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Best tunes of 1993: #17 The Verve “Slide away”

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Verve was an alternative rock band that was formed in Wigan, England in 1990 by Peter Salisbury, Simon Jones, Nick McCabe, and Richard Ashcroft. They started to amass a following early on with their engaging live shows that were explosions of psychedelic and shoegaze guitar miasma and boasted an unpredictable but golden-voiced frontman. They were forced to add the ‘The’ to the front of their name shortly after the release of their debut album, “A storm in heaven”, when they received notice from a certain American jazz label who had already been using the name for years.

It didn’t hurt the band’s burgeoning success any, though, and after the release of a second album, “A northern soul”, they were regularly hitting the UK singles charts. They broke up for the first time in 1995, only to re-form the following year and resurface with the album that would give them notoriety the world over. It was the single, “Bittersweet symphony”, that did it for them. Unfortunately, it didn’t make the band a cent at the time, given the oft-reported story of an ex-manager for The Rolling Stones claiming all royalties for the sample used as its backbone, a story that only found closure in 2019 when the songwriting credits were finally signed over in full to Richard Ashcroft. Sadly, this event likely contributed to the first (1999) of two more breakups by the band, the second (2008) of which has held fast up to now.

Oh, you’ve heard of this band? I’m not surprised.

Like many, I became a fan of The Verve with “Urban hymns” and that ubiquitous lead single. But I remember at the time thinking the band name familiar and was pretty certain I had an idea where from. So I went back and reviewed my cache of VHS tapes loaded with music videos recorded off the various shows on MuchMusic in the early 90s. And sure enough, it was there: “Slide away”.

“So take your time
I wonder if you’re here just to use my mind
Don’t take it slow
You know I’ve got a place to go”

In the video, the band is featured, very young looking, long-haired hippie freaks, tripping and freaking out in the desert and as intense as ‘Mad’ Richard looks, some brave soul picks up the motley hitchhikers and then, brings them to a town where they inexplicably have a gig booked in a brothel. As crazy as all this sounds and looks, it seems to make perfect sense to the band members in such obvious ecstatic states. Not the video you would expect for a single and yet, though the song didn’t garner them a lot of attention in the UK, it made a massive splash on the US indie rock charts.

That muscular bassline, those swirling guitars, and of course, the hazy and lazy vocals had such a great groove and won me over every time I watched that video. And when I rediscovered the group a few years later, I fell in love with song all over again.

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

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100 best covers: #53 Suede “Shipbuilding”

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I’ve already written bits about the Help Warchild album a couple of times for this series. Songs from this, my favourite ever compilation, have already appeared at number 100 and number 74 on this list and here we are again, this time with Suede’s cover of Elvis Costello’s “Shipbuilding”.

Of course, at the time, I had no idea this was a cover. Given how quickly the Help album was recorded and released*, the CD copy of the compilation that I purchased used from Penguin Music the year after its release had almost nothing in the way of liner and production notes. I was also still something of a newbie when it came to Suede. I had obviously heard of them, their eponymously titled glam rock debut, and had fallen hard for “My insatiable one” off the “So I married an axe murderer” soundtrack, as well as the “We are the pigs” single off their sophomore release “Dog man star”. Still, I was a few months shy of the full on love affair with their third record, “Coming up”.

I only discovered the original when I finally decided it was time to explore the work of Elvis Costello a decade or so later. It appeared on a Best Of compilation that I tracked down and recognized it immediately as track eight from Warchild. The music was originally written by Clive Langer for Robert Wyatt but unhappy with his own lyrics, he approached Costello to refine them. The song was a reaction to the Falklands war and played on the irony that shipbuilding towns would see a modicum of resurgence while its fighting age sons would be sent off to fight and perhaps die.

Costello’s original is a hip and jazzy number, emboldened by a trumpet solo by Chet Baker. The musicianship is tremendous and you can’t argue with those phenomenal lyrics** but there is something just a bit more suave and swank about Brett Anderson, no? In his and Suede’s hands, it’s a bit more of a rock ballad, heavy on the bass and the piano, and though the trumpet still appears, it’s more muted.

Yeah, I dig Elvis Costello. But I love Suede. I’m going with the cover here.

Cover:

The original:

*All within eight days!!!

**Elvis Costello himself has said that these were some of the best lyrics he had ever written

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

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Best tunes of 2020: #27 The Psychedelic Furs “Wrong train”

<< #28    |    #26 >>

The Psychedelic Furs have been around forever. The British post-punk band formed in the late 70s and had a string of hits throughout the 80s. I first picked up on them in the latter part of that decade when I first saw the John Hughes film, “Pretty in pink”, whose title was inspired by one of the band’s early hits and of course, that track was re-recorded for the now iconic soundtrack. When I went through a retro 80s kick in the 90s, I picked up on even more of their tunes and ended up getting a copy of one of their best of compilations on CD but that was as far as I ever delved.

Still, I remember thinking it cool and a little bit funny when my friend Eileen was telling me and my wife a story over beers about how she met up with them at a tiny bar in New York when she was younger. She also laughed because she didn’t know who they were then and still didn’t really know how big they were but clearly remembered their name and that they were a ‘great bunch of kids’.

I also didn’t hesitate to ensure to catch their set when they played my favourite local music festival, Ottawa Bluesfest, a couple of years ago, even though the reformed group hadn’t released any new material since 1991’s “World outside”. I was absolutely rewarded by them playing pretty much all the songs that I knew by them but I was also super impressed by how they really rocked the stage, frontman Richard Butler especially tearing it up with those inimitable lungs of his.

So when I heard a couple of years later that the group had released its first album of new material in nearly thirty years, I was leery and almost gave it a by. As it was, I pressed play on Spotify, fully expecting to skip a few songs and give up the ghost in short order. How wrong I was! “Made of rain” was fresh and raw, full of killer hooks and Butler’s rock and roll vocals.

“I took the wrong train
Ate all the wrong pills
I took a cell phone
To call my voice mail”

Track four on the album is a tune called “Wrong train”, a banger that was actually written by the band way back in 2001, near the beginning of their reunion run. Butler wrote it about his experiences living in the suburbs, a bad time in his life tainted further by his break up with his wife, the domestic life gone awry. It’s the roar and rumble of a commuter train, lost in sleep and dazed in the humdrum of the day, Butler’s voice roaring and soaring above it all, looking down at this daily drudgery like an out of body experience.

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