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Best tunes of 1993: #14 Björk “Human behaviour”

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Has there ever been a performance by an artist, be it of just the one song or their whole set, that completely changed your perception of them? For me, there have been several of these, some of them introductions and some reintroductions. Björk’s performance of “Human behaviour” was one such personal and almost spiritual experience and it wasn’t even a set that I witnessed live, that’s how transformative it was. I can only imagine how it must been for those who witnessed it in the flesh.

I distinctly remember hearing Björk on alternative radio and a big deal being made of her solo debut album, cheekily titled “Debut”. I knew from hearsay that she had been in a band called The Sugarcubes but I wouldn’t properly discover and explore that band’s catalogue and understand what it all meant until many years later. Many of my friends and passing acquaintances throughout the 90s were huge Björk fans, bordering on obsessive and on my side, I also liked pretty much everything I heard, which was quite a lot given how popular she was becoming in the alternative rock realm. I also remember being super impressed by her acting turn in the Lars Von Trier feel-bad movie, 2000’s “Dancer in the dark”. In fact, the music for that film was also so great that the soundtrack by Björk (“Selmasongs”) would be the first album of hers that I would own on CD. After that, though, her art explorations tended to diverge with my own musical tastes and we grew apart.

At some point in the late 2000s, I picked up the Julien Temple directed documentary on “Glastonbury” at the Ottawa Public Library and brought it home with me to watch. I’d always heard that the British music festival was the holy grail of music festivals and based on the lineups that have graced its stages over the years, I’d had held a reverence for it, always dreaming of attending. I was held rapt for the film’s two plus hours and found myself watching a ton of the bonus features, including uncut sets of the some of the iconic performances there over the years. One of these was Björk’s 1994 appearance there, specifically her performance of “Human behaviour”. It was the embodiment of childlike exuberance and animalistic intensity, exuding both sensuality and innocence. She was pixie-like in a slinky pink slip of a dress, racing and marching and flitting about the stage when she wasn’t blowing the speakers wide open with that unique and powerful voice of hers. It further fuelled my desire to go to Glastonbury (which I have yet to do) and forced on me a Björk rethink. I started collecting her early albums on CD and even managed to see her perform live in 2013.

“If you ever get close to a human
And human behaviour
Be ready, be ready to get confused
There’s definitely, definitely, definitely no logic”

Though it is not the only great tune on the aforementioned debut, “Human behaviour” now has its hold on me as my bar none favourite from album. It was track one and released as the first single and incidentally, was written a good five years before its release, back when Björk was still leading The Sugarcubes. It is synth, sample, and percussion heavy, rhythm as a melody, industrial dance, playing second fiddle to Björk, the voice, the magician and artist and shaman. A song that could grace and cross dancefloors of many ilks, high culture, pop culture, low culture, and everything in between.

For the rest of the Best tunes of 1993 list, click here.

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Best tunes of 1993: #15 Depeche Mode “I feel you”

<< #16    |    #14 >>

Ok. I know I’ve told this story before, at least a part of it, but I’m going to tell it again.

After I graduated high school, I took a year off, partly because I couldn’t afford the steep tuition fees for university and partly because I wasn’t ready. My parents knew it and deep down, I knew it too. It all worked out in the end but at the time, I was pretty sore about it.

The idea was that I would find work and save up. But there was a big flaw in the plan: finding a job in my small hometown was near impossible. I had found a job at a Becker’s Milk in October 1992 but that only lasted six weeks or so, through no fault of mine, and I was back pounding the pavement. I found a bit more luck the following spring when my high school drama teacher’s name on my reference list caught the eye of the owner of one of our town’s more reputable bar and grills. The King Street Bar & Grill, to be exact.

My first scheduled shift was a Thursday night, aka, Wing night, and after about an hour and a half of washing dishes, they finally got me doing some food prep. I was shown the correct way to locate the joints on a chicken wing, handed a big knife and cutting board, and was set to the task of separating the drumette from the wingette and disposing of the tip for three cases of wings. It was mindless and mundane work and if I didn’t love them so much, it might’ve put me off of wings for life.

Luckily for me, I had the radio nearby and the head cook for the night (whose name is forever lost to me) didn’t care if I changed the station, as long as I kept the wings coming. I quickly moved the dial from the country station to which it had been set and found Toronto’s alternative station, still called CFNY at that time. Now I may be remembering this part wrong* but I feel like they used to have a half hour new music show, on which they would test out new songs on the listening audience to see if they would fly in the regular music rotation. And I feel like one of the songs featured that evening was the latest, long awaited single by synth pop icons, Depeche Mode.

This was the age before the internet and I had yet to come across articles featuring the band in the music magazines** and David Gahan’s radically different, long-haired and bearded look. So I had no idea what I was in for when “I feel you” first came on and I was confronted with that screaming intro, followed by the bluesy guitar lick and drum line. The vocals were so obviously Gahan, though, and I fell for the tune from the beginning. I went out and bought the CD, “Songs of faith and devotion”, as soon as I was able, and welcomed the group’s new direction.

To this day, “I feel you” is still one of my favourite Mode tunes, and it came in at number three when I counted down my top five favourites of their 90s tracks. It is an explosion of sex and religion. It is an iconoclastic synth pop band paying tribute to rock without giving in to mass culture. It is a band thirteen years into their career, surviving crises and at the same time, finding a new path. It is heaven and hell at the same time. Hallelujah.

*Whether I am remembering this part right or not, what is indisputable, at least to myself, is that on this night, I heard this song for the very first time.

**This would come in the weeks that followed. First pay check in hand, I went out and purchased a copy of the latest Creem that featured them on the cover and voraciously read the article.

For the rest of the Best tunes of 1993 list, click here.

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100 best covers: #61 Nick Cave “Disco 2000”

<< #62    |    #60 >>

So here’s an interesting one.

Pulp released “Disco 2000” as a single in 1995, right at the height of their popularity, and of course, right around the apex of the Britpop extravaganza. Like many of their tunes, it tells a story from the point of view of our semi-unreliable narrator, Jarvis Cocker, an autobiographical tale whose names weren’t even changed to protect the guilty. Its subject matter and sound is inspired not only by contemporary dance clubs, but also of that oft-maligned genre from the 70s, as its title suggests, even tipping an emphatic nod to Laura Branigran’s “Gloria”, a hit song from that era. It is sweaty, laughing, and beer-soaked fun, with a wicked wink at misspent youth.

Seven years later, Pulp was releasing their final single before dissolving into the mist, though none of us really knew it at the time. “Bad cover version” was a play on the subject of this very series – the cover tune – and the video poked fun at BandAid style collective songs, enlisting lookalikes of the who’s who of pop music to sing the tune as a tribute to the band. For the b-sides of this single, Pulp found a couple of willing artists to cover two of their most popular tracks and one of these was Nick Cave to deliver us this rendition of “Disco 2000”.

Now Mr. Cave is known to most as a powerful and talented lyricist and songwriter, often spinning epic yarns, much like our friend Jarvis, but he also doesn’t shy away from covers and usually does an amazing job with them. For “Disco 2000”, he slows things right down into a languid waltz, stretching it and wringing out every ounce of pain. And this is why it’s so brilliant. Cave is an excellent sport, taking the task rather than himself seriously, almost creating a parody of himself in the process. Indeed, where the original is a nostalgic dance party, Cocker’s words in Cave’s hands become a late night at the whiskey bar, full of regret and tears.

Both versions are brilliant. As much as I love the original, I’m calling this one a draw.

Cover:

The original:

For the rest of the 100 best covers list, click here.