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Albums

Best albums of 1991: #4 R.E.M. “Out of time”

This blog is now exactly two months shy of celebrating its fourth anniversary and already, R.E.M. has been featured on this pages in eight separate posts, this one, now, being the ninth. I’m starting to get worried that I am going to run out of nice things to say about the iconic rock band from Athens, Georgia. Because, yeah, I am fairly certain that this won’t be their last appearance, as long as I continue making lists and blathering on about music.

So let’s start with this:

“Out of time” is the seventh studio album to be released by the quartet of Bill Berry, Mike Mills, Peter Buck, and Michael Stipe. It was the group’s second major label release and third collaboration with producer Scott Litt. This was the album that finished the job started by 1988’s “Green” in turning a cult, college radio band into an international rock phenomenon and household name. It sold four and a half million copies in the U.S. and more than 18 million worldwide, earning them gold and platinum status in a bunch of countries, and winning them three, count them, one, two, three Grammys.

And how about this:

I don’t often agree with what’s written on venerated music site Pitchfork.com, but they make three excellent points on their hindsight review of “Out of time”’s 25th anniversary reissue: 1. There are many who wish “Shiny happy people” out of existence; 2. It is the sunlight to the nocturnal sequel of “Automatic for the people”, and; 3. It is a rare example of an album that nets a group exponentially more followers without pissing off the diehards.

I remember borrowing a CD copy of “Out of time” from my friend Tim shortly after its release because I had already fallen in love with “Losing my religion” and as I’ve already recounted in a post on that very song, I had the album on repeat while attempting to strip the wallpaper from the walls in the upstairs hallway in the house in which I grew up. The bright, yellow rays of music eased the mundane task to which I was set and by the third go around, I was singing along to many of its tracks and smiling to myself. Sore and tired, I recorded a copy for myself to cassette later that night but it wasn’t one that lasted or saw many plays. And that was only because I not long after bought a proper copy for my burgeoning compact disc collection.

There’s so many great tracks on this album, eleven, to be exact, and you probably don’t really need to be reminded of or introduced to the wonders “Out of time”, but I do have a template to follow with these posts. So to that end, here’s my three picks for you. Enjoy.


”Near wild heaven”: Track number four was the third single to be released off “Out of time” and is the first one to be released by the band whose lyrics were written and sung by bassist Mike Mills. It is jangly and boppy and full of sparkles and lemon yellow sunlight. Stipe adds his touch on vocals in the background during the chorus, alongside those of Kate Pierson (The B-52s) who also appears on “Shiny happy people”. And though both those tracks are heightened with her touch, the bubble gum bubbles blown just that much bigger, this one lacks some of the kitsch of the other, leaving the good mood smiles without so much saccharine. With all these good feels it’s easy to lose track of the fact that it’s a song about the beginning of the end of a relationship.”Whenever we hold each other, we hold each other, there’s a feeling that’s going. Something has gone wrong.” And yet, you can’t help but feel, with all those “ba ba ba ba”s, that there’s some silver lining in there somewhere and somehow things will all turn out.

”Belong”: A rumbling bass line, the snap of fingers, and a world-filling jangle of guitars. Michael Stipe speaking through the verses in that deep, serious voice of his, demanding to be heard, demanding change, demanding everyone to take up the fight. “Her world collapsed early Sunday morning. She got up from the kitchen table, folded the newspaper and silenced the radio. Those creatures jumped the barricades and have headed for the sea.” And at the chorus, if you can even call it that, it is voices without words, all plaintively calling into the ether, ecstatic messaging against hatred, and a music so beautiful and so insistent. It is a woman and her child, it is a man and his wife, it is two teenagers figuring out love, lust, and sex, it is all of us. We all need to belong and Michael Stipe is just the one to lead us forward.

”Losing my religion”: Yeah. “That’s me in the corner, that’s me in the spot-light, losing my religion.” If you’ve done any other reading on this song, especially on this site, or even if you’re just in the know, that last bit is quite poignant. Because who hasn’t had that moment where you’ve just lost your sh*t and feel like everyone is there looking at you and there’s nowhere to which to escape. Hell. Stipe is playing with a breakdown and painting it so beautifully, as only R.E.M. can do. It’s that mandolin that strikes you from the first, sticking out like a sore thumb against Bill Berry’s rock and roll drum and Mike Mills stomach rumbling bass line. If you pretend that three decades haven’t passed listening to it and that all the songs that have followed have never happened, you might think to yourself that it’s not an obvious pop song, not an obvious hit single. And yet, there it is with all the accolades bestowed upon it (it has also appeared on these pages at #13 on best tunes of 1991 list and #3 on my all-time favourite R.E.M. tunes list), it really is just a wondrous bit of religion.


Check back two Thursdays from today for album #3. In the meantime, here are the previous albums in this list:

10. Ned’s Atomic Dustbin “Godfodder”
9. Spirit Of The West “Go figure”
8. Chapterhouse  “Whirlpool”
7. Blur “Leisure”
6. Levellers “Levelling the land”
5. The Wonder Stuff “Never loved Elvis”

You can also check out my Best Albums page here if you’re interested in my other favourite albums lists.

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
Tunes

Best tunes of 1992: #3 R.E.M. “Nightswimming”

<< #4    |    #2 >>

“Automatic for the people”.

It was indisputably R.E.M.’s finest hour and I’m not just talking commercially. Sure, the album spawned six singles and went gold and platinum for sales in pretty much every country. However, it was also universally acclaimed. And for very good reason: There’s not a single bad track on the album.

For me, though, and as I mentioned back when I wrote about “Sweetness follows” when it came in at the number twenty spot on this very list, it’s the less obvious tracks, not the hit singles, that have become my favourites on this album. And yes, I know. “Nightswimming” was actually released as a single but I didn’t actually know that until about three years ago when I wrote the piece counting down my top five favourite R.E.M. tunes on which this song appears at the number two spot. I am thinking that the single might not have gotten a wide release here in North America because it didn’t make the charts here, only placing in England and Australia, and a track this great should definitely have placed, given the chance.

It was originally recorded as a demo for “Out of time” but was used instead for the following album. The original recording had Michael Stipe singing over top Mike Mills’ piano and was augmented by a string arrangement put together by Led Zeppelin’s John Paul Jones, along with a forlorn oboe to seal the deal. Mills’s piano doesn’t meander or dance or tiptoe. Instead, it eddies in place, like a whirlpool to get caught in, a bit of danger that might be heightened if the swimming hole was ventured upon at night.

“Nightswimming deserves a quiet night
The photograph on the dashboard, taken years ago”

The penultimate track on “Automatic for the people” is a quiet wonder, Mills and Stipe without Buck and Berry. A song about memories and remembering. A track that brings back many memories. Many of them driving in a car at night. In the city. On a backroad. Memories that are mine and memories that aren’t mine. But could be.

“Nightswimming, remembering that night
September’s coming soon
I’m pining for the moon”

There’s a sadness in Stipe’s lyrics and in his plaintive voice. Perhaps there’s regret in those memories, a sentiment never expressed, a kiss never stolen, a nakedness needlessly covered up. Yet there’s also the heavy weight of nostalgia, the excitement of youth lost forever. It’s something one can never forget. And never should.

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