Best tunes of 2000: #12 Radiohead “Optimistic”

<< #13    |    #11 >>

April 12, 1998. A date I will always remember for two reasons. First, it was the first and last time I ever worked on an Easter Sunday and second, it was the first and only time I ever saw Radiohead perform live. I remember it being a very quiet shift at the tool rental store at which I worked at the time, serving only a few customers, receiving more calls from other, busier store locations than actual customers, which all made for a very long wait before the show. It’s funny now remembering how much I was looking forward to it that day, considering the only reason I was going was that I loved the opening act and my friend Terry had an extra ticket. Björk was originally supposed to co-headline the show with Radiohead at the stop at Maple Leaf Gardens in Toronto but she had to cancel just prior to tickets going on sale and the vacant opening slot was filled by Spiritualized, who already had this job for the other stops along the tour.

It’s a point of fact that I had already seen Spiritualized at a small club called Guvernment the previous fall on their own headline tour in support of “Ladies and gentlemen, we are floating in space”, a show that I loved and will always remember for many reasons (but that’s a story for another time). And so, I jumped at the chance at seeing them again; Radiohead, for me, was just a bonus. As it would turn out, Spiritualized were phenomenal, doing an admirable job of filling a half-empty arena with their space rock noise, but Radiohead was the revelation. I don’t know what their live show is like these days but in 1998, it was electric and made me an even bigger fan of their music than I already was.

I mention this concert in connection to “Optimistic”, a track that appears on “Kid A”, an album that would come out two years later, because of a (likely unfounded) theory I later developed that it was this tour with Spiritualized that changed everything for Radiohead. When “Kid A” came out, I think a lot of people didn’t know what to think of it. Prior to this album, Radiohead was an excellent guitar rock band and though “OK computer” really pushed the proverbial envelope, it could be considered almost pedestrian when set beside “Kid A”. To me, it sounded like Thom Yorke had spent a load of time with Spiritualized’s evil genius, Jason Pierce, adopted his love of droning rock, free jazz, and experimental noise and leapt off the high diving board without a life jacket. The funny thing is that though I love Spiritualized and everything they produce, “Kid A” and pretty much every Radiohead album that came afterward have never really done anything for me.

Until recently, that is.

(And before I go further, I just want to say that I am not one of those people that slammed “Kid A”, only to much later proclaim it the album of the year. I’ve never hated Radiohead’s later works. I’ve just always preferred albums two and three.)

This week, while listening to “Kid A” in preparation for writing this post, I feel like I heard something there that I hadn’t heard before. “Optimistic”, in particular, got me going with its thrumming and aggressive guitars and pounding drums. These two forces create a palpable tension while Thom Yorke pleads and wrangles with his listeners come along with him for the ride. I listened to it over and over again, each time turning it up louder, the increasing volume making things even more clear. And while I’m not sure I’m sure I’m quite ready to retroactively crown “Kid A” album of the decade or move “Optimistic” further up this list, I think I might be ready to give post-“OK computer” Radiohead another chance.

For the rest of the Best tunes of 2000 list, click here.

Best tunes of 1990: #23 The Mission “Deliverance”

<< #24     |    #22 >>

(So before I get too far into this post, I need to come clean right here about the fact that a good part of the posts in this list had originally been written for and posted on my old blog, Music Insanity, last year. Parts of this particular post were originally published in April 2016 and my friend Tim, who figures prominently in the text below, emailed me shortly after it went public to say that he felt almost like a guest contributor.)

I was introduced to The Mission by Tim back in high school. I had asked him to record me a copy of The Wonder Stuff’s “Hup” to cassette from his vinyl version. Of course, as we did back in those days when an album fit all on one side of a C90, he filled the other side with a mix of songs that he liked from other records in his collection. Two of those tracks were “Deliverance” and “Butterfly on a wheel”, both from The Mission’s 1990 album, “Carved in sand”.

My knowledge of the gothic rock band is limited to anecdotal bits of information, like the fact that they were formed in 1986 by Wayne Hussey and Craig Adams when they left/were kicked out of The Sisters of Mercy. So rather than make stuff up for the post, I decided to go back to the source and I texted Tim to see if he could give me more to go on. I started off by asking for his top five Mission songs.

