Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Absent Friends, part 3

James Brown, 1933-2006.

James Brown, Hold My Baby's Hand.
James Brown, Let's Make It.
James Brown, Prisoner of Love.
James Brown, Mother Popcorn.
James Brown, Funky President (People It's Bad).

Spotlight on James Brown now
He's the king of them all, yeah
He's the king of them all, yeah
Oh yeah, oh yeah.

Arthur Conley, "Sweet Soul Music."

And a Happy New Year to you all.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Absent Friends, part 2

George W.S. Trow, 1943-2006.

The message of many things in America is 'Like this or die.' It is a strain. Suddenly, the modes of death begin to be attractive.

Public Image Ltd., Public Image.
The Kinks, 20th Century Man.
Gang of Four, We Live As We Dream, Alone.
Black Flag, TV Party.
X-Ray Spex, Identity.
Bob Dylan, I'm Not There (1956).

It's a special crossover day--please check out Moistworks for Alex Abramovich's sister (brother? cousin?) post, which should be up soon.

George W.S. Trow died in Naples at the end of November. Trow had spent the last few years of his life on an endless pilgrimage of sorts, traveling up to Alaska, down to Texas and ultimately east, first to Newfoundland, then Europe. By some accounts, he was in hard shape, with most of his friends in the grave, and the world he had foreseen in 1980's Within the Context of No Context--the tabloid-minded, adolescent triumph that is mainstream American culture today--had come to pass almost exactly as he had predicted. (All quotes in italics are his.)

The most successful celebrities are products. Consider the real role in American life of Coca-Cola. Is any man as well loved as this soft drink is?

Trow's sensibility could be found in the old National Lampoon (his parody of an earnest, early '60s high school poem in the 1964 Yearbook is a small marvel) and the early years of Saturday Night Live, though he had advised his friend Michael O'Donoghue against working on the show. (In the early '70s, Trow and O'Donoghue had co-written the amazingly weird Savages, directed by James Ivory.)

"Adulthood" in the last generations has had very little to do with "adulthood" as that word would have been understood by adults in any previous generation. Rather, "adulthood" has been defined as "a position of control in the world of childhood."

Ambitious Americans, sensing this, have preferred to remain adolescents, year after year.

Time magazine's "Man of the Year" for 1943, the year of Trow's birth, was George Marshall; for 1980, the year of Within the Context.., it was Ronald Reagan. For the year of Trow's death, Time has chosen as their "Person of the Year" the most important person in the world:

Punk art is allied to what an extraordinary prisoner might do in his cell. Not ask for parole, for instance, or bone up on his case, but etch crazy feathery patterns into certain secret places.

Songs: PiL on Public Image; Kinks on Muswell Hillbillies; Go4 on A Brief History of the 20th Century; Black Flag on Damaged; X-Ray Spex on Germ Free Adolescents; Dylan still unreleased.

Essential GWST: Within the Context of No Context, My Pilgrim's Progress, The Harvard Black Rock Forest.

The history of the media has been our history; the history of our, by now, hopelessly conflicted personality...This is our Life, and it is supposed to be an attractive one.

And a sincere Merry Christmas to all of you.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Absent Friends, part 1

Grant McLennan, Ballad of Easy Rider.
Jackie McLean, Love and Hate.
Love, 7 and 7 Is.
Gene Simmons, Drinkin' Scotch.
Gene Pitney, Every Breath I Take.
Ivor Cutler, Pstola.
Dewey Redman, Joie de Vivre.
Lorraine Hunt Lieberson, Handel: Bane of Virtue, Nurse of Passions.
Pink Floyd, See Emily Play.
Desmond Dekker, Dracula.
György Ligeti, Musica Ricercata, ii (mesto, rigido e cerimoniale).
Ruth Brown, As Long As I'm Moving.
Buck Owens, I Don't Care (Just As Long As You Love Me).
Wilson Pickett, Land of 1000 Dances.
Arlo Guthrie, Victor Jara.

I had not thought death had undone so many.

Grant McLennan, 1958-2006. On Horsebreaker Star. The Spanish singer/songwriter Jaime Cristobal's tribute to McLennan, "Christmas Without Grant," is on Jaime's website.

Jackie McLean, 1932-2006. On Destination Out!

Arthur Lee, 1945-2006. On Love's Best Of.

Gene Simmons (the rockabilly legend, not the KISS bassist), 1932-2006. On Drinkin' Wine: The Sun Years.

Gene Pitney, Connecticut's greatest son, 1941-2006. On Anthology.

Ivor Cutler, the last eccentric, 1923-2006.

Dewey Redman, 1931-2006. On The Ear of the Behearer (OOP, also on iTunes).

Lorraine Hunt Lieberson, 1954-2006. "She was the most remarkable singer I ever heard," Alex Ross. On Handel Arias.

Syd Barrett, 1946-2006. "See Emily Play" is on Pink Floyd's Relics.

Desmond Dekker, 1941-2006. On Rudy Got Soul.

György Ligeti, 1923-2006. On Complete Piano Music.

Ruth Brown
, 1928-2006. On Best Of.

Buck Owens, 1929-2006. On Very Best.

Wilson Pickett, 1941-2006. On Greatest Hits.

And Arlo Guthrie's "Victor Jara" is dedicated to the late Gen. Augusto Pinochet. On Amigo.

Also, farewell to Ahmet Ertegun, Jane Jacobs, James Kim, Perry Henzell, Kirby Puckett, Victoria Gray Adams, Buck O'Neill, Robert Altman, Octavia Butler, Ellen Willis, Mancs, Jessie Gilbert, Oriana Fallaci, 2nd Lt. Emily Perez , Mohammed Taha, kari edwards, Alex Toth and Harriet the tortoise.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Yuletide Odds & Ends

Richard Thompson, Mary and Joseph.
Big Star, Jesus Christ.

Well, don't expect too much from here until the New Year. There'll be tributes to some of the year's great number of deceased, and maybe a Christmas song or two, but that'll be all. Life, work, etc., calls.

The happy parents are here: Henry the Human Fly; their precocious son is here: Third/Sister Lovers.

Monday, December 11, 2006

100 Years (in Ten Jumps)


Rev. Tom Frost, You Belong to Me.
Nellie McKay, Long and Lazy River.
Nico Muhly, Honest Music.
The Coup, My Favorite Mutiny.
TV On the Radio, Dirtywhirl.
Matthew Shipp, Module.
Bob Dylan, Nettie Moore (live, St. Paul).
Sonny Rollins, Stairway to the Stars.
Jerry Lee Lewis and Merle Haggard, Just a Bummin' Around.

There is a rumor among the marines in Anbar that Iraqi snipers will not shoot black people, because they are worried that it will bring them demons.

Lance Corporal Woods is black. He smoked in the darkness and said it has been a topic of conversation in his unit, Mobile Assault Platoon Five. "Valdez and me talked about that," he said. "He's Hispanic. He said, 'Man, I'm going to paint my skin darker, man.' That's what he said. And the next day he got shot."

"I hate this place," he said..."Out here, it really makes you love your country. I love my country, man. I love my country. I didn't hate my country before, man. But I had some problems with it."

"The United States of America," he said. "That sounds like heaven right now."

C.J. Chivers, "Marine Unit and Iraqis Fend Off Attacks and Boredom," NY Times, 7 December 2006.

And so, we come to a rest at last, in the waning hours of our present year, itself readying to shuffle off into the past.

Someone (Harold Bloom?) said that future prediction was a mug's game. If so, it's a game I'm terrible at. That's why I started a blog about '40s music in the first place.

So the following nine songs are nowhere near the "best of 2006." Consider this a net cast out into the teeming sea of music, dragging in a sampling of what's out there. Three are from youngsters, three are from oldsters, three are from artists in their (relative) prime.

