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Best tunes of 1993: #17 The Verve “Slide away”

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Verve was an alternative rock band that was formed in Wigan, England in 1990 by Peter Salisbury, Simon Jones, Nick McCabe, and Richard Ashcroft. They started to amass a following early on with their engaging live shows that were explosions of psychedelic and shoegaze guitar miasma and boasted an unpredictable but golden-voiced frontman. They were forced to add the ‘The’ to the front of their name shortly after the release of their debut album, “A storm in heaven”, when they received notice from a certain American jazz label who had already been using the name for years.

It didn’t hurt the band’s burgeoning success any, though, and after the release of a second album, “A northern soul”, they were regularly hitting the UK singles charts. They broke up for the first time in 1995, only to re-form the following year and resurface with the album that would give them notoriety the world over. It was the single, “Bittersweet symphony”, that did it for them. Unfortunately, it didn’t make the band a cent at the time, given the oft-reported story of an ex-manager for The Rolling Stones claiming all royalties for the sample used as its backbone, a story that only found closure in 2019 when the songwriting credits were finally signed over in full to Richard Ashcroft. Sadly, this event likely contributed to the first (1999) of two more breakups by the band, the second (2008) of which has held fast up to now.

Oh, you’ve heard of this band? I’m not surprised.

Like many, I became a fan of The Verve with “Urban hymns” and that ubiquitous lead single. But I remember at the time thinking the band name familiar and was pretty certain I had an idea where from. So I went back and reviewed my cache of VHS tapes loaded with music videos recorded off the various shows on MuchMusic in the early 90s. And sure enough, it was there: “Slide away”.

“So take your time
I wonder if you’re here just to use my mind
Don’t take it slow
You know I’ve got a place to go”

In the video, the band is featured, very young looking, long-haired hippie freaks, tripping and freaking out in the desert and as intense as ‘Mad’ Richard looks, some brave soul picks up the motley hitchhikers and then, brings them to a town where they inexplicably have a gig booked in a brothel. As crazy as all this sounds and looks, it seems to make perfect sense to the band members in such obvious ecstatic states. Not the video you would expect for a single and yet, though the song didn’t garner them a lot of attention in the UK, it made a massive splash on the US indie rock charts.

That muscular bassline, those swirling guitars, and of course, the hazy and lazy vocals had such a great groove and won me over every time I watched that video. And when I rediscovered the group a few years later, I fell in love with song all over again.

For the rest of the Best tunes of 1993 list, click here.

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Best tunes of 1993: #18 Saint Etienne “You’re in a bad way”

<< #19    |    #17 >>

I don’t remember exactly when I first heard Saint Etienne’s sophomore album, “So tough”, but I can definitely tell you that I fell in love with it in 1994, a whole year after its release.

I’ll try to elaborate.

My friend Tim recorded a copy of it to cassette tape for me. That much is true. I probably listened to it a few times after he first gave it to me but it really only fell into rotation on my walkman that second year of university. Don’t ask me why I switched back from discman to cassette tape player that year, though if I had to guess, it was probably because I was so impoverished that my only real entertainment came from making mixed tapes. I’m pretty sure I had the album on the other side of a C100 with Lush’s “Gala”, though I no longer have said tape so I can’t confirm or deny. What I can be certain of is the regularity with which visited my ears that year.

“So tough” is technically Saint Etienne’s sophomore LP, it could also be considered the debut by the band as a trio. They began as the duo of Bob Stanley and Pete Wiggs and had originally planned to employ a series of guest vocalists as needed. They settled on Sarah Cracknell as a permanent vocalist after working with her for one of the singles from the debut, 1991’s “Foxbase Alpha”. “So tough” was her coming out as third official band member and that’s her (a much younger version, of course) gracing the album’s cover.

All in all, “So tough” is as much an album about mood and ambience as it is about getting you out on the dance floor, and with all the sampled soundbites from older, esoteric films that provide segue ways between tunes, it almost feels like a soundtrack, a narrative to a trip of sorts. It certainly soundtracked a number of trips for me, long walks and bus rides. I remember the album keeping me warm on more than one occasion waiting, shivering for the bus that would rocket me down Steeles, away from my institution of higher learning, towards the basement apartment I was lodged in, just north of the ‘416’, near Dufferin Street. It was in that same basement apartment that I, quite by accident, caught an episode of Life on Venus Ave. and that whimsical, extraterrestrial VJ, Ziggy Lorenc, played the video for “You’re in a bad way”.

The album’s second single and sixth track certainly fit* with Ziggy’s love and sexuality funhouse vibe. It’s an obvious kick at 60s throwback bop and pop. It kicks off with a sample from the 1963 film “Billy Liar”: “A man could lose himself in London.” And despite the song’s bright and spritely joy, the lyrics address a man who’s been beset by the humdrum of life and has let it get him down. But have no fear, our good friend Sarah will save him (and us) with that golden voice of hers.

“You’re in a bad way
Every day seems just the same (every day)
Just dial my number
Or call my name”

*And yeah, so did the throwback video.

For the rest of the Best tunes of 1993 list, click here.

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100 best covers: #53 Suede “Shipbuilding”

<< #54    |    #52 >>

I’ve already written bits about the Help Warchild album a couple of times for this series. Songs from this, my favourite ever compilation, have already appeared at number 100 and number 74 on this list and here we are again, this time with Suede’s cover of Elvis Costello’s “Shipbuilding”.

Of course, at the time, I had no idea this was a cover. Given how quickly the Help album was recorded and released*, the CD copy of the compilation that I purchased used from Penguin Music the year after its release had almost nothing in the way of liner and production notes. I was also still something of a newbie when it came to Suede. I had obviously heard of them, their eponymously titled glam rock debut, and had fallen hard for “My insatiable one” off the “So I married an axe murderer” soundtrack, as well as the “We are the pigs” single off their sophomore release “Dog man star”. Still, I was a few months shy of the full on love affair with their third record, “Coming up”.

I only discovered the original when I finally decided it was time to explore the work of Elvis Costello a decade or so later. It appeared on a Best Of compilation that I tracked down and recognized it immediately as track eight from Warchild. The music was originally written by Clive Langer for Robert Wyatt but unhappy with his own lyrics, he approached Costello to refine them. The song was a reaction to the Falklands war and played on the irony that shipbuilding towns would see a modicum of resurgence while its fighting age sons would be sent off to fight and perhaps die.

Costello’s original is a hip and jazzy number, emboldened by a trumpet solo by Chet Baker. The musicianship is tremendous and you can’t argue with those phenomenal lyrics** but there is something just a bit more suave and swank about Brett Anderson, no? In his and Suede’s hands, it’s a bit more of a rock ballad, heavy on the bass and the piano, and though the trumpet still appears, it’s more muted.

Yeah, I dig Elvis Costello. But I love Suede. I’m going with the cover here.

Cover:

The original:

*All within eight days!!!

**Elvis Costello himself has said that these were some of the best lyrics he had ever written

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