Saturday, February 29, 2020

1994 - "Interstate Love Song" - Stone Temple Pilots

Like in the 80s, the middle part of the decade held the most memorable tracks for me.  1994 has been the toughest year to pick just one, with classics from the Counting Crows, Toad the Wet Sprocket and Alice in Chains all vying for the top track.

This is such a powerful yet chill tune. Starting with the epic intro that gives way to that now iconic guitar riff. Add in the soulful chorus delivered with equal parts desperation and devil-may-care vibe and voila, one of the most memorable post-grunge anthems and essential driving tune. 

"Interstate Love Song" reminds me of Billy Idol's road trip bender "Eyes Without a Face" released ten years earlier. Except now in my-20s, I wasn't looking up to cartoon heroes; these artists were from my generation.

Other favourites from 1994: 

"Something's Always Wrong" – Toad the Wet Sprocket

"Which Way Does the River Run" – Lennie Gallant

"Round Here" – Counting Crows

"Mr. Jones" – Counting Crows

"No Excuses" – Alice in Chains

"Sly" - Massive Attack 

"Dark Train" - Underworld

Thursday, February 27, 2020

1993 - "Regret" - New Order

It may lack the innovation of "Blue Monday", the groove of "Bizarre Love Triangle" or the lyrical depth of "True Faith", but "Regret" is arguably New Order's most complete song. 

Their best guitar-led track embodies the New Order sound: understated guitar, shimmering synths, Hooky's signature bass, lush arrangement and melancholic lyrics. A great vocal melody and surprisingly solid vocals from Bernard Sumner. 

"Regret" is also very personal. As the lead track of the Republic album which I bought in Ontario on way home from BC, I have fond memories of driving a rental to PEI en route to my Master's research, with two copies of this CD (what if one started to skip?!). The Habs were on their way to winning an unlikely cup thanks to 10 straight overtime wins. A spring of intense optimism. The Habs haven't won since.

Other favourites from 1993: 

"At the Hundredth Meridian" – Tragically Hip 

"Man On The Moon" – REM 

"World" – New Order 

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

1992 - "Halcyon On and On" - Orbital

The top track for 1992, the year I moved to Vancouver, was ultimately going to be an electronic one. "Halcyon On and On" by Orbital is classified by the internet as dream trance. This mid-tempo club classic fits somewhere between techno rave and chill-out. You may vaguely recall it from the Hackers film.

A longtime favourite running track that I equally enjoy on headphones while writing. The mind blowing melody guarantees a shot of dopamine. 

Other favourites from 1992: 

"Something Good" - Utah Saints

"Ebeneezer Goode" - The Shamen

"Disappointed" – Electronic

"Baker Street" – Undercover

"Underwhelmed" – Sloan

"Sweet Harmony" - The Beloved

Sunday, February 23, 2020

1991 - "Soon" - My Bloody Valentine

REM's "Losing My Religion" would have been the top track back in the day. I also wore out the Nirvana album like everyone else. But years later I stumbled on this almost indescribable song. It's the sound of flying through cartoon cumulus clouds and the soundtrack to driving by scenic landscapes. While North America was embracing grunge, Britain created shoegaze.

A wall of reverb guitar and violin glide in and out creating dizzying layers of melody. An addictive dance beat sends it into an extra dimension. It doesn't matter that the lyrics are hard to follow without looking them up, the euphoric vocals jive perfectly with the music. A favourite song for zoning out on flights and runs.

Other favourites from 1991: 

"I Wanna Be Adored" – The Stone Roses 

"Losing My Religion" – REM 

"Get the Message" – Electronic 

"Smells Like Teen Spirit" – Nirvana

Friday, February 21, 2020

1990 - "Crazy" - Seal

Released in early 1990, I remember this tune sounding so futuristic.

Adapting 80s production and polishing it up a notch, it's hard to believe this track is 30 years old. Seal's strong vocals and existential musings add up to one spiritual groove.

I think "Crazy" could be released today and still sound fresh. I expected to hear more of this soulful synth vibe throughout the decade. I was wrong. 

Other favourites from 1990: 

"Been Caught Stealing" - Jane's Addiction

"Sadeness" - Enigma

"Fools Gold" - Stone Roses

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

1989 - "Personal Jesus" - Depeche Mode

I'll always remember 1989 as when the holy trinity of alternative rock, The Cure, New Order and Depeche Mode, released amazing albums.

