Best tunes of 1991: #8 The Wonder Stuff “Welcome to the cheap seats”

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Last week I posted how I discovered the Levellers and the song at number nine on this list (“One way”), all because they had been compared to The Wonder Stuff, and this week, at number eight, we have the band themselves and their hit single “Welcome to the cheap seats”.

It was my friend Elliott that introduced me to The Wonder Stuff, having loaned me their debut album on cassette tape, “The eight legged groove machine”, a few years after it was released in 1988. There was something about it I connected with (more on that another time) and when I learned they had a more recent album to explore, I jumped on it. I brought “Never loved Elvis” home on cassette and immediately after popping it in my stereo, I noted the striking difference in sound from the debut. Instead of short, peppy, and snarling post-punk, we had fiddle-laden folk-rock but yeah, okay, it was still short and peppy and still had its snarling moments. And did I still love it? Oh yes.

I later learned that the change wasn’t as abrupt as all that but an evolution of sorts when I picked up their sophomore, ‘transition’ album “Hup”. The original four piece of Miles Hunt, Malc Treece, Martin Gilks, and Rob “The bass thing” Jones had become five by the third album, after “The bass thing” had left for America after the sophomore, was replaced by Paul Clifford and they added fiddler and multi-instrumentalist Martin Bell. The Wonder Stuff released four albums in total during their original run before splitting up in 1994. I distinctly remember where I was when I heard the news: out camping with the boys, taking down a dead tree with a dull axe and when my friend Tim arrived with the news, it came down post haste. (And it had a few extra hacks in it for good measure.) They have since reformed, dissolved again, and the name resurrected by frontman Miles with a different set of musicians.

But back to 1991 and “Welcome to the cheap seats” – “where your life’s seen through cracked spectacles.”

It’s brief and upbeat but old-school sounding, like a sped-up waltz, filled with anachronisms and metamusic – it’s what me and my English lit friends in university might have pretentiously termed ‘pre-neo-anti-post-postmodernist’. If you have ever seen the official video (if not, you can watch it below), you’d have seen the band dressed in pseudo-Victorian garb, playing their instruments and dancing about an absurd and surrealist set. You’d also have noticed (and if you had a keen ear, you might have noticed anyway) that that is Kirsty MacColl singing backup, lending her lilting vocals as she has with many an artist, most notably, Morrissey, Billy Bragg, and The Pogues. And there’s another guest musician on the song, adding her accordion to the already folk-laden palette: none other than Spriit of the West’s Linda McRae.

So you see why I love this tune yet? Enjoy.

For the rest of the Best tunes of 1991 list, click here.


Best tunes of 1991: #21 Ned’s Atomic Dustbin “Kill your television”

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“Kill your television” was first released as a single in the UK in 1990 and in the US in 1992. So why is it on my best of 1991 list? Because that is when I first heard it while listening to Ned’s Atomic Dustbin’s debut album, “God fodder”. And well, it’s my list dammit.

Ned’s were a five piece that formed in Stourbridge, England in 1987. They were slotted into the Grebo pigeonhole with compatriots, The Wonder Stuff and Pop Will Eat Itself, and they certainly were as fun-loving as those other two bands. However, their sound was definitely more aggressive from the start and highly irregular, with dual bass players leading the assault. “Kill your television” is a perfect example of what they were all about. Storming out with total abandon, without a care of the consequences. Complete bluster and adrenaline, stage diving, arms and long (perhaps crimped) hair flailing, just a ruckus, really. But a hell of a lot of fun.

I distinctly remember watching an interview with frontman Jonn Penney (distinct because I had it on VHS at one point) on the old Friday night video show, “Good rockin’ tonight”. And he was asked about names, the band and the single. I’m pretty sure he was regretful about the band name. The band had thought it funny at the time, all being youngsters, some still teens when the band formed, but later, felt a bit saddled with it after they had found success. As for the song, he had still found it quite funny because people were constantly asking about its meanings, looking for depth and profundity where there was none. You’re never really going to find much of that with early Ned’s. In truth, the song title was lifted from a sticker that bassist Alex Griffin had picked up somewhere and had affixed to his instrument.

Sometimes in life, you need something as simple and as fun as that. And Ned’s were always willing to abide.

For the rest of the Best tunes of 1991 list, click here.


Best tunes of 1991: #26 Jesus Jones “International bright young thing”

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Surely you all remember “Right here, right now” and some of you might recall “Real, real, real”, but what about “International bright young thing”?

I feel like I might get some mixed responses to this question. In North America, only the first of these received ridiculous amounts of airplay, still getting some smatterings here and there on today’s pop radio and some usage in commercials now and again, so that most might only remember the band for that one song. But I’d be curious to hear from our friends in Europe and England, where “International bright young thing” actually outperformed the other two, ending up the highest charting single from “Doubt”.

To be honest, “Doubt” was the one album I knew (and I imagine the same could be said for most people) but the band has actually released five albums. (And would you believe that a new one, their first in 17 years, is due out in the spring?) I couldn’t tell you if their sound has evolved over the years, though I can’t imagine it hasn’t, but “Doubt” is definitely of its time and place. Alternative dance was all the rage in 1991 and Jesus Jones was right on the front lines. I’ve listened to the album a number of times over the last little while, bringing back tonnes of memories each time, and I’ve decided I still love it, despite it obviously showing its age.

I’ve thought about dragging out and boring you with some of those stories and memories that this band and this particular song dredge up. Like the one about how this album somehow converted my friend Jason, the world’s biggest Poison fan, to alternative music. Or the one about how my friend Elliott ran into Mike Edwards outside the MuchMusic building in Toronto, asked for his autograph, and instead learned what a ‘dick’ the lead singer was. Or I could talk about the night I watched the video for “International bright young thing” over and over on videocassette for well over half an hour one night. But such a high energy dance begs something more exciting.

Unfortunately, I’ll have to invent something because I honestly don’t believe I’ve ever heard a Jesus Jones song played in a dance club. It could be that I never got out to an alternative club until ‘94 or later and by that time, these guys had already run their course. But there must’ve been a Saturday night at the Moon Room or The Crow’s Nest or The Dance Cave or Whiskey Saigon (all clubs I’ve enjoyed in the past) where the DJ knowingly slipped this single on and I can see it as I slip it on myself and close my eyes.

The dance floor is already full from EMF’s “Unbelievable“, the previous song, and that frantic beat comes on. There’s sweat soaked t-shirts everywhere and long hair flailing. The dance floor is littered with crinkled plastic beer cups. My friend Tim is at the bar because it’s last call. He makes a gesture asking if I want another and I brandish a big thumbs up. The guitar loop and the electricity of it all is enough fuel for now. There’s lasers and lights and thumping beats and nothing else and it’s brilliant.

For the rest of the Best tunes of 1991 list, click here.