Blue Sky” single, released January. Their fantastic Out of the Blue had been out for a few months by this time, but this became the fan favorite for years to come. Hearing it as the opening song for Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2 made me ridiculously happy.

ABBA, “Take a Chance on Me” single, released January, My sister was a big ABBA fan and I loved listening to The Album, which had come out in December. They may be sugary pop, but they could write one hell of a great song.

Van Halen, Van Halen, released 10 February. The local rock stations LOVED this album and played most of its tracks. A staple cassette in your boombox or your car stereo at the time.

Wings, London Town, released 31 March. I always say that Yellow Submarine and the Sgt Pepper movie kickstarted my Beatles obsession, but I’m pretty sure Paul’s “With a Little Luck” single had something to do with it as well, as it got played EVERYWHERE and I remember my mom and I liking it a lot.

Hot Chocolate, Every 1’s a Winner, released April. I loved the funky groove and the wonky production of this track, and it (along with their “You Sexy Thing” remains one of my favorite 70s songs.

KISS, Double Platinum, released 2 April. One of my other sisters was a KISS fan and got this for her birthday. I was quite familiar with their songs, so this was a great entry point for all involved.

Cheap Trick, Heaven Tonight, released May. “Surrender” drops and becomes everyone’s favorite rock song for the entire summer and for decades to come. One of the best rock songs of the 70s. A and I drove down a highway towards Houston with this song blaring, the both of us singing along like happy idiots!

Coming up: More 1978 goodness!

Twenty Years On: September 1998

September 1998: It’s starting to get cooler out, the days are getting shorter. The commute home gets me there in the dark. On the occasional Wednesday I’ll do my comic book road trip across the state; while I’m enjoying buying the comics and taking the long drives, I think it’s more about me finding a new outlet to escape the frustration of living back at home with family. It’s about doing something for myself, just like my occasional drives into Boston on the weekend, or my hiding down in the basement to write. I’m pretty much finding my own unique self at this point. It’s a perfect time to do so, considering that I’ve disconnected from most everything and everyone else that had held me back a few years earlier.

Just me, my music, and my writing. I could live with that.

The House of Love, The Best of the House of Love, released ?? September 1998. I’d been a fan of this band since “I Don’t Know Why I Love You” but for some reason I never got around to buying any of their albums…! This was a perfect jumping-on point, as it’s an excellent mix of their late 80s-early 90s output.

Depeche Mode, “Only When I Lose Myself” single, released 7 September. A new teaser single to add to their upcoming greatest hits album (The Singles 86>98, which would drop on 28 September), it’s got the grim darkness of 1997’s Ultra, but it also has the tenderness of some of Martin Gore’s best balladry. It’s a lovely, relaxing song.

Mansun, Six, released 7 September. While this certainly didn’t come close to the Britpoppy goodness of their minor hit “Wide Open Space” and was resequenced and pretty much ignored in the US, it remains my favorite Mansun record for its grandiose scope. It’s a long album, but it goes in so many interesting and unexpected directions that it’s a hell of a lot of fun to listen to. Another record that got heavy rotation during my writing sessions.

Belle & Sebastian, The Boy with the Arab Strap, released 7 September. Critics loved this band since their start, but it was this album that expanded their fanbase exponentially, thanks to being signed to Matador in the US. [This is also the album that infamously received a ridiculously pompous negative review on Pitchfork, thus branding the site by some as being written by and for hipsters who only listen to obscure bands.] It’s light and poppy — and the perfect example of ‘twee’ which became the code word for them around this time — but it’s also full of great tracks including the title song. Another writing session album.

The Fireman, Rushes, released 21 September. Paul McCartney’s side project into chilled-out electronica gets a second album here, this time of completely new source samples and sounds. It’s relaxing and lovely and totally not what you would expect from Macca at all.

American Football, American Football EP, released 29 September. A band that partly inspired the late 90s-early 00s resurgence of quiet, meandering post-rock, this band had only released this EP and a single album (of the same name) the following year before breaking up (and not acrimoniously: their college years had come to an end and were now in different cities). They’re a cult favorite and well worth checking out; they’ve also reunited as of 2014 and put out a second album (yes, of the same name again) in 2016.

