Best tunes of 1990: #8 Lush “De-Luxe”

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Oh Lush.

This here is another shoegaze band that I really loved back in the day (and still do), though I didn’t get into them until a few years after this particular track’s release. They were formed in 1987 when close friends Miki Berenyi and Emma Anderson (who were in other bands previously) joined Chris Acland’s band, Baby Machines. After bassist Steve Rippon joined the band, they changed their name to Lush and a year or so later, original vocalist Meriel Barham (later of Pale Saints) left the band and Berenyi to take over the duties at the mike. She was never confident in her vocal duties early on, however, which is why they were always buried so low in the mix, a hallmark of their early sound.

“De-Luxe” first appeared on the “Mad Love” EP, the second of three short discs released on 4AD from 1989 to 1990. All of these were then compiled at the end of 1990 into one full length release, called “Gala”, meant to introduce the band to North America prior to their proper debut the following year. It was on this latter release that I first heard the single, albeit probably four years later, by way of a tape made for me by my friend Tim. (Thanks again buddy.) For a while, it was the only tape I listened to on my commute between my tiny basement apartment in Vaughan, just north of Steeles Road (Toronto), to the campus at York University. Indeed, I’ll always think of skipping back and forth between my feet to keep warm, waiting for the blasted TTC bus when I hear it. So if this song has a season for me, it’s definitely winter.

And why not? It’s jangly and shimmering, like the pure sounds of ice crystals dancing on the harsh Canadian winter winds. The vocal harmonies of Anderson and Berenyi are high on the register, jingling bells just barely scratching through the surface of the frost on the bus windows in the dark of the morning. You can almost feel the slushy puddles you have to lightly step through to get to the bus doors, not wanting to get your adidas sneakers soaked, lest you have to sit uncomfortably through another philosophy lecture.

But I digress… enjoy the lovely tune.

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

Best tunes of 2000: #1 Coldplay “Yellow”

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So here we are reaching the end of the first series, hence, list on this young blog of mine. Admittedly, at 15 tracks, it’s a short list, given what I’ve always felt was a lack of quality material to draw from in 2000’s music releases. You’ve read the title and so you know the song I’ve ranked as number one. If you haven’t been following along from the beginning, I invite you to go back and check out the rest of the list here.

If you’re still with with me, I’ll begin. But first I want you to close your eyes (not literally, silly, you won’t be able to continue reading) and use your imagination. Yes, imagine that it is 2000 or if that fails, try to remember yourself and your musical tastes in and around that time. It is before Coldplay got huge. Before “Yellow” was seriously overplayed on radio stations everywhere. Before “Rush of cold blood to head”, “X&Y”‘, and each successive album thereafter, each one getting bigger and more bloated. Before the arena tours that saw the foursome trying to become U2. And failing. Before the millions and millions of record sales. Before Chris Martin’s marriage to Gwyneth Paltrow and the birth of Apple. Before all of it. And imagine (or remember) what it would be/was like to listen to “Yellow” for the first time.

Yeah. That’s the spot. That’s why it’s number one on this list.

I don’t have to imagine such a scenario because I remember the first time I heard it played on EDGE 102.1. My early morning alarm had gone off, tuned to the radio. Some other song was finishing and that solo acoustic guitar strum intro came on, followed by the messy, slightly off tune rhythm guitar and Chris Martin’s opening lines: “Look at the stars, look how they shine for you.” Yes, I recognized Pixies’ oft-recycled, loud-soft-loud logic, along with early Radiohead’s British alt-rock template, but it was all done honestly and passionately. And it was love at first hearing. So instead of jumping out of bed and into the shower as I normally would have done, I waited through another song to hear the announcer report the name of band and song. I duly jotted both down in the writer’s notebook that I used to keep by my bedside and headed off to work.

