Best tunes of 1990: #25 Spirit of the West “Save this house”

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The first time I remember hearing Spirit of the West was one Friday night circa 1991, while watching Good Rockin’ Tonite. They were doing a feature on the Canadian music scene and the final video they played was the one for “D is for democracy” off “Go figure”. It initially caught my attention because the accordion player, Linda McRae, was wearing a Wonder Stuff (of whom I was a fan) concert T in the video but the song quickly grew on me as well. I would go on to fall in love with (what I would later learn was a reinterpretation of) “Political”, off that same album, and bought “Go figure” based on that. Months later, I procured “Save this house” as one of my many “9 albums for a cent” shopping sprees from either BMG or Columbia House and it would become a perennial mainstay in my CD player, most definitely during the summers of 93, 94, and 95. It wasn’t long before Spirit of the West was one of my favourite bands and to this day, they’re tied with Stars and Spiritualized as the band I’ve seen the most times live. I would see them again in a New York minute but unfortunately, they’ve broken up.

Spirit of the West were a Vancouver-based Celtic folk rock band that was formed in 1983 by John Mann, Geoffrey Kelly, and J. Knutson. The last of these departed three years into their run and was replaced by Hugh MacMillan and the aforementioned accordion player, Linda McRae, joined not long after. On a tour of England in support of “Save this house”, they met and played some shows with The Wonder Stuff. This meeting was the impetus behind SOTW adding a drummer and incorporating more of a rock edge to their sound (and also likely where McRae got her shirt). The group would go on to become quite popular in Canada in the 90s, not just on the strength of their albums but also of their energetic and fun live shows.

“Save this house” is the title track and the high energy opener off their major label debut, their last before they “went electric” with the help of drummer Vince Ditrich. At a mere three minutes in length, it’s a song that packs a wallop. It commences with a funky groove (if you can call celtic folk funky) but it’s not long before the chorus and the frenetic acoustic guitars kick in and you just want to jump up and save whatever house John Mann and crew are looking to rescue. In this case, though, it’s a rough task to take on because their target is the planet Earth. They’re calling for an end to the house party that’s been trashing our home for years.

“The welcome mat’s worn out, the roof will never mend, the furniture’s on fire, this house is a disgrace. Someone change the locks before we trash this place.”

Indeed.

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

Best tunes of 1990: #26 Jane’s Addiction “Stop!”

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Señores y señoras… it’s Friday! A perfect day to unleash song number twenty-six: Jane’s Addiction’s “Stop!”

In the fall of 1990, my friends and I were still very much in love with the claustrophobic angst of Nine Inch Nails’ brilliant debut, “Pretty hate machine” and by then, we were all listening to Nitzer Ebb and Ministry and some of us, even Skinny Puppy. Industrial was the buzz word of the day. It was all we wanted to hear and what we were all on the lookout for. And in the midst of all this, a friend (who will remain nameless) slipped me the “Ritual de lo habitual” cassette, telling me that this was the latest in Industrial. I listened to the tape and loved it right off, but didn’t think the sound fit in with those other bands. Still, we were young, what did we know about genre? We didn’t have Wikipedia and Pitchfork telling us everything we needed to know about music. But we knew what we liked.

And we definitely liked Jane’s Addiction.

“Ritual de lo habitual” was the four-piece LA-based group’s third album and the last before the first incarnation of the band was dissolved. Jane’s Addiction started out a few years earlier with their unconventional, self-titled debut, which was a live record that featured early versions of now iconic tunes and covers of songs by The Velvet Underground and The Rolling Stones. Then, their sophomore release, 1988’s “Nothing’s shocking”, was a proverbial sucker punch to the solar plexus, the original lineup of Perry Farrell, Eric Avery, Dave Navarro, and Stephen Perkins unleashing a loud and brash cacophony of metal, funk, surf, punk and psychedelia on the buying public. Though many people see “Nothing’s shocking” as Jane’s Addiction’s best work, I prefer “Ritual”. Sure, it’s a drug-fuelled mess at times but it is still quite accomplished and cohesive and of course, it was my introduction to the influential alt-rock band.

“Stop!” is the starting point on the epic journey of the album and was one of two lead off singles to be released from it (the other being “Three days”!). The Spanish introduction plays like a post-modern gimmick, the female announcer revving up the crowd of listeners for Jane’s Addiction to leap up onstage and punish their instruments. Navarro wails away on the guitars, somehow seeing through the heroin haze, and the rhythm section of Avery and Perkins shift gears from fast to slow to fast again with apparent ease. And the ringleader of this circus of freaks, Perry Farrell, comports himself like a man unhinged, his whines and screeches perfect to shout along with as your body is being tossed about like a ragdoll in the mosh pit. It’s all fun and games until you lose one of your 16 hole docs or a Birkenstock sandal in the fray.

…Stop… now go!

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

Best tunes of 1990: #27 DNA featuring Suzanne Vega “Tom’s diner”

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Da da da da da da-da da, da da da da da da-da da.

That’s right. Next up on this Best of 1990 list is a great ear worm that was a joint effort between songstress Suzanne Vega and British electronic producer duo, DNA: “Tom’s diner”.

I say “joint effort” because although Suzanne Vega originally wrote the song, it wasn’t until Nick Batt and Neal Slateford put their shoulder to the track that it became a worldwide sensation. Indeed, it’s sometimes easy to forget that this one wasn’t the original version. Vega had written the song as a vocal only, a capella track in 1981 and it appeared on her sophomore album, 1987’s “Solitude standing”. Her’s is a beautiful, thoughtful, and quite awkward sounding piece and that now infamous “da da da” bit only appears at the end of the song. If you’ve never heard it before, take the time and do so now. We’ll wait.

This bare bones version leaves only the words dangling before you. It’s like a stream of conscious paean to the mundane. The singer hanging out on a rainy day, perhaps wrestling with writer’s block, and jotting down the thoughts that occur to her and the little things that happen to her as she is sitting with a coffee in Tom’s Restaurant in New York City (which some of you might recognize from television).

The version by DNA took the original a capella track, layered it with synths and a sampled dance beat and looped the outro, over and over again, throughout the song. They originally released it as a bootleg without her permission but when Suzanne Vega heard it, she liked it so much that she bought the rights and re-released it, along with the music video you can watch below (complete with dancers). It brought Suzanne Vega her first dance hit, introduced her to a whole new audience, and perhaps turned her ear to a completely different world of music. Check out some of her more industrial sounding work on 1992’s “99.9F°” if you’re not sure what I mean.

Although DNA worked magic with “Tom’s diner” and had some success with remixing other songs later on, a quick peek at Wikipedia reveals that neither Batt nor Slateford is still making music. Vega, on the other hand, is still quite active, her most recent album coming in 2016.

If this song isn’t stuck in your head yet, play the video below again and I promise you’ll be stuck with it all day. You’re welcome.

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