The Rev. Tom Frost is likely well known to anyone who regularly visits MP3 blogs--he runs the essential Spread the Good Word. Apart from being a great guy and having excellent taste, he's also a fine musician--France's answer to Tom Waits and Lux Interior.

"You Belong to Me" is my favorite track off the Rev.'s first CD, South of Hell, France, which is apparently out of print now, but you can also find it on iTunes.

when Ms. McKay met Ms. Channing

The travails of Nellie McKay indicate just how the music industry has simply lost the plot. A few decades ago, someone like McKay--an ambitious young songwriter blessed with a smoky, compelling voice and a storming piano style--would have been given time to breathe and expand at Verve or Vanguard, or Lenny Waronker's Warner or David Geffen's Asylum or Jac Holzman's Elektra. And perhaps a few albums into her career, she'd turn out her 12 Songs or For the Roses or Innervisions.

But the system has broken down so much that her label Sony seemed simply inept or unwilling to handle McKay. She didn't fit into any of the tiny squares; she was boisterous, driven and demanded all sorts of things, including making her first two records double-CDs. Given a music business with some room for "mid-list" performers, with a more agile A&R apparatus and more sympathetic label management, McKay might have thrived. But instead McKay, rather than have her second CD gutted and likely thrown out into the marketplace with minimal promotion, left Sony in disgust and wound up at an indie label.

And sure, Pretty Little Head is a bit overegged, with its gorgeous duets and pop gems crowded by strange little ditties. Still, there's so much talent on display it seems a waste to deny audiences any of it. Certainly not "Long and Lazy River," a wistful, lovely song that sounds like it comes from a lost Judy Garland musical.

On Pretty Little Head.

Nico Muhly, born in Vermont in 1981, has been composing since his teens. "Honest Music" is described as a studio exercise, a piece not meant to be performed live--it's a collection of violin phrases, false starts, afterbeats: the stuff that usually winds up on the cutting room floor. "The result is that all of Honest Music is an outtake, a rehearsal for another, wholly imaginary piece," the liner notes say. But the loveliness of Lisa Liu's violin and the scattered, at-times abrupt accompaniment by Muhly on harmonium and Monika Abendroth on harp make it a compelling piece in its own right.

On Speaks Volumes, which can be purchased here and also on iTunes.

I've been listening to The Coup's "My Favorite Mutiny" all weekend, so it goes in just for that. It's been an abritrary morning. On Pick a Bigger Weapon.

And Alex at Moistworks' pick for an exemplary 2006 song is TV on the Radio's "Dirtywhirl," so here it is. On Return to Cookie Mountain.

Matthew Shipp, born in Wilmington, Delaware, in 1960, has emerged over the past decade as one of the most incisive jazz pianists of his generation, both in his work with the David S. Ware quartet and on his own (my favorite of his solo records is 2002's Songs, in which Shipp reworks everything from "A Mighty Fortress is Our God" to "We Free Kings.")

"Module" is an example of Shipp's quieter work, veering towards ominousness at times. On One.

Bob Dylan's "Nettie Moore" is his Hadji Murad, a work of genius coming from deep in the dusk of an artist's life. With a chorus taken from a slavery-era lament (the original folk song was about a slave being sold down the river), and lines stolen from W.C. Handy, among others, "Nettie Moore" is one of Dylan's apocalyptic musings, a less fervid "Foot of Pride," if no less harrowing.

This version is from a concert in St. Paul, Minnesota, on October 29, 2006. Studio version is on Modern Times.

Sonny Rollins has been playing and recording for some 55 years now--he is to the latter half of the 20th Century what Coleman Hawkins and Louis Armstrong were to the first: a walking, singing embodiment of jazz.

His take on the standard "Stairway to the Stars" finds Rollins immediately soaring off to the heights, with soft accompaniment by Clifton Anderson on trombone. With Bobby Broom (g), Bob Cranshaw (b), Steve Jordan (d) and Kimati Dinizulu (percussion).

You can buy Sonny Please on Rollins' website, or on iTunes.

And at last, Jerry Lee Lewis and Merle Haggard's "Just a Bummin' Around"--two old men who've seen so much life they've forgotten half of it, sitting around, playing some songs, getting a bit drunk. "That could be a good one," Jerry Lee says at the end.

On Last Man Standing.

So there you have it: 100 years, more or less. Hope you enjoyed the trip.

Above all, we cannot afford not to live in the present. He is blessed over all mortals who loses no moment of the passing life in remembering the past. Unless our philosophy hears the cock crow in every barn-yard within our horizon, it is belated. That sound commonly reminds us that we are growing rusty and antique in our employments and habits of thought...It is a newer testament — the Gospel according to this moment. He has not fallen astern; he has got up early, and kept up early, and to be where he is, is to be in season, in the foremost rank of time. It is an expression of the health and soundness of Nature, a brag for all the world — healthiness as of a spring burst forth — a new fountain of the Muses,to celebrate this last instant of time.

Thoreau, "Walking."

Monday, December 04, 2006

100 Years (in Ten Jumps)


Uri Caine, Mahler: Symphony No. 5, Funeral March.
Kazmi with Rickies, Hugs.
The Divine Comedy, Songs of Love.
Quad City DJs, C'mon 'N' Ride It (The Train).
Koerner, Ray and Glover, Deliah's Gone.
Revelino, Step On High.
Mark Morrison, Return of the Mack.
Amy Rigby, Down Side of Love.
LeAnn Rimes, Blue.
OutKast, Wheelz of Steel.
Pavement, No More Kings.
Vic Chesnutt, New Town.
Geri Allen and Ornette Coleman, The Eyes Have It.
Mazzy Star, I've Been Let Down.
La Bouche, Fallin' in Love.
This Living Hand, Astronaut.
Primitive Radio Gods, Standing Outside a Broken Phone Booth With Money in My Hand.

The final verdict on the future of the American farm lies no longer with the farmer, much less with the abstract thinker or even the politician, but rather with the American people themselves--and they have now passed judgment.

They no longer care where or how they get their food, as long as it is firm, fresh and cheap. They have no interest in preventing the urbanization of their farmland as long as parks, Little League fields, and an occasional bike lane are left amid the concrete, stucco, and asphalt. They have no need of someone who they are not, who reminds them of their past and not their future.

Their romanticism for the farmer is just that, an artificial and quite transient appreciation of his rough-cut visage against the horizon, the stuff of a wine commercial, cigarette ad or impromptu rock concert.

You see, we in America have been running away from the isolation, uncertainty, boredom, toil and drudgery of the farm for a century and more now, and in our lifetime have finally escaped it entirely...We desire the security of the corporation and bureaucracy even as we hate what we become, and so we run from the farm only to dream that it might save us all yet.

Victor Davis Hanson, Fields Without Dreams.

Well, we're almost done. Is anyone nostalgic about the '90s? Because it's far too early for that.

Viola, The Crossing.

Gustav Mahler seemed to predict in his symphonies, his songs on the death of children, the divers horrors of a century whose progress he would barely witness. A converted non-practicing Jew, yet still subjected to anti-Semitic slanders in the Austro-Hungarian press, Mahler died in 1911: his music was banned by the Nazis two decades later for being "degenerate"; his niece, the violinist Alma Rosé, died in Auschwitz. And as the century neared its close, a new generation of Jewish musicians found deep within Mahler's music cantor melodies, the sound of the shetl.

In the mid-'90s, Franz Winter was making a silent film about Mahler's life and asked the pianist Uri Caine to arrange some Mahler to accompany it. Caine spent a year immersing himself in Mahler, and then radically reworked his music: the third movement of the First "Titan" Symphony became a funeral procession delivered by fiddle and clarinet, which then erupts into a klezmer wedding dance; "The Drummer Boy," from The Youth's Magic Horn, pits drums against a cantor's wail.

