Twenty Years On: January 1998 in Review

My recent ongoing blog series Thirty Years On, focusing on classic albums and singles that were released thirty years ago in 1988, has inspired me to do a sequel as well, Twenty Years On.  [I could say I have this fascination with music in years ending in 8; I’m even fascinated by the music history of 1968.  Still, I’m yet to take a good critical look at 1978 and 2008.  Maybe in the future…?]   This will be just like 30YO, in that it won’t be strictly scheduled, but will at least be consistent.

SO!  What happened in 1998, anyway?  Personally: entering year 2 of working at HMV, finally getting myself out of debt, and writing like a fiend.  But you already know all that. Musically, it was a critical year for many bands, because it was when the Big Six distributors (Universal, EMD, BMG, Sony, PolyGram, and Warners) shrank down to the Big Five (Universal and Polygram would merge and become UMG)…and a hell of a lot of good bands with potential being unceremoniously dropped like yesterday’s fashion.  Despite that, however, there were still a hell of a lot of great records released.

So without further ado…

Bowling for Soup, Rock On Honorable Ones!!, released January. BfS’ second studio album slipped under the radar for a hell of a lot of people, and they wouldn’t get much notice until a few years later. Irreverent, goofy, nerdy, and always fun. (This particular song is featured on at least three different albums of theirs, to my knowledge.)

Pearl Jam, “Given to Fly” single, released 6 January. The lead single from their upcoming album Yield, this felt like a much stronger and more cohesive band than their previous album, 1996’s abrasive No Code. Still no video from the band (yet), but this track was an excellent start in the right direction.

Great Expectations soundtrack, released 6 January. A hip and updated version of the Dickens novel as done by 90s pretty things Ethan Hawke and Gwyneth Paltrow, the movie itself had average success and was quickly forgotten, but the soundtrack features some excellent tracks by Mono, Chris Cornell, The Verve Pipe, Pulp, Duncan Sheik, Poe, and Tori Amos.  Well worth checking out.

Radiohead, “No Surprises” single, released 12 January. Third and last single from their stunning 1997 classic OK Computer, this was a curious selection for a single, and yet seemed to fit the entire theme of that record: discomfort and irritation beyond our control.

Air, Moon Safari, released 16 January. Every now and again, an album will come out that’s so unique, so different from everything else out there, that it’ll blow the minds of all the critics, and most likely yourself. The French duo’s debut is one such album, a magical downtempo record that sounds equally futuristic and retro at the same time. Highly recommended.

Propellerheads, Decksandrumsandrockandroll, released 26 January. This duo only released one album and a few singles and EPs, but it’s a hell of a great electronica album that’s worth checking out. They deftly mix jazz, hip-hop, techno and more into an album that’s perfect for both listening and grooving.  You may also remember their track “Spybreak!” from the ridiculously over-the-top (yet so awesome) shootout scene from The Matrix.

Catatonia, “Mulder and Scully” single, released 31 January. This quirky Welsh band hit it big on both sides of the Atlantic with this fun track about a relationship so strange it calls for The X-Files duo. It would be the second single from their upcoming second album, International Velvet.

Coming up soon: February 1998!

Thirty Years On: February 1988

Welcome to another edition of TYO, with another batch of albums and singles released sometime in February of 1988 (as far as I can tell).  After the quiet calm that usually starts Q1, we’ll start hearing more classic tracks and albums, many of which still get played to this day.

Peter Murphy, “All Night Long” single. A teaser for his upcoming second album, Love Hysteria, this one definitely set the tone for Murphy’s new sound. Where his debut record (1986’s Should the World Fail to Fall Apart) was strange, angular and reminiscent of his last few years with Bauhaus, the new album was more mature, layered, and warmer in tone. This first single hit college radio and 120 Minutes and became a mainstay for months.

Jerry Harrison, Casual Gods. The Talking Heads drummer’s second solo album was a favorite on AOR stations and featured session greats such as Robbie McIntosh and Bernie Worrell.

Robyn Hitchcock & the Egyptians, Globe of Frogs. While Robyn had always maintained a strong following since his Soft Boys days, this particular album seemed to be the turning point, in part thanks to his signing to a major label, A&M. “Balloon Man” would get heavy play on AOR and college stations, and still gets played on alternative stations now and again.

Wire, “Kidney Bingos” single. Another teaser single, this time for Wire’s second comeback album A Bell Is a Cup Until It Is Struck. Many fans who’d missed out on Wire’s original late 70s post-punk run (like myself) jumped on the bandwagon with their 1987 comeback The Ideal Copy and this album, which the band themselves called their ‘beat combo’ era. Their songs are much more melodic and straightforward this time out, but they’ve retained their inherent arty weirdness with fascinating soundscapes and off-kilter lyrics.

