Best tunes of 1991: [Special honourable mention] Nirvana “Smells like teen spirit”

Ok. So I before I get started into my Best tunes of 1991 list, I wanted to clear something up right away: Nirvana’s “Smells like teen spirit” is NOT the number one song. Nay, it didn’t even make my top 30.

I’ll explain.

In the fall of 1991, I was entering into my fifth year of high school. Back then, it was called O.A.C. (don’t ask me what it stood for) but it was also known as grade 13. I had been getting into ‘alternative’ music over the previous few years and was in pretty deep by then. I remember first hearing “Smells like teen spirit” and watching the video for the first time and being pretty invigorated by it all. And I remember shortly afterwards, a bunch of us driving around in my friend Tim’s car, late on the night of the year’s first snowfall, and going to the local mall parking lot to do donuts, while this song played on the car’s tape deck. I also remember ‘moshing’* about to the song at a high school dance shortly after that.

But then, I started to get turned off by it – the constant airplay, how commercial it got, and how all these young kids were talking about Nirvana, ‘alternative’ music, and how the first had invented the second. It got so that each successive single from “Nevermind” (and “In utero” afterwards) turned me off a little bit more.

I got (and I still get) the song’s importance and its influence on alternative rock. The problem was that with “Smells like teen spirit” and Nirvana’s emergence, suddenly every ‘alternative’ band was supposed to sound like that and the other bands from Seattle’s ‘grunge’ scene, effectively narrowing the scope of American (and with it, Canadian) music for a number of years. It’s no wonder then that I turned my ears to England’s music through most of the 90s.

Many years have since passed, however, and my angst towards the band has faded. I can now listen to their songs without the animosity I had garnered towards it in my youth and actually enjoy some of them. I even have their self-titled, ‘best of’ compilation in my iTunes library. And though I still don’t think “Smells like teen spirit” was as original as everyone saw it (Kurt Cobain, himself, admitted he was trying to emulate the Pixies when he wrote it), I look at it as a good song that was at the right place, at the right time. I can really appreciate the raw energy that Krist Novoselic, a pre-Foo Dave Grohl, and of course, Cobain poured into the song. The now famous intro guitar line that carries its way through the chorus and the juxtaposition of its rage against the relative calm of the verses. It is loud and raucous and now iconic. And though I’m sure it’s still getting overplayed on alternative radio stations everywhere, I no longer listen to them with any regularity so that when I do chance upon “Teen Spirit”, it reminds me of the first time all over again. I tap my foot and nod my head ever so slightly, re-enacting an adult version of my teenaged ‘moshing’.

All that being said, don’t look for this song (or any by Nirvana) when I start posting my favourite songs from 1991 in the next week or two. It won’t be there. But that doesn’t mean I won’t understand those of you who will disagree with it not being included. To those, I salute you and recommend you press play below and bang your head along with Kurt. Happy Friday!

* I put the word ‘moshing’ in quotes throughout this post because I wasn’t really… just flailing about in a similar approximation thereof.

Vinyl love: First Aid Kit “Stay gold”

(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: First Aid Kit
Album Title: Stay gold
Year released: 2014
Details: Limited edition, translucent gold vinyl, Gatefold

The skinny: I was leery about purchasing the Söderberg sisters’ (aka First Aid Kit) third album on vinyl because I was worried that their transition to the major label world would push them too deep into pop territory for my tastes. Happily, my fears were unwarranted and instead we had more of the same lovely harmonies found on “The lion’s roar“, only with more musician support and a crisper production. Album #4, “Ruins”, is due out in two days.

Standout track: “My silver lining”

Best tunes of 2001: #23 Matthew Jay “Please don’t send me away”

<< #24    |    #22 >>

I couldn’t tell you exactly when for sure but it was some time shortly after moving to Ottawa in the late summer of 2001 that I caught a special episode of “The New Music” on MuchMusic (remember that show?). I recall making a point of watching that particular episode because it was being advertised as a special edition focusing on the new wave of British Music and if you’re not aware yet, most of the music I had been listening to throughout the 90s was from Britain. And around that time, I was feeling in the middle of a dry spell for music and I was aching for something new. I don’t remember what other artists appeared on the show (I think Coldplay might’ve been there somewheres) but it finished with this solo artist named Matthew Jay.

I don’t even know what it was about him that caught my attention initially. He wasn’t particularly well-spoken during his interviews, his youth showed as I recall, and his slightly shaggy but mostly well put together look wasn’t something that stood out to me. The music, though, when they played the video for this song, “Please don’t send me away”, was quite lovely. And almost immediately I was out at the music stores hunting out his debut full-length CD, “Draw”, something I didn’t do very often in those days because I was lacking disposable income.

As a song, “Please don’t send me away” is a simple one, really. A lone acoustic guitar with plenty of effects to change its shape and tone, a basic drum machine beat, and Matthew Jay’s soft voice sitting like a feather above it all. And despite the crisp production quality, it sounds very intimate, like it was recorded late at night in his bedroom. It’s almost too honest and too innocent but I’ve always been ready to forgive this for the lovely sound of it all.

“Draw” is full of songs like this. It got a lot of attention obviously, or I wouldn’t have caught wind of it all the way over here in Canada, and Matthew Jay drew comparisons to other singer/songwriters, like the legendary Nick Drake, Elliott Smith, and Jeff Buckley. Unfortunately, we would never get to see how this young talent would develop because while working on the follow up album, he died under mysterious circumstances. And as is frequently the case, the fact that how he fell out of that apartment window was inconclusive, only added to his mystique.

Have a listen and let me know what you think.

For the rest of the Best tunes of 2001 list, click here.