Categories
Playlists

Playlist: “Raging Retro” (a mixed tape)

So I was downstairs in the basement a few days ago, looking for something else entirely, when I came across a treasure trove of my old cassette tapes. Yes, you read that right: cassette tapes. And with that clarification, you may be asking yourself why I still have cassette tapes in my possession, especially when I no longer have the appropriate hardware on which to play them. Well… it would be the same reason why I still have piles of old concert tickets, old floppy discs, rough drafts of long forgotten and unfinished short stories, and other random bric-a-brac from my past, all cluttered together in the same roughneck storage bin. The memories attached to these things are priceless and irreplaceable and even though I only ever come across them once or twice a year (while looking for something else), I can’t bring myself to part with them.

It was while sorting through these cassettes, remembering when and for what reason I made each, and reading through the track listings, that I got the brilliant (well, you might not think so) idea to share one or two of these as part of my (Spotify) playlist series. I’m starting off with this one, “Raging retro”, because it’s one of only a handful of those in the box that I didn’t in fact make, but instead, was made for me. Susan, a scenester friend of mine in university (and who I haven’t spoken to in years), actually made a few mixed tapes for me, though this might be the only one that I still have.

As evidenced by the faded but still legible in some places playlist pictured below, the mix was conceived in October 1995. Susan wanted to share a taste of the songs that had been in constant rotation at an eighties night she started attending regularly the previous summer. I feel like this was one of the first times I ever heard the term “retro” being used in regards to music. I was dubious at first because the memories I had of the music from that era were not great but I ended up listening to the tape quite a bit.

Pretty soon, I was hearing the term “retro” everywhere, mostly in reference to music from the 1980s, and not necessarily the mainstream music to which I grew up listening . A couple of years later, I found myself going to a Toronto club named “Whiskey Saigon” pretty regularly on Sunday nights. Of course, that was the night the club had an eighties night that was so wildly popular that the radio station, Edge 102, broadcasted live to air every week and the club was constantly filled to capacity, on all three floors. Retro, for a time, almost became like a sub-genre of music all its own, which for some reason even appealed to young hipsters that were too young remember this music when it was originally released.

In 1997, the film “Grosse Point Blank” was released starring John Cusack (incidentally, another 80s icon making a comeback) with a soundtrack featuring a number of eighties songs, including ones by The Clash, The Beat, and The Specials (there were three other Specials songs in the movie that were not on the soundtrack). This movie and the ubiquitous presence on eighties night playlists is how songs like the Violent Femmes’ “Blister in the sun” resurfaced in the nineties, was infinitely more popular than when it was originally released in 1983 and is now considered a classic in popular music.

But I’ve gone off on a tangent, let’s get back to this mixed tape. For me, “Raging retro” was the springboard to regaining an appreciation of the 1980s. So many of those tunes on this tape became favourites of mine. And for those bands of which I wasn’t already a fan, it led me to delve deeper into their catalogues. Such is the magic of a well-executed mixed tape and the main reason why I’ve decided to share it with you all today.

As I mentioned above, some of the tracks in the listing are no longer legible. Apparently, purple ink doesn’t have the staying power against the sun and the passage of time as has black ink. Nonetheless, I was able to piece it all together and laid it out for you below. At least three of the songs were apparently too obscure to be found on Spotify but I at least managed to find YouTube links for those of you who want to know what you are missing as you peruse this delicious Spotify mix.

But before I get right into the playlist itself, here are some highlights that you definitely should check out and incidentally, half of those are ones that Spotify hasn’t made available:

      • “Sinful”, the debut solo single by Pete Wylie, who got his start in punk bands with Julian Cope and Ian McCulloch and led a band in the early 80s with multiple names, all including the word “Wah!”
      • The version of the early The The single, “Perfect”, that appears in the YouTube video linked below is the one that was on my cassette but I’ve never been able to locate a physical copy of it
      • Scottish new wave band Endgames never truly broke through but their single “First last for everything” was a mainstay on Edge 102.1’s 80s shows
      • The Chameleons UK were an English post-punk band that I always meant to explore, mainly on the back the very excellent “Swamp thing”, and I’m happy to say that I finally picked up a copy of “Strange times” this year
      • This a cappella cover of Yazoo’s “Only you” by The Flying Pickets is just as good as the original in my books
      • Canadian new wavers Boys Brigade were pretty obscure everywhere but here at home but their single “Melody” is definitely worth checking out

