Saturday, February 11, 2012

1988: Chains of Love


Erasure: Chains of Love

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In honor of this week's 9th Circuit Court of Appeal ruling that Prop 8 banning gay marriage in California is unconstitutional, and also to credit the state lawmakers of Washington passing a gay marriage bill there, I'm celebrating with a song by Erasure, featuring vocals by gay idol Andy Bell. Darius started the week with a synth pop tune that was heavy on the synth; this one hits the pop a lot harder. And you can dance to it!

Besides having a hit with the original mix, Erasure simultaneously released a raft of remixes, as one does, or at least as one did back in 1988. Phil Legg came up with the Foghorn Mix (a subtle tip to a Warner Brothers cartoon character, see) that I'm sharing today. Dance away, everyone, and hopefully the day will come when no one will try to legislate who you can dance with.

1988: Shall We Dance?


S‘Express: Theme From S‘Express

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Bomb the Bass: Don‘t Make Me Wait

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It’s funny the tricks we allow our memories to play on us. All grown up, here on the wrong side of forty, it’s so easy to look back on the music of my childhood and teenage years with a nostalgia that goes beyond being false and strays into the realms of the ludicrously wrong. I remember 1988, for instance, as being something of a watershed year. Certainly, the summer of that year hold any number of fantastic memories – I was seventeen, had a group of friends whose company I enjoyed very much, and was having the time of my life in the knowledge that I had absolutely nothing else to worry about. Life was good, and in my mind so is the soundtrack to that year.

So imagine my dismay when I set about the challenge presented by this week’s theme and discovered that virtually none of the tunes or albums that informed my upbringing, the classic records I carry with me to this day, appear to have actually been released in 1988 (with the exception of Prince’s Lovesexy, but those are the waters upon which no music blogger may safely sail). The process of wracking my brains (and searching my library) led me to a horrible realization: the records which best define that year for me are the two which were the most ubiquitous in clubs that summer: Theme From S-Express and Don’t Make Me Wait by Bomb The Bass, two records about which I am ambivalent, at best.

Having said that, and as badly as both of these tunes have aged, listening back to them for the first time in two decades had a curious effect: they made me smile. Two songs I did not like at the time made me happy beyond my ability adequately to explain why such a thing should be so. And whilst I know that listening to them won’t transport anyone else back to the place to which they take me, I do rather hope they make you smile too.

Guest post by Houman

1988: Love Rescue Me


U2 w/ Bob Dylan: Love Rescue Me

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U2's 1988 two-disc release Rattle and Hum is a hybridized bastard of an album, designed to accompany a rockumentary of the same name, with live cuts, b-sides, and revisionings of the U2 back catalog mixed with a handful of new originals, borrowed fragments such as Jimi Hendrix's Star Spangled Banner, and cover songs performed with B.B. King, Bob Dylan, and New York gospel choir The New Voices of Freedom completing the journey of exploration of American roots music which previous studio album The Joshua Tree had begun, while acknowledging the confusion which the band had experienced in attaining major mega-star status on tour for that previous album.

Though I recognize that this allows us to interpret any resultant lack of cohesiveness in the tracks and performances as deliberate artistic statement, and though I still have great affection for Achtung Baby, which would follow a few years later, in many ways, the disjointed result of this mixed-source approach to album-and-film creation is nonetheless a mess, making it easy for purists to mark it as the moment when the Irish band jumped the shark, turning away from the angry UK-centric political noise of their early post-punk incarnation to a broader theme of global social justice couched in sentimental love.

Notably, however, the critical ill-will that received the album and film release were totally unmatched by the global fan reception to the recently-elevated superstars, making this one of the best-selling albums of U2's career. In this way, the very fame which so confused the band and confounded the potential of this recording led to huge profit, thus cementing Bono's ability to spend the next two decades at the preening, pretentious forefront of social policy-making without having to worry about making sense on stage.