And the funeral march that begins Mahler's Fifth Symphony is turned by Caine into a trumpeter's holiday, offering both reveille and taps. Like the rest of the Mahler works Caine rejiggered, it is done with a touch of parody and a sense of wistfulness, of defeat and rebirth.

Performed by some of New York's most renowned jazz musicians, including Don Byron (clarinet), Dave Douglas (t), Josh Roseman (tb), the frenetic drummer Joey Baron, and Dave Binney (sopranino sax). Even Arto Lindsay and DJ Olive turned up for a few tracks.

Recorded in Brooklyn, June 11-26, 1996; on Urlicht/Primal Light. Caine's website.

Kazmi with Rickies is a Japanese pop band led by the singer/guitarist Kazmi Kubo, whose magpie tastes led her to fuse a style from bits of everything from ye-ye to Josie and the Pussycats to the gnomic punk of the '80s UK band The Monochrome Set.

Kazmi, who was from Nara, Japan's ancient capital city, formed the Nelories with singer/accordionist Jun Kurihara, the band releasing a number of records in the early '90s.

The pop bonbon "Hugs," complete with Morse Code guitars and perfectly-timed handclaps, is off of Kazmi's first "solo" album, Kazmi with Rickies' Who. Rickies were Jai Okada (guitars, keyboards, percussion, flute), Mariko Toriyama (backing vox, keyboards, percussion, flute), and Asa-chang (drums, percussion, bass, samples).

Recorded in Tokyo, released in March 1996; on Who. (The CD is out of print, but this site appears to be a way to order it in Japan, if you can read Japanese, that is.) Kazmi's website here.

The Divine Comedy is the singer/songwriter Neil Hannon, born in Derry, Northern Ireland in 1970, and whoever his backing group is at the time. Along with his trans-Atlantic counterpart Stephin Merritt, Hannon is perhaps the last practitioner of the arch pop crafted by the likes of Jerome Kern and Noel Coward. Aware of his own preciousness (an early track "The Booklovers" features Hannon rapturously intoning "Sir Walter Scott...Charlotte Bronte", and his "Absent Friends" is a tribute to Oscar Wilde, Jean Seberg and Laika the space dog), Hannon never descends into self-parody--his fine tenor voice adds a measure of poignancy to his songs.

"Songs of Love" opens with the image of "pale, pubescent beasts" roaming the streets after school--the song offers the wry contrast between the misanthropes and recluses who make pop music and the vast, unbothered herd who consumes it. Carried at first only by guitar, the song opens up in the second verse with harpsichord and another vocal track echoing Hannon's lead.

Released in April 1996, on Casanova, which also can be purchased/downloaded on Hannon's site.

One of the things I miss most about New York is the way a new single would present itself through strangers before you ever heard it on the radio. Craig Mack's "Flava in Ya Ear," for example, was debuted by a happy fellow on the 6 train who, nodding his head and rapping his fingers on his Walkman headphones, chanted "kickin' new flava in ya ear...time for new flava...in...ya...ear" all the way down to 33rd St. And I first heard "C'mon 'N' Ride It" one night at Cinema Village, as the usher was humming it, shaking slightly from side to side and singing, as he grasped tickets and gently tore them in half: Come'n ride th' train--RIP--'n ride it. Come'n ride th' train--RIP--'n ride it.

The Quad City DJs were actually from Miami--they were the producer duo Nathaniel Orange and Johnny McGowan, who had produced hits for 95 South ("Whoot There It Is") earlier in the decade. Using a sample of Barry White's "Theme from Together Brothers," they crafted in "Ride It" one of the best examples of Miami bass in the '90s.

On Get On Up and Dance.

Khobar Towers: "Those youths will not ask you (William Perry) for explanations, they will tell you singing there is nothing between us need to be explained, there is only killing and neck smiting."

"Spider" John Koerner, Dave "Snaker" Ray and Tony "Little Sun" Glover were a folk trio who had recorded during the music's heyday. Koerner, who sang and often played 12-string guitar, met guitarist Ray and the harmonica player Glover in 1962, and the trio made a number of records for Elektra before drifting apart in the late '60s, although they reunited sporadically in the decades since.

By the '90s, resurrecting murder ballads and string-band songs was once again back in vogue, marked by Bob Dylan's two garage recordings of folk tunes, the complete oeuvre of the Palace Brothers and the CD reissue of the Harry Smith Anthology in 1997. "Deliah's Gone" is a variant of a tune called "Delia," which has been around for much of the 20th Century, recorded by everyone from Blind Blake to Johnny Cash. Its origins may lie in the 1900 murder of a Georgia woman named Delia Green, slain on Christmas Day by Moses "Cooney" Houston.

Recorded May 20, 1996, at Bryant Lake Bowl, Minneapolis; on Rose and the Briar.

The Dublin-based band Revelino, composed of Brendan Tallon and his brother Ciaran, Alan Montgomery, Bren Berry and Shane Rafferty, were one of the many lost pop contenders of the '90s: bands that released jangly, melody-riddled albums that perhaps in some other era or clime would have been huge hits, but which instead quickly fell into utter obscurity. I only learned of Revelino when it was revealed the late John Peel had included "Step on High" in his box of favorite singles.

Revelino released three albums, the last in 2001, and then broke up, with Tallon and Rafferty forming a bar band called the Beat Club (this info is from Mp3hugger, the only blog I've seen write anything about this group).

So here's to lost gems: Enjoy "Step on High," with its BA-BA-ba-ba-BA harmonies, its rocketing drums and its roaring guitars. It can be found via import CD single here.

Mark Morrison, born in 1972 in Hannover, Germany, was raised in Leicester, UK, and in 1996 became the first black solo artist to have a #1 hit in the UK in the '90s. "Return of the Mack," which also hit big in the US in the following year, is a smooth bit of modern R&B, Morrison's slightly nasal vocal compensated by the thick, novelty-stuffed production of Phil Chill, who had previously worked with Neneh Cherry.

Released in April 1996; on Return of the Mack.

Since I've plundered bits of various innocent people's journals, letters, articles and essays for material during the course of this series, I suppose it's only fair that I offer my own contributions. So here are some excerpts from the journal of a callow 24-year-old NYC resident in 1996.

First, from February '96, in reference to a cross-country flight made to San Diego:

My flight lasted five hours, most of which I spent listening to an old woman, Ruth, in the seat next to mine. She had musty breath and was so short she couldn't watch the in-flight movie. She was going to an elder hostel for two weeks and said she liked traveling. She said she was getting up in years, and I stammered to say she looked all right. "Oh, I've still got some jism, if that's what you mean." At least that's what I think she said.

She talked about the '30s and'40s, of a brother who went to school on the GI Bill. She saw a Lufthansa jet on the runway and said she could never give her money to the Germans.

From July '96, one of the most violent things I ever witnessed in the city:

On a long lunch break today, I walked up to the library branch at 40th and 5th to return Theocritus' Idylls. [Oh, what an ambitious reader I was in those days.] As I waited in line a group of security guards were escorting a man out to the exit. He was surrounded like a dignitary, was tall and clean-looking, a slim black man with a circular bandage under his right eye. He wore a cream-colored suit and kept saying in a clipped West Indian (?) accent, "I pay taxes, I pay taxes." One guard told him to pay them somewhere else. As they were going outside, the man swore at each guard and then turned and spit in the face of one, a livid-looking guy in shirt sleeves.

Outside, through the Fifth Ave window, we watched as the guard charged the offender and they traded blows. The other guards ran up and began clubbing the man with truncheons (who know library cops had truncheons?) and knocked him to the ground. It was utterly silent in the library, as we watched the violence outside, a pantomime of blows and beatings. A crowd of tourists stopped to watch.

