Best tunes of 2000: #11 U2 “Beautiful day”

I’ve gone back and forth on U2 over the years. I’ve liked certain songs and not others. I’ve bought albums and then, given them away because I never listened to them. It’s likely because for many years their music was inescapable, played on every radio station and their videos on heavy rotation on MuchMusic. And then of course, there’s the larger than life personas of the four band members, especially that of their frontman. I suppose I’ve suffered from U2 exhaustion for a number of years.

So why is “Beautiful day”, the first single off U2’s tenth studio album, “All that you can’t leave behind”, at the number eleven spot on my Best of 2000 list?

I place the blame squarely on my wife, Victoria.

It was because of her that I saw them live in 2005. It was then that Bono famously agreed to bring U2 to Ottawa to play Scotiabank Place at the behest of then Prime Minister, Paul Martin, as a favour between friends. Victoria, who had already seen them live twice, convinced me that I should at the very least see them perform once in my lifetime, so I duly queued up for tickets online and scored some decent seats. As it turned out, I really enjoyed U2’s set. Maybe it was the lack of expected theatrics or maybe I got caught up in the passion of the fans who surrounded me, but it was some magical and I found new respect for the Irish quartet.

It was also because of Victoria that this particular song stuck out for me among the best when I was compiling the list of my favourite tunes of 2000. I think it was because it found a place on many of the mixed CDs I made for her, or for others on behalf of her, over the years that I cultivated a fondness for “Beautiful day”. I say “think” now because she had me doubting myself when I asked her for her thoughts on the song for this post and she replied that it wasn’t one of her favourites. Her very next words were to compare it with the Levellers song of the same name, which to my mind is the only real point of comparison.

I was beginning to consider abandoning ship and taking a different tack but then, I played it for her. And I saw that smile.

“It is driving fast with the windows down, the stereo blaring and the wind in your face. Being in love and not caring about anything else.” (And I’m paraphrasing here because I’m writing this a few days after the conversation but I think and hope I am getting it right.) “It has that intro that makes you want to jump up and dance. But Bono doesn’t give it to you. He’s singing at his own pace, like he’s moving slowly along to a different beat as the world is crashing and racing around him.”

A good description, I thought. But she didn’t really need to say all that because that smile of remembering said enough for me. 

So turn it up and enjoy. No matter the weather, it’s Saturday. It’s going to be a beautiful day.

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

Best tunes of 2000: #12 Radiohead “Optimistic”

April 12, 1998. A date I will always remember for two reasons. First, it was the first and last time I ever worked on an Easter Sunday and second, it was the first and only time I ever saw Radiohead perform live. I remember it being a very quiet shift at the tool rental store at which I worked at the time, serving only a few customers, receiving more calls from other, busier store locations than actual customers, which all made for a very long wait before the show. It’s funny now remembering how much I was looking forward to it that day, considering the only reason I was going was that I loved the opening act and my friend Terry had an extra ticket. Björk was originally supposed to co-headline the show with Radiohead at the stop at Maple Leaf Gardens in Toronto but she had to cancel just prior to tickets going on sale and the vacant opening slot was filled by Spiritualized, who already had this job for the other stops along the tour.

It’s a point of fact that I had already seen Spiritualized at a small club called Guvernment the previous fall on their own headline tour in support of “Ladies and gentlemen, we are floating in space”, a show that I loved and will always remember for many reasons (but that’s a story for another time). And so, I jumped at the chance at seeing them again; Radiohead, for me, was just a bonus. As it would turn out, Spiritualized were phenomenal, doing an admirable job of filling a half-empty arena with their space rock noise, but Radiohead was the revelation. I don’t know what their live show is like these days but in 1998, it was electric and made me an even bigger fan of their music than I already was.

I mention this concert in connection to “Optimistic”, a track that appears on “Kid A”, an album that would come out two years later, because of a (likely unfounded) theory I later developed that it was this tour with Spiritualized that changed everything for Radiohead. When “Kid A” came out, I think a lot of people didn’t know what to think of it. Prior to this album, Radiohead was an excellent guitar rock band and though “OK computer” really pushed the proverbial envelope, it could be considered almost pedestrian when set beside “Kid A”. To me, it sounded like Thom Yorke had spent a load of time with Spiritualized’s evil genius, Jason Pierce, adopted his love of droning rock, free jazz, and experimental noise and leapt off the high diving board without a life jacket. The funny thing is that though I love Spiritualized and everything they produce, “Kid A” and pretty much every Radiohead album that came afterward have never really done anything for me.