The Wedding Present, “Nobody’s Twisting Your Arm” single. Released as a stand-alone single after their George Best album from 1987, this track is indicative of the Weddoe’s classic jangly pop-punk sound that gathered a small but loyal following.

Abecedarians, Resin. A southern California band with a unique sound that was equal parts goth, spaghetti western, and post-punk. Not too many had ever heard of this band, but those who did swore by them religiously. Highly recommended if you search long enough for their small but excellent discography.

Various Artists, Salvation! soundtrack. A fascinating soundtrack to a rather bizarre cult movie about a skeezy televangelist that features multiple tracks from New Order, including the above. [Note: the ‘movie’ scenes in that video have nothing to do with Salvation!; in fact, the video director made the entire plot up just for the song.]

Various Artists, Sgt Pepper Knew My Father. British music mag NME created this interesting if sometimes questionable recreation of the classic Beatles album as done by numerous mostly-UK bands of the day, as a charity album for their runaway hotline Childline. For every fantastic cover (such as the above, The Wedding Present’s “Getting Better” and Billy Bragg’s “She’s Leaving Home”) there are a few stinkers in there (a half-assed rap take on the title song by The Three Wize Men and a weak “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” by The Christians). And then there’s the outright weird Frank Sidebottom doing “Mr Kite”. Still, it’s a curiosity worth checking out just to get a feel of what UK pop sounded like in the late 80s.

The Woodentops, Wooden Foot Cops On the Highway. A band that could conceivably be compared to Belle & Sebastian nowadays, this band played a mix of quirky folk and rock that began with the quiet but stellar Giant in 1986 and morphed into a more boisterous sound a few years later. This album sank without trace soon after, but the band has made a comeback with an excellent cd collection of their 80s output (2013’s Before During After) plus an album of new songs a year later (2014’s Granular Tales).

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More soon, including THAT PARTICULAR SONG. You know which one I’m talking about…!

Thirty Years On: January 1988

Hello and welcome to another edition of Thirty Years On, in which we take a look at that year I have an unhealthy obsession with.  Heh.  This episode features the few albums I have solid release dates for!  Hope you enjoy!

The Godfathers, Birth, School, Work, Death, released 11 January. Much-needed Brit-punk in a season of American hardcore, these guys channeled the Clash and mixed it up with a bit of garage punk psychedelia, creating a fantastic blend of kick-ass rock and a solid album from start to finish. Highly recommended for your collection.

The Fall, “Victoria” single, released 11 January. The Fall’s mid-80s output was surprisingly upbeat and melodic, even despite singer Mark E Smith’s eternal crankiness. A wonderful cover of the classic by the Kinks, and a song that still pops into my head at the mention of that queen or the underground line.

The Pogues, If I Should Fall from Grace with God, released 18 January. The album that also features that perennial Christmas classic, The Pogues’ third album was a huge favorite for the AOR stations in New England. I believe I owned this as a dub from my British exchange student friend for a time before I finally owned it on digital many years later.

Recoil, Hydrology, released 25 January. Essentially a solo experimental project by Depeche Mode’s Alan Wilder, it’s an interesting album worth listening to, especially if you’re a big DM fan. Take all the cold industrial-synth sounds from that band’s mid-to-late 80s albums, take away Martin Gore’s lyrics, and this is what you’re left with.

George Harrison, “When We Was Fab” single, released 25 January. Okay, it’s not college rock, but it was an ex-Beatle! The second single from 1987’s comeback album Cloud Nine, this one’s an obvious and loving nod to his past.  I used to listen to this single repeatedly when it came out.

David Lee Roth, Skyscraper, released 26 January. DLR’s second post-Van Halen album was a surprisingly mature and experimental affair, focusing more on the rock and less on the flash. I particularly loved this wonderful ballad featuring some fantastic guitar work from Steve Vai.

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Next Up: February 1988!

Thirty Years On: Random January 1988

One problem with going into a chronological overview like this is that sometimes it’s hard to pin down a release date. Quite often, before the Tuesday release date plan started up around 1988-89, labels would drop an album with minimal fanfare and a ‘soft release’…basically putting it out there whenever it just happened to be ready to go.  I’m sure someone at the label office has the date on record somewhere, but they’ve never made it known.

The downside to this is that sometimes one can only guess when it dropped. Sometimes the band will have a rough date (though that’s a big if — most bands will have little to no idea), but more often it relies on someone’s memories. I’ve managed to narrow down some dates due to my memories of listening to them during a specific timeframe, or that it was on the charts at a particular time, or that one of their songs appeared on a mixtape I’d made on a certain date.

That said…here’s a few releases that, to the best of my knowledge, came out in January of 1988.

