Best tunes of 1990: #12 The Happy Mondays “Step on”

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“He’s gonna step on you again, he’s gonna step on you
He’s gonna step on you again, he’s gonna step on you
You’re twistin’ my melon man, you know you talk so hip man
You’re twistin’ my melon man”

And so starts Sean Ryder’s litany of nonsense that makes up the lyrics on “Step on”, the standout track from Happy Mondays’ third long player “Pills ‘n’ thrills and bellyaches”. To write this post a couple of weeks ago, I downed a couple pints of Beau’s Tom Green Summer Stout, put on my earphones, turned up the volume and then, put the yellow vinyl copy I bought on Record Store Day a few years back on my turntable. Lights dimmed and mood created, I dropped the needle, texted my friend Andrew Rodriguez the watermelon slice emoticon, and I let the party begin.

I really didn’t know what to think the first time I heard “Step on” and really, I understood less, the more I learned about the band. They were a product of their time and place: late 80s Manchester. There were drugs. And the mixing of 60s psychedelia and acid house culture. Lots of dancing. And more drugs. The beat was king and that was all the meaning that was necessary. “Pills ‘n’ thrills” illustrates this point, all groovy bass, bongos, drum machines and samples, chaotic, yet organic guitar craziness set against Dadaist lyrics and Ryder’s unsung, shout-along vocals. It is a non-stop party as long as you keep dancing and the drugs don’t run out.

The moment “Step on” came on, the third song on the second side of the album, I wanted to get up and dance around my living room. It is a rave epitomized. It’s whistles and heavy bass. It’s Shaun Ryder yelling “call the cops”. It’s Bez dancing with his maracas. It’s that hopping keys line and growling guitars. It’s neon and glow sticks. And to top it all off… it’s a cover song… or so I learned from an Andrew Rodriguez text message while writing these very words.

What?

Yeah. Apparently, it’s a cover of song from 1971, originally by South African singer/songwriter John Kongos. Ryder and co., renamed it from the original title “He’s gonna step on you again”, and created a version that I can only imagine is completely different. And you know that there’s no way I want to go back and hear Kongos’ version now, after all these years. It can’t exist in this dance party world that I inhabit while the song plays in the background.

Such a great tune and as Rodriguez succinctly summed it all up: “By midway through the song you are too busy dancing to care what twisting my melon means”

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

Best tunes of 2000: #3 Doves “The man who told everything”

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At the number three spot is another fantastic track by Doves, the only band to make more than one appearance on this Best tunes of 2000 list, the other being at number #10 with “Catch the sun“. Both songs are from the band’s stunning debut album, “Lost souls”‘, an album I didn’t actually hear until two or three years after the fact but one that has since reached the upper echelons in my all-time favourites conversations.

“The man who told everything” is the third single to be released off the album and lyrically, though I can’t be absolutely sure, appears to follow the same sort of themes expounded in single number two, “Catch the sun”.

“Get out of bed, pick up the phone, time to tell the press
Say to myself, I can’t do no one else, there’s a whole world outside
I’m gonna tell it all, I’m gonna sell it all, I’m gonna sell
Get out of bed, come out and sing, blue skies ahead, the man who told everything.”

It’s almost like the band were writing about how they were feeling at the time of making the record. Being that it was a very long process and that they were drastically changing their approach to music, they couldn’t wait to unleash “Lost souls”. It all feels very transformative, like their cocoon had become way too small for all their grand ideas and they were bursting to get it all out into the big blue world and into the sunshine. They didn’t want to hold anything back and in this excitement, seemed to be pushing everyone else to do the same. Live big and bold.

And the music expounds all that. “The man who told everything” is big, bold, and beautiful. But don’t mistake my words for inferring that this tune is high energy frenzy. Instead, for all the excitement of the words, the music has a more muted pace. The guitar strumming matches the easy drumming at the outset but at each chorus, another layer of guitars and string effects is added that has an arduous quality, at once daunting and stubborn and unforgiving. I don’t how to else to describe it. It’s brilliant though. I like to listen to this one late at night, lights dimmed, earphones on, volume up, eyes closed, a pint not far from hand, and just let the waves of it all crash over me. So much awesome.

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

Best tunes of 1990: #13 The Sundays “Here’s where the story ends”

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The Sundays’ “Here’s where the story ends” epitomizes for me the dog days of summer, something we have yet to really experience here in Ottawa, Canada this year. The song is jangly and full of sunshine, yet you don’t have to make a lot of movements to be able to dance to it. Instead, the peppy yet subdued guitar strumming backbone of the song, warms you up, bringing to mind some of the more upbeat tunes from The Smiths’ repertoire, and yet Harriet Wheeler’s vocals are completely different than those of Morrissey. Less affected and more natural and yes, actually cheerful.

The Sundays were formed by Wheeler and David Gavurin in 1988. While they added members to become a four piece by the time they recorded any material, the original duo were the main creative force behind this British alternative rock band. They released their debut album, “Reading, writing, and arithmetic”, in 1990 and it was a creative and commercial success, reaching number 4 on the UK charts and 39 in the US, mostly on the back of “Here’s where the story ends”. They released two more albums in the nineties, with each selling about the same amount of units as the debut. After that, silence. They have never officially broken up but it’s been almost twenty years since their last release. Apparently, Wheeler and Gavurin, after taking time away to raise their two children, have been working on new material, but it’s anyone’s guess as to whether it will ever see the light of day. The couple are notorious for taking their time and are perfectionists when it comes to their own music.

Still, we have a pretty solid body of work from the band in the 1990s. “Here’s where the story ends” is a particularly lovely slice of joy. So bring on the sunshine.

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