For those who don’t use Spotify or if the embedded playlist further below doesn’t work for you, here is the entire playlist as it appeared on the original mixed (complete with side titles):

Side one “Trapped in the 80s”:
1. Dexy’s Midnight Runners “Come on Eileen”
2. The Icycle Works “Birds fly (Whisper to a scream)”
3. A Flock of Seagulls “I ran”
4. Pete Wylie “Sinful” (unavailable on Spotify)
5. Naked Eyes “Always something there to remind me”
6. Big Country “In a big country”
7. The The “Perfect”
8. Alphaville “Forever young”
9. Endgames “First, last for everything” (unavailable on Spotify)
10. Chameleons UK “Swamp thing”

Side two “Disgruntled 20 somethings”:
11. New Order “1963”
12. Soft Cell “Tainted love”
13. Talk Talk “It’s my life”
14. R.E.M. “Superman”
15. The Boomtown Rats “I don’t like mondays”
16. Split Enz “I got you”
17. The Jesus And Mary Chain “Head on”
18. Nena “99 luftballons”
19. The Flying Pickets “Only you”
20. Boys Brigade “Melody” (unavailable on Spotify)
21. The Dream Academy “Life in a northern town”
22. The Smiths “Unhappy birthday”

And here is the promised embedded Spotify playlist for your listening pleasure. Get out your Vuarnet sunglasses and neon spandex and enjoy.

If you’re interested in checking out any of the other playlists I’ve created and shared on these pages, you can peruse them here.

Categories
Albums

Best albums of 1998: The honourable mentions (aka #10 through #6)

Happy Thursday! And welcome to my Throwback Thursday (#tbt) best albums of the year series. I know. I know. I just finished my series on 2008 two weeks ago and here I am starting 1998.

Well, there’s a good reason for that. I came to the realization while writing up the last list that I might have started things off behind the eight ball last year when I instituted these series and I thought I would try playing catch up and do two years worth of these this year. We’ll see if I can keep this up. The odds aren’t in my favour, to be honest.

Anyway, 1998. After the great year for British Rock that was 1997, the following year felt a bit of a letdown. How could it not? So I found myself actively looking for great new music but not necessarily finding it and instead, just settled into the same music from the previous few years. Hence, the year 1998 started a cycle of two or three years of musical malaise for me that only came to an end with the indie rock resurgence in 2001.

On a personal note, the year started with my last few months of post-secondary education life and then, in the fall, I moved downtown and started working full-time at my previously part-time job. My employers at the time, Stephenson’s Rent-all, put me in their management training program and so started my adult life. My pay wasn’t great and my rent was high so it still felt like I was living the life of the starving student. As such, I couldn’t always afford to buy the few CDs that caught my fancy and given the Internet was still a number of years away from streaming, I didn’t even hear most of the albums on this list until later on.

All this aside, I did manage to cobble together a list of ten great albums from 1998 and below are the first five. If you don’t know the trick by now, I will be featuring the next five, an album each Thursday, over the next five weeks. Enjoy the nostalgia ride with me.


#10 Sloan “Navy blues”

I finally gave in and got into Sloan with their third record, “One chord to another”. I had really, really disliked “Underwhelmed”, the first single off their first record “Smeared”, but really dug everything I heard from them after that on the radio. And, of course, in 1990s Canada with the Can Con rules, they were played a lot. Unfortunately, due to the same reasons I mentioned above, I didn’t get around to listening to “Navy blues” until a number of years after its release, though I was definitely knee deep in its singles. A bit harder than their previous two records, this record still features plenty of harmonies, diverse songwriting, and Beatle-esque pop rock sensibilities.

Gateway tune: Money city maniacs


#9 Cake “Prolonging the magic”

Here is another album whose singles were all over alternative radio, at least in Toronto, in the late 1990s. It got so bad that every time the song below came on the radio at my workplace, or even those of us who worked with him even hinted at singing the chorus line, a colleague of mine would be driven to fits and rants. Cake’s sound is instantly recognizable with its heavy bass focus, regular use of horns, and frontman John McCrea’s deep sing speak vocals. And “Prolonging the magic”, Cake’s third album, was likely the one that firmly established the band in our collective consciousness. Like it or not, you can’t deny how much fun this music is.

