The cassette single, or “cassingle”, was the magnetic cassette tape equivalent to the vinyl 45, the format it was meant to replace back in the mid to late 80s and into the 90s. However, it never did gain the traction that the record companies had hoped it would. And why would it, really? A cassette with a song on each side, or in some cases, both songs repeated on both sides, packaged in a flimsy cardboard sleeve. It was hardly worth shelling out the dough and definitely not worth inserting into your Sony Sports Walkman if you made the miscalculation of purchasing it. Nonetheless, anyone who listened to music back in those days likely remembers having one or two cassingles in their collection and indeed, I’m sure some of you even still have one or two of these relics gathering dust somewheres.
I definitely had one or two at the time and remember exchanging and sharing these two song wonders between friends. I mention this long defunct format today because the first time I ever heard Concrete Blonde’s “Joey” was when a girl I was “seeing” for a very brief time in high school loaned me her copy of the cassette single. And also, the very fact that this song was released in this format illustrates that it enjoyed a modest modicum of commercial success, one the few songs by the band that did.
Concrete Blonde was an American alternative rock band led by the intense vocals of Johnette Napolitano and whose name was suggested to the band by friend and fellow IRS labelmate Michael Stipe. In their early days, the band played to an almost exclusive college radio crowd, right up until the release of “Bloodletting”, which exposed them to wider commercial audience, mostly thanks to this track, “Joey”. The interesting thing is that this is the album that saw the band move away from their more pedestrian, hard rock roots towards a darker, more gothic rock sound.
“Joey” was the final track recorded for the album because the lyrics were emotionally difficult for Napolitano to lay down. She has since confirmed early suspicions that the song is about an alcoholic (a stretch, I know), and specifically, about her relationship with Wall of Voodoo guitarist, Marc Moreland. Even without knowing any of this, you can hear the pain in Napolitano’s voice as it flips between the soothing and sad verses to the rage and the pleading in her chorus.
But if I seem to be confused
I didn’t mean to be with you.
And when you said I scared you
Well, I guess you scared me too.
The song is quite beautiful in its melancholy, and not just in the lyrics and the way she sings them, but also in the solemnity of the simple drum line and fills and the aching guitar solos. This is a song that I’ve played on repeat numerous times in the past and have also done a few times this week. Enjoy.
For the rest of the Best tunes of 1990 list, click here.