Songs of the Year – 1993


Whatever makes you happy
Whatever you want
You’re so fucking special
I wish I was special
–Radiohead

Songs of the Year: “Creep”, Radiohead; “No Rain ”, Blind Melon

Runners-Up: “Cannonball”, The Breeders; “Monkey Gone to Heaven”, Pixies (DQ’d for year)
Honorable Mention: “Nothin’ but a ‘G’ Thang”, Dr. Dre and Snoop Doggy Dog

While 1993 was a year when I definitely started thinking more deeply about music and about why I liked what I liked, it was also a year when I started to display my most common (and annoying) characteristics: contrarianism and, for lack of a better term, obscuricism.

So, it is easy for me to list the major artists from this year that I didn’t get into. I ignored The Smashing Pumpkins; I was dismissive of middle of the road alt-rock bands like Gin Blossoms, Candlebox, and the Counting Crows. I got on the tailend of bands like James. I didn’t care a bit for Nirvana’s In Utero. I bought Pearl Jam’s Vs. the day it came out but only listened to it a few times. Strangely enough, bands like The Crash Test Dummies caught my attention.

Now while music history shows look back to this period with unmeasured bliss, we shouldn’t forget how much crap there still was: “Insane in the Membrane” by Cypress Hill was a top hit; Bon Jovi somehow got away with “Bed of Roses”; and we all had to wonder what Meatloaf wouldn’t do for love. Nevertheless, in comparison to earlier years, there was some great music on the radio.

I tried to stay true to the music I had learned to love the year before. But, betrayed by U2’s almost unconscionable Zooropa, I went back in time to bands I had missed out on when I was too busy loving NKOTB and M. C. Hammer. 1993 is when I bought and consumed Doolittle and Surfer Rosa. I immediately fell in love with the Breeders’ Cannonball. But the two songs that best encapsulate 1993 for me  are “No Rain” by Blind Melon and Radiohead’s “Creep”.

I first heard these songs while riding home in a friend’s minivan from theater practice. My best friend—the previously mentioned Lead Singer—and I were immediately floored. I can think of the road we were on, the yellow color of a dusty dusk, and the smell of the river approaching.  We demanded more. We surfed the radio for hours. We called into to various stations. We waited and were consumed.

Now, my native cynicism should have braced me against the commercial push behind these artists; I should have rebelled against their constant play on MTV; my contrary nature should have rejected songs that were so unequivocally embraced, but I seem to have been defenseless against these tracks. I cannot think of a time when two songs that were so different simultaneously gripped my attention so forcibly.

Where “No Rain” is bright, brassy, and optimistic, “Creep” is self-deprecating, dark and unclear. One is hard to sing; the other is easy to imitate but hard to sing truly. One invites harmonizing; but the other invites a ghoulish singalong. The video of the former was playful and memorable; the latter was of a simple performance (although I can still see Tom Yorke’s scowl from the video). Whatever the reason, I bought both albums after hearing the singles once. And, most surprisingly, both albums turned out to be really good.

(Pablo Honey is a phenomenal alt-rock album; “Been Thinkin’ About You” is Radiohead’s best (and only?) love song; I have not really liked a Radiohead album since (I know, heresy). Blind Melon is one of the better hard rock albums of the 1990’s; “Change” is one of the best rock songs of the decade. I don’t know why it was never released as a single).

Best Radiohead album (of the year)

While the sonic field and feeling of these songs are different, the schizophrenia of my love is best illustrated through the lyrics. Where Shannon Hoon croons “I just want someone to say to me  / I’ll always be there when you wake” he evokes the simple and optimistic dream that I think most of us share at some level. The dancing electric lead over the acoustic rhythm leaves you to believe that this is far from too much to ask. But Yorke’s self-deprecating “When you were here before / couldn’t look you in the eye” speaks to the lie of Blind Melon’s promise.

These two songs, along with being musical complements, exhibit complementary sentiments. They are each one half of the one reality that is and was the state of being in an uncertain place, of being uncomfortable, of being in-between. In 1993, there were moments when it was bright, when I was, in some figurative way, dancing in a field and hopeful that someday I wouldn’t be alone. But there were also nights when I was sure I wasn’t good enough, or just not fucking special. Radiohead may have been satirizing such sentiments. Blind Melon may not have believed what they were singing. But I did. Sometimes.

