Best tunes of 1991: #10 Rheostatics “Record body count”

<< #11    |    #9 >>

At the tail end of 1999, I was just over a year into my first full time, post-university job. As my wife Victoria will tell you, I often just happen into things and my work at the time was in tool rentals, a full time gig that came out of a part time job I found while my university professors were on strike near the end of my program. I went through a management training program and I was at my second store after the training, just before getting my own store the following spring. The Merton Street location was one of Stephenson’s Rent-all’s busiest stores at that time, servicing both uptown and downtown, north of Bloor and south of Eglinton. I often worked with a guy, perhaps a few years older than myself, named Chris and we shared similar tastes in music. We often talked about who we were listening to at the time and discovered new music through each other. (It was he who originally put me on to The Waterboys.) We also ensured that the radio in the store was always set to the Alternative station EDGE 102.1 while we were working, overruling with majority votes the other employees that wanted the dance or hard rock stations.

In December of that last year of the 1990s, EDGE put together its second list of the best 1002 songs ever and broadcast it over the course of a few days. I was of two minds about it at the time. I found it a shame that they were for all purposes erasing an amazing list that they had broadcast 8 years earlier in 1991 and replacing it with one made up mostly of 90s tunes, the original number one by The Smiths became second fiddle to Nirvana’s “Smells like teen spirit”. On the other hand, it was the best few days in radio I had heard years and haven’t heard since.

Rheostatics’ 1991 single “Record body count” hit the chart early on at the 960 spot and I distinctly remember Chris getting all excited. He was all over himself explaining how he went to the same high school as members of the band in Etobicoke, Ontario and how the song is about their experiences while attending the school, whose name I no longer remember.

For those outside of Canada and who might have never heard of Rheostatics, they were a four-piece that formed in 1978 when its member were all still teenagers, and yes, in Etobicoke, a community now part of the amalgamated Toronto. They developed a cult following through the 1980s and into the 1990s and they have long since become an iconic Canadian band, despite never following the traditional rock band route, their only ever top 40 hit being “Claire” in 1995. They took their place alongside The Tragically Hip, 54.40, and Sloan, having played the game their own way, mostly on the back of their live shows.

“Record body count” is quite possibly my favourite by the band. It is very short at less than two minutes and could almost be considered a pop song when compared with the rest of their body of work but if you listen to it, you know that’s far from true. It’s weird sounding, definitely unconventional, and with a jarring rhythm and bass line, reminding me a little of Primus. The lyrics are serious but not, seemingly about a young person’s first experiences with death, suicide to be specific. It was easy to identify with it, though, when I first heard it as a teenager and still feels relevant and true today.

Wow. That’s a lot of words for such a short song. Let me just close with this:

“There’s a record body count this year.”

For the rest of the Best tunes of 1991 list, click here.

Best tunes of 2011: #20 Florence and the Machine “Shake it out”

<< #21    |    #19 >>

I’m pretty sure I came to Florence and the Machine’s debut album “Lungs” late. I don’t remember exactly when it was but I feel like it may have been around Christmas time, possibly in 2010, because I was definitely in Toronto visiting my mother-in-law with my wife and up late at night, playing around on YouTube. There were a number of videos already available there and I was completely taken in by frontwoman, Florence Welch, and that incredible voice of hers. I got a copy of the album soon after and became quite enamoured with it as well, picking up the comparisons to Kate Bush and Annie Lennox completely on my own. So when sophomore album “Ceremonials” came out in 2011, I was definitely keen to check it out.

What I didn’t realize then and didn’t quite put together until recently is that Florence and the Machine is an actual band. I always thought Florence Welch was a solo artist and that the moniker was just that, a name. But no, Welch formed the band with her friend, Isabella “Machine” Summers, back in 2007 and it was fleshed out to a five piece with Robert Ackroyd, Tom Monger, and Christopher Lloyd Hayden. There has been a few shuffles in and out over the years, the ranks expanding to nine, most of the original band members remaining. With so many hands, it’s no wonder their sound is so big and dramatic, a perfect vehicle to fly with Welch’s aforementioned angelic vocals.

Not counting the promotional teaser, “What the water gave me”, “Shake it out” was the first single to be released from “Ceremonials”, and it’s awesome. I feel like she’s more Annie Lennox here than Kate Bush. It’s old sounding but not at all delicate. No, decadent would definitely be the better word. More Marie Antoinette than Emily Brontë. It’s thumping and clapping drum rhythms and big wall of noise organs above it. It’s glorious singing, both soft and bold, and Florence Welch dancing all over the stage in a big period piece costume, while coquettish ladies in waiting sing behind fluttering fans. The words, too, are just as invigorating, empowering us all to shake off our demons and dance.

Not bad for a song purportedly written while hung over.

For the rest of the Best tunes of 2011 list, click here.

Best tunes of 2001: #5 The Strokes “Last nite”

<< #6    |    #4 >>

At number five on this Best tunes of 2001 list is the second single off The Strokes’ debut album “Is this it?”. Arguably, this song, the band, and this album were instrumental in plotting the ultimate direction of indie and alternative rock for the new millennium.

The Strokes formed in New York City in 1998. The five piece led by frontman Julian Casablancas recorded a raw and energetic EP in 2001 that started a bidding war amongst the majors. They ended up landing with RCA, who released the debut LP referred to above, a ten song juggernaut that was recorded with the same producer and same DIY ethos as the EP. To say that “Is this it?” generated a buzz is putting it mildly. There was unanimous acclaim. It appeared on everyone’s best of the year list and the band’s name was on everyone’s lips.

I remember them still being a hot item even a year later. It sticks out to me because I made a special trip to Peterborough in 2002 to visit my friends from university. On the morning-slash-early-afternoon after I arrived, the load of us walked down to The Only Cafe for brunch. This meal was particularly memorable, first of all, because it was a unique experience, given the socialist, trust-based business plan of the establishment and its mixed bag clientele, and second, due to “Is this it?” being played whilst we chewed on egg, toast, and crunchy coffee. Pretty much all of my friends recognized the album, despite the varied tastes, liked it and were effusive in their praise of the sound and the excitement with which it polluted the air all around.

“Last nite” is representative of the raw, driven energy, and the immediacy of the album. The production is purposefully not crisp, giving the impression (which is actually correct) that it was recorded live in one take, a loud broadcast from a shambolic garage. Indeed, it succeeds in presenting the band as from another age, finding itself lost in the present day, a time traveller from the past informing the present of its mistakes. Casablancas is a lounge singing Lou Reed, half-heartedly trying to keep up with the song’s pace, and the band is keeping it simple, like pop music, if said pop music were roughly hewn from a rusty old carving knife.

For the rest of the Best tunes of 2001 list, click here.