THE WOOF 200 FOR 1993
PART 5: 200-191
So here we are, ready to plunge into what’ll most likely stretch out into several months of posts (if history is to be trusted) of me trying to quantify and justify my musical tastes for a particular year. I’ve already laid out the basic groundwork of how (and why) we got here, along with throwing out some nuggets of stuff that didn’t quite make the cut. What follows is, I must admit, less likely to represent an actual list of my definitive 200 Favorite Songs of the Year and more honestly just 200 songs that I really feel like highlighting for any number of reasons. By that I mean the rankings are kind of nebulous, thrown up with some thought but lacking conviction in terms of actual placement. I’ve lived with most of these tunes too long to really know how I feel about them anymore beyond, “hate, like, really like, love”. The hates are obviously nowhere to be found. The likes were among the hundreds of cuts I made, the really likes constitute the honorable mentions and probably the first half of the countdown, while the loves will start creeping up sometime around 100 or so.
My hope, as always, is that people will find amongst this accumulated mess some songs that they may have forgotten about and are happy to be reminded of, as well as some others that they never even knew existed. You’ll probably find a lot of acts that you’ve never heard of, merely because there was a LOT of music pumped out in ’93 and I listened to almost all of it (within the confines of rock, that is). If that’s the case, take a chance and click on some links. You never know what you might find.
It’s been kind of a tradition with the previous Woof 200’s to open with a pseudo novelty song, something that was very light-hearted in its lyrical approach without being an out-and-out joke. This folk song has some fun at the expense of various towns in my home state of Massachusetts, so I get a kick out of it. I came upon it thanks to its inclusion on the excellent compilation Big Times In A Small Town: The Vineyard Tapes, which were highlights from a singer-songwriter retreat held out on Martha’s Vineyard. The live version on that album is actually superior to the studio version I’ve posted here, thanks to the reactions of the audience, buy you know the drill by now: I link what I can find. A clever song that gets us off and running.
One of the weird things about 1993 is that traditional hard rock was ceding its place on the radio to grunge and alternative, making it kind of impossible for new bands who weren’t really any of the above to find an audience. The back part of this countdown is littered with them, Mutha’s Day Out being the first. There’s a definite angsty sort of grind to the song-writing, which would seem to fit into the new 90’s, but the playing is almost too clean without being slick. Clearly they were inspired by their 80’s forefathers and shared their (and my) love of melody and musicianship, but with darker undertones, as this song exhibits.
I’m mildly surprise this album didn’t do better back in the day thanks to the band’s sound being a somewhat grittier 10,000 Maniacs. Seemed like radio would have eaten it up, but we already know that I’m usually wrong when I have those feelings. I love the use of harmonica here, particularly when the song kicks it up a notch at about 3 minutes in. There’s also some cool, atmospheric guitar work throughout the album, particularly the last minute or so of this tune. Give ’em a chance if you like rootsy rock fronted by slightly raspy female vocals.
Another band like Mutha’s Day Out that came along a little too late for the 80’s, sounding like they do like a snottier version of L.A. Guns or Faster Pussycat. Again there are hints of mid-90’s stuff going on throughout the album (not too prevalent here), so it’s a shame that they only got one album to show what they could do. This is a really catchy almost-ballad, kinda shuffling along in no particular hurry like a lazy Soul Asylum song filtered through the Sunset Strip.
This all-girl band was the answer to my dreams, delivering the kind of impassioned and riff-fueled heavy rock that exposed Vixen for the poseurs that they were while standing up to any male outfit at the time. This is the shit that is now going multi-platinum for the likes of Halestorm and The Pretty Reckless, except you know, 20 years earlier. Guitarist Michelle Meldrum delivers a sinister crunch that speaks directly to my hard rock soul. She would later marry fellow guitarist John Norum (of Europe fame), himself one of my top 20 faves of all time. Meanwhile this song is all balls, which is ironic given the circumstances.
Speaking of balls, that’s pretty much what it takes to name your band The Power Trio From Hell, because if you don’t live up to that moniker you’re pretty much dead in the water. No worries here though, as these guys deliver and then some. The real proof of that is the aptly titled “Thrash Epic”, although in the end I prefer this slower number just a little bit more, thanks in part to the righteous guitar solo. This stuff it total 70’s rock that’s been dragged behind a pick-up for a couple of miles and come out on the other side dirty, bruised, and bloody, all of which only adds to its charm. Just a thick stew of muscular rock. Delicious.
Flipping the script a bit we get this purely alternative number from British shoegazing act Catherine Wheel. All the usual genre tropes are present, with the somewhat whiney vocals, plodding rhythm, meandering guitar work, and overall feeling of oppression. Sounds like a complaint, but it’s really not, as I found I could really get into acts like this, so long as they kept the vocals within reason and the guitar pushed up front.
I gotta give Mr. Big credit; while all their fellow 80’s leftovers were trying to change up their sound on the fly in an attempt to stay relevant, these guys pumped out a record in 1993 that showed no signs of being anything other than what they had always been. Bump Ahead was pure melodic rock punctuated by a lot of excessive noodling by its highly regarded musicians. Even during the alternative overthrow they got some airplay thanks to their cover of Cat Stevens’ “Wild World” (see the honorable mentions for that one), but it was this different number featuring Billy Sheehan’s rolling bass that really drew me in. Billy ticks some people off because his playing isn’t traditional, and in truth I found it distracting at times when he was in David Lee Roth’s band, but in Mr. Big it all seemed to come together. As always the backing harmonies are a major strength of this band and they totally carry the chorus here. Funny how I thought these guys would be done after two albums back when they first debuted and yet they persist today, still pumping out the same classic style. Guess I can thank Japan for never letting this stuff go completely out of style.
Thanks mostly to The Sundays and Mazzy Star (more on them later), I got really into this kind of cloud-riding, female-fronted, jangle pop back in the early 90’s. I found it was perfect for those moods when I needed something not so loud but still wanted something with a little more aura to it than say country or even adult contemporary acts like Shawn Colvin. Cocteau Twins fit nicely into this category, given this track and the way vocalist Elizabeth Fraser’s voice just sort of floats on top of everything like it’s lazing down a river of lightly strumming guitars.
Here’s another caught-in-the-middle act that starts off with a base sound very reminiscent of Illusion-era GNR (check out ballad “Almost There” for proof), but who played around with song structures kinda like Faith No More at times. They also dabbled a bit in the electronic end of things, as evidenced by this extended remix of their above named “hit” (complete with trippy video), which starts out like it wants to be some dance club track before letting the guitars get back in on the fun. The best thing I could probably say about the early 90’s was that it was completely open territory in regards to what record labels – major record labels – were willing to take a shot on. Sure they signed more than enough Nirvana and Alice In Chains knockoffs, but they also threw shit like Rage Against The Machine and the Chili Peppers against the wall to see what would stick. These guys never made it big, but at least they flamed out on their own terms, trying something kinda unique. Gotta respect that.
There we go. Ten down and a mere one hundred and ninety to go. That should put us on pace to finish sometime around, ohhhh… late March? What the hell, it’s a long winter and we got nothing else to do anyway, right? Whatever, enjoy. I look forward to the feedback.