THE WOOF 200 FOR 1993
Too much life going on lately, so here’s the next batch of songs from the countdown without a proper intro. LAZINESS!
“Creep” may have been the song that brought Radiohead all the initial attention, but for me it was this track that actually opened my ears to them. There’s something very Nirvana-ish about the way they manage to squeeze a melody out of this song despite a seeming desire to avoid it. Their sound here isn’t nearly as dissonant as Kurt and Co., but there’s a similar sense of controlled anarchy what with the guitars wandering all over the place. It probably helps with me that Thom Yorke hadn’t quite perfected his watery falsetto yet, so a song like this can live on in my iPod mix without annoying me the way their later stuff would come to do. I also love that the opening bit reminds me of “Bullet The Blue Sky”, one of my fave U2 tunes.
Man, 1993 was a weird year for me. I had heard of The The for years, but had written them off as just another whiney British band that was likely to be too weird for my meathead tastes. Then Dusk made its way into heavy store rotation and I suddenly sound myself being drawn to this guy who sounded a lot like George Michael (to my ears, at least). I was shocked to find out that The The (seriously, that name alone is reason to want to lock them forever away in the pretentiousness closet) was much more, how do I put this, mainstream sounding? That doesn’t sound right, but it’s all I can come up with right now. I mean, this song is pretty basic in its structure, although it creates a haunting mood thanks to the nature of the drawn out harmonica use and the echoey effects they put on Matt Johnson’s vocals. An album that totally caught me off guard, but pleasantly so. Not that I’ve bothered to listen to any of their other stuff. Sometimes one album is enough. (Check out “Slow Motion Replay” for something a little more upbeat.)
I love when country music goes a little dark, stripping back to the basics and putting the tongue-in-cheek lyrics aside for a while. Clay Walker put out two killer albums during my brief foray into the scene back in the early 90’s, dropping him alongside Garth Brooks and Radney Foster as my three favorite male acts from that time. His vocal work on this tune is very Garth-like, which is probably what drew me to it, as I like the way they both can slip into whiney highs and guttural lows without it ever feeling showy. Meanwhile there’s just something about a slow plodding ballad that really works for me.
You know, when I put songs like this smack in the middle of stuff that they have absolutely zero in common with (see Clay Walker above and Billy Joel below) I feel for a moment that I’m just being a pretentious ass. “Ooh, look at me! I have wide tastes!” But in truth whenever I put these countdowns together I just get to a point with certain songs where I know I like them better compared to others in their genre but can’t get myself to say definitively whether I like them more or less than the songs from other styles, so they just sort of fall into place, even if it looks completely ridiculous to me in the end. The Sabbath-inspired doom metal revival that began in the early 90’s owes a debt of gratitude to this song for somehow managing to score radio airplay despite offering nothing in the way of a radio-friendly sound. I assume there must have been a slight novelty effect, given its creepy Halloween vibe.
I think the most disappointing element in Billy Joel’s retirement from writing and recording following the River Of Dreams album was that he had begun to work with different musicians and producers over the last two albums and as a result his work was starting to feel more visceral and less calculated. This song as a prime example. I mean, Billy had rocked out before, but there was a bit of a reckless abandon about this song, a real feeling that he was pushing himself physically, that very rarely crept into his stuff. I’m sure part of it was the very real frustration he was feeling at the time (long story about his accountant screwing him over that is better documented elsewhere), but I think a lot of it was just the freshness of new people to play with. I love the way he played with his lower register on this tune before rocking out hard on the chorus. A very un-Joel like track that still manages to sound like Joel.
At some point over the last 20 years or so it became fashionable to dump on Phil Collins, I guess because it’s impossible for younger generations to conceive of a balding middle-aged dude being a pop sensation. As a result his legacy has taken a tiny hit, which is disappointing because he really is one of pop’s more thoughtful lyricists and dynamic songwriters. That fact that he was able to deliver very clear political and social messages in a way that millions of people could accept – masterfully done here – while still feeling good is no small task. The use of faux bagpipes (the entire album was recorded by Phil in his home studio using almost exclusively computers & keyboards) underneath this track gives it a real tension, yet still manages to be pleasing, and as always the drums drive his songs with a sort of restrained intensity that never gets too showy. I always admired that aspect of Genesis – their collective economy of sound, and it certainly carries into Phil’s solo work. (Since this excellent album is sadly under-represented on the countdown, here’s another recommendation, the beautiful “We Fly So Close”.)
Don’t ask me how I determined that I like this crunching metal riffmonster one slot better than I do that Phil Collins track. I just do. When Rob Halford up and left Judas Priest in 1992, I never figured he’d wind up being ten times more prolific than his old band in the years between departure and reunion., but prolific he was. Fight was his first proper project post-Priest and wizened metal fans can kind of see why he left, as he was clearly aching to do something a little different. Priest was an all guns blazing unit that relied on speed more than power, always the “metal” to Black Sabbath’s “heavy”; razor sharp as opposed to bludgeoning. Fight wants to be a more modern project, taking its cues from Pantera who were themselves pushing metal into the new millennium with more emphasis on bigger riffs and harder drums. I could do without Rob’s embarrassing attempt to look like he was part of the younger generation (this video hasn’t aged well), but at least it’s better than the leather dominatrix look he carried throughout the 80’s. (For a taste of a more Priest-sounding Fight, try “Into The Pit”, which is Rob at his air raid vocaled best.)
I admire Living Colour for switching up their sound so drastically over their initial 3 album career, particularly since I loved their first two albums so much. So I can accept the fact that Stain is what it is even if I consider it the biggest disappointment of 1993. Yeah, they put on a hell of a concert that year, but it wasn’t the new tunes that made it so. Every now and then I try and give the album a “fresh listen”, but I only every walk away from the experience feeling annoyed, except when it comes to this tune. Strange that I would be drawn to what is essentially a slow groove dance track given my usual preference for their stuff is the more guitar-driven material. But whatever, they find an interesting vibe here and Corey Glover’s vocals are always interesting.
Gary Hoey is a California surf/shred guitarist who probably shouldn’t have had a career past an album or two, but who has managed to stick around for a couple of decades now thanks in large part to the unlikely success of this album and single. Of course success is a relative term, so I wouldn’t be shocked if a lot of people haven’t heard this instrumental cover of a mildly obscure 70’s “hit” from Dutch band Focus. But in the summer of 1993 it got a ton of airplay on US rock radio, so it might ring a bell. This is a total guitar wanker’s dream track, with a killer rhythm and plenty of room to just noodle all up and down the fretboard. I mean holy shit does this song ever want to make me get out on the highway and just floor it, racing as it does at about a hundred miles an hour with no regard for life or limb. There was a glut of guys releasing guitar shred records in the late 80’s, but very few of them ever managed to capture something this perfect (and radio friendly!).
When Sting left the Police in 1984, 12-year old me was confused. If he was the guy writing all of the band’s songs, why did he need to go solo? Then I heard The Dream Of Blue Turtles and I understood – Police the band and Sting the solo artist have almost nothing in common. Turtles quickly became one of my fave albums of 1985 (currently sits at #5 on my rankings) and got played endlessly. My next favorite album in his sprawling career would be his 1993 release Ten Summoner’s Tales, of which this track is the first of 3 to hit the countdown (not including “Fields Of Gold” which sadly missed the cut). Jazz crooner Sting probably shouldn’t work on paper, but that’s why music isn’t recorded on paper I guess, as in practice it works magic. His slow, simmering vocal style on songs like this create a wonderfully smoky atmosphere that really lends itself to simple “listening”. Yeah, I’d say he made the right move branching out on his own.