Think back to the early 80s for minute. Hands up if you thought back these guys would be sporting cowboy hats and playing guitars at the end of the decade?

The evolution of Depeche Mode from a quirky synth-pop act to filling stadiums in North America was impressive. Like U2 with the The Joshua Tree, Depeche Mode stormed North America with an amped up, somewhat industrial form of dance music typifying the Violator album in 1989.

"Personal Jesus" is a club classic with an unstoppable beat, atmospheric guitars and menacing vocals. The badass video is a bonus. Well done boys, you've come a long way.

Other favourites from 1989: 

"Fascination Street" - The Cure

"Monkey Gone to Heaven" – Pixies

"Bust A Move" - Young MC

"Round and Round" - New Order

Monday, February 17, 2020

1988 - "Under the Milky Way" - The Church

"Under the Milky Way" by Australia's The Church is the last great new wave single. It's also one of the most beautiful songs ever made. In terms of atmosphere and production, it's hard to top.

The acoustic strumming sets the tone, the keys are melodic and the vocals and lyrics are perfect. The layers of jangle guitars and synth are extraordinary.

It also makes you think about the big stuff like the universe and why they don't make tracks like this any longer. 

The song is also highly addictive: I recall playing it 10 times straight after losing my job in Vancouver back in 1996.

It would place even higher if it wasn't for the bloody 'bagpipe' solo in the bridge. I don't hate it,  but it slightly ruins the ambiance. Fortunately, the tune reverts to the moody strumming and ends well with some nice reverb.

And I totally missed it back in 1988 when released. Was I too busy wrapped up listening to the back collection of The Cure, Depeche Mode and New Order to notice?

Was it even released in Canada? (Wikipedia states it reached no. 69 on the Canadian RPM 100). When the dust settles, it's by far the highest ranking song of my top 100 80s singles that I don't recall enjoying during the 80s.

Other favourites from 1988: 

"Smooth Criminal" - Michael Jackson

"Dreamworld" – Midnight Oil

"What's On Your Mind" – Information Society

Saturday, February 15, 2020

1987 - "Where The Streets Have No Name" - U2

The Edge's shimmering guitar chords in the cinematic intro always gives me the feels. The sound of anticipation that ironically is the drama, two minutes of a bright light being slowly turned on. This is what I wanna hear before a playoff tilt as the Habs hit the ice (although they come close at the Bell Centre with Coldplay's "Fix Me").

This single came out late in the summer after high school graduation. I remember listening to the tune on my Walkman taking the ferry to Halifax into the unknown on my way to university at SMU, partly hopeful, partly reticent, but most of all thinking anything is possible.

"Where The Streets Have No Name" is undeniably one of the 80s great rock anthems, and for me, the best of all those quality singles from The Joshua Tree album that broke the band in America.  

I thought the single deserved a better video than the official version showing the band playing on a rooftop and shutting down the streets of LA. The video actually does a disservice to the song, ruining the The Edge's opening and iconic riff. 

Other favourites from 1987: 

"True Faith" - New Order

"Just Like Heaven" - The Cure

"Moonlight Desires" – Gowan

"Stop Me If You Think You've Heard This One Before" – The Smiths

Thursday, February 13, 2020

1986 - "Something About You" - Level 42

There's something about "Something About You" by Level 42 that's hard to pinpoint that makes me look forward to hearing it again and again

Could be the amazing bass line. 

Those epic falsettos and the harmonies. 

Or perhaps the delicious chorus.

Can't forget about that surreal video, with the lead singer playing the Vaudeville clown in the engaging video.

It was all of those aspects and more: "Something About You" is simply a perfect pop song with a little R & B and synth tossed in. The right hooks in the right places.

All those little things that combine together to make me appreciate the whole of the song.

The tune still transports me back to when Dad used to drive me home for lunch back in Grade 11. The great ones will do that to you, take us back when we first hear that first note. Pure nostalgia.