More webpage horrors from the pupal stage of the Internet here. Use Netscape to get that real '96 flavor.

Amy Rigby, born in Pittsburgh, was one of the many kids who moved to New York in the late '70s, stumbled upon CBGB's and decided to start a band. Hers was the all-female trio The Shams. She married dB's drummer Will Rigby, had a child and subsequently a divorce, all of which went into her first solo record, the wonderful Diary of a Mod Housewife.

"What is a mod housewife?" Rigby wrote in the liner notes. "You've probably seen her at the supermarket with her kid in a grocery cart, headphones blasting Elastica...[or] pushing her toddler in a swing, with a fading ink stamp on her hand from some club the night before." Diary is a sweeter, goofier but no less impassioned woman's response to Blood on the Tracks, in its incisive look at how relationships fade, how love blanches into betrayal, how age erodes some illusions and erects new ones. As Rigby sings on "Down Side of Love": "That tingling feeling, when you're first holding hands/Gives way to dealing with a list of demands."

"Down Side of Love," whose sweet melody and toy piano accompaniment assuage the hard truths of the lyric, is just one of the gems on this record, produced by the Cars' Elliot Easton.

Recorded in North Hollywood, released in August 1996. Diary, along with Rigby's other fine records, can be purchased on her website; Rigby's tour dates.

Anderson's Bottle Rocket.

In the '90s, country music, for the first time, became something close to a national popular music in the U.S. When record stores began using Soundscan in 1991, rather than the earlier, haphazard method of tracking album sales, the greatest beneficiaries were rap and country musicians, who were shown to be selling far more records than had been imagined.

Nineties country was symbolized by the arena-filling success of Garth Brooks, who seemed to owe more to REO Speedwagon and the Eagles, even KISS, than he did to Hank Williams; his host of hat-wearing imitators; and the likes of Shania Twain, who made '70s LA pop-rock albums updated with loud digital production and a bit of twang and fiddle thrown in for color. Not that Twain's records weren't, at times, fine pop music, but their connection to country tradition was a bit tenuous.

Not so with LeAnn Rimes. Rimes, born in Mississippi in 1982, was a child country music prodigy in the mold of Brenda Lee and Tanya Tucker. A mere thirteen years old when she first recorded, Rimes, by decade's end, would have colossal pop crossover hits like "How Do I Live," and she would even turn up in allegedly mainstream films like Coyote Ugly.

"Blue," her first single, is a stone-cold gorgeous piece of retro country, a track that seems like the second coming of Patsy Cline (indeed, the song's writer, Bill Mack, claimed he had written it for Cline just before her death). Rimes' vocal has a Cline-like sense of yearning, and she seems like she's ready to yodel at any moment. The whole track seems to pretend, as David Cantwell wrote, that the past isn't really gone for good, as false a notion as that ultimately may be. Still, there's never been a lovelier resurrection.

Released on May 25, 1996; on Greatest Hits.

Hamilton, Mantle.

OutKast is the team of East Point, Georgia, high school friends Andre Benjaman and Antwon Patton, both born in 1975. The name "OutKast" struck a chord with them because in the early '90s, hip hop appeared divided between its waning East Coast-based founders and the rising gangster-rappers of the West Coast. OutKast, based in the South, had no allegiances to either style, which seemed to liberate the pair in terms of their style and sound.

Benjamin would eventually metamorphize into an eccentric pop dandy--his most recent incarnation as a cartoon character seems fitting; Patton would keep closer to hip hop's roots, and his tracks were often the more solid and compelling on OutKast's recent albums, in which the pair were recording as a group in name only.

Years before, however, Patton and Benjamin could play off each other briliantly. "Wheelz of Steel," off their second LP ATLiens, is a marvel, both a throwback to old-school DJ anthems while OutKast and their producers Organized Noise offer a smooth, funk-infected peek at the future. On ATLiens.

Suo's Shall We Dansu?

Pavement was possibly the greatest American rock band of the '90s, which is an odd claim for a band so seemingly intent on frustrating its listeners. A rock group that seemed crafted for people who were sick of rock music, Pavement offered astringent noise pieces alongside shiny pop numbers, while lead singer/instigator Stephen Malkmus wrote lyrics that occasionally made him appear to be a worthy successor to John Ashbery, and other times as if he had played a game of Mad Libs before entering the vocal booth.

Pavement's records, at least up until 1995's Wowee Zowee, were palimpsests--their cover graphics were discarded '70s LP covers scrawled over with new song titles and production credits, and the tracks often sounded as if a new recording had been overdubbed on a old. creaky master tape; sometimes, they simply plundered wholesale from the past and didn't bother to disguise it (i.e. the melody of Buddy Holly's "Everyday" conscripted for the verses of "Silence Kid").

"No More Kings" is Pavement's take on a '70s Schoolhouse Rock song. While delivered in the typical Pavement style, with goofy vocal asides, squalling guitars and restless rhythms, Malkmus keeps a straight face throughout the performance. When he reaches the line "no more king," he even bestows some grace and authority upon the words. "No more king--we're gonna run our things our own way, gonna run it into the ground."

Originally released April 1996 on Schoolhouse Rock! Rocks; also on the newly-revamped and essential Wowee Zowee: Sordid Sentinels Edition.

Vic Chesnutt, born in 1965 in Jacksonville, Florida, is sometimes referred to condescendingly as a "neo-primitive" folk musician. A quadriplegic after a car accident in the early '80s, Chesnutt moved to Athens, Georgia, where he was befriended by the likes of R.E.M.

"New Town," from his only major-label record About to Choke, is a good example of Chesnutt's style, with a lyric offering insights both concise and abstract and delivered in Chesnutt's croaky, down-home voice.

Released in November 1996; About to Choke is out of print but can be purchased pretty cheaply. Chesnutt's official web site.

Kiefer, Bohemia Lives By the Sea.

The jazz pianist Geri Allen, born in Pontiac, Michigan in 1957, is one of the most gifted players of her generation, as comfortable with the most weathered of standards as she is with the avant-garde. Of the latter, Allen took on a challenging task, working as Ornette Coleman's first acoustic piano player in decades. Coleman, who had shunned piano accompaniment from his earliest days and seemed at times aggrieved against its very sound, found in Allen an inspiring partner.

"The Eyes Have It," a duet with Coleman, is a conversation that begins with Coleman furiously riffing while Allen jumps around the keyboard, and then cools down, with the players quietly appraising each other.

Recorded in New York on March 1, 1996; on the out-of-print Eyes In the Back of Your Head. Allen is currently an associate professor of jazz piano at the University of Michigan.

Milhazes, Succulent Eggplants.

Another thing I used to do in journals (back in the days when I kept journals) was occasionally try to imitate John Dos Passos' "newsreels," which he included throughout his "U.S.A." trilogy.

So here is August 7, 1996. All headlines, photo captions, bits of articles are from the NY Times, NY Post, Village Voice and NY Daily News:

Ross Perot Will Not Like This Book

Detective Shot 3 Times By Suspect is Saved By Bullet Proof Vest


The flame has been extinguished but the Carl Lewis saga burns on

Arli$$ Is the Picasso of His Day


The Personal Responsibility, Work, Opportunity and Medicaid Restructuring Act of 1996, just passed by Congress, will cost the state an estimated $1.3 billion a year in aid

LIFE ON MARS amazing discovery of fossils on meteorite

Jennifer Aniston and beau Tate Donovan seen renting a porno tape at Tower Video on West 4th St.

Senator Moynihan--only marginal help

Shrinks called Central Park rapist a Powder Keg

"We've been going to hell with Davis. He can go the rest of the way alone."