But all whole-album exploration aside, having recently performed it in a UU church service with full choir, I find a powerful gospel song for the ages under the lurching, over-emotive, genre-drifting production choices of the original Love Rescue Me, which moves from hollow folkrock balladry to Springsteen-esque sax-rock in mid-song only to collapse into an oddly quiet coda at the end which sounds like it should have faded out a verse earlier. The performance may be difficult to love, but the lyrics (cowritten by Bono and Dylan) and melodic composition (attributed to U2) are stunning in their simplicity. Subsequent choral versions of the song, such as the amazing version recorded by international music education and support foundation Playing For Change, are revelatory exposures of the song's core potential, and should be listened to immediately afterwards to cleanse the palate and complete the appreciation process.

Friday, February 10, 2012

1988: Love at the Five and Dime


Nanci Griffith: Love at the Five and Dime

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I suppose you could call this post cheating on my part. After all, Nanci Griffith released the original studio version of Love at the Five and Dime in 1985, not 1988. On that version, there is a full band, but the production is handled with a light touch that puts the focus where it belongs, on Griffith and on a song which has arguably become a standard. But this is the live version, from 1988’s One Fair Summer Evening, and this performance is something special. It’s just Griffith and her guitar for the most part, and that’s all that is needed. Griffith has the rare gift of being sweetly sentimental without ever being cloying. Here, she lays down a pattern on the guitar, and does a spoken introduction to the song over that pattern. The intro is almost two and a half minutes long, and it is a wonderful monologue that is almost worth the price of admission by itself. After hearing this, I would be happy to attend a performance by Griffith just to hear her talk. But, of course, the song is great too. I don’t want to give anything away if you have never heard this, but I really think someone should call a band Unnecessary Plastic Objects.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

1988: Under the Milky Way



The Church: Under the Milky Way

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When The Church’s 1988 album Starfish was released, I was just 13 months old. Armed with that information, you might not be surprised to discover that this week’s prompt left me scanning through a petty array of choices in my music library to make this post. Still, I ended up with enough options to need to whittle down to a final decision, and I think this song was inevitable the whole time.

Somehow, “Under the Milky Way” managed to escape my ears—despite my elder brother’s pervasive collection of albums—until 2001, when the soundtrack to Richard Kelly’s instant cult classic Donnie Darko (not officially released until 2004—an only in the UK) dredged up decades-old songs into new vigor for listeners both familiar and new.

Since then, I’ve been introduced to numerous cover versions of this song (several from our own boyhowdy via his blog
Cover Lay Down), and all of them have their own, dark appeal. The instruments reverberate in a defeated manner, matching vocalist Steve Kilbey’s exhausted singing. Allegedly written about an Amsterdam venue, the vague lyrics accompany the tune into an anthemic rise that is simultaneously irresistibly catchy and indefatigably memorable.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

1988: The Birth of Alt.Country

Steve Earle: Johnny Come Lately

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Lucinda Williams: Changed the Locks

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Though "alt.country" wouldn't be called that for a few more years, its big bang moment came in 1988, with the release of two of the most significant records the genre ever produced.

In 1988, Steve Earle stood at a career crossroads. He had put out two fairly successful, left-of-center country records, Guitar Town and Exit 0. But, personality clashes and an escalating drug habit left Earle on the outs with his label, MCA. (Legend has it Earle for years refused to get a haircut, just to piss off the MCA suits.) To make peace, he was reassigned to the label's new UNI imprint. His first -- and only -- record for UNI was Copperhead Road. Free of the Nashville label's radio-dependent production ethos, Earle adopted a rock-influenced sound and wrote his strongest set to date. Half the album is about love and family, while the other half is made up of story songs, with a political edge. That includes the great "Johnny Come Lately," on which Earle is backed by the Pogues. Two dozen years after its release, the song still packs a powerful punch, capturing the challenges returning war heroes faced after the Vietnam war and even to this day.