Gateway tune: Sheep go to heaven


#8 Embrace “The good will out”

British band Embrace (not to be confused with the American hardcore punk band of the same name) released their debut a year or two too late, arriving tardy to the BritPop party. “The good will out” sold very well and was reviewed well enough by the British press but it wasn’t long before the backlash adhered to the flailing movement tarred them with a brush as coattail hangers. It’s unfortunate really because I truly liked the album – its rockers getting me sufficiently riled and its ballads appealing to my sappier side. The album and group bridged the gap between Britpop and post-Britpop and were at the vanguard of passionate pop bands that included the likes of Travis, Keane, and Coldplay, a factoid that might sway you to love or hate them.

Gateway tune: All you good good people


#7 Mojave 3 “Out of tune”

Mojave 3 was formed when Slowdive was dropped from Creation and Neil Halstead, Rachel Goswell, and Ian McCutcheon decided to switch gears and move towards a slightly folkier sound. After their lovely debut, 1996’s “Ask me tomorrow”, Simon Rowe (Chapterhouse) and Alan Forrester were added to fill out the sound and the result was this album, their sophomore. Though it’s not my favourite of their work, all of their albums are pretty consistently great. They rock in a more subtle way, Halstead’s soothing vocals is the butter on the fresh out of the oven croissants and the rest of the band follow his lead, adding plenty of lovely textures to unfold.

Gateway tune: Who do you love?


#6 Rufus Wainwright “Rufus Wainwright”

The first time I heard Rufus Wainwright was one night when I took the subway downtown to visit my friend Mark, who had just moved into a new apartment in Little Italy with some roommates I had never met. When I got there, Mark and his roommates had already started in on the beers and this self-titled debut was playing. It was so jarring and different than pretty much everything I was listening to at the time but yet it appealed to me. I remember mentioning that it reminded me of early Tom Waits with some of the vocals of a young Lou Reed and I asked who it was. The name stuck with me because it wasn’t a common one. I didn’t learn until much later that he was the progeny of Kate McGarrigle and Loudon Wainwright III and the sibling of Martha (who appears on the album as well). Coincidentally, Rufus Wainwright appeared on some Canadian daytime talk show a few days later, further impressing me with his theatrics and obvious talent at the keys, and I promptly went out to buy the CD.

Gateway tune: April fools


Check back next Thursday for album #5 on this list. In the meantime, you can also check out my Best Albums page here if you’re interested in my other favourite albums lists.

Categories
Tunes

Best tunes of 2011: #20 Florence and the Machine “Shake it out”

<< #21    |    #19 >>

I’m pretty sure I came to Florence and the Machine’s debut album “Lungs” late. I don’t remember exactly when it was but I feel like it may have been around Christmas time, possibly in 2010, because I was definitely in Toronto visiting my mother-in-law with my wife and up late at night, playing around on YouTube. There were a number of videos already available there and I was completely taken in by frontwoman, Florence Welch, and that incredible voice of hers. I got a copy of the album soon after and became quite enamoured with it as well, picking up the comparisons to Kate Bush and Annie Lennox completely on my own. So when sophomore album “Ceremonials” came out in 2011, I was definitely keen to check it out.

What I didn’t realize then and didn’t quite put together until recently is that Florence and the Machine is an actual band. I always thought Florence Welch was a solo artist and that the moniker was just that, a name. But no, Welch formed the band with her friend, Isabella “Machine” Summers, back in 2007 and it was fleshed out to a five piece with Robert Ackroyd, Tom Monger, and Christopher Lloyd Hayden. There has been a few shuffles in and out over the years, the ranks expanding to nine, most of the original band members remaining. With so many hands, it’s no wonder their sound is so big and dramatic, a perfect vehicle to fly with Welch’s aforementioned angelic vocals.

Not counting the promotional teaser, “What the water gave me”, “Shake it out” was the first single to be released from “Ceremonials”, and it’s awesome. I feel like she’s more Annie Lennox here than Kate Bush. It’s old sounding but not at all delicate. No, decadent would definitely be the better word. More Marie Antoinette than Emily Brontë. It’s thumping and clapping drum rhythms and big wall of noise organs above it. It’s glorious singing, both soft and bold, and Florence Welch dancing all over the stage in a big period piece costume, while coquettish ladies in waiting sing behind fluttering fans. The words, too, are just as invigorating, empowering us all to shake off our demons and dance.

Not bad for a song purportedly written while hung over.

For the rest of the Best tunes of 2011 list, click here.