Arafat says plan for settlements violates accords URGES ACTIVE RESISTANCE

Only six mourning families remain at the hotel

Russian Communists Meet to Plan Their Role as Opposition Party

Heimel Gets Hitched!

Punk nostalgia sucks, The Pistols reunion is something else


Top Aide: Hillary Pressured Me

"How screwed up Hollywood is right now and how the old system of corruption there isn't working any more"


Mazzy Star consisted of the guitarist David Roback, a veteran of several neo-psychedelic bands in the 1980s, and the singer Hope Sandoval, who was in high school for much of that time. Roback founded The Rain Parade with his brother Steve, then left in the mid-'80s to form Opal with ex-Dream Syndicate bassist Kendra Smith. Smith was friends with Sandoval, who at the time was in a folk duo, and when Smith left Opal, Sandoval was tapped as her replacement.

Sandoval and Roback, who eventually reconstituted into Mazzy Star in 1989, released a trio of records during the 1990s, offering a sort of somnolent feedback-laced folk. It's music that seems designed to be a soundtrack for late night dorm room soliloquies, but some tracks, like the spare "I've Been Let Down," are lovely artifacts.

Released October 29, 1996; on Among My Swan.

After soul music died, many of its great singers migrated into dance music in the '80s and '90s, providing color, power and soul to everything from house to Hi-NRG. Singers like Martha Wash offered some of the most joyous pop vocals of the period, offering a blessed relief from the extremes of the melismatic disciples of Mariah Carey and the studied monotony of the likes of Liz Phair.

Melanie Thornton, one of the finest pop singers of the '90s, was born in South Carolina but wound up in Germany, where she met D. Lane McCray Jr., born in Alaska and stationed in Germany with the Air Force. The two formed La Bouche and in 1994 had a massive European hit with their debut single, "Sweet Dreams," which would become an equal smash in the U.S. two years later. "Fallin' in Love," a Eurodance workout made sublime by Thornton's singing, would be another U.S. hit in '96.

Thornton quit La Bouche at the end of the decade, and seemed poised for a solo career, but tragically was killed in a plane crash near Zurich in November 2001.

On Sweet Dreams.

This Living Hand consisted of the childhood friends Neilson Hubbard and Clay Jones, violinist Helen Lamb and drummer Garrison Starr. Based in Mississippi, the band was first known as Spoon, changing its name to This Living Hand (from Keats) around the time they added Starr. The band offered a Southern version of the slow, drifting morphine-tinged sound of bands like Galaxie 500 and Codeine.

Their second record was to be called The TV Sounds Worried, but after promo copies were sent out in '96, the CD's release suddently was cancelled. TV Sounds Worried soon became a lost cult classic, though perhaps a slightly overrated one. Still, there are some lovely, meandering tracks on it, such as the gorgeous "Astronaut." Starr and Hubbard went on to make a number of solo records.

TV Sounds Worried was first featured on the very much missed The Mystical Beast, which was one of this blog's first supporters as well as one of my favorite sites. Thanks, Dana--hope all's well.

Early spring '96, North China Plain, via US satellites.

Back when Stylus offered an alternative selection of greatest '90s hits, they singled out the Primitive Radio Gods' elephantine-titled one-hit wonder from '96: it "defines that brief moment in time after the death of grunge and before the rise of nu-metal where nobody had any idea what to do and so people did everything."

Built around a sample of B.B. King's "How Blue Can You Get," the track is somber and a bit ridiculous, with a lyric sometimes evocative, often asinine ("bathe yourself in zebra flesh"? really?). It was a song that seemed, from the first time I heard it on Vin Scelsa's old "Idiot's Delight" radio show, like some long-discarded memory, suddenly retrieved from the hole where most thoughts go.

So contrary to my earlier joke about it being it too soon to have nostalgia for the '90s, there's something utterly sad and, yes, nostalgic, about this song for me. But mind you, the track already seemed nostalgic at the time, as if, through some time-slip, it had arrived before the memories it was meant to evoke.

I've been downhearted baby, ever since the day we met....

Released in June 1996; on Rocket.

Monday, November 27, 2006

100 Years (in Ten Jumps)


Ivor Cutler, Roget.
The Mekons, Oblivion.
Pete Townshend, Save It For Later.
David and David, Swallowed By the Cracks.
Big Stick, Drag Racing.
John Carter, Moon Waltz.
Prince, Girls and Boys.
The Judds, Grandpa (Tell Me 'Bout the Good Old Days).
Robert Cray, I Guess I Showed Her.
Timex Social Club, Rumors.
Megadeth, Peace Sells.
Dwight Yoakam, Guitars, Cadillacs.
Les Mangelepa, Harare.
Elvis Costello, I Hope You're Happy Now.
The Smiths, The Boy With the Thorn In His Side.
Wynton Marsalis Quartet, Autumn Leaves.
Farley "Jackmaster" Funk and Jesse Saunders, Love Can't Turn Around.
John Adams, Short Ride in a Fast Machine.
Marley Marl with MC Shan, He Cuts So Fresh.
The Go-Betweens, The Ghost and the Black Hat.

Life used to be work until five o'clock and then you were meant to have some fun, some nourishment, some leisure. Americans don't understand leisure. They don't have a clue. They understand work; they understand play; they understand love; they do not understand leisure...

Is labor God? Is a job God? People vote like it is. Ronald Reagan is a vote to return to the company store. People look at that guy Nicholson down there yelling and say, "What's he do?" Nothing--he sits around and complains. At least a guy in a nice pin-stripe suit at down at the bank, he keeps the park clean, everything's cool. Who are these rabble-rousers? What do they do? Let's go back in there and let's buy shoes down at the conglomerate. Let's get our movie down at the conglomerate. Let's let the big guy in the pin-stripe suit run things, 'cause it will be quiet then.

Well, pal, that hasn't ever worked in the past. And it ain't gonna work in the future. Dream on, dream on. I can't do nothin' about it. I understand numbers. I'm going to reach fifty years old next year. I just turned forty-nine. There ain't time for me to turn this around...

If we're not a nation of idealists who fight against these things, I guess it's because we don't understand what it's costing us anymore.

Jack Nicholson, interview by Fred Schruers, Rolling Stone, August 1986.

Julia K. Swan, The Many Faces.

So here are the '80s, bright, loud, death-stippled, the unlamented lost years of my adolescence. As is typical, the music of time can't really be summed up in any comprehensible manner, so as my hero Ivor Cutler says, "I thought I'd ring the changes."

Punk, rock's aborted Reformation, never got a foothold in the United States, soon devolving into a secret language shared among a few scattered bands and converts. In the UK, where punk had played out on a much more public stage, its collapse was louder, messier and more ridiculous, as punk splintered into a dozen different factions, from Two-Tone (punk + ska) to"New Romantic" (punk + David Bowie + elaborate music videos.)

The Mekons were a leftist punk band from Leeds who had formed in 1977, their first single being "Never Been In a Riot," an answer record to the Clash's "White Riot," whose politics the Mekons viewed as inane and dangerous. They kept scratching away on the margins, and, while having periods of hibernation, survived longer than nearly all of their peers.

Revived by the Miners Strike of 1984-85, which proved to be Old Labour's Waterloo, the Mekons, having increased their ranks with refugees from The Rumour (drummer Steve Goulding), The Pretty Things (guitarist Dick Taylor) and The Damned (bassist Lu Edmonds), seemed to gain strength in desperation. As Milton, a huge Mekons fan, once wrote: "Joynd with me once, now misery hath joynd/In equal ruin: into what Pit thou seest/From what highth fall'n."

