Best tunes of 1990: #10 Concrete Blonde “Bloodletting (The vampire song)”

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I have always been an avid reader and in my early to mid teen years, it was all about the horror fiction. “Different Seasons”, the collection that included the story upon which “Stand by me” was based, was my gateway into Stephen King and by 1991, I had read most of what he had published. I had also sampled a good portion of the works by John Saul and Dean Koontz, and then, my friend John suggested I check out Anne Rice. I was only about a hundred pages into “Interview with a vampire”, the first book of her Vampire Chronicles series, when the lyrics of the title track off Concrete Blonde’s 1990 album “Bloodletting” started to make a whole lot more sense.

Indeed, Anne Rice’s works seemed to serve as a sort of spirit guide to the entirety of Concrete Blonde’s third album, if not lyrically, definitely in mood and scope. This album took the American alt-rock trio into gothic rock territory and strangely, served the band up their greatest commercial success (as already mentioned in the post on “Joey”‘ which appeared at #21 on this list). Every song is tight and fit cohesively into the album as a whole, evoking the New Orleans of Rice’s books, like a gloomy, romantic, and steamy graveyard with violence lurking in every dark corner.

The lyrics of the title track are more an inference than a retelling of the first book, that dark and empty house where the vampire Louis recounts his story to a journalist, along with that of the enigmatic Lestat. In case you’ve never read the book, nor seen the film adaptation that starred Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt, I won’t say much more about it but if you’ve listened closely to the lyrics, you can probably guess how it all ends. However, you don’t have to be an Anne Rice fan at all to enjoy this track, just a taste for the macabre. It’s all eerie screeching sounds that hint at bats and howling winds that rustle decaying leaves. The bass is evil and deeply foreboding, the guitars are a scratching at your bedroom window, seductively asking to be let in. And then, there’s Johnette Napolitano, a deeper and sultrier-voiced Siouxsie Sioux, her delivery sending chills all up and down your spine.

I got the ways and means
To New Orleans
I’m going down by the river
Where it’s warm and green
I’m gonna have a drink and walk around
I got a lot to think about
Oh, yeah

A great, great track, but definitely not one for the faint of heart.

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

Best tunes of 1990: #21 Concrete Blonde “Joey”

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The cassette single, or “cassingle”, was the magnetic cassette tape equivalent to the vinyl 45, the format it was meant to replace back in the mid to late 80s and into the 90s. However, it never did gain the traction that the record companies had hoped it would. And why would it, really? A cassette with a song on each side, or in some cases, both songs repeated on both sides, packaged in a flimsy cardboard sleeve. It was hardly worth shelling out the dough and definitely not worth inserting into your Sony Sports Walkman if you made the miscalculation of purchasing it. Nonetheless, anyone who listened to music back in those days likely remembers having one or two cassingles in their collection and indeed, I’m sure some of you even still have one or two of these relics gathering dust somewheres.

I definitely had one or two at the time and remember exchanging and sharing these two song wonders between friends. I mention this long defunct format today because the first time I ever heard Concrete Blonde’s “Joey” was when a girl I was “seeing” for a very brief time in high school loaned me her copy of the cassette single. And also, the very fact that this song was released in this format illustrates that it enjoyed a modest modicum of commercial success, one the few songs by the band that did.

Concrete Blonde was an American alternative rock band led by the intense vocals of Johnette Napolitano and whose name was suggested to the band by friend and fellow IRS labelmate Michael Stipe. In their early days, the band played to an almost exclusive college radio crowd, right up until the release of “Bloodletting”, which exposed them to wider commercial audience, mostly thanks to this track, “Joey”. The interesting thing is that this is the album that saw the band move away from their more pedestrian, hard rock roots towards a darker, more gothic rock sound.

“Joey” was the final track recorded for the album because the lyrics were emotionally difficult for Napolitano to lay down. She has since confirmed early suspicions that the song is about an alcoholic (a stretch, I know), and specifically, about her relationship with Wall of Voodoo guitarist, Marc Moreland. Even without knowing any of this, you can hear the pain in Napolitano’s voice as it flips between the soothing and sad verses to the rage and the pleading in her chorus.

But if I seem to be confused
I didn’t mean to be with you.
And when you said I scared you
Well, I guess you scared me too.

The song is quite beautiful in its melancholy, and not just in the lyrics and the way she sings them, but also in the solemnity of the simple drum line and fills and the aching guitar solos. This is a song that I’ve played on repeat numerous times in the past and have also done a few times this week. Enjoy.

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