UNKLE, Psyence Fiction, released 29 September. I rarely embed a full-album video stream, but this is definitely an album you need to hear from start to finish, as it’s JUST THAT AMAZING. Producer/DJ James Lavelle created this group, initially with DJ Shadow, and created a ‘band’ that defies description. It’s hip-hop, electronic, soul, hard rock, industrial, and who knows what else, and melded into a semi-thematic album of aliens, space travel, mind travel, and spiritual healing. It can be dark and dense, hard and heavy, but also amusing and just plain weird. And its guests run the gamut as well: Thom Yorke (Radiohead), Mark Hollis (Talk Talk), Jason Newstead (Metallica), Kool G Rap, Badly Drawn Boy, Richard Ashcroft (The Verve), and Mike D (Beastie Boys). It’s a phenomenal album that you should definitely have in your collection. [And yes, another writing session album. I still listen to this one quite a bit to this day.]

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Coming soon: October 1998!

Thirty Years On: September 1988

September 1988:  The beginning of senior year.  All I had to do was get through these nine months of school and I’d be escaping this small town (for good, I’d planned at the time) and moving onto bigger and better things.  The only thing keeping me back was my own damn self.  Which, considering my mindset at the time, was a pretty big fucking obstacle.  Embracing the Creative Moody Bastard was probably not the best of ideas in hindsight.  I worked damn hard on my writing, sure… but at the expense of my own emotional and mental well-being.

Strap in, folks — we have a lot of great tunage to sort through this time!

U2, “Desire” single, released 1 September. The teaser single to their big movie/album project Rattle & Hum, this was a great rock track linking Bo Diddley beats to modern rock. I loved this track when it came out, and I certainly have a soft spot for the album and film.

That Petrol Emotion, The End of the Millennium Psychosis Blues, released ?? September. I finally got into this UK band during this album, and got to see them at UMass Amherst later that year. They had a great mix of Irish folk, funky grooves and loud noise.

Front 242, “Headhunter” single, released ?? September. I became a fan of industrial through this band, specifically this song. This is their best known track, though I’d been familiar with their previous tracks like “Agressiva” and “Quite Unusual”, which got a lot of play on 120 Minutes and WAMH. One of my favorite tracks of 1988.

Laibach, “Sympathy for the Devil” single, released ?? September. I became a fan of Laibach and their brand of industrial right about the same time. I loved the fact that they were both frightening and amazing due to their distinctively Slovenian style of operatic melodies, military beats and guttural singing. You never quite knew if they were serious or merely acting.

Siouxsie & the Banshees, Peepshow, released 5 September. An amazing album of their latter period. They’d gone from twitchy post-punk to proto-dreamwave to neo-psych, and this marked the beginning of their modern rock phase. It’s filled with some of their best tracks and highly recommended.

The Psychedelic Furs, All of This and Nothing, released 6 September. Everyone knew the hits from this band from the early days of MTV, of course, and this was a fantastic collection for anyone who hadn’t gotten around to picking anything up from them. Containing both hits and deep cuts (including the original version of “Pretty in Pink”, not the movie version), it shows just how great Richard Butler and co were as songwriters.

The Feelies, Only Life, released 13 September. This got a ton of play on WMDK and other progressive/AOR stations at the time, partly because it was a welcome return for a band that had been critical darlings at the start of the decade but had remained quiet for a good couple of years. Thanks in part to director Jonathan Demme, who used their music in his movies (and featured them as a party band in 1986’s Something Wild), they remained fan favorites all the way into the early 90s, and have come back strong in the current decade as well.

Cocteau Twins, Blue Bell Knoll, released 19 September. An album that stayed with me for years, and one that influenced my bass playing style early on. I fell in love with this band with this album and went out of my way to find the rest of their discography, even if it was dubbed from someone else’s collection. One of my favorite albums of all time, and highly recommended.

Enya, Watermark, released 19 September. This was an unexpected gem that grabbed my attention, thanks to her first hit. It might have been a big hit with the adults, but I loved its gorgeous, cavernous production. I found myself listening to this one a lot when I needed to chill for a while.

They Might Be Giants, Lincoln, released 25 September, I adored the lo-fi wackiness of their debut album and loved the teaser single for this album. It took me a while to get into it, though… it wasn’t as silly and absurdist, but it was still damn catchy. It was a slow burner for me, but I grew to love it dearly.

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Coming Up: October 1988, a month filled with albums running the gamut from incredibly noisy to quietly brittle.

 

Recent Releases, August Edition

I’m actually kind of surprised I was able to come up with a sizable post for August, considering that I’ve been away for most of it!  I did manage to catch up on a lot of great late-summer tunage, though.  Enjoy!

James, Living in Extraordinary Times, released 3 August. I’m annoyed that the only song I ever hear of theirs on the radio is still “Laid” when they have so many great albums, including this new one. They’re all definitely worth checking out.

Capital Cities, Solarize, released 10 August. A mix of older singles and EP tracks and newer material, the duo’s second album is refreshing, poppy fun.

