A New Plateau

THE WOOF 200 FOR 1993



The corner has been turned and the race to #1 kicks up a notch as we finally break the arbitrary though recognized barrier of song #100. Except in this case it isn’t quite so arbitrary as I really feel that all of the songs going forward are on a higher plain for me than all that have come before. I tend to construct these countdowns with levels in mind and where they begin and end is usually rather random (in terms of countdown placement). As it turns out here, #100 is the start of a new plateau and these songs all separated themselves quite early in the process. Should be interesting to see what other people think.



I’m not 100% sure how I stumbled upon The Story, though I suspect it was through the Vineyard Tapes folk compilation I’ve repped multiple times before on this countdown, as Story vocalist Jonatha Brooke contributed to that album with a live version of the song “Dog Dreams” from their debut. I was very much into adult contemporary artists around this time and The Story’s combination of thoughtful songwriting and interesting harmonies grabbed me pretty quick. This album is chock full of great songs (see also “So Much Mine” and “At The Still Point”) but this one has a sweetness and poignancy to it that I just can’t ignore. I particularly love the way Brooke drops into a lower register heading into the chorus. Such a soothing sound.



The first time I heard Eric Gales (courtesy of the album’s first single “Paralyzed”) I was convinced he was the spiritual successor to Jimi Hendrix. I figured there was no way he wouldn’t go on to become a huge star in the rock world. I was of course completely wrong about his fame and fortune (as I usually am about these things), even though he’s carved out a respectable career that persists to this day. This Beatles’ tune is one of those cases where I actually prefer the cover to the original, Gales and his band giving the song a weight that it really seems to require. Again the Hendrix thing comes to mind as they bring to this what I felt Jimi brought to his cover of “All Along The Watchtower” (still the gold standard of cover songs as far as I’m concerned). Gales’ guitar work here is wonderful, showing both flare and restraint, with that loose groove playfulness that Hendrix and Living Colour’s Vernon Reid have so much of. Must be a black guy thing.



How much do I love this album? With this debut entry at #98 Cohn becomes the first of only two artists who will place 4 songs inside the top 100 (the next  comes ironically at #97). It also finished #2 on my album of the year rankings. So yeah, lots to love here. I of course loved Cohn thanks to his debut hit “Walking In Memphis” (a personal karaoke favorite), but I wasn’t expecting to like the follow-up as much as I did. The debut was a plaintive acoustic/piano driven album that was very much polished folk. With The Rainy Season he embraced an obvious deep love for Motown and it infused the entire album with a soul that is undeniable. Just listen to the effortless good-vibe shuffle of this tune. The added instrumentation (dig the subtle horns) really compliments his husky voice and brings an overall warmth to the whole thing. Just listening to this song now makes me want to throw the whole album on again. Maybe later.



I remember the moment vividly, although I’m not sure why. Our music buyer at Tower was sifting through a package of promo material when he pulled out a CD, read the A&R write-up on it, turned and flipped it to me sitting next to him and said, “this sounds like something you’d like a hell of a lot more than I”. Not one to turn down free shit, I took it. I even played it once or twice without it making much of an impression. Then one spring day while driving around I threw it in the CD player of my Jeep and everything changed. The album exploded out at me, a magnificent melding of the new Seattle sound and classic rock purity that other bands had been hinting at but I had never quite heard pulled off to this degree of satisfaction. Utter brilliance. This song, a 7 minute long opus of restless despair is probably the moodiest track on the album, sounding very much like Mother Love Bone but a tad darker. I love this kind of sprawling epic where the guitars are given room to try all sorts of little different things along the way. More from this band to come. So much more.



Bruce Hornsby’s first album sans The Range promised a more jazzy approach, which is not something that I can say got me too excited, not being a jazz fan. Yet here he sits with the first of two tracks inside the top 100 from an album that I was surprised to find I loved as much as I did (it landed at #20 overall for ’93). Much like Sting, Hornsby’s appropriation of the modern jazz style populated by the Marsalis family works really well with his vocal style and laid back songwriting. Kinda like Marc Cohn above, I really enjoy the effortless shuffle of this tune, perfect for a lazy summer afternoon.



John Mellencamp’s 1991 album Whenever We Wanted is my second favorite album of his catalogue, so it’s not much of surprise that the follow-up ended up not doing a whole lot for me. That tends to happen to me with artists who I like a lot. Human Wheels is by no means a bad album, but there was a darkness to it that I didn’t quite grasp. The title track however really stands out as a classic Mellancamp tune, with the kind of grit and snap I’ve come to expect from him. Nice use of mandolin too.



I touched on the Savatage story a little bit back at #115. Once a thrash band now turned epic symphonic metal, the change is best represented in this epic track (presented here with the intended intro and outro tracks “Labyrinths” and “Exit Music”) that is once again a showcase for guitarist Criss Oliva. Check out the 4 minute mark where he overlays a couple of delicate moodscapes before dropping a magnificently soulful solo that segues effortlessly into a charging riff that kicks the song back into gear and then into a more traditional blistering metal solo. Seriously that two-and-a-half minute stretch is one my favorite things ever.



Dipping once again into the epic Last Action Hero soundtrack, we find what has become a staple throughout Megadeth’s career: the soundtrack song. They pumped out a boatload of one-off contributions to soundtracks and various compilations in the 90’s, so much so that they had to put out an album just to gather them all in one place. Heck, they just missed out on having two such cuts on this countdown (“99 Ways To Die” from The Beavis & Butt-head Experience was left on the cutting room floor). This song totally feels like an album track from their masterpiece Countdown To Extinction as it would fit seamlessly into that album. I’m always amazed at how Mustaine is able to pull off a sound that is simultaneously so anemic and thin and yet so completely metal.



Open with a wailing harmonica solo, throw in a cowbell countdown, than just pile on the shitkicking drums and rhythm work and you pretty much have the recipe for a perfect southern rock tune. No frills, no needless musical noodling, just balls out, in-your-face rock n’ roll. People tended to accuse these guys of trying to rip off The Black Crowes when they came out, but man, I don’t hear it. I mean, it’s raunchy blues rock, but these guys were never as high-minded as the Crowes, and I mean that as a total compliment even though I like both acts. (Check out “That Don’t Satisfy Me” for more honorable mention listening pleasure.)



Though not as big a chart hit as “Mr. Jones”, “Round Here” always struck me as the better song (though the album’s best tune won’t appear for quite a while), relying less on that quirky 90’s playfulness and rooting itself into more of a soulful base. Adam Durtiz’ vocals feel much more impassioned and less showy, even while maintaining his soon-to-be trademark delivery. I really like the gentle wind-up at the song’s beginning, which also serves as the opening to the album and, by default, the band’s sound. It builds gently, rather than kicking the door in, announcing the band’s arrival with thoughtfulness and mystery rather than some giant pronouncement of being. That kind of thing wouldn’t work for most bands, but it does for these guys.



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