“Hmm. Tower of strength, Deliverance, Butterfly on a wheel, their cover of Neil Young’s Like a Hurricane, and Wasteland. Haven’t listened to them in a while.”

Then, I asked him for his thoughts on “Butterfly on a wheel” because this post was originally going to focus on that song (more on that in a moment).

“I’d say it’s aged better than a lot of their stuff, and is one of those songs that show how they really wanted to be Zeppelin, with all the cheesy, over-the-top imagery. But it works on this song.”

And then there was this:

“That was tough to come up with since I’m only on my first coffee.”

Don’t worry friends, Tim redeemed himself and showed me up in the process the following weekend.

I hadn’t yet started writing about “Butterfly on a wheel” when I went I down to Toronto for the Easter weekend holidays. As I normally try to do when I’m in T-dot, I got together with my old friends for some beers, this of course, included Tim. My recollection of the evening is a bit patchy given the time that has elapsed, and the quality and quantity of beers consumed, but I do remember the conversation at one point turning to this post on The Mission. He asked me at one point why I chose “Butterfly” over “Deliverance” and I responded that it was because it was for my Best of 1990 series, not realizing at the time that they were both from the very same album.

(And this is where I have to make confession #2. To this day, I am not sure if I’ve ever listened to one of The Mission’s albums in full, having only their 1994 compilation, “Sum and substance”, in my music library.)

It wasn’t hard for Tim to convince me to change the song to “Deliverance”. I enjoy both but have always preferred the latter. It is a darker and harder-living track than its romantically fey and Victorian-era dressed younger brother. When placed side-by-side, it’s hard to tell that they are by the same band, let alone from the same album (and that’s not me making excuses). On both, Wayne Hussey exercises the bourbon smooth depth of his vocals but on “Deliverance” he is more insistent, matching the driving rhythm and roaring guitars. And according to the vague memory I have of the aforementioned conversation, “Deliverance” builds and builds to a “big YAAA! crescendo”. (I would include the photo I still have on my phone of Tim giving a visual representation of this sentiment but I’m not sure he’d approve.)

I’ve included both songs below for your review. However, I think you’ll agree with Tim (as I did) that “Deliverance” is the slightly better track.

For the rest of the Best tunes of 1990 list, click here.

100 best covers: #100 Manic Street Preachers “Raindrops keep falling on my head”

#99 >>

Happy Friday all!

To celebrate kicking off the weekend and to belatedly usher in June, I am launching a new list, this one a grandiose glimpse of my 100 all-time favourite covers. And we start it all off on a high note with Manic Street Preachers’ rendition of “Raindrops keep falling on my head”. The original was written by Hal David and Burt Bacharach for the Butch Cassidy & Sundance Kid soundtrack. Recorded by BJ Thomas on vocals, it was released as a single in 1969 to middling reviews but sales jumped to colossal heights after the film was released in 1970.

“Raindrops” has been covered several times over the years but this one by Manic Street Preachers has been praised for injecting some angst into the blind optimism of the original. It came about as part of the Help album project in 1995, a compilation for which some of the biggest names in British music at the time (including Blur, Oasis, and Radiohead) all went into the studio on the same day to produce brand new recordings, all to raise funds in support of Bosnia’s children. A great cause to be sure and it resulted in one of my favourite ever compilation albums, containing many fantastic songs, some of which were covers that will possibly appear further on down this list.

In the case of Manic Street Preachers, they were seven months removed from the infamous disappearance of songwriter/guitarist, Richey Edwards, who to this day, has never been found. They had decided to carry on as a trio and had incidentally booked studio time for their next album. Some have theorized that the recording of this song was a message to Richey that the Manics were going to soldier on but the band has denied this, stating that the short timeframe necessitated a song that they were already familiar with, this being one that had been part of past live sets.

Manic Street Preachers inject some (to my ears) much-needed rock and roll into the number. James Dean Bradfield’s vocals are a lot less polished than those of Thomas, but are lovely, nonetheless. The acoustic guitars are jaunty, the bass bubbly, and the drums are like a skipping heartbeat but the fun really comes in with drummer Sean Moore’s trumpet solo at the bridge. All in all, it’s just a fun track, a band showing a toothy grin in the face of adversity, and that it’s okay to be cheerful when the rain continues to fall, seemingly without end.

The cover:

The original:

This is the first in what will be a long list but once more are posted, the rest of the list can be viewed here.