Prince, Anthology 1995-2010, released 17 August. I was rather surprised by this album. Instead of a greatest hits mix, it’s a collection of deep cuts from The Gold Experience to 20Ten. As I hadn’t listened to that era in ages, so I’d forgotten how frikkin AMAZING he truly was as a songwriter. It’s a fantastic listen and highly suggested.

Death Cab for Cutie, Thank You for Today, released 17 August. The new record is well worth the wait. Ben Gibbard and co. have hit their stride here, returning to their meandering melodies and quirky lyrics but keeping it fresh. Also, mad props for sampling/borrowing from Yoko Ono’s “Mind Train” on the first single!

Nothing, Dance on the Blacktop, released 24 August. A great follow-up to their previous record, Tired of Tomorrow. This one feels more melodic and kind of reminds me of a less blistering My Bloody Valentine.

Interpol, Marauder, released 24 August. I love this new album! It feels like a solid return to their original post-punk sound — it does kind of feel like they successfully recaptured the best parts of Turn on the Bright Lights in a way. They’ve regained a powerful sound that seems to have been missing from some of their previous albums.

Alice in Chains, Rainier Fog, released 24 August. Another album that sounds like a great return to form. AiC’s best quality has always been their distinctly swampy grunge sound, and it’s all over the place here.

Mogwai, Kin OST, released 31 August. While this isn’t their first soundtrack (they released Atomic in 2016 for a documentary of the same name), it’s their first for a Hollywood film, and I’m kind of surprised they haven’t been tapped to do more, because they’re naturals at it. It’s heavy, loud, and amazing.

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Coming soon: September tunage!

Twenty Years On: August 1998

7 August 1998:  I’ve just stopped writing The Phoenix Effect longhand, as I’m already caught up with the evening transcription, to the point where I write the final chapters of the novel straight to PC.  Finishing this draft will most likely take place around the end of the month or into early September.  I will then spend the next months working on revision and looking up various publishing houses I’d like to send it to, eventually sending it out sometime early in 1999.

These revision months are spent down in the Belfry, focusing on banging the story into shape, cleaning up the prose and making it even better.  This means that I’ll be listening to a TON of music over the next few months.  I’ll also be listening to the same albums while at the record store job to keep myself in the proper mindset.  In the process, these records become part of the Bridgetown mythos, providing me with not just a soundtrack for the book but inspiring numerous scenes and ideas.

So get comfortable, this is a long one!

LHOOQ, LHOOQ, released 3 August 1998. An import brought to my attention via a UK music mag, partly due to their Duchamp-inspired band name. [It comes from the infamous Mona-Lisa-with-a-mustache painting from 1919; it’s a French pun where you read out the letters as ‘Elle a chaud au cul’…translated to “she’s horny”.] Smooth, laid back electropop, it didn’t do much of anything anywhere, but I quite enjoy it.

Various Artists, For the Masses: A Tribute to Depeche Mode, released 4 August 1998. An amazing collection of DM cover songs, featuring Failure, Dishwalla, The Cure, The Smashing Pumpkins, Hooverphonic, and more. While most tribute albums are touch and go, most with a few stellar tracks and a lot of filler by unknown names, this one is absolutely solid and is highly recommended.

Rasputina, How We Quit the Forest, released 4 August 1998. The trio, known for their Victorian visuals and goth-with-strings sound, released a heavier, beefier-sounding second album with the help of NIN’s Chris Vrenna. It’s weird, spooky, and gorgeous at the same time. It’s probably their most accessible album, and it’s a lot of fun.

Embrace, The Good Will Out, released 6 August 1998. A favorite of the late 90 British Rock era, this album was an immediate UK hit right out of the gate with its strong songwriting and powerful sounds. I especially loved the epic punch of its main single, “All You Good Good People”.

Dishwalla, And You Think You Know What Life’s About, released 11 August 1998. I absolutely adore this album. It didn’t gain nearly as much popularity as it’s 1995 predecessor (Pet Your Friends, which had their hit “Counting Blue Cars”), but as an alt-rock record, it’s a hell of a lot stronger and heavier in sound, and contains quite a few of their best songs, including the stunning ballad “Until I Wake Up”. This one stayed in my writing session rotation for years, and I still pull it out now and again.  If you like their big hit, definitely try this one out too.

Hooverphonic, Blue Wonder Power Milk, released 11 August 1998. I love this album as well, and it’s the one that made me a huge fan of the band. It’s a major shift in sound for them — a new singer, more orchestral accompaniment, less electro beats and more pop mentality. It’s a lovely album to listen to in headphones. This too stayed in my writing session rotation for years. The single “Eden” also influenced the character that ended up being Akaina in the trilogy.