The band was now inspired by American golden-age country music, with songwriters Tom Greenhalgh and Jon Langford offering surrealist, apocalyptic cowboy songs, along with covers of "Lost Highway" and "Alone and Forsaken." The waltz "Oblivion," one of the best songs from this period, was also one of the first Mekons tracks sung by another key addition to the band, the inimitable Sally Timms.

Recorded in Leeds in March-April 1986; on The Edge of the World.

The incense burned away, and the stench began to rise...

Pete Townshend, the songwriter of his generation who had been most obsessed with youth, with its exploiters, its myths and its inevitable demise, had taken the advent of middle age the hardest. "Who Are You," the Who's last big hit, was about an encounter Townshend had with Steve Jones and Paul Cook of the Sex Pistols, at the end of which Townshend woke up hung over in a Soho doorway, rousted by a policeman.

During that night, Townshend had bemoaned his uselessness, had ceded the future to Cook and Jones, who in turn were baffled by him, as they had always loved the Who and didn't see what his problem was. (Had Townshend gone out drinking with John Lydon, it would've been another story). The night produced a self-lacerating song, Townshend yelling "who the fuck are you?" to the mirror, as well as snarling at the generation of punks vying for his throne; it is now best known as the theme song to the current decade's version of Quincy.

the punks meet the godfather

Townshend's decision to pull the plug on the Who in 1982 seemed to liberate him for a time. His solo records already had been stronger than Who LPs for at least a decade, and right before releasing the damp squib which was the Who's It's Hard, Townshend put out the weirdest thing he'd ever done, an album called All the Best Cowboys Have Chinese Eyes, filled with desultory songs about failure and age, all with rambling, somtimes unmoored lyrics. The finest track was "Slit Skirts," about how the singer and his woman no longer felt they could go out in their leather. "Can't pretend that growing old never hurts."

A few years later, Townshend was on stage at a charity gig in Brixton, and performed "Save it For Later," a recent hit from the Beat. Townshend sheared the song down to its skeleton, hanging the lyric on one repeated guitar figure. Singing in a harrowed but calm voice, Townshend lingers on the lyric's odd phrases (one of which for years I'd heard as "Black Karen Seven she's all rotten through"), infusing the line "your legs give way/you hit the ground" with weary resignation, and taking the lyric's silly sex joke and turning it into a vulnerable plea.

But soon afterward, he seemed to beat the retreat, heading back towards the past. He would spend over a decade endlessly reworking a failed rock opera he first attempted in 1970, and by the end of the '80s, Townshend would reunite the Who, keeping it going sporadically for another twenty years.

One night in the summer of 1993, during a concert near Boston in which he was promoting a terrible new record, Townshend began ranting at the audience, reeling off his recent accomplishments--like turning "Tommy" into a Broadway hit--with a mixture of obnoxious pride and self-loathing. "Don't you know, I've made so much fucking money," he screamed, to which some in the crowd cheered. Well, they had paid to see him, so perhaps they considered themselves shareholders.

Recorded in Brixton; on Deep End Live.

Goldsworthy, Sweet Chestnut Autumn Horn.

David and David were David Baerwald and David Ricketts, two songwriters who lived together in Los Angeles in the mid-'80s, often along with another songwriter, Ricketts' then-girlfriend Toni Childs. It wasn't the happiest of arrangements: Baerwald recalled that upon hearing Childs sing the line "Where's the ocean?" for the nth time, he went up to her and said "Take a right on Sunset." She never spoke to him again--soon enough, the David & David partnership ended.

[Ed. note--this summary is not entirely accurate, as Mr. Baerwald has noted in his comments (on the 1946 post)--DB and DR didn't live together, and they didn't 'shop around' their tape. "It just sort of happened," is a more accurate way of describing Boomtown's origins.]

The 1986 record Boomtown, which was the only thing David & David recorded, was essentially a professional remake of the demo tapes the two had been shopping around for years. "Swallowed By The Cracks," like their big hit "Welcome to the Boomtown," is an unsparing look at Los Angeles: its myths, its many snares, and the havoc they wreak on the talented, attractive kids who are served up on the altar, year after year. The singer is a failed choreographer, his friends a failed writer and actress--their season of hope seems short-lived, as before long they're working menial jobs or, in the singer's case, becoming "a drunken old whore."

Recorded in LA; on Boomtown. In the 1990s, Baerwald and Ricketts were part of a group of songwriters whose work would ultimately evolve into Sheryl Crow's first record, Tuesday Night Social Club. Both Ricketts and Baerwald, for example, are credited on Crow tracks like "Leaving Las Vegas."

Big Stick
is John Gill and Yanna Trance, one of the more fantastically abrasive groups to emerge from New York's underground rock scene in the '80s.

"Drag Racing," their first single (released initially on Recess and later on Blast First) consists of Trance saying "In the summer I wear my tube top, and Eddie takes me to the drag strip," interspersed with engines revving, vicious guitar noise, cheap drum machines, more noise, PA announcements, breaking glass, advertisements, mutters and come-ons. The record sounds like it was somehow fused out of melted surf and girl-group 45s.

You can find "Drag Racing" and other Big Stick tracks here.

The most ambitious jazz project of the decade was the clarinetist John Carter's five-album series, called "Roots and Folklore: Episodes in the Development of American Folk Music," an impressionist history of African-Americans from the great medieval African kingdoms to the rise of the slave trade, from transport to America to emancipation and relocation.

Carter, born in Fort Worth, Texas, in 1929, was a school music teacher well into his forties, when he finally decided to quit to play jazz professionally. He started out on saxophone, but by the mid-'70s had switched to the clarinet, an instrument which had fallen into disuse in jazz over the past few decades.

An avant-garde multi-album jazz series about the African diaspora would have been a tough sell at any time, but the '80s were perhaps the most unpromising era in recent memory that Carter could have tried it. Still, using several small, independent labels, he managed to record the series over eight years. Dauwhe is a portrait of the golden age of the African kingdoms, Castles of Ghana shows the arrival of the slavers and the corruption of the West African kings, Dance of the Love Ghosts is a study on the "middle passage" of African slaves to America, Fields depicts the lives of slaves in the ante-bellum South, and Shadows on a Wall is the story of the great Northern migration by blacks in the 20th Century. Carter died of lung cancer two years after making the last record.

Among Carter's regular collaborators for this series was the great bassist Fred Hopkins (formerly of Air, see the 1976 entry), Carter's longtime friend, the cornet player Bobby Bradford, the drummer Andrew Cyrille and former Mothers of Invention keyboardist Don Preston.

"Moon Waltz" is the end of the Dance of the Love Ghosts suite--described by Carter as follows:

So great was the despair of the passengers sailing from the castles [of Ghana, into slavery], it must have seemed on bright, star-filled nights that the moon danced in concert with their pulsating pain. The birth of the blues...

or as the Mekons would sing a few years later, in a verse about a slave ship crossing the Atlantic,

Down in the hull there is no sound
We're taking rock & roll to America...

Recorded in November 1986 in New York City; on Dance of the Love Ghosts.

Prince, at his peak in the '80s, was an unearthly combination of Miles Davis, James Brown and Jimi Hendrix, a talent so singular, whose feats seemed effortless, that his presence in pop music still seems a bit bewildering. Too willfully strange to remain on center stage for long, Prince had followed up his multi-platinum album and hit film Purple Rain with a swerve into religious psychedelia and in '86 made his second film, an odd venture called Under the Cherry Moon.

Yet the soundtrack to Cherry Moon was something else--a fantastic exercise in minimalist funk, a reworking of Sly Stone's Fresh set in some imagined Montmartre. The album's big hit, "Kiss," was built solely around Prince's vocal, a bare beat, a hint of synthesizer and some guitar breaks; "Girls and Boys" offers a slightly fuller palette--beats (from both the Linn drum machine and the Revolution's drummer Bobby Z.), the occasional honking line from a saxophone, chirps and quacks from synthesizers, a few guitar licks--and blossoms as it proceeds, with Prince delivering a loopily seductive vocal that becomes, at the track heats up, his first recorded rap.