While Earle's career had been steadily building for several years, Lucinda Williams seemed to come out of nowhere. Her 1988 self-titled album was actually her third record. The first two, released on the archival Folkways label, were little noted nor long remembered. Though an accomplished songwriter, Williams had no significant covers of her music. Despite stays in Austin and L.A., she really wasn't part of any music scene. Yet she had already earned a reputation in the music industry as someone who was both extremely good and extremely protective of her artistic vision. Her demos were shopped to major labels for years, but Williams vetoed potential deals. She ended up releasing Lucinda Williams on Rough Trade, a struggling punk indie label. It was an immediate success, garnering glowing reviews and big-name endorsements. Emmylou Harris and Shawn Colvin, among others, sang her praises. Emmylou, Mary Chapin Carpenter and Patty Loveless charted with covers of Lucinda Williams songs. Perhaps the most interesting cover was delivered by Tom Petty, who included the stalker anthem, "I Changed the Locks on My Doors" on the She's the One soundtrack album.

Despite Rough Trade's shaky distribution, Lucinda Williams sold more than 100,000 copies. (Sadly, it's now the only album in the Lucinda Williams catalog that's not available digitally.) Copperhead Road also went gold. Both records inspired a new generation of singer/songwriters, who nestled somewhere between rock and country. Williams' and Earle's paths would eventually cross, when she appeared on his 1997 comeback record, and he produced her 1998 masterpiece, Car Wheels on a Gravel Road. Those records, like the 1988 records that preceded them, helped define alt.country...whatever that means.

1988: Lisanga Ya Ba Nganga



Franco and Rochereau : Lisanga Ya Ba Nganga

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Public Enemy won The Village Voice Pazz and Jop Critics album poll for 1988 with It Takes A Nation of Milions to Hold Us Back. Sonic Youth's Daydream Nation, Tracy Chapman's debut, Midnight Oil's Diesel and Dust and Michelle Shocked's Short Sharp Shocked rounded out the top 5.

 Robert Christgau, "the Dean of Rock Critics", started the Pazz and Jop Poll in 1974 and oversaw the survey for more than 30 years. One of the highlights of the annual Village Voice polls was always the dean's own list. A bit of a "homer", he'd vote for a lot of New York bands, sprinkle in some obscure punk, rap and jazz efforts and add anything by Al Green. Then in the 1986, the year Paul Simon won the poll with Graceland, Christgau really got turned on by authentic African pop. By 1988, five of his top ten albums were African. One, called Omona Wapi,  got the ultra rare A+ grade from the Dean.

Omona Wapi is a summit meeting between two Zairean music greats. Franco, the Rumba Giant of Zaire, plays electric guitar and sings, as Christgau describes, "with a sweet, high voice". The deeper voice belongs to tenor Tabu Ley Rocherau who sings with the confidence of a future cabinet minister ( which he would be under President Laurent Kabila). The opening album track, presented here, name checks both performers and celebrates " a meeting of the wizards." It certainly sounds magical.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

1988: Let It Roll


Little Feat: Let It Roll

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By 1988 Little Feat were beyond their commercial prime - their best years by most accounts being the latter part of the 70s. Having lost lead guitarist and founder Lowell George in 1979, the band continued with many of the core members (Paul Barrere on guitar, Richie Hayward on drums, Bill Payne on keyboards ...) through the 80s and 90s. Bill Payne and Paul Barrere still tour today as did Richie Hayward until his death in 2010. Aging rockers they may be, they still sound great today: check them out here, where you can watch and hear more of their music online.

Their 1988 studio album Let It Roll was their first studio album following Lowell George's death. Released in July of 1988, the album turned gold the following year. Many of the songs from the album were penned by a late-comer to the band, Craig Fuller, formerly of Pure Prarie League. Linda Ronstadt, Bob Seger and Bonnie Raitt provide additional vocals on the album. At various times during their history, in addition to the above musicians, the members of the band have played with Frank Zappa, Ry Cooder, Joe Walsh, Jackson Browne ... the list goes on and on.

More often than not, Little Feat's music has a funky Cajun beat - a New Orleans kind of sound - that veers to boogie (cf. a song of theirs from the Salin' Shoes album called Tripe Face Boogie). And of course, the term boogie carries plenty of meaning in the disco world of the 1980s and beyond. This song is no exception: the band really gets down.