As soon as I got home, I dialled in to the internet, logged in to Napster, and a half hour later or so, I had “Yellow” on my desktop computer. I listened to it a dozen or so times. Ate dinner. Then, listened to it a couple dozen more times. Some time later, probably not very long after, I went out and bought Coldplay’s debut, “Parachutes”, and proceeded to play the hell out of that. Little did I know that all around the city, country, and world, many others were doing something similar and radio stations and music video channels were filling the voids in between. So when their first North American club tour reached Toronto, I was surprised when tickets sold out fast. I didn’t see them until five years later at a venue (Corel Centre) way bigger than their own capacity warranted, in my opinion.

But I’ll stop there before the ranting begins.

To sum up, “Yellow” is a great rocker that generated a lot of excitement back in 2000 and taken on its own, time really hasn’t changed any of that for me. Enjoy.

Top five tunes: R.E.M.

Who? R.E.M.

Years active: 1980 – 2011

Band members:
Michael Stipe (lead vocals) 1980 – 2011
Peter Buck (lead guitar, mandolin, banjo) 1980 – 2011
Mike Mills (bass guitar, keyboards, backing vocals) 1980 – 2011
Bill Berry (drums, percussion, backing vocals) 1980 – 1997

Murmur (1983)
Reckoning (1984)
Fables of the Reconstruction (1985)
Lifes Rich Pageant (1986)
Document (1987)
Green (1988)
Out of Time (1991)
Automatic for the People (1992)
Monster (1994)
New Adventures in Hi-Fi (1996)
Up (1998)
Reveal (2001)
Around the Sun (2004)
Accelerate (2008)
Collapse into Now (2011)

I would imagine, if you are reading these words, that you are not completely in the dark about R.E.M., the group, the music, and their impact on modern rock. But just in case you are, I’ll flesh out the quick facts from up above. Formed in 1980 in Athens, Georgia as a quartet, they lasted 31 years and ended things up as a trio, losing their full-time drummer to health issues along the way. They’ve released 15 studio albums in all, along with 16 compilations, selling a total of 85 million records worldwide, and were inducted into the rock and roll hall of fame in 2007. They were one of the first “alternative rock” bands and have influenced pretty much every group from that genre worth listening to.

My own first exposure to the group came after the release of their major label debut, “Green”, in 1988 and I saw the video for “Stand” on the Chum FM 30 countdown. I bought the cassette tape and wore it out, later replacing it with the compact disc. When I started transitioning my tastes from pop music to alternative, as the 80s gave way to the 90s, I decided it was still “cool” to like them and I began to explore more and more of their back catalogue. But it was the two albums that followed “Green”, during the period that they took off from touring, that I consider my favourite of their many ‘periods’ in the career. And I know that I am not alone here, but really, how can you argue with “Out of time” and “Automatic for the people”?

Speaking of the latter, we just passed the 25th anniversary of that great album’s release date a few days ago. In celebration of such an auspicious occasion, the album is due to be re-issued next month in a deluxe CD box set format, as well as a new pressing on 180 gram vinyl. Given that “Automatic for the people” is my all-time favourite album by the band, I jumped right on the pre-order wagon and am not-so-patiently awaiting the record’s delivery. The anniversary is also what prompted this particular post, in a sense. Though in truth, I’ve been working on putting together this list of my top 5 songs of R.E.M. for months but have been in serious procrastination mode, given the difficulty I’ve been having settling on just the five out of the great depth and wealth of their tracks.

As always, after reading about my picks, I’d love to hear from you in the comments section below. Do you disagree with my choices? If so, what are your five favourite tunes by R.E.M.? Go ahead and choose your own. It’s not an easy task, I promise you.

The top five:

#5: Leave (from “New adventures in hi-fi”, 1996)

An ex-girlfriend got me a copy of “New adventures in hi-fi” on CD for my birthday. Otherwise, I might not have purchased it as soon as it came out. It had felt like decades had past since “Automatic for the people,” instead of just four years and lots had happened, both to R.E.M.’s sound and to my tastes. I didn’t listen to it right away and when I finally did get to it, nothing immediately grabbed me. But it was a slow grower. And this track is like a poster boy for the album as a whole, a song that on first listen, is annoying with that fire alarm guitar motif acting as a cover for the beauty of the song. I think it took hearing the alt. version of the track at Dance Cave one night (check it out here) for the song to really click. But where that one is shorter and quieter, I do prefer the album version for its length and boiling rage. The roaring and foreboding guitars threaten to overtake Stipe’s vocals but he doesn’t let them here, very much needing to be heard. So much emotion in all that sound.

