Songs of the Year—1995

Must’ve been mid-afternoon
I could tell by how far the child’s shadow stretched out and
he walked with a purpose
in his sneakers, down the street
he had, many questions
like children often do
–Dishwalla

Songs of the Year: “Hell”, Squirrel Nut Zippers; “Counting Blue Cars”, Dishwalla

Runners-up: “Friends of P”, The Rentals; “Lump”, Presidents of the United States of America

Honorable Mentions: “Good”, Better than Ezra; “You Oughta Know” Alanis Morrissette

Not every year is dominated by songs that came out in that year; in the same way, the memory of a year will rarely be dictated by the songs you would like to have listened to or even the albums you actually bought. 1995 was still the year of Alanis (before she felt the need to thank India); none of us cared that she didn’t seem to understand irony or why one hand was in her pocket.

(Best suggestions from my friends at the time: (1) she’s hiding a roach; (2) sex toy in her hand; (3) she has an old woman’s hand and if it sees the light of day she’ll suddenly become an octogenarian; (4) she doesn’t have a hand!)

I have written elsewhere about the memories contained by “Good” for me. When I think back to driving around the backwoods and suburbs in a Ford LTD station wagon, I remember this as one of the high years of the local alt-rock station. The song “Lump” played almost every hour (and it is a great driving song). Matt Sharp, of Weezer, released the underrated and exceptionally fun “Friends of P” (which has the magic combination of male and female vocals with a MOOG).

Either of these two songs could be my top song of 1995, but my year was dominated by two songs I barely listen to at all now. When “Lump” wasn’t on the radio, there was a good chance you’d hear “Hell” by Squirrel Nut Zippers. This song was entertaining, it was dynamic, but it was also part of a wave that I never really understood: the Swing fad of the 1990’s.

Now don’t get me wrong: Big Band music is fun, complex and engaging. I’ll even concede that Swing dancing isn’t a terrible thing. But how do such things happen? What was the impetus for this and why was it still going on years later? Because, as the chances were, the people who were dancing were not the ones who should have been.

(Isn’t that mean? Let the people fucking dance, you jerk. Confession: I went to a Swing dance class at least once with a ‘friend’ whose affections I hoped to alter…what a jerk.)

The bridge of “Hell”, so much catchier than the chorus, was simple, melodic and fun. We would sing along in the car; we would sing it at work; we would sing it at school. I remember quite clearly bringing a large group together for a picture and prompting them to sing a capella: “Now the D and the A and the M and the N and the A and the T and the I – O – N / Lose your face, lose your name, then get fitted for a suit of flame.” Cheers followed; repetition and hilarity ensued. Now, I know it sounds lame, my brother; but it was fun. And, at least in retrospect, it feels guileless and honest.

I didn’t buy that album. I don’t know why, I liked the songs but I just didn’t feel inspired to make a purchase. One album I did buy that disappointed was the debut of Dishwalla. I distinctly remember The Lead Singer reading aloud to me from Spin or something like that predicting that Dishwalla would be the band of the decade. The album had a few good tracks, but it wasn’t good throughout.

Rolling Stone’s Best Album of the Millennium

The lead single, “Counting Blue Cars”, lived up to the hype. I didn’t adore the song; I may have learned to, but circumstances made it hard. The narrator of the song tells about spending time with a child (what was with this band? Their other song was about not eroticizing our children), counting blue cars, when the child says “Tell me all your thoughts on god?” The chorus centers on that line and loops additional metaphysical questions around it. In retrospect, again, the song seems a bit lame and a tad creepy. But it worked.

Its working or not working isn’t why I remember it. In 1995 I had two close friends put into mental institutions (one multiple times) for suicide attempts and detox. More than once, I heard Dishwalla on the way to or back from surrendering my belt and metal objects to visit them. The long rides to the hospitals and the longer ones home were invaded by Dishwalla’s questions from children.

On one return visit, with a younger female friend in the car (this time a blue Ford tempo) we stopped on a dirt road and talked late into the night. I can remember the moonlight on the windshield and the crispness of the winter evening and early morning. We talked about the song, about our places in the world and our friends. My parents berated me for arriving home three hours later than expected.