On Parade.

Koons, Rabbit.

In the '80s, in America, there seemed to be a general cultural yearning to return to, or, even better, somehow restore the poorly-remembered past, whether it was Michael J. Fox going back to the 1950s to mold his parents into more responsible people, or the various Stallone/Norris movies in which lone soldiers returned to 'Nam to settle scores.

The Judds, Naomi and Wynonna, updated the country music brother act for the '80s, offering in its place one of the first-ever mother/daughter teams. Naomi, born Diana Ellen Judd in Ashland, Kentucky, in 1946, married a marketing executive, moved to Los Angeles, and had two daughters. When the marriage fell apart in the early '70s, the Judds changed their names (except for Ashley, of course); Naomi became a registered nurse and supported the family while working on establishing her and Wynonna as a professional singing act. After sending out demo tapes for years, they at last got an audience with RCA execs, who signed them; the Judds began an astonishing run of 14 #1 country hits in less than a decade.

One of those hits, "Grandpa (Tell Me 'Bout the Good Old Days)" is on the surface part of the '80s nostalgia boom, an ode to the golden past when fidelity and stability were stronger than the present--it's sung by a child of divorce, asking her grandfather about a simpler time. Yet as David Cantwell wrote in his entry on this track in Heartaches By the Number: "In the end, [Wynonna] proclaims it all true--the faithful fathers, the kept promises, all of it. On the other hand, the mournful, home-bred harmonies she and her mother create sure don't sound very convinced." It's telling that grandpa never gets his chance to speak.

Recorded in Nashville; On Greatest Hits.

Marwood: Oh God, I don't feel good. Look, my thumbs have gone weird! I'm in the middle of a bloody overdose. Oh God. My heart's beating like a fucked clock! I feel dreadful, I feel really dreadful!

Withnail: So do I, so does everybody. Look at my tongue; it's wearing a yellow sock. Sit down for Christ's sake, what's the matter with you? Eat some sugar.

Robert Cray, born in Columbus, Georgia in 1953, was a major figure in the popular renaissance of the electric blues. Akin to the "new traditionalist" movement occurring in country music, this new generation of bluesmen, which also included Stevie Ray Vaughan, were interested in paring the blues back to its basics while also instilling a more modern sensibility to the lyrics and playing.

Cray began playing in the mid-'70s and made a few records on indie labels, including 1983's Bad Influence, a lean, nasty album that begins with Cray desperately trying to seduce a girl whose number he found etched in a phone booth. But his commercial breakthrough came in 1986 with Strong Persuader, a record saturated in infidelity, with Cray taking the part of the wronged husband, or an adulterer listening to his neighbors' relationship disintegrating on the other side of his apartment wall.

"I Guess I Showed Her" is a bit more light-hearted. Cray's narrator here is a bit of chump, trying to talk up his decision to leave his cheating wife and move into a fleapit hotel ("the hot plate's brand new"); already cuckolded, the singer seems unable to even act self-righteous about it. It's held together by Cray's needling rhythm playing, while the Memphis Horns add their sympathies.

Recorded in Los Angeles with Richard Cousins (b), Peter Boe (keyboards) and David Olson (d); on Strong Persuader.

In Nabokov's Lolita, Humbert Humbert tortures himself with images of his nymphet in the arms of 'kissy-faced brutes'; that's what Top Gun is full of. When Kelly McGillis is offscreen, the movie is a shiny homoerotic commercial. The pilots strut around the locker room, towels hanging precariously from their waists, and when they speak to each other they're head to head, as if to shout 'Sez you!' It's as if masculinity had been redefined as how a young man looks with his clothes half-off...

In between the bare-chested maneuvers, there's footage of ugly snub-nosed jets taking off, whooshing around in the sky, and landing while the soundtrack calls up Armageddon and the Second Coming--though what we're seeing is training exercises...

What is this commercial selling? It's just selling, because that's what the producers, Don Simpson and Jerry Bruckheimer, and the director, Tony (Make It Glow) Scott, know how to do. Selling is what they think moviemaking is about. Top Gun is a recruiting poster that isn't concerned with recruiting but with being a poster.

Pauline Kael, "Top Gun" review, The New Yorker, 16 June 1986.

The Timex Social Club were a group of high-school friends led by Marcus Thompson. In the summer of 1983, Thompson began writing a song he called "Rumors," which he showed to buddies Michael Marshall and Alex Hill. Thompson had only written the lyrics, so three tried to write accompanying music, at last finishing a four-track demo a few years later.

The demo wound up in the hands of producer Jay King, who brought the three into the studio. After some wrangling (King tried to put electric guitar into the mix, and thought he would also sing backup, both decisions proving to be dire ones), the track got professionally recorded and mixed, with Marshall singing lead. By the summer of '86, it had become a smash.

"Rumors" is a transition piece between the waning style of electro R&B and the rising tide of hip hop (it sounds a bit like a harder remake of Rockwell's "Somebody's Watching Me"), and also presages our current gossip-mad culture, though I don't think anyone back in '86 could have predicted something like US Weekly or Paris Hilton. Those were simpler times, in some respects.

Recorded January 3, 1986, in Richmond, California; on Hot R&B Hits.

I have to say it: I just don't enjoy heavy metal, mostly because of the poppy, dunder-headed brand of metal that was ubiquitous in the late '80s, to the point where it seemed like the culture at large was being punished for some crime it had committed.

That off my chest, let me add that I get a kick out of Megadeth's '80s records, perhaps because they're a contrast to the more-lauded Metallica, a band I've always hated. So here's the mighty "Peace Sells," the title track of Peace Sells...But Who's Buying, featuring Dave Mustaine and Chris Poland's dueling guitars, as well as David Ellefson's opening bass riff, used by MTV for years as the hook to its news broadcasts.

Released in November 1986; on Peace Sells...But Who's Buying?

Grandmother and grandaughter, Nicaragua, 1980s

Dwight Yoakam, born in Pikesville, Kentucky in 1956, found there was no room for him in Nashville, so he headed out to California in the early '80s. Refusing to play the countrypolitan hits of the era, and so having little luck with traditional country music clubs, Yoakam and his guitarist Pete Anderson wound up opening for the likes of Los Lobos, X and the Blasters.

Eventually, Yoakam found a home on country radio, incorporating rock & roll elements into his music (such as a heavier drum sound), while at the same time his purist's obsession with the symbols of classic country, his oft-proclaimed love of cowboy hats, beer drinkin' and honky tonks, helped make his music seem less radical.

"Guitars, Cadillacs," his second Top 10 country hit, sums up Yoakam's aesthetic, with the standard country fiddle countered by Anderson's jagged guitar licks, while Yoakam's tenor smooths it all out.

Recorded in LA; on Guitars, Cadillacs, Etc., Etc.

Les Mangelepa were among the many Congolese expatriate musicians who came to Kenya in the '70s and '80s, drawn by the many clubs and the recording studios, which were the best in East Africa. Les Mangelepa came to Nairobi in a mass exodus with other Zaire-based musicians, such as Baba Gaston and Nguashi Ntimbo; in fact, most of the group had originally worked for Gaston, until a number of them, including bandleader/guitarist Bwami "Captain" Walumona, Kasongo Wakanema, the singer-composers Evani Kabila Kabanze and Kalenga Nzaazi Vivi, Lutulu Kaniki Macky, and Twikale wa Twikale split to form Orchestra Les Mangelepa in the mid-'70s.

