Best tunes of 1993: #28 Buffalo Tom “Soda jerk”

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“Velvet roof” (number fourteen on my Best tunes of 1992 list) was my introduction to Buffalo Tom. I had recorded the video off CityLimits and pretty much wore that section of the videocassette tape out with repeated rewinds and replays. In the summer of 1993, I found a used CD copy of “Let me come over” at Penguin music in Toronto but misplaced it at the Bathurst street subway station before it even made it home with me. A year or so later, I was scanning lists of available albums in order to come up with my 10 albums for a penny from either BMG or Columbia House*, when I saw “Big red letter day” available for selection. The CD was added without hesitation and so became the first and only Buffalo Tom album to which I would listen in full and actually own in physical format for a number of years.

Hence, “Soda jerk” became the second ever Buffalo Tom song that I would ever hear. And yeah, I loved it. The song leads off the American alt-rock trio’s fourth long player with a bang. It’s perhaps the most upbeat song and obvious single off an album that led the band further from its Dinosaur Jr influenced roots and into crisper sound and a melodic vocal focused direction, a rarity in the grunge heavy music world at the time. The song garnered the band some good coin too when it was used in Nike and Pontiac commercials and received further exposure when it was featured on the cult teen television show, “My so called life”.

A number of people have called “Soda jerk” Buffalo Tom’s masturbation song, referring as proof to the lyric “jerked my fountain”. However, I’ve always looked pointedly at the song title for meaning and figured they were using the term given to old school, soda shoppe employees as a symbol and example of the type of soul sucking job that many members of generation X were forced to take back in those days**. My theory certainly falls more in line with words that frontman Bill Janovitz has used to describe the tune: “a big bouncy song that is borderline despondent and about alienation.”

“Form a line here
I think I’ll die here
These people nauseate me”

And Bill is absolutely right. “Soda jerk” does rock out out in a major key kind of way, showcasing jangly, happily strummed guitars, marching and pounding drums, and call and response vocals that rev you up and knock you down.

*I hit up both of these music subscription services at one point or another in my formative years. Say what you will, it was a great way to bolster your CD collection.

**For more on this subject, go watch the Kevin Smith film “Clerks”.

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


100 best covers: #59 Placebo “Bigmouth strikes again”

<< #60    |    #58 >>

One Sunday night in January, very shortly after New Year’s day in 1997, I ventured downtown Toronto to meet up with my friend Darrell from my Prose fiction workshop. I’m pretty sure the place was called Lion’s Bar and I am reasonably sure it was on College street somewhere near Kensington market but I now couldn’t tell you for sure. I remember the bar being in a basement and that it was a relatively small space but what I remember the most was that the music was awesome. Of course, that was why we were there.

The DJ that night was a friend of Darrell’s and I knew him, but only as a nodding acquaintance, mostly from a couple years of seeing him and requesting songs while he manned the decks on Saturday nights at one of York University’s college pubs. It was this same DJ that drove both Darrell and me back up to North York afterwards, long after last call, rather than subject us to the joys of the night bus. Once at his car, he handed us both promo copies of Catherine Wheel’s “Like cats and dogs” from his trunk and then played for us an advance copy James’s upcoming album “Whiplash” on his car stereo on the way home. But I am digressing here…

At some point that evening, I was on the dance floor taking a swig from my bottle of Labatt 50 just as whatever song it was that I was dancing to came to an end. It was replaced by a familiar guitar strum intro but one that was slightly edgier. Still, I placed it as “Bigmouth strikes again” and got back into dancing mode. By the time the vocals kicked in and instead of Morrissey’s plaintive warble, a Richard O’Brien-like sinister sneer chimed in, I knew that this was more than a different mix or take of the original Smiths track. And this brought a smile to my face, a smile that only widened and broke into outright laughter when the “hearing aid” lyric was modernized to “Walkman” and “Discman” for a bit of brazen hipness. This version was harder, noisier, and most definitely more glammed up than the original and that extra thirty seconds in length and increased tempo had this particular dancer slightly sweatier by the end. At its closing notes, I hurried over to the DJ to ask after the artist, which I repeated to myself over a number of times and even procured a pen to scrawl it on the inside of my cigarette pack because I no longer trusted my drunken brain to retain it.

Just over a year later, my ears pricked up when I heard the same band announced over the radio with a brand new song called “Pure morning”, which I loved immediately and this song ended up being a big hit for Placebo. I later came across the “Bigmouth strikes again” cover on the bonus disc that came with the deluxe edition of their 2003 album, “Sleeping with ghosts”, and I was immediately transported back to that very fun evening. And I experience the same sort of joy every time I hear this song now.

Is the Placebo cover better than The Smiths’ original? I can’t say that it is. But it’s probably just as fun to dance to.


The original:

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


Vinyl love: Lowest of the Low “Hallucigenia”

(Vinyl Love is a series of posts that quite simply lists, describes, and displays the pieces in my growing vinyl collection. You can bet that each record was given a spin during the drafting of each corresponding post.)

Lowest of the Low 'Hallucigenia' on vinyl

Artist: Lowest of the Low
Album Title: Hallucigenia
Year released: 1994
Year reissued: 2018
Details: Black vinyl, 2 x LP, part of five album box set, autographed and limited to 300 copies, (box set includes booklet, lyrics sheets, poster, and stickers)

'Hallucigenia' pronunciation

Box booklet 'Hallucigenia' blurb

Box 'Hallucigenia' stuff

Box lyric sheet reproduction Bit

Box booklet 'Hallucigenia' paraphenalia

Box booklet 'Hallucigenia' lyric sheet

'Hallucigenia' Black Monday lyrics

'Hallucigenia' insert 1

'Hallucigenia' insert 2

'Hallucigenia' inside gatefold

'Hallucigenia' back cover

'Hallucigenia' on the turntable

The skinny: Last weekend, I took the opportunity to do a Vinyl Love revisit of Lowest of the Low’s “Shakespeare my butt…” (my favourite album of 1991) and it also served as an introduction to the next four weeks of Vinyl Love posts. I finally broke down and purchased the “Shakespeare my box” vinyl box set just after Christmas this year using money received as gifts. The box includes the group’s first four records, as well as a bonus disc of rarities and b-sides, not to mention a 24-page full colour booklet and various other goodies. No regrets at all. The only reason I had put it off so long was because I already had the debut and hoped that the other albums would be released individually. “Hallucigenia” was a big part of why I finally bit the “Bullet”*. Interestingly, I was originally disappointed with Lowest of the Low’s sophomore album when it was released in 1994 but I grew to love it over time and many of these tunes became personal favourites in their catalogue. This first ever pressing to vinyl is done over two discs and side four, includes 3 B-sides that weren’t on the original release.

Standout track: “Black Monday”

*The pun was not intended but appreciated after re-reading what I wrote.