This version of the song Let It Roll, from the album of the same name, recorded live at the Starlight Bowl, Burbank in 1990, is one of many Little Feat live recordings available for free under a Creative Commons license here. Like almost all of the live Little Feat songs hosted at "archive", the recoding shows off the band's many talents: excellent driving force, tight group work and that funky rocking roll.

Guest post by KKafa

1988: Sample The Dog


Timbuk 3: Sample The Dog

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I've blogged about Timbuk 3 in more personal terms here before, citing my mid-adolescent self, using the work of these early alternative radio, mostly-acoustic new wavers to mine the story between us, and how we find ourselves in music.

But though other tracks on sophomore album Eden Alley are more radio-ready, and still others more edgy and weird, this is the cut that I spun more than anything that year, out of sheer joy. It's nothing deep or wise or pithy, really - just a typically cynical, self-reflective song about intergenerational dissonance in the emerging cable-TV age, and about sampling, and its ability to resonate the inner workings of the heart, with a surprisingly slow, syrupy undertow that proves just how broad and viable the future of alt electro-acoustic hybrid music would be, released on the cusp of the mass market hip hop emergence. The song, and its accompanying video, are fun, and boingy, and just dark enough to matter; a perfect way to access memory lane, and a perfect sample of what music on the edge of folk, pop, and college alternative was doing in 1988.

Monday, February 6, 2012

1988: I Was Always Your Girl


Everything But The Girl: I Was Always Your Girl

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These Star Maker Machine themes that recall a particular year provide for wonderful exercises in evoking reminiscences that reside in the far reaches of the memory bank.

I was 22 in 1988, and memories, musical and otherwise, had yet to become a blur, but are ordered according to seasons. Everything But The Girl’s Idlewild LP came out in the southern hemisphere’s autumn. I remember first recording on to cassette tape, then buying the album. Other LPs I bought around that time included efforts by Aztec Camera, The Smiths and the Rock Lobsters (the latter a now largely Indie-rock group). I remember listening to the Jesus & Mary Chain’s Darklands album a lot at the time. Hill Street Blues ran on TV, and thirtysomething – the only shows I made a point of watching. I was a vegetarian at the time, and Idlewild evokes the taste of soy mince Bolognese sauce, which tasted awful if reheated. Harvey Wallbangers was the drink of choice; my friends and I would fill up a bottle and sit in the car at the beach, singing loudly to songs by Soft Cell and The Pogues. And I recall having a perennially nagging feeling in my gut, which is briefly re-awakened when hearing Everything But The Girl. Yeah, music is like a time machine.

As for the song, like the album (which I regard as a classic), it is utterly gorgeous. Check it out.

1988: Traveling Wilburys

Traveling Wilburys: Handle with Care

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1988 was Roy Orbison's big year. It started with Cinemax special, A Black and White Night, which aired in January. A diverse set of artists, including Tom Waits, Elvis Costello, Bonnie Raitt and Bruce Springsteen, formed an all-star band, backing the man who perfected the art of the rock power ballad.

Orbison started out as a Sun rocker. After shifting to the nascent Monument label in the early 1960s, he had a long string of hits -- "Pretty Woman," "Only the Lonely," and "In Dreams" among them -- but personal tragedies put an end to that. His wife Claudette (Orbison wrote a song about her recorded by the Everly Brothers) was killed in a motorcycle accident in 1966, and his two sons died in a fire three years later. In the 1970s, he experienced health problems and underwent triple bypass surgery.

By then, Orbison had faded into the background, though he never stopped working. Covers by Linda Ronstadt ("Blue Bayou") and Van Halen ("Pretty Woman") revived interest. Then came appearances on the soundtracks for Roadie, Hiding Out (he and k.d. lang dueted on "Crying") and most importantly Blue Velvet. The Cinemax special aired to great acclaim, and Orbison began working with Jeff Lynne on a comeback album.

