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Best tunes of 1990: #26 Jane’s Addiction “Stop!”

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Señores y señoras… it’s Friday! A perfect day to unleash song number twenty-six: Jane’s Addiction’s “Stop!”

In the fall of 1990, my friends and I were still very much in love with the claustrophobic angst of Nine Inch Nails’ brilliant debut, “Pretty hate machine” and by then, we were all listening to Nitzer Ebb and Ministry and some of us, even Skinny Puppy. Industrial was the buzz word of the day. It was all we wanted to hear and for which we were all on the lookout. In the midst of all this, a friend (who will remain nameless) slipped me the “Ritual de lo habitual” cassette, telling me that this was the latest in Industrial. I listened to the tape and loved it right off, but didn’t think the sound fit in with those other bands. Still, we were young, what did we know about genre? We didn’t have Wikipedia and Pitchfork telling us everything we needed to know about music. But we knew what we liked.

And we definitely liked Jane’s Addiction.

“Ritual de lo habitual” was the four-piece LA-based group’s third album and the last before the first incarnation of the band was dissolved. Jane’s Addiction started out a few years earlier with their unconventional, self-titled debut, which was a live record that featured early versions of now iconic tunes and covers of songs by The Velvet Underground and The Rolling Stones. Then, their sophomore release, 1988’s “Nothing’s shocking”, was a proverbial sucker punch to the solar plexus, the original lineup of Perry Farrell, Eric Avery, Dave Navarro, and Stephen Perkins unleashing a loud and brash cacophony of metal, funk, surf, punk and psychedelia on the buying public. Though many people see “Nothing’s shocking” as Jane’s Addiction’s best work, I prefer “Ritual”. Sure, it’s a drug-fuelled mess at times but it is still quite accomplished and cohesive and of course, it was my introduction to the influential alt-rock band.

“Stop!” is the starting point on the epic journey of the album and was one of two lead off singles to be released from it (the other being “Three days”!). The Spanish introduction plays like a post-modern gimmick, the female announcer revving up the crowd of listeners for Jane’s Addiction to leap up onstage and punish their instruments. Navarro wails away on the guitars, somehow seeing through the heroin haze, and the rhythm section of Avery and Perkins shift gears from fast to slow to fast again with apparent ease. And the ringleader of this circus of freaks, Perry Farrell, comports himself like a man unhinged, his whines and screeches perfect to shout along with as your body is being tossed about like a ragdoll in the mosh pit. It’s all fun and games until you lose one of your 16 hole docs or a Birkenstock sandal in the fray.

…Stop… now go!

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

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Best tunes of 1990: #27 DNA featuring Suzanne Vega “Tom’s diner”

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Da da da da da da-da da, da da da da da da-da da.

That’s right. Next up on this Best of 1990 list is a great ear worm that was a joint effort between songstress Suzanne Vega and British electronic producer duo, DNA: “Tom’s diner”.

I say “joint effort” because although Suzanne Vega originally wrote the song, it wasn’t until Nick Batt and Neal Slateford put their shoulder to the track that it became a worldwide sensation. Indeed, it’s sometimes easy to forget that this one wasn’t the original version. Vega had written the song as a vocal only, a capella track in 1981 and it appeared on her sophomore album, 1987’s “Solitude standing”. Her’s is a beautiful, thoughtful, and quite awkward sounding piece and that now infamous “da da da” bit only appears at the end of the song. If you’ve never heard it before, take the time and do so now. We’ll wait.

This bare bones version leaves only the words dangling before you. It’s like a stream of conscious paean to the mundane. The singer hanging out on a rainy day, perhaps wrestling with writer’s block, and jotting down the thoughts that occur to her and the little things that happen to her as she is sitting with a coffee in Tom’s Restaurant in New York City (which some of you might recognize from television).

The version by DNA took the original a capella track, layered it with synths and a sampled dance beat and looped the outro, over and over again, throughout the song. They originally released it as a bootleg without her permission but when Suzanne Vega heard it, she liked it so much that she bought the rights and re-released it, along with the music video you can watch below (complete with dancers). It brought Suzanne Vega her first dance hit, introduced her to a whole new audience, and perhaps turned her ear to a completely different world of music. Check out some of her more industrial sounding work on 1992’s “99.9F°” if you’re not sure what I mean.

Although DNA worked magic with “Tom’s diner” and had some success with remixing other songs later on, a quick peek at Wikipedia reveals that neither Batt nor Slateford is still making music. Vega, on the other hand, is still quite active, her most recent album coming in 2016.

If this song isn’t stuck in your head yet, play the video below again and I promise you’ll be stuck with it all day. You’re welcome.

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

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Best tunes of 1990: #28 The Wonder Stuff “Circlesquare”

<< #29    |    #27 >>

Song number twenty-eight on this young list is a non-album single from Stourbridge, England’s finest, The Wonder Stuff.

These guys were one of my favourite bands through the 1990s, having picked up on them almost by accident in the very early days of my music explorations. I found their debut album, “Eight legged groove machine”, in my friend Elliott’s cassette tape collection one day and borrowed it, liking the look of the cover and the sound of the names of both the band and the album. I listened to it constantly thereafter, loving the angst-ridden pop sensibility and the sneering attitude of the frontman, Miles Hunt. They sounded unlike anything I was hearing on Canadian radio at the time and though they did eventually become a big deal in England, they never really made it here in North America. Very few people that I knew ever heard of them so it was like having a favourite band all to myself.

The band formed in 1986 and originally comprised of Hunt (vocals, guitar), Malc Treece (guitar), Martin Gilks (drums), and Rob “The bass thing” Jones (on bass, of course). They released a string of four albums between 1986 and 1994, adding and losing members along the way, before ultimately falling to pieces just prior to completing the tour cycle for their fourth album. The band reunited in 2000 for a one-off show that turned into a handful of sold out gigs in England that year. Four years later, Miles Hunt announced he would be soldiering on under The Wonder Stuff moniker with only Malc Treece from the original lineup and a couple of new members. They have since released four albums of new material and continue to play live.

I never actually heard the song “Circlesquare” until a couple of years after it was released, and even then, it was a stripped-down acoustic version of the song that was included as a B-side on the “Welcome to the cheap seats” double EP. It wasn’t until after they broke up and released their career spanning retrospective, “If the Beatles had read Hunter”, that I got my first glimpse at the original.

“Circlesquare” is classic Hunt. Jaded and self-deprecating even way back then, even at a time when life must’ve been good for the band. “I’ve been a long term disappointment to myself, but it hits like a hammer when I’m that to someone else.” Hunt wails away on his acoustic while Treece, his partner in guitar crime, cranks up the machine gun effects pedals, Gilks gets funky with drums and Martin Bell (aka Fiddly) fills every vacant cranny with his fiddle flourishes. It’s an almost perfect snapshot of the band in flux, having been recorded after “The bass thing” left the band and Martin Bell became an official member and just before new bassist Paul Clifford joined. It’s a blend of their electric and electrifying, high energy pop off their aforementioned debut and the acerbic, fiddle crazy folk rock of their most popular album, 1991’s “Never loved Elvis”.

If you’ve never experienced The Wonder Stuff before, you could do worse than start here.

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