Best tunes of 1991: #1 James “Sit down”

<< #2

Okay. I have likely stretched this list out longer than it needed to be, given that I started counting down these tunes well over a year and a half ago. And well, for those of you who have frequented these pages in the just over two years since I started this blog and know that I am something of a James fanatic, this post might seem somewhat anticlimactic. And yet at the same time, this song placing at number one for 1991 may still come as somewhat of a surprise.

“Sit down” was originally released as a single in 1989 but in that seven minute long form, it didn’t take a big piece out of the music sales pie. The song was later re-recorded to a shorter length, with some editing in the lyrics, and re-released in 1991. This is the version that I first heard, being my first ever exposure to the band, coming to me like many of the songs on this list, in the form of the video recorded off of CityLimits. This is the version that many people know best, definitely making a bigger mark with the buying public, and placing one spot short of number one in the UK singles charts in 1991. Neither version appeared on the original track listing of their 1990 album “Gold mother” but the re-recorded “Sit down” was included when the album was released in North America as “James” with a new cover, the white flower insignia on blue backdrop. And though this has ultimately become my favourite James tune, I actually had to go searching for the original to remember what it even sounded like in my research for writing this post.

So yes, for me, this tune is 1991 at its best. The re-recording is definitely punchier, tighter, and more succinct than the original, perhaps influenced by the acid house dance and psychedelia prevalent at the time with their fellow Mancunians. Frontman Tim Booth was certainly a willing and able dancer for the music they created, just watch the video for a hint of his ecstatic moves. And there is depth here as well. But I’m not just talking about the multiple layers of sound that the band’s players create, though that definitely contributes to the majestic beauty of their music. Nay, it’s Booth’s recognizable vocals and his lyrics that set the band apart from their peers.

“If I hadn’t seen such riches, I could live with being poor.”

“Sit down”, for its danceable beats and upbeat melody, seems to be a song about those lowest moments in your life when you feel like you’re all alone, Booth sounding like he’s coming from a place of experience and wanting to assure us all that, if nothing else, he’s there for us all. But it’s not just Tim, no, the whole band, sliding guitars and the punished drum kit and all. It’s a song my wife Victoria loves, just as much as I do, perhaps her favourite by the band as well. I’m sure she’ll correct me if I’m wrong. However, we’ve definitely sung along together the following lines, while driving in the car, just hanging around, or wherever we’re hearing it.

“Those who feel the breath of sadness
Sit down next to me
Those who find they’re touched by madness
Sit down next to me
Those who find themselves ridiculous
Sit down next to me”

Yep. I think I could listen to this song forever.

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

Best tunes of 1991: #17 Northside “Take 5”

<< #18    |    #16 >>

So here’s yet another tune in this list that I discovered while recording music videos off MuchMusic’s Friday night alternative show, “City Limits”, back in 1991. I’m pretty sure the VJ for the show at that time, Simon Evans, might have even been wearing a Northside “Chicken rhythms” t-shirt that night, he was so stoked about the band.

I loved “Take 5” immediately and replayed the video on my VCR constantly after that. And later on, when Simon Evans played the video for “My rising star”, I knew I had to get a copy of that album. The problem was that I couldn’t find it anywhere on cassette tape, not in my small town of Bowmanville, nor even in Oshawa, the next city over. “Chicken rhythms” ended up being my first ever CD purchase for this reason, it just happened to be the only format I could find the album in. And because I didn’t yet have a player, I had to record a copy to cassette using my parent’s stereo so that I could then play it ad nauseum in my Sony Sports Walkman.

Northside formed in Manchester in 1989 by Warren “Dermo” Dermody and Cliff Ogier, and Timmy Walsh and Paul Walsh later filled out the band to a quartet. They were very much part of the baggy, acid house scene in the early nineties that included Inspiral Carpets and The Happy Mondays. I had thought they were so full of promise, given that “Chicken rhythms” was their debut, but it was not to be. A second album was recorded and the release was imminent before their record label, Factory Records, went bankrupt and everything fell apart. I remember hearing at the time that Factory’s collapse was a direct result of Happy Mondays blowing their budget partying while recording their follow up to “Pills ‘n’ thrills and bellyaches”. It was for this reason that I bore an irrational grudge against the Mondays for many years.

“Take 5” was actually slightly bigger here in North America, cracking the alternative billboard charts, than it was in England, where the two previous singles, “Shall we take a trip” and “My rising star” did better. I always liked the way it started off the album with that fantastic bass line that tore this way and that, the funky drumming kicking everything into high gear and then those wicked jangly guitars. It wasn’t a deep song. The lyrics are really secondary to the exuberance of the music. Every time I hear it, I just want to get up and freak out on the dance floor, which is kind of inconvenient on the morning bus ride. It’s been known to get me some strange looks as I bop along.

Have a listen and see that your toes don’t tap a bit.

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

Best tunes of 1990: #12 The Happy Mondays “Step on”

<< #13    |    #11 >>

“He’s gonna step on you again, he’s gonna step on you
He’s gonna step on you again, he’s gonna step on you
You’re twistin’ my melon man, you know you talk so hip man
You’re twistin’ my melon man”

And so starts Sean Ryder’s litany of nonsense that makes up the lyrics on “Step on”, the standout track from Happy Mondays’ third long player “Pills ‘n’ thrills and bellyaches”. To write this post a couple of weeks ago, I downed a couple pints of Beau’s Tom Green Summer Stout, put on my earphones, turned up the volume and then, put the yellow vinyl copy I bought on Record Store Day a few years back on my turntable. Lights dimmed and mood created, I dropped the needle, texted my friend Andrew Rodriguez the watermelon slice emoticon, and I let the party begin.

I really didn’t know what to think the first time I heard “Step on” and really, I understood less, the more I learned about the band. They were a product of their time and place: late 80s Manchester. There were drugs. And the mixing of 60s psychedelia and acid house culture. Lots of dancing. And more drugs. The beat was king and that was all the meaning that was necessary. “Pills ‘n’ thrills” illustrates this point, all groovy bass, bongos, drum machines and samples, chaotic, yet organic guitar craziness set against Dadaist lyrics and Ryder’s unsung, shout-along vocals. It is a non-stop party as long as you keep dancing and the drugs don’t run out.

The moment “Step on” came on, the third song on the second side of the album, I wanted to get up and dance around my living room. It is a rave epitomized. It’s whistles and heavy bass. It’s Shaun Ryder yelling “call the cops”. It’s Bez dancing with his maracas. It’s that hopping keys line and growling guitars. It’s neon and glow sticks. And to top it all off… it’s a cover song… or so I learned from an Andrew Rodriguez text message while writing these very words.

What?

Yeah. Apparently, it’s a cover of song from 1971, originally by South African singer/songwriter John Kongos. Ryder and co., renamed it from the original title “He’s gonna step on you again”, and created a version that I can only imagine is completely different. And you know that there’s no way I want to go back and hear Kongos’ version now, after all these years. It can’t exist in this dance party world that I inhabit while the song plays in the background.

Such a great tune and as Rodriguez succinctly summed it all up: “By midway through the song you are too busy dancing to care what twisting my melon means”

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