Best tunes of 1990: #27 DNA featuring Suzanne Vega “Tom’s diner”

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Da da da da da da-da da, da da da da da da-da da.

That’s right. Next up on this Best of 1990 list is a great ear worm that was a joint effort between songstress Suzanne Vega and British electronic producer duo, DNA: “Tom’s diner”.

I say “joint effort” because although Suzanne Vega originally wrote the song, it wasn’t until Nick Batt and Neal Slateford put their shoulder to the track that it became a worldwide sensation. Indeed, it’s sometimes easy to forget that this one wasn’t the original version. Vega had written the song as a vocal only, a capella track in 1981 and it appeared on her sophomore album, 1987’s “Solitude standing”. Her’s is a beautiful, thoughtful, and quite awkward sounding piece and that now infamous “da da da” bit only appears at the end of the song. If you’ve never heard it before, take the time and do so now. We’ll wait.

This bare bones version leaves only the words dangling before you. It’s like a stream of conscious paean to the mundane. The singer hanging out on a rainy day, perhaps wrestling with writer’s block, and jotting down the thoughts that occur to her and the little things that happen to her as she is sitting with a coffee in Tom’s Restaurant in New York City (which some of you might recognize from television).

The version by DNA took the original a capella track, layered it with synths and a sampled dance beat and looped the outro, over and over again, throughout the song. They originally released it as a bootleg without her permission but when Suzanne Vega heard it, she liked it so much that she bought the rights and re-released it, along with the music video you can watch below (complete with dancers). It brought Suzanne Vega her first dance hit, introduced her to a whole new audience, and perhaps turned her ear to a completely different world of music. Check out some of her more industrial sounding work on 1992’s “99.9F°” if you’re not sure what I mean.

Although DNA worked magic with “Tom’s diner” and had some success with remixing other songs later on, a quick peek at Wikipedia reveals that neither Batt nor Slateford is still making music. Vega, on the other hand, is still quite active, her most recent album coming in 2016.

If this song isn’t stuck in your head yet, play the video below again and I promise you’ll be stuck with it all day. You’re welcome.

For the rest of the Best tunes of 1990 list, click here.

Best tunes of 2000: #14 The New Pornographers “The slow descent into alcoholism”

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Track fourteen, the next stop on this short list of great songs from the year 2000 takes us to a hopping ditty off “Mass romantic”, the debut album by The New Pornographers.

But before I go there, I need to talk a little bit about “Fubar”, a Canadian indie film released in 2002 that has since amassed quite the cult following. It is the debut film by Canadian director Michael Dowse and was shot in mockumentary style on digital camera and a tiny budget. The film focuses on two lifelong friends, Terry and Dean, metal heads, beer drinkers, and basically, hosers (for want of a better word). “Fubar” is as hilarious as it is sad and if it didn’t popularize the term “Giv’r”, it certainly didn’t hurt its proliferation in popular culture usage.

But why did I have to mention this film in relation to The New Pornographers’ “The slow descent into alcoholism”? First, because it’s a great Canadian film that could use another plug and reminder. Second, because its soundtrack boasted a playlist of classic Canadian rock tracks as covered by contemporary Canadian artists, including The New Pornographers’ rendition of “Your daddy don’t know” by Toronto. And finally, because Terry and Deaner appear in the video that Michael Dowse made for “The slow descent into alcoholism” (see below), doing what they do best: drinking beer and being hosers.

The New Pornographers formed in Vancouver in 1997 under the leadership of Carl Newman. It’s sometimes easy to forget that the band is really a collective and supergroup, and these days, even after seven albums together, all of its members (there are 8 of them!) still have other established projects on the go, some of them as well-known and successful as this one. What is so unique and incredible about The New Pornos is that they have lasted so long and that their sound is so cohesive, despite the different styles of its vocalists and principle songwriters: the aforementioned Newman, Dan Bejar, Neko Case, and Kathryn Calder (who didn’t join until 2005).

In trying to explain “Mass romantic”‘s immediate appeal and hook, critics have been quick to assign different iconic artists as comparison points to each song on the album. Apparently, “The slow descent into alcoholism” is David Bowie. And I suppose I can see a bit of glam rock and a touch of the theatrical in the verses and the way Newman delivers them. It’s a staccato rhythm driving the keys and vocals, all matched up with the ragtime drum beat. However, once Neko Case lovingly layers her soft and punchy backing vocals to Newman’s, all bets are off. Personally, I’ve never seen this band as derivative of any other sound and don’t really see eye-to-eye with those who take the lazy way out and shove them into the power pop pigeonhole. It’s a pop song, sure, and mighty powerful, but this group is one of a kind.

For the rest of the Best tunes of 2000 list, click here.

Vinyl love: Amos the Transparent “This cold escape”

(Vinyl Love is a series of posts that quite simply lists, describes, and displays the pieces in my growing vinyl collection. You can bet that each record was given a spin during the drafting of each corresponding post.)

Artist: Amos the transparent
Album Title: This cold escape
Year released: 2014
Details: ice blue vinyl, normal weight, gatefold jacket, signed

The skinny: The third full-length album by local Ottawa indie rockers is a concept album that seems to deal with choices, aging, dreams, and love. It plays like a symphonic journey through memories and dreams and reality. Lovely stuff.

Standout track: “That’s the life for me”