Best tunes of 1990: #14 The Charlatans “The only one I know”

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I received a mixed tape from a friend back in high school, a tape that I mentioned ad nauseum in my old blog, Music Insanity, but one that bears mentioning again in these pages, because it introduced me to a number of bands back in the day, including one that would become one of my all-time favourites: The Charlatans. Known as The Charlatans UK here in North America, the group formed in 1989, “survived” the deaths of two band members and several changes in sound over the years, and have released 13 albums, including this year’s, “Different days”. Not bad for a band that was once referred to as the “also-rans” of Manchester (and later on, the “Britpop survivors”).

Indeed, at the time of “Some friendly”‘s release, the band were lumped in with the likes of Stone Roses and Happy Mondays, despite not being from the greater Manchester area at all. It was obviously more to do with their debut album’s musical proximity than the band’s geography. The album was heavy on the danceable bass and beats, acid house psychedelia, Tim Burgess’s lethargic vocals, and of course, Rob Collin’s monstrous organ work. The aforementioned mixed tape sampled heavily from “Some friendly” but surprisingly, nowhere in its contents was the album’s first single, “The only one I know”, so I didn’t hear it until I got my hands on the cassette tape. And oh, when I did, there was plenty of rewinding and replaying required.

At the time, I saw it as completely new and inventive but I would learn much later that the song borrowed lyrics from The Byrds and an organ riff from Deep Purple. “The only one I know” went on to be The Charlatans’ first top ten single in the UK and hit number 5 on the US Modern Rock charts. Today, it remains one of the band’s best-known songs.

It certainly displays the early incarnation of the band firing on all five proverbial cylinders. The screaming high end on guitars and Martin Blunt’s thumping bass line, simply provide an extra large canvas for Rob Collins to paint his whirling Hammond splatters. And then… and then, there’s Jon Brookes’ mad shuffling drum beat that almost begs you to take up the maracas, à la Bez, and dance like a looney fool. Even today, I feel out of breath just listening to it and remembering all the times, all the drunken nights, I danced to this particular track, mouthing along to what I imagined were the lyrics to “The only one I know”.

Such a great song.

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

Vinyl love: Blur “Modern life is rubbish”

(Vinyl Love is a series of posts that quite simply lists, describes, and displays the pieces in my growing vinyl collection. You can bet that each record was given a spin during the drafting of each corresponding post.)

Artist: Blur
Album Title: Modern life is rubbish
Year released: 1993
Year reissued: 2012
Details: 2 of 7 in Blur 21, anniversary box set, black vinyl, 180 gram, 2 x LP, Gatefold sleeve

The skinny: Blur found their feet and their voice on their sophomore record, painting a picture of British life in a sound that definitely not American. It’s here, along with Suede’s self-titled release, that we find the roots of Britpop.

Standout track: “Chemical world”

Best tunes of 1990: #15 The Beautiful South “A little time”

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Being that I grew up in small-town Southern Ontario, Canada, in an age before the wonders of the Internet, it often happened that I came upon a band’s more popular and successful material, long after I did their less successful work. I discovered The Beautiful South’s “A little time” and their second album, “Choke”, years after their debut and third albums had become close friends. Truly, by the time I came across this song and the album on which it appears, I had listened to “0898” countless times (had written all my first year university essays to it), was intimate with each song, and knew most of the lyrics therein, like I knew every acne scar on my young twenty-something face. I never knew then that their third record was seen as a bit of a letdown after “Choke” and that none of its singles had reached as high on the UK singles charts as did “A little time”, their only tune to reach the number one position.

None of this is really surprising given that the band never achieved the same success here in North America. However, I was super eager to follow them as soon as I learned that they were an offshoot of 80s indie pop group, The Housemartins. Formed around the vocals of Paul Heaton and Dave Hemingway, The Beautiful South added Briana Corrigan as a third vocalist for “Choke” after she had guested successfully on their debut, “Welcome to the Beautiful South”. And it was the interplay between the three vocalists, especially the male/female sparring, that marked the group’s sound, set them apart, and along with their smart and jarring lyrics, was the likely reason for the modicum of success they achieved over their nine-album career.

“A little time” is a perfect illustration of the band’s magic. Featuring Hemingway and Corrigan on vocals, it jingles and jangles and tells the story of a relationship that sours after the male decides he needs “a little time” to, as he puts it, “think things over” and “find himself”. But when he decides he’s ready to settle down, he learns that the female didn’t sit by the phone to wait for him.

You had a little time
And you had a little fun
Didn’t you, didn’t you
While you had yours
Do you think I had none?

It’s not a little. It’s lots of fun. “A little time” plays the Brechtian-irony card well, pitting the dark and cynical vocals against the rays of the sunshine in the instrumentation. And even if you are familiar with the tune, you should check out the Brit Award-winning video below. It takes the themes of song and expounds upon them, hinting at a domestic battle of epic proportions, leaving the familial domicile a wasteland of flour and pillow feathers.

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