Best tunes of 1992: #27 Moose “Little bird (Are you happy in your cage?)”

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There are multiple stories and legends behind the coining of the term “shoegaze” and they are all generally variations on a theme. The word is that while reviewing a show he or she had witnessed, a certain music writer was referring to the fact that the singer was reading lyrics taped to the stage or that the lead guitarist was desperately trying to keep track of all his pedals. By some accounts, that show was an early one by the band Moose, the singer in question was Russell Yates, and the guitarist was K.J. ‘Moose’ McKillop, whose nickname gave the band their name.

Interesting, then, that Moose would actually dispense with the noisy and hazy sound that many would come identify with the shoegaze genre shortly after the recording of their first two EPs. This is likely why the group is almost never mentioned in connection with the term, especially one so often bandied about these days, and instead, we hear about Ride, Slowdive, My Bloody Valentine, and Lush. But another reason is that they are quite unfortunately forgotten, mostly because they were largely ignored by the buying public during their short existence. And yet somehow they managed to release three full-length albums after those first two initial EPs and some pretty catchy, rocking tunes.

How did I ever manage to hear the jingle jangle of “Little bird (are you happy in your cage)”? Two words. Mixed tape.

Mixed tapes were magical ways to discover and share new music in the age before the internet. A friend I made in the early days of university, perhaps a few years after this song’s release, recorded me a copy of Weezer’s self-titled debut album and filled side two of the tape with a bunch of other random songs to which she was listening at the time. Moose’s “Little bird” was just one of the great tunes she put together on the side that I ended up listening to way more than I did the Weezer album that I requested. It is a boppy jangly tune that captured me immediately in its rays of sun, the guitars and synths lilting all over the place like thrown petals of a flower, while the drums bounced along with the words, lyrics sung like a Psychedelic Furs song, but without any hint of cynicism.

It’s a great tune by a band by whom I would never hear another song for years but one that I would pay forward by including on many a mixed tape that I created for other friends.

For the rest of the Best tunes of 1992 list, click here.

Best tunes of 1992: #28 The Stairs “Weed bus”

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My memory of this particular evening is even foggier than most of the ones from around that time. It could be that it’s from at least twenty five years ago now and that some of those nights out with friends and music sometimes blend together and I would hazard that perhaps there was some alcohol involved.* To be honest, I’m not even sure what year it was exactly (I am guessing ‘93 or ‘94) or even what season of the year, though I am thinking winter because I am remembering wearing cold sneakers and winter jackets piled high on chairs.

My friend Andrew Rodriguez was there because it was surely him that dragged us to that spot that night, and perhaps so was Tim or John, someone with wheels to bring us in to the big city. As to the where, that might be the foggiest of all because I haven’t a clue of the destination that night. Indeed, it was a ‘night’ that had migrated to a few places, the DJ bringing his dancers to wherever he landed. I think it might’ve been ‘Blow up’ or a precursor to it, one of those ‘dos that started late, say 11, and went even later. The venue for this particular event, though it goes nameless to me to this day, I remember as being off for a dance party, lots of tables and very little dance space, like it was a restaurant by day, lots of windows to look out at the city streets beyond.

At some point that night, I heard the shaking of the maracas (or what sounds to me like maracas) and placed this song from wherever I was and ended whatever conversation with whomever it was with and joined Rodriguez, who was already out on the tiny raised platform that served as a dancing space. I had to be quick because the song is a short one, clocking in at just over two minutes. Rodriguez and I jumped and jostled all over the place, matching the bass line and the arpeggiating and repetitive guitar hook, always being careful not to spill our beers. And at the same time, using said bottle to join the lead vocalist in channeling Mick Jagger in our minds. Of course, to everyone else it probably sounded more like yelling and screaming.

It was with this night in mind that I went back to the internets a decade or so ago to track down “The weed bus” by The Stairs. It was a song that I loved but had never, ever heard anything else by the group. With further digging, I learned that The Stairs were the trio of Edgar John, Ged Lynn, and Paul Maguire that held cult status in many circles and of course, I also unearthed the group’s lone album, 1992’s “Mexican R’n’B”.** And this whole album is wonderful stuff to me. The production is purposely lo-fi and recorded in Mono to capture the feel of all that 60s garage and psych rock that influenced them. And yeah, yeah, yeah, some might say that the virtual name-checking is too in-your-face but to that I say balderdash! The energy is just so great, how can you not but love it?

For the rest of the Best tunes of 1992 list, click here.

* Before you start making some connections that aren’t there, the fuzzy memory had nothing to do with another stimulant not so subtly referred to in this song’s title.

** Those select few who are familiar with the group will already know that “Weed bus” was actually released on an EP of the same name in 1991 but I’m still including it here for 1992 because well, it’s my rules.

Best tunes of 1992: #29 Happyhead “Fabulous”

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In the series on my favourite tunes of 1991 that I recently wrapped up, I spoke time and time again of the songs, and the artists that performed them, being discovered during my late Friday nights watching and recording videos off MuchMusic’s City Limits. I’ll try not to flog that horse too much in this series, though it is probable that a good many of the upcoming tracks were discovered there as well. Yet for Happyhead’s “Fabulous”, I cannot keep from mentioning City Limits because if I hadn’t recorded the hilarious video to video cassette tape while watching it, I very likely never would have heard the song ever again.

Looking back at it now, the video is a bit too obvious and garish, but at the time, it felt pointed and just anti-establishment enough to catch my attention. Of course, in those days before the internet and the unlimited information and gateway to music, this recording was my only access to the song, given that commercial radio in North America wasn’t exactly jumping all over Happyhead. And there was no way of me knowing then that the act was a short-lived project by ex-Shriekback lead singer, Carl Marsh. I only discovered this nugget of information years later when “Fabulous” occurred to me out of the blue and I hunted it down and re-immersed myself in its pure joy and fun.

One of two singles released off the group’s only album, “Give Happyhead”, “Fabulous” is representative of a time and place where Madchester insanity was leaking into mass culture and serving up bands like Stereo MCs, EMF, and Jesus Jones. It is funky drumming and tambourine hip-shaking, an awesome guitar line and wailing solo just before the bridge, and faux scratching throughout that definitely betrays the song’s provenance. Marsh’s sing/speak vocals sound like a cross between David Byrne and Tom Hingley, ringing the bell tower alarms against the inevitable onslaught of hyper-commercialism and capitalism in the media.

“Eat this. Drink this. Drive this. Charge it.”

It’s fabulous.

For the rest of the Best tunes of 1992 list, click here.