The band specialized in intricate harmonies, supported by multiple guitars and, a rarity among East African bands, a horn section. Unfortunately, at the peak of Les Mangelepa's career, they were deported by the Kenyan government in 1985, due to Kenya's increasingly restrictive work permit laws, and never quite regained their momentum.

"Harare," released @ 1986, is sung in Lingala, and its lyrics offer a traditional sad tale:

The girl who used to love me, today loves someone else. It's sad, who can I tell? You used me, showing me heavy love. Harare, I'm crying day and night but you don't listen to me, because you've got a new lover. I'm broken hearted. I'll never love again.

Recorded in Kenya; on the unfortunately out-of-print Guitar Paradise of East Africa.

Elvis Costello once called Blood and Chocolate, one of two records he released in 1986, "a pissed-off, 32-year-old divorcee's version of This Year's Model." A muddy, unrelentingly angry album, it remains an unsettling and bleak artifact some two decades on. At the time of its release, what disturbed my teenage self the most was the record's implication that the pains, betrayals and petty hatreds of adolescence would persist well into middle age; that there was no escape, just a further descent.

"I Hope You're Happy Now" is one of Costello's most bile-filled performances, a work of actual malice so incensed that Costello generally forgoes his usual wordplay, offering instead naked curses, like the cold verse towards song's end:

I knew then what I know now:
I never loved you anyhow.

Costello had attempted to record "I Hope You're Happy Now" several times in 1985 and 1986. The song may have been inspired by Dylan's "She's Your Lover Now," whose storyline is roughly the same: the singer, happy to be rid of a woman he's both obsessed with and who he utterly hates, gleefully watches her descend upon a new victim, who he is also jealous of. The released version has "a little bit more humor to it" than previous attempts, Costello would say years later. "It almost sounded like pop music."

Recorded in London by Costello and his estranged band, the Attractions: this would be their last collaboration for almost a decade. The track, like the rest of the record, was recorded essentially live, in one room, at stage volume, with instruments bleeding into each other in the recording; on Blood and Chocolate, a record so good it makes up for the past two decades of Costello's career.

In 1986, I was fourteen, which might be the very worst age in the world. So I'm grateful The Smiths were around at the same time.

While I haven't listened to the Smiths in ages, "The Boy With the Thorn in His Side," one of the band's many portraits of teenage martyrs, holds up well some twenty years later--it's glorious pop, driven by Johnny Marr's guitar and Morrissey's wryly overwrought singing. And if you've similar memories as me, sing along for the sake of the old, miserable days: "And when you want to live/how d'you start?/where d'you go?/who d'you need to know?" Unanswered questions, really.

On The Queen is Dead.

The USSR, in its closing performance

Ah, what to say about Wynton Marsalis? By far the most popular and most lauded jazz musician of his generation, he is perhaps more known for his controversial statements than his compositions, making him the first "top-tier" jazz player whose recorded legacy is a question mark. He's been recording for a quarter of a century, and one has to ask: where's his Kind of Blue? His Brilliant Corners? His "Weather Bird"? His "Koko"? His A Love Supreme? His "Black and Tan Fantasy"? His Shape of Jazz to Come?

While his talent is undeniable, Marsalis' greatest mark on jazz appears more symbolic: he, along with his brother Branford and a few other like-minded players, encased jazz in cultural prestige, turning the music, for better or worse, into what it is today--a well-funded adjunct of American classical music, performed impeccably and tastefully, and readied for the long haul.

(Marsalis also restored sartorial supremacy to jazz. Let me explain. For most of jazz's existence, its players were some of the coolest-dressed people on the planet. Here, watch Miles and Trane in 1959. But then in the '70s, it all went to hell--multi-colored capes, baggy pants, track suits, turtlenecks, etc. Look at poor Jack DeJohnette's boiler suit here. So thank Wynton for his efforts. )

Here is Marsalis' take on Johnny Mercer's "Autumn Leaves," from one of Marsalis' best live performances, his seventh engagement as bandleader at Washington DC's Blues Alley at the end of '86. Featuring one of Marsalis' most exciting quartets--Marcus Roberts (p), Robert Leslie Hurst III (b) and the fanstastic Jeff "Train" Watts (d). In these performances, Marsalis seemed to be channeling Kenny Dorham, and his seven choruses in "Autumn Leaves" offer "raring turnbacks and rugged riffs, notably a 10-bar incursion in the fourth go-round" (Giddins).

Recorded in Washington DC, either 19 or 20 December 1986; on Live At Blues Alley.

Welliver, Stumps and Ferns.

Farley "Jackmaster" Funk's version of Isaac Hayes' "I Can't Turn Around," a track called "Love Can't Turn Around" that featured an over-the-top vocal by Darryl Pandy, was the first house single to make the British pop charts, while remaining a relative obscurity in the U.S.

It was a prime example of Chicago house, a style that emerged from the collapse of disco in the early '80s, and was pioneered by a number of Chicago-based DJs, including Funk and Jesse Saunders, who collaborated on "Love Can't Turn Around." House was defined by its never-altering 4/4 electronic beats and its endless repeating basslines, a combination that can prove ecstatic on the dance floor and unbearable when blasted by an upstairs neighbor at 3 AM.

Originally released as a 12" single on DJ International, featuring a number of different mixes; on Trax Classix.

John Adams, born in Worcester, Massachusetts in 1947 to a musical family (both parents were in swing bands), began composing in the minimalist style pioneered by Steve Reich and Philip Glass, though by the 1980s he had expanded his pieces to include a wider variety of music, from operetta to Romanticism to pop.

"Short Ride in a Fast Machine" is one of Adams' most popular works, in part due to its pace and brevity--it's often used as a concert-ender. Composed in 1986 to celebrate the opening of the Great Woods Summer Festival, the piece is succession of chordal passages that dance over a steady beat pounded out on wood blocks.

This performance is conducted by Simon Rattle and performed by the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra; on Harmonielehre.

The '80s were, of course, hip hop's first full decade, in which rap began as a novelty and ended as the most politically and sonically ambitious genre of pop music. It was radically removed from the music of the past, often eschewing the verse-chorus-verse structure, vocal harmonies and even instruments, yet often directly fashioned from pieces of old records.

Marley Marl, born Marlon Williams in Queens in 1962, was one of rap's first star producers, working with everyone from Big Daddy Kane to Roxanne Shante to Eric B and Rakim, for whom he produced their first great singles, including "Eric B is President." Marl started out using synthesizers to generate his beats, but by the mid-'80s he was employing samples of funk and soul records to a far greater degree, especially in the records he produced for his cousin, MC Shan. "He Cuts So Fresh," for example, samples from Isaac Hayes' 1971 "Ike's Mood I/You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin'". It's a record that rocks harder than most alleged rock & roll records from the same era, offering a primer for listeners on the DJ's role in hip hop.

Released as an Uptown Records 12" single in '86; on Definitive Electro & Hip Hop Collection.

Basquiat, Gris-Gris.

Australia's The Go-Betweens, over time, have become my favorite band of the '80s, though I never listened to them at the time--I don't think many of their records were even available in the U.S. The songs of the late Grant McLennan and Robert Foster, brought into being with the help of drummer Lindy Morrison, bassist Robert Vickers and, later, oboeist Amanda Brown, have a subtle power, a quiet resonance. I've often found that a Go-Betweens song that did nothing for me on first listen is wandering in my head some days later.

McLennan died earlier this year: his songs, while often featuring rousing choruses and hummable melodies, had an acerbity to them, a sense of loss, of time's transience. "The Ghost and the Black Hat," a lesser-played track off the Go-Betweens' 1986 record Liberty Belle and the Black Diamond Express, is a case in point--it's an oblique death hymn, with railroads melting and dead husbands in the ground, all wrapped up in a shuffling, sprightly little melody.

Recorded in London; on Liberty Belle and the Black Diamond Express.