Best tunes of 1992: #23 L7 “Pretend we’re dead”

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Try as you might, you can’t really pigeonhole L7. Sure, they came out of the punk rock and alternative aesthetic. They came to prominence in the age of grunge and their fashion choices, or lack thereof, certainly had them placed amongst the boys club of those bands. Others will lump them in with the Riot Grrl movement, especially because of their outspokenness and their avid work in support of pro choice. However, the group predated all of these. And there was no conforming or pretension with L7. Nor were they strangers to controversy. They were true originals.

Donita Sparks and Suzi Gardner formed L7 in 1985. The quartet was completed in their most prominent years by Jennifer Finch and Demetra Plakas. By 1992, the group was releasing their third album, “Bricks are heavy”, on Slash records. Produced by Butch Vig (of “Nevermind” fame), the album did very well with the alternative rock set by upping the noise, grime, and by being generally unapologetic. There were three well received singles released from the album, the first of which was “Pretend we’re dead”, the subject of our post today and my introduction to the band. I remember it being played on the regular on CFNY, Toronto’s alt-rock station, which came in pretty clear in my small hometown, east of that city. However, I’m reasonably sure that before I heard it there, it appeared on a mixed tape made by my friend Tim.

“Pretend we’re dead” is loud and pure angsty rock and roll. In fact, it almost feels to me like a song Joan Jett would’ve come up with if the 90s were her era. The guitars are dirty and dripping with sludge and yet they race along, amped with jet fuel. The drums crash and the vocals sing words that seem meaningless, but beg for fist pumping and head banging. Yes!

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

Best tunes of 1992: #24 The Lemonheads “It’s a shame about Ray”

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At some point late in 1992, I babysat my young cousins one evening for my Aunt Joan at her townhouse at the other end of town. After the two girls went to bed, I slipped in a videocassette tape of recorded music videos I must’ve brought with me and opened up whatever Stephen King book I was reading at the time. The video for this particular song was playing when my Aunt came home from wherever she was and she being younger and somewhat hipper than my own parents, was actually being genuinely curious when she asked to whom it was I was listening. It was unsurprising that she had not heard of them but seeing my excitement at the band, she patiently listened to my ravings about them as I rewound the tape to the place where I knew I would find the video for the same band’s cover of “Mrs. Robinson”. She claimed to like their sound and I didn’t think anything more on the subject after going back to my own home. A few weeks later, however, while opening Christmas presents, I was delighted to receive from her a compact disc copy of “It’s a shame about Ray”. If I am remembering correctly, that was the same Christmas from which I obtained the first CD player of my own and since I didn’t have a lot to play on it yet, this new CD got a lot of playing time.

The Lemonheads are an American alternative rock band that originally formed in 1986 and save for a six year hiatus between 1998 and 2004, have existed in some form or other ever since. They are, generally speaking, the plaything of frontman/guitarist Evan Dando, fielding a pretty much new band whenever he decides to record and release a new album. For “It’s a shame about Ray”, The Lemonheads’ fifth record (second on a major label), the personnel included David Ryan on drums and the most excellent, Juliana Hatfield on bass guitar and backing vocals. The bulk of record was written in Australia with Dando’s friend Tom Morgan, the first of which was reportedly this title track, the reason we’re here today.

“I’ve never been too good with names
But I remember faces”

Evan Dando has remained vague about the meaning of the song and the identity of the “Ray” of its title. In some articles, he has been quoted as saying the line came from a newspaper article and in others, he has said it was inspired by someone who called everyone “Ray”. He even claims he doesn’t know who “Ray” is himself and likes to keep it mysterious.

Drugs, I guess.

Anyhow, it’s clear by all the past tense talk and mentions of names etched in stones that “Ray” is no longer with us, whether dead or just missing. Dando’s delivery throughout the three minute tune is suitably solemn and… just there. Really, its beauty lies in its subtlety, a simple head bopper that has these ripping guitar and drum fills between the choruses and verses. And when Hatfield appears with those soft backing vocals at the end, you just might need to shed a tear or two.

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

Best tunes of 1992: #25 Cracker “Teen angst (What the world needs now)”

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“’Cause what the world needs now
Is another folk singer
Like I need a hole in my head”

If you’re like me, you laugh a little bit every time you hear that name-making chorus line by American alt-rockers Cracker. In fact, you probably know many of the great lines in the song so well that you let loose a chuckle a few times during its entirety, even before the words are sung.

“Teen angst (what the world needs now)” was the first single ever released by the band and is track one on their self-titled debut album. Cracker was formed by David Lowery and childhood friend Johnny Hickman in 1990 after Lowery’s first band, Camper Van Beethoven, called it quits. They have released eight more albums since their debut announced their arrival, the most recent coming five years ago and according to my own city’s concert listings, Cracker are still touring, hitting a few North American spots nearing the end of this year. I never got into the Camper Van, myself, nor have I listened to much Cracker since the mid-1990s but I did love their first two records. In fact, while re-listening to “Cracker” while writing this post, I found myself wondering how me and the band ever grew apart and made the decision to have a meander through their latter works.

This particular song, though, with its tongue-in-cheek and self-deprecating attitudes, spoke to people (including myself) back in 1992. It rocked and rolled and thrashed about and twanged its way to the top of the modern rock singles charts. Lowery’s delivery, which cavorted between laidback and morally indignant, was just the right tone at just the right time. He was telling us, even as he was doubting it himself, what he thought the world needed, or maybe just what he needed to survive this world. And well, I agreed with him on many of those points.

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