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.


Best tunes of 1992: #14 Buffalo Tom “Velvet roof”

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“Scraggly hair and messed up shoes
I’m looking all around for you
Find you in the corner bar
But you can’t find the keys to your car”

This one here’s a real rocker! Driving rhythm and flailing guitars and frontman Bill Janovitz singing about blowing chances with love and life. I first came across this track and thus discovered Buffalo Tom when I recorded the music video off City Limits, a story you might recognize by now if you’ve perused other posts in my Best tunes of 1990, 1991, and 1992 lists. I definitely remember rewinding and replaying this video many times over in my basement bedroom, while frantically slapping the tops of my thighs, flat-handed, as if I were drumming right alongside Tom Maginnis. It’s absolutely one of those songs that gets me riled up every time, even now, especially at around the halfway mark of the song where the mouth organ gets whipped out and then, the real craze begins.

Buffalo Tom was formed in Boston in 1986 and apparently, their name was an amalgam of 60s rock band Buffalo Springfield and the first name of their drummer. Their friendship with J. Mascis and the fact that he produced their first two records was likely the main reason they obtained the questionable tag of Dinosaur Jr. junior. I never saw this comparison myself but I always enjoyed Buffalo Tom’s music more than that of Mascis’s group, perhaps not a popular opinion. Nonetheless, it’s true, and of course, it was on their third album, “Let me come over”, on which this song appears, where they sought different collaborators and started to blaze their own trail, that things really started happening for them.

I loved the drive and energy of “Velvet roof” so much that the first time I saw “Let me come over” on a CD rack, I didn’t hesitate to buy it. Unfortunately, as you might know if you’ve read a certain post on New Model Army’s “Purity”, this particular story doesn’t have such a happy ending. I had travelled to Toronto in the summer of 1993 with my friend Tim to see New Model Army live, my first ever concert. We had driven to the Scarborough Town Centre in the afternoon, parked, and took the TTC LRT and subway downtown from there. Before the show, we hit a few of Tim’s favourite used record and CD shops, including the now defunct Penguin Music, which for quite a while afterwards became my own favourite. I picked up copies of Primus’s “Sailing the seas of cheese” and this Buffalo Tom album.

The New Model Army show was so incredible that we stayed almost right to the end, despite Tim’s wary eye on his watch, knowing full well that we had to catch the last subway eastward, which on a week night in those days wasn’t very late. It was a race from Lee’s Palace to Bathurst station and I remember struggling mightily at the entry gate with hands full of CDs and a concert tee and trying to find the token I had purchased earlier. Then, mere moments later, while waiting downstairs for the subway train to arrive, I realized I no longer had the CDs in my hands. I ran back upstairs but they were nowhere to be found and the ticket taker only shrugged.

At some point, I purchased another copy of “Sailing the seas of cheese” but never did replace “Let me come over”. It was reissued on vinyl a few years ago for its 25th anniversary. If I ever see a copy of that out in the wild, I’m thinking the album will finally see my shelves. One can hope.

For the rest of the Best tunes of 1992 list, click here.