Lynne was also producing George Harrison and thought Harrison and Orbison should record together. He booked time at Bob Dylan's studio, and on the way there, the three men stopped by Tom Petty's house and invited him to join the group. Dylan made it five. They recorded their first song, "Handle with Care," and decided to do more. The quintet named themselves the Traveling Wilburys, Orbison adopting the alias Lefty Wilbury, after Lefty Frizzell. The Traveling Wilburys' self-titled debut album was released in October 1988 and was an immediate hit, becoming Orbison's most successful record since his glory days. The Lynne-produced solo record, it was promised, would be Orbison's biggest album ever.

On December 6, as Roy Orbison's magic year of 1988 was coming to an end, he suffered a fatal heart attack. He was just 52 years old. In Martin Scorcese's HBO documentary about George Harrison, Tom Petty recalls getting a call from the ex-Beatle to tell him Orbison had passed. "Aren’t you glad," Harrison asked Petty, "it’s not you?"

Sunday, February 5, 2012

1988: Fisherman’s Blues



The Waterboys: Fisherman’s Blues

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I’ve never understood why this Jewish New Yorker loves Celtic influenced rock music. It doesn’t make much sense, but it is true. It’s not like I was exposed to much of this style of music before I went to college, other than a little Jethro Tull and some Van Morrison, yet I remember falling in love with Horslips when I first heard them. And although I still think their soul inflected first album was better than their big hit, “Too-Rye-Ay,” I liked Dexy’s Midnight Runners’ version of Celtic infused pop. Over the years, I learned to appreciate more traditional Celtic music by bands such as The Chieftains and have become a fan of Fairport Convention and, of course, Richard Thompson, who often included British and Irish folk music, either traditional songs, or as influences on their original music, in their repertoire. More recently, I have enjoyed punkier updates on the sound by The Pogues, Flogging Molly, Dropkick Murphys and The Tossers. I guess it just goes to show you that you can’t always tell what art will appeal to a person based on their background. Some things just grab you emotionally, and other things don’t. Which is why someone can like The Clash and Genesis, or The Drive-By Truckers and Pat Metheny.

So, I liked The Waterboys’ early efforts, but “Fisherman’s Blues” was the first disc of theirs that I loved. Its mix of big, U2 style pomp, Van Morrison blue eyed soul, American country music and Celtic music resonated with me in my New York apartment. In the boisterous title track, I really like the way that the fiddle kicks in about 7 seconds in, and the way Mike Scott, the lead singer, exuberantly yells, “Wooh,” as if he was overcome by the music about 10 seconds before he starts singing the lyrics. It is a love song, in which the singer wishes that he could be free of his responsibilities and be with his beloved in his arms, and you can hear the joy and desire in his voice. Or, at least that is how I hear it.

“Fisherman’s Blues” was used in two pretty good movies, “Good Will Hunting” and “Waking Ned Divine,” as well as the underrated and prematurely cancelled TV show, “Lights Out.”

Getting There => 1988: Budapest by Blimp


Thomas Dolby: Budapest by Blimp

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I’m sure many people, when they think of music of the 80s, think first of what was called at the time synth-pop. Many hits of the decade were characterized by a singer with a chilly sound singing over an entirely electronic backdrop. Much of this music was very effective, expressing the alienation that many felt at the time. Perhaps that is why the style is still very much with us. But Thomas Dolby used the same tools to very different effect, and he still does. Dolby mixes electronics with more “organic” instruments, to create textures that can shudder or ripple as the song progresses. Budapest by Blimp is a song that I had to post on the day of the Superbowl, (because of the blimp, of course), and it is a perfect example of what I mean. After a brief intro, the band lays down the basic groove, and Dolby begins what at first appears to be a song of romantic longing. But, as it goes along, new sounds and tones, (and languages!), enter the mix, and the song evokes history. In the end, we have a song that seems to me to be about a pair of lovers who are torn apart by war. From an airship drifting gently above, things look calm enough. But the narrator knows what a closer inspection on the ground would reveal: the intrusion of history and the ravages of war. That’s what I hear anyway. You can also read Thomas Dolby‘s explanation of the song on his website.