I was close enough to adulthood to find the idea of a child asking me about god frightening but near enough to being that child to feel the simultaneous wonder and horror of contemplating what is and what isn’t. And, damn it, I was in a Blue car (which I wrecked a few months later while trying to drive and tend a pimple). I didn’t kiss that girl, that night or ever. But we corresponded for several years based on the stillness and expansiveness of that one evening.

Why? Why not.

Until she went to India. Seriously. Thank you. India. And Alanis.

Horrors of the Year:

Everything by Silverchair; Everything by 311

“Gansta Paradise”, Coolio: One of my friends who was institutionalized encountered an “inmate” who was eight years old. He did nothing but recite this song every day. During one family meal, he took his fork and started stabbing his sister. I don’t see any causal connection here, but the memory is true.

13 comments on “Songs of the Year—1995

  1. professormortis says:

    Wait a minute-how did you hear “Hell” in 1995? The album it was on was released in the June of 1996. In fact, IIRC, the swing fad didn’t get booming until “Swingers” came out, and it was released in the Fall of 1996.

    • theelderj says:

      Shit. See, this is what happens when you think of time in terms of academic years instead of actual time.

      I screwed this one off. Forgiveness?

    • theelderj says:

      Oh. And the swinging fad was already in full motion then…the movie Swing Kids came out in 1993 and I remember friends going out to swing classes in 1994/5 upon seeing it!

      • professormortis says:

        Forgiveness, of course…I just knew that I was introduced to SNZ in the fall of 1995 with their album before Hot, so I knew something was off. See, to me the swing fad was in the late 90s, not the early 90s, and Swing Kids was something girls, but not guys liked…but I suppose I could have just missed it lurking underneath things. I was never that aware of trends. I recall it broke into full flower with that stupid Gap ad, Swingers, and real garbage like Cherry Poppin’ Daddies, which, IIRC. To me it became really, really all over the place in the summer of 1996, when some drunk girl said of me, in my usual suit and fedora look “You are so money”. Just for the record, I was into that stuff from old movies and old pulp superhero characters, and I was doing suit and fedora long before Swing Kids. Which is why it burned me up when the Swing Fad took my favorite stuff, overexposed it, and made it uncool in the worst way for about ten years after it finally died.

      • professormortis says:

        Ah, I stand corrected. I guess that some see the roots of the Swing fad in the early 80s, and in things like Brian Setzer starting to play Jump Blues in 1992…these things, of course, take time to build, and I was only paying attention to that hellish period in 1998 when the worst named band in history, Cherry Poppin’ Daddies, was popular.

  2. londongigger says:

    It looks like the US and the UK diverged quite sharply in the mid-90’s. Many of the tunes I would pick probably never made it the US. We were after all in the full throws of Britpop and so it’s a very english list. My memorable tunes of that year are

    Glory Box by Portishead
    Protection by Massive Atack
    Independent Love Song by Scarlet
    No More I Love Yous by Annie Lennox
    The Bomb by The Bucketheads – (great dance number this one0
    Over my Shoulder by Mike and the Mechanics (fantastic power ballad)
    High and Dry by Radiohead
    Sourtimes by Portisdead
    Scatman by Scatman John (totally unique dance floor filler
    Common People by Pulp (my favourite sing of the year, dripping with anger and disdain at the class system)
    Kiss from a Rose Seal (one of the most beautiful songs ever written)
    74-75 by The Connells
    You oughta Know by Alanis Morrisette (what can I say – I love the anger )
    Country House by Blur (Brit-pop classic)
    Gansta’s paradise by Coolio (it’s like a rap sermon)
    Missing by Everything but the Girl (danced on my 30tth birthday to this one)
    Wonderwall by Oasis (This is a British classic even if I don’t generally like the group)

    • theelderj says:

      I think you’re right that the Atlantic divided more than geography in 1995–we had many of the songs you list, but some were more minor hits. Radiohead’s second album didn’t do well here (although I loved “high and dry”) but we did hear a lot of Seal and Lennox. Pulp and Blur never made it as well in the States; I did know some who were in to Portishead.

      But Coolio? Who could forget that song and the movie. What I’d like to forget is the terrible Weird Al parody “Amish Paradise”.

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