Now, brother: I know you must remember something of this year. I read the entire Dune series while listening to these two albums, over and over and over and….

Scourges of the year: Ace of Base’s “The Sign” tortured me. Billy Joel’s ‘River of Dreams” proved he still didn’t know what decade it was and Michael Bolton was still releasing singles. I also used to torture my siblings by singing the 4 Non Blondes “What’s Up” using my best Axl Rose voice.

Labor-Day Songlist: Arbeitsmusik (Work-music)

In honor of labor day, here’s a blast from our not-so-distant past. What better to make us appreciate a day off of work than ruminations on the privations suffered in jobs present and past…

 
I could buy myself a reason
I could sell myself a job
I could hang myself on treason
All the folks I know are gone
Modest Mouse, “The Devil’s Workday”

Our friend the Historian’s vivid entry on his paper-route playlist and my brother’s musings on his forced music choices reminded me of a list of my own I started a while back. See, he and I are both older than our years. All of us who went to high school (and part of college) before google, before Napster, and before cell phones or text messages, keep part of ourselves in a world wholly foreign to siblings and cousins a mere five years younger. It is strange how time moves that much faster.

Before ubiquitous CD players, mp3 players and satellite music, the car was one of two places where you could find yourself subject to the whim of faceless disc-jockeys or the machinations of entertainment executives. (Some of us even drove cars that didn’t even have tape players.)

The other place? Work. Before I found myself in a life where silence was more common than noise in the workplace, where my voice was the sound that could most often be heard, I worked a series of jobs to pay for band equipment and long distance phone bills, to pay for college, and to put myself through graduate school. At each one of these jobs I found myself subject to the musical choices of others: a boss’ favorite radio station or CD.

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Learning More about New Music!

A few weeks ago I ruminated on the difficulty of learning about music (in a dependable way) in an age when we are overwhelmed by both the number of bands available and the media outlets discussing them. It isn’t so much that there are more acts out there (though, there may be) but that we hear about them all. One of our frequent commenters, londongigger, who has a very nice blog where he reviews live shows, noted that in London there are literally thousands of performances a week.

From experience, I know that the scene is similar in places like New York City and Austin, Texas. Learning about new music by seeing the bands becomes a full job, a needle-in-the-haystack obsession. Who has the time (or money and stamina) to keep up with this?

At the same time, another thing I failed to mention is that the digital age has sapped the power of critics and tastemakers. While this is good (freeing up both artists and audiences from certain hegemonies) it has the unintended effect of splintering music experience and reducing the framework provided by a common canon of music. I don’t know if I am lamenting or just observing.

Anyway, writing this blog has both forced me to engage with newer music more fully and to seek out new artists at a faster pace than previous years. Recently, I have been aided in this by a younger friend, The Only D. After I reacted (with some speed) to his last list of suggestions, he hit me up with another.

Here we go.

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Songs of the Year 1993

Songs of the Year—1993

Songs of the Year: 4 Non Blondes “Whats up?”, Blind Melon “No rain”, and Radiohead “Creep”
Honorable Mention” Meat Loaf “I would do anything for love (But I won’t do that)”

I started writing these songs of the year entries backwards from 1995 and found that this year is when my remembrances begin to wane (but I can jog them via Wikipedia). This is the year that Prince became a symbol which I remember coming on the nightly news. I had no idea who Prince was anyway at age 9 so I don’t remember being too bothered by it.

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On the Radio:

Earlier I posted about how my daughter’s music tastes have forced me to break my standing radio embargo. Part of the torture is that she prefers top 40’s stations; the second part of this is that if we don’t listen to these stations there is a significant chance that she won’t eat. So, my choice is to let my daughter go malnourished or listen to soul-killing, ear-mauling, corporate-sponsored trash.

(Ok, that last bit might have been a little harsh. But still.)

Over the last year one of the songs that has tortured me (in addition to “Move Like Jagger”) starts with the following lyrics:

Summer after high school when we first met

We made out in your Mustang to Radiohead

And on my 18th Birthday

We got matching tattoos

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Songs of the Year – 1993


Whatever makes you happy
Whatever you want
You’re so fucking special
I wish I was special
–Radiohead

Songs of the Year: “Creep”, Radiohead; “No Rain ”, Blind Melon

Runners-Up: “Cannonball”, The Breeders; “Monkey Gone to Heaven”, Pixies (DQ’d for year)
Honorable Mention: “Nothin’ but a ‘G’ Thang”, Dr. Dre and Snoop Doggy Dog

While 1993 was a year when I definitely started thinking more deeply about music and about why I liked what I liked, it was also a year when I started to display my most common (and annoying) characteristics: contrarianism and, for lack of a better term, obscuricism.