#4: Orange crush (from “Green”, 1988)

From the files of misheard lyrics humour, I freely admit that for many years, I thought that when Michael Stipe sang, “Follow me, don’t follow me, I’ve got my spine, I’ve got my orange crush”, I thought that he was saying: “I’ve got my sprite, I’ve got my orange crush”. Sure, I thought it was strange to be singing about soda pop but I was young and full of shrugs. Of course, I know now that it is an anti-vietnam war song, the “orange crush” referring to a chemical weapon agent and the rapid fire drum beat that I loved to shuffle my feet to on the dance floor was meant to resemble machine gun fire. And sure, armed with the real meaning, the helicopter sounds and the marching chants towards the end of the tune make a lot more sense. But knowing their intent doesn’t change what a great pop song this is and didn’t at all ruin my love for dancing to it.

#3: Losing my religion (from “Out of time”, 1991)

I feel like this is the song that changed everything for R.E.M. It was their highest charting single up to that point and the video (seen below) was on constant rotation on all the music channels. It really is a brilliant tune. Not so obviously pop with its heavy leaning on Peter Buck’s mandolin and seemingly rambling and nonsensical lyrics, but the straightforward beat, string flourishes, and handclaps made it pretty catchy. But don’t let the name or all the religious imagery in the video fool you. According to the group, it’s a tune about unrequited love. And you can almost hear the pleading in Stipe’s vocals as he sings about the largesse of life, the lengths he will go to and the distance in her eyes. Really? Who is this woman that can resist that delicate mandolin and Michael Stipe’s one of a kind vocals? I’m projecting here, of course, assuming it’s a woman, but whoever it is, whatever it is, this feeling of being left like a lost fool is universal and now we have an anthem for us all to get behind.

#2: Nightswimming (from “Automatic for the people”, 1992)

“Automatic for the people”. As mentioned above, my absolute favourite of their albums, but also considered by a great many others to be the band’s best. ‘Dark and brooding’, it’s called. But I disagree, preferring ‘contemplative’ as a descriptive. It has its happy moments, as well as its sad, but it’s all very thought-provoking. “Drive”, “Man on the moon”, “Everybody hurts”, “The sidewinder sleeps tonight”, “Sweetness follows”, the list of great tunes goes on and on. I could have easily filled this top five list with songs from this one album (but that wouldn’t have been very representative). And yet, I chose “Nightswimming”, the penultimate track, a quiet wonder, a tune I didn’t even know was released as a single until I started writing these words. Why? Because it’s brilliant. It’s use of piano and strings is so anti-guitar rock and so anti-everything that was popular music in 1992. Michael Stipe is the star here, singing so lovely and waxing nostalgic about the end of summer and swimming naked by the moonlight. It’s all so real that the memory feels like its mine. A song I could listen to forever and not grow tired of its beauty.

#1: It’s the end of the world as we know it (and I feel fine) (from “Document”, 1987)

…On the other hand, this is a song that I feel like I have been listening to forever and has many real memories attached to it. One of these happens to have been formed in that year I took off between high school and university and I was having pints after my shift in the bar I worked at for few months. I got to talking with a gentleman a number of years older than I was (and probably quite a bit drunker that night) and we talked a lot about music, some of which I knew, some of which I would discover over time. At some point, this particular track came over the speakers and my “friend” started singing along. But when he got to the line, “Lenny Bruce is not afraid”, he insisted that “Lenny Bruce is not insane”. I didn’t argue with him for long because he just kept getting louder about it and of course, at the time, there was no such thing as google or wikipedia, so I just ordered us both another round of pints and joined him in singing the incorrect line. And really, with a song this great, so rocking and energetic, a rhyming off of historical moments and figures at a frantic pace, trying to get it all in before the end, what’s one wrong lyric? Cheers.

For other top five lists in this series, click here.