Best tunes of 1991: #7 Teenage Fanclub “The concept”

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Moving deeper into the top ten of my favourite tunes of 1991, I have, at number seven, Teenage Fanclub’s “The concept”, the epic opening track off “Bandwagonesque”.

Teenage Fanclub was formed in Scotland in 1989 by guitarist/vocalists Norman Blake, Gerard Love, and Raymond McGinley. Over the years, all three of these founding members have shared songwriting and lead vocal duties across their albums. Their number have typically been rounded up to four with a succession of drummers that have included Francis MacDonald (twice!), Brendan O’Hare, and Paul Quinn, and in recent years, they have added keyboards, the fifth member up to this year being Dave McGowan.

The band has never taken themselves too seriously and this was never more true than in their very first few years, prioritizing fun over proper song structure and form. Their first couple of albums were mostly just noise and laughs. “Bandwagonesque”, their third, bridges the gap between these early games and the surprisingly long career and excellent discography that followed. They were obviously still having fun here, as evidenced by gentle punches pulled at the metal genre (“Satan” and “Metal Baby”), and there was still a lot of noise happening, but there was also a lot more attention paid to songcraft. It didn’t sell a lot of copies at first release (though it did reasonably well in the states) but the critics loved it and so did their peers. They were name checked at the time by Sonic Youth and Nirvana and quite famously, Spin magazine picked this album as their album of the year for 1991 over “Nevermind”, “Out of time”, and “Loveless”. And it is still quite influential to the kids that were listening to it at the time and that have become known musicians these days, like Death Cab for Cutie’s Ben Gibbard, who recorded a full album cover of “Bandwagonesque” in 2017.

“The concept” starts off the album with a scream of feedback and that iconic first line: “She wears denim wherever she goes, says she’s gonna get some records by the Status Quo.” Its first two minutes set the stage for the rest of the band’s career, mellow rocker with jangly guitars just this side of fuzz and Blake’s gentle rock star vocals with the three part harmonies the band would become known for at the chorus. Between the verses, the guitars become just that much more raunchy and then, at the three minute mark, the song becomes completely instrumental and the guitars follow the drums into a loose jam, at one point, a violin bow is even brandished to further accentuate their point.

As album openers go, it doesn’t get much better. The six plus minutes is like butter on toast, urging you on for another bite. Happy Friday.

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

Best tunes of 2011: #18 The Pains of Being Pure at Heart “Heart in your heartbreak”

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For a while in the early 2010s, I was completely enamoured with twee and indie pop. Something about the precious quirkiness and often upbeat sound really appealed to me at that time. In my attempts to track down everything I could and trace my way back through the genre, I found my way to the label Slumberland Records. And well, my mass consumption of all the bands on their roster led me to The Pains of Being Pure at Heart.

The group was formed in 2007 by Kip Berman and a bunch of friends while living and working in New York after college. Their first two albums were released by the original lineup of Berman, Alex Naidus, Peggy Wang, and Kurt Feldman but after that, the band disintegrated some and nowadays, it is Berman’s solo project.

The second album released under the Pains moniker was 2011’s “Belong”, the final release on Slumberland, and was produced and mixed by Flood and Alan Moulder, two very well known names in the alt rock world. It was a critical darling, mixing the precious feelings of twee with reverb drenched shoegaze noise.

“Heart in your heartbreak” was one of the singles released in advance of said album. It’s got a peppy beat and and post-punk bassline. You can feel in the Eighties style, singalong chorus, a cheeriness covering up a high school sadness and teen angst that we can all identify with.

“She was the heart in your heartbreak
She was the miss in your mistake
And no matter what you take
You’re never going to forget”

It is a song for winter, for gathering yourself up in your coziest, heavy sweater with a hot mugga and remembering the warmth of summer, when love seemed possible and all dreams were alive, instead of sleeping under piles of snow. Yeah, “Heart in your heartbreak” is certainly the cause for wistful smiles and plenty of yearnings of yesterday.

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

100 best covers: #81 The Pogues “Dirty old town”

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Ok. So it’s been quite a while since I’ve posted one for this series, well over three months for sure. And this is another that I didn’t know was a cover for the longest time. The Pogues recorded “Dirty old town” for their second album, 1985’s “Rum, sodomy, and the lash”, and it’s here that I’ve heard and sung along to these words countless times.

It was originally written in 1949 by actor, poet, playwright and songwriter, Ewan MacColl, who is, incidentally, the father of Kirsty MacColl. (I’m sure you all see the connection.) He wrote it for one his plays, “Landscape with chimneys”, as an ode of sorts to Salford, the town of his birth. He later recorded it in 1952 and it has become a folk classic, apparently covered dozens and dozens of times. Perhaps it was most famously done by The Dubliners in 1976, whose version (check it here) was upbeat and raucous, with banjos, fiddles, and shout along vocals, and likely influenced that of The Pogues.

MacColl’s original, at least the recording in the video below, is by contrast scratchy and hissing and full of cobwebs, sounding forgotten in the darkest corner of your grandparents’ attic. It is a soft strum on the guitars, almost an afterthought to the sorrowful vocals, MacColl warbling all over the place. It is only 2 minutes 45 but feels a whole lot longer.

The Pogues’ cover is also sad but decidedly more upbeat. It is not hoarse and roaring like The Dubliners do it, nor as punk-influenced as other tunes in The Pogues back catalogue. It is a song to sway to with a frothy pint in hand, the band off in the pub’s corner, a harmonica crying sadly, the mandolin waffling and sniffling, the fiddles creaking like a squeaky old door, and Pogues’ vocalist Shane MacGowan slurring roughly, as he is wont to do. All in all, there’s plenty of memories and regret in each note and tap on the drums.

So in sum, I think all three of the versions here are great but the one by The Pogues is my preference. Thoughts?

The cover:

The original:

For the rest of the 100 best covers list, click here.