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Best tunes of 1993: #28 Buffalo Tom “Soda jerk”

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“Velvet roof” (number fourteen on my Best tunes of 1992 list) was my introduction to Buffalo Tom. I had recorded the video off CityLimits and pretty much wore that section of the videocassette tape out with repeated rewinds and replays. In the summer of 1993, I found a used CD copy of “Let me come over” at Penguin music in Toronto but misplaced it at the Bathurst street subway station before it even made it home with me. A year or so later, I was scanning lists of available albums in order to come up with my 10 albums for a penny from either BMG or Columbia House*, when I saw “Big red letter day” available for selection. The CD was added without hesitation and so became the first and only Buffalo Tom album to which I would listen in full and actually own in physical format for a number of years.

Hence, “Soda jerk” became the second ever Buffalo Tom song that I would ever hear. And yeah, I loved it. The song leads off the American alt-rock trio’s fourth long player with a bang. It’s perhaps the most upbeat song and obvious single off an album that led the band further from its Dinosaur Jr influenced roots and into crisper sound and a melodic vocal focused direction, a rarity in the grunge heavy music world at the time. The song garnered the band some good coin too when it was used in Nike and Pontiac commercials and received further exposure when it was featured on the cult teen television show, “My so called life”.

A number of people have called “Soda jerk” Buffalo Tom’s masturbation song, referring as proof to the lyric “jerked my fountain”. However, I’ve always looked pointedly at the song title for meaning and figured they were using the term given to old school, soda shoppe employees as a symbol and example of the type of soul sucking job that many members of generation X were forced to take back in those days**. My theory certainly falls more in line with words that frontman Bill Janovitz has used to describe the tune: “a big bouncy song that is borderline despondent and about alienation.”

“Form a line here
I think I’ll die here
These people nauseate me”

And Bill is absolutely right. “Soda jerk” does rock out out in a major key kind of way, showcasing jangly, happily strummed guitars, marching and pounding drums, and call and response vocals that rev you up and knock you down.

*I hit up both of these music subscription services at one point or another in my formative years. Say what you will, it was a great way to bolster your CD collection.

**For more on this subject, go watch the Kevin Smith film “Clerks”.

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

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Best tunes of 1993: #29 KMFDM “Light”

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Back in November, I wrote a truly nostalgic post in which I laid out my top five favourite Industrial rock tunes. It was a lot of fun to revisit a genre I hadn’t spent a lot of time with in many years  and one that represented for me a specific time and place in my life. All five of the songs were released within the period between the late 80s and early 90s, a specific span of time that I consider to be that genre’s renaissance. Number three on said list was “Juke joint jezebel” by KMFDM, a single off their 1995 album, “Nihil”. It was likely their biggest ever hit but it wasn’t my introduction to the band. No. That came two years earlier with the band’s previous record, “Angst”.

My friend Tim and I were constantly sharing music with each other back in those days. We’d record the entirety of an album on the first side of a C90 cassette and fill the other side with a seemingly random selection of other music, tunes that were tickling our particular fancy at that given moment. “Light” appeared on one of these B-side mixes at some point and it made such an impression upon my teenaged self that it wasn’t long before I was requesting the whole of “Angst” on the A-side of one these cassettes.

This album was a breakout of sorts for KMFDM, who had formed in Germany almost a decade beforehand and had already released six other albums. Their cult following grew into something more when frontman Sascha Konietzko relocated to the United States in the early 90s, bringing the project along with him and attaching themselves to the burgeoning Chicago-based Industrial rock scene and the infamous Wax Trax! Records. “Angst” was the first album recorded completely in the US and involved a lot more guitars in its sound than was present their previous work.

“Light” opens the album with a faint whir, which builds in volume to an explosion of chainsaw guitars. It isn’t the thrash speeds that are heard elsewhere on “Angst”, more mid-weight heavy, restrained for mass coverage, as the song’s title suggests. Nevertheless, “Light” rocks. It never lets up for its six minute duration. A mix of relentless drum machine beats, layers upon layers of guitars and synth darkness. Frontman Konietzko, in his almost self-parodying, militant, German monster growl, lays such lyrical gems on us as: “Deify data, hard but true, Godlike nonsense being thrown at you” and “Take a good plunge and out from the masses, bend over backwards and kick some asses”. Meanwhile, Dutch vocalist Dorona Alberti adds some noir fun with backing vocal interjections, call-and-response-like at the chorus lines.

On the dance floor, “Light” is pure joy, the message and angst secondary to the moment, and at its ending, leaves you completely out of breath and ready for a new beer to refuel.

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

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Best tunes of 1993: #30 Doughboys “Shine”

#29 >>

I wrapped up my Best tunes of 1992 list back in January, amidst a month chock full of 1990s goodness, and though I’ve continued on with my Best albums of 1991 series through February, it’s been spread out. So it’s March now, you must be ready for some more 90s tunes now, right? Of course! So let’s get this Best tunes of 1993 list started with a real rocker!

Jean-Guy “John” Kastner conceived the Doughboys in Montreal, Quebec after leaving his three year post fronting the hardcore punk band, The Asexuals, in 1987. Through the group’s original ten year run, Kastner was the only real constant, his supporting cast at times included Scott McCulloch (who would leave to form Rusty), Jonathan Cummins (who would later play with Treble Charger, Bionic, and The Besnard Lakes), and a host of other musicians from the Montreal and Toronto alt-rock music scenes.

Leading up to 1990, the Doughboys released three excellent pop/punk albums on a couple of independent labels and then, they got caught up in the wave of major label signings of alternative acts instigated by the explosion of Nirvana and the Seattle grunge scene. I very quickly grew tired of these bands cast in the grunge mould that were all of a sudden flooding the alternative airwaves. I found a lot of them too derivative, and that was likely the fault of big business music execs, but there were some, like the Doughboys, who were worthy of this newly found success.

I remember first hearing today’s single, “Shine”, on the radio and found the rip roaring guitars infectious. It didn’t take me long to connect the song, when I learned who performed it, to an album I had on cassette on the recommendation of a friend. Doughboys’ second album, 1989’s “Home again”, was one of the aforementioned indie releases and was a tape I would put in the player whenever I wanted to release some of pent-up teen angst. The great thing about the Doughboys was that there wasn’t a lot of that original energy lost on their 1993 major label debut, “Crush”. It was all there, no compromise and no quit, just with better production and a bigger budget. The band would only go on to release one other album, 1996’s “Turn me on”, but both of these two major label releases saw success in Canada, especially on alternative and college radio.

In fact, today’s song was used by MuchMusic, along with Jane’s Addiction’s “Stop” and Depeche Mode’s “I feel you”, for the opening of its weekday afternoon alternative show, “The Wedge”. “Shine” is all driving guitars that alternate between quiet rage and all out crunchiness. It riffs and rocks for just over two and half minutes while Kastner sings melodically about how the object of his affection makes him feel like gold. I can only imagine the pogoing and moshing that must’ve gone on when these guys roared through this one live back then.

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