Hugo Largo, Drum. Predating the quiet minimalism of early Belle & Sebastian and the off-kilter melodies of later Bjork, Hugo Largo’s strange alt-folk was embraced fully by the college crowds. Some of it might seem a bit too twee or precious now, but it’s still a fascinating listen. They were championed by Michael Stipe, who definitely helped them gain a following. Also: check out a fantastic cover of the Kinks’ “Fancy” from the same album.

Two Men, a Drum Machine and a Trumpet, “I’m Tired of Getting Pushed Around”. A band with a longer name than their discography — this one single. Essentially Andy Cox and David Steele (formerly of The Beat, and at the time part of Fine Young Cannibals), they dropped this one house track that found its way through dance clubs and even a music bed for Entertainment Tonight segments. It’s a silly throwaway track, but it’s a classic one.

The Other Ones, Learning to Walk. You may remember this band from their late-1986 self-titled album and the minor radio favorites “We Are What We Are” and “Holiday”…or not. They were a bit of an obscure pop favorite on the US shores, and alas, this second album was never released here. I only recently found it online, and I’m kind of surprised at how good it actually is. It’s definitely of its time, but it holds up quite nicely to the first album.

Lowlife, Swirl, It Swings EP. If that bass sounds familiar, it’s because it’s Will Heggie, the original bassist for Cocteau Twins. They’re kind of similar to The Comsat Angels or Joy Division.

Moev,Yeah Whatever. One of those bands on the Nettwerk label I always had a hard time locating back in the day, they were sort of an EBM-goth hybrid that reminded me of a less aggro Front 242.  They’d get a lot of college radio airplay thanks to “Yeah Whatever” and “Crucify Me”. Definitely an album to have in your collection.

Next Up: More January releases, this time with actual release dates!

Thirty Years On

Yeah, I’m pretty sure y’all saw this coming some time ago.  My unhealthy obsession with the music of 1988 deems it necessary that I do the occasional thirty-years-on post this year.  But hey!  This time I’ll focus only on the music and spare you the personal stories you’ve heard enough times already.  This’ll be like my Blogging the Beatles posts from a few years back, taking my favorite music from my favorite year specifically from a listener’s point of view.  I don’t have any set schedule or plan for this series , so it’ll most likely be sporadic, depending on the release dates and so on.

I decided to use the classic Guns n’ Roses “Welcome to the Jungle” (or as my friend Chris once call it back then, “Welcome to my Uncle’s”) as my header video for this introduction for a few reasons.  Even though the track had been released back in July of 1987, it was still getting heavy airplay alongside their other classic single “Sweet Child o’ Mine”.  Originally I was not a GnR fan at all, lumping them in with all the other hair metal bands of the day.  But on the same token, they were essentially the hardest-sounding band out there at the time.  A quick look at the early January pop charts and you’ll notice that pop music was leaning perilously towards the ‘lite’ side.  It was refreshingly inclusive and included multiple genres and performers, sure, but you’ve got to admit that there wasn’t much of a spine to many of those songs.  GnR was the much-needed exception to that rule.

It was time to look a bit deeper into the independents if I was going to satiate my need for exciting music.

Jonc’s Best of 2017 List!

cosima to build a house

from Cosima’s “To Build a House” video

As always, it was tricky to figure out which albums to put on these lists, because I listened to a hell of a lot of music.  I decided this time out it wasn’t just about repeated listenings, but albums that made me stop and notice.  The list is quite varied this time out, featuring electronic sounds, punk, a heartbreaking soul ballad, a greatest hits album and a live album, quirky alternative pop, and more.  And yes, I do suggest you check them out if you haven’t already.

2015 Albums
15. Lydia Ainsworth, Darling of the Afterglow
14. The Jesus and Mary Chain, Damage and Joy
13. Minus the Bear, VOIDS
12. UNKLE, The Road: Part 1
11. Liam Gallagher, As You Were
10. Rainer Maria, S/T
9. Spoon, Hot Thoughts
8. Elbow, Little Fictions
7. Sylvan Esso, What Now
6. Jeff Lynne’s ELO, Wembley Or Bust
5. LCD Soundsystem, American Dream
4. Elbow, The Best of
3. U2, Sounds of Experience
2. The Sound of Arrows, Stay Free
1. The New Pornographers, Whiteout Conditions

2015 Singles
15. Rainer Maria, “Lower Worlds”
14. Alice Merton, “No Roots”
13. UNKLE, “The Road”
12. Lydia Ainsworth, “Ricochet”
11. Sylvan Esso, “Die Young”
10. Elbow, “Magnificent (She Says)”
9. Spoon, “Hot Thoughts”
8. U2, “You’re the Best Thing About Me”
7. Portugal. The Man, “Feel It Still”
6. Gang of Youths, “What Can I Do If the Fire Goes Out?”
5. The Sound of Arrows, “Stay Free”
4. The New Pornographers, “High Ticket Attractions”
3. LCD Soundsystem, “Tonite”
2. Japandroids, “Near to the Wild Heart of Life”
1. Cosima, “To Build a House”

Many Welcome Returns: New Releases from Classic Bands
Chuck Berry, Chuck
Paul Draper, Spooky Action
Dishwalla, Juniper Road
Living Colour, Shade
Rainer Maria, S/T
Ride, Weather Diaries
Slowdive, Slowdive
The Darling Buds, Evergreen EP
Roger Waters, Is This the Life We Really Want?