Orgy, Candyass, released 18 August 1998. One of many darkwave bands that surfaced in the late 90s, their one claim to fame might be a crunchy cover of New Order’s “Blue Monday”, but the rest of the album was equally as fun. I’d throw this one on during my Belfry sessions when I needed something loud and aggressive.

Korn, Follow the Leader, released 18 August 1998. I really wasn’t much of a Korn fan at all at the time, but there’s something about this album that clicked for me. It could be that this one captures their signature sound the best — the drop-tuning, the intricate weaving of dissonant sounds, and some of Jonathan Davis’ best songwriting. Plus I loved “Freak on a Leash”, both the song and the video.

Boards of Canada, Music Has the Right to Children, released 20 August 1998. I didn’t get into this band until their next release (2002’s Geogaddi), but I was quite aware of them via this album, which sold regularly at my store. Their name and unique sound is wrapped in childhood nostalgia — they definitely sound like those old public service/educational films you might have watched if you were a Gen-X kid in the 70s and 80s.

Bob Mould, The Last Dog and Pony Show, released 25 August 1998. I’d lost track of Mould’s output after his Sugar albums, so this was a great album for me to return to. It’s more laid back and approachable and features some lovely melodies — like most of 1989’s Workbook, his lighter, more acoustic sound has always resonated deeply with me.

Snowpony, The Slow Motion World of Snowpony, released 25 August 1998. Deb Googe from My Bloody Valentine popped up unexpectedly as a co-conspirator for this noisy alt-rock band. Not as ear-splitting as MBV, but definitely not pop, either.

Manic Street Preachers, This Is My Truth Tell Me Yours, released 25 August 1998. I was quite familiar with the Manics by this point, thanks to their numerous loyal UK fanbase, but this was the album that won me over. It can be a little preachy at times, but it’s also a fantastic record filled with excellent melodies.

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Coming Up: September 1998, in which even more alt-rock goodness gets released and becomes a part of my permanent writing session playlist!

Thirty Years On: August 1988

August 1988: Summer is winding down, and I’m preparing myself for my last year in high school. At this point I’m quite certain I want to go to Emerson College and study film, but I have Amherst, UMass and North Adams State as backups. All I need to do is fill out the forms, visit the campuses, and see where it all takes me. And try to at least do a decent job with my grades.

28 August: late Sunday afternoon, working my shift at the local radio station. Coming to terms with the fact that my closest friends of the last few years are spending this very same afternoon preparing for their move to college dorm life. I’m wishing we’d have gotten one last afternoon to hang out together, even though we’d gathered a few weeks earlier in one of our road trips to the Pioneer Valley. They’re probably planning what they want to pack, having one last get-together with their families, dealing with whatever else they have to deal with.

I’m feeling moody and irritable, faffing about on one of the half-working typewriters there, thinking I should probably work on some writing. The radio station feed goes to commercial, kicks off the usual carts, and then comes back to more adult contemporary. “Suddenly Last Summer” from the Motels comes on, like a punch to the gut.

I’d promised myself I wouldn’t be one of those students that gets all emotional that I wouldn’t be seeing my friends and classmates anytime soon. All I wanted to do was get the hell out of my small town and get to The Big City as fast as I could. But there it was: I wasn’t free yet. I still had one year left before I could escape. The circle of friends that had opened my eyes and mind to a new way of life were leaving. I had a few close friends still in high school, but everyone else was only an acquaintance of some sort.

I sat down at that rickety typewriter and bled out some of the most personal words and lyrics I’d written yet that would change not only my outlook on life but would change my writing style for years to come.

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The Go-Betweens, 16 Lovers Lane, released ?? August. The Aussie quintet released what would end up being their last album for a number of years, but it’s a lovely pastoral album full of gorgeous ballads and quirky pop gems. WMDK loved this album and would play deep tracks from it quite often, and the above track was a favorite on 120 Minutes. Highly recommended.

Compilation: Listen in Silence: The Singles, created ?? August. Partly inspired by Chris’ mixtape style, I pulled together a 90-minute tape filled with tracks from some of my absolute favorite albums at the time: “Under the Milky Way”, “The Dead Heart”, “Blister in the Sun”, “Holidays in the Sun”, “Kidney Bingos”, “How Soon Is Now?”, “All Night Long”, “Alex Chilton”, and more. It’s one of my best mixtapes. I’ve since resurrected the title and theme around 2011 and still use it to this day.