Fave lyrics: 
"These changing years, they add to your confusion
Oh and you need to hear the time that told the truth"

Other favourites from 1986: 

"West End Girls" - Pet Shop Boys

"Bizarre Love Triangle" – New Order

"Train of Thought" – Aha

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

1985 - "Everybody Wants to Rule the World" - Tears For Fears

I have strong memories of songs sounding better in the spring of 1985. It may have something to do with turning 16 and learning to drive, cruising around the 'burbs in Dad's Escort hatchback, giddy to be charge of the radio dial and cassette deck. I abandoned coke-bottle glasses for contact lens and remember jamming to this after the fitting. 

Still, the songs that spring seemed 'sunnier'. Other anthems of optimism littering the charts were the "Walking on Sunshine" ear worm, the uplifting "Things Can Only Get Better", Madonna's best "Into the Groove", Duran's "View to A Kill" and Phil's "Sussudio". The opening "Welcome to your life, there's no turning back" gets your attention while the infectious arrangement and ambitious lyrics keep it on top as a great driving track.

"Everybody Wants to Rule the World" by Tears For Fears is one of Gen X's greatest anthems, this stunning song is a bit cynical yet also ambitious and optimistic.

One of those rare tunes with a near-universal appeal, it resonates with just about everyone. Is there a catchier song from the decade that also touches on the issues du jour like the environment, yuppies and the Cold War? 

From the profound and ambiguous lyrics that make you think, the vocals, and of course the incredible arrangement. The short but captivating vocal bridge is out of this world just before the sweeping synths and guitars kick in for a longer instrumental one.

The uplifting vibe of "Everybody Wants to Rule the World" puts me in a great mood despite the lyrics being a bit on the cynical side. The song only reinforces the type of music I love best: melodic music and dark lyrics.

The lyrics challenge us to live life to the fullest (at the time it was during the Cold War of course) by taking full advantage of its pleasures and liberties before the true nature of the world, war and turmoil, come back again as per the history books.

One of the best driving songs ever made, "Everybody Wants to Rule the World" always makes me want to put the top down and hit the gas. Even in the winter.

The classic video features Curt Smith driving an antique sports car around Southern California interspersed with shots of the full band performing the song in a studio.

When I hear this song today I still get that same feeling. So I'm destined to never, ever tire of this tune. That's some powerful nostalgia.

Other favourites from 1985: 

"Things Can Only Get Better" - Howard Jones

"The Perfect Kiss" - New Order

"Some Like It Hot" - The Powerstation

Sunday, February 9, 2020

1984 - "Eyes Without A Face" - Billy Idol

"Eyes Without A Face" is two tremendous songs for the price of one. 

The first half sees a chill Billy Idol crooning a ballad, with no screaming nor squealing guitars in sight. The synths are dreamy and laid-back.

One of the best hooks of the decades, I've always loved the female vocals leading into the chorus. The angelic "les yeux sans visage" harmony literally translates the track’s name, and encouraged me to translate other pop singles of the day into French. 

The second half is a complete 180 turn. 

Kicking in around 2:25, the minute-plus breakdown features a Steve Stevens' guitar riff slashing through Billy's road trip bender lyrics  about his nomadic bus tour reading murder books whilst trying to stay hip.

Billy returns to do his best Sinatra impression to wind up the power ballad.

Other favourites from 1984: 

"It's My Life" - Talk Talk

"Wouldn't It Be Good" - Nik Kershaw

"Relax" - Frankie Goes to Hollywood

Friday, February 7, 2020

1983 - "Wrapped Around Your Finger" - The Police

As a young teen I'd always been mesmerized by "Wrapped Around Your Finger" by The Police. I still am, decades later on headphones. Hypnotic.

The magic of Sting's melodic and lyrical prowess, Andy Summer's sparse guitar and Steward Coupland's intricate drum work all reach new heights on this textured tune.

From the lighting of the first candle, the video had always entranced me. 

The obscure literary references in the verses made me flip through the encyclopedias as Sting found a creative way to weave in such words as apprentice, Charibdes, Mephistopholes, tuition, fruition, and from the iconic bridge, alabaster.

And what a bridge! It never fails to give goosebumps. Both lyrically and musically, the tune picks up the tempo when the tables are turned on the master and servant relationship dynamics in question as "You'll be wrapped around my finger". Captivating stuff.  

The simple "I'll be wrapped around your finger" chorus shimmered. The synths are hauntingly beautiful.