So, it is easy for me to list the major artists from this year that I didn’t get into. I ignored The Smashing Pumpkins; I was dismissive of middle of the road alt-rock bands like Gin Blossoms, Candlebox, and the Counting Crows. I got on the tailend of bands like James. I didn’t care a bit for Nirvana’s In Utero. I bought Pearl Jam’s Vs. the day it came out but only listened to it a few times. Strangely enough, bands like The Crash Test Dummies caught my attention.

Now while music history shows look back to this period with unmeasured bliss, we shouldn’t forget how much crap there still was: “Insane in the Membrane” by Cypress Hill was a top hit; Bon Jovi somehow got away with “Bed of Roses”; and we all had to wonder what Meatloaf wouldn’t do for love. Nevertheless, in comparison to earlier years, there was some great music on the radio.

I tried to stay true to the music I had learned to love the year before. But, betrayed by U2’s almost unconscionable Zooropa, I went back in time to bands I had missed out on when I was too busy loving NKOTB and M. C. Hammer. 1993 is when I bought and consumed Doolittle and Surfer Rosa. I immediately fell in love with the Breeders’ Cannonball. But the two songs that best encapsulate 1993 for me  are “No Rain” by Blind Melon and Radiohead’s “Creep”.

I first heard these songs while riding home in a friend’s minivan from theater practice. My best friend—the previously mentioned Lead Singer—and I were immediately floored. I can think of the road we were on, the yellow color of a dusty dusk, and the smell of the river approaching.  We demanded more. We surfed the radio for hours. We called into to various stations. We waited and were consumed.

Now, my native cynicism should have braced me against the commercial push behind these artists; I should have rebelled against their constant play on MTV; my contrary nature should have rejected songs that were so unequivocally embraced, but I seem to have been defenseless against these tracks. I cannot think of a time when two songs that were so different simultaneously gripped my attention so forcibly.

Where “No Rain” is bright, brassy, and optimistic, “Creep” is self-deprecating, dark and unclear. One is hard to sing; the other is easy to imitate but hard to sing truly. One invites harmonizing; but the other invites a ghoulish singalong. The video of the former was playful and memorable; the latter was of a simple performance (although I can still see Tom Yorke’s scowl from the video). Whatever the reason, I bought both albums after hearing the singles once. And, most surprisingly, both albums turned out to be really good.

(Pablo Honey is a phenomenal alt-rock album; “Been Thinkin’ About You” is Radiohead’s best (and only?) love song; I have not really liked a Radiohead album since (I know, heresy). Blind Melon is one of the better hard rock albums of the 1990’s; “Change” is one of the best rock songs of the decade. I don’t know why it was never released as a single).

Best Radiohead album (of the year)

While the sonic field and feeling of these songs are different, the schizophrenia of my love is best illustrated through the lyrics. Where Shannon Hoon croons “I just want someone to say to me  / I’ll always be there when you wake” he evokes the simple and optimistic dream that I think most of us share at some level. The dancing electric lead over the acoustic rhythm leaves you to believe that this is far from too much to ask. But Yorke’s self-deprecating “When you were here before / couldn’t look you in the eye” speaks to the lie of Blind Melon’s promise.

These two songs, along with being musical complements, exhibit complementary sentiments. They are each one half of the one reality that is and was the state of being in an uncertain place, of being uncomfortable, of being in-between. In 1993, there were moments when it was bright, when I was, in some figurative way, dancing in a field and hopeful that someday I wouldn’t be alone. But there were also nights when I was sure I wasn’t good enough, or just not fucking special. Radiohead may have been satirizing such sentiments. Blind Melon may not have believed what they were singing. But I did. Sometimes.

Now, brother: I know you must remember something of this year. I read the entire Dune series while listening to these two albums, over and over and over and….

Scourges of the year: Ace of Base’s “The Sign” tortured me. Billy Joel’s ‘River of Dreams” proved he still didn’t know what decade it was and Michael Bolton was still releasing singles. I also used to torture my siblings by singing the 4 Non Blondes “What’s Up” using my best Axl Rose voice.