Best tunes of 2002: #22 Sam Roberts “Brother down”

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According to our friends at Wikipedia, an “extended play record, often referred to as an EP, is a musical recording that contains more tracks than a single, but is usually unqualified as an album or LP”. It’s a format that seems to have made a bit of a comeback in the last decade or so, likely as a result of and in conjunction with the return to relevance of vinyl records as a means of releasing music. In an otherwise digital sales and streaming world, the term would be rendered meaningless. Personally, and though I know a number of my favourite bands (see Belle & Sebastian) love the format, I’ve never been big on them, only procuring them in the cases of many of these same bands when I started to turn completist on collecting their musical outputs. It’s likely because for much of my early life, I didn’t have a lot of disposable income to put towards purchasing the music I loved so I had to be picky and found more value for dollar on full-length albums.

Sam Roberts’ debut release, an EP called “The inhuman condition”, was one of the few EPs I ever purchased brand new* on CD. I distinctly remember heading down to the HMV at the Rideau Centre one night after work with a $75 gift card burning a hole in my wallet. I remember wandering around the store many times with various combinations of discs in my hands, not wanting to waste such a rare opportunity in those days on poor choices. Of course, of the four or five CDs I walked out of the store with that evening, excited to get home to start spinning them, that EP was one of them, the relatively lower price and my enjoyment of this particular track whenever I heard it on X101 FM being the two main reasons.

The Montreal-based singer/songwriter has since gone on to great success nationally but I think Sam Roberts’ first single, “Brother down”, really paved the way. The version on the EP is the second version recorded (the first was a demo that you might find floating around) and he redid it a third time when he released his debut full-length the following year. It’s definitely still quite popular and has been a crowd favourite every time I’ve seen him perform live, which is actually quite a few times. It is a fun and funky number, the bongos, handclaps, and call and response vocals that run throughout providing the requisite groove. At the time, I honestly felt and described Roberts as Canada’s answer to Beck and though these days I can’t conscientiously make the same comparison, this particular song does smack audibly of Beck’s mid-90s “Odelay” days. It just makes me want to dance.

For the rest of the Best tunes of 2002 list, click here.

* As opposed to secondhand, I mean.

Best tunes of 1992: #25 Cracker “Teen angst (What the world needs now)”

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“’Cause what the world needs now
Is another folk singer
Like I need a hole in my head”

If you’re like me, you laugh a little bit every time you hear that name-making chorus line by American alt-rockers Cracker. In fact, you probably know many of the great lines in the song so well that you let loose a chuckle a few times during its entirety, even before the words are sung.

“Teen angst (what the world needs now)” was the first single ever released by the band and is track one on their self-titled debut album. Cracker was formed by David Lowery and childhood friend Johnny Hickman in 1990 after Lowery’s first band, Camper Van Beethoven, called it quits. They have released eight more albums since their debut announced their arrival, the most recent coming five years ago and according to my own city’s concert listings, Cracker are still touring, hitting a few North American spots nearing the end of this year. I never got into the Camper Van, myself, nor have I listened to much Cracker since the mid-1990s but I did love their first two records. In fact, while re-listening to “Cracker” while writing this post, I found myself wondering how me and the band ever grew apart and made the decision to have a meander through their latter works.

This particular song, though, with its tongue-in-cheek and self-deprecating attitudes, spoke to people (including myself) back in 1992. It rocked and rolled and thrashed about and twanged its way to the top of the modern rock singles charts. Lowery’s delivery, which cavorted between laidback and morally indignant, was just the right tone at just the right time. He was telling us, even as he was doubting it himself, what he thought the world needed, or maybe just what he needed to survive this world. And well, I agreed with him on many of those points.

For the rest of the Best tunes of 1992 list, click here.

100 best covers: #74 The Charlatans “Time for livin'”

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In the very first post in this series, I made mention of the compilation, “The Help Album”. It was a charity album to raise funds for War Child, an organization that helps “children in war-affected communities reclaim their childhood through access to education, opportunity and justice”*. All of the songs, along with a handful that were released on a companion EP, were recorded on one day, Monday, September 4th, 1995, mixed the following day, and released to the buying public a few days later, on Saturday, September 9th. The artwork on the copy of the compilation that I still have on CD did not make mention of any of the artists or songs, given how quick everything came together. Instead, a yellow sticker was affixed to the front of the disc with this pertinent information.

The songs on the album are all performed by Irish and English artists that were current at the time and given the year, you might be unsurprised to see that many of them were associated to the BritPop movement. Some of the songs were those that the bands had been demoing for upcoming albums, some were reimagined, previously released songs, and many, many more were covers. Hence, my mention of this album today. And besides this particular cover by The Charlatans of the Sly and the Family Stone tune, “Time for livin'”, Manic Street Preachers’ cover of “Raindrops keep falling on my head” has already appeared in this series at the aforementioned 100 spot and I’m reasonably certain without looking at my list that there might be one or two more songs from this compilation to appear later on.

The Charlatans were one of my favourite bands from the early 1990s. I had adored their first two baggy-infused albums but was slightly disappointed by their third. In early September 1995, however, they were just over one week removed from releasing their fourth, eponymously named album and to me this was a remarkable ‘comeback’ of sorts. And this cover fits right in with the sound and energy of that album, all danceable rhythms, roaring guitars, and Rob Collins’ wailing organs. It actually ranks up there with my favourite recordings by the band, not actually knowing it was a cover until many years later. Then, when I found out, I avoided listening to the Sly and the Family Stone original until just a few days ago because I just couldn’t imagine a different version. I mean, Tim Burgess singing those lines: “Time for changin’, re-arrangin’, no time for peace, just pass the buck. Rearrangin’, leader’s changin’, pretty soon he might not give a f**k.” C’mon!

So apologies to those fans out there of the original, but I’m going with the cover here. You can go ahead and try but I don’t think you’ll change my mind,

The cover:

The original:

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

* This quote is taken directly from the charity organization’s website.