Best tunes of 1992: #7 Leonard Cohen “Closing time”

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Believe it or not, “Closing time” was the song that first turned me on to Mr. Cohen: the poet, novelist, singer, songwriter, and Canadian Icon. I loved his voice right from the start and his easy sing-speak delivery and his cool demeanour. Shortly afterwards, I connected Cohen to that awesome song that Christian Slater’s character used to open his pirate radio show in the film, “Pump up the volume” and well, a lifelong love affair was born. I didn’t know this then but “Closing time” was one of two singles released off what would be the last album he recorded before entering a Buddhist monastery, touching off a prolonged break. “The future” is now considered a classic album in his catalogue but it was a struggle to create for the man from beginning to end.

“Ah we’re drinking and we’re dancing
and the band is really happening
and the Johnny Walker wisdom running high”

Around the time that “Closing time” was making the rounds on MuchMusic, I was taking a driver’s training class with Young Drivers of Canada. I was getting my license later than many of my friends, mostly to beat the implementation of graduated licensing (yes, I’m that old), and yeah, so many of those in the class were a few years younger than I was. I remember there being a teen girl in the class who wore a Leonard Cohen concert T-shirt to class one day and we all ribbed her to no end. Leonard wasn’t a “cool” choice amongst all the alt-rock kids but a few of us in the know, came to her defence after things got carried away. No one should have to pay for being a fan of Cohen. I’m sure all those kids know that now as adults.

“All the women tear their blouses off
and the men they dance on the polka-dots
and it’s partner found, it’s partner lost
and it’s hell to pay when the fiddler stops”

It was also around that time that my older brother Andrew came back to live at home for a while. After years of living in the States, he had been indoctrinated into listening to Country music, yes, he wore cowboy boots and the whole bit. Interestingly, “Closing time” got its hooks into him, perhaps it was the fiddle, which was part of what got its hooks into me. Unfortunately, though, that meant that the cassette tape I had this on was always in the player and he would replay it to the point where I was almost sick of it. Then, he would drag me out with him to country bars to pick up women, none of whose companions I was ever remotely interested in, and then, drunkenly sing the few lines he knew of “Closing time” over and over again as we were staggering home in the early hours of the morning.

“Yeah we’re drinking and we’re dancing
but there’s nothing really happening
and the place is dead as Heaven on a Saturday night
And my very close companion
gets me fumbling gets me laughing
she’s a hundred but she’s wearing
something tight”

I only recently learned that “Closing time” is Leonard Cohen’s love poem to Toronto’s famous dive/after hours bar, The Matador, sadly now defunct (though I hear plans to resurrect it are in the works). I have only ever been to the Matador once in my life and that was on my friend Tim’s birthday, probably more than a decade ago now. We were all rather drunk already, which made a surreal experience all the more surreal. Nobody seem to know its precise address but the mere mention of the name to the cab driver got us all there without incident. Once there, we stood in line for an unknown amount of time but I distinctly remember our friend Mark saying to me, “If they ask you if you’re a cop, just say ‘no’.” There are plenty more stories that I could tell of that evening inside The Matador but I’ll leave those for another evening over beers. Let’s just say that when closing time actually rolled around, we stumbled out blinking in the morning sun and into waiting cabs bound for our beds.

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

Best tunes of 1992: #8 Inspiral Carpets “Dragging me down”

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“Dragging me down” was definitely my introduction to Manchester’s Inspiral Carpets. In fact, it might’ve even been another of those tracks that came to me via one of those evenings out in my friend Tim’s ride.

It was definitely Tim that loaned me his CD copy of “Revenge of the goldfish”, the band’s third full length album, which I dubbed to cassette and dutifully and thoroughly studied. I remember my friend Andrew Rodriguez trying and failing at convincing a DJ at one of our high school dances to play this very track. And unfortunately, I still don’t believe I’ve had the pleasure to dance to this track at a club to this day, though there’s been a few others by the group (like this one) to which I’ve killed a dance floor or two.

Yes. The Inspiral Carpets were, for me, what “Madchester” was all about. Psychedelics and beats. Driving guitars and good times. Shaking maracas, persistent organs, and dancing to the point of exhaustion. The five-piece weren’t the biggest name from the scene – indeed, a certain one of their roadies (hello, Noel) most definitely eclipsed them in popularity- but man, did they put out some cracking songs.

“Dragging me down” starts off with this percussive beat, very much like the chugging of a train. Then, comes Clint Boon’s wicked keyboard line, evoking the image of some crazed artiste getting a hold of the most magnificent church organ ever and knowing that if he didn’t give it his all at that moment, some Puritan would wisen up and the gig would be over. And that’s just the first few seconds. Things only get better from there. Craig Gill really brings his “A”-game on drums and Boon’s keyboards continue to wash and whirl and zip and crash. All the while, Graham Lambert, who doesn’t get nearly enough credit for his part in creating the Inspirals’ sound, screams away on guitars, driving us all out on the dance floor, daring us to keep up with his pace. And yeah, Tom Hingley delivers the goods in that deadpan, sing/speak that we know and love.

“I would search this world for you, even though you can’t imagine
I want to take you to China, I want to kiss you in Rome
I’d use rocket ships, mine sweepers, transistor radio receivers
I want to hold you, want to hold you too tight
Gonna break every bone of everybody in sight“

Yassss! “Dragging me down”!

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

100 best covers: #66 Lenny Kravitz “American woman”

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Music quiz aficionados would do well to check out the Sunday posts on fellow blogger Geoff’s blog, “1001 albums in 10 years”. As its title suggests, the blog’s normal programming involves its intrepid author sharing thoughts on the albums in the book, “1001 albums you must hear before you die”, as he tries to listen to each one within a ten year span. Over the past few years, he has added a fun, additional component in the form a quiz with five hints and chances to guess the artist of the week. Last week, said artist of the week was iconic Canadian rockers, The Guess Who, which I thought a bit fortuitous because it gave me a chance to plug his excellent work and at the same time, provide me a  lead into my next ‘100 best covers’ post.

“American woman” is one of the few tracks by The Guess Who whose songwriting credits are attributed to all of its members rather than just its principal songwriters, Randy Bachman and Burton Cummings. This is because the song was the result of an improvised jam during a soundcheck one night in Ontario, the original lyrics ad-libbed by Cummings and later edited, which the group was really ‘feeling’. It was seen by many at the time as an anti-Vietnam war song and an outsider’s view of the American approach to it but Cummings has maintained on many occasions that it is really about his preference for Canadian woman over those from our southern neighbours, a sentiment most likely a result of touring fatigue.

American musician, Lenny Kravitz covered this tune almost 30 years later, right at the height of his popularity, originally for the soundtrack of the second installment in the Austin Powers film series. His version was softer, slower, and mostly because of who he was, innately sexier than the original. I haven’t really been a fan of much of his work but this cover is an exception for me. A faithful homage to a classic, one that doesn’t try to outdo the original and knows its own limitations in its shadow. Both versions rock, sport incredible, though very different styles of vocals, and throw hammer down with guitars.

Thoughts or preferences? Always game to hear ’em.

Cover:

The original:

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