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Best tunes of 1993: #28 Buffalo Tom “Soda jerk”

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“Velvet roof” (number fourteen on my Best tunes of 1992 list) was my introduction to Buffalo Tom. I had recorded the video off CityLimits and pretty much wore that section of the videocassette tape out with repeated rewinds and replays. In the summer of 1993, I found a used CD copy of “Let me come over” at Penguin music in Toronto but misplaced it at the Bathurst street subway station before it even made it home with me. A year or so later, I was scanning lists of available albums in order to come up with my 10 albums for a penny from either BMG or Columbia House*, when I saw “Big red letter day” available for selection. The CD was added without hesitation and so became the first and only Buffalo Tom album to which I would listen in full and actually own in physical format for a number of years.

Hence, “Soda jerk” became the second ever Buffalo Tom song that I would ever hear. And yeah, I loved it. The song leads off the American alt-rock trio’s fourth long player with a bang. It’s perhaps the most upbeat song and obvious single off an album that led the band further from its Dinosaur Jr influenced roots and into crisper sound and a melodic vocal focused direction, a rarity in the grunge heavy music world at the time. The song garnered the band some good coin too when it was used in Nike and Pontiac commercials and received further exposure when it was featured on the cult teen television show, “My so called life”.

A number of people have called “Soda jerk” Buffalo Tom’s masturbation song, referring as proof to the lyric “jerked my fountain”. However, I’ve always looked pointedly at the song title for meaning and figured they were using the term given to old school, soda shoppe employees as a symbol and example of the type of soul sucking job that many members of generation X were forced to take back in those days**. My theory certainly falls more in line with words that frontman Bill Janovitz has used to describe the tune: “a big bouncy song that is borderline despondent and about alienation.”

“Form a line here
I think I’ll die here
These people nauseate me”

And Bill is absolutely right. “Soda jerk” does rock out out in a major key kind of way, showcasing jangly, happily strummed guitars, marching and pounding drums, and call and response vocals that rev you up and knock you down.

*I hit up both of these music subscription services at one point or another in my formative years. Say what you will, it was a great way to bolster your CD collection.

**For more on this subject, go watch the Kevin Smith film “Clerks”.

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