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

<< #18    |    #16 >>

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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Tunes

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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Tunes

Best tunes of 1993: #19 The Mighty Mighty Bosstones “Someday I suppose”

<< #20    |    #18 >>

I’ve already written on these pages about how I got a job at my small town’s 7-Eleven in the spring of 1993 and how working there was part of the reason why that summer was one of the best of my life. I worked as many shifts as I could that summer and many of them would be of the overnight kind and I often found myself work with either Tori, Heather, or Michelle, the other new employees at store. I always had a blast on these shifts because these three young women were close to me in age and like me, they loved to have a laugh.

It was on one of these midnight shifts that I first heard this song on CFNY, the radio station to which we always had it tuned. It was this swirling, rocking number that mixed horns with racing guitars and a bopping, staccato rhythm and the vocalist rapped and spoke and shouted in a deep and dark voice. It always got my head bouncing and my feet tapping as I counted the bags of chips and packs of gum during our evening inventory counts. The problem was that I always seemed to be away from the radio, serving a customer or in the back, stocking the milk shelves, when the radio announcer came on to supply us with the name of the song and who it was that sung it. It got to the point where it became an ongoing joke: we would dance frantically around the empty store when the song came on and then laugh hysterically when we realized that we once again missed the 5 Ws. It was like the musical version of the Polkaroo*.

Finally, during one night shift right at the end of summer, I came out from the back after changing the syrup for one of the slurpee machines and Michelle excitedly put a slip of paper in my hands with the biggest smile on her face. She had scrawled on the paper in big looping script the words “Someday I suppose. The Mighty Mighty Bosstones.” I knew exactly what the words meant immediately and if I wasn’t so shy and awkward at the time, I would’ve given her a big hug.

Starting pretty much the very next day, the search was on. I went to our town’s only music store and didn’t find anything by the band. A few days later, I joined my parents on a shopping trip to the Oshawa Centre and hit the chain music stores (HMV, Sunrise, and Sam the Record Man) and likewise came up empty. Finally, I planned a solo trip back in to Oshawa to hit some of the independent stores downtown, specifically, the renowned Star Records**, and there found a copy of the Bosstones’ third album, “Don’t know how to party”, on CD. This album, along with Spirit of the West’s “Faithlift”, might have been the two CDs I listened to the most that fall, both for very different moods and reasons.

“Don’t know how to party” is really a misnomer because it really does party and it parties hard, especially track four of twelve. The song that introduced me to the band on all those midnight shifts is still my favourite by the Boston-based octet. “Someday I suppose” riffs hard on the ska punk theme, a pogo with a chainsaw, a plaid suit jacket with the arms ripped off and the tie tied around the head, Rambo-style. It’s an explosion of good vibes, of not giving a shit, of living in the moment and putting off the heavy lifting and the heavy thoughts for later.

“There was a verse
That I was gonna write
I haven’t yet
But there’s still a chance I might
An open book
That I still wanna close
I’ll find the time
Someday I suppose”

The horns, the bassline, Dicky Barrett roaring, and the image of Ben Carr hopping around like a man possessed. It all just makes me smile.

*Those who know, know.

**I’ve already written words about this trip and this particular store when I posted about Primus’s “My name is mud” for this very same list and series.

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