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Best tunes of 2020: #22 Say Hi “And then some miniature golfing”

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I had never heard, nor heard of, Say Hi prior to 2020 but this album called “Diamonds & donuts” came across my radar in the early days of the pandemic and it hit all the right notes with me. As it turned out, I would spend many hours listening to it over my headphones, while working away at my dining room table, while my lovely wife was doing the same across from me*. And this track, “And then some miniature golfing” was the album’s opening number.

Eric Elbogen started this project, originally called Say Hi to Your Mom, in Brooklyn back in 2002 and then, relocated operations to Seattle in 2006. He is the main creative force and its only real full-time member, though he has sometimes enlisted musicians to help realize his work in a live context. He has recorded and mixed pretty much all of the project’s 13 (!) albums (including this one) from the comfort of his home studio**, performing it all by himself. Word has it that a fourteenth album is due to be released later in 2023 and I would hazard that it would continue the trend as a real DIY bedroom pop project.

According to Elbogen himself, “Diamonds & donuts” was influenced by the idea of a series of psychological focus group tests, with each of the thirteen synth pop songs on the album representing a different experiment. “And then some miniature golf” posits the theory that “the saddest experience achievable by a human being is to be jolted awake from the false belief that you’ve truly found your soulmate.”

Oh, you even met her parents
And talked about traveling the world
‘Til she said “No matter what you think
I will never ever be your girl”

It’s 80s synth new wave with layers upon layers of hurt and pain, like they stuck Duckie Dale in the friend zone, but rather than at the prom, OMD is performing at a downtown New York punk club and the vocalist is channelling Joe Cocker and the Boss. It’s nostalgic and wistful with sidelong and knowing glances. Elbogen knows this kind of hurt and knows the only cure is more synths.

*Minus the earphones and the Say Hi album

**A laptop on a small desk in a bedroom

For the rest of the Best tunes of 2020 list, click here.

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100 best covers: #50 The Beautiful South “Everybody’s talkin'”

<< #51    |    #49 >>

The Beautiful South were one of my favourite groups in the first few years of the 1990s. I’ve already written on these pages a number of times about how I wrote all my first year university papers to their third record, 1992’s “0898”. So of course when their fourth album hit the shelves here in Canada in 1994, I was right there to purchase a copy of the CD. I noticed a big difference in the sound right away. Gone were the shrill, childlike backup vocals of Brianna Corrigan, who I later learned left the group before recording sessions began, and these were replaced by the richer hued voice of Jacqui Abbott.

This change was most evident on track four, “Miaow”’s second single, a cover of “Everybody’s talkin’”, on which she took on lead vocals and the inimitable Paul Heaton slid to backup duties. I recognized the track from the first listen because it was super faithful, in sound and in feeling, to one my father enjoyed and that would see the volume pumped up in the car whenever it made the appearance on oldies radio. I’m talking about Harry Nilsson’s version, of course, which I thought until recently was the original. It was his cover that made the song what it is, its appearance on the “Midnight cowboy” soundtrack giving Nilsson his biggest hit. It was a jangling and rambling yearning to be somewhere, anywhere but there, exhausted but hopeful, not letting all the talking heads get you down. It’s the kind of song that rings true with musicians and songwriters, which is likely why it’s been covered by hundreds* of artists.

I only learned that it was originally written and recorded by folk singer/songwriter Fred Neil a few years before Nilsson did it when I sat down to write this post a week or so ago. I had to change tack for obvious reasons but I loved learning about how this songwriter I’d never heard of wrote this classic tune and recorded it in only one take just so that he could finally go home. His original is austere, hints at plucking and strumming, a shadow and inference of the fuller sound we are used to with the many covers. It’s good, perhaps even great, it’s just not what I’m used to.

In closing, I’m realizing that I may not have made such a strong case for The Beautiful South version but I do very much love it. It’s always made me happy. So I can’t in conscience pick the original here but I’m definitely curious to check out Fred Neil’s other work.

Cover:

The original:

*One of these was the lovely, mellow rendition by Luna, which I also considered including on this list.

For the rest of the 100 best covers list, click here.

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Tunes

Best tunes of 1993: #12 Blur “Chemical world”

<< #13    |    #11 >>

Back when I was in university, I still listened to commercial radio relatively often, but for me, the only station worth listening to had become Toronto’s CFNY 102.1 (these days called The Edge). I loved the morning show with Humble & Fred, the weekend live-to-air shows by Chris Sheppard and Martin Streek, Alan Cross’s Ongoing history of new music on Sunday nights, and of course, the all request nooner on weekdays. The nooner was music “as chosen” by the listeners. I was a regular listener and tried often enough to put in requests but I think my songs only made the show once or twice.

The one time I can say for absolute certainty that it happened for me was when I requested they play Blur’s “Chemical world” just a few days before the band was due to play The Phoenix in Toronto in September 1994. Back then, requests couldn’t be made by webform, email, or tweets, they had to be called in by landline telephone. The phone lines opened 30 minutes to an hour before the show was due to start and some intern or other answered the calls, and if we’re being serious here, they were the ones that really decided which songs were going to be played. After dialling, getting the busy signal, hanging up, and hitting the redial button a number of times, I actually got through to a live person! The guy asked what I wanted to hear, hesitated briefly at my response, and then said “yeah, I think we can play that for you.” He recorded me giving the song an intro and let me go so he could take the next call. I sat by the radio for the next hour in my basement apartment while I ate my lunch and got ready to head in to the university for an afternoon class. Just at the end of the hour, I heard my groggy voice croak the intro and my request was played.

“Chemical world” was the second single released off of Blur’s sophomore release, “Modern life is rubbish”. It’s one of the songs the band recorded when they were sent back to the studio by their labels after initial recordings for the release did not yield any singles. It definitely fits the definition of single without straying far from their new aesthetic. After their debut couldn’t decide whether it wanted to be baggy or shoegaze and it (and their performances) couldn’t find foothold with the US markets, they decided to record the antithesis of the grunge music that was taking over in North America. “Modern life” would turn out to be one of the initial albums to fly the Britpop banner and in the process, influenced a host of other like-minded bands.

“Chemical world” was the only track from the sophomore album to crack the US charts and it was one of the few songs I would hear by the band on occasion, even on alternative radio, at the time. It’s still one of my favourites by Blur and came in at number three when I counted my five favourites by the group a few years ago*. Dave Rowntree is pounding away at the drums, violent but tame, Graham Coxon is ripping away at his guitar like he’s been hanging with John Squire, Alex James’s bass line is holding it all together tightly in muscular arms, and Damon Albarn is once again bashing out against modern life and modern Britain and how it cannot be escaped, even if it was wanted.

“It’s been a hell of a do
They’ve been putting the holes in, yes, yes
And now she’s right out of view
They’ve been putting the holes in, yes, yes
Well, I don’t know about you
They’ve been putting the holes in, yes, yes

Until you can see right through”

*In that post, I told a shorter version of the story detailed above.

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