Best tunes of 1992: #29 Happyhead “Fabulous”

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In the series on my favourite tunes of 1991 that I recently wrapped up, I spoke time and time again of the songs, and the artists that performed them, being discovered during my late Friday nights watching and recording videos off MuchMusic’s City Limits. I’ll try not to flog that horse too much in this series, though it is probable that a good many of the upcoming tracks were discovered there as well. Yet for Happyhead’s “Fabulous”, I cannot keep from mentioning City Limits because if I hadn’t recorded the hilarious video to video cassette tape while watching it, I very likely never would have heard the song ever again.

Looking back at it now, the video is a bit too obvious and garish, but at the time, it felt pointed and just anti-establishment enough to catch my attention. Of course, in those days before the internet and the unlimited information and gateway to music, this recording was my only access to the song, given that commercial radio in North America wasn’t exactly jumping all over Happyhead. And there was no way of me knowing then that the act was a short-lived project by ex-Shriekback lead singer, Carl Marsh. I only discovered this nugget of information years later when “Fabulous” occurred to me out of the blue and I hunted it down and re-immersed myself in its pure joy and fun.

One of two singles released off the group’s only album, “Give Happyhead”, “Fabulous” is representative of a time and place where Madchester insanity was leaking into mass culture and serving up bands like Stereo MCs, EMF, and Jesus Jones. It is funky drumming and tambourine hip-shaking, an awesome guitar line and wailing solo just before the bridge, and faux scratching throughout that definitely betrays the song’s provenance. Marsh’s sing/speak vocals sound like a cross between David Byrne and Tom Hingley, ringing the bell tower alarms against the inevitable onslaught of hyper-commercialism and capitalism in the media.

“Eat this. Drink this. Drive this. Charge it.”

It’s fabulous.

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

Best tunes of 1992: #30 Shakespears Sister “Stay”

#29 >>

One list ends and another begins. And for 1992, we’re starting things off with “Stay”, the biggest and best known single by Shakespears Sister.

The duo was formed when Siobhan Fahey asked songwriting collaborator Marcella Detroit to join her solo project as a full-time gig. Fahey, a founding member of 80s girl group Bananarama, sang lead on the majority of the group’s songs with Detroit contributing backing vocals. “Stay”, the second single to be released off the group’s sophomore release, “Hormonally yours”, was the one anomaly. On this one track, Detroit sang the verses and chorus and Fahey added a darker tone with a combatative bridge. The results are a beautiful song that showcases the differences between their vocal styles, a push and pull, a tug and a scream. However, it was never meant to be released as a single, at least in the eyes of Fahey, which was reportedly the cause of tension between the two when “Stay” actually became a massive hit. It spent a number of consecutive weeks at the top of the UK singles chart and climbed quite high in many international charts as well.

I definitely remember my first exposure to the song being its music video, which got more than a bit of play on MuchMusic and not just on the top 30 countdown. The narrative of the video had a supernatural bent and was one that stuck with many people, the two vocalists representing different factions fighting over the fate of a comatose man, good and evil, light and dark, love and hate, life and death, and perhaps a case of art imitating life. Teenaged me had a crush on both women, a slightly heavier one on Detroit, but back then, I didn’t know about Fahey’s girl group pedigree.

Detroit acrimoniously left the group in 1993, effectively ending things, while Fahey continued on with her solo career. She resurrected the Shakespears Sister name and continued performing under it 2009. And just this year, a reconciliation was announced and Detroit was welcomed back into the fold. Tours have since been plotted out and a new album is in the works.

It’ll be interesting to see how long this lasts.

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

Best albums of 2008: #5 Elbow “The seldom seen kid”

I’d like to say that I’ve been a fan of Elbow since the beginning but that wouldn’t be technically accurate. The band has been around since 1990 or 1991, albeit under a different name up to 1997 when they adopted their current moniker. I can say, however, that I caught on to their debut album, “Asleep in the back”, shortly after its release in 2001. (Yes, it took them that long to finally get a record out but that’s another story.) The album quickly became a favourite, spent months in my CD carousel, and I would name-drop them as often as possible when talking music with friends. It got so that it was a running joke. But I couldn’t help it. I just couldn’t get enough of this band’s dense atmospheric sound, all anchored by Guy Garvey’s unique, emotive vocals. They were like nothing else out there at the time. I once tried finding a comparison point and the best I could do was put Peter Gabriel in charge of a more-orchestral oriented Coldplay or Gene but even that seemed like I was trying to force it too much. My crush on Elbow only grew over time, as with each consecutive album their sound grew lusher and more complex, and they veered further and further away from those tropes that defined the traditional rock and roll band.

Elbow’s “The seldom seen kid” is the band’s fourth studio album and first on the Fiction records imprint. The album won the 2008 Mercury prize, an honour that the debut was nominated for but did not win. It certainly was up there with the debut as one of my own favourite of Elbow’s albums up to that point, setting a high water mark that its successor, 2011’s “Build a rocket boys!” couldn’t possibly reach.

‘Beauty’ or ‘beautiful’ are terms that are often inaccurately ascribed to music and are terms that shouldn’t be used lightly. But in Elbow’s case, ‘beauty’ is the most apt term I can think of and it could easily be the name of their particular style of music. “The seldom seen kid”, like Elbow’s other albums, doesn’t just create at an atmospheric sound, but whole worlds for you to inhabit, to live and laugh and cry in, as one song bleeds into the next. Each song is painstakingly arranged, the opulent instrumentation acting like a protective carriage to its soul: Garvey’s voice.

If you’ve never listened to Elbow before, “The seldom seen kid” would be a wonderful place to start. Don’t know where to begin? I’d say at the beginning but failing that, here are my three picks for you to sample.


”The fix”: “The fix is in. The odds that I got were delicious. The fix is in. The jockey is cocky and vicious.” This track has the added bonus of being touched by the hand of another talented musician with immediately recognizable vocals: Richard Hawley. His rich baritone vocals jive perfectly with Garvey’s, either while trading coyly or while in pleasant harmony. It is a slinky piece, obviously influenced by Hawley’s mere presence and his penchant for gleefully old-school sounds, tempered with his golden work on guitars.

”Grounds for divorce”: “There’s a hole in my neighbourhood, down which of late I cannot help but fall.” With a song title like this, it’s fitting that the song plays like one a chain gang might sing. From the marching drum beat to the call and response vocals in the intro to the dirty, southern bass line throughout, Garvey us leads through a rousing romp that is guaranteed to get you stomping.

”One day like this”: “So throw those curtains wide, one day like this a year would see me right.” With six and a half minutes of string flourishes, peppy beats, and uplifting vocal twists and turns, this song makes an ambitious bid for the title of my favourite Elbow track. It’s just one of those songs for which the volume can never be turned up quite enough. While listening to it, you want its blissful ecstasy to fill every crevice of your hearing, to blot the sounds of your humdrum day. You want to join in on the singalong refrain that carries on through the last half of the song with the thought that maybe tomorrow will be that day. Yup. Beautiful.


Check back next Thursday for album #4. In the meantime, here are the previous albums in this list:

10. Fleet Foxes  “Fleet Foxes”
9. The Submarines “Honeysuckle weeks”
8. Schools of Seven Bells “Alpinisms”
7. Glasvegas “Glasvegas”
6. Spiritualized “Songs in A & E”

You can also check out my Best Albums page here if you’re interested in my other favourite albums lists.