The Wonder Stuff, The Eight Legged Groove Machine, released ?? August. Goofy, smartass Britpop that was a WAMH favorite. I’d hear “Give Give Give Me More More More” and “It’s Yer Money I’m After Baby” all the time. I picked this one up eventually when I took a trip to Boston to check out Emerson.

Edie Brickell & New Bohemians, Shooting Rubberbands at the Stars, released 9 August. Everyone knows the main single (“What I Am”, their only major hit), but the rest of the album is a lovely folk-rock collection of acoustic balladry and fun full band bash-outs worth checking out.

Pixies, “Gigantic” single, released 22 August. My ears immediately pricked up on this songs for two reasons.  First, that it was a bass-heavy song, which meant that I could learn how to play it. Secondly, that they were a local band. And by local, that meant their origins were at UMass Amherst, a mere 30 miles away from my home town. [And let me tell you, Amherst/Noho bands weren’t all that big a draw outside the Pioneer valley, except for maybe Dinosaur Jr!] I got in on the ground floor on this band and have loved them ever since.

Jane’s Addiction, Nothing’s Shocking, releases 23 August. Another ‘borrowed’ promo from the radio station. Really, was there a single track here that they could get away with playing? I loved their curious mix of metal crunch, intricate melodies, and psychedelia. Oh, and the fact that this album sounds great when it’s played LOUD. “Summertime Rolls” is one of my favorite summer-themed songs of all time. Highly recommended, even and especially if the only thing you know by them is “Jane Says” or “Been Caught Stealing”.

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Next Up: September 1988, in which my senior year starts and I get broadsided by a handful of brilliant albums.

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NOTE: We’ll be on vacation for the next few weeks, heading to the UK for a week and a half, followed by an extended weekend at Worldcon down in San Jose.  The blog schedule will be rather wonky until the latter half of August, when we’ll return.  Thanks for waiting!

Recent Releases: July Edition

The year continues to surprise me with a number of releases from new and old bands alike during what I usually expect to be a slow season.  July’s releases were few but they did not let me down at all.  Here’s but a few worth checking out!

Erasure, World Be Live, released 6 July. Seeing Erasure live is an experience; I got to see them on their 1990 tour for Wild! and it was a blast. Andy Bell is absolutely bonkers and fabulous and their songs are great. This is a wonderful extended album of their most recent tour and it’s a ton of fun to listen to, especially since they left in a lot of Andy’s ridiculous and hilarious in-between chatter.

Cowboy Junkies, All That Reckoning, released 13 July. I was surprised at how much this album resonated with me. It’s alternately lovely and brooding, but it’s an amazing listen. It’s rare that I’ll stream an album twice in one day on its release date, and that’s saying something. [There is also the fact that upon hearing the above track for the first time, I realized this was totally the kind of Flying Bohemians song I’d write back in the day.]

Dirty Projectors, Lamp Lit Prose, released 13 July. I think I used the word ‘tangly’ in my initial Twitter #NewMusicFriday review, and I think that’s a good description; this band’s sound is very heavily entwined within itself, with sounds going in all different directions and tied up in weird knots that somehow make sense. It’s strange yet fascinating at the same time.

Tanukichan, Sundays, released 13 July. Another AllMusic suggestion that paid off handsomely. Hannah von Loon (ex-Trails and Ways, who had a fantastic summer single called “Como te Vas” a few years back) plays heavy-sounding mid-tempo shoegaze (think MBV at their most accessible) and it’s right in my wheelhouse. It’s been playing quite a bit during my afternoon breaks while I’m whipping up some practice words.

The Internet, Hive Mind, released 20 July. Laid back hip hop with a touch of soul, reggae dub, and more. It’s an addictive album to listen to, especially when you need to chill out after a long work day. I need to look into more from this band.

Public Image Ltd, The Public Image Is Rotten (Songs form the Heart), released 20 July. Meanwhile, John Lydon’s career-spanning box set (available digitally as well!) is indeed an exercise in nonconformity and refusal to go with the flow, and experimenting with what sounds resonate with you. From their punk and dub beginnings to their late-80s/early-90s alt.rock all the way to their recent kicking-it-old-school crunch, it’s not for everyone, but it’s certainly an amazing ride.

Gaika, Basic Volume, released 27 July. A wild mix of slow reggae dub tinged with a dark and creepy Tricky-like trip-hop flavor, this one completely blew my mind upon first listen. Absolutely amazing album worth checking out.

ShadowParty, ShadowParty, released 27 July. Various newer members of New Order and Devo gather together to play a fun mix of britpop and post-punk that sometimes sounds like New Order and sometimes like The Killers. Well worth checking out.

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Coming soon:  August releases!