Best Reissues and Box Sets
The Beatles, Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band Deluxe Edition
Lloyd Cole, In New York (Collected Recordings 1988-1996)
Curve, Doppelganger and Cuckoo
Golden Earring, Complete Studio Recordings
George Michael, Listen Without Prejudice/MTV Unplugged
Yoko Ono, Fly, Approximately Infinite Universe and Feeling the Space
Prince & the Revolution, Purple Rain Deluxe Expanded Edition
Radiohead, OK Computer OKNOTOK 1997 2017
The Smiths, The Queen Is Dead [Deluxe Edition]
The The, Radio Cinéola Trilogy
U2, The Joshua Tree Super Deluxe Edition
The Who, Maximum A’s & B’s

The Singles 2017

Entry #1…the 2017 best-of compilation! Same mix rules apply as per the last few years.

Tape 1, Side 1
1. Spoon, “Hot Thoughts”
2. The New Pornographers, “High Ticket Attractions”
3. Japandroids, “Near to the Wild Heart of Life”
4. Elbow, “Magnificent (She Says)”
5. Cosima, “To Build a House”
6. Arcade Fire, “Everything Now”
7. Grizzly Bear, “Mourning Sound”
8. Portugal. The Man, “Feel It Still”
9. St Vincent, “Los Ageless”
10. LCD Soundsystem, “Tonite”

Tape 1, Side 2
1. Minus the Bear, “Last Kiss”
2. Radwimps, “Zenzenzense [Movie Version]”
3. Beck, “Up All Night”
4. U2, “You’re the Best Thing About Me”
5. Nothing But Thieves, “Sorry”
6. Sylvan Esso, “Just Dancing”
7. UNKLE, “The Road”
8. Rainer Maria, “Lower Worlds”
9. Alvvays, “Plimsoll Punks”
10. The Sound of Arrows, “Stay Free”
11. Decomposure, “Cordillera: Let’s Go Back to the TV Screen”

Tape 2, Side 1
1. The Districts, “If Before I Wake”
2. Cold War Kids, “Love Is Mystical”
3. The Jesus and Mary Chain, “Amputation”
4. Spoon, “Can I Sit Next to You”
5. Dishwalla, “Give Me a Sign”
6. The Charlatans UK, “The Same House”
7. Depeche Mode, “Where’s the Revolution”
8. Slowdive, “Star Roving”
9. Gorillaz, “Saturnz Barz”
10. Future Islands, “Ran”
11. Weezer, “Feels Like Summer”
12. Arcade Fire feat. Mavis Staples, “I Give You Power”

Tape 2, Side 2
1. Lydia Ainsworth, “Ricochet”
2. Radiohead, “Lift”
3. Wire, “Short Elevated Period”
4. Sylvan Esso, “Die Young”
5. Broken Social Scene, “Halfway Home”
6. Alt-J, “In Cold Blood”
7. The War on Drugs, “Pain”
8. Grandaddy, “Way We Won’t”
9. Maxïmo Park, “Get High (No, I Don’t)”
10. The The, “We Can’t Stop What’s Coming”
11. The New Pornographers, “Whiteout Conditions”

Tape 3, Side 1
1. Gord Downie, “Introduce Yerself”
2. Colony House, “You & I”
3. Alice Merton, “No Roots”
4. Hollerado, “Born Yesterday”
5. The Beatles, “Penny Lane [Stereo Mix 2017]”
6. Minus the Bear, “Robotic Heart”
7. The National, “The System Only Dreams in Total Darkness”
8. Temples, “Certainty”
9. The Sound of Arrows, “Beautiful Life”
10. The New Pornographers, “Avalanche Alley”
11. LCD Soundsystem, “American Dream”

Tape 3, Side 2
1. Gang of Youths, “What Can I Do if the Fire Goes Out”
2. HAIM, “Want You Back”
3. Royal Blood, “Lights Out”
4. Wolf Alice, “Yuk Foo”
5. Tricky, “New Stole”
6. Jeff Lynne’s ELO, “Twilight [Live]”
7. Liam Gallagher, “Wall of Glass”
8. Death from Above, “Freeze Me”
9. Ride, “All I Want”
10. Slowdive, “Falling Ashes”
11. Gorillaz, “We Got the Power”

Coming up: Entry #2, the end-of-year favorites lists!