Until recently, that is.

(And before I go further, I just want to say that I am not one of those people that slammed “Kid A”, only to much later proclaim it the album of the year. I’ve never hated Radiohead’s later works. I’ve just always preferred albums two and three.)

This week, while listening to “Kid A” in preparation for writing this post, I feel like I heard something there that I hadn’t heard before. “Optimistic”, in particular, got me going with its thrumming and aggressive guitars and pounding drums. These two forces create a palpable tension while Thom Yorke pleads and wrangles with his listeners come along with him for the ride. I listened to it over and over again, each time turning it up louder, the increasing volume making things even more clear. And while I’m not sure I’m sure I’m quite ready to retroactively crown “Kid A” album of the decade or move “Optimistic” further up this list, I think I might be ready to give post-“OK computer” Radiohead another chance.

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

Best tunes of 1990: #23 The Mission “Deliverance”

(So before I get too far into this post, I need to come clean right here about the fact that a good part of the posts in this list had originally been written for and posted on my old blog, Music Insanity, last year. Parts of this particular post were originally published in April 2016 and my friend Tim, who figures prominently in the text below, emailed me shortly after it went public to say that he felt almost like a guest contributor.)

I was introduced to The Mission by Tim back in high school. I had asked him to record me a copy of The Wonder Stuff’s “Hup” to cassette from his vinyl version. Of course, as we did back in those days when an album fit all on one side of a C90, he filled the other side with a mix of songs that he liked from other records in his collection. Two of those tracks were “Deliverance” and “Butterfly on a wheel”, both from The Mission’s 1990 album, “Carved in sand”.

My knowledge of the gothic rock band is limited to anecdotal bits of information, like the fact that they were formed in 1986 by Wayne Hussey and Craig Adams when they left/were kicked out of The Sisters of Mercy. So rather than make stuff up for the post, I decided to go back to the source and I texted Tim to see if he could give me more to go on. I started off by asking for his top five Mission songs.

“Hmm. Tower of strength, Deliverance, Butterfly on a wheel, their cover of Neil Young’s Like a Hurricane, and Wasteland. Haven’t listened to them in a while.”

Then, I asked him for his thoughts on “Butterfly on a wheel” because this post was originally going to focus on that song (more on that in a moment).

“I’d say it’s aged better than a lot of their stuff, and is one of those songs that show how they really wanted to be Zeppelin, with all the cheesy, over-the-top imagery. But it works on this song.”

And then there was this:

“That was tough to come up with since I’m only on my first coffee.”

Don’t worry friends, Tim redeemed himself and showed me up in the process the following weekend. 

I hadn’t yet started writing about “Butterfly on a wheel” when I went I down to Toronto for the Easter weekend holidays. As I normally try to do when I’m in T-dot, I got together with my old friends for some beers, this of course, included Tim. My recollection of the evening is a bit patchy given the time that has elapsed, and the quality and quantity of beers consumed, but I do remember the conversation at one point turning to this post on The Mission. He asked me at one point why I chose “Butterfly” over “Deliverance” and I responded that it was because it was for my Best of 1990 series, not realizing at the time that they were both from the very same album.

(And this is where I have to make confession #2. To this day, I am not sure if I’ve ever listened to one of The Mission’s albums in full, having only their 1994 compilation, “Sum and substance”, in my music library.)

It wasn’t hard for Tim to convince me to change the song to “Deliverance”. I enjoy both but have always preferred the latter. It is a darker and harder-living track than its romantically fey and Victorian-era dressed younger brother. When placed side-by-side, it’s hard to tell that they are by the same band, let alone from the same album (and that’s not me making excuses). On both, Wayne Hussey exercises the bourbon smooth depth of his vocals but on “Deliverance” he is more insistent, matching the driving rhythm and roaring guitars. And according to the vague memory I have of the aforementioned conversation, “Deliverance” builds and builds to a “big YAAA! crescendo”. (I would include the photo I still have on my phone of Tim giving a visual representation of this sentiment but I’m not sure he’d approve.)

I’ve included both songs below for your review. However, I think you’ll agree with Tim (as I did) that “Deliverance” is the slightly better track.

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