Best tunes of 1992: #23 L7 “Pretend we’re dead”

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Try as you might, you can’t really pigeonhole L7. Sure, they came out of the punk rock and alternative aesthetic. They came to prominence in the age of grunge and their fashion choices, or lack thereof, certainly had them placed amongst the boys club of those bands. Others will lump them in with the Riot Grrl movement, especially because of their outspokenness and their avid work in support of pro choice. However, the group predated all of these. And there was no conforming or pretension with L7. Nor were they strangers to controversy. They were true originals.

Donita Sparks and Suzi Gardner formed L7 in 1985. The quartet was completed in their most prominent years by Jennifer Finch and Demetra Plakas. By 1992, the group was releasing their third album, “Bricks are heavy”, on Slash records. Produced by Butch Vig (of “Nevermind” fame), the album did very well with the alternative rock set by upping the noise, grime, and by being generally unapologetic. There were three well received singles released from the album, the first of which was “Pretend we’re dead”, the subject of our post today and my introduction to the band. I remember it being played on the regular on CFNY, Toronto’s alt-rock station, which came in pretty clear in my small hometown, east of that city. However, I’m reasonably sure that before I heard it there, it appeared on a mixed tape made by my friend Tim.

“Pretend we’re dead” is loud and pure angsty rock and roll. In fact, it almost feels to me like a song Joan Jett would’ve come up with if the 90s were her era. The guitars are dirty and dripping with sludge and yet they race along, amped with jet fuel. The drums crash and the vocals sing words that seem meaningless, but beg for fist pumping and head banging. Yes!

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

Best tunes of 2011: #5 Dum Dum Girls “Bedroom eyes”

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Lots has changed for Kristin Gundred since 2011, when she released “Only in dreams”, her second full-length as leader of the group, Dum Dum Girls. At that time, she was performing under the name “Dee Dee” (not “Dee Dee Penny”, as many have erroneously reported, including myself) and she had just released an album with a full band that many critics were seeing as the start of something. However, we would unfortunately only see one other LP* released under the Dum Dum Girls name, 2014’s “Too true”, on which Gundred returned to recording by herself and moved ever so slightly away from the noisy, wall-of-sound washes and 60s girl group melodies. Afterwards, she dispensed with the idea of Dum Dum Girls completely and rebranded herself Kristin Kontrol, going all synths and glam. Somewhere amidst all this, she also divorced with her husband and sometimes collaborator, Crocodiles frontman Brandon Welchez.

“Only in dreams” was my introduction to Gundred and her beautiful voice, an asset that was only just starting to showcase on this particular album. It happened to also be my gateway to a few other likeminded bands that had somehow escaped my notice to this point, bands like Best Coast and Vivian Girls that riffed on the 60s girl group but upped griminess factor on the wall of sound. I had, on the other hand, already been exposed to the similar ethos of The Raveonettes, a band with whom I compared this album when trying to get others as hooked on them as I was. It didn’t surprise me, then, when I read in the album’s liner notes that it was co-produced by The Raveonettes’ Sune Rose Wagner.

“Bedroom eyes” was the second single released from “Only in dreams” and also appears second in order of play. It has all that noise and peppy beat that you’d expect and Gundred imbues her vocals with longing, singing about missing her now ex-husband while they were both away on separate tours. It transports you back to a simpler time but doesn’t leave the current age so far behind that you forget how that so-called simpler time wasn’t so simple. Beneath the glorious jangle and shine and chiming backing harmonies is a toughness. Just watch the video that plays on all the videos that might have been made at the time. Kristin and her band members are all decked out in black, sexy and sneering, not at all like the delicate flowers the influencing groups back in the day would’ve been portrayed.

For the rest of the Best tunes of 2011 list, click here.

* And an EP

Best tunes of 1992: #24 The Lemonheads “It’s a shame about Ray”

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At some point late in 1992, I babysat my young cousins one evening for my Aunt Joan at her townhouse at the other end of town. After the two girls went to bed, I slipped in a videocassette tape of recorded music videos I must’ve brought with me and opened up whatever Stephen King book I was reading at the time. The video for this particular song was playing when my Aunt came home from wherever she was and she being younger and somewhat hipper than my own parents, was actually being genuinely curious when she asked to whom it was I was listening. It was unsurprising that she had not heard of them but seeing my excitement at the band, she patiently listened to my ravings about them as I rewound the tape to the place where I knew I would find the video for the same band’s cover of “Mrs. Robinson”. She claimed to like their sound and I didn’t think anything more on the subject after going back to my own home. A few weeks later, however, while opening Christmas presents, I was delighted to receive from her a compact disc copy of “It’s a shame about Ray”. If I am remembering correctly, that was the same Christmas from which I obtained the first CD player of my own and since I didn’t have a lot to play on it yet, this new CD got a lot of playing time.

The Lemonheads are an American alternative rock band that originally formed in 1986 and save for a six year hiatus between 1998 and 2004, have existed in some form or other ever since. They are, generally speaking, the plaything of frontman/guitarist Evan Dando, fielding a pretty much new band whenever he decides to record and release a new album. For “It’s a shame about Ray”, The Lemonheads’ fifth record (second on a major label), the personnel included David Ryan on drums and the most excellent, Juliana Hatfield on bass guitar and backing vocals. The bulk of record was written in Australia with Dando’s friend Tom Morgan, the first of which was reportedly this title track, the reason we’re here today.

“I’ve never been too good with names
But I remember faces”

Evan Dando has remained vague about the meaning of the song and the identity of the “Ray” of its title. In some articles, he has been quoted as saying the line came from a newspaper article and in others, he has said it was inspired by someone who called everyone “Ray”. He even claims he doesn’t know who “Ray” is himself and likes to keep it mysterious.

Drugs, I guess.

Anyhow, it’s clear by all the past tense talk and mentions of names etched in stones that “Ray” is no longer with us, whether dead or just missing. Dando’s delivery throughout the three minute tune is suitably solemn and… just there. Really, its beauty lies in its subtlety, a simple head bopper that has these ripping guitar and drum fills between the choruses and verses. And when Hatfield appears with those soft backing vocals at the end, you just might need to shed a tear or two.

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