Best tunes of 1991: #1 James “Sit down”

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Okay. I have likely stretched this list out longer than it needed to be, given that I started counting down these tunes well over a year and a half ago. And well, for those of you who have frequented these pages in the just over two years since I started this blog and know that I am something of a James fanatic, this post might seem somewhat anticlimactic. And yet at the same time, this song placing at number one for 1991 may still come as somewhat of a surprise.

“Sit down” was originally released as a single in 1989 but in that seven minute long form, it didn’t take a big piece out of the music sales pie. The song was later re-recorded to a shorter length, with some editing in the lyrics, and re-released in 1991. This is the version that I first heard, being my first ever exposure to the band, coming to me like many of the songs on this list, in the form of the video recorded off of CityLimits. This is the version that many people know best, definitely making a bigger mark with the buying public, and placing one spot short of number one in the UK singles charts in 1991. Neither version appeared on the original track listing of their 1990 album “Gold mother” but the re-recorded “Sit down” was included when the album was released in North America as “James” with a new cover, the white flower insignia on blue backdrop. And though this has ultimately become my favourite James tune, I actually had to go searching for the original to remember what it even sounded like in my research for writing this post.

So yes, for me, this tune is 1991 at its best. The re-recording is definitely punchier, tighter, and more succinct than the original, perhaps influenced by the acid house dance and psychedelia prevalent at the time with their fellow Mancunians. Frontman Tim Booth was certainly a willing and able dancer for the music they created, just watch the video for a hint of his ecstatic moves. And there is depth here as well. But I’m not just talking about the multiple layers of sound that the band’s players create, though that definitely contributes to the majestic beauty of their music. Nay, it’s Booth’s recognizable vocals and his lyrics that set the band apart from their peers.

“If I hadn’t seen such riches, I could live with being poor.”

“Sit down”, for its danceable beats and upbeat melody, seems to be a song about those lowest moments in your life when you feel like you’re all alone, Booth sounding like he’s coming from a place of experience and wanting to assure us all that, if nothing else, he’s there for us all. But it’s not just Tim, no, the whole band, sliding guitars and the punished drum kit and all. It’s a song my wife Victoria loves, just as much as I do, perhaps her favourite by the band as well. I’m sure she’ll correct me if I’m wrong. However, we’ve definitely sung along together the following lines, while driving in the car, just hanging around, or wherever we’re hearing it.

“Those who feel the breath of sadness
Sit down next to me
Those who find they’re touched by madness
Sit down next to me
Those who find themselves ridiculous
Sit down next to me”

Yep. I think I could listen to this song forever.

For the rest of the Best tunes of 1991 list, click here.

Best tunes of 1991: #2 Chapterhouse “Mesmerise”

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“Pearl”, the standout single from Chapterhouse’s excellent debut album, “Whirlpool”, appeared earlier, at number 15 on this list, and now we have what is easily my favourite track by this band at number two.

Yes. “Mesmerise”. Let’s paint that picture.

Circa 1993 or 1994, the heaving dance floor is packed at the Dance Cave, the upstairs floor of one of Toronto’s more infamous concert venues, Lee’s Palace. The cheap $2-a-glass mystery draft has been flowing freely all night long. In the middle of the crowd, a tall, stoop shouldered, and ridiculously skinny young man is dancing to Adorable’s “Homeboy” or perhaps, Catherine Wheel’s “I want to touch you.” He is breaking a sweat under his extra large Wonder Stuff t-shirt and baggy green corduroys, requiring him to periodically remove his bucket hat to gather his shaggy thick brown hair, roughly the same shade as his long sideburns and goatee. His friend Tim, who is just back in town on break from Waterloo university, joins him on the floor, handing him a glass, his portion of the ‘next round’, just as the song ends and a new one begins with an unfamiliar, yet inviting piano melody. The young man hesitates a moment, should he stay or should he go, his friend definitely shows no sign of leaving the dance floor. Indeed, he has already started into his trademark sway, eyes sliding closed. So our protagonist finds the groove and starts moving, slipping easily in with the delicious beat, washes of synths, and hazy vocals. Two minutes in and he is in love. He wakes Tim with a nudge on the shoulder and yells the question in his ear above the din. “Who is this?” Tim responds but he is not sure he heard him quite right so he repeats it. “Chapterhouse?!” To which, Tim nods and continues dancing.

I can’t be certain now but I’m reasonably sure that this is as good an approximation as any as to how it went down. That skinny young man, realizing that “Mesmerise” didn’t appear on either of Chapterhouse’s full length albums thus far, because he had them both on CD, immediately went out on the hunt for the EP of the same name, finding it used at the long closed down Penguin Music. And yeah, I’ve still got it. It’s one of the few CDs I may never get rid of.

As an EP and single, “Mesmerise” bridged the chronological and philosophical gap between their first and only two albums, from the guitar-heavy shoegaze majesty of “Whirlpool” to the synth-driven dreamy dance of “Blood music”. This track shades heavy on both and is just so… damned… beautiful. Yes. “Mesmerise” is beautiful.

For the rest of the Best tunes of 1991 list, click here.

Best tunes of 1991: #3 Primal Scream “Loaded”

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“Just what is it that you want to do?”

“Well, we wanna be free, we wanna be free to do what we wanna do
And we wanna get loaded and we wanna have a good time
And that’s what we’re gonna do.”

These are the lines, sampled from the film “The wild angels”, that kickstart a revolution.

Prior to this song and the album on which it appears, Primal Scream were just another holdover from the C86 scene that was quickly losing steam. The only discerning difference being that they were led by the former drummer of The Jesus and Mary Chain. Bobby Gillespie and his group approached DJ Andrew Weatherall to remix one of the songs from their self-titled sophomore album, a relatively forgettable track called, “I’m losing more than I’ll ever have”. After two aborted attempts, he came up with what we now know as that hit single and dance floor anthem “Loaded”. Weatherall’s remix essentially remade Primal Scream into a bunch of neo-hippies in the acid house age and set a template for the album that would be “Screamadelica”.

The video for this single would be my introduction to the band. Like so many other songs on this list, I first saw it on CityLimits. But this was one I didn’t record myself but my friend Elliott had caught. We watched it together over and over again, our minds literally blown.

The track is the embodiment of bombast, throwing together sampled horn blares, big bass and drums, gospel choirs and slippery bass lines, piano flourishes and funky guitars and granola crunching bongos, and shaking it all up in a gigantic mixing bowl. Yet somehow it all works as a song for closing your eyes and letting loose, for wiggling and waggling your fingers in front of your eyes and losing yourself in the neon trails, for losing control of all your bodily functions and not caring in the least. A song to replay over and over again as you write incoherent words in a drunken frenzy.

Whoops. Did I just write those words out loud?

No matter. We just wanna get loaded and we wanna have a good time.

For the rest of the Best tunes of 1991 list, click here.