Decades later, I still dream of knocking all those candles down at the end of the video like Sting did when he channeled the 'boy inside the man'. 

Fave lyric: "Devil and the deep blue sea behind me".

Other favourites from 1983: 

"Major Tom (Coming Home)" – Peter Schilling

"Blue Monday" – New Order

"In A Big Country" - Big Country

Wednesday, February 5, 2020

1982 - "Rio" - Duran Duran

Those of us in junior high will remember the playful decadence on display in this cutting edge video. What sometimes gets lost in the shuffle is that the fab five played the instruments and wrote the songs. "Rio" sports one of the catchiest bass lines of all time.

"Rio" hooks us in with the grandiose intro before giving way to a bouncy, maniacal John Taylor bass line and Andy Taylor's timely guitar riffs, setting up the iconic singalong chorus about the mystical Rio dancing on the sand. The song changes gears a few times, including an amazing sax climb before the last chorus.

Back to Rio: does she really exist? 

Well, a metaphor. 

According to SongFacts, Duran Duran explained on the VH1 show True Spin that Rio is a metaphor for America, and the song expressed their desire to succeed there, which they of course did.

I'd always thought LeBon said "...evidently run you down... in the lyrics during the bridge : "Hey now (wow) look at that did he nearly run you down. Before Google we experienced dozens of similar examples. 

"Rio" is still a favourite at Duran concerts, and often during an extended version when Simon LeBon introduces band members to the audience. I was fortunate to have seen it played in the encore of their 2011 gig at Montreal's Bell Centre.

Other favourites from 1982: 

"Pale Shelter" - Tears For Fears

"Gypsy" – Fleetwood Mac

"Africa" – Toto

Monday, February 3, 2020

1981 - "Urgent" - Foreigner

We were on the cusp of the video revolution in 1981. Although classic rock still dominated the radio, new wave tunes were edging up the charts. "Urgent" is a sort of hybrid: a rock tune embracing the synths. The track oozes confidence: the guitars, the sax solo, the keyboard riff, the vocal delivery. 

Maybe it was puberty knocking on the door, but I loved the bloated machismo. The pulsating intro. The irresistible beat. Lou Gramm's vocals about an impending hookup. The unrelenting sax solo. 

It still holds up after all these years; the track is still a solid addition to any road trip playlist.

I believe I was introduced to "Urgent" on the K-Tel album compilation Hit Express which also featured Loverboy, Journey and the like. I didn't realize until much later that it was a young Thomas Dolby playing the keyboards (recall "She Blinded Me With Science"?).

Other favourites from 1981: 

"I Can’t Go For That (No Can Do)" - Hall & Oates

"The Sound of the Crowd" – The Human League

"Under Pressure" – Queen & David Bowie

Saturday, February 1, 2020

1980 - "A Forest" - The Cure

The kids in our neighbourhood used to build forts in the woods behind the trailer park. We also played Big Foot along a partially cut path that we coined the Bogeyman Trail. This song captures that feeling of being chased into the trees. The bass dangles and the guitar jangles, creating over-the-shoulder glancing and a feeling of unease.

After having bought the "Standing On A Beach" singles collection in the mid-80s, "A Forest" was the song that hooked me on The Cure, making me double-down to explore the rest of their deep catalogue. 

A former all-time favourite, I no longer binge listen to it. Brooding guitar, ominous bass and haunting keys all build a relentless atmospheric tension. Years later, it would have fit right on the soundtrack for The Blair Witch Project

This is a song best enjoyed in solitude, cranked up high on headphones or on a stereo with a good set of speakers.

By the time the second verse is over I'm totally gripped, lost inside a dream inside my head. The throbbing bass, the pounding drums and the synths are all working overtime. 

Fave lyrics: "The girl was never there, it's always the same, I'm running towards nothing again and again and again..."

Below is a video of an almost 14 minute long live version from The Cure's Wish tour in 1992. It's far and away my all-time favourite live version of any song. I love how it builds then quiets down only to build back up again (and again and again....). Robert Smith even gives us a bonus, an extra verse as a sort of second bridge before the tune explodes for the grand finale. 

I can listen to it again and again and again...

Other favourites from 1980: 

"Echo Beach" – Martha & the Muffins 

"Don’t Stand So Close To Me" – The Police 

"Sailing" – Christopher Cross