Best tunes of 1992: #28 The Stairs “Weed bus”

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My memory of this particular evening is even foggier than most of the ones from around that time. It could be that it’s from at least twenty five years ago now and that some of those nights out with friends and music sometimes blend together and I would hazard that perhaps there was some alcohol involved.* To be honest, I’m not even sure what year it was exactly (I am guessing ‘93 or ‘94) or even what season of the year, though I am thinking winter because I am remembering wearing cold sneakers and winter jackets piled high on chairs.

My friend Andrew Rodriguez was there because it was surely him that dragged us to that spot that night, and perhaps so was Tim or John, someone with wheels to bring us in to the big city. As to the where, that might be the foggiest of all because I haven’t a clue of the destination that night. Indeed, it was a ‘night’ that had migrated to a few places, the DJ bringing his dancers to wherever he landed. I think it might’ve been ‘Blow up’ or a precursor to it, one of those ‘dos that started late, say 11, and went even later. The venue for this particular event, though it goes nameless to me to this day, I remember as being off for a dance party, lots of tables and very little dance space, like it was a restaurant by day, lots of windows to look out at the city streets beyond.

At some point that night, I heard the shaking of the maracas (or what sounds to me like maracas) and placed this song from wherever I was and ended whatever conversation with whomever it was with and joined Rodriguez, who was already out on the tiny raised platform that served as a dancing space. I had to be quick because the song is a short one, clocking in at just over two minutes. Rodriguez and I jumped and jostled all over the place, matching the bass line and the arpeggiating and repetitive guitar hook, always being careful not to spill our beers. And at the same time, using said bottle to join the lead vocalist in channeling Mick Jagger in our minds. Of course, to everyone else it probably sounded more like yelling and screaming.

It was with this night in mind that I went back to the internets a decade or so ago to track down “The weed bus” by The Stairs. It was a song that I loved but had never, ever heard anything else by the group. With further digging, I learned that The Stairs were the trio of Edgar John, Ged Lynn, and Paul Maguire that held cult status in many circles and of course, I also unearthed the group’s lone album, 1992’s “Mexican R’n’B”.** And this whole album is wonderful stuff to me. The production is purposely lo-fi and recorded in Mono to capture the feel of all that 60s garage and psych rock that influenced them. And yeah, yeah, yeah, some might say that the virtual name-checking is too in-your-face but to that I say balderdash! The energy is just so great, how can you not but love it?

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

* Before you start making some connections that aren’t there, the fuzzy memory had nothing to do with another stimulant not so subtly referred to in this song’s title.

** Those select few who are familiar with the group will already know that “Weed bus” was actually released on an EP of the same name in 1991 but I’m still including it here for 1992 because well, it’s my rules.

Best tunes of 2001: #3 The White Stripes “Fell in love with a girl”

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In 2001 and 2002, garage rock emerged to take the mantle as champion of the indie rock resurgence. The epicentres of the revival were New York, whose scene was led by Interpol and The Strokes (appearing at #5 on this list), and Detroit, from which came The Detroit Cobras and The White Stripes.

Yep. Before Third Man Records, The Dead Weather, The Raconteurs, and a rather notable solo career, Jack White was in a little band called The White Stripes. Formed in 1997 with then wife, Meg, whose last name Jack took when they wed, the duo recorded six albums together before disbanding in 2011. The White Stripes became known for their tightly stylized image – they were most notably rigorous in the use of their red, white, and black colour scheme – and their blues-inflected sound, Meg’s stomping, bass heavy beats, and Jack’s raunchy guitars and raw vocals. Indeed, as things went on, they became less connected with their garage rock roots and more about blues revival.

Interesting, then, that their breakthrough came with their least blues-influenced album, their third, “White blood cells”, and this exciting single that had no traces of it whatsoever. “Fell in love with a girl” sounds like it was it borne out of the garage that welded together the pieces of the garage that housed the rock. It’s a quick adrenaline blip that doesn’t even make the two minute mark. At that length, you can almost hear Jack screaming, “there’s no time for an intro – we gotta go!”. The drums are muddy as hell and violent, Meg channelling her inner animal. Jack even sounds like he’s having trouble keeping up with her and his own raucous guitar work with his vocals, almost breathless for the duration, his attempts at proper diction dispensed with and you have no trouble imagining his gummed up mic covered in spittle. There’s anger and disdain and the feeling of betrayal.

It’s almost exhausting how great this tune is. Enjoy.

For the rest of the Best tunes of 2001 list, click here.

Best tunes of 2001: #5 The Strokes “Last nite”

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At number five on this Best tunes of 2001 list is the second single off The Strokes’ debut album “Is this it?”. Arguably, this song, the band, and this album were instrumental in plotting the ultimate direction of indie and alternative rock for the new millennium.

The Strokes formed in New York City in 1998. The five piece led by frontman Julian Casablancas recorded a raw and energetic EP in 2001 that started a bidding war amongst the majors. They ended up landing with RCA, who released the debut LP referred to above, a ten song juggernaut that was recorded with the same producer and same DIY ethos as the EP. To say that “Is this it?” generated a buzz is putting it mildly. There was unanimous acclaim. It appeared on everyone’s best of the year list and the band’s name was on everyone’s lips.

I remember them still being a hot item even a year later. It sticks out to me because I made a special trip to Peterborough in 2002 to visit my friends from university. On the morning-slash-early-afternoon after I arrived, the load of us walked down to The Only Cafe for brunch. This meal was particularly memorable, first of all, because it was a unique experience, given the socialist, trust-based business plan of the establishment and its mixed bag clientele, and second, due to “Is this it?” being played whilst we chewed on egg, toast, and crunchy coffee. Pretty much all of my friends recognized the album, despite the varied tastes, liked it and were effusive in their praise of the sound and the excitement with which it polluted the air all around.

“Last nite” is representative of the raw, driven energy, and the immediacy of the album. The production is purposefully not crisp, giving the impression (which is actually correct) that it was recorded live in one take, a loud broadcast from a shambolic garage. Indeed, it succeeds in presenting the band as from another age, finding itself lost in the present day, a time traveller from the past informing the present of its mistakes. Casablancas is a lounge singing Lou Reed, half-heartedly trying to keep up with the song’s pace, and the band is keeping it simple, like pop music, if said pop music were roughly hewn from a rusty old carving knife.

For the rest of the Best tunes of 2001 list, click here.