Best tunes of 1990: #14 The Charlatans “The only one I know”

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I received a mixed tape from a friend back in high school, a tape that I mentioned ad nauseum in my old blog, Music Insanity, but one that bears mentioning again in these pages, because it introduced me to a number of bands back in the day, including one that would become one of my all-time favourites: The Charlatans. Known as The Charlatans UK here in North America, the group formed in 1989, “survived” the deaths of two band members and several changes in sound over the years, and have released 13 albums, including this year’s, “Different days”. Not bad for a band that was once referred to as the “also-rans” of Manchester (and later on, the “Britpop survivors”).

Indeed, at the time of “Some friendly”‘s release, the band were lumped in with the likes of Stone Roses and Happy Mondays, despite not being from the greater Manchester area at all. It was obviously more to do with their debut album’s musical proximity than the band’s geography. The album was heavy on the danceable bass and beats, acid house psychedelia, Tim Burgess’s lethargic vocals, and of course, Rob Collin’s monstrous organ work. The aforementioned mixed tape sampled heavily from “Some friendly” but surprisingly, nowhere in its contents was the album’s first single, “The only one I know”, so I didn’t hear it until I got my hands on the cassette tape. And oh, when I did, there was plenty of rewinding and replaying required.

At the time, I saw it as completely new and inventive but I would learn much later that the song borrowed lyrics from The Byrds and an organ riff from Deep Purple. “The only one I know” went on to be The Charlatans’ first top ten single in the UK and hit number 5 on the US Modern Rock charts. Today, it remains one of the band’s best-known songs.

It certainly displays the early incarnation of the band firing on all five proverbial cylinders. The screaming high end on guitars and Martin Blunt’s thumping bass line, simply provide an extra large canvas for Rob Collins to paint his whirling Hammond splatters. And then… and then, there’s Jon Brookes’ mad shuffling drum beat that almost begs you to take up the maracas, à la Bez, and dance like a looney fool. Even today, I feel out of breath just listening to it and remembering all the times, all the drunken nights, I danced to this particular track, mouthing along to what I imagined were the lyrics to “The only one I know”.

Such a great song.

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

Vinyl love: Blur “Modern life is rubbish”

(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: Blur
Album Title: Modern life is rubbish
Year released: 1993
Year reissued: 2012
Details: 2 of 7 in Blur 21, anniversary box set, black vinyl, 180 gram, 2 x LP, Gatefold sleeve

The skinny: Blur found their feet and their voice on their sophomore record, painting a picture of British life in a sound that definitely not American. It’s here, along with Suede’s self-titled release, that we find the roots of Britpop.

Standout track: “Chemical world”

100 best covers: #96 Barenaked Ladies “Lovers in a dangerous time”

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Pay no mind to the above photo. Barenaked Ladies were cool in 1991… Well, okay, we thought they were at the time anyway.

The duo of Ed Robertson and Steven Page formed In 1988, adding band camp friends, brothers Andy and Jim McCreegan, two years later. Tyler Stewart joined the same year to temporarily fill Andy’s spot while the drummer went to Europe and then, stayed on upon his return. The band made a name for themselves with their hilarious, energetic, and often improvisational live shows, a fame that only grew with their DIY videos that they made using a video booth in downtown Toronto called “Speaker’s corner”, and that became a notoriety when they were banned from playing the city’s live New Year’s Eve show because of their “provocative” name. Then, their self-produced and self-released five song demo tape, the now famous “Yellow tape”, became the first ever indie release to reach platinum level sales in Canada. Needless to say, that attracted all the right attention. They released their debut album, “Gordon” in 1992, another classic. Six years later, BNL hit it big in the US with the single, “One week” and the rest is history.

But just as they were getting started, even before “Gordon”, they recorded this cover of Bruce Cockburn’s “Lovers in a dangerous time” for a tribute called “Kick at the darkness”, from a line taken from this very song. Bruce Cockburn is a Canadian icon, a prolific singer/songwriter, whose lyrics are part poetry, part social activism. Inspired by watching teenagers kissing and the thoughts that invoked, “Lovers in a dangerous time” is one of his more popular songs and one of the few I would recognize as his if you played it for me.

Going back to listen to Cockburn’s original before writing this post, I realized how dated it sounds. It is still a great song and the way Cockburn sings it is just right but it really does sound so 1980s. I almost think I like Barenaked Ladies’ cover more than the original, blasphemous though that statement might be. It’s no surprise they chose to cover one of his more popular songs, a bigger one being that they played it straight, something rare for them in those days. The cover is really quite lovely with Robertson’s and Page’s now familiar vocal harmonies, the acoustic guitars, and Creegan’s cello providing the backbone.

Make sure you check the video below of band playing in the back of a pickup, touring the streets of their hometown of Scarborough. It smacks a little of the Monkees but with a Canadian touch.

The cover:

The original:

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